Author: The Manwell
see chap. 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimers

Shinigami Sleeps + Chapter 6
Magic

"Hey, Duo!"

Duo leans over the edge of the roof and peers down. "Yeah, Jack?"

"Since there's a structural inspection tomorrow morning, the boys were thinking about going out tonight. You interested?"

Duo considers the offer. With the inspection happening during the first half of the day, they won't be able to get back to work until after lunch. It's a perfect opportunity to stay out late, even if it is a Wednesday night. "Yeah, maybe. You asked Tro yet?"

"Naw, thought you'd do the honors."

"Sure thing. We'll get back to you after break."

"Sounds good."

Duo checks his watch before turning back to securing the sheet of synthetic plywood in place. He forces himself to think of nothing except the monotonous routine involved with driving the screws into the beams beneath. Just like he's forced himself not to think too hard on Trowa's silent refusal to answer a seemingly simple question last Saturday night.

Another fifteen minutes later and Duo stands, task completed. He crosses the other sections of secured plywood and swings down the ladder. He'd seen Trowa working on the west wall earlier, so he heads around the building in that direction. He pauses at the corner, assessing the situation. This is one habit from the war and his training that will never become obsolete. A brief survey of the area assures Duo that he isn't interrupting any delicate operations so he steps forward.

"Want a hand with that?" He gestures to the board Trowa is both leaning on to hold in place and driving nails into.

Trowa nods and steps away as Duo presses the slab against the studs.

"You feel like having lunch after you're through here?"

"Sure."

Duo holds the board and, with nothing else to preoccupy him, he flashes back to that late-night-let's-get-to-know-each-other card game. Truth or drink.

He'd asked Trowa if he'd been just as surprised to run into Duo at that convenience store as Duo had been. But he hadn't answered. He'd taken a drink instead.

Duo fights to keep his expression neutral as he ponders the potential meanings of that gesture. The most obvious one being that the question had been so blatantly obvious Trowa had chosen not to respond and had at the same moment, decided to give the whiskey a try. Duo had never said they couldn't drink whenever they wanted to. Just that they absolutely had to if they didn't want to answer a particular question.

Another option, one that's a great deal more controversial, is that Trowa hadn't answered because Trowa hadn't been surprised at all. Which would imply that Trowa had orchestrated their meeting... which would, in turn, imply that Trowa had known where Duo was... which could, but not necessarily, mean that Trowa had been looking for him.

But that doesn't make any sense. Why would Trowa be looking for him? They'd never been more than acquaintances. Hardly friends. Certainly not the sort of friends who stop by and visit each other for the hell of it.

"Ready?"

Duo nods, stepping away from the wall. He shakes off his thoughts and heads for a spot on the lawn not covered in building supplies. They wind up on the dusty tailgate of Jack's truck with a pair of peanut butter sandwiches apiece. Around a mouthful of bread, Duo says, "Hey, the guys are going out tonight since we're working half a day tomorrow. You wanna go?"

"They invited us?"

It's not an unreasonable question, but Duo feels himself getting snarky over it nonetheless. "Naw, I just thought we'd crash their party and totally screw up their night for no particular reason."

Trowa says nothing.

Duo relents. He's not even sure why he'd felt the need to be so sarcastic. Now contrite, he says, "Yes, Jack invited us. You interested?"

"Sure."

"Okay."

The silence resumes. Trowa finishes his first sandwich and reaches for the water bottle. Despite the instinct for self-preservation which would have had Duo keeping his gaze fixed firmly ahead of him, he finds himself watching the line of Trowa's throat as he leans back and gulps down half of the water.

"Want to talk about it?"

Duo comes back to himself with a start, realizing that Trowa's now snapping the cap back on the bottle and reaching for the second sandwich.

"Uh, talk about what?"

"What's on your mind."

Duo glances away as Trowa looks in his direction. "Um, no. Not really."

"All right."

Duo lifts his sandwich, sighs, and lowers it again. "Trowa, why are you here?"

"What do you mean?"

He shifts uncomfortably, unsure of how to phrase what he wants to ask. "How did you wind up on this colony with me?"

Trowa pauses to study Duo's profile. Seeing the expression on his face, Trowa abandons the several smart-ass answers that dance on the tip of his tongue. He frowns at himself. He's never acted like this before, never been anything resembling a comedian. But around Duo he feels... different. He is different.

"I'm not really sure," he admits, unable to adequately explain how a single dream has managed to bring him this far.

Duo shakes his head. "I just... don't get you sometimes, Trowa."

"Sometimes, I don't get me, either," Trowa confides, offering a small smile.

Duo's mouth curves upward as well. Some of the tension is released from his shoulders. "That's a bad sign, buddy."

"So I've been told."

"Aha! But do you listen?"

"Huh? What's that?"

Duo shakes his head, grin widening. "Ah, go find some fish turds to vacuum."

Trowa snorts very quietly.

"So I can tell Jack to expect us?"

"Yeah."

"Cool."

+

"So she was all like 'Let's find someplace where we can be alone, Bobby.'"

"But your name's Matt!"

"Yeah, I caught that, too," Matt says, looking suspicious.

Jack shakes his head and pours himself another beer. "Man, what a mood-killer."

"Well, now, that depends on how much you've had to drink."

"Yeah, after number five or six, 'Bobby' starts to sound an awful lot like 'Matt.'"

"Is that the voice of experience, there, Ron?"

"I was speaking hypothetically," Ron protests with just the right amount of indignation.

"Uh huh. Su~ure."

Matt takes another swallow of beer and nudges the guy on his left. "Your turn, Duo. Bad date story."

"Bad date story," Duo repeats, his face feeling a little warmer than it should. He glances up at his audience and fiddles with his glass of beer in front of him. "Uh, well..." His gaze lands on Trowa's and those green eyes seem to draw him closer. Duo tears his gaze away, regroups, and tries to look triumphant. "I don't have any bad date stories."

The guys at the table roar with disbelief.

"Guys, guys, I'm just a young'un! And I'm broke! No opportunity for bad dates, here!"

"Not yet," Ron says with a smirk.

Duo rolls his eyes. He has the impression that Trowa is highly amused by this conversation. And the fact that Duo's blushing over it. That guy has a seriously sick sense of humor.

"How about you, Trowa?"

Very quietly, Trowa says, "I don't date."

Another roar from the guys promptly follows that little bomb.

"You're shittin' us!"

Trowa's face barely changes expression but he somehow manages to transmit a look that clearly says, And you would know that how? Duo shakes his head as the rest of the crew exclaims over Trowa's obvious lack of interest in chasing anything in a skirt. Or a pair of tight blue jeans. Or some cute, little shorts. Or... Duo sips his beer and wishes Trowa would look just a little bit uncomfortable. But nothing doing. The guy's totally cool, completely relaxed.

Duo rolls his eyes.

Just when Jack, Matt, Ron, Tim, and Steve have started to dish out loads of dating advice they feel will be immensely helpful to Duo and Trowa in the near future, the karaoke machine starts up at the far end of the bar and a young woman, brunette, in a pair of those aforementioned sexy short shorts, starts singing along with an old country song. The crew's attention is immediately diverted as they cheer for the hottie on the stage.

"Hey, she's somethin' else, eh, Duo?" Matt says. With a knowing twinkle in his eye, he advises, "If you cheer for her, you'll probably be able to get at least one dance..."

Duo coughs into his beer. "Uh, I'll keep that in mind. Thanks." He chances a glance at Trowa who is grinning behind his unruly hair. "Yeah, yeah, yuck it up, you sick little man," Duo grumbles just loud enough for his intended target to hear him.

Trowa chuckles. Silently, of course.

Before the pitcher of beer in the center of the table has emptied, Duo and Trowa find themselves alone as the crew begins to circulate through the bar, chatting it up with attractive women.

"Well, that's my cue," Duo says, tossing a few bills on the table.

Trowa does likewise and the two of them manage to slip out the door without incident. As they head down the lamp-lit street, Duo says, "We work with some seriously... Those guys are..."

"Walking hormones?" Trowa suggests.

Duo laughs. "Don't you know it, man! I mean, I'm not about to ruin anybody's fun and if that's what turns your crank then more power to you, but..."

"It seems silly. After what we've been through." Again, Trowa finishes Duo's thoughts with eerie accuracy.

"Um, yeah." Duo looks at his friend. "How'd you—?" Trowa gives Duo the look. The one that says, How the hell do you think I know? Duo clears his throat and looks back at the street again. "Never mind. I'm just glad we got out of there before they got any bright ideas about setting us up with anyone." With a shake of the head, Duo declares, "They have no clue what a total basket case I am."

"Hm," Trowa agrees. "That would be why you keep trying to strangle me in my sleep."

Trowa's voice is so mild, so mellow, that it takes Duo a few heartbeats to register the actual words. "What!?"

The corner of Trowa's mouth lifts in reply. He glances at Duo, prepared to smirk at the indignant expression that must be there, and stops.

"Duo?"

Shock. Fear. Disbelief. Anger. Resignation.

Trowa stares at the variety of emotions pouring off of his friend, none of which are indignation. "Duo, I was kidding. I—"

Duo's eyes close and a shudder runs through his body. "Dude, don't... Don't say stuff like that. Okay?"

"Okay."

Duo crosses his arms to hold in a shiver. "Okay."

Cautiously, Trowa reaches out, gripping his friend's shoulder. "Duo?"

"I'm okay."

Trowa's eyes narrow. "You're not. Come on." He tucks Duo's body next to his side and keeps his hand on his opposite shoulder, occasionally rubbing his hand down Duo's arm both to comfort and to warm him.

"What are you doing with me, Trowa? I'm... I... I could..."

"You couldn't."

"I could."

Trowa stops and turns Duo to face him. "I won't let you, Duo. You won't."

"But I'm... You don't understand... Shinigami..." [9]

"I do. I do understand. It's going to be all right, Duo. You're going to be all right." Trowa firmly steers his friend down their street, his arm still moving over Duo's back and shoulders, trying to warm him.

"It's cold, Tro."

"I know. We're almost there."

Duo stumbles along, his mind not really on where he is or where he's headed. He's too busy remembering the nightmares, the daymares, the reality that lay beyond that. The terrifying, unforgivable reality of what he—Shinigami—had done. A sound rises from this throat. Distantly, he recognizes the sound of Trowa's whispered name on his lips.

"I'm right here, Duo."

He's only dimly aware of entering the condemned house, being lead into the one room they live in. Trowa's hands guide him to the sleeping bag, firmly push him down to sit on it, untie and remove his boots. As his friend's warm body begins to move away, Duo finds his hand fisted in the other man's shirt.

"I'm not going anywhere, Duo. I'm just taking my shoes off..."

Trowa's voice soothes him. Most of the words are stupid, obvious statements. But the sound of his voice and the solid heat of his body ground Duo in a way he had never thought possible. Trowa wraps his arms around Duo and they snuggle into the warmth of the sleeping bag.

"Just relax, Duo. You're safe. You're fine. I'm here. And I'm not leaving, Duo. I'm not leaving..."

The gentle murmur of Trowa's perfect promise wraps around him, warming him, and guiding him towards the darkness of sleep.

+

In the still-dark pre-dawn hours of the morning, a small sound escapes the throat of the long-haired young man. His body tenses and his brows draw together in a sign of distress. Instantly awake, Trowa adjusts his hold on him, gently laying Duo across his chest, nestling his head against his shoulder, and finding the nape of his neck with his fingers.

"I'm here, Duo," he whispers, working the tightly corded muscles. "It's just a dream. Let it go." His other hand brushes at Duo's bangs. This combination of voice and touch Trowa has found over the past week to be the most effective at dissuading a nightmare. He employs them now with ease. They're almost reflexive movements of his body.

"It's just another nightmare. Go to sleep..."

Slowly, the body in his arms relaxes against him. Duo's breaths even out as he falls back into slumber once more. Trowa waits, gently rubbing his neck and shoulder. He waits but Duo does not stir again. Eventually, Trowa himself begins to drift off. Mere moments later, his shallow, even breaths join Duo's.

Only then is it safe for Duo to open his eyes.

Trowa had thought he'd been having a nightmare. And, in a way, that is accurate. Waking up in the arms of his friend after that humiliating panic attack... having succeeded in demolishing yet another friendship... knowing that when the morning comes, Trowa will look at him like everyone else had. With wariness, pity, dispassion... The pain had been swift and hot. He'd needed to get away, to try to convince himself that this hadn't happened. But as soon as his body had tensed, as soon as he'd tried to shift away from Trowa's warmth, the other man had woken up.

So Duo had feigned sleep, had submitted to Trowa's hands, had been helpless to stop his body from responding to that touch and relaxing completely. Duo had marveled at Trowa's patience, his gentle hands and soothing voice. He'd wanted nothing more than to exist in that moment when Trowa had been bestowing his magic upon him. It had only been the aching of his heart that had kept him from falling back asleep. And then he'd heard those words: It's just another nightmare...

God... How often has Trowa soothed away one of Duo's nightmares?

I thought it was just luck that the nightmares had stopped so suddenly...


Not luck. Trowa.

And he would have worked his magic all night if Duo hadn't settled down. And he wouldn't have said a single word about it in the morning.

So Trowa knows about the nightmares.

And he'd stayed.

Duo's eyes squeeze closed in relief. Trowa hadn't left him. He'd known but he hadn't tried to lecture Duo or get him to talk about it. He'd just... stayed.

He'd never guessed he would have found such a friend in Trowa Barton.

Duo fights to keep his body limp as the backs of his eyes burn again. Trowa is his friend... for now. But if he were to find out... If he knew...

Opening his eyes, Duo allows the tears to do as they will. He studies the exposed lines of Trowa's face while he sleeps. He'd never expected to find himself in the embrace of a man he'd never honestly considered it possible to befriend.

But he is my friend.

It is at this moment Duo realizes that Trowa genuinely cares about him. He realizes how very completely his heart would shatter if Trowa were to leave. And it is at this moment Duo understands that he can never, never tell him the truth.

No matter what.

++

[9] In "Episode Zero" Duo begins calling himself the God of Death (Shinigami) and continues to do so during the series.

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