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

Shinigami Sleeps + Chapter 7
Blood and Trust

Gone.

Duo stares at the neatly rolled sleeping bag in the corner of the room. The only thing in the corner of the room. There is no friend. There is no friend's duffle.

Trowa is gone.

He draws in a gasping breath, dimly realizing that he hadn't been breathing. The action aggravates the ache beneath his breastbone. He gasps again. He feels the pressure building inside him but his instincts force him to remain quiet, at least until he can find someplace safe.

He rolls out of his bed and fumbles blindly toward the bathroom. He doesn't bother with a fresh change of clothes. Doesn't bother to locate a towel. He's the only one here, so it won't matter if he runs around the house buck naked.

Duo shivers as he twists open the tap. The colony's pressurized water system forces icy jets through the rusted showerhead. He sheds his clothes and plunges into the cascade.

He draws a sharp breath. The water is so cold it hurts. But he doesn't move. He knows that if he stands here long enough, he'll go numb. That's what he needs right now. To be numb.

His body shivers. He struggles with his breathing. He can barely hear the sound of his gasping, dry sobs over the impact of the water against the metal basin. This is all he allows himself. All he can allow himself. He'd known this would happen. He'd known Trowa wouldn't stay. Couldn't stay.

I'm alone.

It's both frightening and reassuring. He raises his arms and braces himself under the punishing spray. Duo lowers his head and lets the granules of water sting his back.

Being alone has never bothered him before. In fact, he'd preferred his own company more often than not. But not now.

The water is too cold and yet not cold enough. His skin is rapidly cooling to match its temperature. His muscles begin to shake. He sinks to his knees and tries to get used to the idea that there is no one who can help him. That he doesn't deserve it even if it were to be offered. That Heero had been right.

He sincerely wishes that Trowa had never bumped into him at the convenience store. The warmth of friendship followed, abruptly, by silent abandonment is far, far worse than Heero's clinical diagnosis.

I'm alone.

He breathes heavily, trying to push the pain down. His body shakes continuously but he makes no effort to warm himself again. Arms bracing him over the drain, he endures in absolute silence.

Fuck.

Duo is vaguely aware of the water being shut off. Of something soft and warm enveloping him. It burns his skin. Chafes. He winces, feels himself being lifted. Finds himself staring into concerned green eyes. For a moment, his mind is a complete blank. And then:

Trowa...

He watches, mesmerized as Trowa takes several calming breaths. Very softly, he asks in a gentle voice, "Why didn't you wait for me to come back?"

"Come back?" Duo echoes, teeth chattering.

With a nod, Trowa herds Duo down the hall and into the bedroom. "Why didn't you wait for me to come back with the laundry before you took a shower?"

Duo frowns. He shivers violently. "Laundry?"

Trowa keeps an arm around him as he switches on the heater. "Yes, laundry. Didn't you find my note?"

Duo opens his mouth. Closes it. Shakes his head.

Trowa lets out a breath that is almost an expletive in and of itself. He presses his body against Duo's offering as much warmth as he can. His hands guide the towel over him, rubbingbriskly. Duo presses his face against Trowa's shoulder and submits. He's too wrung out to offer much resistance even if he'd had the will to do so.

In that mellow, quiet voice Duo associates with Trowa Barton, the other man says, "I'm sorry, Duo. I thought you would want some time to yourself."

Duo's fingers curl into Trowa's shirt in response.

Trowa wraps the towel around Duo's dripping braid and proceeds to coax Duo into pulling on a pair of boxers, jeans, and a sweater. Trowa goes about these tasks, for the most part, one-handed. Although letting go of Duo for a moment would make the operation much easier, he knows, from experience, that when the chill is coming from your soul, you don't really care about anything except maintaining the touch of another warm body.

"Here, Duo. Sit down." Trowa gently pulls Duo to sit between his knees. He wraps his legs around him and reaches for the paper bag sitting beside his duffle. "I bought us some breakfast." He has to use both hands to remove the safety lids from the coffee. He adds two sugars and a cream to one of them, lifts it to his own lips, and tests the temperate. Thankfully, the walk back to the house had given the liquid enough time to cool a bit.

His arm curves around Duo's shoulders again and he urges Duo to unbury his face from Trowa's shirt. "Here, have some of this."

Duo hesitates.

"It's not too hot."

Still, Duo doesn't move toward the offered beverage.

Trowa tries the one word that had always worked on him when Cathy had been trying to calm him down. [10] "Please?"

Reluctantly, Duo leans away from Trowa's chest and turns his face toward the insulated cup. His hands are still tangled in Trowa's shirt in a formidable death grip, so Trowa gently cradles the back of Duo's head and tips the coffee to his lips.

One sip. Then another. And another.

In between each tiny increment, his dark eyes return to Trowa's gaze. And Trowa keeps up a steady monologue in a voice he knows will soothe. "There. That's it. Just bit more..."

Duo watches and listens and feels. And, slowly, his body soaks up the warmth from the heater and the coffee and Trowa. He stares in silence, for a long moment, before asking gruffly, "How do you know what to do?"

Trowa offers him a small smile, one that's neither sad nor condescending. He's just relieved that Duo is back in the here and now. "You remember when I lost my memory?"

Duo relaxes a bit more, understanding. "Oh..."

"Yeah." Trowa lifts the coffee in silent question.

Duo shakes his head. He's had enough.

Trowa sets the cup down and settles both of his arms around Duo. He lets out a long breath and feels Duo lean into him.

Voice low and steady, Duo tells him, "I didn't think you were coming back."

Trowa rubs his hands up and down Duo's back and says nothing, just lets him say what he needs to.

"I'm so screwed up, Tro."

He rubs his cheek against the wet towel wrapped around Duo's hair.

"I never really thought you'd stay long anyway. Not after you found out about the nightmares."

He hears the implied question in Duo's tone. "Of course I stayed. I know a little about nightmares, Duo. I know how hard it is to endure them alone."

Pause.

"Trowa?"

"Yeah?"

And then, in a voice so small it's barely audible, Duo asks, "Did you leave the circus to find me?"

There is no hesitation. "Yes."

"Why?"

"Because I needed to."

Duo's mouth curves just at the corners. He inhales Trowa's scent and feels the last of the tension bleed away. Trowa had come here because he'd needed to find Duo. Not because Duo had needed him. Not because of pity. Duo isn't altogether sure that guilt and duty hadn't been involved, initially, but he doesn't sense either emotion from Trowa as he sits cocooned within his limbs.

"So you weren't surprised."

"No, I wasn't."

Duo thinks about this. Trowa had orchestrated their meeting. "Why? At the store, why did you...?"

"Because I didn't know how else to approach you without putting you on the defensive."

Duo draws a deep breath. "So you already knew."

"Yes. I knew about the nightmares."

"Who...?"

"Howard. And Heero."

Duo lifts his head and frowns. "How many people did you call looking for me?"

Trowa replies, "Everyone."

"Everyone?"

He nods. "Quatre, Wufei, Hilde, Howard, and Heero."

Duo's wrists tingle as his pulse stumbles faster through his body. "You...? Why?"

"I can't explain it, Duo. I just needed to."

They stare at each other.

Trowa continues, reluctantly, "Are you... sorry I found you?"

Slowly, Duo admits, "No... I just... never expected..."

"Neither did I."

Duo smiles. "Welcome to the Twilight Zone."

The corner of Trowa's mouth twitches. "I don't know about you, but I'm really scared."

Duo snorts. "You? Scared?"

"Okay; terrified."

"Yeah, you look it." Grinning, Duo nods to the paper bag on the floor. "What's that?"

"Breakfast."

At the sound of the very word, Duo's stomach growls. Trowa smiles. "Turn around. We need to deal with your hair."

Trowa locates the brush among Duo's things as Duo pivots one hundred and eighty degrees. He finds himself bracketed by Trowa's long legs and blinks. He hadn't even noticed how... intimate this position is. But, what's more stunning, is the fact that Duo doesn't honestly feel uncomfortable at all. He reaches for the bag as Trowa continues to squeeze water out of his braid. Only then does he notice what he's wearing.

"Is this your sweater?" Duo asks, pinching the knitted material between his fingers.

"Yeah."

"It's nice."

"Thank you." Trowa carefully removes the elastic band at the tail of Duo's hair. "Help yourself," he tells him, referring to the contents of the paper bag. "Just save me something, will you?"

Smirking, Duo opens the sack and inhales the warm scent of fresh muffins and gourmet bagels. "Oh, man. I don't know..."

The slight tug on Duo's braid is the only warning he gets.

Duo sighs. "All right. Maybe I'll leave you a few crumbs."

"You're too kind."

Duo stills. He glances over his shoulder at Trowa, expression serious. He says, "Thank you, Trowa."

A smile of understanding flickers briefly across Trowa's lips. He knows what Duo is thanking him for: for finding him, for taking care of him, for not leaving him, for being a friend to him. He says, "Eat your breakfast, Duo."

With a crooked smile, the other young man replies, "Yes, sir!"

+

Trowa's gaze travels in the direction of the shower and he forces himself to suppress the chill that sweeps through him at the reminder. It had only been three days ago, but the image of Duo cowed under the icy assault, shivering and pale, eyes vacant and lips blue, is one that he suspects will never fade.

He'd made a mistake—a horrible mistake—that morning. He'd thought to save Duo the awkwardness of waking up and remembering the night before and having to face him. He'd thought to give Duo time to calm himself down. He'd thought Duo would find his damn note and know that he was coming back.

God, if I'd been much later in getting back...

He doesn't want to think about it. But his mind oh so helpfully supplies the term: Hypothermia.

Duo had been damn close. So damn close.

He reaches for the hem of his shirt but hesitates. It's not yet dawn. With any luck, he'll take his five minute shower and be back in the bedroom without Duo ever having noticed his absence. He reminds himself that Duo's nightmares tend to come visiting between one and four in the morning. It's nearly six now. He should be out of the woods...

Just take the damn shower and get it over with.


Trowa yanks off his shirt and turns on the water. The extremely cold water. He spares a moment to think fondly of hot showers. Hell, even lukewarm showers. Then he steels himself against the temperature and steps into the basin. He soaps and shampoos quickly and efficiently, turning his mind away from the cold and focusing on finishing one small task at a time.

+

"Duo?"

I turn around, my breath tangling and twisting in my throat. "Trowa?"

Trowa looks up from the wreckage, cradling the body of a man in his arms. I know this man. I've seen him before. I've seen his eyes before. They way they'd looked at me, I'dthought... I'd felt...

But now those eyes are open, staring blindly toward the sooty dome of the colony. The Alliance base is now smoldering rubble. As Maxwell Church had been smoldering rubble.

Trowa clutches the man closer to his chest. Both of them are covered in the officer's blood. I can barely make out the short, brown hair, the carefully trimmed mustache, the rank insignia on his collar.

Trowa watches me as I stare. Very quietly, he asks, "Why?"

I try to swallow. Try to find my voice. I see the pain and the condemnation in Trowa's eyes. He waits for me to answer, but I know nothing I can say will make up for what I've done.

"I didn't know. I... I thought I was... It was for the church... for the colony..."

His expression closes, freezing me out.

I reach for him. "Please, Trowa! I never thought this would happen! I didn't—"

"Stop pretending, Duo. You felt no remorse. This was for revenge."

What he says is true. I had done this; I had taken vengeance. "I feel remorse now," I offer, knowing it's not enough. Nothing could ever be enough.

"Shinigami feels no such thing," he states flatly.

I shudder. "No! No, I'm not..."

"You are," he tells me. His gaze slides away from me and surveys the destruction. "When you did this, you became Shinigami. Didn't you?"

I sob. Once. "Yes."

"And Shinigami feels no remorse, does he?"

"No..." I'm not sure if I'm agreeing or begging to differ.

Trowa rises, the soldier's body draped across his arms. "You are alone," he says.

And then he turns away.

"Wait!" I call. I yell. I scream. "Don't leave me here! Trowa!!"

But I'm alone.

Alone.

Alone.

Alone.

I collapse in the ruins, falling to my hands and knees, feeling the heat of the embers pulse against my skin.

I struggle to let the tears fall, to be human.

But I'm not human. Not anymore.

I am Shinigami...


+

Duo comes awake with a start. His throat is sore and tight. He blinks as several cold droplets rain down on his face. It is then that he notices the figure above him.

He shoves blindly at the intruder. His mind acknowledges nothing but the need to escape. To run. To never stop running.

The body hits the floor with a soft thump and Duo scrambles over the bedding. He slams out the door and finds himself outside. He stumbles against a rough wall, doubles over, and heaves. With each reflexive spasm of his body, awareness rolls though him. He remembers he's on his home colony. He's living in a condemned house. And Trowa is staying with him.

Oh, God... Trowa...

Trowa had seen... had heard...

And he remembers the look in the dream-Trowa's eyes right before he'd walked away.

I can't... Oh, God... I can't...

He'd wanted to lean... He'd wanted so fucking badly to lean on Trowa. Solid, grounded, gentle Trowa. But how can he? How can he when he knows what will happen when Trowa finds out?

It's time to accept the facts.

I'm alone.

The thought rips a hole in his chest. So he thinks it again.

I'm alone.

And if he says it enough, maybe he'll start to believe that this is the way it's supposed to be. The way it has to be.

I'm...

"Duo?"

Warm hands settle on his shoulders.

…scared.

He twists away, spitting to get rid of the taste of bile and wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. "Go away."

A short pause follows Duo's husky demand.

"No."

"Go away, Trowa."

"I'm not leaving."

Duo feels his entire body coil tight. The tension is so complete he shakes with it. Spinning around, he nearly shouts, "I need to do this myself!"

Without removing his gaze from Duo, Trowa tells him, "Yes, you do. But you don't have to do it alone."

"Damn it! I do not want you to see me like this!" Duo glares at him. His throat is tender from screaming and vomiting. His breath is thin and raspy. He's a hair's breadth away from giving in to the comfort Trowa is tacitly offering with his mere presence.

Trowa takes a step forward... and then another... until he's inside Duo's space, until their bodies are nearly touching. Slowly, Trowa raises his hands and softly touches his fingertips to Duo's jaw. Framing his face so carefully, he captures Duo's complete attention and his vehement whisper penetrates Duo's fear and aggression.

"Do not presume to know what it is I see."

Duo stares into Trowa's eyes, breath caught in his chest.

"I will not ask you about the nightmares. I will not force you to face them. But I am not leaving."

A small sound whispers past Duo's lips. It's enough of an acquiescence for Trowa. He pulls Duo to him and locks his arms around him. Duo goes limp against him, burying his face against Trowa's neck.

Trowa listens as Duo struggles to keep his breathing under control. He knows that Duo is undergoing severe emotional anguish. He knows that he needs to let it out. But he's aware that Duo is just not ready to relinquish control like that. Not yet. And Trowa will never attempt to force him to. But he will be here when Duo decides he's ready.

Gradually, Trowa becomes aware of the cool night against his bare back and arms. A soft breeze blows against his wet hair. He listens to the soft rustle of discarded newspapers and empty cigarette packs in the streets. And then Duo's breathing changes. His breath puffs against Trowa's skin in a specific pattern. He holds his breath, and hears:

"...mepleasedon'tleavemepleasedon'tleavemepleasedon'tleave..."

Trowa slowly pets Duo's messy, slept-in braid. He lowers his chin, grazes his lips across Duo's cheek until they're level with his ear, and whispers, "I'm here. For as long as you want me. I'm here." He closes his eyes as Duo's arms tighten almost painfully around his waist. "I'm right here..."

++

[10] During the series, Trowa briefly loses his memory and he would occasionally have something like panic attacks during which he would feel extremely cold. He had probably been remembering the sensation of free-floating through outer space.

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