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

Shinigami Sleeps + Chapter 8
What He Sees

"Well, that's about all we can do for now," the reverend says, apologetically. "The rest of the supplies have been ordered, but they won't be arriving until Thursday."

Duo nods. "No worries, man. Tro and I'll just check in with you Wednesday evening, before bible study, to see if you've heard anything. That okay?"

Reverend Jamesson nods. "That sounds like a plan. Enjoy your time off. Laying shingles is going to be hard work..."

"Don't worry about us. We're tougher than we look, isn't that right, Tro?"

Trowa grunts. "If I can survive your cooking I can survive anything."

The reverend looks both amused and intrigued. "I think there must be a story behind that."

Duo grins. "Yeah, you bet there is. And if you ask real nice, we'll tell you all about it during our lunch break on Thursday."

The older man laughs at the obvious bribe. "Don't worry, Duo. I'll be needing your help for a while yet."

"That's good to hear."

They say their farewells and the two young men stroll down the street, toward home. For several blocks, neither speaks. Although it's not a particularly uncomfortable silence, there is noticeable tension between them. Trowa suspects it's because neither he nor Duo had discussed what had happened early Sunday morning: Duo's nightmare and Trowa's offer. They'd spent the morning dozing on Duo's sleeping bag, not speaking, just being.

And then Duo had withdrawn. Not a lot, but just enough to let Trowa know he needed some space. Needed to think. Needed a distraction. So they'd run some errands and strolled through the mall. Trowa smiles slightly as he remembers Duo's snicker upon spotting a pet store.

"What are you laughing at?"

Trowa glances in his companion's direction. "You."

Duo arcs a brow.

"Only you would find a perfectly innocent pet store a source of great amusement."

Duo grins. "Sorry, man. I just keep picturing you in an apron with those rubber gloves on, and maybe goggles, while you're vacuuming up the fish shit."

Trowa rolls his eyes. "And my epitaph will read: 'A man of varied interests.'"

That startles a laugh out of Duo. "Aw, can't we work the phase 'fish turds' in there somewhere?"

"Yet another classic Duo-ism is born..."

Duo looks positively thrilled. "A 'Duo-ism,' hey? I like the sound of that."

Trowa snorts. "You would." Their corner is coming up and Trowa turns toward it automatically.

"Um... Trowa?"

He pauses, noting Duo's hesitation to both disrupt their easy banter and continue along their current route. "What is it?"

"Can we... take a... um, detour?"

Trowa nods. "Of course." He returns to Duo's side, following his friend's lead. "Where are we going?"

"It's a... surprise."

Trowa arcs a brow but says nothing. By the tone of Duo's voice, it doesn't sound like a very pleasant surprise.

Duo takes a fortifying breath and gestures to the street before them. "When I was a kid, this all used to be a bazaar. Fruit stands, clothing vendors, booksellers... they sold just about anything that would fit on a cart."

At Trowa's questioning look, Duo elaborates, "See, things were pretty tight back then for this colony. No one could really afford to set up shop, pay employees and the bills and stuff. So they'd rent a space for the day and wheel their carts out of storage."

Duo shakes his head at the memory. "Those poor merchants. My gang and I were absolute terrors. We were fast and we had expensive taste. We always hit the fruit stands the hardest. We knew we could trade what we didn't eat for just about anything we wanted. I remember getting a pair of shoes for a bunch of seedless concord grapes once.

"The house we'd... appropriated was decent, I suppose. We were really careful to keep our presence in it a secret. Then the demolitions crew came one day and told us to clear out. They were putting up an office building there and were going to tear our house down.

"I was furious. How could they just do this? It wasn't like we used up their tax dollars or anything. We didn't go to school. Didn't beg on the streets. We did steal. A lot. But the merchants could always just blame it on the soldiers and get Alliance compensation.

"So, imagine my surprise when they told my gang and I that we were going to be living in an orphanage." Duo's mouth twists into a wry grin. "Yeah, like any of us were adoption material... But they proved me wrong. Everyone shaped up and shipped out. But I... I guess I was too headstrong... too old to change my ways or something and I ended up staying."

As Duo relates this, Trowa notices that their meandering path is leading them toward the site of the former Maxwell Church. He doesn't tell Duo he already knows about it. This is a gesture that Duo wants to make, perhaps even needs to make. Trowa isn't about to do anything so insensitive as interrupt him.

They turn the corner and start down the road the memorial is on. Duo continues, voice amicable despite the painful memories his monologue must be stirring up, "The priest and nun that ran the orphanage and the church next door were... well, they became, I guess, like parents. They provided me with the essentials, sent me to school, talked to me. They never really treated me like I was a little kid, never lectured me on what to do. I'd been taking care of myself for almost as far back as I could remember and they seemed to respect that. They were just... there. And I could see they really cared about me, wanted what was best for me, but wouldn't dare do anything to break my spirit in the process."

Duo doesn't say anything else until they come to a halt in front of the memorial. Trowa reads the plaque again even though he knows it by heart. Beside him, Duo shifts and the uncomfortable movement draws Trowa's attention. He can see the indecision on Duo's face, watches as he struggles to find the words.

Trowa says, "Were you the only one?"

The only survivor.

Shock, then relief, and finally regret are reflected in Duo's expressive eyes. Unable to speak, Duo turns back to the ruins and nods. [11]

Trowa can almost feel the ache that has silenced his friend. He raises a hand to Duo's shoulder and rests it there. Just a touch... just to remind him that he's not alone in this, just to steady him so that he can go on if he chooses to.

Duo chooses to.

With a deep breath, he turns away.

Trowa recognizes this path as well.

It leads to the abandoned Alliance base.

+

Duo's eyes scan the rubble from a distance. He can't count the number of times he's tried to get closer. He can't place a quantity on his guilt, his shame, his pain. Somehow he'd gotten the idea that if he could just go past the guard gate, to the officers' quarters, he could ask their lingering essence for forgiveness and receive absolution. But he's never managed to actually try it. Deep inside him is the fear that he will go and linger with the ghosts and become one as well. He fears that it's far too late to unburden himself now.

He tells his silent companion, "I'd been working for Hilde for a while when I heard the salvage contract for this place was coming up. I didn't even talk to her about it, I just placed a bid. I don't even know what made me do it. Maybe I just wanted to see how... mortal this place had become. To know that the Alliance wasn't so high and mighty anymore. That I could pick through its bones and take whatever I wanted. I was still angry at them for what they had done to the church. I still wanted revenge. Which doesn't really make any sense." [12]

There's a long pause before Trowa inquires, "Why doesn't it?"

Duo gestures to encompass the destruction before them. "Because I was the one who did this. After Father Maxwell and Sister Helen were killed, I swore to bring down the Alliance on this colony. I swore to do everything in my power to keep them from hurting anyone else. So I joined up with some rebels. Learned how to make and set explosives. Got really good at stealth work. It took me four years before I could plan and execute my attack.

"I knew my time at this colony would be over once I'd blown the base, so I didn't really worry about hurting anyone's feelings. I stole all of the explosives I could, snuck onto the base, and planted them. It took me a couple of days to get everything in place. By then I was exhausted. And I got caught." [13]

Something passes over Duo's face and Trowa knows that he's editing his story. There are large parts that he's leaving out. Trowa is curious, but doesn't interrupt.

"And I escaped. Blew the ever-loving shit out of the place. This was the first kill I'd ever made. My first act as Shinigami.

"I didn't think much about this place until it came up on the salvage line. But, I suppose I had this perverse need to make sure there would be no possible way this place could ever resurrect itself. I had no idea I'd find... that those private safes in the residences would hold... what they did."

Trowa notes the tone of finality in Duo's voice. This is all he has to say... for now. Trowa accepts that, accepts the fact that they will be headed home now. It's been a long day, after all.

As they turn to go back, Duo finally speaks directly to him. He asks, "Trowa, what do you see?"

He recalls their conversation so early Sunday morning. He stops and turns toward Duo, unwilling to say this in passing. It's too important. To both of them. He lifts a hand to brush Duo's long bangs aside and says, "You. I see you."

There is fear in Duo's dark eyes. He's afraid to ask, but he forces himself to say, "And who am I, Trowa?"

He senses the gravity pulling them together and doesn't resist it. His hand settles against Duo's neck, his thumb resting softly over his pulse. "Someone who laughs, who loves, who feels pain, who makes mistakes... Someone who is my friend."

Duo's eyes close. A shiver ripples through his body at the words. Trowa watches as Duo swallows once, twice, and locates his voice. "Thank you, Trowa."

Trowa shakes his head, unwilling to accept gratitude for merely being honest. "It's the truth."

His eyes snap open. Duo stares at Trowa for a long moment, searching his face for something. Trowa allows the scrutiny, wondering what it is Duo is looking for. Wondering if he's capable of providing it. Finally, Duo's expression softens and the breath he'd been holding is expelled.

"You're right," he says, although he doesn't clarify exactly what Trowa had been right about. He turns and begins walking again. Trowa's hand slides gently from his skin and is returned to his jacket pocket. After a dozen or so paces, Duo comments in a voice that's been forced to sound off-handed, "I'm probably going to have nightmares tonight."

Trowa glances at him and offers up a rare, genuine smile. "It's a good thing the two of us fit in your sleeping bag, then."

Duo returns the gaze and the grin. "Yeah," he says. "A damn good thing."

++

[11] Duo's story is taken, in part, from the "Episode Zero" manga, although I did embellish portions of it.

[12] At the conclusion of "Endless Waltz," Duo is working at the salvage yard with Hilde.

[13] During the series, Duo seems very familiar with the way rebel groups operate. In "Episode Zero," Duo is depicted in an Alliance jail cell after the Maxwell Church Tragedy but before he sneaks on board Professor G's shuttle and gets caught.

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