Authors: TB and Marsh
Pairing: previous 3x2
Rating: M15
Notes: post-EW; character death (not a deathfic)

Six Seconds To Gone + Prologue

Duo crawled into his sleeping bag one night. Twelve years later, Duo's son sneaked backstage after the seven o'clock showing.

The kid said, 'You're Trowa Barton?' and must have already known the answer, because he went right on to the next business. 'My dad always said if I was in trouble I should find you. Well, he said I should find Quatre Winner or Heero Yuy or Wufei Chang, but if I couldn't find any of them, I should find you.'

'Don't I feel special.' Trowa was greasepaint from neck to belly, and the cats were especially restless, prowling their small cages furiously. The kid stared at them with wide eyes that were that familiar shade of purple-blue. Trowa lobbed big raw steaks through the bars and wiped his hands on his cotton undershorts. 'What are you doing on L3?'

'I don't mean to be a bother, but do you have food anywhere?' He looked so hopeful, all four feet of him. Then, reluctantly, he added, 'I guess I could work for it.'

'You guess.' There were two dozen stands out in the carnival selling anything fried you could dream of. So the kid didn't have money, which argued Duo didn't know where the kid was, or the kid--Trowa honestly couldn't remember his name--had run away and done it without any planning. If he was stupid, Trowa didn't want anything to do with him.

But he jumped at loud noises. And his skin was dry and flushed, which suggested dehydration, and there were holes, for Chrissakes, in his jeans and elbows, and scrapes all up his knuckles. Whatever he'd run from had fought back. If he'd been just a kid on the street, maybe Trowa could have walked by without looking back, but he wasn't just a kid, was he? He was Duo's kid.

Even if he wasn't Duo's mirror image, the way he ate solidified it. Kathy was in love by the third helping. She all but glowed as she threw open the trailer for a guest, all but emptied the contents of their refrigerator into the kid's apparently bottomless gullet. Even in the green silk costume and glitter still shimmering all over her curls she bustled in the little kitchenette like a born mother, even bringing out the faded placemats and napkins. 'Finally,' she told Trowa. 'Someone who eats what I cook without complaint.'

'Gotta be starved, then.' The kid had gone right through a three-day old roast that had been dry to start, and was deep into a bowl of beef stew.

Slurping it, actually. 'Oh,' he said around a mouthful of shrivelled carrot. 'Oh, it's real good. Dad couldn't ever cook for beans, unless it was beans, so we ate a lot of take-away and freezer meals.'

It was as good an opening as he could expect. If nothing else, Trowa could probably outrun the kid, now that he'd eaten his own body weight. 'Where's your dad, anyway?' he asked.

The spoon actually hesitated mid-air. 'Oh,' he said a third time. 'Well. He got murdered last week.'

Trowa couldn't have been more shocked with a blow to the head. Kathy froze with the milk carton, staring at him. Trowa only just remembered to breathe, and then his heart went nuts, deafening him.

Kathy. Blessed Kathy. She put her hand on the kid's shoulder, very gentle, her hand on his hair, the way women could. 'Why don't you tell us what happened,' she murmured, stroking lightly with her bright red nails.

It worked the same charm it had on Trowa, when he was barely older than that boy. The kid looked up at her, and the look she gave back was sympathetic, and it promised to believe.

The kid fell right into it. Glanced at Trowa, first, but fell right into it. 'Dad was talking to these two men at the shop,' he said. 'Got real heated. He came home that night and was locking everything down, which he hasn't done since my mom left all that ways back. He told me to stay inside. We have a workshop in the basement. Stay in there.'

Trowa had to clear his throat. 'But you didn't, did you?'

'Men came by.' The soft scritch of Kathy's nails was the only sound for a moment. 'Dad wouldn't open the door. Said he was calling the police. Except he didn't. He went and got his gun and then he went out the back.' His voice went slow. His face was sombre. Too young to have such an adult look like that, but he did.

'Did you know them?' Kathy asked. 'Had they been to see your dad before?'

'I didn't know them. But I only started helping at the shop last year after school.'

'You're sure he's dead?' Trowa interrupted.

Short pause. Trowa filled it wondering why he couldn't imagine what it would look like. He'd seen a thousand dead bodies. Just couldn't put Duo's face on any of them. Hadn't seen Duo's face, maybe that was the problem, in longer than this little boy had been alive. Duo's boy.

Who nodded, a quick little jerk of the head.

The confirmation shook him. It was Kathy, again, who took over, tender as a lamb. 'You're a witness?' she asked.

'I didn't see it happen. I heard a lot of shots outside. I was--' The kid sucked in a deep breath and admitted it, face frozen. 'I was scared. I went into the workshop and I hid for a long time. All night.'

'It's all right,' Kathy said. She hugged the boy about the shoulders. 'You did the right thing. You stayed safe like he wanted.'

Safe. 'You're safe here,' Trowa said. 'This… can be a good place to hide.'

'Thank you,' the kid said. 'I'm sorry. I don't mean to be a bother. I'm not sure you even knew about me.'

'Course I knew about you. Your dad loved you a lot. Showed you off all the time.' He would have said it whether it was true or not. It helped it was true. It didn't that it left a lot unspoken, but no-one under twelve and related needed to know.

God. Duo was dead.

The kid wiped his nose on his sleeve. 'I can sleep on the floor and everything. And help your lady with cleaning. Or with the circus animals. I like animals,' he added, that hopefulness back like a lightness to the eyes. It didn't look like the desperation it was. Go to the others first, he'd said, Quatre or Wufei or anyone but Trowa Barton. Had he tried first? A week in the dark, running scared.

'You're not sleeping on the floor,' Kathy objected.

'Or outside. That's fine too.'

Trowa rubbed his mouth. 'What's your name, kid?'

'Rupert.' It was Kathy who supplied it. 'You remember, after Hilde's uncle.'

'Mom's grandpop, actually.' Kid made a face. 'She's the only one who ever called me that. Everyone else calls me Six.'

'Six.' Trowa reached for the milk, just to wet his throat. Kathy didn't stop him drinking from the carton, for once. 'And that works for you?'

'Six seconds into trouble, and six seconds out of it.' He caught himself. 'But I'll be real good while I'm here. I mean, I'm always real good, sir, it's just a thing my dad would say.'

Trowa spasmed out a smile. 'Sounds like something Duo would say. It's Trowa. Okay? None of this "sir" bullshit.'

'Okay.' The first sign of shyness. It was hard to remember ever being that young.

'I'll make up the couch,' Kathy said.

'I'll be quiet as a mouse, you'll never know I'm here, Trowa, Miss. I don't snore or anything even.'

'Relax,' Trowa said. 'Don't promise shit you can't keep. And if you're anything like your dad, you won't be quiet as a…'

Duo had come crawling into his sleeping bag, the night they'd blown up their Gundams in Argentina. They'd pitched tents at the cliff edge right over the wreckage. Duo had gone off to piss, clumping like a herd of something over the grass and every breakable stick in a mile's radius, and when he'd come back he'd come into Trowa's tent.

'Just don't be so loud Quatre hears,' he'd said. 'I don't want him jerking off thinking about us.'

Not quiet, no. But he'd had a great laugh.

Rupert--Six--was swiping angrily at his face. Tears barely had time to track, but his eyes were bright and red. 'Sorry. I'm sorry. One thing I'm never is stupid.'

'It's not stupid to miss him,' Trowa said.

'It's just been kind of--scary, without him.'

Trowa forced himself to smile as reassuringly as possible. It felt fake from the inside out. But Six relaxed, seeing it, so Trowa held it up there.

'I'll take care of you,' he promised.

[part 1] [back to TB and Marsh's fiction]