Author's note: Ever get the feeling I watched too much 21 Jump Street? Do you even remember that show? Well, if you haven't gotten that feeling yet, some of the dialogue in this section should hit you right upside the head with it. If you don't know the show, think any cheesy late eighties/early nineties 'crime drama.' Sigh. I'm so rural middle-class.

by: Aoe

Where I Started From... + Part 2

It was an infinitely weary Duo Maxwell who dragged himself up the stairs back to the apartment the next morning.

He ached. He'd forgotten the pain. It had been a while. Worse than the pain was that feeling of griminess, from sweat and other things dried on his skin. He felt like he could scratch layers of it off his body without hitting skin.

He felt dirty. Nasty. Tired. Sore.

He just wanted food, a bath and sleep, not necessarily in that order.

He finally made it to the door, and stared at it blankly for a moment, trying to figure out how he was supposed to open it with his hands full. Finally, he just kicked it until it flew open before his boot and he nearly fell on top of Heero and Heero's gun.

Duo regained his balance as Heero kept the gun pointed between his bleary eyes.

Duo blinked. "Ohayo, Heero," he muttered, and shuffled into the apartment past the other boy, disregarding the cocked firearm. You learned to ignore that sort of thing when you lived with Heero. Duo dropped the bags he carried on the floor just inside the door while Heero quickly checked the hall, making sure no one had followed Duo. Then the Japanese boy shut the door, tucked the gun back into his pants, and turned to glower at Duo.

"You didn't come back last night," he observed coldly.

Duo shrugged, trying to stifle a yawn. "Didn't say I would," he replied. He smirked. "You didn't wait up, did you?" he asked mockingly, expecting a snort and a reply of, "Baka."

Heero just stared darkly him. "Yes," he said flatly.

Duo blinked, woken up a little by sheer surprise. He felt a warm, genuine smile lifting his lips as he whispered incredulously, "Really?"

"Maxwell! Where the hell have you been?" Wufei demanded, appearing out of the room he was sharing with Quatre. Trowa was still unconscious on the couch, since there didn't seem to be any point to moving him. Wufei had been up for an hour, but had taken to hiding in the bedroom to avoid Heero's restless pacing as he awaited Duo's return.

Duo's smile disappeared at Wufei's arrival. Oh. Everybody was waiting up.

"Don't yell, I brought food," Duo said wearily to Wufei, too tired for his usual exchange of insults with the Chinese boy. Wufei's eyes lit up with momentary joy, then narrowed warily.

"It's not that disgusting American fast food garbage, is it?" he demanded.

Duo forgot his weariness again as his anger abruptly flared. He'd been out all night, working his ass off to provide for his friends, and Wufei was insulting his offering? His hands tightened into fists, but unfortunately, he was so tired, and the events of the night had been so... unsettling, that his anger brought tears to his bleary eyes.

"Well, nobody said you have to eat it. Sorry if it's not fucking good enough for you, Wufei," Duo ground out, glaring through the tears that hadn't fallen yet at an astonished Wufei. Before they could fall, and embarrass him further, Duo stomped into the small bedroom he was supposed to share with Heero and threw himself down on the bed.

He was asleep in minutes.

+

Wufei stared in shock at the closed door of Heero and Duo's room. Had Maxwell actually been... crying? It hardly seemed conceivable, but Wufei was certain he'd seen the shimmer of tears in the bloodshot violet eyes...

And now Heero was glaring at him as if the Japanese boy would cheerfully empty his clip into Wufei on the spot.

So perhaps, yes, Duo had been upset.

"I didn't mean... " Wufei began hesitantly, but Heero abruptly ceased glaring and picked up the bags Duo had dropped, carrying them into the kitchen as though nothing had happened. Wufei sighed and followed. He really did prefer solo missions.

Heero was unloading the bags, producing a bunch of greasy fast-food offerings that Wufei didn't dare sneer at, but also an assortment of healthy looking fruit and some milk and orange juice. Wufei felt a twinge of guilt at seeing the fruit that Maxwell had probably had to go out of his way to find.

Well, he volunteered for the job, he reminded himself brusquely.

Heero continued unpacking, finding that there were a few more basic food items like bread and cheese, and also a large roll of gauze and some over-the-counter fever medications. Wufei picked up another bag and found hydrogen peroxide and a case of suturing thread. Maxwell had been very thorough. Working silently with Heero, he helped separate food from medical supplies, and then to find an appropriate location for all of it.

Quatre stumbled into the kitchen as they were putting away the last of the groceries, and his eyes brightened at the sight of the greasy bags still sitting on the counter. He happily plundered through them, pulling out a disgusting sandwichy sort of thing. It looked like some sort of biscuit with egg and ham and quite possibly cheese oozing out of it. Quatre bit into it happily. Wufei looked away, disgusted. Heero handed him a grapefruit.

"Duo brought in food?" Quatre asked after swallowing.

"Aa. Medical supplies, too," Heero answered in his usual monotone. Quatre immediately put down his food and started to move toward the living room. Heero held out a hand and stopped the blond. "Eat first. Have to keep your strength up," the Japanese boy ordered. Quatre frowned, wanting to see to Trowa's wounds immediately, but had to acknowledge the wisdom of Heero's advice. If he didn't take care of himself, he couldn't take care of Trowa. Sighing, he picked up the breakfast sandwich and took another large bite.

"Where's Duo?" he asked when he'd finally managed to swallow all of it. Heero wordlessly handed him a jug of orange juice.

"No cups," the Japanese pilot explained. Quatre wrinkled his nose slightly, but drank from the jug as Heero informed him, "Duo went to bed. He seemed tired."

Quatre shot a sideways glance at Heero for that comment. It was extraneous information. Heero didn't give out extraneous information.

Heero stared determinedly at the half-eaten apple in his hands and tried not to think about how ‘tired' did not even begin to describe how Duo had looked.

He wanted to go check on the American. Just to make sure he was all right.

He took another bite of his apple.

Quatre finished his breakfast quickly in the uncomfortable silence that descended on the room, and began pulling out the medical supplies Heero and Wufei had just painstakingly organized and put away. When he had them spread all over the counter, he picked up what he needed and headed for the living room, leaving the rest behind.

Heero stared at the mess, a muscle in his jaw working spasmodically. Couldn't there be any sort of order on this botched up mission? First Trowa had been injured, then OZ had run them to ground in this shithole of a city, then Duo had to go out and spend the night doing gods-knew-what to support the rest of them, and now Quatre couldn't even leave the supplies in order! Everything was flying completely out of control and Heero wanted to shoot something.

Wufei picked up on the tension in Heero's lean frame and carefully eased out of the kitchen before Heero could remember that Wufei had upset Duo earlier. Heero looked like he wanted to shoot something, and Wufei suspected that his transgression would put him at the top of the list.

Out in the living room, Quatre was murmuring soothingly to Trowa as he checked and rebandaged the uninfected wounds, waiting for assistance before he tackled the arm wound. Wufei knelt beside him, and together they pulled off the bandage, noting the skin seemed redder and warmer this morning. Wufei welcomed the distraction of cleaning out the wound when Heero strode purposefully from the kitchen to his bedroom a few minutes later.

+

Heero sat in the room's single hard chair and watched Duo sleep.

Just watched him. Just stared. He could do it for hours. He had done it for hours, some nights when he couldn't sleep himself.

He studied the lean frame collapsed face first on the narrow bed. Duo was wearing the same black outfit he'd gone out in the night before, leading Heero to wonder what had become of the plan to acquire work clothes. Perhaps the money had gone for food and medical supplies instead. Perhaps Duo had wandered the streets all night and not found any sort of job. Perhaps that was what had caused the dark circles beneath the luminous violet eyes, the weary slackness of the usually smiling mouth. The full lips were slightly fuller than usual, looking somehow swollen, though Duo didn't seem to have been hit. Heero couldn't explain that, so he didn't try to.

He also couldn't explain how Wufei's offhand comment, hardly unusual or even particularly mean, had driven Duo nearly to tears. So he didn't try to explain that either. He just accepted it.

Heero was good at that. There were a lot of things he didn't understand. Why he couldn't have a childhood. Why he had to pilot a Gundam. Why five teenagers were the only hope for the colonies.

Why he had to kill.

Why he felt... better... when he was near Duo Maxwell.

Heero didn't understand any of these things, but just because he didn't understand them didn't make them any less true.

So he simply accepted them.

That was just the way things were.

+

Duo leaned his back against the cool metal of the lamppost, enjoying the slight lessening of the oppressive heat of the surrounding air. Just so he wasn't being completely frivolous, he rolled his head back on one shoulder and raised one knee, planting his booted foot against the post, adopting a seductive pose. He knew precisely the effect he got. He'd spent enough time practicing this particular skill.

He rolled his head forward, long masses of unbound auburn hair sliding with the motion to half-curtain his body. The hair was heavy and horribly uncomfortable in the heat, but it was another facet of his performance, and a trait that made him unique. Half of it was actually still braided down his back, but the upper layers were loose, held back only by a few flimsy barrettes picked up at the thrift store. There was just too much of it to let it all loose. Besides, his hair was very special to him, and touching it was an intimacy he didn't really like to allow.

But he could usually get a higher price for it, so...

He'd already exceeded the hundred he'd set as his nightly minimum, and he was seriously considering just going back to the apartment and taking a nice long bath in the ancient iron tub. He was so hot out here, and he felt dirty, sticky... He'd been doing this for a few days now, and they'd managed to save up some of his earnings. Maybe he could stop for a few days?

Duo frowned behind the barrier of his hair. If he wanted a few days off, he ought to stay out and see how much more he could bring in tonight. It was Friday, and had been very profitable so far.

But God, how he wanted to get off the street...

"Hey, cutie, what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" a husky voice asked from behind Duo.

He sighed, then tossed the hair aside and threw a heavy-lidded glance at the fat, sweaty, balding man grinning at him from a few feet away.

"I'm not a girl, baby, but I can scream like one," Duo purred suggestively, running his hands over his lean hips.

Baldy chortled, a thick, disgusting sound. Duo fought down a gag and smiled wickedly.

"Yeah, you're one hot little number all right," Baldy declared, eyes running appreciatively over Duo's barely-dressed body. Duo smiled and tried to ignore the way the man's hungry gaze made his skin crawl. "I don't know, though... you look kinda fragile for a guy like me," Baldy continued skeptically, but the gleam in his eyes showed it was this very fact that had led to his approach.

"I'm stronger than I look," Duo boasted, making his eyes wide so Baldy wouldn't believe him.

Baldy's grin grew predatory and Duo didn't try to hide his shudder, knowing the man would be excited by it.

Ick.

"What do you say you and me go someplace a little more private," Baldy murmured in what he probably thought was a seductive tone, but sounded more like he had a wad of phlegm in his throat. Duo smiled wider, stepping over and pressing his body against the bloated older man. It was really way too hot for that sort of thing, but what the hell?

Baldy began leading him away from the brightly-lit street corner Duo had staked out a few nights ago. Oddly enough, there hadn't been any competition for the cherry spot. Duo had worried about that, but after a few nights of no trouble, he'd decided that maybe he just wasn't hooking in the prime area.

Baldy seemed to be headed toward one of the nearby tenements, and Duo allowed himself to be half-dragged, one of the hot, stubby hands working it's way down his shorts even as they walked. Duo managed to turn his squirming discomfort into a reasonable approximation of excitement.

Then Baldy abruptly changed direction. Duo tensed, suddenly preparing to fight as his large companion turned into the dark alley next to the building. Of course, with one beefy arm around his neck in a suddenly very tight grip, and the other ham-like fist squeezing his manhood with obvious threat, Duo really didn't have much room to maneuver.

Shit. Oz. They've found me, he thought frantically.

Then Baldy came to a halt and a few other men stepped out of the shadows. Two wore the same ragged denim and leather as Duo's captor, but the last... The last wore what looked like an almost-expensive suit.

Oh, fuck, Duo thought weakly, feeling the fight drain from his body and his knees turn to rubber.

It wasn't Oz. It was way worse.

It was a small time pimp.

The man in the suit stalked forward, grabbing Duo's chin in his hand and turning the boy's face into what little light fell into the alley from a nearby apartment window. Duo knew better than to bother yelling for help. Whoever was in the apartment wasn't likely to put their own health in danger for a whore getting beat on by a pimp.

He knew that far too well.

"Well, well, well, what have we here? Ain't you a pretty little thing," the pimp crooned in a light tenor. Duo fought the urge to swear or spit at the man. Normally, his natural reaction to intimidation was cockiness and bravado, but right now, his four friends were counting on him for their very survival. If there was a way to get out of this encounter in good enough shape to still be helpful to them, Duo was willing to sacrifice his pride.

The pimp was a pasty-skinned man, probably only about ten years older than Duo. He was beyond slender, that particular excessive skinniness that was the result of a fast metabolism rather than diet and exercise. His hand on Duo's chin was cool even in the heat, and bony enough to hurt. The suit hung off the tall body like it was on a clotheshanger. The man was just not physically intimidating.

That was bad.

The ones who didn't look tough had to prove they were.

Duo tried to put some of his very real fear into his eyes, hoping the man would take him for an amateur and decide he was easily cowed.

But Duo Maxwell was not a very good liar.

"You know you been poaching on my territory, boy?" the pimp demanded, fingers pinching harder on Duo's jaw.

"N-nobody said nothing," Duo managed apologetically.

"Nobody said nothing? Shit, you new to the neighborhood, slut?" the pimp asked, sounding amused at his naivete.

Amused is good. I can work with amused, Duo thought desperately. "Y-yes, sir," he answered, keeping his voice respectful.

"Sir? Sir?" The pimp chuckled. "Oh, I like that, pretty boy. That's real nice. But if you new around here, you gotta learn the local rules," the man continued, his amusement fading into a cruel anticipation.

Shit.

"Rules... sir?" Duo asked weakly, still hoping to stay on the man's ‘good' side. He knew what was coming. He'd done his research. The small gang he and Wufei had seen from the kitchen that first day had been just bursting with information about the ins and outs of the local skin trade. This was not an area that welcomed freelancers. You did not operate without a pimp. But when he'd gone a few days without drawing attention, Duo had begun to hope that he could just slip through the cracks. He didn't plan to be here long, and maybe he'd be gone before anyone decided they wanted a piece of his action.

Apparently, his luck had run out.

"My name is Randall, boy. You hearda me?" the pimp demanded.

Duo bit his lip, wondering what to do. No matter what he said, he was in trouble. If he admitted to knowing who the man was, then he admitted he'd known the rules and broken them. But if he claimed ignorance, it was a blow to Randall's ego, and from talking to the locals, Duo knew that was a bad mistake too.

He was trapped. Either way, he was not getting out of this unharmed.

He took a deep breath, and made his choice, hoping like hell it was the right one.

"No, sir, I haven't," he murmured softly.

A psychotic gleam appeared in Randall's dark brown eyes, and Duo realized with a sinking feeling that he'd made the wrong choice.

"Well, pretty boy, I promise you, when me and my boys is done, you ain't never gonna forget me," Randall swore, his fingers clenching ever tighter.

Duo closed his eyes as he felt more rough hands on him, pulling his arms and legs into a spread-eagled position. His back hit cool metal, and from the smell he knew he was pinned against a dumpster. He was mentally prepared for the fist that impacted with his unprotected stomach, but he'd been expecting Randall to do the hitting personally. As the air was driven forcefully from his lungs and his diaphragm locked, leaving him unable to draw breath for a long, terrifying moment, Duo realized that Randall was smart enough to know he just couldn't hit that hard.

But Randall didn't seem the type to let his ‘boys' have all the fun. Duo's eyes flew open in pure terror as he recalled a fragment of warning he'd received.

"... and if you hook up with a pimp, stay clear of Randall, man. He's just scum, and his girls and boys are messed up. He likes to feel like a big man, ya know? Likes to be in control. Ain't a one of his whores not a junkie."

Meaty fists continued to pummel him, but Duo ignored the pain, his mind frozen in stark terror.

Randall was watching him from a few feet away. Randall had a nasty smile on his too-thin face.

And Randall had a big, shiny needle in his hand.

"Oh shit no fuck please I'll do anything you want man just don't oh god please," Duo babbled incoherently, screaming now not in hope of summoning aid, but simply because he couldn't not scream, not when Randall was walking forward and the needle was coming closer and he couldn't move his fucking arm two of the bastards were pinning him and he couldn't move and Randall was ­

The needle slid into his pale skin with an incongruously small prick, and Duo screamed, tears of fury and horror pouring down his cheeks.

They released him and he slumped to the ground, wrapping his arms around his battered stomach. His ribs were sore, and some might be cracked or even broken... but he didn't care. It didn't matter.

He was in for far worse pain than that.

He curled into a tighter ball, hitching sobs shuddering through his entire slender frame as he lay on the damp, warm pavement. His hair was probably picking up all manner of disgusting debris, and the metallic tang of blood in his mouth reminded him that he'd taken at least one hit to the face, but he didn't care.

He could already feel the soothing calm spreading through his mind. Like the world was being wrapped in silk, soft and gentle...

It terrified him. Because it felt so damn good. After running and fighting and killing and screwing, the peace... It felt like coming home.

Duo whimpered miserably on the ground.

Randall knelt beside him, endangering his cheap suit. "See? You won't forget me, will you, boy? In fact, I bet you'll come crawling to me in a couple days," Randall crooned, stick-like fingers running down Duo's tear-dampened cheek in a mockery of a caress.

Duo whimpered again. Randall laughed and walked away.

[part 1] [part 3] [back to Aoe's fic]