by: Aoe

Where I Started From... + Part 4

Duo let out a yelp as his head slammed against the brick wall. He didn't expect all the noise he was making to bring help, but he didn't see any reason to suffer in silence, either.

The night had started out okay, he'd even turned a few quick tricks in his new spot, but then Baldy had shown up again.

Duo had run this time.

Unfortunately, Randall's goons knew the area better than he did, and they weren't all as out of shape as Baldy. They'd cornered him in this alley, not far from the apartment his friends were holed up in, and they'd been amusing themselves beating the crap out of him until Baldy returned with Randall.

Duo was doing his best to fight back, using every dirty trick he knew to escape. Because he knew what was coming, and he just couldn't handle it.

Thought I was stronger than this, but man... One more day like today, and I would go crawling to that bastard...

It was a very lowering experience to realize just how easily he could fall back under the sway of heroin. After all the pain and misery he'd gone through getting off it after he joined up with the Sweepers...

A fist slammed into his already-bruised stomach and Duo released a loud stream of pained curses at the top of his lungs. His body involuntarily attempted to curl inwards to protect his midsection, but the goons holding him were strong enough and holding him so tightly that his feet left the ground instead of his body sagging downwards.

Some cold, distant portion of his brain registered dimly that that meant they weren't pinning his legs.

"Well, well, well. We meet again, eh, pretty boy?" Randall crooned from a few feet away. Duo instantly froze, going limp in his captors' grip as he turned to glare at the smug pimp. Baldy stood beside his boss, puffing slightly from the short hike.

Duo snarled at Randall, which made the pimp laugh and take a few steps closer.

Just a little closer, you bastard... I know you're gonna come closer...

"Boy, you just got one sour disposition tonight, doncha?" Randall asked, sounding amused. He held up one thin hand, and a hypodermic needle gleamed dully in the light from a nearby street lamp. Duo's eyes instantly fastened on the tip of the needle, mesmerized, as Randall squeezed a few drops of the clear liquid out to slide down the metal tip.

"Hold him," Randall muttered, all business now as he stepped forward, reaching for the boy's pinned arm.

Duo's booted foot caught him neatly under the chin, and he flew backwards in a fountain of blood and spit.

This distracted the two goons holding the American for a crucial few seconds, and he managed to twist himself free of their loosened grips, stumbling across the alley to the far wall, quickly pulling the concealed knife from his hair. They'd been on top of him too fast when they'd cornered him, but now he had some room to maneuver.

Of course, they'd also kind of beaten the crap out of him, and he'd had better days in general, but he was at least going to go down fighting.

He held the knife in front of him and crouched defensively against the still-warm bricks.

Randall was sitting on the ground, cradling his jaw in his bony fingers and swearing. His voice sounded thick and indistinct, and Duo hoped he'd fractured the bastard's jaw.

"Fu'in cuh tha' bish!" Randall slurred at his cronies, and the three large men formed up in a half circle in front of Duo, cracking their knuckles and flexing their muscles.

Oh, for Christ's sake, what is this, some cheesy crime drama? Duo thought exasperatedly. Are they going to start spouting bad dialogue next? I don't think I'm up to that. Better nip it in the bud.

Without warning, he darted forward, straight at Baldy, who was in the middle. As soon as he moved, he knew he'd made a mistake, let his anger at the man who'd trapped him the night before guide his attack instead of sensibly taking out the goon closest to the street so he could run again.

Too late now. At least I'll get one of them.

The sharp blade drove deeply into the flesh of Baldy's neck as Duo stabbed it straight in, then he yanked his arm to the side and the knife sliced outward, a spurt of bright arterial blood following and drenching the goon unfortunate enough to be on Baldy's left. Duo grinned in manic glee, knowing from the pumping fountain of blood that Baldy weakly tried to block with his hands that he'd severed something vital. Baldy wasn't long for this world.

Even as this thought crossed Duo's mind, though, the other two goons surged forward before he could catch his balance, and grabbed his arms again. He shrieked in fury and rage, but they just slammed him against the wall, the one who held his knife arm nearly breaking his wrist with the impact. The blade fell from nerveless fingers. Having learned from their earlier mistake, the two goons each braced one of his legs with one of their own. Duo squirmed mightily, but they weren't taking any chances with him now, and he could feel their fingers digging hard enough to bruise into his skin.

After a moment, he suddenly stopped struggling and hung limply in the arms of the large men. He stared down at Baldy, whose glazed eyes stared blindly up at the sky from where he lay in a puddle of dark blood. He was on his back, and his ruined throat was clearly visible. Duo stared down at the dead man for a second, and then he let a darkly amused laugh escape his throat. He let it grow and grow, feeding all his terror and fury into it until it bounced off the buildings, creating strange and eerie echoes.

It was an unsettling sound, he knew. Unnerving. It made his captors fidget slightly, their grips loosening a bit as they wondered if they really wanted to be touching him.

Their grips loosened... but not enough.

He couldn't break free again.

Randall struggled to his feet and stumbled over, pausing to stare down at the messy corpse of Baldy.

"Better kill me," Duo advised softly. The pimp looked up at him, still holding his jaw in his hands, dark eyes flat and cold. "Better kill me, or I'll come after you, Randall baby... Cut you up... Make you bleed... Make you scream... "

"You one crazy muthafucka," Randall observed calmly. Then a small, tight smile appeared on the cadaverous face. "I think I like you," he added.

Duo fought a wave of nausea at the demented light in Randall's dark eyes. Oh shit, did I fucking turn him on?

"You ain't gonna do shit to me, boy," Randall informed him, the smile growing wider as his voice lost some of the thickness. Apparently his jaw wasn't broken. He paused and spat a mouthful of blood onto the pavement. A bloody tooth bounced and skittered in the discharge. Randall stared at it for a moment, then turned back to Duo with a positively psychotic gleam in his eyes and a wide, bloody smile spreading his swelling lips.

"I'm gonna own you," the pimp whispered harshly. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a fresh needle, still wrapped in its protective plastic seal, and a small baggie of white powder.

"I'll be with you in a minute," he promised darkly, gingerly pulling his other hand away from his chin. Blood and spittle leaked from one corner of his mouth, but he didn't seem to notice as he pulled out a lighter and a metal spoon, slipping the needle back in his pocket for a moment.

Duo stared at the all-too-familiar preparations.

And he started to scream.

+

Heero was trudging slowly up the block toward the safe house, having given up all hope of locating Duo, when the screaming started. His head snapped up immediately and he pulled his gun from his shorts, clicking the safety off, just in case he needed to shoot somebody in a hurry.

The screaming didn't stop after a few seconds, and Heero pinpointed the source of the sound as the alley two buildings further up the street. He frowned, wondering if he ought to just ignore whatever was going on, and wait until things were quiet before going back to the apartment. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't his problem, and they weren't supposed to do anything to draw attention to themselves.

But...

But somewhere out in the city, Duo was alone, and possibly stoned or even dead, because Heero had failed to locate him. He had failed. And that was an open, aching wound right now.

So maybe he could do right by somebody tonight.

Firming his resolve, Heero slipped silently to the corner of the alley, cautiously peering around the edge of one abandoned tenement. The scene he saw before him fanned the banked flames of rage within him.

Two big, over-muscled men held a much smaller figure, dressed in a whore's skintight, gaudy clothing, braced against a brick wall. The screaming came from the... girl? Boy? It was hard to tell the figure's gender from the end of the alley, especially with a long curtain of dark hair tumbling down the front of the person's body. A moment after Heero arrived, the screaming changed to loud, inventive cursing. There was a heavy-set body on the ground, and Heero wondered if that was an earlier victim, or if the captive had fought back.

A third man, this one dressed in an ill-fitting inexpensive suit of the type Duo referred to as 'pimp-chic' was walking slowly towards the screaming prisoner. The thin man held something in one bony hand. Heero squinted, trying to make it out. The man held it forward, toward the captive, waving it in front of the person's face, as though taunting him or her.

Heero's breath caught in his throat.

It was a needle.

He acted without thought. The gun was raised, aimed, and fired before he even realized his intention. The thin man's head exploded in a shower of blood and skull fragments, the body slowly crumpling to the dirty pavement.

The yelling abruptly cut off, and all three figures left standing stared in shock for a moment at the fallen man.

Then the captive suddenly sagged toward the ground, and Heero wondered if... he? she? - Fuck that, until I know, I'm going with 'it' -- had fainted. But instead of just hanging there, the figure pulled loose of the two large men and rolled away from them. Heero smirked. It was smart, he'd give it that. It had used its captors' distraction to get loose.

Such ingenuity ought to be rewarded.

Heero took careful aim this time, and with two quick shots, finished off the goons who were still in shock from their boss's death. They slid down the wall, leaving dark, wet smears behind them, and Heero moved cautiously into the alley. He didn't know what he'd just rescued, but he knew it was desperate, and he'd seen enough to be cautious.

He deliberately scuffed his shoes against the concrete so whoever it was would know he was coming.

+

Duo had stared in amazement as Randall's head abruptly exploded. His mind had immediately registered that the man had been shot. He must have missed the sound of the gun firing what with all the hysterical yelling going on.

That thought made him suddenly stop yelling.

He then realized that the two men holding him, probably not the shining intellectual lights of the community, were staring in surprise and confusion at Randall's corpse.

Fighting down a giggle at his unbelievable luck, Duo suddenly went limp in their arms, and the unexpected dead weight let him slip from his captors' shock-loosened grips. He hit the ground and just rolled away, getting clear of the men in case they decided to grab him again, or in case his mysterious savior decided to shoot them, too.

Two shots rang through the alley, and the sound of heavy bodies sliding to the ground followed.

Okay, one set of bad guys down, but who the hell is doing the shooting? Duo wondered. Chances were, it wasn't a knight in shining armor, come to rescue him. Probably a rival pimp, or something equally unpleasant.

Maybe if I lay still enough, they'll think I'm dead, too, and leave me alone, he thought whimsically. He choked back a hopeless laugh. He didn't really have a choice. After the beating he'd just taken, he didn't think he could crawl, much less stand up and run away.

The scuff of shoes against pavement alerted him to the approach of the shooter, and Duo froze in a huddled little ball. His face was turned to the side, and Randall's single remaining glazed eye was in his field of vision. The pimp's body was a few feet away, one arm stretched out towards Duo in a twisted pantomime of supplication. The needle had rolled out of the limp fingers and lay on the concrete not too far from his own outstretched hand.

Duo watched in horror as his hand, apparently of its own volition, twitched and scrabbled weakly toward the needle. He frowned, and with a supreme effort of will, forced the hand to go limp again.

The shoes were getting closer. Duo stared nervously out through a veil of bloody hair that covered his face and half his body. Finally, the shoes came into his line of vision, stepping carefully around the puddle of blood and brains that Randall's demise had left on the concrete.

The shoes were battered yellow hightop sneakers. He knew every scuff mark and crease on those ugly, clunky, ever-so-fucking-efficient shoes like the back of his own hand. Duo almost sobbed in relief.

Instead, he gingerly propped himself on one elbow and drew aside the stringy, dirty fall of hair with the other hand to peer up at his stone-faced savior.

"H-Heero?" he murmured questioningly. Dark blue eyes locked onto his bleary gaze, and after a moment, he saw them widen in shocked recognition.

+

Heero moved slowly around the body of the suspected pimp, halting a few feet from what he could now tell was a slender young man, curled on his side and half-covered by bloody, tangled hair. Didn't think there could be two people in the world with that much hair, Heero mused to himself, even as he wondered if the boy was unconscious. He was certainly still enough, but something about the way he lay there, a certain tension in the body told him the boy was awake, and nervous.

Just as Heero was wondering if he should say something or just leave, the boy suddenly raised himself up on one elbow and pulled the dirty hair aside to reveal an exotically made-up face.

Electric purple shadow on upper and lower lids emphasized the boy's brilliant violet eyes, although mascara from the long lashes had run in black streaks down the softly curved cheeks. The cheekbones, eyebrows and the tip of the delicately pointed chin were accented with iridescent glitter, and the full lips were tinted a dark red-violet. The wine colored lipstick had been smudged on one side, looking like a smear of blood at the corner of the boy's mouth. Despite the smears and smudges, the boy's face retained an exotic, elfin beauty.

Heero noted all these features, but felt his gaze drawn quickly back to the boy's eyes.

Violet eyes... just like...

"H-Heero?" the boy whispered uncertainly, and it was Duo's soft, husky voice. Duo's bright violet eyes that watched him with wary hope. Duo's tongue that darted out nervously to lick the painted lips...

"Duo?" he whispered in surprise and confusion. A weak smile played around the edges of the full lips, but the violet eyes remained nervous.

He hadn't failed. He'd found Duo after all.

And now he had not the faintest idea what to do.

Heero's eyes slipped away from Duo's gaze to the ground at his feet, and he saw the needle lying there.

The needle.

Suddenly, he remembered the tableau he'd seen from the end of the alley. He glanced from the dead man to Duo to the needle.

He was... threatening you with this... That's what you were trying to tell me this morning, trying to explain, and I wouldn't listen...

Heero brought his heel down with a very satisfactory crunch on the plastic casing of the needle. Duo flinched ever so slightly, but then just continued to stare at Heero.

Heero turned back to his friend, and suddenly crouched down beside him, wrapping his arms around his bent knees. Duo watched him, obviously confused by his actions.

"Heero? What are you doing here?" Duo managed weakly.

Heero frowned, dropping his eyes once more to the concrete. It was easier than meeting that violet gaze.

"Duo... " he began softly, not quite knowing what he wanted to say, but knowing that he had to say something. Mostly because Duo needed to hear it, but also because... he needed to say it.

Walking around today, looking for Duo, he'd come to accept that he wanted more from this boy than simple friendship. He wasn't exactly certain what that 'more' could be, but he rather suspected that Duo might know. And Heero needed to know if he stood any chance in hell of ever getting what he wanted.

He licked his own lips nervously, and determinedly met Duo's curious eyes again. "Duo," he said again, more firmly. "The things I said this morning -- "

"Heero, I understand why you -- " Duo began wearily, but Heero, greatly daring, placed a gentle finger against the painted lips, stilling them instantly. Duo's eyes went a little wider at the unexpected touch.

"Just listen for a second. The things I said... I was wrong to say them. I shouldn't have jumped to the conclusions I did. You tried to explain what had happened, but I wouldn't let you. I don't blame you for being angry. I should know you better by now than to believe you'd... do something like that, just on a whim. I should've listened. I... I'm sorry," he finished weakly, not sure what else to say, and hoping he'd gotten his point across.

The soft shimmering of tears in Duo's eyes made him worry that he hadn't.

"Duo? Daijobu desu ka?" he asked nervously, the finger that had silenced the braided boy sliding away from the mouth, his other fingers joining it to gently caress the smooth cheek.

Duo's eyes slid shut, a few tears squeezing out, but there was a slight smile on his face, and he pressed his cheek into Heero's hand like a cat. "Daijobu," he murmured. After a moment, though, the eyes slid open again, still filled with confusion. "But... why are you out here?" Duo asked again.

Heero frowned at the question. "To tell you that," he said flatly.

Duo stared at him incredulously. "Heero Yuy," he said with slow deliberation. "Do you mean to tell me that you've been wandering around the city, endangering the mission, looking for me, just to tell me you were sorry for yelling at me?"

Heero blinked and cocked his head to the side, considering the question. "Yes," he finally admitted.

Duo burst out in loud, genuine laughter. Heero felt a small smile tugging at his own lips. Duo could be very contagious that way.

The American struggled to sit up, and Heero slipped an arm around his still-shaking shoulders to support him. Duo leaned back against his arm and shook his head, smiling fondly at Heero. "Just when I think I've got you all figured out," he murmured.

Heero grunted. Then he frowned slightly. "So... anyway... about what I said... do you?" he asked warily. Duo frowned back at him, confused by the question.

"Do I what?" he asked.

"Do you... forgive me?" Heero managed, feeling like he was choking on something. The unfamiliar words, perhaps.

Duo grinned widely. "Sure I do. After all, you just saved me from Randall-baby's tender mercies," he muttered, waving one hand at the thin corpse. Then a frown crossed his face. "Speaking of which, we probably better get out of here. It might not be cops, but somebody's sure to show up soon to see what all the shooting was about," Duo declared ominously. He rolled over onto his hands and knees, and Heero stood up quickly, taking a few steps away.

Duo forgave him. That was one load off his mind. But there was still the other thing...

Duo's interest suddenly fastened on 'Randall's' body, and he crawled over to it, pawing through the man's pockets. Heero frowned, until Duo made a noise of triumph and pulled out a thick wad of bills from the inside pocket of the man's jacket.

"Yes! Pimps always carry cash," Duo informed Heero happily, shoving the money into his shorts. "These things really are damn convenient for storage," Duo mused, patting the lump in the spandex. Then he pushed himself slowly to his feet... and immediately staggered as his legs buckled.

Heero caught him around the waist, pulling the barely dressed but obviously battered body close against him. The sensation of Duo's body pressed tightly against his produced a burst of confusing warmth and an odd tingling inside Heero.

"Um... sorry, Heero. Don't think I can walk," Duo muttered against Heero's shoulder, where his head had landed. He sounded embarrassed by his weakness.

Heero considered the situation for about half a second before pressing his gun into one of Duo's hands and sweeping the boy up in his arms like a child, cradling Duo against his chest. That strange warmth intensified, and he wanted to hold the other boy even closer, tighter, wanted to bury his face in the long, loose hair... He very carefully maintained a neutral expression, not allowing any of his unusual thoughts to show. He rather suspected this was not the reaction one should have to holding an injured friend in their arms.

Duo blinked up at him in surprise. "Heero?" he said hesitantly, glancing at the gun.

Heero did his best to smile, realizing it probably came out as more of a smirk. "My hands are full. You'll have to guard us," he explained shortly.

"Oh," Duo said softly, turning the gun over in his hands. He stared down at it instead of looking at Heero as he asked quietly, "You'd trust me?"

Heero winced internally, realizing that his little morning outburst would not be so easily smoothed over after all. He'd hurt Duo badly by questioning his trustworthiness and loyalty.

Heero stared down at the bent head and answered, quietly but very firmly, "With my life."

Duo looked up at him in surprise, but then a rueful grin twisted his features. "Yeah, well, you're always saying that life is cheap, especially yours, Heero. So that doesn't mean much, does it?" he asked, striving for a joking tone, but the bitterness in his voice was undeniable.

Heero frowned, and abruptly dropped his own gaze to the gun, uncomfortable under Duo's bright and fragile stare. "I... had sort of hoped that... my life might be worth more... to you," he said softly, not quiet believing he was actually voicing the forbidden thought aloud. He heard Duo give a small gasp at his words, but didn't dare look at his friend's terribly expressive eyes as he nervously added, "I know yours is... worth a lot to me."

At that, Duo made a choking noise, and Heero did look at him in sudden concern. But Duo was just staring at him, the violet eyes wide in surprise and... hope?

"Really?" Duo whispered almost inaudibly.

Heero felt a real smile warming his face slightly. "Really," he murmured, his eyes holding a promise that he only hoped Duo understood. Feeling greatly daring and more than a little reckless, Heero bent his head down and placed a gentle kiss against Duo's forehead.

It was an echo of all the little teasing gestures Duo had been making for months.

It was a response.

Duo's smile was brimming with incredulous joy when Heero pulled his face away. Heero grinned down at his fiend. "Come on. Time to go home," he said, starting to move slowly toward the end of the alley. Duo obligingly turned to watch the street ahead of them, clicking the safety off the gun. But he settled his head comfortably against Heero's chest and murmured quietly, "I think I'm already there."

[part 3] [part 5] [back to Aoe's fic]