by: Aoe

Where I Started From... + Part 8

He woke to a familiar sense of disorientation. The dull throbbing of his head and fine trembling of his fingers let him know that he'd gone a while without a fix.

Frowning slightly, he carefully disentangled himself from the long-limbed body he was curled against. He spared his bedmate -- make that couchmate, he corrected himself wryly -- only a cursory glance before rising.

Pretty, he thought in impersonal appraisal. He frowned at the bandages swathing the slender body in momentary confusion and concern, then shrugged and glanced around the small room he found himself in. Nope, definitely not my little hole. I bet somebody actually pays rent on this place. Wonder if they've got hot water. He sighed wistfully at the very notion, and planted his fists on his hips as he pondered tossing the place for valuables.

Which was when he realized his fingers were painfully cramped from clutching at a green cloth bag.

Now what the hell... ? He pulled the bag open, noting as he did that it was actually some kind of garment being put to makeshift use. Peering inside, he let a pleased grin spread across his face.

No wonder he'd been holding on so tight. Wouldn't want to lose that.

He glanced at the young man on the couch again. The guy was probably only a few years older than himself, and looked like he'd been on the wrong end of a mugging. Something about that thought didn't sit right, though, and the boy felt a nagging sense of recognition as he studied the tall youth.

Finally, he snorted in exasperation at himself. Well, he oughta look familiar, if I was sleeping on top of him. I wonder how the hell I got here, though? Not like this guy called in an order... Pondering the mystery, he flexed his stiff fingers a few times and shoved his hand into his pocket.

The wad of bills he found there quelled any further curiosity.

Hell, who the fuck cares how I got here? Whatever happened, it was sure as hell worth my while.

Chuckling to himself in satisfaction, he returned the money to his pocket and strolled down the short hall that his foggy memory seemed to indicate led to a bathroom. Sure enough, he found it, and closed the door behind him, noting the lack of a functional lock. Oh well, I'll be quick.

After indulging in the almost sinful extravagance of washing his face and upper body, he pulled the tight shirt back on over the mass of ugly bruises. The sight had unsettled him a bit, making him wonder anew at what exactly he'd been doing lately. It was beginning to occur to him that he didn't have a very clear idea about the recent past, and that was somewhat troublesome. But seeing the bruises had made him aware of the pain they were causing, and that distracted him quite nicely from his concern.

He really had to do something about the pain.

Fortunately, he was prepared for that.

He was just tying the latex strip around his biceps with a practiced twist of his fingers, the needle prepped and waiting on the edge of the sink, when the door swung open and a sleepy-eyed blond boy shuffled in.

Seeing him seated on the toilet, the blond immediately froze and flushed bright red, sputtering nervously. "Oh, I'm so sorry Duo, I didn't mean to just burst in like... oh, my... Duo, what are you doing?" This last was delivered in a hushed, fearful whisper.

Three thoughts floated through Duo's foggy mind at the intrusion of the vaguely familiar blond.

The first was, damn, must have been a party.

The second was, why does he know my name?

The third was, why do I have the feeling it should really bother me for him to be looking at me like that?

Of course, he supposed anyone would squirm under that teary-eyed, limpid gaze. The guy looked like a six-year-old who'd just seen the department store Santa pull off his beard for a quick slug of whiskey.

Confused and unsettled by his reaction to the blond, Duo slapped a cocky grin on his face and attempted to bluster through the situation.

"Hey, I'll be done in a minute, okay, pal? D'ya mind? I'd appreciate a little privacy."

The wide, sea-blue eyes abruptly lost the shimmer of tears and acquired an angry spark.

"I most certainly do mind! I will not permit you to poison yourself right in front of me," the blond declared firmly.

Duo frowned, irritated by the guy's attitude, but... he didn't want a fight. And it was this guy's apartment... probably. And they had paid him well.

He shrugged and snapped the latex off his arm, shoving it and the other odds and ends he'd pulled out back into the bag. The needle he grasped carefully in his right hand. The blond seemed to relax at his acquiescence, smiling with gentle approval.

The smile abruptly disappeared as Duo slipped past him and moved quickly toward the apartment's door.

"Duo! Wait! Where are you going?" the blond called, close on his heels. Duo instinctively dodged the hand that reached for his arm, turning to scowl at his pursuer, his back to the door. The blond backed off, blinking in surprise at Duo's expression.

Not so cooperative when the meter's not running, am I?

"Duo?" The tall guy on the couch had woken up and was frowning at him in concern.

"I wish you guys would stop using my name. It's kinda weird when I don't know yours," Duo muttered irritably. He clutched the needle tightly in his right hand, the shirt-bag in his left, and glanced warily back and forth between the two confused, concerned faces.

"What do you mean, Duo? Of course you know our names. It's me, Quatre, and that's Trowa. We're your friends, your comrades... " That was the blond, looking painfully earnest. The tall boy just stared silently, hard green eyes coldly analyzing.

That one was Trowa.

Trowa was making Duo nervous.

"Yeah, well, nice to meet ya and all. Maybe I'll see ya around," Duo muttered warily, his left hand scrabbling discretely for the door handle.

"Quatre, don't let him leave," Trowa snapped. Duo cursed silently to himself as the blond was suddenly all business, cold and determined. Duo wondered nervously what he'd stumbled into. These guys were nothing like his usual customers.

Still, he was no wide-eyed innocent himself. He might be only eleven, but that didn't mean he couldn't fight back. Quatre took a step forward, and Duo crouched defensively, raising the needle in his hand in clear threat.

Quatre paled and drew back at the gesture, and Duo felt a moment of triumph as his hand finally found the doorknob. He knew he had to move fast. Quatre might have been fooled, but he would bet Trowa would twig pretty quick to the emptiness of the threat.

Like he was going to waste his drugs on some random jerk.

Even as he heard Trowa snapping a similar comment at the stunned Quatre, Duo whipped open the door, intending to make a break for it...

And found himself face to face with a startled Chinese boy, hand raised to knock.

"Wufei! Take him down! And watch out for the needle!"

The Chinese boy's eyes narrowed at Trowa's command, and Duo didn't even have time to duck before callused fingers were digging into pressure points on the base of his neck, sending his thoughts spiraling into darkness. His last thought before losing consciousness was, who the fuck are these guys, and how fucking many of them are there?

+

Heero could hear tense, hushed voices involved in an argument from the other side of the door. He'd finally decided he was just too damn tired to search for Duo any longer and made his weary way back to the apartment.

It had taken him nearly an hour to skirt the mob of local cops and Oz troops swarming around the crime scene down the street.

Heero had been cursing his own carelessness for several hours, and this development was just the icing on the cake. Not only had he idiotically mishandled the Duo Situation, he had also bungled the confrontation in the alley, and there was no excuse for that.

He might not understand his emotions, or know how to deal with them, but he damn well knew how to clean up after himself.

The damage was done now, though. Heero scowled at the door, guessing from the intensity of the discussion that someone else had also noticed the activity outside.

He knocked, and there was utter silence from within. A moment later, the door was cracked open, and one narrowed black eye studied him through the slit. Wufei waited for Heero to tug twice at his left earlobe, the signal that he hadn't been followed, before dragging the Japanese pilot quickly inside.

Heero scowled at the treatment, but decided not to make an issue of it. He glanced around the room and noted that yes, tensions were definitely running high, and also that Duo was curled in a tight ball on the couch beside Trowa, his back to the room.

Heero was unsettled by the intensity of the relief he felt at seeing the American safely returned, but also by the troubled glances Quatre was shooting at the braided boy, and Wufei's abstracted frown as he gazed at Duo. Only Trowa seemed at ease with Duo's presence, but Heero could detect small signs of worry even on that stoic face.

Obviously, something had happened.

Heero desperately wanted to go sit in the space Quatre had left between himself and Duo on the couch. He wanted to wrap his arms around the slight body and comfort his friend... his... lover...

But after his behavior earlier, Heero wasn't certain how Duo would react to such attention.

So instead, he knelt beside the coffee table at Quatre's feet, where he could keep a close eye on the braided boy without risking his anger.

Trowa frowned disapprovingly at him, but Heero wasn't sure if that was for his choice of seating or just leftover irritation from earlier. Trowa seemed to have just been generally pissed off at Heero practically since he'd regained consciousness.

Heero frowned slightly to himself as he observed Trowa's hand rubbing gently at Duo's tense shoulder. It was unlike the quiet, reserved boy to make such a blatantly affectionate gesture.

Perhaps Trowa's irritation had a deeper source than Heero's treatment of Duo.

Perhaps the tall pilot was... jealous.

Heero scowled, sharply derailing that unproductive train of thought. They had other things to worry about at the moment.

"I'm assuming you've noticed the activity down the street," he remarked flatly, noting Quatre's worried frown, Trowa's weary smirk, and Wufei's huff of irritation.

"I saw them from the roof," the Chinese pilot muttered. "They've been swarming down there for hours, and they don't show any signs of leaving. It's only a matter of time before Oz starts door-to-door inquiries."

"They may not," Trowa commented with uncharacteristic optimism. Heero shot him an incredulous glance for the comment, but found Trowa's pensive stare locked on Duo's head, which was burrowed against his thigh. "Violent crimes are probably not terribly uncommon in this area, and the local law enforcement will probably recognize that Randall person. Their take on the whole scene will probably be that he was finished off by his competition. Such occurrences don't generally rate a very strenuous investigation. It's more of a public service than a crime."

Heero grunted noncommittally, finding his own gaze drawn to Duo's tightly curled body. The American had regained his tee shirt from somewhere, and the fabric was bunched up just below his ribcage, revealing a few inches of pale skin and knobby vertebrae. Only a few bruises were visible on the boy's back, but Heero knew the front of his body was terribly discolored from abuse.

Despite the danger he'd already put the group in by shooting the thugs who'd hurt Duo, Heero wished he could go back and do it over again. This time, he'd make it a lot more messy and painful.

"It doesn't matter what the local police decide on the matter. Oz will not be restrained by their conclusions," Wufei stated flatly. "They know we're here somewhere. They're not going to let any potential lead go without investigating thoroughly."

"We need to get out of here," Heero concluded grimly. It was too soon to move, really. They'd only been in hiding about a week, and obviously surveillance was still sharply focused on the area. But if Oz began searching every rat hole in the neighborhood, and Heero agreed with Wufei that such thoroughness was inevitable, there was no way they could escape discovery. Especially with Trowa and Duo, the two most likely to be able to finesse their way around such a problem, out of commission. Heero wasn't entirely certain what damage his thoughtless actions had done to Duo, but it was obvious from the way Trowa was hovering over the boy, and the occasional dirty glances he was throwing Heero, that Duo was not in top condition at the moment.

"Our best bet is to create a distraction," Quatre murmured softly. Heero riveted his attention on the blond boy. For all that Quatre looked innocuous, and was occasionally bafflingly softhearted, he could be ruthlessly pragmatic when it came to strategy. If there was a way to get them out of this city undiscovered, Quatre could devise it. The rest of them would just have to manage to carry out the plan.

"I can get to Nataku. That will certainly provide a distraction," Wufei offered.

Quatre nodded slowly, but he was still frowning. "Maybe not enough of one, though," he murmured.

"What do you mean?" Heero demanded.

Quatre turned his pensive frown on Heero. "They know we're here. As soon as Wufei attacks, they'll certainly divert a lot of their manpower to defending against him, but they'll probably just clamp down harder on the city as well. They'll expect us to try to sneak out under that cover. What we really need... " The Arabian frowned, pondering the problem for a moment. When he spoke again, his voice was so soft Heero wondered if he were merely thinking aloud. "What we really need is another attack, at the same time, somewhere completely different... "

"We could try to contact Sally Po, ask her rebels to attack simultaneously... " Wufei offered reluctantly.

Quatre shook his head. "No, first of all, we can't take the risk of contacting anyone, they could still trace our communications. And it won't really do any good for an outside force to attack. They'll still know we're here."

Heero frowned. "But all our Gundams are here. We all concealed them within five klicks of the base, and that's two klicks from this city. Even if we could get somebody out of the city, there's no Gundam to attack with on the other side of the world."

"So take Deathscythe," a quiet, muffled voice offered into the tense silence.

Heero's eyes immediately snapped to Duo's back, but the American hadn't moved, although it was now obvious he was wide awake and listening to the discussion.

"Duo... " Quatre murmured, concern and contempt warring on his features. Heero was suddenly glad Duo had his back turned. "You're not really up to piloting right now... "

"I know," Duo replied flatly to the veiled criticism. Heero noted the tenseness of the slender shoulders. "So somebody else will have to do it. But you'll need Deathscythe. He... It's the only Gundam with sophisticated enough ECMs to let you slip away without being detected. If you move at night, they'll never have a chance of seeing you. And it's fast, it'll get you far away pretty quickly." After this speech, another heavy silence descended on the group. Although on rare occasions, some of them had used one another's Gundams, they were all rather irrationally attached to their own. And Duo almost seemed to regard Deathscythe as a partner more than a machine of destruction. For him to offer it's use to another pilot demonstrated a great trust in them.

It would be foolish to refuse Duo's offer. Not only that, but Heero suddenly realized that to do so would probably hurt the American just as much as, if not more than, Heero's stupidity of that morning.

"I'll go. I'll take Deathscythe," Heero declared firmly, determined that he would not allow any more of Duo's sacrifices to go unappreciated.

"No, you won't," Trowa told him flatly. Heero glowered at the tall boy. What was Trowa doing? Didn't he understand... ?

Heero's glower slowly faded under that penetrating green gaze. Of course Trowa understood. He understood Heero's desire not to let Duo's offer be disregarded... and he understood Heero's desire to avoid the unpleasant situation he'd created.

Heero sighed heavily, but nodded in consent to Trowa's statement.

"I'll take Deathscythe," Quatre stated. "Thank you, Duo. That should allow me to get a considerable distance away without alerting Oz. If we synchronize our attacks... say, five hours after we leave the city, Wufei?" The Chinese boy nodded in acceptance of the plan. Quatre nodded as well, to himself. He rose from his seat, glancing around the little group. His gaze lingered on Trowa and Duo, curled together on the couch. Heero noted a strange little downward twist to Quatre's usually smiling mouth. That expression spoke of jealousy. Not surprising, but possibly a dangerous factor for the future.

Wufei stood as well, his eyes resting on Duo with an expression of worried concern. Wufei seemed to be reacting better, and with more compassion, to Duo's pain than Quatre. That was odd. Heero filed the thought away for later consideration.

"Trowa... and Duo... probably shouldn't be moved too far," Quatre observed after a moment. He looked over at Heero. "My family owns a small house in the mountains about 100 klicks east of the city. I'll give you directions."

Heero nodded in acceptance.

"Well, it's not likely to get any easier to do this the longer we wait," Quatre muttered, heading for his bedroom to pack. Wufei followed, pausing briefly to lay a hand on Heero's shoulder in silent support and commiseration. Heero found himself oddly touched by the gesture, and wondered what had happened to the hardened soldier who would have brushed the hand away with a scowl.

Shaking his head at himself, Heero headed for his own room. He had himself and Duo to pack for, after all.

+

Heero glanced away from the winding, two-lane road at the boy slumped beside him in the stolen car's passenger seat. A moment's assessment was all he required, having observed Duo frequently in this state.

"He's asleep," Heero quietly informed Trowa.

The wounded pilot shifted in the darkness of the backseat, across which he was sprawled. He grunted softly, either in acknowledgment of Heero's statement or from jarring his wounds with the motion. Heero glanced in the rear view mirror, but all he could see in the back was a shadow with long, jagged bangs.

"When did he get back to the apartment?" Heero finally asked, once it had become clear that Trowa was not going to volunteer information.

"Not long after you left," Trowa answered softly. Heero tapped his foot on the brake pedal, slowing the car so he could hear Trowa over the rush of wind through the open window. Duo might have had the skills and knowledge to jimmy the car's door lock, but circumstances being what they were, it had been Heero who'd gone foraging for a vehicle. And while the Japanese pilot knew a multitude of exotic ways to kill a person, he only knew one way to break into a car. Hence the lack of a driver's side window.

Not that it was entirely a bad thing, since the air conditioner didn't work anyway. But the rushing air made it hard to hold a hushed conversation, and Heero really didn't want to wake Duo up.

Not after the silent glares he'd received from the American until he'd finally nodded off.

"He... was pretty shaky, then. I got him to come inside... I knew he shouldn't leave, but... That damn bag. I knew I should have taken it away, but I fell asleep right after he did... " Trowa shook his head and sighed.

Heero frowned. "What bag?" he demanded.

The Japanese pilot could feel Trowa's hard green stare rest on him, though he couldn't see the other boy's eyes. After a long pause, Trowa finally answered. "He was carrying... I suppose it was your shirt, tied up into a bundle. I could tell from the way he was hanging onto it, so tight his hand was shaking, that it was probably trouble. And I was right."

And then, infuriatingly, Trowa fell silent again.

"What was in it? What the hell happened?" Heero finally demanded, his grip on the cheap plastic of the wheel growing slick with nervous sweat. Something had happened, he was sure of it now. The tension he'd walked in on had been due to more than Oz's reappearance.

Trowa sighed again, sounding terribly weary. Which he no doubt was. But Heero was not willing to let this topic go. He had to know what was going on.

"He had heroin. And all the standard paraphernalia," Trowa muttered flatly. "He woke up before I did, and I guess I was too worn out to be woken up by him crawling off me. Wufei wasn't back yet, and Quatre was in his room, so... Duo went to the bathroom and... Well, if Quatre hadn't walked in when he did, things might have gotten even more difficult than they already are," Trowa concluded grimly.

Heero sucked air through his teeth, grimacing slightly at what Trowa's words implied. "But... what I saw... I know he didn't choose to start using again. That son of a bitch... Duo didn't want it, Trowa, I know that... " Heero protested harshly.

"Yes, I agree with you on that, Heero. But... when he woke up earlier... " Trowa paused, shaking his head and sighing heavily. "How do I explain this? I don't really understand what happened myself, but... When Duo woke up earlier, Heero, he... didn't, really."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Heero demanded, more sharply than he meant to.

Trowa shifted in the back again, fairly radiating confused discomfort. "It was... really strange, Heero. He seemed to be acting like himself, according to Quatre, but then... Then he told us it was weird that we kept calling him by name when he didn't know ours."

"But he knows your names," Heero argued.

Trowa sighed again. "I told you, I don't really understand what happened, but... I really think, that at that moment, Duo didn't know us."

"How the hell could he not know you?" Heero demanded. The steering wheel creaked ominously beneath his white-knuckled grip, and he forced his fists to loosen. They still had a bit of distance to travel, and there weren't any other vehicles to be found along this deserted stretch of road.

"I hadn't met them yet," Duo said quietly.

Heero bit back a curse and barely managed to keep himself from jerking the wheel in surprise. He'd been certain Duo was asleep.

"Duo?" Trowa asked gently, recovering from the surprise more quickly than Heero. "What do you mean, you hadn't met us?"

Duo shifted slightly in his seat, curling into a tighter ball. After a long silence, he murmured hesitantly, "Well... I don't really remember the whole thing too clearly, but... what I do remember is not knowing you or Quatre or Wu... I didn't know where I was, or how I'd gotten there... and... "

"And?" Trowa prompted when the silence stretched.

Duo leaned his head against the window with a sigh. "And... well, I'm pretty sure I remember thinking something about being... eleven," he muttered.

Trowa leaned back against his seat, his lips pursed nervously in the darkness. He could see Heero's face, lit by the dashboard lights, as the Japanese boy cast him worried glances via the rearview mirror. Heero was obviously very confused and upset about this whole situation, but Trowa couldn't think of anything he could say or do to reassure the Japanese boy at the moment. At least it seemed to have not yet occurred to Heero that Duo represented a potential danger to the mission at this point. Trowa wasn't about to point that out.

Duo heaved another unhappy sigh, and Trowa felt a sharp stab of relief that the braided boy had revealed himself to be awake before Trowa could go on to rehash the little... conversation he and Quatre and Wufei had had after Wufei knocked Duo out.

Of course, he was beginning to consider the possibility that Duo had been playing possum at that time as well. Which could lead to all sorts of difficulties.

Quatre had been quite flustered and unsettled at being threatened with a needle full of heroin by one of his best friends. Quatre had been forced to endure several shocks to his system over the course of their little sojourn in the slums, and this last bit of trauma had caused the pampered blond to snap.

Not that Quatre wasn't tough, in his way. He was a good fighter, and an excellent strategist. But the boy had grown up in the lap of luxury, the adored, and, Trowa believed, somewhat spoiled Winner heir. No matter his dedication to the cause, Quatre just wasn't accustomed to sharing a cramped living space with four other boys, rationing food and water, dealing with other people's problems and idiosyncrasies on a daily basis...

Trowa hadn't been surprised at Quatre's harsh words. Wufei, he thought, had been somewhat surprised. The Chinese boy had stared at Quatre in wide-eyed amazement as the little blond spat invectives at Duo's limp body curled at Trowa's side. Trowa was also certain his own insistence on having Duo near him, and the fact that he had been unconsciously rubbing the smaller boy's back, had probably contributed to Quatre's ire. He didn't know if Wufei had realized that or not. But after a few minutes of listening to Quatre vent his spleen at the American, Wufei's sense of justice had spurred him to defend Duo.

Trowa hadn't been bothering to say anything, because he thought Quatre was being ridiculous, and would eventually run out of steam.

Wufei, while not willing to completely excuse Duo of all fault, was quite firm in denying Quatre's harsher statements. While the Chinese boy was obviously ill at ease with Duo's ‘weakness', he was at least trying to be fair, rather than just lashing out at the most obvious target with his own unresolved frustration. Trowa admired that.

In a last ditch effort to return some rationality to the discussion, Wufei had abruptly shifted the topic to the police and Oz activity he'd spotted up the street. After a moment's irritated glowering at the two who refused to feel sympathy for the poor, beleaguered Arabian, Quatre had heaved a mighty sigh at the unfairness of life and they'd begun wrangling over what to do next instead of whose fault it was they were stuck in this unpleasant situation.

Trowa was pretty sure Duo had stayed unconscious until around that point.

At least, he hoped so.

Trowa shook his head wearily. At least Quatre was out of the picture for a while. The Arabian was normally the peacekeeper among them, the one who tried to smooth things over and make the best of a bad situation. But right now, any more of Quatre with his soft little hands and disapproving frown, or worse, his pleading, vapid stares, would have driven Trowa to violence.

He shifted again in his seat, trying vainly to find a position that didn't tug at his stitches. He knew he'd pulled several out in the arduous process of getting down to the street and around the corner to the car. Duo had helped him as much as possible, but the American was not in great shape himself at the moment. They'd made it, finally, and Duo and Heero had helped Trowa into the back seat.

Trowa had watched the two of them, working together with their customary quiet efficiency, but an almost amusing reversal of emotional undertones. Heero was watching Duo, radiating concern and confusion, and it was the Japanese boy's hands that fluttered nervously, almost touching his silent partner. Duo just kept shooting Heero angry or irritated glares, only speaking to him once, and then only to snap at him for not focusing on the task at hand.

Yes, under better circumstances, it might have been funny.

Trowa let his eyes slide shut, feeling exhaustion inexorably dragging him into the darkness of sleep. A part of him fought to stay awake, wanting to chaperone his two rather unstable companions. He wasn't certain what sort of mayhem could ensue from leaving the two of them to talk unsupervised, but... well, he didn't really seem to have much choice in the matter.

Still, he fought against sleep for a while, until he heard soft snores drifting back from Duo's side of the car. A final glance at the rear view mirror revealed Heero watching the American more than the road, an oddly softened expression on his face.

Trowa shut his eyes again and decided to rest while the opportunity presented itself.

[part 7] [part 9] [back to Aoe's fic]