Author: June
see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer

Through the Furnace, Unshrinking + Part 15
Dick.

15a. Quatre

They put the wrong thing in me
Then they made me love it
They put the wrong thing in me
Then they made me love it
They put the wrong thing in me
Then they made me love it

- "The Wrong Thing" Struction

Quatre waved goodbye to Trowa, promising to meet him by the bus stop when he was finished, and turned away toward the hotel. Shoving his hands into his pockets, he shook out his shoulders, adjusting the weight of his bag so that it fell more evenly across his chest. He looked up at the hotel, glancing from window to window. Most were dark, the glass covered by thick curtains. One of them twitched closed just as gaze came to rest upon it.

"Who will it be today?" he asked himself. Taking the steps two at a time, he burst through the entrance into the lobby, flashing his brightest smile at the receptionist. "Hello, Rebecca. You're looking lovely today."

The woman blushed and smiled back, handing Quatre a room keycard. She hesitated just as his fingers touched the plastic. "Quatre," she said quietly, smile abruptly gone.

His eyes narrowed conspiratorially and he leaned closer. He was in a good mood today. "Yes?" he breathed dramatically.

She glanced to her right and left, making sure no one was within earshot, then pressed her lips tightly together. "...Just be careful, okay?" Then she let go of the card and looked back down at her computer, ignoring that he was even there.

"Alright... thanks," he muttered turning away and heading toward the elevators. That was odd.

As he strode down the hall toward the room number indicated on the card, he began the routine locking away of the parts of his mind that would struggle with and reject the things he was about to do. It didn't take him long. By the time he reached the door, he felt prepared. Something about this john must have alerted Rebecca. 'Well, bring it on, creep,' he though with a smirk. 'It's nothing I haven't seen before.' Feeling extraordinarily secure in his four months experience as a hustler, he swiped the card key and walked into the room, Winner smile firmly in place.

+

In his months as a hustler, Quatre had learned quickly what was 'normal.' The definition continued to expand with each job, and that was fine because he'd developed a sense of what he could handle and what went over that Line. Kink, violence, tenderness, resentment, love, self-loathing, affection... all of these could fall under the category of 'normal' so long as the Line was not crossed. Everything in moderation. The saying applied to diet, exercise, alcohol, workload and prostitution as it turned out. When a customer crossed the Line, usually only gentle prodding was needed to coax him or her back to 'normal.' Duo was the master of this, Trowa a close second. Heero and Wufei both needed serious tutelage in this department. Their standard reaction to Line Violation was violence. Quatre was sort of a mix of the two extremes. Gentle when he could be... not quite so gentle when he felt threatened.

This man was approaching the Line. Quatre felt that he was doing a decent job of coping with the situation. The guy was a bruiser, no doubt. He grabbed hard, held hard and pushed. Quatre, now stripped down to his jeans, could feel the bruises starting on his hip bones and around his ribs and biceps. The back of his head ached where the john had shoved him into a wall. This was all almost normal. Hell, Quatre enjoyed a passion-filled shove against a wall as much as the next guy, but one was enough.

Okay, two were enough.

The third time, he got a little dizzy. 'Alright, what would Trowa do in this situation?' The answer came to him almost immediately. 'Let's move our activities to the nice soft bed.' Grinning in what he hoped was a seductive manner, Quatre grabbed the john's belt and pulled him toward the bed, skillfully undoing the buckle as he went. He kept his gaze locked with his customer's dark eyes. 'Not afraid of you.' They were just eyes; he was just a man. Unremarkable, generic, slightly overweight, pleated pants (when would they learn?), snug dress shirt. This man was not special; he wasn't. But he was smiling and that look held hunger and unspeakable cruelty. Quatre didn't dare look away from him.

He knew it was coming, could see it in the man's posture as they approached the bed, and he went limp in preparation as the john shoved him down onto the mattress. Still his teeth clacked sharply together and his neck ached from the impact.

"Alright, there," he murmured with a smile, rubbing the back of his neck. "I have to get through this in one piece, okay? I want to be able to make you feel good and I can't do that with whiplash." The words felt clumsy and fake in his mouth. They were Trowa's words, words of conciliation. They didn't come naturally and he hated them. But, damnit, he was good at his job! He could take this guy. He was not afraid.

"Oh, you're making me feel good already. Don't worry about that. But I don't think you're working hard enough. I think you're enjoying this too much. You want it too much."

Red flag. Quatre felt his smile slip a fraction. Why did that sound familiar? Who had said that? Not one of his jobs. He'd never seen this guy before.

The slap came as quite a surprise. It stung the corner of his mouth and in spite of his careful control, his body flinched away, like a struck child. 'How embarrassing,' he thought.

The Line had just been crossed. He shuffled back on the bed, skin crawling just a little when the john's rough hands reached toward his belt to undo the buckle and then his button fly. The man jerked them off in one swift motion, raking his eyes over Quatre's waist and thighs.

"You've been getting off easy, boy. Look at that perfect, white skin. You need to be working harder for your money. Whore like you can't just get laid then take my hard-earned cash without putting in a little work."

Quatre swallowed. Add a few more red flags to that first one. Just play along. Keep him happy while you can. "I'm working for you right now. What do you want me to do?" He was still following Duo and Trowa's example. Placate. Nudge. Stall if you have to.

"Bleed." The second slap was not a surprise; the sting of his rings was. His head snapped back and he tasted blood.

Quatre forced a laugh. "Okay, there it was. You got your blood. Normally, that's against the rules. Not too good for business as you can imagine. But I'll let that slide because I think you're a nice guy and-"

The third strike sprayed blood across the bedspread, and he stared at it for a moment, confused. This happened to people? This was happening to him? People didn't do this; they didn't hurt each other like this. His eyes burned and so did his gut, and, before he even consciously realized that he had changed tactics, Quatre's fist connected with the john's jaw. The hustler's lip curled up in a sneer and before the john could react, he was off the bed heading for his bag and his knives. He knew that standing there in his underwear, blood dripping down his face, he did not make an intimidating figure, but the john still looked mildly impressed. He knelt on the bed, cradling his jaw, staring at Quatre with unabashed lust.

"Now you're working for it," he said approvingly.

Quatre fought down the desire to sneer in disgust. 'Get some help, sicko,' he gritted to himself. He brought the bag over to the bed and removed a condom and some lubricant. "Let's just do this, okay? I'm working for you, but you can't just-"

A fist in his gut silenced the young man's warning. He doubled over with a sharp cry of pain and then retaliated with a vicious backhand across the john's cheek. Then a right uppercut to the man's jaw sent him sprawling on the bed. He shook out his fist. It'd been a long time since he'd hit anyone like that.

"I don't want to fight you. I'm not getting paid to-" Moving with surprising speed the john once again threw Quatre onto the bed. He pinned the boy's arms to the mattress and then kissed him, biting down on his cut lip. The man tugged hard on his mouth and blood flooded the back of Quatre's throat, choking him. He swallowed automatically and nearly gagged.

The john backed off enough to press his knee firmly into Quatre's stomach. The boy coughed and turned his head to the side, spitting out blood and gasping for breath.

"Stop talking and start working," his client gritted, quickly jerking down the boy's underwear.

His brain was stumbling and lurching over what was happening. Trowa's careful instructions for locking away his shame and hurt and anger were working too well. He felt like he had nothing to draw on, no source for the rage he knew he should be feeling. His body wasn't working right. He could only react.

"The condom!" Quatre gasped. "Please!" He could manage that much.

The john said nothing in reply, his face going cold just as Quatre felt his insides turn to ice. The man's knee pressed up under his ribs, restricting his breathing, crushing him into the bed. His arms were pinned over his head in one large hand. The man's other hand was reaching around, behind, down, reaching for his...

Quatre's head arched off the pillow and he cried out, long and hoarse, as the man's fingers violated him, pushing, stretching, tearing. 'Someone hear me and please help me,' he thought desperately, body bucking helplessly against the knee pinning him down. His scream was abruptly silenced as his arms were released and a heavy hand came down over his mouth. The man above him grinned when he bit down on the meaty flesh of his palm. Quatre frantically shoved his heals into the mattress, trying to push himself backwards and off the man's fingers, all the while tearing at the tough skin in his mouth. He clawed at the john's arms and at his face, but it didn't stop. None of it stopped. He felt like his life had become this struggle. Nothing before it existed and nothing would after if he didn't do something soon.

In a moment of clarity, as his vision began to dim, as the john's fingers pushed further and harder, as he realized this was just the beginning of what this man had planned for him, he realized his bag was still by the bed. He kept up his struggle, raking his fingernails against the man's bicep as his arm slid down the side of the bed and grabbed for his bag. For a few frantic seconds, he searched blindly for a knife, fingers closing around the heavy handle moments before he thought he'd pass out. He yanked the knife from its sheath in one swift motion and jammed it into the first flesh he found. The blade bit into the john's bicep and Quatre let a feral snarl stretch his torn lip. He ruthlessly twisted the knife, shredding muscle and grinding against bone. The man roared in pain and jerked backwards, releasing his hold on the boy who'd gone very still beneath him. Quatre sucked in a desperate breath, choking on his and the john's blood. He clung to the knife, wrenching it out of the man's arm and bringing the handle down hard on his temple. He dropped like a stone.

And suddenly everything was silent. Quatre slithered out from underneath the dead weight of the john and dropped to the floor, remaining their for several moments on hands and knees.

'Concentrate on the breathing first, Winner. Take it slow.' Blood from his mouth dripped onto the carpet, staining the beige a darker brown. He watched the drops of bright red liquid fall, succinct beads dropping in slow motion. It was hypnotizing, numbing. His head throbbed, pulse racing in his ears. 'Okay, time to get up. Just stand up. Move your legs. Move your arms. Move something!' With that shouted command, his elbows gave out and he rolled onto his back. He took a few deep breaths, then reached down to pull up his boxer shorts. Then he sat up, abdominal muscles burning from the john's earlier gut shot. Grunting with the effort, he shakily got to his feet, muscles screaming, liquid dripping down the inside of his thigh, torn mouth stinging, hands shaking, tears threatening. He went into the bathroom and leaned heavily against the sink, staring at himself in the mirror. Then he turned on the sink full blast, the roar of the water echoing the static in his brain. His hair stood up everywhere and his face was blank, frozen. He leaned over and spit out blood, mucus and saliva. He stuck his face under the harsh flow of water and held it there until the water ran pink and then clear and his mouth burned.

He heard a groan from the bedroom and he jerked upright. He turned off the water and ran back into the other room, heart pounding, knife raised for a throw that would leave no survivors. But the john was still out, a lump of muscle, bone and blood heaped on the bed. Quatre let out a great sigh of relief and quickly pulled his jeans and t-shirt back on, wincing at bruises. Pulling his belt through the loops of his pants, he slowly approached the john's unconscious body. Senses tuned for any change in his state, the boy leaned over and reached into the man's pocket, feeling for his wallet. His fingers closed around soft leather and gently, nerves screaming, he pulled it free. Backing up quickly, he opened the wallet and searched through its contents until he found the drivers license and a stack of business cards. "You're a handsome devil," he murmured, looking at the picture. "What's your name?" The license and the business cards matched.

"Richard Craven." He slid one of the cards into his pocket and threw the wallet back on the bed. "Alright, Dick. Nice meeting you. Stay the fuck away from me."

With that, he stepped into his sneakers and setting his bag over bruised shoulders, he walked out of the room. The moment he turned the corner, he bolted for the stairwell. Vaulting over the railing, he took the stairs two and three at a time, the need to be free of the building driving his legs. He made it to the lobby and slammed through the front doors, not glancing to his left or right, not noticing Rebecca's concerned expression. He hit the sidewalk at a dead run, taking off for Trowa, blowing by the bus stop, heading straight for the address his friend had given him.

He had to get there before... The solid defenses in his brain were crumbling -- anguish, shame and fury leaking into his consciousness. He ran faster, body nearly on autopilot as his brain began to flood. 'Just get to Trowa. Find Trowa.'

15b. Duo

Someone else's boy,
Tell me your convoluted stories through half-rotten mouth,
I will decipher them, to tell the world of your heart,
How beautiful things can come from the dark

- "Beautiful Things Can From the Dark" Azure Ray

Duo lay on his stomach, sketchpad in front of him, tongue between his lips in concentration. Every few seconds he looked up to get a better look at his sleeping roommate before returning to his drawing. Heero was dozing lightly, forgotten laptop leaning precariously off his thigh. Duo considered going over to close it up and put it away -- they'd both put themselves in enough danger stealing the damn thing to warrant the precaution -- but Heero would probably wake up and ruin his relaxed pose. So Duo let his concern for the safety of their computer slide and enjoyed the perfect silence of the flat. Trowa and Quatre were working, and he knew Wufei was meditating in his room. Duo knew this because he'd wanted to talk to him, had wanted to perhaps do more than just talk, but he always respected Wufei's meditation schedule, if for no other reason than he valued his bones right where they were, in tact and not shuffled around by a surprised dragon.

Duo had barely been able to get in a few rushed words these last weeks; they'd all been ridiculously busy. He hadn't been able to get him alone, let along touch him. Privacy was at a premium in this place, that was certain. This was as quiet as their flat had been in-

He was on his feet, knife in hand before he even registered the front door slamming open, Heero cursing sleepily behind him. He heard the unmistakable sword-leaving-sheathe sound from Wufei's room. They all relaxed when they saw it was just Trowa. Then they rushed to clear the couch as they saw the burden he carried in his arms. Trowa knelt by the sofa and gently laid Quatre down on the soft cushions.

"He's in shock." His voice was flat and without emotion, but his body betrayed the tension he felt. Automatically, Heero ran to the bedroom and brought out several blankets, helping Trowa wrap them around the boy's still body.

"Status?" he demanded.

Trowa shrugged, a sharp, angular movement. "Bad job. Bruiser. Beat him up pretty bad. Lots of blood, though I think the mouth cut is the only source. I'm guessing the rest is the john's."

"Shit," Duo muttered, wrapping his arms around himself. There was a lot of blood.

"Didn't he tell you?" Wufei snapped.

"No. He came bursting into the house -- I was in the middle of a job and he just collapsed, didn't say anything."

"Then maybe he was mugged," Heero said. Duo thought he sounded hopeful.

"I don't think so. There are teeth marks."

They all stared at the boy where he lay, a tiny figure drowning in blankets.

"That lip looks bad," Heero muttered.

Trowa nodded. "I think I can stitch it up." He took a deep breath. "I'll get him cleaned up, a hot bath should bring him out of it."

Duo immediately headed for the bathroom, glad to get away from the sight of a fallen comrade. The sound of running water effectively blocked any conversation from the other room. Running his hands through his bangs, he took several deep breaths. This couldn't be happening. The five of them were not victims. This did not happen to them. So why did it...again? First that job with Ralph. That one had sent them staggering. Now this. And why did it have to be to Quatre?

A moment later Trowa pushed past him and sat the blond boy on the toilet, gently pulling off his clothes. Unable to take his eyes off the blood oozing from Quatre's mouth, he just stared. There was so much more of it dried and stuck to his chest and stomach -- but no visible wound. Maybe the kid really had taken out his client. Duo felt his mouth twitch upward in an fierce grin. He hoped that was the case.

He jumped when Heero's fingers went around his wrist and pulled him back to the living room. "Let Trowa handle this," he said softly as he led him to the couch. They sat down together, Wufei in the armchair next to them, elbows resting on his knees, a scowl blacker than storm clouds darkening his features. They sat for several minutes in silences, starting at every sound from the bathroom.

The water had shut off. They could only hear muffled voices, Trowa's soft and calming, Quatre's cracked and raw.

"We need a client list," Heero gritted finally, hands balled into fists in his lap. "We need to know who that man was and... press charges." By the sound of it, this was not the only thing he intended to do to Quatre's client.

But Duo shook his head. "We can't break into the Boss's database, not that one anyway. I know you're gettin' into his bank accounts and his payroll, Heero, but for shit like that, Gael's got security you wouldn't believe. He guards that list like it's a family heirloom. Lotsa high-rollers' reputations depend on it not getting out He sure as hell isn't just gonna tell us who Quatre had today. It's up to the johns to tell us their names if they want to."

"What do you suggest we do?" Wufei asked, voice cold.

Duo shrugged. "Only thing we can do: tell Gael we want him off the list. The Boss decides what's to be done about an abusive john. He's been pretty good about it in the past."

"Totally unacceptable," Wufei spat back. "I refuse to be the victim of these people's perverted, greedy, unjust, and totally warped attitudes towards other human beings. There has to be more to it than just lodging a complaint and filing some paperwork. There must be further recourse. Heero, you understand that, right?"

Heero's face stayed a mask of dark anger, but his voice was calm. "You are both right. Duo's right that we need to go through official channels, do all that we can to get rid of this guy so no one else has to suffer what Quatre did. But I also agree with Wufei that it's not enough. I want that client list," he said again. "I want to know how Gael sets up these jobs and I want to take control away from him. Either we do it ourselves or we don't do it at all."

Duo snorted. "Not asking much, are you, Ro?" Heero stiffened. "I'm with you on the whole 'up or out' scheme, but I don't see how, short of a military coup, we can pull it off. Bossman's everywhere. He knows us. You and I have been working for him for years; we're in so deep... I don't know if we have that many options, whatever we may want to do. The disappearance rate for movers and shakers is pretty high. You know that."

Heero shook his head. "But we are not helpless. He can't keep us from seeking to better our own circumstances."

"He can if he sends a few of his highly trained, sneaky, deadly assassins to visit us at night and poison us in our sleep."

"We should be them!" Heero shouted suddenly. Duo jumped and Wufei stared at their friend blankly. Heero shook his in frustration, a sharp anguished movement. "I've watched us. I know us better than the Gael. I've seen what we can do, and we are twice as deadly as any of the Boss's men. They could come and try to take us, keep us from moving up, but they won't because they'd be dead before they could even pull a weapon. Wufei," he turned to the dragon. "You are the most efficient fighter I have ever seen."

"But you haven't seen me-"

"That doesn't matter. I have fought you, seen you move. If you'd had actual opponents, they would have- you would have- look, I know what you can do." Wufei's cheeks darkened with a flush of pride.

"And you-" He turned to Duo. "I never know where you'll be. We've known each other for years and I still can't ever tell what you'll do. And if you're too fast for me, you will be for anyone who dares to fight you." Duo smiled to himself, violet eyes quickly meeting dark blue before glancing away.

"And Trowa... he was a mercenary before this. He has nothing to fear from any of those men. Quatre, who, up until now, appeared to be our weakest link, may have just beat the shit out a john who was probably about twice his size. We are this Family's strongest, fastest, deadliest members and he's wasting us. He-"

He abruptly stopped as Duo put a hand on his wrist, right as the bathroom door opened. The two young men emerged, Trowa standing nearly a head taller that Quatre's hunched form. The height difference, coupled with the blond boy's defensive posture, made him look utterly defeated. The two went into their bedroom without a word, Trowa leading the boy with an arm wrapped loosely around his shoulders.

As the door closed, Duo shuddered. "Did you seen those bruises?" Heero and Wufei both growled in response. Duo thought back to the john he'd had a few months before, who'd pushed him around like he'd been nothing but a toy, told him he was enjoying it all too much, not working hard enough. The bruises on Quatre's hips, ribs and collarbone were strikingly similar. But his mouth...that was worse. That'd leave a scar. Duo's heart clenched in anger. How could he sit here and simply say that they should only report the incident to the Boss and do nothing else? The very same thing had happened to him before and he'd done nothing more than make the appropriate complaint. How could be so complacent? Even though he and Quatre were not close, they were still brothers of a sort. He couldn't just do nothing.

Several minutes later the bedroom down swung back open and Trowa came out, Quatre a pace behind him. The boy was now dressed in a loose cotton pants and a long sleeve t-shirt. His torn lip was neatly stitched, though it still looked inflamed and painful. The silence that hung between and among them all as Trowa went to the kitchen for ice was palpable and decidedly awkward. Quatre kept his eyes on the floor. When Trowa returned they all relaxed a bit then tensed again when Quatre flinched away from the ice gently pressed against his mouth.

"Quatre told a me a bit of what happened." Trowa addressed his three seated flat mates, but his eyes never left his friend's mouth. "He wouldn't tell me all of it, but I got enough to know that this man he had today is and will continue to be a threat to all of us unless something is done. Quatre should not have had to see him. And I don't think he's the first of us who as." Three sets of eyes blinked and looked at Trowa in surprise. "Duo... I think that you should talk to Quatre for awhile."

Duo started and shook his head in confusion. "Me? But- why-"

"Just, please do it."

Duo rose quickly to his feet, glancing around, noting Wufei's raised eyebrow. Well, maybe he was the best one to offer comfort in this situation; he had encountered more than his fair share of bruisers in his day. Gael seemed to delight in handing them to him. Without another word, he lead Quatre into his and Heero's bedroom.

+

The two young men sat stiffly next to each other, Duo fiddling with the end of his braid, Quatre carefully dabbing at his mouth with the ice. Duo, feeling awkward and incapable of communication, finally took a deep breath and decided to just do what he always did in uncomfortable situations: talk until it made sense.

"Quatre, I'm just gonna start with what's in my head. I'll just talk for awhile and you can interrupt if you want, talk about what happened if you want, or just listen. Okay?"

The boy nodded, eyes hooded.

"Um, I guess there's some shit between us that we should probably clear up, that I've wanted to talk to you about but just never worked up the guts. Mainly...the night you came to live with us. The night at that club, whatever the hell posh place that was, was pretty fucked up, and I know that you blamed me for all of it." Quatre tensed, but didn't speak. "And you had every right to. I mean, the second I saw you, I was attracted to you -- your personality, your body, the crazy way you moved, everything. You were a job. I was getting paid to dance with you and keep you happy. And since I'm attracted to lots of people -- not growing up with a particularly conventional sense of propriety -- I thought, what the hell, why not enjoy myself? So we danced and we talked and by the end of the night, I thought you were probably one of the most beautiful and vibrant people I'd ever be likely to meet. I felt lucky." Quatre smiled slightly and relaxed a bit, settling back on Duo's bed. Duo watched from the corner of his eye and knew his voice was having the desired effect. He continued in low soothing tones, rambling about the rest of that night, how awful he felt about what happened and how he regretted the subsequent ill-will between them.

When he'd said his peace, he paused and, when Quatre showed no sign of wanting to talk, he launched into his history with Heero, how the two had met as young boys, how they'd pretty much pulled each other out of the garbage after a police raid on a condemned building known to be a popular hideout for homeless kids. He told stories of his and Heero's exploits stealing food, art supplies, books, means of protecting themselves and their transportation: a pair of beat-up skateboards. He told Quatre of the long nights they spent, building a half-pipe in an old basement gym way downtown.

"Do you still go there?" Quatre's voice was hoarse and barely audible but his curiosity was obvious.

Duo smiled sadly and shook his head, no. "No wheels."

"Why not?"

"A few years back, a buncha kids jumped Heero and me and took'em. After that, we weren't really in any shape to skate."

"I used to skate. Did you know that?"

"I did not," Duo said, turning a grin on the boy leaning wearily against the wall. "Any good?"

A small shrug. "I had fun."

"Us, too." They fell silent, eyes glazed, lost in memory. Then Duo sighed. "Shit. We gotta work on gettin' some wheels. It's a hell of a lot easier to get around with a board between you and the pavement."

Quatre nodded, a wistful smile curving the undamaged side of his mouth.

Duo shook himself out of his memories and gave Quatre a measuring look. "You know, Q, that's probly gonna leave a handsome scar, even with those stitches."

The boy nodded. "I know," he said quietly. But he didn't sound sorry for himself, Duo thought in surprise. He sounded- "I'll find him, Duo. I don't normally go for 'eye-for-an-eye' revenge. It's not my style. But he will pay for what he did." He sounded angry, furious even. "I just wish my brain had been... I wish I could have done more than I did. I was numb then."

"Hey buddy, I understand. My head woulda been pretty screwed up, too."

"No, I couldn't have hurt him more than I did. It was out of necessity getting that knife in his arm. I would have passed out otherwise. My mind was... Trowa helped me to sort of... not care that I have to sleep with men. So, I was numb."

"Come again?" Duo asked, suddenly confused. His earlier assertion that Quatre hid a lot was proven yet again as the young man cleared his throat and proceeded to feed him a story out of some science novel. Duo realized that he didn't know his flat mate very well at all.

"Mind partitioning. It's been working. I lock up all of my more... dangerous emotions so that I don't really care what my body does. But today, it pretty much bit me in the ass." He put the ice back on his mouth and continued to stare off at some point in middle distance.

Duo turned this new concept over in his head, trying to look at it from all angles. "Does your brain... do you stay partitioned all the time?"

Quatre shook his head, no. "Only when I work," he said, voice muffled behind the ice.

Duo frowned. "Christ, so after it's all over, those emotions come flooding back and..."

"Today, they put me in shock."

"Shit," Duo muttered, in awe of the kind of mind control the kid possessed. To be able to simply shut out all the anger and shame that came with the job...it would be liberating. But at the same time debilitating with a john like the one Quatre faced today. Duo had been dealing with those emotions since he'd realized that if he wanted the protection of a large Family, he needed to sell at least some part of himself. He did not allow them to rule his life, but neither did he deny them. And at that moment, he felt intensely grateful for his ability to deal with them -- deal with them enough anyway.

"Q, do you think...you'll be okay, after this?"

The boy barked a short, humorless laugh. He shrugged sharply, then shook his head, no, face suddenly going blank.

"What does that mean, Quatre?" Duo kept his voice steady, though his heart had just leapt into his throat. Another quick shrug. "Do you need to see a doctor?" He nodded once, yes. Duo felt the air freeze in his lungs, was sure he could see his breath if he dared exhale. "For more than just the lip?" Another nod. "You don't have to tell me about it if you don't want to. I'll get a sweatshirt; we can go right now."

Quatre quickly shook his head, no. "I think I have to wait a few weeks. They wouldn't know anything the same day, right?" Now bright blue eyes met violet, wide with fear and dawning comprehension.

"You didn't use protection?" Duo breathed. Quatre's cheeks reddened. He kept his voice low, but Duo flinched at the anger spat at him.

"I told him we had to. I'm not a fucking idiot. But it's not that. He never... it didn't go that far. I stopped him. I wouldn't be this fucked up over a split lip. There was just so much blood and there wasn't anything I could do. He was so big. I had to stab him and beat him over the head just so I could breathe. He bit my mouth and then he was suffocating me and I bit his hand, so I know I got it in my mouth and in the cut. All that blood, and I know some of it got in me and..." Quatre looked up at him, for once looking like a scared boy. "And that's really dangerous, isn't it?"

Duo sat very still, eyes wide, voice stuck in his throat. This sort of thing did not happen to them, not any of them. They were all so careful. Christ, they had to be. He saw Quatre watching him, saw the scared expression forced back inside and replaced by a valiant attempt the at levity. "Well, Dick got what he wanted, anyway. I certainly didn't enjoy the job too much, and I was definitely working hard." He tried to laugh and failed.

Duo's eyes refocused and he returned to the conversation. "What did you say?"

Quatre shrugged and then shuddered. "The whole time I was with him he kept telling me that I was having too much fun and not working hard enough. He wouldn't let it go."

Instantly, Duo was back in a hotel suite with that man pushing and pulling and crushing and hurting him. He remembered hoping that Heero would burst through the door and find him and pull that man off him and beat the piece of shit senseless. He remembered hoping that Heero would then turn to him, grab him and shake him and shout, "Damnit, Duo! We're not doing this anymore!" But Heero hadn't come. Duo had let that man hurt him and then he'd tried not to limp home because he didn't want Heero to see that. Then he'd filed a complaint with Gael... which had been ignored.

He let out a deep breath and then drew in another. "I don't believe it," he said quietly.

"What is it?"

"He's not off the list."

"Who? This guy I had today?"

"Fuckin' A... I sent in a... I called him up and said he should be off the list. Fucker pushed me around so hard, I couldn't wear short sleeves for a week and it was fucking summer."

"Wait, you know this guy?"

"Yes," Duo gritted.

"So Trowa was right? This wasn't the first time?"

"The night I met you, I was recovering from a morning appointment with him. He kept it all below the neck, so I could hide it, but damn, that guy pissed me off. Arrogant, twisted, strong, asshole."

"Well, he didn't keep it below the neck this time," Quatre muttered, dabbing at his stitches.

"God damnit I wish I new that guy's name. I'd find that son of a bitch and make sure he-"

"I do know his name... and his phone number and email address and where he works."

"-never so much as thinks about seeing any- wait, what?" He turned angry violet eyes to the boy next to him.

"I got his card. I know who he is."

Duo's eyes narrowed. "You sure it was his?"

Quatre shrugged. "It matched his driver's license."

A slow smile spread across Duo's face. "What's his name?"

"Richard Craven. Dick to his close friends."

"Dick," he muttered darkly, tasting the word. He'd never liked that word. Then he smacked his hands together and rubbed them excitedly. "Well, Dick's coming off the list, whether Gael removes him, or we take off his dick so there's no point in having him on it. And Q, we're gonna think of a way to fix this for you. We're gonna make it better, I promise." He already had an idea in mind.

[part 14] [part 16] [back to Singles a-k]