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

Through the Furnace, Unshrinking + Part 4
The Club, 2

4a. Heero

It takes courage
To enjoy it
The hardcore and the gentle
Big-time sensuality

- "Big Time Sensuality"

Heero watched the seething mass of people move as one body when the music changed to a song they all knew. And even he, disinclined as he was to dance, felt the need to move with them.

And now, so did the girl he'd been talking up. And even though he really didn't want to do it, he knew it'd be easier than trying to maintain a conversation. He knew his body's abilities, new how to fight. That should afford him some semblance of rhythm, right? He found himself nodding to the girl's request.

The girl. She had a name. Maribel. And in all honesty, keeping up a conversation had been easy mainly because he hadn't had to do anything but nod and grunt. She hadn't shut up since he'd offered to buy her a drink several hours ago. So, he hadn't really had to talk much, but he didn't want her asking any more questions; he'd made up enough about his life as it was. Heero Yuy. Yes, I'm a senior at university, studying computer security systems. My family? My mother was from London, my dad's from Nagasaki. She's a teacher. He's a defense contractor. I have a dog name Sparkey. Oh, yes, the Prime Minister is rubbish. Blah, blah, blah.

As they waded into the crowd, fingers entwined, Heero spotted Wufei and Duo dancing with their target, Quatre Winner. They appeared to be having a good time, even Wufei. The young man had one arm resting on Duo's shoulder, the other on his waist, their bodies moving almost joyfully to the thudding beat. It was one of Duo's favorite songs, he knew, one about risks and fear and something about sensuality.

Heero did not care about clothes or make up or appearances at all, really, but he had to admit that Wufei made a striking figure; all sinew and dark, lethal grace. This was not a context in which Heero was used to seeing the fiery dragon. He was intrigued and instantly reminded of the one and only time they had tested each other's fighting styles at the gym. That brutal and brief spar in the small dojo had been educational and... exciting. Heero knew within seconds that Chang was a killer; he could tell by the ease with which he moved, the confidence he possessed and the absolute control he had over his body. He had taken lives before. Heero did not find this fact frightening, just... something more to know about Chang. Something to file away, something added to this person that shared a living space with Duo and himself.

All three of them made eye contact, just long enough to signal that all was well for the moment and then Heero jerked his attention back to Maribel. She had her arms wrapped around his neck and was swaying slim hips in time with the song. He watched her for a few seconds before following suit. Resting his hands awkwardly on those hips, he let her lead. Trying not to make eye contact, he watched the rest of her, marveled at her curves, the places where she was soft. So different from the majority of his clients, so different from the hard angles of a man's body.

She spun around, her skirt flying up a bit high for Heero's taste. He'd almost seen her underwear. And then her back was pressed to him and he felt her curves much more intimately. His eyes widened and then he nearly laughed out loud. He, Heero Yuy, was a sex worker. That was his job title. He got people off and let them get him off for a living, and here he was, flustered by this girl's fully clothed ass in his crotch. Well, he was used to men, and when he worked, he tended to keep his mind as far away from what was happening to his body as possible. This... was much more intimate, somehow. This girl was pretty much sex in a little skirt so far as he could tell, but she seemed perfectly pure and innocent by her own standards. At least that's what she'd told him -- she didn't come here often, only for Daddy's meetings; he was such a nice boy; did he want to come back to her house after the meeting was over? Right. This whole dancing business was quite confusing.

The music slowed down and she turned around again, wrapping her arms around his neck. The beat throbbed lazily, vibrating in his ribs. She leaned forward and rested her head on his chest. Again he blinked in surprise. He was completely unfamiliar with this amount of intimacy while he still had clothes on. He caught Duo's eye as he dipped Quatre, the blond boy's eyes wide with delight. Duo smiled at Heero's obvious discomfort and winked his encouragement before pulling Quatre back against him. Heero scowled over Maribel's head. How did Duo make it look so easy? Every move he made was lissome and graceful; everything he said appropriate and amusing.

And now, watching him sweep Quatre off his feet and win him over with his charm, Heero felt familiar, yet still completely baffling ribbons of... wanting thread up his spine and between his legs. He felt it tangle in his gut, an acute need to be with Duo. Right then. To be the one touching him and spinning him around. Heero knew that Duo was working; this was his 'on-the-job' persona. He wanted to make it real. He wanted to see that small, half smile that came out only for him. The intensity of his need startled him, as it always did, and felt like a clenched fist in his chest. He didn't want some skinny girl's breasts heaving in his face. And, god, he certainly didn't want sex. He wanted smooth pale skin, pulled tight over wiry, strong muscles. And he wanted a thick rope of hair he could wrap around his fist.

As he did every time these feelings wound their way through his muscles and his digestive system, Heero tried to figure them out, to nail them down. He allowed Maribel to lead him around the floor -- it seemed to come naturally; she'd been leading all night -- and let his brain drift over possible explanations for his sudden and uncontrollable bouts of... need. He'd known Duo for -- he didn't know how many years. They'd grown up together. Duo was his only real friend. He protected Duo. Duo watched his back. They worked together, had been in the same room when-

They had seen each other naked, vulnerable, compromised, humiliated. He shook his head slightly. No, Duo had never appeared to be humiliated. It was all so easy for him. He could just shake it off, walk it off, laugh it off. Heero, on the other hand, had to ruthlessly shut down his urge to break bones when anyone touched him. But he did it, five or six days a week, he did it, went out with Duo and got paid for sex. They'd both been there when one or the other had gotten a truly horrible troll, when contact with a person they actually liked was the only thing that kept them from screaming or vomiting or hurting themselves or someone else. Heero needed Duo if he was going to survive this job. And he wasn't leaving the job without Duo.

So... their relationship made perfect sense to him. It was logical and necessary. But sometimes it didn't seem like enough. Was that it? Did he need more from Duo? That didn't seem fair. How could he ask more from his best friend? He couldn't.

But maybe what he wanted wasn't actually anything more than what they already had -- if it was extension of their friendship. Heero knew sex. And he knew that sex with Duo would be... one of the most important events in his life. It would be very different from sex with other men. But Heero didn't understand friendship outside of what he had with Duo. He didn't know how friends...acted. Could sex be part of a friendship, or was that asking too much? Did he want Duo as his? He found his friend again, watched him press his hips into the boy's. Quatre blushed and leapt back, nimbly dodging Duo's attempts to catch his hands. Sex was Duo's job. Perhaps it didn't belong in a friendship.

A few feet away, Wufei danced with another young man, one not a part of the assignment. But Wufei wasn't paying much attention to that boy. His eyes never left Duo. He followed every move. He was even imitating those movements, probably subconsciously. He adapted them to his own abilities and became almost visibly more sure of himself as he went. This made Heero uneasy for a reason he could not yet identify. But he could not take more time to think about it, because Maribel was pulling him off the dance floor and toward the bar. And she was talking again.

4b. Trowa

But something huge is coming up
And we're both included

- "Big Time Sensuality"

The night passed slowly for Trowa. He sat at the bar with his assigned target -- a lovely young woman named Ana -- and spoke at great length about his time with the circus, a story he'd made up on the spot to keep her interested and to keep her questions far away from what he'd actually done with his 22 years thus far. Yes, he worked with the lions. No, he never got bit; they liked him. He got along with animals better than people more often than not. Except for her of course. He found that he could talk to her very easily. She'd loved that line, had blushed and smiled and touched his arm, cool fingers running along his bicep. He knew that if he wanted, he could take her out behind the club and fuck her until she saw stars, could get her to love him even after he broke her heart. He toyed with the idea, but eventually rejected it. She was attractive -- slender and dark with long black hair braided into hundreds of tiny ropes. He would have liked to see her bend under his touch, writhe and pant, breathing his name just as he made her come. He liked sex with women, loved their skin and their hair. And he loved their hips, round and soft. He was very close to suggesting they step outside, even though, tonight, he wasn't getting paid to sleep with this woman.

But then he spotted Duo and Wufei amidst the throngs of people making idiots of themselves on the dance floor. Once again he admired the way Wufei had turned from a rather bitter and self-conscious boy to an exotic and striking dragon, still extremely volatile and dangerous, but now tantalizingly so. He also wondered at the glances Wufei snuck at Duo, his painted eyes hooded but nevertheless watchful and...definitely curious. He smiled to himself, seeing that Duo was having a great time and enjoying the company of -- what was his name? oh yes -- Quatre Winner. Millionaire heir and... Trowa felt his heart do something it had not done in probably 10 years. He swallowed thickly and tried to slow it down. It was deafening in his ears, louder than the music. Quatre Winner. His green eyes narrowed as he focused on the young man. He temporarily forgot Ana, instead watching this pale, bright boy bend and twist and jump and spin and just move in a way that Trowa had never seen. He couldn't take his eyes off that slim body. The boy's white t-shirt clung to his small frame, damp with sweat. His brown corduroys hung low on his waist, sometimes revealing a pale strip of skin and a knobby back bone. He was... well, he was the most...

Trowa's train of thought was abruptly cut off as one of the Boss's muscle appeared to his right and grabbed a hold of his arm, roughly pulling him from the barstool. He frowned and glanced at Ana to see her eyes widen and her mouth fall open in shock.

"Time to go," the big man muttered in his ear, dragging him away from the bar and from Ana.

She shouted, "Hey!" but Trowa was already stumbling away, concentrating on keeping his feet under him. He let the muscle drag him, knew that he'd only be punished for dislocating the giant's shoulder and saying in his slightly accented English, "I can walk myself, dickhead." He didn't look back at Ana, instead craning his neck to find the others. Directly ahead of him, he saw Heero being led away in a similar fashion, his mouth turned down slightly in a small frown. Heero's target, Maribel, did not look pleased. Almost frantically, he searched for the other two, and then, for the second time in 10 years, his heart clenched and thudded in his chest. He saw Wufei shoved forward by one of the Boss's bodyguards, the dragon giving any onlookers his best scowl. Behind him, Trowa saw Duo and Quatre, trying to keep a hold of each other as another bodyguard tried to pull them apart. But... Quatre was being pushed along with them. They were all exiting the club, stumbling and cursing. One of the muscle threw Quatre over his shoulder, carrying him as though he weighed as much as a doll. Trowa examined Quatre's face, saw slight panic and fear there. But it was gone in the next moment, replaced with a calculating and watchful stare. This boy would not let his fear rule him; Trowa could see that instantly.

They all piled into the car waiting for them, the doors slamming shut, and the car quickly pulling out of its space. "What the fuck was that!" Duo shouted indignantly. "You could have just told us it was time to leave. We would have walked out on our own." The driver, another bodyguard, didn't respond. Quatre, seated between Duo and Wufei, curled up into a ball, knees drawn up to his chest, fists clenched, bright eyes closed.

From his place in the front seat, squeezed in with Heero, Trowa saw Wufei run his black eyes over the hunched body next to him. "Why is he here?" the dragon growled. The driver still said nothing. Trowa, his expression detached and blank, his heart still annoyingly loud in his ears, tentatively laid his hand on the boy's knee. He removed it quickly when the boy flinched away.

"Quatre," he said softly. "Quatre, are you alright?" No response. "Quatre-"

"Shut up!" The boy looked up, bright blue eyes spitting fire. "How do you know my name? I don't know who you are! I don't know any of you. Least of all you!" he shouted accusingly at Duo. "You can't just grab somebody and throw them in an unfamiliar car. That's kidnapping and it's illegal!" He paused. "Are you kidnapping me?" Trowa felt that something was off. He knew that Quatre was afraid. Hell, he should be. But his shouting, his open fear, didn't feel genuine. Was he faking? "My family won't stand for it. My sisters will come for me!" The driver snorted and shook his head. They all looked at him sharply, but he didn't volunteer any more than that. "Do you even know who I am?" He puffed out his small chest, and again Trowa was struck with a sense of falsehood. This was a display.

No one spoke for several seconds. Finally, Duo sighed, answering quietly, "Of course we know who you are. I'm guessing that 'who you are' is exactly why you're in the car with us right now. But beyond that, we're as clueless as you."

He's not clueless, Trowa thought.

"Except for no-neck in the driver's seat, and he's not volunteering any info," Duo continued.

"Why should I believe you?"

Duo looked Quatre straight in the eye. "You have absolutely no reason to. I can only tell you that we, the four of us, we're not gonna hurt you. You're in no danger from us." Trowa hoped he was right. When it came to the workings of the Family, he tended to steer clear. The same went for Duo and Wufei. Only Heero concerned himself with that dangerous hierarchy -- thus far to no great success. If they didn't want him in, he wouldn't be. And Trowa was glad of their ignorance. People tended to "disappear" when they knew too much. So, he didn't know what was in store for this kid. But judging by the fuss made about that meeting and the very fact that Quatre had been excluded from it, it didn't look good.

The car stopped at a red light and everyone was silent and still. Then, faster than a flicker of sunshine, Quatre was out the rear driver's side door and in the street. Duo and Trowa sucked in a sharp breath. Heero frowned and Wufei groaned, "Very bad move." The driver was out of the car before he'd finished that sentence. None of them were surprised at how fast the muscle moved. Quatre didn't stand a chance. The driver grabbed him by the collar and threw him to the pavement. The boy's voice cracked as he cried out in fear and pain. In the next second the driver hauled him up and practically threw him into the back seat. Duo and Wufei both refrained from touching him, and the boy curled up into a ball again, blood from his cut elbow dripping onto the upholstery. He hid his stinging cheek in his arms, bits of gravel embedded in the skin. The whole ordeal had lasted about 15 seconds. But before they started moving again, the driver motioned for Trowa to get out of the front seat.

"In the back with the others," he grunted. "Hold him down." Trowa complied immediately, both he and Heero getting out, Heero sliding back into the front seat only to find the rear end of a handgun almost hitting his nose. "Take this," the driver continued. "Make sure he doesn't do that again." Nodding once, Heero waited for Trowa to get into the back seat with the rest of them before taking the gun. The Frenchman saw his lip curl slightly. Heero Yuy, along with the rest of them, had a very healthy fear of guns, and an even stronger distaste for them. Death should not be dealt so easily from the hands of cowards. Heero did not look pleased to be holding such a weapon.

The car started moving again. Apologizing softly, Trowa climbed over Wufei's lap and, taking hold of Quatre's shoulders, pulled him close, pinning his arms to his sides. The boy's muscles felt like steel bands, coiled so tightly that he seemed ready to spring at any moment. But as they drove, he didn't move again. Trowa sucked in a slow deep breath and tried to calm his jangled nerves. This was most unusual.

"Please don't try anything like that again," he murmured. "He will hurt you." The driver turned on the radio -- some abrasive, grinding metal garbage. All five of them flinched but remained silent. Even Duo knew when to stay quiet. Trowa continued to speak quietly into Quatre's ear, now that no one could hear him over the music. "I'm sorry this is happening to you. I wish I knew what was going on. I would tell you. And we will tell you as soon as we know anything. If you have a choice, you should stay with us, because we will not hurt you. I can't vouch for the rest of the family. Something happened at the meeting with your sisters. My Family has taken you and we, the four of us, will offer you protection if we can. Duo didn't mean for this to happen. He didn't know you were coming with us, so don't be too upset with him. Just keep breathing and when we get to our flat, we'll figure all this out." As he spoke, Quatre's muscles slowly began to relax. The young man leaned back into Trowa's chest and took a few deep breaths. Heero, who hadn't taken the safety off the gun, gave a quiet sigh of relief. It didn't look like he'd need to.

4c. Duo

I'll tell you why I don't want to know where you are
I got a joke I been dying to tell you
A silent kid is looking down the barrel
To make the noise that I kept so quiet

- "Pitselah" Elliott Smith

Duo lay in bed, flat on his back, utterly exhausted. But his brain was going full speed over the events of the last few hours. His gut twisted with guilt every time he remembered Quatre's wounded and betrayed expression. It had been directed at him, and he'd deserved it.

"Heero?" he whispered. "Are you still awake?" A groan from across the room and "I'm awake again" was his response. "What do you think's gonna happen to that kid?" Duo could hear his best friend roll over to face him.

"In the long run, don't know," he answered, voice thick with sleep. "After you all went inside, the driver told me that we're supposed to look after him for the foreseeable future."

"What's that mean?"

"He's one of us now."

"He's gonna start turning tricks?"

A mumbled grunt in the affirmative.

"Are you kidding? The kid's as innocent as they come. He won't last two days."

"That's what I said." Finally, Heero sat up and even in the dim light of the bedroom, Duo saw him run his fingers through tangled brown hair. "But his family abandoned him. His sisters want the Winner estate. They don't think it's fair that the youngest inherits all that money and property. So, instead of just killing him, they wanted him to disappear. They wanted him out of sight and protected until Winner, Sr. dies."

"That's the most absurd and stupid idea I've ever heard," Duo stated flatly. "Put him with a bunch of hustlers? That's protected? We won't be able to keep him safe. He'll get out. Then what will his family do?"

"I don't think they knew what position he'd have within the Family, just that he'd be kept here and hidden until it's safe for him to be released. If he goes back to the Winners now, he'll be killed. They'll make it look like an accident."

"So the Boss just decided to stick him with us?" Duo shook his head at the ceiling. "He really is a twisted little man." Heero grunted, noncommittally. "I think we should try to help him. We owe him that."

Heero shook his head. "We owe him nothing. It's not our fault his family did this to him."

"But I treated him like a john," Duo said quietly. He'd been a conquest, a game.

"He was."

"He's not anymore. I violated his trust."

"His family did first."

"Rationalize it if you want," Duo murmured, hooking his fingers together behind his head. "But remember how scared we both were when we started this job a year ago. Remember that if we hadn't been there for each other..." He saw Heero shudder and knew he didn't need a reminder. They'd worked as a team from the beginning and Duo vividly recalled the times they had both run out of a hotel rooms, only to stumble to the sidewalk and vomit everything they'd just swallowed. He could still feel the grip of Heero's hand in his as they waited at the bus stop, desperate to just get home. He remembered Heero's dried tear tracks down his cheeks, remembered thinking he must have cried too as they walked stiffly back to the flat. Right after those first few times, they'd barely been able to sit down. Duo remembered their first tests, sitting, waiting for the results, praying that they hadn't picked up something in their first month on the job. Duo knew that Heero wanted to protect him from the Boss, from the worst johns, from all the people who judged them just by looking at their clothes. But Duo didn't need his protection, not that kind anyway. He handled the tough tricks more often than not. He needed a friend, an equal. And Heero was that to him.

The Japanese man got out of bed and stepped soundlessly across the carpet, stopping at Duo's bedside. He knelt down and Duo sat up, eyes searching for Heero's in the dark. They looked at each other, unable to make out expressions but aware of the tension in the air between them.

"You're right, Duo. He will need help. However, I think he will go to Trowa for that help, rather than you or me. I think that we need to concentrate on living past our 21st birthday."

Duo forced some cheer that he didn't feel into his voice. "I'm livin' well, Ro. I'm doin' just fine." He winced at how fake that sounded. "We've got it pretty good here. We have food and a place to live. We have friends. We could still be out on the street stealing." To his own ears he was trying to convince himself.

Heero nodded and looked down at his hands. "We need to focus on surviving," he said again. "And for me, that means moving up in the family. I don't- really like what we do." Duo snorted, a sharp humorless sound. "And I hate knowing that I can't always keep you safe because of- how our job is. But you don't need my help, because you're better at taking care of yourself than I am."

"Heero-" Duo started to protest, but his best friend plowed ahead.

"I've been thinking the past few hours. The Boss...why we're all together here in this place. The five of us are different from the rest of the family. Wufei and me and Trowa, too. We're better suited for fighting. And you, you're the same. Quatre... I don't know. I watched him move. He's young and untrained, but he's the same. We're all here together now." Duo knew that Heero's brain was crunching through its methodical gears when he started repeating himself. He held his breath as his friend continued to work through his train of thought. "And I can't figure out why Gael would do that... throw five potentially lethal people together under one roof. In the business he runs, we should be his weapons, not his whores. He's either got something in mind, some plan, or..." Heero looked right into Duo's eyes. "Or he's making a mistake that will get him killed."

Duo breathed out, a warm puff of air on Heero's face. "You're scaring me a little, buddy. A) You rarely talk this much and B) I think you just drew a line in the sand." He thought he saw Heero smirk.

"A big fat one."

"That's heavy, man," Duo said, shaking his head. "That kinda talk will get you killed, or 'disappeared,' more accurately."

"I know that," he murmured. "But I have to set out my priorities. Now, I just have to figure out his. But until then, my job -- the job I have to focus on if I'm going to live through all this -- is keeping us safe." Duo opened his mouth to interrupt, to tell Heero that he didn't need a guardian, but he cut himself off. "I've drawn my line in the sand. And all five of us are on one side. That's not an accident. The Boss isn't stupid. But I will use this opportunity." He sucked in a slow deep breath. "And I wanted you to know, because we- you and I are-" Heero hesitated and Duo could sense the words about to fall from his best friend's lips.

"We're what, Heero?" he asked, his voice barely audible.

"We are... the same. We have the same history, and I know that we need to be together in this."

Duo swallowed thickly. In the many years that they'd known each other, Heero had pretty much kept to himself. And he certainly didn't make a habit of expressing his feelings to Duo. He'd just... always been there. It was his job -- that's how he'd put it. They were best friends, a team, but that didn't mean they shared their inner-most thoughts and heart-felt desires. This Heero, the talking, confessing, strategizing Heero was a new animal. Duo would have to investigate the reason for this shift. Perhaps it was just that Heero was fed up with the hustling gig and wanted Duo to know, or maybe their dynamic was changing, developing, expanding.

He realized suddenly that Heero was waiting for him to respond, and he swallowed again, well aware of how difficult this was for Heero, how hard it was for him to lay down his hand. "Hey, Ro. You know I'm with you." He casually reached out to touch his friend's arm and instead found himself wrapping long fingers around a steely bicep. "You know you've got me, that you've had me."

They both froze at these words, Duo surprised at his own bluntness. He usually played his feelings a little closer to his chest. He didn't usually --

Heero got quickly to his feet, then, pulling his arm out of Duo's grip, leaving him to look up from where he sat on the bed, confusion and embarrassment warring for the dominant expression. Frowning, Duo and looked down at his hands, then quickly at his best friend's retreating back. He ran long fingers threw his bangs and fell back on his pillow, feeling more exhausted than ever.

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