Disclaimer: I don't own GW nor profit from writing about its characters.

Warnings: drama, maybe mild language

Educating Quatre - Part 3
Duo's Friendship Arc 18
by Dyna Dee

The rain began as a gentle drizzle graduating to a light shower as the sun set inconspicuously behind the dark horizon and the grey blanketed sky just as the two teens stepped out from the woods and onto the city street. The north side of the city was calm as the day closed, the weather keeping most of it's citizens in their homes. As businesses closed, customers and workers quickly headed to the shelter of their cars or buses. The two bedraggled-looking boys took shelter in a little hole-in-the-wall type café, ordered a modest dinner, then continued ordering sporadically in order to linger in the corner booth until closing time. A few of the other patrons eyed them with disapprovingly stares at their boots and pant cuffs that were covered with clumps of dark-caked mud. Yet for the most part, they were ignored and left to themselves. Duo's watch confirmed the time as being nine-thirty by the time they stepped out into the cool night air, the rain had temporarily stopped.

They found out by asking a passer-by that the buses ran only until eleven, and that they came to this area once an hour after seven p.m., and having had just missed the last bus by five minutes, they decided to walk in a southernly direction, towards the city center. Strolling side by side and keeping to the shadows as Duo directed, the two drew steadily closer to the hub of the city, bypassing groups of people clumped together for either purpose of protection or darker intentions that had Duo glaring at them with suspicion. In the course of their late evening walk, his friendly demeanor changed to become more of a protector to the other boy. Quatre let him take the lead as he knew little of the dark strangers lurking in the shadows and underbelly-side of city life.

The growing rumblings of large trucks moving towards them came from behind them, and as they approached with their bright headlight flaring into the dark streets, Duo grabbed hold of his friend and roughly pushed him into the sheltering deep shadows of a building's entryway.

"What?" Quatre hissed unhappily, rubbing the aching shoulder that had impacted hard against the brick wall Duo had flung him into.

"Look." Duo's voice hissed low and dangerous.

Several large military troop transport trucks rumbled down the street with red lights silently flashing other motorists to move out of the way. The fourth truck stopped at the end of the block and four soldiers immediately jumped out of the back. One of them hit the side of the truck with the butt of his rifle, and the vehicle sped off. The two boys watched as the four soldiers split into two groups and separated to opposite sides of the street and began their systematic search.

"Damn, a city-wide lock down." Duo whispered tersely. "We gotta get out of here." Taking up the wrist of the blonde boy, the Deathscythe pilot pulled him out of the shadows and quickly led him back the way they'd just come, then cutting into the dark recesses of the alleyways.

The were both a bit breathless when at last they came to a stop in the deep shadows of an alley and crouched down next to a horrible smelling receptacle that Quatre guessed it could only be a commercial garbage container. Duo pulled him close to his body and whispered into his ear. "We're not gonna be able to get Sandrock out of here as long as the city is in military lock down."

Quatre nodded his agreement. "Do we hide or leave?" he whispered back.

His partner pondered their options, scratching his head as he thought. "I think we should hide out here in the city, at least for a day or two and see if things go back to normal." he replied in a hushed voice. "Wufei doesn't seem to think Oz knows what the two of us look like, and they did only tag Trowa this afternoon." he reasoned. "I think the both of us could blend into the general population until things cool down."

The blonde seriously contemplated Duo's plan. "What if they saw me leave the safe house? They'll know what I look like and your hair could give you away." he whispered, gently voicing his concerns.

Duo frowned and pulled his braid over his shoulder stroking it. "I won't cut it." Though Sandrock's pilot couldn't see the American's face, his voice gave evidence of the stubborn pout that was probably there.

"Just hide it." he replied, rolling his eyes and shaking his head. He heard the rustle of material and knew Duo had repositioned his braid inside his shirt.

"Done." he announced. "Now, got any ideas where we should hide?"

Quatre's brow furrowed as he thought. "If we can get to the warehouse Sandrock is stored in, we could stay inside the cockpit." he suggested.

"No, I'm sure they'll be searching any place we could possibly hide the Gundams. Besides," he snorted. "do you really want to be cramped in that cockpit with someone else for a couple of days?" Duo snorted derisively. "Doesn't sound like a picnic to me."

"Do you think they'll find Sandrock?" the blonde gasped at the thought.

"I don't think so." Duo replied. "They'll probably be on the hunt for us instead of the Gundams, since they were hot on our trail today. If they use typical OZ searching tactics, they'll first search all transports going out of the city and maybe some sections of the city, trying not to intrude too much on the citizens. Bad P.R." he shrugged. "Since we're staying here, the odds are pretty high that they won't find us if we're careful.

"I hope you're right." Quatre said worriedly. He then thought back to their problem of where to hide out. "I don't suppose we could stay at a hotel?" he asked hopefully, as that was the easiest solution he could come up with.

"No, I don't think it would be safe. That's one of the places they're sure to check." Duo answered. "And two teenagers sharing a room would be like waving a red flag held up by the stupid stick, pointing them right to us."

"I have an uncle, my mother's brother, that works here in the city. Maybe I could contact him and we could stay there."

"An uncle?" Duo sounded surprised. "Does he live in the city?"

"No, he lives about twenty minutes away in a suburb."

"That's too far." Duo answered with a regretful sigh. "I think we need to stay close to our Gundams and escape at the first possible moment. The others will be worried when if don't rendezvous when they expect us to."

The both sat in contemplative silence for a few moments.

"I have to admit, Duo," Quatre spoke softly. "I don't have a lot of experience at hiding in a city. I think I should defer to your better judgement since you know more about running and hiding."

"Alright." Duo said in a quietly bright tone, accepting the responsibility. "Where's the last place you'd look for two fifteen-year-old boys?"

"The library?"

Despite their need to keep quiet, Duo barked out a quiet laugh. "Well, this fifteen year old anyway."

"Think, Quatre." he continued, still chuckling. "Where is the least likely place to find someone our age?"

"I suppose places where we're considered underage."

"Right!" Duo patted his companion on the shoulder for his correct answer

"What are you thinking, Duo?" the blonde's worry was transmitted in his voice.

"Trust me, Quatre. I'll hide us." Duo promised with confidence, and fumbling around, found and caught up his friend's wrist again and led him away from their smelly hiding spot. Thus the two began their search, staying to the dark alleys and byways to hide their presence from all but those who lived within the shadows. Duo was ever alert for them, he even seemed to have a sixth sense about them, and gave them wide berth not being able to judge in the darkness the harmless from the lurking dangerous ones.

Quatre sensed that they were near the city center, though this was a part of the city's community he'd never experienced before. A shudder rippled through him as he realized that what he was seeing and hearing was most decidedly a dark part of the underbelly of the affluent community he was more familiar with, one that bustled daily with transactions, mergers, and business suits. As they passed through the darkness, the open windows and doorways revealed raucous laughter and loud music that filtered into the deep-shadowed city streets, revealing ample evidence of some unsavory activities happening within. It dawned on him that this was a part of life he'd been successfully sheltered from. He'd heard whispering all his life of such an environment existing on the lower streets of even the most prestigious communities; a dark seedy place where people did things not spoken of in front of children, but nevertheless served as a warning to them repeatedly of the inherent dangers of such places. And now he was coming face to face with the opposite side of society from which he'd been raised.

As Duo led him with a strange sort of bold confidence born of familiarity, he realized with a start that this was the life Duo and Trowa had known most of their young lives. Living in the shadows of a city and of society as they fought to survive as orphans and sought out an existence amongst other unfortunates. The sights, sounds, and smells so foreign to him, were considered familiar to his two closest friends. At that moment, he wanted nothing more than to grab Duo into a sheltering embrace and pull him away to the soft, safe environment he'd grown up in. He fought down the strong urge along with the unease he'd felt amongst the iniquitous shadows, and firmly strengthened his resolve. He'd always believed that things happened for a reason, and that this was important for him to experience, he told himself firmly. He resolved to himself that he would learn from this underbelly of society, and from all the experiences that what would come to them in the next few days. He'd let Duo lead, to educate him to something so foreign to the heir of the Winner fortunes; how to survive when you have nothing and no one to count on but yourself.

However, his resolve and steps faltered as he was pulled down an alleyway where garish lights, booming music, raucous laughter, and cigarette smoke spilled from open doorways that were liberally littered with men and women in scanty clothing and in various poses of lounging while smoking and drinking on the stairways.

The American turned and gave him a reassuring smile. "Just follow my lead." he whispered with a wink, trying to keep his manner light and ease his friend's obvious discomfort, secretly hoping that Quatre would soon release the painful death grip on his arm.

As they approached the lit doorway of one establishment, Quatre observed the scantily dressed women and men lounging on the back stoop and leaning against the dark brick walls. The red glow of cigarettes moved in slow motion, upwards, pausing for a moment for a long drag on dark lipstick painted lips, brightening the red glowing tip of the rolled tobacco, then lowering in an almost lethargic manner back down. The fingers owning those slow moving cigarettes were painted in deep shades of red, blue, or black, colors of the night. The eyes that followed their approach seemed barely curious, but all in all, dull and lifeless, as if they'd never seen the glories of the sun and earth during the day, but only the dark side of the night.

Quatre clutched Duo's arm and his duffle bag closer to his body as they stopped in front of the steps of this particular establishment and its occupants, and the eyes of all the lingerer's turned with dull curiosity to see what the two boys wanted.

Duo carefully selected his target, an older woman, maybe late thirties, early forties. She stood looking down in an haughty manner at them from the top stair. Her posture and position on the steps clearly marked her as having rank and seniority over the others. This was the person he would deal with, the one that most likely would decide if they could pass into the back doorway to this questionable establishment.

Half-lidded violet eyes met her dark suspicious ones, but for only a fraction of a moment before he lowered his head. He knew Quatre would play his part naturally, being that of being the wide eyed, shocked, and scared innocent. The braided boy carefully stepped over sprawled limbs of the on-lookers as he climbed the five steps situating himself and his clinging partner one step below the frowning woman.

"What do you boys want?" she asked with a dismissive, bored tone while flicking the long glowing ashes from the tip of her cigarette. "You should be home in your beds."

"Please, Mam." Duo began, his voice sounding young and vulnerable. "We need a place to stay. There are soldiers all over the streets and.." he looked up, hoping his eyes looked properly pleading. "If you have some chores my friend and I could do, we would be happy to do it if we could just rest for the night. We'd really be grateful." He said wanting the look on his face to look desperate enough to get her pity.

Her dark, heavily made-up eyes narrowed as she studied them. "You two runaways?" she asked, her casual tone gave them reason to believe that she'd heard the same story a hundred times before.

"Well," Duo went for mournful. "I'm an orphan, a street kid, ya know?" With his hand still firmly gripped to Quatre's wrist, he pulled the blonde boy forward for his unique introduction. The Arabian's body was pulled against the side of Duo's, and the Deathscythe pilot put a protective arm around his friend.

"My friend here had to run away from his lecherous, sick stepfather. He's a military guy, high up in the ranks of OZ." Duo continued. He knew this woman had probably heard every sob story in the book, but he was counting on the fact that most women in her position were soft when it came to runaways, as from his days on the streets of L-2 he knew many in this profession had been there themselves, and when love was mentioned, they usually listened with their hearts. As he continued, he hoped his friend would forgive him and not set the Maguanacs out to kill him for what he was about to insinuate.

"He wanted to take him away from me and keep him locked up for his own..... pleasure." he let a look of disgust filter across his features. He allowed his eyes to water and his lips to tremble as he looked up pleadingly at the woman. 'Damn, but I'm a good actor.', the boy mentally patted himself on the back. "Please, we just need a place to rest until the military leaves, then I can take care of him."

He forced himself not to move or wince as his friend viciously pinched the inside of his upper arm where his right hand had been clutching, the only place he could reach at the moment. That was gonna bruise something fierce, Duo thought briefly as he carefully watched the woman for her reaction. He noted that her previously hard eyes and bitter frown now softened, especially after she looked over at Quatre. Duo turned his head just slightly to see his blonde friend's eyes wide with apparent apprehension. To his credit, Quatre played the part that was required of him, he leaned forward and pressed his head against Duo's shoulder as if seeking safety and being weary.

"Stay here while I talk to Sly." the woman ordered in a brusk tone, she then turned and disappeared into the room with garish lights and noise.

Duo felt Quatre try to move away, but he held him firmly in place with his arm over his shoulders. "Hold the illusion just a little while longer and we'll be fine." he whispered, and was reassured that Quatre understood when he let his head fall once again against his shoulder.

"I'm gonna kill you, Duo." The quiet whisper was barely audible, but the threat behind it was real.

"Okay, but after we're safely inside." he replied just as quietly.

After several minutes, a middle-aged, round man with a bizarre style of thinning dark hair that had been meticulously and craftily swirled around his balding head in an attempt to hide his great lack of hair on his crown, stood in the doorway, inspecting the two. When he spoke, his voice came out rather high and squeaky.

"Cherry told me your problem." he said as he folded his arms across his considerable middle. He eyes traveled up and down Duo and taking in as much of the blonde boy who was partially hidden behind him. "I've got a room in the attic that's sometimes used as a place for the girls to sleep when they can't make it home. It's yours for the night if you can contribute to my establishment tonight."

Duo looked the man squarely, his brows lowering as he frowned. "What do you want us to do?" he asked, uncertain that he wanted to know what was going on in this sleezeball's brain.

The man gave a wily smile. "This is an establishment for entertainment, and dancing is the featured act." He eyes again look appreciatively over the two handsome boys. "If you two perform a dance on the stage, you can have the attic for the night."

Duo felt Quatre stiffen against him and he tried to pull his body away in protest of what was being asked of them. "We don't know how to do that." Duo told him as he held his friend in place.

"I haven't met a kid yet that can't dance." the man's eyes seemed to be laughing at them. "Can you dance?" he asked, leaning closer to Duo's face and was close enough for the American to smell the stink of cigar and alcohol on the man.

"Kind of." he answered, unsure of what the man was really asking.

"Well," the man looked thoughtfully at Quatre, smiled as he straightened. "All I'll expect is that you two dance on stage, you know, teenage dancing, together, and strip down to your boxers. That's all. No one will touch you, and you don't have to do anything other than dance.

The American was hard pressed to hold onto the Arabian boy who wanted nothing but to run from this whole situation.

"One dance and then you promise no one will bother us?" Duo asked, knowing from past experience how important it was to have the terms of their verbal contract laid out in front of witnesses, even though their witnesses were the employees sitting on the steps.

"You got it." the man looked smug, knowing it was too tempting an offer for homeless runaways to pass by.

"Well, okay, we'll do it." Duo answered unhappily for the two of them.

"Then come on in." the man stepped aside and smiled broadly like the cat that ate the canary, and motioned for the two boys to enter before him.

on to part 4

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