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

Warnings: light angst, drama

Educating Quatre - Part 11
Duo's Friendship Arc 18
by Dyna Dee

Quatre's hand shook Duo's shoulder to wake him, and the other boy's hand closed over it to silently indicate he was alert. They sat in tense silence and perfectly still while focusing their hearing to the sounds around them.

Within the confines of the smelly garbage bin, they couldn't see the brightly beaming flashlights that searched the alleyway. They could, however, hear the footsteps and voices of the soldiers and those of the complaining men who had been abruptly roused from their sleep in the alley's dark shadows. Both boys stiffened further and held their breaths when two distinct voices grew louder as their footsteps neared the dumpster.

"Why do I have to do this?" one voice complained darkly.

"We're grunts." another answered sounding bored. "But I'm sure tired of going through this shit. I mean,....smell this. Who in their right mind would go near this?"

"Us, obviously." The first voice replied with dry humor.

"Well, let's shift this crap around and call it searched." The second voice said as the sound of items at the top of the container were shifted from spot to spot. "Just don't let that little commando with an ego the size of a colony catch us sluffing." he added in a tone of warning.

Quatre clutched the American tightly against his chest in order to hold the both of them still. The shifting of the garbage above them seemed to release more of the garbage stench that had been somewhat contained in the plastic bags. As the stench grew in abominable volume, he buried his face into Duo's hair, concentrating on the floral scent his shampoo had gratefully left behind. He stiffened with alarm when he felt Duo's stomach hitch under his hands knowing the other pilot's body was involuntarily rebelling against the malodor. Realizing that any movement or noise would alert the searching soldiers above them, Quatre thought furiously for a solution. He frantically searched the area in front of him for Duo's braid and finding it, lifted it to his friend's nose. It took only a few moments for him to feel the boy on his lap beginning to calm. He was under control once again.

"Oh man!" One of them men above the exclaimed in disgust. "What the hell is that smell?"

"Diapers." the other answered with a groan. "Smells like someone fed their kid fermented grape juice. Ugh!" the man moaned. "You can smell it even through the plastic. Disgusting!"

"That's it!" the first voice spat out resolute, and the sound of something being thrown back into the bin followed. "I'm done."

"Yeah, me too." the other replied. "It would take someone inhuman or insanely desperately to want to hide in this shit."

Their conversation faded as the two boys listened to the soldiers walk away, still complaining.

"Thank Allah." Quatre whispered just under his breath and into the scented hair.

"Shh! Just hold still a little while longer." Duo cautioned, his voice muffled by his braid over his mouth

Minutes crept by, agonizingly slow, and both teens had to force themselves not to bolt out of their smelly hiding place for fresh air, but to stay still. Their ears were alerted to any sound for the next five minutes. Suddenly, they tensed again as the sound of scuffling feet came to a stop just outside of the dumpster.

"You can get out now. They're gone." a deep male voice filtered down to them.

Neither boy moved.

"I mean you no harm children." he said softly, apparently trying to keep his voice from traveling. "But I think this bin could rot your brain if you stay in there much longer. Come out now." the gentle voice urged. "The soldiers have moved down the street."

After a moment's hesitation, it was Duo who was the first to move, easing himself away from Quatre's embrace and off his legs, signaling his friend to move. As soon as his legs were freed from the weight, the Sandrock pilot brought them up and put his feet under himself on the cardboard that covered the squishy bottom of the dumpster and forced his way upward through the garbage with the box still above his head. Unfortunately for Duo, who was having trouble moving his damaged legs out from underneath the mounds of garbage, he became the recipient of the clumps of loose garbage the box displaced on its ascent.

"Oh shit!!" Do spat out disgustedly, but the blond boy ignored him for the moment as his eyes were fixed on the person at the side of the dumpster. He was obviously one of the street people who had been sleeping against the alley wall. The street light at the end of the dark alleyway illuminated enough light to show a man of medium height with a slightly hunched back and scraggily hair and beard. The man's features were undistinguishable in the dim light.

"Need a hand?" the amused voice asked.

Quatre eyed the man warily as he didn't know how much he could trust someone of his ilk. Reaching his hand downward he blindly searched for Duo, his sight never leaving the obviously amused man before him. He was surprised when his hand landed on a wet, slimy head. "Get uh-up!" he sing-songed in Japanese, his voice deceptively cheery.

"Can't." Duo griped in the same language. "And thanks for the load of crap you just dumped on me." Sarcasm was dripping as well as garbage at the moment.

"Sorry." the blond replied sincerely, knowing Duo was going to be really miserable now that his hair was dirty. If there was one thing he knew for sure about his friend from L-2, it was that Duo took meticulous care of his long hair. "We have company. Come meet him." He didn't wait, but reached his hand down a little further and grabbed Duo by his upper arm and started to pull upward, insisting he stand up now.

"I can't." the other reiterated with a hiss. "My legs are cramped and I can't seem to pull them up."

Understanding that there was too much weight on his friend to rise up effectively, Quatre let go of Duo's arm and began to toss bags of offensive garbage to the other side of the bin. The man next to him saw what he was doing and silently and without invitation joined in.

It wasn't long before the American's legs were liberated and, with his friend's help, he was able to stand on his feet, dreading the inevitable climb out of the dumpster. "Oh damn, that hurt." he said through gritted teeth.

"You girls are certainly a mess now, aren't you?" the man asked with a chuckle that was not appreciated by either boy.

"No shit Sherlock!" Duo replied flippantly as he pulled strands of cold, limp spaghetti from off his head.

That comment seemed to amuse the man further. "You must be who they're looking for," he continued, humor still in his voice. "cause I don't know anyone desperate enough to do what you two just did."

"Mind your eyes, ears and mouth old man, if you wanna live." Duo warned darkly, his voice deepening with threat.

It appeared the bum could be shocked out of his amusement after all. Even in the dark, the boy's could see the outline of his eyes as they widened in disbelief. "You're...a boy!" he exclaimed.

"If you want to live," Quatre began, his voice softer and less threatening then Duo's. "you'll forget you ever saw us. Just go back to your bed and you'll wake up alive in the morning."

The older man hesitated as he looked in shock at the two disguised boys, dressed in girls clothing with garbage hanging off of them.

"Please." Quatre's voice pleaded. "Don't make us kill you. Just turn around and pretend you didn't see us."

They heard the man take in a deep breath and then exhale slowly as if in thought. His bent form straightened. "I'm afraid I can't do that." he answered resolutely, and the Sandrock pilot reached for the gun strapped to his thigh. The man slowly brought his hands up to his wild hair and scratched at it. "You see," he began to explain in a calm voice that belied his precarious situation. "I can tell you two are in trouble, running from the soldiers and all. One of you seemed to be injured and you need some help. Where I come from people on the streets look to each other for a hand up. You can always get it from old Fred. I'll help you if you'll let me, with no word to the authorities. We don't rat on anyone down here in the alley." he finished with a note of pride in his voice.

"Where are you from Fred?" Duo asked.

"Originally? L-2. I worked my way off that dying, corrupt colony and came to Earth. I'm still a street rat, but a much happier, fatter street rat. Earth is much better, open and free. But I always remember L-2 and the lessons I learned the hard way there.

Duo shuffled through the garbage to move closer to the man's position and laid his arm out, palm up. Even in the dark shadows they could see Fred was surprised by the gesture. But then slowly, he brought his left arm forward and placed it alongside the boy's, their hands clasping each other's elbows in a form of hand/arm greeting.

"How did you escape so young?" Fred asked in hushed amazement, his hold firm on the boy's arm in the traditional street greeting of the homeless living in the slums of L-2.

"I had some help from an outsider." Duo replied. "Thanks for the offer, Fred." he replied much more warmly than he'd previously addressed the homeless man. "If you could help my friend and I out of here, I'd be grateful."

Quatre blinked, not comprehending his friend, nor understanding what had happed to change his attitude so abruptly.

The bearded man nodded his head and moved forward to assisted Quatre out first. The both of them then turned and worked together to aid Duo, and with some careful maneuvering, curses, and pain, they managed to get the long-haired boy out of the dumpster and onto his unsteady legs. Duo stood with his arm around Quatre's shoulder and wrinkled his nose in disgust.

"Man, Quatre, you smell like a bucket of week old shit." he groaned.

"Well you're no spring garden either." the blonde replied sharply.

"You fellas got a place to stay tonight?" Fred asked straining to keep from laughing at their comments and standing at a discreet distance from the ill-fragranced boys.

"Yes," Quatre answered curtly, feeling extremely uncomfortable with the smell and feel of garbage on his body. "But we can't tell you where or we'd have to kill you." There was no hint of humor in his voice.

"And we can't get to it either with the soldiers all over the streets." Duo grumbled unhappily.

"I see." Fred chuckled, not really believing that the two boy/girls in front of him, covered with the stench and remains of someone's garbage liberally hanging off of them, could really do him any real harm. "Tell you what," he began, his manner thoughtful and friendly. "I've got a friend who owns a respectful, dumpy hotel, about a half block from here. It's already been searched and it's late enough that people have gone back to bed. He lets me have a room when I need it, ya know, to take a shower and clean up for a job when it comes along. We could go there and you can clean up a bit, rest if you need to."

"What would we owe you for the.. help?" Duo asked skeptically.

Fred shrugged with a slight smile. "Nothing but the wish for a full belly, peaceful dreams, and a warm bed." he answered, knowing the boy from L-2 would recognize the traditional words of thanks a person with nothing to give wished to someone who aided them.

Duo relaxed, recognizing the words he'd said and had been said to him as a child as he helped others on L-2 streets.

"Do you think we can get there undetected?" Quatre cut in.

"Yeah, it's late enough and even the street bound are usually asleep at this hour.

"Then lead the way Fred, my man." Duo said almost cheerfully, then more soberly added. "But go slowly, okay?"

on to part 12

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