Disclaimer: I'm out of my head and know not what I do.

Pairing: a little 1+2 - very little
Rating: PG-13
Warning: Shounen-ai, AU-ish...
Challenge: Midnight

A/N: Written for the GW500, this little ditty is a short ficlet only telling a brief tale. And bear with me in this; it became more than a one-shot... This is the fourth story of the set.

The Thief
by Merith

Crouched in the alley, he zeroed in on his mark, watching the man as he spoke with the shop keeper, as he bent over to examine the wears. His eyes fastened on the slight bulge exposed when the man's coattails parted and rolled to the sides of his amble behind. The boy's fingers twitched. Faintly, he heard Quatre instructing the others, but had tuned them out, concentrating only on his job.

He felt the brush of shadows pass nearby and dismissed them as unimportant. The murmurs behind him had stopped. The touch on his shoulder gave him his cue to begin and he slipped into the foot traffic without notice. The Market was crowded as usual. Streams of shoppers, hawkers, and gawkers milled in every directions, no rhyme or reason to their movement. Interspersed among the throng, carriages, carts and wagons added to the confusion.

Quatre was in position when he approached. Though he knew what was to take place, he still grinned with the simplicity of it all. He was the best, a position he'd come to shortly after his arrival. Bringing in the most, and never once getting caught had made him Fagan's prize. Quatre held the mark's attention; his eyes deliberately wide, his demeanor eerily transformed into the most guileless of beings. As an added attraction, shouts rose nearby, followed by the sounds of fists meeting flesh. He grinned again, making out Heero's voice. Now was the time.

Watch, wallet, purse and fob. His fingers felt something else, and he slipped it from it's nestled spot as well. The man started to turn; Quatre let out an inarticulate cry. He ran, the last item clutched in his hand until he had time to determine if it was worth the taking. His feet made for the alley to the right, jumping the row of baskets spread out on the cobblestones, and dodging the hand that reached for him.

The alley was dark, its sides pressing in close as the brick buildings listed towards one another. Refuse, offal, and raw sewage clotted the passageway. Leaping on solid-looking boxes, and over more hazardous looking discards, he cleared the alley and dashed up the parallel street. Not yet nearing his winding point, he kept his racing pace, making for the rendezvous spot. At the sight of a copper ahead, he ducked down another narrow alley.

"Gotcha!" A harsh voice cawed. "Been lookin' fer ye, boyo." The hand clamped on his shoulder didn't ease, despite his struggles. An arm encircled his waist. Rancid breath overpowered the stench of the alley, the odors permeated in the man's clothing.

"Lemme go, ye bas'ard!" the boy yelled, writhing under the strong arm.

A rough laugh. "Not bloody likely," the unknown man stated. "Boyd wants ye, 'n wot Boyd'd wants, 'e gets."

The boy's struggles halted momentarily and renewed with even more furor. The man crowed with laughter and began to drag his catch deeper into the alley. A shadow appeared at the other end, and he stopped. Curious, the little thief paused in his verbal abuse to see what held their progress.

"Release the boy." The unmistakable sound of a steel blade rasping against its leather sheath rang loud in the narrow space.

The man grunted. "Gie off 'n it. Boyd'd kill ye."

"Boyd has no claim to him. I, however, do." The tall shadowy shape moved forward.

A rough shove, and the boy landed against the brick wall, barely catching himself from falling into the rotting pile towering against it. He whirled quickly, in time to spot the man who'd held him pull his own blade. But not before the shadow moved. Not before the glint of steel flashed and disappeared deep into the man's gut. He'd let out a gasp and seemed to curl in on himself, and the boy could only watch, wide-eyed and stricken.

"Come on, boy. Let's get out of here before someone comes to investigate." A hand pulled on his arm and he followed mutely.

Leaving the alley behind, they were at once in the sunlight, and a warmth not often felt filled him. The shadow had turned into a man, a young one with an air of elegance about him. The boy watched him from the corner of his eye as they hurried without rushing through the throng. He kept part of his attention on the man, and part on the route they traveled before slowing down considerably.

"Where'n we goin', mis'ta?"

The tall man spared him a glance, and reached out to tug on his sleeve. Balking, the thief planted his heels and resisted. The man frowned, impatience showing itself clearly in his expression. His eyes darted about the crowd, and with a jerk of his head, he commanded, "In there."

There being the boarded up doorway to an abandoned building. With an unconcerned shrug he wasn't feeling, the boy disappeared into the building's shadow, and waited.

"You... picked up something that doesn't belong to you," the gentleman said carefully, his voice low. "I'm merely here to collect it."

He couldn't help the scowl. "I've nuttin' of yorse!" he near shouted. "Nev'r seent ye afore."

A hand shook his arm sharply. "Keep you voice down, urchin. And I didn't say it belonged to me." With a quick look towards the street, he knelt to eye level with the boy. "I was in the marketplace, and was in fact going to obtain a certain object your nimble fingers snatched." The hand tightened as the thief shifted his feet, prelude to an escape. "I'm not here for justice. I could care less about the other items. But this," his other hand darted between thin coat and shirt to remove the oil-skin wrapped bundle. "I will not let you keep."

"Hey!" the shout rang out as his hands scrambled for the item taken.

The man stood and stepped back in one swift, fluid motion. He popped the boy's mouth with an opened fingered hand. "Keep your mouth shut."

Startled into silence, the thief watched as the man unwrapped the small bundle, keeping it hidden and close to his chest. "Wot 'tis it" he asked, curiosity getting the better of him.

"A great treasure," the man answered, his tone low. He hadn't looked at the boy, instead he dropped the small item into a cloth pouch and put it safely away deep inside his shirt. Taking up the boy's arm again, he announced, "Let's go. You're friends will be waiting."

"Wot?" his young face scrunched into a menacing glare. "Ye can't jist take it from me. Wot treasure 'n 'all."

Pulling his young companion along the man had made some headway along the thoroughfare. He paused long enough to give the youth a smile, sad around the edges. "You've a different treasure in store. One you don't have to take, but will be offered freely." As the boy opened his mouth to ask again, the man gestured with a wave of his hand. "I believe they're looking for you."

The thief looked and spotted Quatre immediately, and Heero closely behind him. The two hurried through the crowd, scanning the throng without drawing attention to themselves. The blond looked worried, but determined; the dark-haired youth furious. Quatre noticed him, and they headed his way. The boy took a step towards them only to be brought up short by the hand still gripping his sleeve. He shot the tall man a peevish look.

Though the man's eyes remained on his friends, he spoke to the boy, keeping his voice low, "Remember, young miscreant, we're only given one life in this world. Be sure to make the most of it, and take care of which principals you make a stand on." He released his hold.

Heero moved into a protective stance before Quatre and looked as though he wanted to pull the other youth to his side. "C'mon. Fagin'll be waiting," he said, his eyes never leaving the tall one.

After giving the man at his side another look, the thief nodded. "Sur, 'eero." He moved forward; his heart thudded and he felt a loss suddenly. At Quatre's side, he looked back - the man had disappeared. "Where'd he get off'ta?"

Shaking his head, Quatre pulled on his arm. "He just left. Let's go." Heero stepped up to his other side, and after one last glance back, the boy followed his friends.

With a shuddering breath, Duo sat up in bed, a hand going to his chest. He looked around wildly in the dark. Seeing the room as it'd been the night before, and Heero still asleep in the other bed calmed him. He ran a hand across his face and over his hair. Another fucking dream. On shaky legs, he rose from the bed, and made his way to the kitchen.

A glass of water in hand, he stood before the naked picture window overlooking the lake. The moon shone brightly in the still quiet, and Duo wished he could feel the peace Heero's mountain cabin normally brought him. Feeling drained and unsure, he fretted. Something eluded him like a shadow just out of his vision.

"Can't sleep?" Heero's voice sounded from behind him, soft to keep from rousing the others.

Duo shook his head. "Needed a drink." He hadn't turned, but he could feel Heero's presence by his side, almost touching him.

The silence stretched for a heartbeat or two before he asked, "How's the leg?"

With a sigh, Duo pulled his attention from the view and looked down. He held the limb out for inspection, a faint grimace crossing his face. "It should be fine in the morning. Just pulled the ligaments, I think."

Heero looked as though he wanted to exam it further, but visibly restrained himself. He nodded and asked softly, "Let me know if it starts hurting worse. Shelton County isn't half bad, or we could make a run back to the city."

Another shake of the head. "Nah, I'm good. Thanks." Duo shifted his stance, and placed his glass on a coaster. Folding his arms over his chest, he returned to look back at the lake. "I've always liked it here."

"Good," Heero responded, and Duo heard the smile in his voice.

"I haven't told you thanks for bringing me," he started, keeping his eyes out the window. "but, yeah, thanks, man."

"Anytime, Duo. You only need to ask," came Heero's soft reply.

Duo felt a niggling tug, his dream replayed in fast forward. "I had a dream," he stated suddenly.

"A ...bad one?" Heero's hand was on his arm, and Duo fought from shaking him off. There'd been too many nightmares that had him near sobbing in the dark his friend had waken him from.

"No, just..." He wasn't sure what to feel, or what to think. "Just odd."

"Want to talk about it?" Heero offered.

"Not really." Over the mantle, the clock chimed the hour. When the last gong sounded, he sighed and a shiver ran through him. Turning to his friend, he asked, "Could you... help me to bed?"

And if I did it right, the "tall man" in the story should be recognizable *mutters* I hope.


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