The atmosphere was dark, despite the warm wishes being given to the red-haired boy, and Duo frowned as he watched them. Joey was definitely glaring
when he thought Michael wasn't looking, and Trowa was being even more silent than ever. It was moving fast toward being the worst send off he could
remember. Shoving into the building, he managed a smirk before slipping close to the gathered youths. They were distracted, and he was a born sneak. It
made it easy to get close before anyone saw him. One moment Michael was smiling down at Hilde, and the next he stumbled and nearly fell on the girl as a
tennis ball bounced off the top of his red head. Duo snickered.
Trowa had caught the ball instinctively, and he blinked at it for a second before rounding to the source of the sound. "Duo."
"That was mean," Hilde said, grinning at Michael's red cheeks. The boy turned and gave a sheepish smile at Duo.
"Well, he should have heard come in," Duo smirked. He caught Micheal's gaze and shook his head in mock disapproval. "And you think you're ready to head
out on your own. Pathetic."
"I guess I'll have to watch out for killer tennis balls," Michael smiled.
"Oh, don't underestimate them," Duo warned, waggling a finger at the boy. "Kids today don't take anything seriously."
"I'll keep that in mind."
Moving to join the group, Duo threw an arm around Joey's shoulders, pretending not to notice when the boy flushed and dropped his gaze. "So, why aren't
you guys celebrating? It's not everyday one of our kids leaves the nest." Trowa's lips twitched and Duo blinked suddenly, his eyes widening. "Oh...that's
right..." His lower lip trembled and he managed a sniffle. "Michael's leaving us...it's so traumatic!"
Hilde giggled, patting a hand on Duo's arm. "It's okay, don't cry."
"I can't help it," Duo mumbled, blinking rapidly as if fighting back tears. "I'm - I'm going to miss him so much!" Turning suddenly, he grabbed Joey in a tight
embrace that made the boy's face flame bright red. But he could hear the muffled snickers when he let out a soft wailing sob. "Who's going to pamper him
now...?" he mumbled, shaking Joey and playing at his hysteria. "Who's going to tease him about that awful orange head of his? Who-"
"I don't think he'll miss the teasing," Trowa said. His tone was casual, but a small smile had caught his lips. "And I'm sure he'll keep in touch."
Duo sniffled, lifting his head to blink wide unhappy eyes at Michael. The redhead was watching the dramatics with a smile and a faint blush. "Really...?" The
boy nodded, and he smiled back, releasing a very relieved Joey. "Okay, then. So it's not a bad day after all. The way you guys were standing around I
figured someone had died. You're going to make him miserable like that, and then he *won't* keep in touch. That's no way to say goodbye." He stepped to
Hilde and ruffled the girl's hair. "You were cheering him up, weren't you."
"Good," Duo smiled. "Now, the rest of you say goodbye so I can talk to Michael before he leaves. He has a long trip ahead of him, and you guys have to get
to work before you're all fired." A few groans lit up at the reminder, but they were good-natured ones. He moved back to lean against the wall, just watching
them. Those glares had disappeared, and he could tell the tension had been broken. It was good, because that was not the way he wanted his kids to be
sent off, feeling like they were abandoning their family. They all had to start their own lives eventually.
It wasn't long before they began to drift away, heading out for their respective jobs, Hilde moving upstairs. She generally cooked all day. What wasn't eaten
went towards lunches for those who worked too far from the home to come back during their breaks. And leftovers went in the freezer since there was always
a need for food, stocking it for the time when she eventually left. Though Duo was a fine cook, he doubted they'd find someone to replace the girl. Despite
her age, Hilde had a lot of dexterity, and she enjoyed making sure they enjoyed her food.
Trowa was the last to go, the boy sending another of those worried looks his way. Duo ignored it the same way he had the last. Even if he wanted the boy to
be worried about him, now wasn't the time. Michael came to him once the others had gone, and Duo waved him over to a corner not far from the main door.
The boy watched closely as Duo pulled out an old notebook the size of his palm. "I'm going to give you the reference numbers now. You can keep these for a
week if you have to, but the sooner you memorize them, the better. I don't have to tell you that it would be bad if you left them lying around somewhere."
"No," Michael said, shaking his head quickly. "I won't."
"Okay, first there's Helen. If you have money problems, you can call her. Now, don't ask for money unless you have to. She's always happy to give it out, but
that's besides the point. She tends to me a little *too* helpful, hurting herself by giving too much. Don't let her push more money on you than you absolutely
need." The red-haired boy gave a quick nod, and Duo smiled. "She's big on charity, so don't feel afraid to ask.
"The second number is Howard. Now don't get the two mixed up, no matter what. If you ask Howard for money, he'll laugh you right off the phone." Duo
smirked, shaking his head at Michael's quick nod. "He's a card, but still, he'll help you if you have trouble getting employment. One thing you can count on if
you lose your job or can't find one - he can pull some strings for you. Most likely manual labor, but it's better than nothing."
"That's fine," Michael said quickly.
"Yeah, I didn't figure you'd be picky, you never were when it comes to honest work." The boy gave a light flush when Duo smiled at him. "Well, that's about it.
The only thing left is this one - this is an emergency number. You'll only get an answering machine. Don't call this unless you have to. If you do, leave your
first name - the one you used here if you end up changing it - and a way to get in touch with you. Don't explain what the problem is, just leave your name and
contact information. Otherwise, you know how to get in touch with me. I expect you to leave me a message at least once a month for the first few months so I
know nothing happened to you. I'll try to answer within a week at most."
"And if you don't?" Michael shuffled when Duo raised an eyebrow at him. "I know I haven't been here long, but I heard about what happened two years ago.
"That," Duo said, his eyes glinting, "was not my fault. All I did was call the emergency number I gave you, I never planned to stage a war. But yes, if I don't
answer, you might find yourself getting a call about it. Just remember, you don't have to do anything. I don't expect anything from you in the way of
repayment. Once you leave here, you're in charge. You can come back to visit your family, but you have no obligations to take care of us, or to even think of
us. It's all your choice. Understood?" The boy nodded, and Duo smiled, clapping a light hand on his shoulder and turning him toward the door. "Good. So
go out there and live a good life."
"Now?" Michael blinked, "That's-"
"That's it," Duo smirked. "I'm cutting you loose. Get out."
Hesitating in the doorway, Michael turned back, his eyes dark. "Duo. I want to thank you for-"
"Don't," Duo cut in, "Don't thank me for anything. If you want to repay me for something, get out there and do well for yourself. That's the point, you know, for
you to live a good life." The boy gave a slow, obviously reluctant nod, and he sniffed. "Now get lost. And don't look back or you'll have a nice
tennisball-shaped bruise between your eyes. Not the best way to start your new life." The boy laughed when he held up the mentioned weapon. Duo had
snitched it from Trowa during the dramatics earlier. Bouncing it lightly in his palm, Duo nodded. "Go on. And good luck."
* * *
The Emporium was usually quiet in the mornings, but the animals seemed to have decided to fill that silence on their own. The cries filtered into the vet
section, bothering the doctors to the point where even the sedated pets were starting to stir. Upon arrival, Trowa was immediately latched onto by a slightly
frazzled young woman who beamed at him as if he were her savior.
"Thank God you're here," she said. "They've been doing this for hours now. I think it might be the lion we brought in yesterday. I knew he was going to be a
bother, it's not like we usually treat them here. But Black's gone for the week, and we don't have anyone trained to do the surgery. Of course, they could
have kept him at the zoo, but it's just one hurt animal, right? Right. The others must have smelled him when we turned on the vents earlier. Though how a
cat knows to be afraid of the smell-"
"Calm down, Cathy, I'll settle them." Trowa removed himself from her grasp, his cool words making her take a breath from the fast speech. "You knew this
"Yes, but I didn't think it would be this bad. The customers keep leaving the shop - who'd want to buy a dog that's howling its head off? And it's so loud I'm
afraid the lion is going to wake up and join them and then all the animals in the vet are going to go crazy! I never should have put the two so close together. I
just thought - an animal shelter, a pet shop, a vet, it's all for the animals why not make it one building? I didn't plan to have wild animals treated here, the vets
make calls for that - but with Black gone, we have to keep him here. It wouldn't be right to just-" A light hand patted her shoulder and she blinked when Trowa
left her standing where she'd latched onto him, just inside the door. The quiet boy headed right for the door to the shelter, one of three in the large main
area. "Trowa! The shop is more important, that's where the customers go!"
"The pets will calm once the others stop," Trowa said, not looking back. "Their instincts are weaker."
"Oh." She stood for a moment, then followed him into the shelter. The noise made her already frazzled nerves twitch, but she couldn't help but notice how
Trowa had avoided her gaze. The tall boy was crouched beside the first of the pens, whispering to the large dogs inside. They stopped barking and were
whining at him, one pawing at the wire door. "Trowa, is something wrong?"
"They were just nervous. Few of them have ever smelled a lion, they only know it's dangerous."
"No, that's not what I meant..." The general noise subsided into eager barks and mewls as the boy continued to make his rounds. Most of the animals were
used to him, and since the shelter rarely got visitors, he was one of the few to pay them any attention. Customers generally preferred tame and trained pets,
not many cared to look at the discards picked up off the streets. It didn't help that a number of them were scarred from cars, fights, and abuse. The vets
patched them up as well as they could when the animals were found, but it didn't make much difference in the long run. Of the three sections in the Emporium,
the shelter was by far the largest. With a soft sigh, she let it go. "Well, I really should get back to the office. If you have any trouble just...um..."
Trowa gave a small smile, glancing back at her. "I promise not to call you."
With a wince, Cathy sniffed. "Thanks. I just have the worst headache now. I'll try to help watch the shop later, though. Mark isn't going to be in today, so we'll
be one short this afternoon. Can you stay late?" The boy gave her a nod, and she sighed in relief. "Thanks a million. It's days like this that I wonder why I
like animals so much..."
* * *
The sun was warm on the top of the warehouse, and Duo lay on his spread coat, facing it. He should have been working, really. But he was still expecting
something to ruin the day. There was no way he'd leave Hilde alone in the warehouse when he had that continued suspicion that trouble was coming. So it
gave him a nice excuse to be lazy, and truthfully, the hot sun felt very kind.
To say he was aching would be a cruel understatement. It had been years since he'd gone through something like that, and two nights in a row? He only
hoped nothing happened in the next few days or he wouldn't be moving for a week. Just acting normal earlier had tested his strength more than he cared for.
A long soak in the tub might have helped, but he didn't want Hilde to worry about him. She was already curious that he'd decided to stay there for the day, no
sense giving the kid more fuel for her overactive imagination.
Duo smiled, blinking dazed eyes up at the sun overhead. In a few hours he'd have to go down and hang out with her. It wasn't fair that he was actually staying
there for the day and still leaving her to herself. Not that she minded staying. No, she was quite independent for such a little girl. His eyes closed again, and
he brushed his right hand through his bangs. He was going to miss her when she and Joey left. Oh, he missed them all, but she was one of the few girls
they'd had stay with them for more than a month, and the first to steal his heart. The others had mostly cried and made nuisances of themselves. He hadn't
blamed them for being traumatized, but a fourteen year old crying for a week straight because some guys scared her by touching her hair and smacking her
twice? The only time he'd seen Hilde cry was when she'd fallen down the stairs and sprained her ankle, and even then she'd thrown a fit when Joey called her
a crybaby. Spirited kid.
Almost as if summoned, the door to the roof creaked open, making Duo pull his coat over his arms and sit up. Sure enough, bright eyes peaked out the door
at him, a bashful smile covering the girl's face. He smirked. "Yeah?"
"You look funny in the sun," Hilde mumbled, hiding her grin behind a hand. "Your hair looks gold and red."
"Really." She nodded, and he waved a hand at her. "What's up?"
"I though I heard something," Hilde said, her smile fading. "I was going to check, but I thought since you stayed maybe I should tell you first."
Duo nodded sharply, easing his coat on and climbing to his feet. "Good girl. You go back to the kitchen and I'll check it out."
"You were expecting someone?" Hilde asked. She moved back so he could pass her and followed down to the second level. "I thought maybe you were, you
don't usually stay here all day."
"Can't get much by you," Duo commented. He flashed a smile over his shoulder before waving her toward the kitchen. "You go ahead. No spying."
"I wouldn't do that!" Frowning a bit, she headed for the kitchen. "I'm not a spy..."
Duo smirked after her, watching the way her little hands had curled into fists. She was cute when angry, though it didn't happen often. Once the door closed
behind her, his smile vanished. She'd heard something. It could be the wind pushing one of the loose boards, or a stray creeping around knocking things
over. But he really doubted it. Slinking to the shadows from the painted windows, Duo made his way down, watching for any intruders. Once he reached the
bottom of the steps, he found there was no need to look. The visitor was still standing just inside the front door. And considering the outfit, Duo was pretty
sure this wasn't a social call.
"You know, breaking and entering is a crime," Duo called, his eyes glinting when the man stiffened and snapped around to look at him. "And it takes
forty-eight hours to get a search warrant, so that's not a possibility, either. I'd think the new commissioner would know better."
The boy's tone was taunting, but quiet, not quite aggressive. Heero didn't reply, taking the moment to merely look at him. The outfit was the same,
nondescript black clothing, the same long black coat, and that single black glove on his left hand.
Duo continued, walking casually closer but angling himself toward the wall so he wasn't out in the open. "And then there are the self defense claims. Firing on
a person who enters without permission is lawful regardless of who the entering party is, providing he has no right to enter, no search warrant. So unless
someone attained one for you a few days back - not likely since you don't have probable cause - I have every right to maim you. Which is rather nice for me
since I didn't get a chance to repay you for shoving Quatre yesterday."
The last bit made Heero sniff at the boy. "You're going to repay me for pushing my brother out of harm's way?"
"The only harm present at the time was from you or your friend. And abuse toward a minor is still abuse, even if it comes from the hand of his legal guardian.
A person defending a minor has a right to use forceful means if necessary, even against the minor's blood kin."
"Hn." Glaring in annoyance, Heero folded his arms. "Stop spouting laws at me. I already know the laws of this district. And that's not the reason I'm here."
"Oh, you have a reason to break and enter into my legal domain? I do have proof of ownership that makes this my property, that you've so calmly walked into
without permission. And since you know the laws, why are you breaking them?"
The boy certainly had a mouth on him. Suddenly Heero could see why the feds in Zechs' story had been so annoyed by him. "Look, I want to know the
location of Tristin's gang. That's it."
Duo blinked, his calmly mocking mask slipping for a second. "Why?"
"Because they attacked Quatre," Heero said. "He told me you and your friends didn't hurt him, so I won't press that. The only one of his attackers he knew
the name for was Tristin. And I hear that you know where I can find him."
"Even if I did know, why would I tell you?" The man frowned at him, and Duo glared back. He'd moved to the wall in his approach and leaned against it now,
feigning calm to hide the relief he felt from the support.
"Because you cite the laws yourself," Heero said, moving closer to the boy. "You know that withholding information is a crime, and I'd be quite willing to arrest
you for it."
"That's assuming I have information to withhold," Duo reminded him. "I do know someone by that name, but who's to say it would be the same person you're
"So you'd rather be arrested?"
The man was a bit too close now, and Duo glared, pushing away from the wall. He sidestepped him, not wanting anything at his back. "If you arrest me for
questioning I'd be out in two hours or less."
"And if I hold you as an accomplice to the attack?" Dark eyes widened, and Heero smirked at the visible outrage on the boy's face.
"You know I'm not," Duo spat. "Your only witness can attest to that."
"I have two witnesses," Heero said. "Wufei saw you and Tristin, and it does nothing to support the claim that you have no information on him, or the claim that
you are not an accomplice of his. You cited the laws to me, you should know that I have grounds to hold you for as long as necessary. Unless you cooperate."
"Cooperate," Duo sniffed, rolling his eyes at the man. "Even if I did, what would it accomplish? Do you plan to charge Tristin for hitting a minor? The longest
sentence he would get is a year, if you're lucky. In the meantime, I could just as easily charge you for the same crime. The difference is that I have witnesses
to the actual attack you made on Quatre, while all you have is his testimony."
Heero went livid, his hands tight at his sides as he resisted the urge to shake the boy. "You compare me pushing him to what they did?"
"No," Duo admitted, his voice cold. "But in court it's the same. Tristin did nothing to Quatre aside from terrifying him and hitting him. And when you shoved
him around, he had the exact same look in his eyes that he had when I first saw him. The effect on Quatre, as the victim of you both, is equal. The only
difference is that Tristin did it to get me, and you did it because you could. And as his 'family' you are worse for having treated him like that. As for your court
plans, I have two witnesses to both of the attacks on Quatre who can attest that your actions should equate to the same sentence you push on Tristin. You
want to take care of this using the courts, fine. Expect to get just as good as you give."
His patience was trembling, but Heero managed to keep his voice solid and calm. "Do you really think any court is going to compare an attempted child
molester to what I did? I shouldn't have pushed him, I admit that. But I determined that getting him out of danger was worth the harsh treatment. You're
fooling yourself if you think any court would compare the two." The boy stared at him for a second, and Heero's eye twitched when he suddenly found himself
receiving a very odd look.
"Attempted child molester?" Duo repeated, raising an eyebrow at the man. "I don't know which half of that to pick apart first."
"You know why they pulled Quatre off the street. Zechs knows, the entire department knows what Tristin is. Who are you fooling now?"
"I do know why," Duo said. "But it was not an attempt to molest Quatre. They never had any intention of molesting him. What they planned is exactly what
they did, to frighten him and hurt him so he would look desperately in need of someone to save him. As for the second accusation, Tristin has not molested
any children in this city. No child has been molested by that gang in the last six years - I can vouch for that."
The boy's tone had gone icy toward the end, and Heero's eyes narrowed when Duo raised his left fist with the final words. He'd anticipated an attempted blow
the moment that hand had curled, but the boy merely held it up as if it were proof of his claim. He was reminded of Zechs' words last night, and they echoed in
his mind. Tristin took them and Duo gave them back, it was like a game. But it didn't quite ring true, because six years ago Duo would have been... "How old
Duo's eyes narrowed, and he followed the man's gaze down to his clenched hand. With a soft snort, he shoved the hand into his pocket. "What's it to you?"
"Because," Heero said slowly, "You said no child has been molested in the last six years. And six years ago you couldn't have been more than twelve, making
*you* a child. What could a twelve-"
"I was *never* a child," Duo cut in, glaring at the man's dark expression. "And I give my word that no one in that gang has molested any children in the last six
years. I'd kill anyone who tried to do something like that. If Tristin had so much as touched Quatre in a sexual manner, he would be dead right now."
"Then why did he take him?!" The boy jerked at his frustrated words, and Heero nearly growled. "That makes no sense. I already know children disappear -
that he takes them and you give them back. Why would he take them if not to - to...use them?"
Duo smirked at the trouble the man had with that word, and he shook his head at him. "You don't understand the rules of the game very well. If Tristin didn't
take them, someone else would, someone who *would* rape them. As long as Tristin is the one taking them, and I'm here, no one gets hurt more than a few
blows for show. And even then, he knows better than to seriously hurt any of them. If he did, then I'd kill him. This way, any would-be molesters either join his
gang or get killed by his gang. No child in this city is going to suffer because his family didn't care enough to protect him."
Ignoring the barb about his having failed to protect Quatre, Heero took in the words. And his eyes darkened, his voice soft. "And you are?" A dark grin
answered him, and he could see why Zechs had equated it to the smile of a shark.
"Shinigami or Savior," Duo murmured, his eyes glittering in the dim light, "Trade or Death. Those are the rules."
Silence held as that dark smile faded, but the boy's eyes were still very bright. Heero felt a wash of cold disgust and fury sweep over him. With a sharp nod,
he reached a hand into his coat. "I'm taking you into custody."
"What?!" Duo stepped back, staring at him in disbelief. "On what charge?"
"You're a danger to yourself," Heero said coldly. He retrieved his cuffs and paused. "The charge is pulling a weapon on an officer, aiding and abetting a
known child molester, and, if you go for that knife of yours again, resisting arrest and attempted assault on an officer."
Duo's mouth was open, but it took him a moment to force words out as he continued to back away from the man. "Tristin isn't a child molester! And I sure as
hell never aided anyone in doing such a thing!"
He might have grabbed the boy and forced the cuffs on him, but Heero was content to let him continue his backward edges. Eventually he'd hit the wall and it
would be over with less of a struggle. "Even if you allowed him during your so called trade, sex with a minor is child molestation. And I have your admission
that it has gone on for the last six years. Whether you're currently a minor or not, you were six years ago. I refuse to believe you're twenty-four years old."
"You-you can't arrest me for *that*! Even if I were a minor, you can't arrest the victim, and you know it! And there's no way in hell you can pin aiding and
abetting on me if I'm the victim of the supposed crime. The only thing you have on me is the weapon, and I already told you - I only did it to stop you from
hurting Quatre. They won't charge me for that." A glance found him nearing the wall, the dark-eyed commissioner still moving with those damn cuffs held in
front of him. Duo sneered and jerked to the side to give himself more room. "And keep in mind I could always plead self defense since that *friend* of yours
was holding a gun on me without just provocation. If anything, I'll hit you back with false arrest."
"Don't bother," Heero said, turning to follow the boy. "Whether I file the charges or not, there's still the issue of your age and the fact that you are a danger to
yourself. That alone is enough to take you into custody for your own protection and counseling."
"Counseling?!" Duo choked, his eyes very wide. "What the fuck?!"
"Or you can tell me where Tristin's gang is located."
The man had stopped, and Duo's eyes narrowed suddenly. Was it just a bluff, then? Even if he were taken in for being a supposed danger to himself, it was
Heero's word against his. He never lied, but it would be a simple thing to talk around the issue. There was no way he'd give Tristin's location to the
authorities. He could just imagine what would happen on the streets if that gang was eliminated. By the time he was released, he'd have to spend another
year negotiating with whatever group took over in its place. And the chances of the next gang agreeing to the current terms were slim to none.
"Well?" Heero prodded, lifting the cuffs.
Duo snorted, rolling his eyes. It was when his gaze shifted that he noticed something near the stairs, and he paused. A frightened gaze met him and he gave
a slow smile, nodding his head. Heero must have taken that for some sort of agreement because he lowered the cuffs. But Duo corrected him with a smirk,
lifting his hands and holding them out to the officer. "Take me away."
"What?" Heero blinked in surprise, staring down at the offered wrists.
"I'm not going to be charged with resisting arrest," Duo said, shrugging lightly. "Go ahead. Just do me a favor and don't shoot me this time. I'd hate to be the
cause another riot or something." Dark blue eyes stared at him in disbelief, and he waggled his wrists. "What are you waiting for? Do your civic duty and
protect me from myself."
Heero sputtered before settling on a very dark glare. "Fine. You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything-"
"Talking would annoy you," Duo interrupted, giving him a cheeky grin, "wouldn't it? In that case I think I'll go ahead and give up that right. You can use
whatever I say against me in a court of law. And the first thing I'd like to say is that you are one of the shortest officers I've ever seen. I can't believe they
made you commissioner. I mean, what are you, twenty? What happened to proving yourself and going through training? I didn't think they appointed kids
right off the playground to protect and serve. Next thing you know they'll be having me as a judge and using highschoolers as the jury. Don't you have to at
least graduate from high school in order to begin at the academy? What did you do, buy your way in? It's really a shame the system has gone to shit, ever
since Chris ran away and proved that there's no such thing as upstanding youths in the city. Now they're bringing in a new upstart to run this place into the
ground. So much for the hope of a better and brighter future. Might as well just sign the city over now for some demolition crew since it doesn't have a
snowflake's chance in hell of lasting more than another year, and that's only if it's lucky. I can tell you right now what's going to happen once the mayor
realizes his new commissioner is barely old enough to shave, he'll be the laughing stock of the district, and that's only if they have the guts to admit they know
how bad things have gotten - more likely they'll just look the other way and pretend they had no idea, that way they can claim they had nothing to do with it
once people find out - better to spare themselves the embarrassment rather than admit they're right up there with the rest of the idiots running this place. It's
such a shame."
Heero's eye was twitching something awful by the time he got the boy to his car, and he gritted his teeth as he realized the talk would probably continue all the
way to the station. Suddenly he understood why officers would shoot an unarmed boy who was letting himself be taken into custody - he practically begged to
be shot with that mouth of his. Maybe he could gag him and plead temporary insanity...
* * *
One wide yellow green eye peered up at him, and Trowa crouched next to his favorite pen. The cat was a lovely dark mottled shade, with bits of gold and
brown mixed into the black and making her fur look almost gray-brown. She would have been snatched up in a heartbeat if she hadn't been so mangled. Her
right ear had a large fray at the edge, the tip having been either torn off or broken off after a cold winter outdoors. Her right eye was a pale milky bluish
yellow, a bold pink scar running right down it. That was obviously human caused. And the real issue - she only had three legs, a soft patch of fur closed over
where her front right leg had been. They'd had to amputate it when she was brought in. It definitely made her one of the worst of the mutited strays they had
in the shelter, and since she was one of the saddest things in there, it made her Trowa's instant favorite. Mostly because he knew no one would ever pay to
have her spayed and taken home as a pet. More than once, he'd thought about doing it himself, but a pet wasn't exactly something they needed around the
warehouse. There were already strays there. They were all strays and discards.
The commotion that had excited his first few hours was long over now, so he was back to watching the shelter. That meant feeding the animals and sitting
around just in case some rare person came in to stare at the things in distaste-ridden sympathy. Not that it happened often, maybe once a day. As it was,
he'd taken the small stool used to let short employees reach the top cages, and was sitting on it near the back. The dark cat was as wild as any of the others,
meaning not wild so much as abused and neglected, so she was in his arms purring up a storm within minutes. Really, this was why he'd chosen to work here,
because he'd always been fond of animals.
The door chimed when it was opened, and Trowa frowned. The cat had her left arm over his shoulder, rubbing her face against his neck. Technically they
weren't supposed to be out of their cages when potential donators or customers came in. But he didn't have the heart to put her up - not when he knew it
wouldn't make a difference. Instead, he wrapped an arm around her and stood so he was visible from the door. And he found himself staring into familiar dark
eyes. A moment later his gaze dropped to find another familiar face staring at him in equal surprise. "Quatre?"
"Trowa! What are you doing here, do you work here?" A restraining hand fell to his shoulder, and Quatre frowned, looking back at Wufei. "What?"
The last time he'd seen the tall boy, he'd been dragging Quatre out of the alley. It didn't make Wufei very quick to trust him. In fact, he had a very strong urge
to arrest the boy right now. The blonde ducked away from his hand and Wufei frowned when the boy darted over to Trowa, completely ignoring him.
"I didn't think I'd see you again," Quatre said, looking up at Trowa with a timid smile. "So you work here?"
Trowa nodded, his gaze softening a bit when the boy reached a hand toward the cat. Quatre hesitated and he gave slow nod. "It's okay, she won't hurt you."
"She's pretty and soft," Quatre smiled, touching the dark fur. "Was she born like that, her leg?"
"No, probably a car or a dog."
"Oh...can she still walk?"
Quatre beamed. "That's good."
Wufei was still standing near the doorway and his eyebrow twitched at the friendly sight. The two boys were definitely ignoring him. The tall one moved back
and disappeared from view, Quatre ducking as well, and he growled. Stalking around the tall cages, Wufei scowled when he caught sight of them sitting near
the far wall, Quatre still fawning over the cat as if it were the prettiest thing he'd ever seen. The tall boy finally looked up again, but not until Wufei came to a
cold stop right in front of them. "Quatre."
"What do you think, Wufei? Isn't she pretty?"
Wide blue-green eyes blinked up at him, and Wufei's eyebrow twitched again. "We came for a dog," he reminded him. The blonde pouted, pulling the cat up
against his chest. "You can't have an outdoor cat."
"She could be an indoor cat..."
"No she couldn't."
"But she *could* be," Quatre insisted, tilting his head to look at the feline's odd eyes. "If she had a box or was taught to go outside when she needs to. She's
probably smart enough to learn how to be an indoor cat. She could just scratch when she has to go out."
"Dogs do that, not cats."
"But she doesn't know that."
Trowa couldn't help himself. He smirked at the blonde. "No, I'm sure she doesn't know that."
"See?" Quatre smiled. "She could learn if we taught her well."
"We *came* for a dog," Wufei repeated, his glare snapping to Trowa for encouraging the boy. Then he remembered that he didn't like him, or trust him, and
he'd just been thinking of arresting him. "So...your name is Trowa."
"I told you about Trowa..." Quatre frowned, suddenly taking in the way his brother's friend was glaring at Trowa. "What's wrong?"
Neither of them answered, and Trowa stood slowly, his gaze calm when he found himself a good inch taller than the man. "I work here," he said softly. "Is
there something I can help you with?"
"As a matter of fact, there is," Wufei returned, his voice just as soft. "The location of-" Two soft gasps interrupted him, and he blinked when Quatre stood and
rushed past him. "Of-"
"Quatre! Wow, what are *you* doing here? Do you live near here? I thought you lived in a house - I didn't see any houses around here."
"No, I live...well, I'm still not sure really, but it isn't too far. It only took a few minutes to get here in the car."
"You have a car? You're not old enough to drive! You said you were ten!"
"Oh, no, Wufei drove. We're looking for a dog, Heero said I could get one as long as it's big and obedient. But it can't be one that barks a lot - I'm still not
sure how to tell if a dog barks too much or not. You wouldn't know just by looking at one, after all."
"I think they all bark. Dogs bark. Why don't you get that kitty? I bet she wouldn't bark."
"Heh, probably not."
Wufei twitched for a second before turning to stare down at a pretty little black-haired girl who looked even younger than Quatre. She was certainly smaller.
But she looked just as giddy to be surrounded by a bunch of potential pets. He would have groaned in annoyance if Trowa hadn't passed him and caught his
"Hilde, what are you doing here?" The moment her eyes fell on him, the girl's happy look faded away and Trowa's eyes narrowed. He reached down to catch
the girl's hand, giving a sharp nod to the blonde boy. "It was nice to see you again, Quatre."
"Are you leaving?" Quatre asked, looking in worry from Hilde's suddenly miserable expression to Trowa's cold one. "What's wrong?"
"Duo-" Her hand was squeezed sharply and Hilde blinked, catching sight of Wufei. The dark-haired man was staring directly at her and she scowled back.
"Don't you know it's not polite to stare and listen to other people talk?"
Trowa winced when he heard the man sputter in surprise and tugged on Hilde's hand. "Come on, Hilde."
"That man is with Quatre." Dark wide eyes flew up to him, and Trowa waited long enough for her to send a very gaze at the blonde boy.
"No wonder you got lost," Hilde frowned. "Poor thing, you really do have a bad family, and rude, too."
Quatre blushed furiously, staring at his feet while Wufei choked. "They're not bad..."
Wufei was busy trying to hold back a loud lecture on undisciplined children and their lack of respect for their elders. If Trowa hadn't tugged the girl closer to
the door, he probably would have forgotten him. That little black-haired girl had a very bad attitude. But this wasn't the time to be distracted, she'd also
mentioned a very familiar name. Wufei raised an eyebrow. "What about Duo? I take it Heero has made his visit?" Trowa whipped around to stare at him, and
the girl glared.
"You're a cop, aren't you?" Hilde sniffed, loooking at the man with blatant distaste. Her little nose wrinkled as if he smelled awful. "Nasty, rude man."
Placing a hand on her shoulder, Trowa frowned down at her. "Hilde, that's enough."
"But you don't know what he did!" Hilde cried, her anger turning to worry in one flip of the switch. "They arrested Duo! And the man tied him up!" She held up
her hands, holding one wrist, then the other. "And he *let* the man do it!"
"Really," Trowa said softly, his eyes blank. "Hilde, we're going now."
Without a word, Trowa knelt and lifted the girl, his gaze flashing to Quatre for a moment as he paused. "Please put her back in the cage - the last one on the
right. If you go into the store, you'll find plenty of expensive dogs that will suit your brother just fine."
Wriggling a bit at the tight arm holding her, Hilde frowned. "Trowa-"
The girl went mute at that soft word, and Wufei blinked in surprise. He didn't think anything could silence her. But the tall boy carried her out of the room and
he shook away that thought, his gaze dropping to Quatre. "Let's go."
"Did Heero really arrest Duo?" Quatre asked, his eyes very wide. "Why would he do that? I told him Duo was a good person - he's the one who helped me."
"Hurry," Wufei called, moving past him to the door.
Quatre blinked, looking down at the purring cat in his arms. "But what about-"
"Quatre, please don't argue right now. I need to get you home and get down to the station." He didn't look back, spotting Trowa and the girl as they headed
off outside the building. They were going in the opposite direction of the station, probably to get some sort of mock army together. Heero definitely needed to
know about that. He was nearly at the door by the time the blonde caught up to him and he gave Quatre a small push when the boy hesitated again.
"Later, I promise. This is important." He prodded the boy to the car and hopped in with a quick glance in the sideview mirror. The boy and girl were just
rounding the corner.
"Okay..." With a worried sigh, Quatre looked down at the still-purring cat in his arms. He just hoped Heero believed him when he explained that Wufei hadn't
given him a chance to put her back in her cage like Trowa had asked. And he couldn't just leave her on the floor where someone could step on her. Green
and milkly blue eyes blinked up at him, and he smiled, pulling his jacket around her to make a warmer nest. At least it gave him a chance to pet her longer.
* * *