Disclaimer: I do not own, not did I create these characters. My rambling is for fun and no profit is derived.

Warnings: mild angst

A Tough Row to Hoe
Duo's Friendship Arc 2
by Dyna Dee

Under a mutual agreement, the five gundam pilots agreed to Heero Yuy's request to come together as a team, living as a unit in a safehouse provided by Quatre Winner for a trial run - to see if working together would be beneficial to their mission to save the colonies and stop the Alliance.

The safe house was located on the outskirts of a large sprawling suburb of Detroit, Michigan, in North America. It was, by most standards, a very modest and unassuming house in an older residential area. The rooms were of moderate size, suitable for a family with three bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen and a large living room. Since none of the pilots could boast of being large in statue, it would be most accommodating. Best of all was the large back yard with tall and full trees, affording them the privacy they needed to maintain their anonymity.

Heero and Duo were the first arrivals. They stood in front of the pale grey house with the white trimmed windows. The braided boy in black held a piece of paper in his hands looking at the numbers printed on it and then glanced upward, rechecking several times that the number was the same as the brass numbers set into the pillar on the porch. His face, at the moment, seemed to consist mostly of the large, wide-open violet eyes that stared in disbelief.

"I've never lived in a place like this before. A real house." he spoke softly in awe of the dream set before him.

He grabbed the Wing pilot's arm and dragged him up the sidewalk onto the porch to the front door. Dropping his duffel bag, he reached back into his braid and pulled out a long lock pick from out of the thick plaited hair. Using his skills honed on the streets of L2, he quickly knelt and picked the lock. The door eased open ten seconds later.

"I have a key." Heero informed him rather blandly.

"I know," Duo replied standing to face him with a smile. "But, I need to keep in practice."

They quickly explored the layout of the house and took the first bedroom at the top of the stairs and closest to the adjacent bathroom. They unpacked and waited for the others to arrive.

Wufei was the last of the five to make his appearance. His manner and body language gave the impression that he seemed very reluctant to join them. He was noticeably wary and cautious of all of them, but eyed the pilot of Deathscythe with suspicion and contempt. He didn't seem displeased at all to find he had the small bedroom at the end of the hall all to himself, saying he preferred solitude - to meditate.

Quatre and Heero set up a regular series of meetings for everyone to become acquainted with each other as soldiers. Each pilot was asked to report on his gundam, it's weapons and fighting capabilities. They then spoke of any resources available to them, their training and any other talents that would be beneficial to the cause. Each pilot was surprised at how varied their talents and abilities were, yet it was clearly apparent that what one pilot lacked, another didn't. Together they made an impressive and talented group of soldiers.

Wufei, Heero, and Trowa had all been trained in some form of combat. Heero was the most extensively trained in all areas becoming a soldier, seconded by Trowa's life in the ranks of mercenaries. He was an expert at infiltrating organizations. His ability at the computer nearly equaled Heero's in hacking into secured systems. Duo had the fighting instincts that were honed on the streets along with many hidden talents dealing with explosives, firearms, stealth and thievery. Quatre not only had leadership abilities, but vast financial resources as well as a small army called the Maguanacs, who had a hidden base in the desert of Saudi Arabia. They were all shocked at his admission that he was the male heir to the L4 Winner fortune. Wufei had been a scholar and had spent most of his life in martial arts training. His ability at hand to hand combat equaled Heero's.

Though impressed with each other as a group, the melding of the personalities and abilities was indeed proving to be a tough row to hoe for the five young pilots.

Heero basically stayed to himself, as did Wufei. Neither boy seemed to enjoy the company of the others, but tended to mind their own business, interacting with the others when they deemed necessary or at meal time.

Trowa and Quatre came to the group with a friendship becoming established. Trowa tended to be quiet and the blonde was more out going. Both of them appeared to enjoy the company of the rambunctious American, who self-appointed himself as the social coordinator of the group. He had seemingly endless ideas on how to spend their free time together. The other two soon learned that the only time Duo spent idle was when he was sleeping. They both appreciated the fact that the boy worked very hard to keep the atmosphere in the house upbeat and harmonious.

Even though they enjoyed his company, the two friends found themselves frequently worn out with the constant activity and chatter the enthusiastic American seemed to have endless energy for. Quatre secretly approached Heero to persuade the braided boy's roommate to keep the American occupied for a period of time in the afternoon so that they could rest for the evening. The Arabian knew better than to ask the Shenlong pilot for his assistance. His steady and hostile glares towards the lively boy was unsettling and Duo didn't help the situation with his teasing the formidable Chinese pilot. But heeding Heero's warning, he kept his jibes and teasing on the light side and in good humor.

As a week passed by, a routine of chores were set up and the five began to settle in with each other adjusting to personal schedules and to the idiosyncracies of each other.

It was after lunch on a Sunday when Duo flopped himself down on the overstuffed chair in the living room. His legs and braid were draped over opposite arms of the chair. He sensed that Trowa and Quatre needed a rest, so he left them to their own devices. With the VID remote in hand, he scanned the many channels for something of interest to watch.

Seeing movement on the stairs, he turned his head to see Wufei descending them with a long sword in his hands. Duo promptly turned on a news channel, hoping the Shenlong pilot would be interested enough to sit and talk for a while. He was pleased when the Chinese boy sat on the slightly worn couch. Drawing the sword from its soft sheath, he used the soft cloth in his hand and began to polish the blade.

"Cool sword, Wufei" Duo said pleasantly, only to be rewarded with a glare. "Can I see it?" Duo asked undaunted, choosing to ignore the warning in the other's eyes.

"No!" Wufei growled "and if I ever find you touching it, you'll lose that ridiculous braid of yours."

Duo raised a questioning brow. "My, my, Mr. Sunshine, aren't we touchy?" He replied to the threat. "Be careful what threats you issue, Wufei. I have a tendency to waaay over do it when I retaliate." he warned back even as the other boy appeared to ignore him, giving his full attention to the blade in his hands.

Turning up the sound of the news report, Duo couldn't help adding a little more. "You could frost a little, ya know." He glanced over to the surly looking pilot "Would it kill you to be a bit friendly?"

"Shut up, Maxwell." Wufei replied not looking up from his task at hand.

Duo sighed in a huff and turned back to the VID screen. The anchor man was reporting on World news. The bored braided pilot was about to change the channel when the next story caught his interest.

"In Belgium today, the Romafeller Organization, the financial backers of the OZ Military, announced a restructuring within their ranks. General Treize Kushrenada has resigned in an apparent disagreement with the ruling board, citing irreconcilable differences. He is reported to be secluded at his ancestral residence in Luxemburg. Our sources hinted at an indefinite apparent house arrest was the cause of his seclusion."

In an unbelievably quick movement, Duo jumped up from his reclining position up onto the chair, to stand on the back with a whoop of celebration. His arms flailed as he struggled for balance. "Hell, if they keep fighting internally like this, we'll spank their pompous assess to the moon and back." he laughed as he shifted his weight and rode the back of the chair down to the floor, jumping off gracefully just before it landed with a bang.

"Pick it up!" Wufei ordered sternly as he rose to his feet, sheathing his sword in its soft casing.

Duo looked at him exasperated. "Geeeeze, have you ever had a moment of fun in your whole life?" he asked as he bent to lift the back of the chair to it's proper position.

The onyx eyes finally raised up to stare derisively into the speculative violet ones. "The rest of us take this war seriously. It's not a joke - nothing about it is.....funny." His voice was deadly serious as he chastised the other angrily.

Duo's insouciant shrug made the Chinese boy stiffen. "So I make the most of a bad situation. Sue me." he smiled crookedly.

Wufei gave a final look of disgust as he moved to walk past the braided boy on his way to the kitchen. He stopped abruptly and turned slightly to look back at the other boy watching him. "I just realized," he began with a sneer, "that this war is, in effect, your salvation from L2's poverty, isn't it. No wonder you can joke about it. You're still just a little boy who's only motivations for fighting are to eat and play soldier. It's not real to you at all, is it?" He felt a slight sense of satisfaction as he watched the color drain from the American's face and his mouth go slack. He turned away feeling quite satisfied that he had finally put the loud mouth boy in his place.

A grunt behind him was the only warning he got before his back was solidly slammed into and he was knocked face down onto the carpeted floor. A string of profanity accompanied the rain of boney fisted but solid punches that impacted on his arms, back, and shoulders.

"Take it back!" Duo shouted as a blow from his balled fists punctuated each word.

After the initial shock, came the realization of what was happening. The Shenlong pilot lifted his upper torso up off the carpet, even though he was being pummeled, and flipped himself over. Duo was almost knocked off, but resettled his angry and trembling body back onto the Chinese boy's hips, straddling him. He began to strike out again at the body beneath him.

With some effort, Wufei reached up and grabbed hold of the berserker boy's slender wrists and held them fast against any more abuse. It was then that the Chinese boy looked into the other's face and knew he had gone too far. Duo's unusually large expressive violet eyes were filled with unshed tears. Hurt and anguish lay in their depths. He could feel the boy trembling with the suppressed emotions and sensed that his words alone hadn't caused these feelings, but had served to reawaken them from carefully hidden depths.

"Take. It. Back." Duo growled through gritted teeth, the ever present smile completely gone, replaced by a fierce determination.

Wufei had always found it hard to capitulate or apologize, and even here when he knew he had hurt this boy deeply, he hesitated.

Duo struggled to get his hands free and after several minutes of useless wrestling, he threw his head back and shouted out his frustration. To the Chinese boy's surprise, Duo's shoulders slumped, and the feeling of rage seemed to dissipate from the boy above him as his chin fell to his chest.

After a few moments and deep breaths, Duo raised his eyes to meet Wufei's cautious ones. When he spoke, he voice was deadly calm. "You judge me with haughty contempt, Wufei." he began. "Yet, you know nothing about me but what I felt comfortable telling you." His eyes narrowed. "You know nothing of my pain, my loss, or suffering, or what the Alliance has done to me to make me hate them enough to forfeit my life to defeat them." he hissed as his anger began to rise again. "How dare you judge me."

With a sudden movement, the black clad boy jumped to his feet wringing his wrists free of the Shenlong pilot's grasp. "I might be just a street urchin to you, unworthy to be in your presence," he spat looking down at the unmoving boy on the floor, "but I was taught that you should never grind another soul down just to make yourself feel superior. You have made that act into an art form, Wufei, and I hope you feel great, because you made me feel like shit." Turning the Deathscythe pilot darted into the kitchen, the back door slamming loudly in his wake as he ran outside.

Taking a deep breath, the Shenlong pilot sat up, thoughtfully analyzing all the long hair boy had said. He opened his eyes wide in surprise to see the other three pilots silently standing on the stairs, leaning on the railing. They had obviously observed some, if not all, of what had transpired, and none of them looked pleased.

Quatre looked pale as his hand grasped his chest, a pained look on his face. "Wufei," he whispered. "What did you do to bring such pain to Duo?" he asked bewildered.

Heero looked sharply to the blonde boy, trying to grasp how Quatre knew more than they. Then turned back to look at the Chinese pilot, mirroring the same question silently.

"I said something stupid." he replied as he came to his feet and straightened his clothes a bit nervously.

Trowa observed Quatre's pained expression and turned to Wufei matching Heero's glare.

"I know." Wufei raised a hand towards the disapproving three. "I'll give us both time to calm down, then I'll apologize."

Seeming to be satisfied, Heero turned without a word and went back upstairs to his room.

Quatre turned to Trowa beseechingly. "Should I go to Duo? He's in pain, Trowa, but I don't know him well enough to know if my attempt to comfort would help or offend."

Trowa listened to the blonde even as he watched as Wufei picked up his sword and walked out the front door to sit on one of the chairs on the front porch. He turned his green eyes back to the smaller boy. "I don't know either, Quatre. It seems there are many complex levels to the braided fireball."

Quatre nodded and closed his eyes, his small hands still clutched to the front of his shirt over his heart. "I felt such.....sadness....and a loneliness.....so....so deep." he whispered and looked pained as though he could still physically feel the other's emotions.

The taller boy put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Then go to him if it will help to ease your mind. Do you want me to come with you?" he asked.

Quatre opened his amazing aquamarine eyes to look up gratefully to his friend. "I think I should go alone. Maybe, if it's just one on one, he'll feel more comfortable and talk to me."

Trowa couldn't help the small smile that came to his lips. "Like that has ever been a problem before--- Duo talking." he smirked.

Quatre returned the smile as he turned and descended the stairs and walked towards the back of the house.


The blonde teen spent the next ten minutes looking and calling out for the American before he finally spotted him. Duo had climbed into the higher branches of the tallest tree in their backyard. The Arabian put his hands on his hip as he gazed upward to the top of the tree. "Why didn't you answer me Duo?" he asked irritated by his search being unheeded as the other obviously watched the whole time.

Duo looked very comfortable lounging on a solid looking branch, his slender legs clad in black straddled it while his back rested against the main trunk of the tree. He looked down at Quatre as his accusing words floated up to him.

"Go away." he said, not unkindly, but in a subdued tone the other boy hadn't heard in the other's voice before.

"Come down, Duo. Let's talk." the blond countered.

"Don't wanna." he replied sullenly.

Quatre took a deep breath and sighed slowly. "Well, if the mountain won't come...." he murmured as he jumped up to a lower branch and began to climb the tree. This was something he hadn't a lot of experience doing since there were few trees, especially large ones, in Arabia or on L4. However, he found it similar to finding hand and foot hold in climbing Sandrock.

Before long, he was at least thirty to forty feet off the ground straddling a branch adjacent to the other boy. They sat in silence for a while as life moved on below them.

Quatre broke the silence first. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asked studying the other's unusual somber face.

Duo shrugged. "What's to talk about?" his voice was dull, lacking life.

The picture before him, a quiet, withdrawn pilot of Deathscythe, unsettled the blonde. "Well," he began slowly. "You could tell me what Wufei did to get you so upset. Or.......whatever it is that has caused you such pain."

Did he tell you what happened?" The braided boy chanced a side long glance at the other.

"He didn't have to, we saw most of it, but not what he did to make you so upset."

"We?" Duo asked looking worried.

"Heero, Trowa and I. We heard you yelling and came to see what was going on." Quatre explained and was stunned to see the braided boy's face look crest fallen just before he covered his face with his slender hands and moan.

"Great!" his voice was muffled as he spoke. "Now you guys will think I'm an overreacting, overly emotional jerk. Wufei already hates me and now you guys will think I'm weak and pathetic."

"Your wrong Duo!" Quatre said firmly, his face emphatic.

"Really?" Duo's voice dripped in sarcasm. "Wufei basically told me what he thinks. That I pilot my stolen gundam only for my own gain--to be off the streets of L2 and for food in my belly."

"I can't believe he said that!" the blonde snapped as his eyes blazed with anger.

"Ask him." Duo replied. "I have no doubt he'd be more than happy to express his views about me with you."

The Arabian shook his head. "He already knows he said something stupid. He told us so when we questioned him."

The braided boy sighed audibly and leaned his head back to rest against the tree. "Aah, what does it matter? I set myself up thinking we could all be friends. I'm one of those people that others either like or hate. I guess two out of four is better odds than I should have hoped for."

"Two out of four?" Quatre asked curious.

"Yeah," Duo continued. "I think you and Trowa kinda like me, at least you tolerate me. Wufei and Heero hate me."

"No they don't" the blonde insisted as he squirmed on the branch he sat on. It was getting rather uncomfortable on his posterior.

"Yeah they do." the braided boy sounded resigned as he glanced again at his friend. "But it doesn't matter. I'm here to do the best job I can for the colonies. I don't really expect to survive the war so whether or not they like me is unimportant." He paused for a moment. "I just liked the idea of us being friends. Heero looks at that as a liability, maybe he's right." He tried to smile at the blonde, but it lacked sincerity.

Finally, after several minutes, the smaller boy managed to find his voice. "Duo," he reached out to touch the others forearm. "I do like you, and so does Trowa. We're happy to have your friendship." He wanted to say something to contradict what Duo felt about Heero and Wufei's feelings about him, but he didn't know how they felt. For all he knew, the American was correct in his assessment, judging from the other two's reaction to the energetic and sometimes boisterous boy.

Duo managed a grateful smile. "Thanks Quatre. It means a lot to me to have you and Trowa as friends."

Quatre returned the smile, grateful the other's dark mood seemed to pass.

"Do you want to talk about the other? What caused you so much pain?" He ventured.

Duo's eyes widened. "How do you know about it?" he asked.

The fair haired Arabian's face blushed. He had only recently told Trowa of his abilities to sense others emotions. "Well.....I...." he stammered as Duo looked on curiously.

"Yes?" he urged him on.

"I can feel others strong emotions. People I'm close to. Here." his hand went to his heart. "I felt a deep grief....an agony as you told Wufei he had no idea what the Alliance had taken from you." Quatre recognized the flash of pain in the chestnut haired boy's eyes, but with it came a look of curiosity.

"I don't know how." Quatre answered the look, "but ever since I can remember, I could sense others strong emotions. Sometimes its.....very difficult." His voice sounded sad and weary.

"I'm sorry, Quatre" Duo said sincerely a look of contrite concern on his face. "I'll try better to mask my feelings so you won't have to feel them. I'm afraid that sometimes I've got more emotions than I can handle."

"No! Don't do that!" Quatre replied adamantly "Such emotions become a canker to your soul if its not dealt with. Have you shared this...experience.... with anyone?"

"Dr. G, the scientist who designed Deathscythe knows.

"And you still feel so strongly about it?" Quatre ventured.

Duo turned his body fully to honestly look a the blonde boy quizzing him. "Quatre, some things are impossible to get over. So horrific, that time barely dims the effects or memory."

Quatre wondered what could have happened to a kid his age to affect him so. "Would you trust me enough to talk to me about it? I won't tell anyone what you say unless you tell me it's all right to do so." he added.

Duo once again studied the open face before him. He liked Quatre and somehow trusted him. Would it be fair to share his living nightmare with one who seemed untarnished and so innocent. Yet the minute he thought the last few words he realized they weren't true. He had seen Quatre on the battle field. He had killed, even though he felt remorse for each act of violence he perpetrated on the enemy. He realized Quatre, too, had his demons to fight. Maybe if he told Quatre he would feel better, if even for a short while.

He nodded and saw the other reposition himself to listen in earnest to what he was about to say.

"You remember I told you a little about my being an orphan and taken care of by Solo, the boy who died of the plague, like many others on L2 that were too poor to afford the vaccine?"

Quatre nodded even though he's never heard the last part of the story.

"After that, things on the streets got pretty desperate. I was small and fast and became known for my abilities at picking a pocket or any lock. I could hot wire and drive any kind of vehicle and gained quite a reputation. My name was passed on to a local Catholic priest, a real do-gooder named Father Maxwell. Maxwell church took in abandoned kids from time to time and tried to find them new homes. He told me my reputation at eight years old made him determined to give me a chance before it was too late. He found me just as some teenagers, trying to take over new turf, had cornered me and began to physically intimidate me. I was pretty wild" he chuckled at the memory of his long straggled hair and dirty face, his big lover-sized stolen clothing. "He rescued me and took me home with him." Duo smiled again as he remembered the kindly priest and the warmth and acceptance of he and Sister Helen, the parish nun who cleaned him up, braided his hair, and showered him with the affection he never realized he craved until she freely gave it to him.

"I was with them for almost two years. The best years of my life." he said in melancholy reflection. "But they couldn't find a home for me" he continued. "Many knew my reputation and, as I said, I was wild. But during those two years, the love and care of those two selfless people changed me, civilized me-even though others called me Maxwell's Little Demon." He smiled slightly through out his monologue, but suddenly the smile vanished, a look of deep sorrow filled his features.

Quatre, listening intently felt the change of emotions within himself and instinctively reached out a reassuring hand to the other.

"One day, on my way home from school, I was grabbed from behind by a group of men, rebels against the Alliance. They knew who I was and what I could do." His eyes blazed suddenly with anger. "The explained that they fought the tyranny of the Alliance who kept the colony living in substandard conditions to control its citizens and politics. Because I was so small and agile and knew how to hot wire anything, they wanted me to steal a mobile suit for them from a near by Alliance base." Duo laughed harshly. "The fools thought one Mobile suit would make a statement. They planned a suicide attack to destroy the Alliance Headquarters. Fools!" he spat out shaking his head. "They said if I didn't do this for them, they'd burn down the church." Duo looked up at Quatre's solemn eyes, his own eyes pleading for understanding. "I was only ten, Quatre. I believed them and felt I had no choice. I did as they asked and took the mobile suit. I was recognized, probably by a security camera. Having my reputation, the Alliance was able to locate my home at the church fairly easily." He stopped, swallowing hard, his eyes filled with unshed tears. "By the time I escaped the rebels and returned to the church.....it was.....all over." he ended his story and fought to hold back the wave of guilt and grief that assailed him. His hands flew up to cover his face again as he began to rock back and forth, the movement somehow comforted him.

Quatre felt the emotions rise in the other and with empathy, tears fell from his own eyes. He reached over to grasp Duo's upper arm for support and comfort.

After several moments, Duo stopped rocking and looked up, eyes bright and tortured looking. "They killed them....all of them. Father, Sister Helen and over a dozen children. All because of me. They shot them all and blasted the church into ruins." A solitary tear slipped past the rim of the wide horrified violet eyes.

Quatre wanted to embrace the guilt-ridden, brokenhearted boy, but his position in the tree didn't allow such a gesture. So keeping his hand on Duo's upper arm, he lowered his head onto Duo's shoulder and wept openly and gently for him. "I'm sorry, Duo." he whispered and his voice hitched, still feeling the other boys pain, grief, and horror. "So...sorry."

Duo's head tilted to rest on the blonde boy's hair, taking what comfort he could from the Arabian's gesture of sympathy.

They sat that way for a long while. Quatre finally eased himself up with a groan. "Gomen, Duo." he said wiping away at the tears on his face. "I need to get down." he shifted his body a little. "My backside isn't liking the feel of this branch any longer."

Despite the wet, red-rimmed eyes, Duo chuckled. "I know what you mean." he said and shifted himself.

"Come with me?" Quatre asked hopefully.

Duo shook his head. "No, you go ahead. I'm not ready to face the others yet."

Studying his face for a moment, the blonde boy nodded and began to stiffly descend the tall tree. Half way down he stopped as Duo called out his name softly. He looked up the braided boy above him.

"Arigato, Quatre." He said softly. "Arigato."

Quatre smiled up at him, then his face sobered. "Duo, would you mind if I told the others. If you don't want me to, I won't." he added quickly to his request. "But I think it would help all of us, as a team, to know how the Alliance hurt you. I find it...horrifying what they did."

Duo closed his eyes for a moment, contemplating the question. Then looked back down at the boy patiently waiting for an answer.

"I'll trust you to your own discretion." he told him. "I just don't want to talk about it again."

Quatre nodded. It would be hard enough for him to retell the story and not break down remembering Duo's emotions and facial expressions as he told spoke of his destroyed home. He could only imagine what it cost the American to tell him the story. Hopefully, the telling would ease some of the burden the tragedy caused the fifteen year old boy.

The four young plots sat in quiet contemplation at the kitchen table. It had been set with five place settings, Duo's place between Wufei and Heero, sitting at the head of the table, sat vacant.

All four turned at the sound of the back door opening and watched the boy dressed all in black enter the room. He casually walked to the table and sat, raising his eyes to look across the table to smile hesitantly at Quatre and Trowa. "Are we eating or what?" he asked not seeing any food on the prepared table.

"In a moment." Heero informed him. The room was filled with a sense of expectancy.

"Duo," Wufei's voice spoke softly to his left.

The braided boy shot to his feet as if given a shock. "Save it Wufei." he said shortly without looking at the Chinese boy. "I don't want your pity or apology." He turned to leave when his wrist was caught in an iron tight clasp, and then found himself jerked abruptly back into his chair again.

"Let me go, Heero." he growled through gritted teeth as he glared at the Wing pilot who held him firmly in place by his grip still on his wrist, even as he struggled to free himself.

"You will sit and listen to him." Heero hardly moved and his voice was steady and commanding.

Duo continued to struggle and with his other hand he tried to pry the perfect soldier's hand from his aching wrist. His face grimaced in pain. "This...is....between..... Wu and I. You.....ow! Heero!" he leaned in the direction of Heero's pull on his wrist to ease the pain. "Your gonna break it!" he warned in a loud voice.

"Heero, easy." Quatre, sitting opposite Duo, placed a gentle hand on Heero's free arm.

Heero looked at the pale hand resting on his forearm for a moment registering its meaning, then looked back at the braided boy whose face was pinched with pain.

"You'll stay." it came out as more of a command than a question.

"All right!" the American capitulated and the painful grasp was immediately removed. If looks could kill, Heero would have been incinerated on the spot and sealed in a cramped urn from the braided boys stony glare as he rubbed gently at his bruised wrist.

"Damn you, Heero, you son of a bi..."

"Duo" Trowa's stern voice shot out a warning. The other boy caught himself and looked at Quatre's wary face.

"biscuit eater." Duo amended his original curse and stopped the profane tirade he was about to launch into. Instead, he sat back into his chair sulking, holding his sore wrist.

"Listen to Wufei." Trowa admonished, his voice gentle.

"Duo," Wufei began again and waited for the Deathscythe pilot to look at him. It quickly became clear that he wasn't about to. Taking a deep breath he began again. "I take it back, all of it. You're right, I did judge you by the standards I was raised by. I had no right to do that, and it was wrong of me to presume your motivations for fighting were less than honorable."

"I told you, Wufei," Duo interrupted in a subdued tone. "I don't want your pity or apology. I'll adjust to the fact that you and Heero hate me. I'll stay clear of you and you of me, alright?" he turned to glare at Heero, again, who seemed to be only dimly interested in the proceedings. "That goes for you as well, Heero." he declared.

Heero's eyebrows rose in a silent question.

"I'm not giving you pity," Wufei's insistent voice drew Duo's attention away from Wing's pilot and back to himself. "but my understanding. And you may not want my apology, but I need to give it. Accept it or not, that is for you to decide. But, I hope you can come to accept it and let us begin again."

Duo looked askance from under the fringe of his long chestnut bangs. The Shenlong Pilot's face looked intent and sincere. "Did they force you to this?" he asked.

"No," Wufei replied honestly, "it's the right thing to do." and found himself holding his breath.

Turning in his chair, Duo raised his head to look evenly into the ebony, almond shaped eyes. "I accept your apology, Wu." he said in all seriousness.

"It's Wufei." the Chinese boy corrected him.

Duo nodded with a slight twitching at the corners of his mouth.

Quatre jumped up to his feet breaking the seriousness of the moment. "Great! Let's eat!" he suggested and moved to the oven. Trowa likewise stood and went to the refrigerator and opened it, taking out a large bowl of salad greens, dressing, and a container of milk. Quatre came back with a large baking dish of lasagne, and a big bowl of garlic bread. Duo's mouth watered at the sight and smell-he was starving.

The five spent the evening in the brightly lit kitchen at the table. After the dishes were cleared, Trowa produced a pack of cards. Duo taught them a game he's learned at the orphanage called Spoons. The entire deck of cards were passed out between the five. Then they, in turn, passed the cards, face down, one by one onto the person to their left at a fast pace as Duo called out "pass". The first to get a hand all in one suit, reached to the center of the table to grab a spoon of which there were only four. The grabbing could be done stealthy or not, but the one not holding a spoon at the end had to add a letter in the word spoon. If you managed to lose enough to spell the word, you were out of the game.

Duo's normal personality, including voice, laughter, and smile returned, especially after seeing Heero dive across the table for a spoon with all the same focus and intensity as a potential mission target. Several times, Quatre and Duo had to be picked up off the floor from laughing so hard.

Feeling the drain of the emotional upheaval of the day, Duo excused himself around eleven o'clock to find his bed. After peeling off his clothes, washing his face and brushing his teeth and hair, he fell happily into his bed only a moment before Heero walked into the room.

The American boy climbed under his covers and thumped his pillow into an acceptable shape while Heero prepared for sleep. Hearing the water running in the bathroom, the events of the day ran through his head. It wasn't very pleasant, his exchange with Wufei, but this evening showed that the Shenlong pilot seemed more open to his overtures of friendship. Gone were the open sneers and apprehension. If Wufei didn't like him, he was getting better at hiding it.

The bathroom door opened and closed, and in the dark Heero made his way to his bed. Duo heard the creak as Wing's pilot climbed into it. They lay quietly, both caught up in their own thoughts.

"Duo?" Heero's voice called out quietly in the dark.


"It's good that you and Wufei came to an understanding. It will make things easier."

Duo didn't answer for a minute, trying to get the courage to speak up. When he did, his voice sounded tentative and small. "Do you think we can come to an understanding....sometime, Heero?" he asked.

Again there was silence that stretched out for a few long moments. When he finally spoke, Heero's voice was soft and thoughtful. "I don't hate you, Duo." he said.

The Deathscythe pilot yawned despite himself. "That's nice to know, Heero, because I don't hate you either."

Pulling his covers up to cover him completely to his neck, the weary fifteen year old boy who referred to himself as Shinigami, fell into a peaceful, exhausted sleep.


on to dfa 3: 'first mission fiasco'

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