Warnings : Implied yaoi, angst, OOC, language, slightly bastardized characters, and a little bit of squick, Duo POV.
Thanks to Christy for beta reading at the speed of light!
Thanks to Aya and Yume for opinions rendered.
Feed-back is a dream I have...
And I don't own anything in this series, either.


So I didn't request a solo assignment after that first awkward time we all five stayed together after all. Things had gotten a little better after the night I had stormed out of the house. I still didn't feel like I could talk to Heero or Wufei about personal stuff and carefully kept my relationship with the two of them strictly business, but they had backed off a little bit. Quatre and Trowa were a little more accepting of me and I managed to eventually develop something like the relationship I had envisioned we would all share, with Quatre at least.

I thought of him a little bit like a kid brother. I don't really know why, he certainly didn't need my protection. He was tough as nails when he was behind the controls of his Gundam, was possessed of a near brilliant tactical sense; but somehow seemed to maintain this... ethereal innocence. I think that was what I was drawn to protect; he just hadn't seen some of the things I had in my lifetime and I wanted to keep him untouched by that kind of ugliness.

The next couple of months found me paired, and assigned to work, with just about every possible combination of the five of us you could imagine. The worst was a long couple of weeks when I was partnered with Heero when we had to go under cover as roommates at a boarding school. I thought I would go out of my mind sharing a room with the guy, sharing meals, doing class work together and never managing to get passed that cold exterior. I did my best to be as un-annoying as possible. I followed all the school rules like a good little boy, didn't engage in anything that I thought might be considered an endangerment to the mission, left my music in my Gundam and just did my best to keep my mouth shut. Still, somehow, by the end of the two weeks I seemed to have annoyed the hell out of him, because he was even colder and more sullen than when we had started.

And of course, it didn't help matters that I spent most nights dreaming about the ice melting out of those cold blue eyes. Dreaming about my finally getting around that exterior and finding the passionate man who lived inside.

Oh shut up. I am well aware that his ice probably went all the way to the core and if there was any passion in that body at all it sure as hell wasn't going to wake with the touch of my hand. They were dreams, ok? I know that. Those two weeks taught me that if they taught me nothing else.

Even the short assignment I spent with Wufei wasn't as painful. I suppose it was because I wasn't hoping for something from him. I think he disliked me every bit as much as Heero did but it didn't bother me the same. Besides, I had somehow seemed to have earned a little bit of respect from him with my piloting skills and he had finally gotten to the point where he would afford me a least a little courtesy, if not any real friendship.

I was heading toward my latest assignment with a confused mixture of dread and anticipation. I was supposed to be meeting up with Heero and Quatre. We were going to be hiding out in the states on the edge of an industrial town somewhere in the mid-west. We had a small house to stay in about two miles from an abandoned warehouse where we would be able to hide our Gundams. There were rumors that there was something odd going on in the area and we were there to figure out what.

While I was looking forward to seeing Quatre again, I had managed to avoid Heero since the boarding school assignment and wasn't looking forward to being trapped in a 'small house' with Mr. Sensitive. I suppose I should just be happy it was Quatre making up the third on our little team and not Wufei. I didn't think I'd survive being cooped up with the Brothers Grimm for very long.

So I was a little subdued when I climbed down from my Gundam after landing and securing it in the warehouse. Both the other Gundams were already there; Wing somehow managing to glare down at me with the same angry expression that it's pilot usually wore. I resisted the urge to flip it the bird. Now that would have been mature.

I was just wondering if someone was going to meet me or if I was going to have to figure out where the safe house was on my own, when Quatre's voice rang out and he was running to meet me.

"Hey, Qat!"I called as I jumped to the ground, meeting him half way to return his quick hug.

"Duo!" he laughed, "you made it; I was starting to get worried."

I held him at arms length and looked him over with a grin, "No problems. Just caution."

Then over his shoulder I caught a glimpse of our other partner and had to sigh; Heero was already glaring daggers at me and I'd just gotten there. This was going to be a long assignment.

"Hey, Heero," I called and he came toward us when I spoke.

"You're late." He said sullenly.

I rolled my eyes. "Five and a half fucking minutes, Yuy. Gimme a break."

He just continued to glare at me and I suddenly, inexplicably felt awkward about my hand resting on Quatre's shoulder and I stepped away from both of them, turning to get my duffle bag.

Yep. Long damn assignment.

Gear shouldered; I turned back and grinned at them, "Lead on, oh partners in crime."

Quatre chuckled and went to get his own stuff. I followed him, not relishing the idea of standing around having a staring contest with Mr. Glare-o'-death. After a second, I heard his steps behind me.

We walked to the safe house, Heero had obviously already settled in and we followed his lead. It was a somewhat uncomfortable walk and not just because of the cold night air. Mid-winter ain't got nothin' on Heero Yuy. That man could put out fires with that icy silence of his.

Quatre and I refrained from a lot of conversation during the walk; mutually agreeing to wait until we'd gotten to a place where we might find a little privacy.

When the mission specs said 'small house', they weren't kidding. It was a little run-down, frame, one story with a small yard that was mostly just dirt and neighbors that looked they wouldn't have questioned it if we'd ridden in on elephant back. It was the wee hours of the morning though and no one was around to see us arrive. Bad neighborhood; I could tell instantly and decided that I would need to keep a close eye on Quatre. I imagine he'd never seen this side of town before and probably didn't even know what the term 'crack-house' meant.

Every nerve I owned was twitching just walking up to our front door.

Heero took us inside and Quatre looked around with a little 'oh' noise. I grinned and without thinking, said, "Nice place you got here, Heero. I really love what you've done with it."

It was simple banter; like I said... I hadn't been around him in a while. I'd forgotten that perfect soldiers aren't aloud to joke; I think there's something in the Perfect Soldier handbook about it. Rule #16, right after the one that says they can't ever smile and before the one that says they have to have abs like a fucking Greek God.

He glared at me, ignoring the comment and gesturing around, "We do have electricity and water. The bedrooms are in the back. I will start dinner."

With that, he turned on his heel and left the room.

"What a dump," Quatre muttered and I nodded agreement as we made our way toward the back of the house. I glanced into the first room I came to and looked around; I didn't see any gear, so I went on in and dumped my stuff on one of the beds. Dust flew and I had to grin wondering how Quatre was going to handle this.

He came back into my room a few minutes later with a rueful grin, "Wait until you see the bathroom." He smirked.

"Well... " I told him, "I was thinking about a shower before dinner... "

"Be my guest," he laughed, "I think I may give them up until this mission is over."

I pulled my stuff out of my duffle and then, on a sudden thought, made my way to the kitchen.

"Heero," I called from the doorway, "mind if I shower before dinner?"

"Go ahead," he said without turning around, "I have already taken mine."

Well, that didn't go too bad. Of course, he might have been glaring and I just couldn't see it with his back turned.

"Thanks, man," I called. I always tried to keep it in the front of my mind to keep my sentences short and always maintain a strict politeness when dealing with Heero Yuy. I never knew when something I said or did was going to set him off.

The bathroom wasn't all that bad when compared with ones that I had seen in my lifetime but I suppose by Quatre's standards it was the pit of the kingdom of disgusting.

I worked fast and only used lukewarm water, just in case and returned to my room when I was done to comb my hair out and get dressed. There was barely enough room in the tiny bathroom to turn around.

I pulled on a pair of loose Dockers but left my shirt off until my hair wasn't dripping water everywhere, got out my little MP3 player and turned on some of my music, careful to keep it turned down while I began the arduous task of combing my wet hair.

I had hunted up some Emerson, Lake and Palmer after a certain young grocery store clerk had introduced me to their music and before long, I lost myself in the familiar job of untangling my hair and began to sing softly along.

"Lend your love to me tonight, don't ask me who or what is right. I have no strength I cannot fight, just flood my darkness with your light... ."

I leaned over at the waist and threw my hair forward to comb it out completely, getting the snarls out from underneath.

"... Behind this face I am alone, I would give everything I own, to touch you. Just lend your love to me once more, don't ask me what I came back for... Shit."

That was when I saw the duffle bag tucked back under the bed across from the one I had chosen. I should have known Heero wouldn't just leave his stuff sit out in plain sight. I froze for a heartbeat while Mr. Lake sang on without me. I straightened, tossing my hair backward and turned to start grabbing my things... and found Heero standing in the doorway with the most unreadable expression on his face I have ever seen. I blinked at him like an idiot for a minute and felt my face flame. Then I scrambled to slap at the MP player, shutting off the music and the sudden silence was almost deafening.

"Sorry, Heero," I muttered, grabbing my bag and stuffing things in as fast as I could manage. Wasn't staying in this room; uh'uh; no way... absolutely not, "I didn't see your things."

He didn't say anything for another couple of seconds and I was starting to wonder if one person could actually bore holes in another one with just a look.

"You don't... " he began and then stopped to clear his throat, "Dinner is ready."

Then he was gone.

I breathed a sigh of relief and got my ass out of that room as fast as my little feet would carry me.

I discovered there was only one other bedroom, there was only one bed in it and Quatre had already laid claim to it. Great; looked like I'd be sleeping on the couch for the duration.

I dug a black sweater out of my bag and pulled it on as I made my way to the kitchen, didn't want to be late for something Mr. Atomic Clock had scheduled.

Quatre was already sitting at the little metal table, dubiously eyeing the stew that Heero was dishing up. The kitchen was a dinky little thing and I had to grin at the archaic gas powered stove. There were exactly three chairs at the table and none of them matched.

I went around and got myself a bowl and scooped up a couple of ladlefuls of stew.

Behind me, Quatre kind of gasped and I glanced at him.

"What's the matter, Qat?" I asked when I found him staring at me.

"I've just never seen you with your hair down before." he told me. "You don't even look like yourself!"

I brushed a lock behind my ear self-consciously, "I... was in a hurry," I muttered and took the only open chair at the table.

Heero was eating his dinner with single-minded purpose, not looking up; you would have thought he was the only one in the room.

I nibbled at the stew, something I learned early in life; the slower you eat the more full you feel. If you stretch a slice of bread out over ten minutes, you can kind of fool yourself into thinking that you've eaten twice what you really have. Wolf it down and it's gone before you know it and you still feel hungry.

"It's good, Heero," I remembered to say... politely. He only grunted.

Not for the first time, I wondered what in the hell it was about me that pissed him off so bad he wouldn't even look at me most of the time. I sighed.

"What's the matter, Duo?" Quatre asked graciously and I could have kicked myself.

"Uhmmm... was just thinking; it'd be nice if our assignments were in Hawaii or California or someplace warm now and again," I evaded; rather artfully, I thought.

Quatre grimaced at me and nodded vehement agreement, "I hate the cold." He muttered and took another bite of the hot stew, shivering dramatically.

I laughed at him and then thought to look him over; he was wearing a pair of light cotton pants and a dress shirt, "Don't you have anything any warmer?" I asked.

He ducked his head in embarrassment, "I didn't have time to pack anything else; had to bring what I had with me."

We weren't that different in size, I think I'm a little bit scrawnier than he is and might have a half an inch in height on him but I thought my clothes would fit him, "I'll go through my things after dinner." I promised, "I think you can wear my size."

He threw me a grateful look and I realized that he must be really uncomfortable. The house was pretty damn chilly.

I forgot who was sitting across from us for a second and opened my mouth to ask if Heero had anything he might want to donate to the cause. He was quite a bit broader in the shoulder than either me or Quatre but still... none of us was all that different in size. Then I blinked at him. He was sitting there in just his jeans and a tank top.

"Damn, Heero!" I blurted, "Aren't you cold?"

I swear his cheeks colored slightly and he shrugged one shoulder without looking up, "Cold is irrelevant."

If Trowa or Quatre had said that, I would have laughed out loud and accused them of forgetting to pack cold weather gear. But this was Mr. Always Prepared, after all, so I kept my theories to myself.

I ducked my head and went out on a limb for the sake of doing the right thing and murmured, "Would you like to see if I have anything warmer you can wear?"

He actually flicked his eyes away from his bowl for a moment but only said, "I'm fine." There was a small silence and then, "Thanks anyway."

I almost choked on my dinner. I glanced up but he was totally focused on his stew again. I caught Quatre blinking owlishly across the table at our stoic partner and we shared a grin.

Quatre and I insisted on doing up the dishes and Heero disappeared to his room as soon as he was done eating.

"I think I'm making progress, Qat." I whispered while I washed and he dried, "I got through a whole meal without getting my head bit off!"

Quatre chuckled quietly and poked me in the ribs. "Don't get cocky; you'll get careless and lose an arm or something."

I snickered and handed him a clean bowl. "So, how is everybody?" I hadn't seen any of the others for a while.

He let his voice rise to a normal level as we talked amiably about his recent assignments and where he'd been. He'd seen some space time and I lamented my lack thereof. I'd done a little infiltration work and he bemoaned having few skills in that area. He reported his last meeting with Wufei, able to tell me that he was all right as of a week ago. I hadn't seen anyone any more recently than he had and wasn't able to give him the information that I knew he was secretly craving.

"I'm sure Trowa's all right," I murmured softly as we finished the dishes, letting a knowing smile curve my lips.

He blinked at me for a second and flushed the darkest shade of scarlet I have ever seen. I thought for a second he was going to faint.

"Duo!" he gasped, shocked as hell, "How did you... I mean... I... "

I laughed at him and reached under his chin to push his mouth shut.

"Because you freaking glow whenever he comes into the room," I told him with a wicked grin.

"Don't you dare ever tell anybody!" he burst out and his eyes were wide with fear.

I felt bad; I really hadn't realized that he thought it was such a deep dark secret, "I'm sorry, Quatre," I told him, "I shouldn't have teased you... I just thought... you two just look like you belong together... I... "

I was suddenly embarrassed, ducked my head and shut the hell up. He just stood and blinked at me.

"You don't think I'm... some kind of freak?" he breathed and I jerked my head back up to look him in the eye.

"Why in the hell would it make you a freak to care for someone?" I growled, a little harsher than I had intended.

Pure relief washed over his face and I suddenly found myself with a bundle of Quatre wrapped around my neck.

"I was always so afraid that if you guys ever found out... I kind of thought sometimes... but I... " It was his turn to not have the right words.

I hugged him back for a moment, if the truth be told, just enjoying the touch of another human being myself but then I straightened him up and drew him to sit down with me at the table.

"Qat." I told him seriously, "I have no idea how the other guys would take it but I don't have a problem with it."

He gnawed at his lower lip for a minute, "Before I met Trowa," he confessed softly, "I never thought about it one way or the other. I assumed that I just hadn't met the right girl yet."

I chuckled and laid my hand over his, "Never dreamed that you just hadn't met the right guy yet, huh?"

He flushed again and his jaw worked for a minute but nothing came out.

I knew what he was dying to ask me and didn't know how. I thought about it for a minute, trying to think how to put it into words.

"Listen," I said and my voice dropped another notch, "I'm not sure I believe in... gay and straight... I think that when you find that... person that you're meant to be with; it doesn't matter what package they're in." I frowned and looked off at nothing for a minute, trying to make the words come, "I didn't think I was... I mean, I always thought I was straight until... "

I glanced back at Quatre and found him grinning at me like a loon and I had this dawning sense of horror that I had just said too damn much.

"You kind of glow, too." he told me in the softest of voices and then his grin faded, "Or... you used to... before... " He just shut up and looked back at me with the most heart-broken look in his eyes.

I didn't blush. I went white as a sheet; I'm sure of it because Quatre looked scared and grabbed my arm."

"Duo?" he whispered, voice full of concern.

"No... nobody else knows?" I could hardly make my voice heard.

He just shook his head emphatically and I remembered to breathe.

"He'd kill me and scatter the body parts from here to the asteroid belt," I warned and managed to get a small, sad smile out of Quatre.

"I used to think... " he began and then stopped, looking up at me with those wide blue eyes, "But then he started being so... pissy... with you... "

He flushed at his own use of the near swear word and I chuckled at him.

I shook my head, "No... there is absolutely nothing in that man's heart for me but full-fledged loathing. No doubt at all."

His face crumbled and I thought for a second he was going to cry, I blinked at him stupidly. "Qat? What's wrong?"

"Seeing the way he treats you... I'm so scared that Trowa might react like that if he ever realized... "

He looked so damn vulnerable, wearing the shadow of my own pain on his face, that I pulled him toward me and let him lay his head on my shoulder, rubbing my hand soothingly up and down his back.

"Trowa's not like that," I told him firmly, "I can't tell you if he'd be interested or not... but I know him well enough to know that he'd never act like... that."

He nodded against my shoulder, "I don't think so either... but... "

"Just because my heart was stupid enough to decide it was going to pine after Mr. Freeze doesn't mean that you have to be afraid," I whispered, scared to death that we weren't keeping our voices down enough.

He straightened up and looked at me, "I don't see how you stand it." He sighed, "It would kill me if Trowa treated me the way Heero treats you."

I grinned at him, putting on the brave front. "I'm starting to think of 'baka' as a term of endearment."

He had to stifle a laugh behind his hand and I effectively ended that line of conversation.

He sobered. "Duo... I'm so glad we talked; it really helped."

I smiled at him warmly. "It did; didn't it?" I agreed.

Then I went to get my duffle bag from where I'd stashed it in the bathroom. The sweater I was wearing was the warmest thing I had and I shucked out of it and made him put it on.

"But Duo... " he objected, looking guilty.

"Don't worry about it," I assured him and found myself another shirt, a denim one, not as warm but at least long sleeved, "I'm more used to the cold. It doesn't bother me the way it does you."

He took the sweater, and a pair of heavy jeans as well, and finally went off to his room. As I had hoped, he assumed that I would be going back to the other bedroom with Heero. I waited until I was sure he was in his room for the night, then settled myself on the couch, using my duffle bag for a pillow.

Surviving one dinner without getting yelled at was not enough to make me brave enough to try and mount an assault on that closed door. I am not the suicidal one.

But by morning I really wished I had thought to pack a blanket; I was freezing my ass off.

I'm an early riser; old street habit, so before Quatre was up and about I had my bag tucked away and there was no sign of where I had spent the night.

I went scrounging in the kitchen, found some potatoes and left over meat that Heero hadn't used in the stew and set out to make hash for breakfast.

Quatre wandered in first, wearing my clothes and yawning hugely, and just sat at the table while I finished cooking.

Heero didn't come out until right before I was ready to put it on the table; I was pretty sure he was avoiding me.

He glanced at Quatre, and then at me and frowned slightly before he sat down at the table. Sometimes he just made me tired trying to figure out what was going through his head.

He was wearing his jeans and a plain t-shirt. I gnawed my lip a little bit before getting up the courage to offer him one of my shirts again.

"Heero... I have some long-sleeved shirts if you want to borrow... "

"I said I'm fine"' he said flatly and I backed off with a mental shrug of my shoulders. The hell with him.

Quatre was frowning at him like he was about to light into him with both hands; I caught his eye and gave him a warning look. All I needed was for Quatre to start lecturing Heero. I'd end up getting killed trying to save Quatre's ass.

I finished serving breakfast and turned the conversation to the mission. That's always a safe topic with Heero Yuy.

So we ate our breakfast and spent the next hour going over the mission objectives and the little bit of information we had available.

We didn't have a lot to go on; a report from a spy we had in the Oz organization that there was something covert going on here. The proverbial needle in a haystack.

"Well, we're not going to find anything out just sitting around this place." I ventured at last.

"I agree," Quatre said, "We have to get out where we can make contacts... meet people."

The prospect of him wandering around this neighborhood alone about froze my blood in my veins. I forgot about the mission for a minute and turned toward him."'

"Listen; Qat... " I began, trying to figure out how to say this without hurting his feelings; "I've been meaning to talk to you about that... "

He turned and met my gaze with an odd frown.

"This isn't... the kind of place we're used to staying." I didn't want to single him out by saying 'you're', "Most of the people we're going to run into around here are... drug dealers and hookers and the like."

I'm not sure which of the two of us was blushing more.

"You need to be real careful around here." I looked down at my hands, I felt bad; like I was saying he couldn't handle himself but I didn't know how else to put it. "You really shouldn't go out without one of us... "

Then I looked at Heero. Really looked at him with my head in 'street' mindset.

"Oh dear God... you're both going to stand out like sore thumbs," I blurted before I had a chance to shut my mouth on it.

Heero looked pissed, Quatre looked confused.

"Duo... I don't understand," Quatre said.

Heero didn't say anything at all.

I got up and walked to look out the window, turning my back on them, trying to pretend I was just talking to nobody in particular.

"Look," I said around a heavy sigh, "I grew up in places like... this. I know... what I'm talking about. There is nothing outside this door but predators... and prey. You are one or you are the other. You are a threat or you are in danger. And if you are perceived as too much of a threat then you are in a whole other kind of danger "

I turned back around and looked hard at Heero's stony face. "You are a predator. You look like a fucking undercover cop."

I turned to Quatre. "You are prey. You look like an easy mark."

Hell; now they both looked pissed at me.

"I'm sorry... I don't know how else to explain it. We are going to attract all kinds of attention when we go out there."

There was the longest silence and it was Heero who surprised me by breaking it.

"What are you?"

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