Playing With Fire
by Razorqueen

Sleet rattled against cracked windows, cold wind creeping through rattletrap wooden frames. Duo shivered.

Duo's senses alerted him a split second before the doors opened. Four OZ uniforms entered the lab. He caught a glimpse of at least four more outside in the corridor. Eight? Shit. They knew. "No bluffing your way out of this one, buddy," he whispered to himself. Not even these guys would send eight of their finest just to check on a maintenance man.

Turning his back on the mobile suit, he knelt on the catwalk and pretended to examine a light panel. His hand itched for his weapon, but if he pulled it now, they'd fry him before he even got to the ladder. Stay cool, he told himself, ignoring the pounding of his heart. There's gotta be another way out of this lab.

"You!" One of the uniforms approached the catwalk. Another circled around behind Duo, while the remaining two covered him with their guns.

Duo looked up. Try the "innocent surprise" routine, he told himself. Maybe a little overused, but still a classic. "Me?"

The uniform wasn't buying. "If you aren't climbing down that ladder in five seconds, I'll shoot you where you are."

Duo knew he was caught. Something inside him always knew when fighting or running would help and when it wouldn't. Not that knowing made a difference. He couldn't simply give up or give in, even if it saved him some pain in the long run.

At the bottom of the ladder, two of the soldiers grabbed him, slamming him against the wall before he had time to make a move. "Hands behind your head," the first soldier ordered.

Obediently, Duo raised his hands. At the edge of his peripheral vision, he saw one of the other uniforms holding something shiny. Cuffs, he thought. They were not putting those on him, no way. He threw his elbow into the face of the nearest guard. The man grunted and fell back a step. Duo used the opening to try to dodge past the other guard at his side, but the man tackled him and they crashed forward. The guard holding him slammed his face into the floor. Duo yelped at the pain, fighting against the gray wave that clouded his brain.

"Gonna behave yourself now?" The guard he'd hit kicked him in the ribs, then grabbed him by the neck of his coverall and hauled him to his feet. Apparently not satisfied, the man punched him hard in the groin.

Duo doubled over. Sickness roiled in his throat. Don't puke in front of them, he commanded his body. Don't let them know how fucking much that hurt. "Asshole," he muttered.

The man grabbed Duo's hood, along with a handful of hair underneath. He jerked, pulling Duo's head back and bringing tears to his eyes. "Is that where you want it next, you little shit?"

"Thanks for the offer, but I kinda prefer something in a bigger size, y'know?" Even before the words left his mouth, Duo knew he'd pay for the jibe. But the snickers from the man's companions made it worth the risk. The man backhanded Duo across the face, his academy ring cutting the boy's lip. "Fuck you, bitch," Duo snarled. He tried not to cringe as the man raised his hand again.

"That's enough." The first uniform stepped forward. "Colonel Treize wants him in one piece." He twisted Duo's wrists behind his back, took the cuffs from the other guard, and slapped them on. A sly smirk tugged at the man's mouth and he motioned to the guard who'd threatened Duo. "Search him."

Christ, Duo thought, trying to distract himself from the rough hands that pawed him. Don't these guys have any other ways to get their jollies?

It took seconds for the guards to find Duo's weapon. Duo stared at a smudge on the wall while one of them unzipped his coveralls. He swallowed hard, but remained unresponsive as the man ripped the holster from his thigh. Without bothering to zip Duo's clothes, the guard shoved him toward the door. As they escorted him into the corridor, the one he'd hit leaned close to his ear.

"Don't think I'm done with you, you pussy." He jabbed his weapon into Duo's lower back to punctuate his threat. "I'll make you wish you'd been a good boy."

Oh joy, Duo thought, as he allowed himself to be led away. This is gonna be so much fun. He felt a trickle of blood on his chin, and his head still throbbed. Someday, he promised himself, he would learn to keep his mouth shut.

It had taken Heero some time to understand the layout of the base, but now he moved confidently through the corridors without the help of his maps. He kept his head down and walked as if he were in a hurry. No one bothered him. Everything was going according to plan.

Except that he'd lost Duo.

The transports had arrived hours ago. Heero watched to make sure Duo was safely inside, careful to stay out of sight. He could picture the scene if that long-haired baka of a chatterbox discovered his presence. Duo's repertoire of profanity amazed even Heero sometimes. It wasn't the cursing he dreaded, though. It was what would come after the anger, the realization that the other Gundam pilots had not trusted him and the injured pride that would accompany the knowledge. Heero would swear his only concern had been the mission, and Duo would turn away so the others couldn't see the tears. He had no imagination, but it required none to predict what would happen in such a situation. How many times had they been through it before?

Heero located a network terminal in an unoccupied cubicle. The security firewalls in the system were fairly standard and he was around them in minutes. Quickly, he searched for any data that might pertain to Duo. There seemed to be nothing. Everything was going according to plan.

So why was an alarm going off in his head?

He searched again, scrutinizing every entry in the daily logs. Nothing--except for a notation in the security log that a new employee's scan had reported a null profile. Unaccustomed to fear, Heero barely recognized the cold sinking in his belly. Had he miscalculated by leaving the profile blank? Miscalculated. What a sterile word to describe what he'd done.

Fortunately, security didn't list any new prisoners. It would be all right. Everything was still going according to plan.

Duo figured out that he was being taken to Treize Khushrenada. Not that anyone had told him, but he caught enough scraps of conversation to get the picture. Hell of an entrance he was going to make, too. His coveralls still hung open, unzipped half-way down his body. The pain in his face had lessened to a dull throb, but his side still ached from being kicked. He'd twisted his ankle as they'd hustled him through the corridors, and he struggled to keep from limping. Yeah, he'd really impress the OZ commander.

Finally, Duo's guards paused in front of a set of locked doors like a dozen others they'd marched him through. Permission to enter was asked and granted, and two of the soldiers shoved him unceremoniously through the doors as they slid open.

Duo tried not to gawk at the room they'd entered. But never in his life had he seen anything refined. A faint scent of rose petals hung in the air. Even the light seemed warmer here. Everything in the room appeared to have been designed for beauty first, function second, including the huge carved desk. Duo had no idea what kind of wood it might be, but he'd have given anything to run his fingers over the glistening surface. It was the kind of room where he felt like someone would wallop him for talking too loud. What kind of a guy had an office like this, he wondered.

A voice called from the other room. "Leave the prisoner. You may go."

The guards exchanged startled looks, but obeyed immediately. That told Duo more about the man who worked in this room than the silver and porcelain objects that decorated heavy wooden shelves. Books, mostly leather-bound, lined the rest of the shelves. The well-worn bindings told him something about the man, too.

In the few moments since he'd entered the office, Duo had drawn a mental picture of Treize Khushrenada. The man who walked through the door looked nothing like the image he'd created. He was a lot younger for one thing, although he appeared to be perhaps a decade older than Duo. The pilot felt a moment of dissonance when Treize entered, then he laughed out loud. Duo realized he'd pictured the Colonel as looking something like Professor G with better taste in clothes.

Treize raised an elegant eyebrow. "I had no idea that being a prisoner was so amusing."

"Oh yeah, those goons were a laugh a minute, let me tell you." Duo thought furiously. He'd heard that voice somewhere before. Where?

The Colonel looked him up and down. Duo squirmed uncomfortably, wishing his hands were free so he could pull his clothes across his naked chest.

"They hurt you." Treize brushed his finger across Duo's bruised cheek, but even such a light touch was painful, and Duo winced. "I gave orders that you were not to be harmed."

"I don't think anyone gave them the message." Duo felt confused. Why was this guy acting like this? What did he want? He glanced up, catching the Colonel's intense gaze, and dropped his own eyes at once, but not before he felt his face and neck flush with warmth.

Treize walked behind him. Duo stiffened with apprehension, but relaxed slightly when he realized the Colonel had removed the cuffs. Duo hastily zipped his coveralls, feeling less vulnerable with his flesh mostly covered. Treize didn't speak again, but moved to an ornate sideboard, pouring coffee from a silver service into china cups. He added sugar and cream to both and offered one to Duo.

"Here. I don't doubt you could use this." Treize carried the other to his desk and sat down. "Please, have a seat. Make yourself comfortable."

Duo sat down awkwardly, sloshing coffee into the saucer. His hands trembled a little, and the delicate porcelain betrayed him, clinking loudly. He felt clumsy and out-of-place. Make himself comfortable? Yeah, right.

Trying to ignore the man who watched him so intently, Duo tasted the coffee. "Good stuff!" he blurted. "You're right, I can use this."

Treize smiled. "You've had a busy day."

"Look," Duo said, balancing the cup and saucer on his knee. "What's with all the polite shit? I broke into your base and you're acting like I'm your freaking guest. I don't get it."

"Don't you?"

Duo thought that the Colonel's voice sounded sad, but that had to be his imagination. "You treat all your prisoners this way?"

"Of course," Treize responded, his smile tinged with irony. "I prefer to charm information out of my prisoners rather than torturing them for it."

Duo laughed. The movement hurt his face, and the laugh ended with a sharp gasp of pain. Every ache and pain in his body seemed to flood back at once with increased intensity. He shivered despite the warmth of the room. Suddenly, he felt too tired to try to look anything other than miserable.

The colonel was beside him in an instant. "Here," the older man said, spreading a soft wool throw over Duo's shoulders. "You're cold."

The gesture jolted Duo with the shock of recognition. Startled, he dropped the china coffee cup, spilling the warm liquid across his thighs. "You! You were the guy on the bridge!"

Treize mopped at the spill with a linen napkin. Duo grabbed his hand. "Stop it! Answer me--that was you, wasn't it? The guy I talked to all night."

Treize straightened, then sat on the edge of his desk. "Yes. I watched you throwing stones into the water. You got angry at something, and I approached you. We sat on the bench next to the river and talked all night."

Duo clutched the arms of the chair, his knuckles white. "I knew I'd heard your voice before...and then you put this around me, just like you did with your coat..." He squeezed his eyes shut. He'd liked that guy! He'd been understanding, a good listener, and he'd never once tried to put the moves on Duo, even though Duo knew he wanted to. How could that have been Treize Khushrenada?

"I've thought about you often," Treize said quietly.

"Yeah," Duo admitted. "Me, too."

Like, every time Heero ignored him, which was about a hundred times a day. He'd been so pissed at Heero that night. Nothing he had done could get his roommate's attention. He had even tried walking out of the shower right in front of him, making a seductive ritual of drying his naked body. Heero hadn't even turned around.

Frustrated and rejected, he'd walked out of the safehouse without telling anyone where he was going. He'd show Heero. He didn't care, he'd take the first offer he got. He'd go home in the morning, looking like he hadn't slept and smelling of sex. Only he found he couldn't do it. So he wound up on that bridge, playing "he loves me, he loves me not" with pebbles. He never finished the game. What was the point, when he already knew the answer?

Then that guy--Treize, he corrected himself--had walked up to him. Duo thought he knew what the guy wanted, and that was okay with him. Expecting to be steered toward a hotel with hourly rates, he was surprised when Treize asked if he wanted to sit for a while and talk.

"About what?" No one ever asked Duo to talk. In fact, everyone was always telling him to shut up.

"Whatever you wish." Treize settled back, stretching his arms along the back of the bench. "You could start with telling me what made you so angry a few moments ago, if you like."

"Angry? Oh, you mean when I threw the rocks." Duo shrugged. "That was nothin'. Just a guy who doesn't like me as much as I like him."

Treize nodded sympathetically. "I'm not sure if anything hurts quite like that."

Duo looked at the handsome man. He obviously had money. His clothes appeared tailor made, even his jeans. He had an assurance about him that spoke of power. Who in their right mind would turn him down? "Right, like you know anything about it."

"You think I've never been rejected?"

Duo sniffed in disbelief. "Sorry if I sound cynical, but I have a hard time picturing it. Let's see--was it because you're too rich or too good looking?"

Treize laughed, although it had an undertone of self-deprecation. "I suppose I can see how it looks to you. But trust me, even I, as fabulously handsome and wealthy as I am, do not get everything--or everyone--I want."

Duo laughed, too. "Boy, your life must be really rough."

The older man's smile faded. "If only you knew," he said, almost too low for Duo to hear. Then he turned to the boy. "Here, you're shivering. That jacket of yours is nothing against this wind. Take my coat."

"What about you?" Duo protested, although the coat, still warm from his companion's body, felt good. Almost like a hug. Almost.

"I'll be all right." He leaned back again, his arm nearly, but not quite, brushing against Duo's shoulders. "Now, tell me about this foolish boy who doesn't care for you."

So Duo had told him about Heero, and about being a joker when he ached so bad inside he couldn't stand it and being afraid of dying before he really got much of a chance to live. And then he'd listened to Treize tell him about trying to live with honor in a world where honor had become obsolete. He remembered the way Treize had touched him, like he wanted to do a lot more, but wouldn't.

Yeah, he'd thought about that night a lot.

"So now what?" he asked Treize.

"Perhaps," Treize said, "you could begin by telling me your name."

"I guess I could." Duo looked away. "But it kinda depends on who's asking, Colonel Treize Khushrenada or the guy on the bridge."

"Which one would you answer?" Treize asked.

Duo studied his captor. Treize wore the OZ Specials uniform as if it were a second skin. Duo tried to picture him dressed in a sweater and jeans, the way he'd been that night, but he couldn't. In this room, it seemed as if only Treize Khushrenada existed. That other person had only been a dream. He looked away.

"I see." The colonel stood. He pressed a button on his desk. "I hoped to do this differently." Duo swore he heard a tremor in Treize's voice. "But I understand."

"So do I." Duo stood, his twisted ankle stiff and throbbing. It took effort to walk without favoring it.

The door signal jarred them both. Treize snapped, "Enter," and two guards obeyed. "Take the prisoner to the cell block. I want at least four guards outside his door at all times. No one enters except by my order."

Both soldiers saluted, the ranking one answering with a brisk, "Yes, sir!"

Duo gritted his teeth, but managed to follow the guards to the door without limping. Part of him wanted to turn, to tell Treize everything, his name, his mission, all of it. He knew that, had circumstances been different, they could have been friends--or more. And that, Duo realized, was what made him such a deadly enemy.

On to part five. Back to part three.