Playing With Fire
by Razorqueen

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

Duo slept as soundly as a child. Which he should have been, Treize thought, straightening the gold epaulets of his uniform. Anger spiked through him, a sudden fury at men who used children as their pawns. Had they no courage? No honor? Turning a child into a killer was as obscene a thing as Tsuberov building his mobile dolls.

For a long moment, he watched Duo sleeping, curled in the satin covers, his hair sweeping around him like a silkworm's unraveled cocoon. Before he put on his gloves, Treize granted himself permission to touch that glorious hair one more time. Duo wriggled, snugging himself more deeply into the covers. Even in his sleep, the young Gundam pilot radiated sensuality. Treize thought of the last hour. No, Duo was no child. War and poverty had stolen his childhood long before he'd been trained as a pilot. Whoever had made him into an efficient executioner had simply finished the job.

Pulling on the spotless white gloves, Treize tried to ignore the question that had burned through his brain from the moment he had carried Duo to his room--what now? What was he to do with his prisoner? Keep him as a pet? Hardly. As soft and willing as Duo had been in bed--once he had put his fears behind him--Treize knew the boy would gut him or die trying if he suggested such a thing. He did not deceive himself into believing that Duo Maxwell was docile.

In fact, Treize would not have found him the least bit attractive if he had been truly weak. A moment of weakness, perhaps--no, not even weakness. Confusion, yes, and pain. Even fear. But those feelings did not make a man weak. They were merely the fire that tempered his strength. The true measure of a man was not whether he had emotions, but rather what he did with them.

He sat carefully on the edge of the bed, unable to leave just yet. He found looking at Duo an intense, visceral pleasure, like looking at an artist's masterwork. In sleep, he was more beautiful than awake, if possible, his face free of the haunting stress of war that was constant during his waking hours. What a shame to have to wake him. Treize bent his head to claim one more kiss from the sleeping pilot.

"Can't leave your toy alone, Colonel?"

Treize whirled to face the owner of the voice. In the doorway stood an OZ security officer with unruly dark hair and hard blue eyes. He held a gun, aimed at not at him, but at Duo. One of his own men? Treize looked more closely. The uniform did not fit quite well enough. An imposter. Treize had long grown used to the idea that an assassin might one day find him. But why was his gun pointed at Duo?

The young man glared at Treize. "What's the matter? Nothing to say?"

"Talking seems rather pointless." Treize listened for other intruders. Nothing. Only one, alone. He could take him, but not without sacrificing Duo.

"Agreed. Move away from the bed." The iceberg eyes flicked toward Duo. Treize saw the gun quiver slightly.

"No." Treize shifted to put himself between the gunman and the sleeping young man.

"I'll kill you," he threatened.

"You'll kill me anyway." Treize returned the unblinking glare.

The intruder circled to his left, again putting Duo in his line of fire. "As you wish. It makes no difference." He aimed his weapon.

Treize tensed, waiting for the optimum split-second to act. Before he could move, Duo launched himself from the bed toward the gunman, a flying mass of limbs and hair, bringing the intruder to the ground.

"Heero?" Staring at their attacker, Duo sat back abruptly on his bare rump, eyes round with shock. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Treize tried to make sense of the scene. He failed.

Heero's gaze seemed magnetized to Duo, who still sprawled naked on the floor, his hair spilling down his back and shoulders. Treize feinted slightly to his right. Without wavering, Heero said, "Move again and he dies now."

Treize stopped. "Why do you want to kill Duo?"

"My mission is to destroy the enemy. That includes traitors."

"Traitor?" Duo scrambled off the floor. "Me? What the fuck are you talking about?"

"How else do you explain this?"

Duo's eyes narrowed dangerously. Treize saw the subtle change in his demeanor. If he'd been a cat, the fur on his back would have been standing straight. "Give me one damn reason why I have to explain anything to you."

"Your mission--"

"I already accomplished my mission. I was just working on my escape," Duo snarled, glancing back once at Treize. "You're the one who owes me an explanation. Why did you follow me?"

"Because I knew you couldn't be trusted."

Duo staggered back, as if Heero had dealt him a physical blow. He felt Treize behind him, the uniform buttons cold against his bare back. Gloved hands cupped his shoulders. "Why?"

"Anyone who is a slave to his body cannot be trusted. Anyone who gives in to emotion can be easily manipulated and is a potential traitor." Heero's voice sounded flat, almost mechanical, as if he played back a recording.

"You think I would sell you out? To OZ?" Oh God, that hurt. And it pissed him off. Rage and pain battled like a couple of renegade Gundams in his belly. "Go ahead, say it," Duo spat. "I can see it in your eyes."

Heero obliged, his voice more human but more frightening. "How long have you been Treize Khushrenada's slut?" The normally ice cold eyes burned. "How long have you been whoring for OZ?"

Duo winced. Slut, whore...Christ, it still hurt to be called names like that. And by Heero. That made it even worse. Treize's hands tightened on his shoulders, but he ignored the tacit offer of protection.

Heero must have seen the Colonel's small gesture. A contemptuous sneer pulled back the corners of his thin mouth.

"You bastard!" Duo's anger finally exploded. "Who the hell are you to get so self-righteous with me?" The cracks widened in the walls he'd built around his pain. The foundation of his sanity trembled. "Just because I feel things? Just because I can admit there's something that I need?"

Heero blinked, but showed no other response.

"Heero Yuy, you don't know shit about life. So listen close while I explain a few things. I was maybe eight years old the first time I got caught, buddy. A couple of guys chased me down in an empty lot. They took turns. And then they beat the shit out of me 'cuz I cried." His voice shook, but he mastered it. "Do you know how much it hurts when you're that little? Huh? Do you?"

Treize wrapped his arms around Duo, but he couldn't stop the onslaught of Duo's memories. From some distant part of his mind, Duo wondered who was shouting. He heard his own voice thick with anguish, but it was as if it belonged to someone else.

"I learned how to run, how to hide-eventually. But you know what I figured out after a while?" Duo clenched his hands so tightly that his nails cut into his flesh. "I found out that the rich guys didn't like to do it in alleys or empty lots. They asked nice, most of the time. And they liked warm, clean rooms. Guess what? So did I." He gasped for breath as the words continued to tumble out. "The first time I went with one of them, I didn't even know that mattresses belonged on beds, or that they were supposed to have sheets."

"Duo--" Agony choked Treize's voice. But Duo couldn't stop now. The walls had been breached.

"Have you ever just wanted to make a friend, have someone to talk to, but the other kids chased you away because you're dirty, threw rocks at you, called you names because you stank?" Distantly aware of Treize's arms restraining him, he continued to snarl at Heero. "But rich guys want you clean, so they let you use their baths. And if you're really good, sometimes they let you stay almost all night. So I learned to be good--damn good! Because I wanted to be clean and warm." His voice broke, finally. "Because I wanted to feel like someone wanted me for something, like I wasn't completely worthless."

Heero's face betrayed nothing. "Is that why you're with him?"

"Yeah. That's part of it." Duo's hand closed over Treize's gloved fingers.


"Like I said, Heero, I don't have to explain a damn thing to you."

In the same frigid voice, he asked, "Is that what you wanted from me?"

"I dunno. Probably." He felt drained, weak. If Treize hadn't been holding him, he'd have collapsed. Heero could go ahead and shoot him now for all he cared.

Duo sensed Treize glaring at Heero. He felt like a piece of raw meat that had been tossed into a cage with two hungry lions. It didn't help, either, that he was the only one not wearing clothes.

"Are you still going to kill us, Heero?" Treize asked.

"I'm still waiting for a reason not to."

"Then let me give you one," Treize said. "Duo, tell him what you discovered."

"You're sure?" Duo asked, surprised even though he knew how Treize felt about the mobile dolls.

"Yes. Go on."

Duo shrugged. "OZ is building some new kind of mobile suit, ones that are automated, totally computerized."

"Impossible," Heero said.

"Perhaps for the colonies. But not for OZ." Treize released Duo's arms, but not before moving him out of Heero's reach. "Imagine a war fought by machines. No casualties. No retreats, no errors. No fatigue. No reason to ever stop the fighting."

It would be like fighting a whole army of Heero Yuys, Duo thought. "There's only the prototype down there now, but it looks like they're not far from starting production."

"They aren't," Treize confirmed. "Unless you do something about it."

"Me?" Heero scrutinized the OZ commander.

"You and Duo." Treize turned to Duo, who was pulling on his clothes. "If you're able. How's your ankle?"

"I'll be just fine." He flashed Treize a lopsided grin. "Just give me a chance to do my stuff!"

"Even if we destroy this facility, they have the technology. What's to stop OZ from rebuilding?" Heero had lowered his gun, but still appeared unconvinced.

"Nothing, " Treize admitted. "And the next base will not be under my command. The Foundation already distrusts me because I've made no secret of how I feel about the mobile dolls. I imagine they will move the facility to outer space, beyond my reach. But it will delay them, long enough for the colonies to prepare."

Duo and Heero exchanged glances. Despite everything, they were both Gundam pilots. They knew who would fight the mobile dolls.

For the second time that night, Duo asked Treize, "Why are you doing this?"

Momentarily, Duo looked into the eyes of a man he had met on a cold, lonely bridge. Then the OZ colonel took control. "Let us say that I am trying to keep the playing field level."

Heero looked skeptically at Treize. "You're playing a dangerous game, Colonel."

"I know. Those who play with fire often get burned."

Duo grinned again. "But at least they don't freeze to death."

Treize returned the smile, understanding in his sapphire eyes. "Exactly."

Heero followed Duo through the lower corridors to the engineering labs, wondering as he did if he'd totally lost his mind. How, he asked himself, did he come to be collaborating not only with Duo, but with Treize Khushrenada? A mere hour ago, he'd intended to kill both of them.

Destroying the mobile dolls would do more damage to OZ at this time than killing Treize, who had admitted that his leadership of the organization was tenuous at the moment. And he had no definite evidence that Duo had actually betrayed them. It was logical, he assured himself, for him to take his present course.

He watched Duo closely, aware that he had begun to limp slightly. "Are you capable of completing this mission?"

"God damn it, I'll be fine." Duo shot him a murderous look. "We're almost there."

They entered the lab and found it empty. Treize had told them Tsuberov and his team would not report for another hour, at least. Duo led Heero to the prototype mobile doll. It looked like any other mobile suit to him, but he understood Treize's opposition, even as he understood Tsuberov's motives. Fortunately, Treize's goals coincided with their own at the moment.

"Let's blow the fucking sonofabitch up and get the hell out of here." Duo began to set the charges.

He's swearing like a sailor, Heero noted. He'd discovered some time ago that the amount of profanity Duo managed to cram into a single sentence was an accurate gauge of his emotional state. Without responding, Heero assisted, making certain that the crates of additional parts would be destroyed along with the prototype.

They made an efficient team, even though they did not speak to one another unless absolutely necessary.

"Ready?" Duo asked, the detonator in his hand.

Heero nodded.

"Ten minutes," Duo said. He activated the electronic fuse, then dropped the device on the floor and crushed it under his heel.

They ran for the door.

Heero's accurate memory guided them up through the lower corridors. They should have had time to reach the exits at ground level, but Duo was slowing down. They were still severel levels below that when a rumble deep within the base shook the floors. Alarms began to clatter, emergency lighting flashed on. The corridors suddenly filled with people, some running for the exits as the evacuation warning sounded, others pushing through crowded halls to reach their duty stations.

Using the chaos as a cover, they allowed themselves to be swept along with the crowd toward the exits. Heero grabbed Duo's wrist, dragging him along, forcing him to keep up with the stream of people. "So we won't be separated," he explained, feeling Duo about to protest.

Outside, groups of workers milled around in panic, looking for familiar faces. Soldiers guarded the transports and the gates, allowing no one to leave the immediate area. As Heero watched, the guards began organizing the frightened workers into lines.

"They're checking everyone," he said in a low voice.

"Shit." Duo looked around the fenced area. "We'd better make ourselves scarce for a while."

"Storage sheds," Heero said, indicating a cluster of buildings at the far end of the yard.

Duo nodded. They pushed through the crowd, Heero's hand still gripping Duo's wrist. They reached the sheds and discovered one that had been left open, probably when the lab exploded and everyone had run to find out what happened. Together, they ducked inside. Heero finally relinquished his grip on Duo and pulled the door shut.

Duo sagged to the floor, swearing savagely under his breath.

Heero knelt next to him. "You said you were fine."

"I said I'd *be* fine."

Duo often claimed proudly that he never lied, but he had more ways of selectively telling the truth than anyone Heero had ever known. "Splitting hairs."

"So?" Duo didn't look up at him, just sat rubbing his swollen ankle. "What's it to you?"

"Hn." Heero leaned back against the wall. "Injuries create a liability. I need accurate data to assess the situation."

"Has anyone ever told you that you talk like a fucking computer?" Duo's voice cut through the cold air, uncharacteristically sharp.

"Has anyone ever told you that you talk too fucking much?" Heero snapped back.

The two pilots glared angrily at each other. Duo was the first to look away.

"I know," he said so softly that Heero couldn't be sure he was meant to hear.

"You know what?"

"That I talk too much."

Heero's stomach lurched. He felt an insane desire to put his arm around Duo's shoulders and apologize. Instead, he said, "Then don't."

"Fuck you," Duo said wearily.

He sounds exhausted, Heero realized. "You rest," he ordered. "I'll take the watch."

"Fine." Duo lay down, his back to Heero. "If you're still gonna kill me, at least don't bother to wake me up this time, 'K?"

Heero didn't answer. In a very few minutes, Duo's regular breathing told him the other pilot slept. Duo could sleep anywhere, it seemed. He watched the slight rise and fall of Duo's chest, the long braid as it draped over his shoulder, brushing across his slender back. Even now, even after finding Duo naked in Treize's bed, his fingers itched to touch that hair. And then, another part of his mind added, to wrap it around his damn fool neck and strangle him with it.

On to part eight. Back to part six.