Death Becomes Her

All five pilots being in the same place at the same time is pretty much impossible when one takes into account the events of the series. Consider this placed sometime right after the end of the Eve Wars, and the pilots – and their Gundams – are still around to keep the peace while the government tracks down the last of the White Fang rebels, all right? Which explains why they're all in the same place – easy to call on if they're needed – with nothing to do.


Oh, Great God of Death (okay, maybe that was a bit too much – to pray to one's self. Yep, that was indeed the height of conceit), it was hot.

As in, 'if all my excess bodily fluids hadn't been sweated off, my skin would be dry enough to fall off my bones' hot.

Duo hated the heat. For more than just the physical discomfort it caused.

Not that the braided pilot could tell anybody that.

Quatre poked his blond head into the doorway of the rec room. "Hey, Duo, we're going to go swimming. Join us!" he invited.

"No thanks, Quat, I'm good." Can't very well say, 'I'm cool,' now can I? Duo snarked silently. Man, why did I think it would be such a good idea to make my motto, 'I run, I hide, but I never lie'? It's caused me sooo many problems…

Quatre frowned, obviously seeing the sweat pouring off the other pilot's forehead, but Trowa shouted for him and Duo was forgotten. A bright smile lighting his face, the blond bounded out to the pool area, skinning his T-shirt off as he went.

Oh, how I wish I could join them, Duo thought. A grimace crossed normally smiling lips. But better not risk it – even in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, it's still too dangerous…

The muffled sounds of splashing and playful shouting reached his ears and Duo grinned slightly. At least the others were enjoying themselves…

Lulled into complacency by the knowledge that they were as safe as could be expected in Quatre's mansion – even if the Bahamas in the summer wasn't exactly the tourist attraction one would expect, what with the equatorial heat index of one hundred and five – Duo slumped down onto one of the plush couches – making sure to choose the one placed directly under the path of air from the vent – and dozed off, the combined heat and happiness making the self-proclaimed Shinigami as sleepy as a young kitten.

Drowsing in mildly comfortable contentment, Duo's eyes shot open as the sense of someone stalking him reached through Morpheus' hold. War-honed senses were on the alert with the feeling that Something Was Not Right.

Too late. For the next thing Duo knew, the other four pilots had pounced on their most unsuspecting prey, each grabbing an arm or a leg before marching double-time towards the pool area with their captured friend in tow.

Panicked violet eyes flicked back and forth from Heero to Trowa, to Quatre and finally Wufei. "Hey, guys, what gives?" Duo demanded heatedly, struggling to no avail in Heero's iron grip. Pilot 01 had managed to grab both arms, leaving Quatre, the least strong of their number, to make sure no one bumped into anything – and to make sure Duo's long braid didn't drag on the floor. Damn the man, he knows my legs aren't as strong as my arms! Duo thought, becoming pissed that the so-called 'Perfect Soldier' would use such knowledge against one of his own teammates.

"I don't want to have to listen to you complain about how hot you are because you were too stupid to get into the water, Maxwell," Wufei grumbled, though there was a suspicious gleam of mirth in his onyx eyes that said he was also pleased at being able to play a joke on their resident prankster.

"Guys, this really isn't a good idea," Duo said, starting to panic. Damnit! And I had to wear these shorts. Yes, they're mesh, which allows for air circulation so I'll stay cooler, but they're also the ones that are a size too large and only the fact that my tank top is rather long is preventing them from seeing – or rather, not seeing – stuff. If I get wet…

Duo gulped. Shit, was Shinigami's silent succinct summation.

They were now at the edge of the pool, Wufei grinning like a maniac, Quatre with a giddy smile on his own face, Trowa with amusement dancing in his green eyes, and Heero letting only the slightest bit of satisfaction at having gotten the better of his teammate show on his normally impassive face.

"On three," Quatre said. He, surprisingly, seemed to be the ringleader of this little joke. At his words, the others clustered on either end of Duo's body, swinging their captive back and forth in preparation for throwing the pilot into the pool. "One, two…"

No! Duo screamed internally, already knowing it was too late.


And at the apex of their swing, all four pilots let go, allowing Duo to sweep through the air in a graceful arc – despite limbs flailing in last minute desperation as silent words prayed for a rescue – before falling with a giant splash into the deep end of the pool.

I am so fucked, was all Duo could think, sinking deep into the water. Reflexively opening a mouth closed over clenched teeth, Duo blew out water and stroked upward towards the surface of the pool, heading for the far end. Maybe if I can get out of here without them seeing me…

But it was not to be. For as Duo hauled a body dripping with chlorine-purified water onto the pool deck and stood to face the other four, the self-proclaimed God of Death realized two things simultaneously:

One, those mesh shorts had come off during the swim.

Two, that oversized tank top had as well.

Leaving Duo Maxwell wearing only a pair of simple white cotton boxers, the water plastering them to her skin and revealing what she didn't have below her waist. Her unraveled chestnut braid was the only support to her modesty.

Though maybe she should put that nearby towel to use…

Thief-nimble fingers quickly grabbing said terrycloth square, Duo wrapped it around her chest, tucking the corner in to hold it in place as her nonexistent bosom certainly wouldn't be any help in that area. She then folded her arms over her chest and brought worried violet eyes up to meet the stunned gazes of the four very confused, surprised and shocked Gundam pilots staring at her.

"Duo?" came Heero's surprised yelp.

Sighing in defeat, Duo realized she'd been found out, and there was no way in hell she'd be able to cover this – or herself – up.

Giving the Japanese pilot a lopsided grin, Duo said, "Hai, Hee-chan."

His scowl only at half-strength because of the perplexity induced by Duo's turn for the feminine, Heero growled reflexively, "Don't call me Hee-chan."

At least some things have stayed the same…though it might be just because he's in shock. "Since when do I listen to you when you tell me that, Hee-chan?" Duo joked, inwardly relieved that at least they could still banter back and forth like they used to.

Maybe this wouldn't be the worst-case scenario she'd envisioned.

"Maybe it's our turn to listen…Duo-chan." Heero raised one eyebrow archly, a rather smug set to his features as he finally got a chance to use the female honorific for the other pilot. Appropriately.

Duo gulped. Or maybe it will be…

Ten minutes later, they were all gathered in the living room, having all put on dry clothes. Quatre had also taken the time to make some tea, since he thought they all needed something to steady their nerves. Duo had also quickly rinsed herself off in the shower – chlorine was murder on long hair, and she wasn't about to let hers get all damaged and frizzy! – opting for her usual shirt and jeans, though in deference to the heat the shirt was white and the jeans were blue, instead of the unrelenting black she usually preferred.

Black was a slimming color, but it was also good for disguising her body shape, which, while not possessing the curves most thought indicative of her gender, wasn't really overtly masculine, either. But now that the others knew, it was a moot point.

Duo hadn't had time to put her hair back in its braid before she'd come downstairs. While a tense silence reigned around her, she acted as if she was unconcerned with her friend's reactions – when inside, she was quaking in her metaphorical boots – and proceeded to blot the majority of the water from her hair with the towel she'd taken from the poolside. She then brushed the mass out, nimble fingers working out tangles and then, separating it into three equal segments – more by feel than sight, as her eyes were focused on the other four pilots – with the ease of long practice, set about plaiting it into its usual chestnut rope.

When she had at last finished braiding her hair and snapped an elastic band around the end of it, Quatre finally decided to break the ice.

"I must admit, I'm surprised," the blond said, aqua eyes still looking slightly dazed by the recent events. "I never would have guessed."

Wufei snorted in disgust. "I knew it all along," he said pompously, though he too looked a little rattled. "I always knew you were an onna, Maxwell. That hair was a definite give-away."

Duo gave the bane of her aggravation a heated glare. Man, 'Fei really needs to get over his woman-hater complex. If it gets on my nerves – me, the most tomboyish girl of anyone I've ever met – I can only imagine what real girls would say. Reigning in her temper, she crossed her arms over her chest and said, "As if, 'Fei. You did not know."

"None of us did," Trowa put in quietly, his one visible eye showing an unreadable emotion.

"That was the whole point," Duo said softly, strain audibly, almost visibly apparent in her tone of voice.

Giving his partner – and oft-times roommate – a measuring look, Heero seemed to come to some sort of decision. "Is your name really Duo Maxwell?" he asked.

And the interrogation starts, Duo thought fondly. Heero was so predictable.

And in this unpredictable world – and current situation – it was nice to see that some things – and people – didn't change.

"As much as yours is Heero Yuy," Duo shot back, hiding a smirk at the start the other pilot gave, before glaring at her. "Yes and no," she said, continuing before Heero could do so much as turn his glare up a notch, "I never knew what my real name was." She looked down, fiddling with the tufted end of her braid. "When I was younger, I had a…friend…named Solo, so I took on the name Duo." She shrugged, trying to lighten the melancholy mood that thinking about her adopted 'brother' always caused and not let the other pilots know how much it hurt to talk about him. "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Duo for Solo, Maxwell for Father…and the middle name that no one knows about; Helen…

"Did he know?" Quatre asked curiously.

"That I was a girl?" Duo guessed correctly, continuing when Quatre nodded, "Yes. That's part of why he took me in. Girls didn't have an easy time living on the streets of L2. I wasn't the only girl who pretended to be a boy." Her normally vibrant violet eyes dimmed with memories that obviously still haunted her. "He promised to look after me; said he could protect me better if I pretended to be a boy. When I ended up at Maxwell Church, I didn't see any reason to end the charade."

Quatre frowned in disbelief. None of them knew much more than the bare bones about Duo's past, but she had spoken of the priest and nun with fondness; how could people so close to her not have known? "No one there found out, either?" he asked.

Eyes focused on her hands – which were fiddling with the golden cross around her neck – Duo said, voice tight with remembered grief, "Sister Helen and Father Maxwell found out eventually. They wanted me to go back to being a girl, but I fought so hard against it, they finally gave in." She wrinkled her nose slightly in a depressed grin as her right hand unconsciously moved to pet her long plait of hair. "Sister Helen was pleased that I grew my hair out, though."

They were all silent for a moment, sensing what it meant to Duo to reveal this much about his – her – past.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Quatre finally asked, his soft voice not able to hide the hurt clear in his tone.

Duo cringed and shifted in her seat to turn towards the blond. "I wanted to, Q, I really did," she assured the blond. Quatre was one of her closest friends, almost like a brother. For so long, she'd wanted to tell him – to tell them – the truth. But it had been too dangerous. "But…"

Feeling Heero's heavy gaze on the back of her neck, Duo looked up – straight into Prussian blue eyes that never wavered. "If more than one person knows a secret…it isn't a secret anymore," she said simply, her gaze sweeping the other three pilots after she'd spoken.

Heero stared at her, hard, then nodded once. "Yushi ryoukai," he murmured.

Explanation accepted, Duo thought, knowing only what the second word really meant. But unless the first word was a negative it wasn't like it could have been all that many different things that the Japanese boy had said.

Trowa was the next to nod, even throwing in one of his small, rare smiles. He too knew what it was like to wear a mask and keep devastating secrets.

Wufei followed shortly, though reluctantly. Maxwell was Maxwell – irritating beyond belief, one of the most annoying jokesters in the history of the world, and now that he knew the braided baka was a baka onna, well…

That explained a lot. Like her tendency to talk too much, her obsession with her insanely long hair, her body-shyness despite her lewd and at times almost crude sense of humor, her once-monthly periods where she stopped eating everything in sight, her addiction to chocolate and anything with sugar…

And the fact that the one time Duo had managed to talk Chang into sparring with 'him', when Wufei had finally managed to get the upper hand, and given one well-laced knee to the groin, Duo hadn't faltered at all, proceeding to slam him face-first into the mat.

Damn the onna for not playing fair. Injustice! Wufei thought, steaming with anger and not a bit of melancholy. He conveniently overlooked the fact that he thought it was unjust less because Duo was female…and more because Nataku had been, as well, but unlike Duo she hadn't survived piloting a Gundam.

Why Maxwell and not Meiran? At least my wife wasn't so annoying, Wufei brooded, the hurt of her death still clinging to his heart after all this time. Old wounds bleed as bright as new ones, sometimes. And they sting the most…

"I don't see how we could have missed it," Quatre mused, taking a good look at her. "I mean, you don't even have an Adam's apple." He laughed self-effacingly, rubbing the back of his neck as he looked at her, gaze focused on the smooth column of her neck. "I'm really starting to worry about my spying skills rusting if you've been here under our noses for so long and we never had a clue."

Duo quirked a grin at her friend. "Don't feel too bad, Q-man," she shrugged off his self-castigation. "You weren't looking for it. And it wasn't as if there were all that many opportunities – this is pretty much the first time all five of us have been in the same place at the same time." Actually, I think it is the first time…

"But still…" Trowa said quietly. "You would have thought something like this would have happened earlier."

Duo gave another shrug and smiled slightly. "Lady Luck shines on Shinigami, Tro." Though not today, apparently, she thought with rising gloom.

"But not this afternoon," Quatre said, giving a small chuckle.

Feigning a philosophical shrug, Duo said, "All good things must come to an end." I just hope one of those things isn't our friendship, she thought, chest tight with barely leashed fear.

Eyes lighting with a manic fire, Wufei said, "Now, wait a minute, Maxwell… That raid we were on two years ago, when we got caught by OZ…"

Dup blinked, thinking back. "Yeah?" she asked, frowning slightly. "What about it, 'Fei?"

"I remember you ended up using your shirt as a tourniquet for a cut I received on my leg," Wufei said, obviously uncomfortable at revealing anything that could indicate he had any reason to be grateful to his nemesis. "You were shirtless for over twenty-four hours – how could I not have noticed?"

Duo smirked. "Because you're an idiot?" she asked innocently. Because I have no cleavage? she thought sourly. Not that I want huge tits – so not easy to sneak around with melons on your chest – but it is kinda disturbing how easily I was able to fool four Gundam pilots into thinking I'm a guy.

Wufei growled, but before he could say anything in response to the other pilot's words, Duo continued.

Duo snorted, the inelegant sound proving that while she was female, she wasn't feminine. "You guys saw me shirtless this afternoon–" Quatre blushed, Heero stiffened slightly, and Trowa just nodded complacently, "–and if my shorts hadn't also come off in the water, then you never would have figured it out." She seemed perfectly certain of this fact, so much so that the others couldn't help but agree.

Well, three of them, anyway…

"I'm not so sure…" Quatre argued, obviously thinking that having over two dozen sisters made him a bit more familiar with the fairer sex.

"No, you wouldn't have," Duo said bluntly. "You've all seen me shirtless at least once before now." Only sheer force of will kept her from blushing; most of those instances had been planned on her part, so none of the other pilots would get suspicious about her body-shyness.

They all had to think it about it for a moment. Besides Heero, who had shared a room with Duo on various occasions and thus, had seen him – or rather, her – in various stages of undress multiple times, either when she was changing clothes or helping her tend to injuries.

Perhaps if he'd been paying more attention, he might have noticed this?

Duo smiled wryly. "Ah, the wonders of having no figure," she said self-deprecatingly. Not like I ever really wanted one…but it would be nice to actually look like a girl even if I don't normally act like one. "Hiding in plain sight. I have no breasts – as you all saw – no hips, and unless someone sees me naked, my hair is the only indication that I'm female." She shrugged.

Looking at her now, the others could only agree with her assessment. She looked the same as she always did: flat-chested, skinny as an alley cat, with wide violet eyes that had always had lashes longer than most women – most other women. The only thing that had changed was their perspective.

"So you've been lying to us for years," Heero summed up, blue eyes stormy with the hurt he'd never reveal to anyone.

Duo winced and sighed. Damn it… "No, I haven't," she stressed stridently. "I never lied to you about this. If any of you had actually asked me, 'Duo, are you a girl?' I would have said yes." I wouldn't have wanted to – I kinda wanted to keep my secret for this very reason – but I would have done it anyway.

"But don't you think is rather a…large…secret to have kept from us?" Quatre asked, aqua eyes wide with disbelief. "Your true identity?" He felt Trowa's wince and berated himself for his choice of words. Allah, and I'm suppose to be the sensitive one, he thought.

She blinked at him uncomprehendingly for a moment, then sighed and shook her head. "Quatre, I'm still the same person I've always been."

"Oh, really?" Wufei asked, daring her to prove it.

Duo smirked at him. "Really, Wu-man." Holding up one hand, she started ticking off points on her fingers as she spoke. "I like getting drunk, getting into fights, stealing stuff, watching action movies that consist of mainly people getting killed and spectacular explosions, and if there is any romance, it's more along the lines of 'I want you, you want me, let's fuck and talk about a relationship later,' instead of the, 'I love you, you love me, we're going to get married and live happily ever after with 2.3 kids and a dog in a little house in the country with a white picket fence.'" She took a deep breath, having said all that without inhaling, then continued, "I hate dresses, high heels, makeup, and jewelry, and I will never act like some kind of simpering dumbbunny without two thoughts in her head to rub together." While Wufei was just in the process of opening his mouth to comment, Duo shut him up with a wave of her hand and a growled, "Say anything and I'll cut off your ponytail and use it to gag you, Chang!"

Said pilot grimaced, but subsided back into his chair, unsure if she would carry out her threat or not. He'd never carried out his threat to cut off her braid, but then, he'd never been able to catch her.

Damnit, I refuse to change just because they know! It's just another type of lie. "I am not feminine, I will never be feminine, and there is nothing anyone can do to make me be feminine," Duo stated stoically. As if to prove her point, she took a large, very unladylike gulp of her tea and promptly let out a large belch.

Which was business as usual for the mannerless, male Duo Maxwell, so no one thought it too odd – until they reconsidered the act in light of her recent revelation.

Heero did not so much as blink. Trowa did, however. Quatre coughed and averted his gaze, as if not looking at Duo would automatically make her more like his sisters, and thus, understandable.

Not likely.

Wufei, however, was too busy arguing with Pilot 02 to bother insulting her – for the moment. "You just don't like the Peacecraft," he grumbled.

"Zechs is all right," Duo said, deliberately misunderstanding the other pilot. "If a bit too stuffy – like you, Wuffie." She smiled brightly.

"But he's a Merquise now," Wufei pointed out, frowning slightly at the mention of the former leader of White Fang. He scowled. "And my name is Wufei, Maxwell," he corrected her.

Duo just smirked.

Wufei sighed at this clear evidence that once again Duo was not going to cease mangling his name. "And must you act so…vulgar?"

Duo shrugged and downed the rest of her tea in one gulp. "I gotta be me," she said without apology. "I don't do the girly-girl thing. I mean, can any of you actually picture me in a dress?" She shuddered theatrically at the thought.

Four synchronized blinks were her response as the male contingent of Gundam pilots tried to do as she requested…and either failed, or found the end result too odd to contemplate.

She nodded in response. "Uh-huh. I thought so. Seriously, you can't honestly expect me to change just because you know now, can you?"

"It would be a bit…difficult to get used to you, but if it's what you want…" Trowa let his thought trail off, the others nodding slowly at his words.

Duo smiled lopsidedly. They'd put up with me becoming a Relena clone? They really do care! "That's really sweet of you guys, but you don't have to worry that I'm all of a sudden gonna change. Like I said, I'm still me," she stressed. "I'd rather pull pranks than paint my nails, I'd rather go to the scrap yard with Heero than clothes shopping with Sally, I'd rather wear pants than skirts, I'd rather work on Deathscythe than dress up. I hate cooking, cleaning, the color pink, and while I love animals, I'm not about to coo over them like a demented loon. I don't put ribbons in my hair; I hide lock picks in them. I don't wear jewelry; I carry knives and explosives. I belch, I chew with my mouth open, and I normally end up settling fights with fists instead of words. I'm pretty much a girl in name only." And doesn't it say something about society that a person can't go outside their defined gender roles without being interrogated by their friends? Duo thought miserably.

"I find that hard to believe," Quatre said honestly. "Of course you would have acted like that before. You were pretending to be a guy…" His helplessly confused tone of voice indicated that was trying to convince himself more than anyone else.

"But I wasn't pretending anything else. I was still acting like myself," Duo interrupted him. I was acting 'like a guy' because that's what I act like. "That is me, Quat. How can you doubt that?" she asked, face scrunched up in a confused frown. "I'm the same person I always was. You're just seeing me differently now."

"Well, that's true," Quatre agreed, though skeptically. "But it changes things now that we know."

"Why does it have to?" Duo asked, pain clear in her voice. She stared down at her lap, hands clenching and unclenching in her nervousness. "I am the same person I always was."

"Only now you're female," Wufei pointed out, saying the word 'female' as if it was an insult.

Duo gave a gallows laugh. As if I haven't always been. I haven't changed, only their perception of me has. "I've always been female, 'Fei. I was female when I 'stole' Deathscythe, I was female when I shot Heero the first time I met him, I was female when I painted Shenlong pink, and I was female when I dragged you all to that karaoke bar and dared you to sing late twentieth century American pop songs," she listed, a sullen anger growing inside her. "I was female when I blew up that armory last week, I was female when I won that pie eating contest at that fair last year, I was female when I drank the Manguanacs under the table at Rashid's fortieth birthday bash, and I was female when I managed to blow up that OZ base using a homemade bomb compiled of fertilizer, scrap metal, and a few strands of my hair for a trigger." She tugged harshly on her braid and gave them all an exasperated look tinged with just a tad of apprehension. "I may be a girl, but I'm a Gundam pilot same as you guys. I haven't changed," she reiterated quietly. But maybe how they feel about me has, she thought morosely, her previously hopeful outlook taking a nosedive into despair. I should've known things couldn't stay the same once they knew.

"In short, you're just the same insufferable baka you've always been, only without a Y chromosome," Wufei grumbled. I still don't believe it's that simple – nothing in life is.

He gets it! I think. Face lighting up with a grin, Duo agreed, "Exactly!" Huh. Who woulda thought it would be 'Fei who'd take this the best? Certainly not me.

Wufei blinked. Maxwell was agreeing with him? Has hell frozen over? "So, will you be getting a sex change operation then?" he asked facetiously, for once thinking before he spoke.

Duo looked at him as if he were crazy – not that that was an unusual occurrence. "You've finally lost it, haven't ya, 'Fei?" I like my 'parts' right where they are, thanks!

Trowa snickered, Quatre looked slightly worried that the two were going to come to blows, and Heero hid a smirk.

I should've known this would happen. Since when does not wanting to dress 'feminine' mean that I don't want to be a girl? This isn't the Middle Ages – girls can wear jeans and T-shirts with impunity and not be thought of as weird. Duo smirked to herself. Not that I'm not weird. "I'm perfectly happy with my life – and my body – the way it is," Duo stated firmly. Well, disregarding the small part that wishes I actually had breasts… "Insinuate anything to the contrary, and you might as well start making out your will."

Wufei raised one coal-black brow over onyx eyes filled with amusement. "My will?"

Duo smirked a Shinigami smirk. "'Cause you'll have one foot in the grave – and I'll be glad to push you in."

Looking as if he'd been sucking on a lemon, Wufei slumped back into his chair, grumbling under his breath about 'damn onnas.'

Now that the first barrages of questions were out of the way, Duo knew she had to find out what else had changed. They had accepted her reasons for not telling them – but could they accept her? "So…I guess this means you guys won't be able to work with me anymore, huh?" she asked dully, careful to keep her voice even. Time to find out how bad things are. Sheesh, you'd think soldiers wouldn't get so weirded out by having females on the front lines.

She conveniently overlooked the fact it was the shock and surprise of her apparent gender-reversal that was causing most of the problems. Surely the fact that she was a girl was not as upsetting as some of the things that happened to them during the war? Did the words 'ZERO System' ring a bell? Or New Edwards, or Heero self-destructing…

Duo winced internally at the memory. And he calls me the baka…

Heero had been staring at the girl with a thoughtful look in his eyes. Once he saw her sigh and duck her head, he snapped out of his musings and said sharply, garnering the attention of the other four pilots, "This is getting us nowhere. You keep asking the same questions over and over again, Chang, and while that might work for an interrogation, Duo isn't our enemy."

"You have no problem with his – her – deceptions?" Wufei demanded incredulously. "I find that hard to believe, considering that whenever it was required for us to share rooms, she always ended up sharing with you." It didn't need to be pointed out that the circumstances were the same at this safe house; Duo and Heero had been bunking together for the past week, business as usual.

Consternation crossed Heero's face, along with a trace of a blush.

Duo blinked at the sight, wondering what it meant. Surely Heero couldn't be embarrassed by having to share a room with a girl? She remembered once when she and Heero had been Relena's bodyguards during some aborted peace negotiations during the war. The Sanqian Princess had 'accidentally' walked in on Heero when he was changing after his shower. Duo had been focusing intently on a book so she wouldn't give herself away by ogling her roommate, but when the other girl had walked in, she took notice of the fact that Heero's expression hadn't changed one bit. He seemed to have no body-shyness whatsoever.

Duo was about to comment on that fact, to reassure Heero that she hadn't been ogling him behind his back – well, not too much. She was only human, after all, and Heero was one gorgeous guy, but she'd done her best not to take advantage of her situation – when she saw that while she had noticed Heero's face betray his embarrassment, no one else seemed to. Then again, she had shared a room with Heero on many occasions, and that, coupled with the fact that she was his best friend, had lent her the ability to decipher his minute changes in facial expression.

No one else seemed to notice anything amiss. Not even Wufei.

"And then there is fact that he – she's – been lying to us for over a year," Wufei continued his tirade. He was just gearing up for another rant on the subject, when Heero interrupted him.

"She never lied," Heero pointed out bluntly. "None of us ever asked." Duo had said as much not ten minutes earlier; if any of them had, she would have admitted her gender.

Of course, the four of them would have had to have been either drunk or drugged to actually have asked Duo if 'he' was really a girl… But that was beside the point.

Wufei huffed and muttered something under his breath about splitting hairs and that's why she had so much of it.

Quatre coughed to hide his chuckles at the joke Wufei had made, since he was the only one near enough to him to actually hear it.

'Round and 'round we go, where we stop…not even the God of Death knows. You'd think I'd announced I was a double agent for the Ozzies the way 'Fei's actin'. "Y'know, you aren't acting very honorable, Wufei," Duo said, her somber tone of voice and the use of the Chinese pilot's full name letting them all know she was serious.

Wufei's eyes flicked towards her in a glare. "What do you mean…woman?" He spat the last word like an epithet, as was his usual wont.

"I mean just that," she said, referring to his final word. "You're three shades away from treating me like dirt." Her lips quirked up in a half-grin. "I guess that means my name is mud with you, ne?"

Disquiet flickered across Wufei's face, there and gone in the blink of an eye. Duo almost thought she imagined it.

"You cannot seriously think that nothing will change from this, can you?" Wufei asked her.

"I would have thought you were all intelligent enough to not make a Gundam out of an Aries," Duo grumbled. Geez, it never bothered any of them to fight with women before. And I am still me; this new information doesn't invalidate anything I've accomplished. Her thoughts took a downward turn, her normally smiling lips following suit. If they really think it has, then they're not the people I thought they were.

Quatre flushed slightly and ducked his head, duly chastened. Trowa and Heero remained silent.

Wufei, however, was once again working up a full head of steam. A month with no real missions and Maxwell playing more practical jokes on him than she had in the entirety of the war had made him more than a bit short-tempered. And the braided girl was his favorite target, if for no other reason than she was mostly the cause of his ire. "Regardless, you do not mean to suggest that things can just continue on in the same way as they have been?" Wufei asked.

"I certainly see no reason why not," Heero answered. It was obvious he had been surprised by the revelation about Duo's true gender. It was equally as obvious that this information didn't change the way he felt about Duo. She was a more than competent pilot and a member of their team. As such, they should be able to work together as before.

The fact that 'gender inequality' wasn't something that Dr. J had ever covered in his training lectures probably helped him keep his macho tendencies at bay more than anything else, however.

Trowa just nodded his assent.

Duo's eyes turned involuntarily to Quatre, who was squirming in his seat, eyes downcast. "What's up, Kitty-Quat?" she asked solicitously. "I didn't think you'd be taking this so hard." What with his uchuu no kokoro and all, I realize emotions hit him harder than other people, but he's also had more practice dealing with them.

Quatre's head shot up at that. "I'm not!" he objected. At her look, he mumbled something under his breath that no one was able to decipher.

Brow furrowing underneath shaggy chestnut bangs, Duo scooted over to sit next to the blond on the couch. "Wassup, lil' bro?" she asked, hoping the reminder of their close friendship would get him to open up to her.

Quatre winced. "That's what's up," he mumbled.

It was Duo's turn to flinch. He doesn't want to be my 'little brother' anymore? I thought, if no one else, he'd at least remain my friend. "Oh?" she asked, doing her best to keep her thoughts out of her voice – and hoping desperately that Quatre's uchuu no kokoro was on the fritz again. She didn't want to overload him with her disappointment.

Quatre sighed. "Well, it's just… Remember when we were in the desert that time?" he broached the subject tentatively.

Duo nodded, firmly reining in her tendency to break down when she remembered how Heero had self-destructed. Thinking he was dead…she'd wanted to be, too. And ever since she'd found out Heero was alive, she'd stuffed thoughts like that into a box in her mind marked 'Here There Be Ozzies,' locked it, and thrown away the key. It was just too painful otherwise.

"I already have twenty-nine older sisters. I liked the idea of having a brother," Quatre said morosely. He wasn't just down in the dumps, he was below them.

"Well…" Duo floundered for a moment before finally coming up with a tentative solution. "I'm younger than you, at least – I think, anyway – so I can be your first younger sister," she offered. "And, hey, I could still pretend to be your brother."

Quatre chuckled weakly and looked up at her from underneath his blond bangs. "Not as if that'd be a stretch for you, eh?" he teased.

"Not much of one," Duo agreed. A smile of relief bloomed on her face as she realized that while Wufei was being his usual tight-ponytailed and -assed self, Quatre was okay with her as she was. He's just disappointed, Duo thought, elated. Well, I can fix that…

"Yeah, that's the ticket! I'll teach you all those things older brothers are supposed to teach their younger brothers," Duo said, getting into it. "I can't teach you how to fish, because I don't know how, so… And you already know how to fix a Gundam… Oh, hey! I can teach you all my thief skills!" she said excitedly. Duo bounced eagerly up from her set and plopped herself down almost in Quatre's lap, one arm slung over his shoulder in companionable closeness. "I can teach you how to hotwire a car, how to pick someone's pocket, how to pick locks… Breaking and Entering 101! Whaddya say?" She grinned disarmingly at him, innocence personified overlaying a mischief-maker persona.

Unable to hold back his own grin in the face of such sincere exuberance, Quatre could only laugh. "I suppose if we could find some willing 'victims' to practice on…" he consented not-entirely reluctantly.

"Cool!" Duo agreed, a gleam in her eyes as she surveyed the other three pilots – soon to be said 'victims,' Quatre was sure.

"Wonderful. Teach him how to be a common criminal," Wufei grumbled under his breath.

"Hey, 'Fei, I am anything but common," Duo rebuked him, fire flashing in her eyes. Turning a smirk Quatre's way, she stage-whispered, "And the first thing we steal is the stick up Wufei's ass."

"Sounds like a plan," Quatre murmured back, hiding his grin.

Wufei growled, and none of the others assembled would have been surprised to see smoke come out of his ears.

"Now that you're 'officially' part of the family, Duo, I suppose I should introduce you to 'our' other sisters," Quatre said, deftly changing the subject. "About a dozen of them are coming over for dinner next week; why don't you join us?" Glancing at the other pilots, he flushed. "All of you," he amended.

Wufei look as if he wanted to decline – but his honor wouldn't let him retreat, even from a large group of nigh-unto deadly women. He nodded curtly in acceptance of the invitation.

Trowa smiled and simply said, "Sure."

Heero grunted his acquiescence. He looked too preoccupied – over life, the universe, or pretty much anything – to be fully aware of what he had just agreed to. And what horrors he had just let himself in for.

"Just promise me you won't let your sister Anastasia anywhere near me, okay, Quat?" Duo said pleadingly, giving the boy her best 'soulful puppy eyes' look. Duo had heard about Anastasia at length from the blond boy and had no wish to make her acquaintance. 'Staci' was the girliest girly-girl to end all femininity. She made Relena look like even more of a tomboy than Duo was.

Hiding a smile, Quatre schooled himself to impassivity and pretended that he had misheard his friend. "Well, Duo, she isn't coming to dinner, but if you wanted to meet her, I could arrange it…" he suggested with patently false innocence, aqua eyes bright with barely-concealed mischief.

The expression of pure and unadulterated horror on Duo's face caused Quatre to burst out into giggles.

Glaring razor-sharp daggers at the blond, Duo growled, "So very not funny, Quatre. If I wanted to act like a girl, I'd do it – my way."

"Personally, I think it is funny that you defy pretty much every single female stereotype," Trowa put in. His facial expression was completely bland, however, and one couldn't tell from looking at it that he found the idea humorous – unless one saw the suspicious sparkle in his green eyes.

Rolling her eyes, Duo said, "This is why it is a good idea not to subscribe to stereotypes, Tro."

"Wish I'd learned that earlier," Quatre grumbled under his breath.

Wufei's eyes narrowed in confusion. Trowa raised an eyebrow in inquiry. Duo just said, "Huh?" and was echoed by Heero's own inquisitive tilt of head.

Quatre's cheeks heated up; he obviously hadn't meant to say that aloud. "Well, you try growing up with twenty-nine older sisters and see if you don't have an ingrained urge to treat all members of the female gender differently," he said peevishly.

Duo snickered at the sourpuss look on the normally aristocratic blond's face. "If it helps, Quat, you can still think of me as one of the guys." She grinned. "And I promise not to flash you." Except on special occasions, Duo finished silently. Teasing Quatre was just too much fun. He turned the most interesting shade of red when he blushed. It was…cute.

Quatre blushed – a light rose shade instead of the oh-so-interesting red – but chuckled at her joke. "The 'brother' I never had, indeed," he murmured. "Ribald jokes, bathroom humor and all."

Trowa simply gave her an arch look and said, "I hope that consideration extends to the rest of us."

Shooting an amused glance in Wufei's direction – and purposely avoiding looking at Heero – Duo pouted prettily. Wufei really needed to lighten up, and teasing Heero was one of the few ways she got him to show emotion. "Aw, Tro, you don't really wanna take away all my fun, do ya?" she mock-whined.

"Yes," Trowa said bluntly. "It could cause…problems…with team dynamics," he added needlessly.

"As could you being female," Wufei put in, emphasizing the last word with scornful disgust.

"I don't see how," Duo said. Well, with the last one, anyway, and only if the guys are gonna act like idiots. I can continue on with my missions same as always; not my fault if they can't deal, she grumbled silently, her thoughts taking a turn for the morose.

"You flirt as naturally as if you're breathing. And you do it with anyone with a pulse – us most often," Trowa pointed out. "That takes on a whole new meaning now that we know you're female."

Oh, and 'Fei found it so easy to ignore me when he thought I was a guy. Always loudly proclaiming his masculinity as if being anything other than heterosexual automatically makes you a drag queen. Hell, I'm straight and a drag king. "What, you mean to tell me that you wouldn't be able to resist my feminine charms?" Duo asked in mock-abashment. I wish. Heero, at least… She quickly nipped those thoughts in the proverbial bud. Nothing good could come from hoping for the hopeless.

Wufei snorted and Heero looked vaguely amused – it was all in the eyes with him. Quatre actually giggled.

Trowa's lips pursed in a wry frown. "Aren't you the one who's always insisting that resisting Death is futile?"

Gee, I didn't realize any of them ever listened to me when I babbled. But that wasn't really the point she was trying to make, here. Duo cocked one chestnut brow. "A prankster I may be, but I ain't a home wrecker," she stated flatly. If they haven't fully figured it out for themselves yet, then I am damn well gonna push them.

Even if 'Fei doesn't really deserve my help – he's not the only one involved, here, anyway.

"Meaning?" Trowa prompted.

Duo smirked. "Meaning I noticed the looks you and Quatre have been exchanging even if you didn't, and I noticed how 'Fei stopped calling Sally an onna about six months ago."

Wufei choked. Quatre blinked rapidly, a light blush coming to his cheek.

"Quat, you need to tell your older siblings these things, so they can congratulate you and deliver 'The Speech' to your intended," Duo chided him, voice filled with mock-severity.

Flustered, Quatre parroted back, "Things? Speech?"

"The fact that you and Trowa quit looking and started acting," Duo said plainly.

Quatre flushed that oh-so-interesting red and seemed to almost sink into himself in mild mortification.

"How did you know?" Trowa asked, not at all perturbed.

Duo mused on that for a minute. "Well, it could be the fact that you two share a room, but only one bed is ever mussed up, the fact that I can hear moaning coming from your room on a regular basis…" she considered, one finger tapping her chin in a show of mock-thoughtfulness. Then she smirked. "Or it might be because I caught you making out in the hangar after your last mission."

Quatre coughed, cheeks flaming an even brighter and heretofore unseen red. At this rate, his blood flow would have a hard time getting redirected elsewhere except his face.

"And as for the speech," Duo continued relentlessly. "I'm referring to the time-honored traditional warning of older siblings everywhere: Hurt him, and I'll kill you." The wicked grin on her face did not belie the seriousness of her threat.

Trowa smiled ever-so-slightly, his green eyes blinking with cat-like calmness. "Heard and understood," he said softly.

Wufei gave a derisive snort. "Matchmaking," he scoffed. "That's women's work. And you're mothering him – needlessly, I might add. No matter what you say, the God of Death is still a weak woman," he spat.

That. Is. Fucking. It. Glaring heatedly at the other pilot, Duo said, voice clipped down to its barest bones of anger, "Wufei…unless you've ever fought a dozen OZ soldiers off in hand-to-hand combat, on four hours sleep in the last fifty-six, with a broken arm, five cracked ribs and while enduring the most hellacious menstrual cramps to ever hit womankind – and won – then you. Do Not. Get. To Call. Me. Weak." She spat out the final word with a vitriol heretofore only heard on the battlefield.

Wufei blinked, a slightly impressed look entering his eyes despite himself, before they shuttered and once again became hard obsidian orbs.

I realize he's rattled, but that's no reason for him to be so stubborn. I don't even know where all this animosity is coming from. "Oh, and 'Fei-chan?" Duo said innocently, one hand coming up to cup the Chinese pilot's face in an almost gentle caress. "If I had no self-control, I would have gutted you the first time you called another girl 'baka onna'." She smiled ferally only inches away from his terrified visage. "Hell hath no fury like Shinigami pissed off. You'd better run, because Death's comin' for ya."

Wufei swallowed hard, his eyes widened and…

…he fled.

Blinking with catlike placidity after the metaphorical dust left in the wake of the departing pilot, Duo smirked. "And who's weak, Wufei?" she asked softly.

Quatre coughed to cover his chuckles. Trowa just smirked. Heero…was blinking in overt confusion, trying to figure out what Duo could have said to Wufei to make him run off like that.

Glaring at the three remaining pilots, Duo said, voice clipped, "I'm done answering your questions. When you're ready to accept me, come find me." With that pronouncement, she swept out of the room in a cloud of righteous fury and chestnut hair.

An hour later – down to the second; he was very precise – Heero tracked Duo down to the balcony at the end of the third floor hall. The braided girl was leaning on the railing, staring out at the back lawn with a dull, depressed look on her usually vibrant eyes. Heero would have sought her out earlier, but he knew she needed time to calm down. He hadn't been able to stay away for any longer, though.

"Hey, Hee-chan," Duo greeted him tiredly.

She hadn't even had to turn around to know that it was him. Heero felt a moment of gratitude that despite today's revelations to the contrary, he and Duo still knew each other better than anyone else.

"Are you…all right?" Heero asked tentatively. He couldn't imagine how…awful Duo must have felt, agonizing over how they'd take discovering 'her' secret. And having to sit there and trying to calmly answer their questions while he and the other male pilots basically interrogated her… Not to mention Chang acting like a…a… Well, Noin had once called him a 'chauvinist idiot', and that description seemed to fit the other Asian boy in this instance. Rather aptly, in fact.

Duo shrugged and turned her head to flash him a wobbly smile. "I'll be okay," she said, before switching topics. "Got more questions for me?" she said.

Her voice was teasing, but there was a hard note to it, and Heero could see the banked fires of resentment flashing in her indigo eyes. "Only if you want to hear them," Heero replied, and watched the fires flicker down to mere embers.

"You can ask whatever you want, Heero – doesn't mean I'll answer," Duo cautioned with a grin.

Heero nodded, gathering his thoughts. He decided to start at the beginning, with something…mostly neutral. "You call yourself Shinigami," he began, and waited for Duo's answering nod before asking, "Why not Shinimegami?" Heero actually had yet to figure out why Duo would use the Japanese word for 'God of Death' as her moniker when she didn't even speak the language, but that could wait for another time.

He had a feeling it was a rather long and intricate explanation, one that would necessitate a lot of roundabout storytelling on Duo's part.

Duo smirked. "Goddess of Death?"

"Hai," Heero agreed.

"First off, I never would have called myself that in front of you guys because then you would have figured out I was a girl," Duo stated, punctuating her statement by jabbing her index finger at him.

Heero nodded in mute acceptance of that fact.

"But the real reason I never called myself the Goddess of Death was because I never found one," Duo admitted ruefully. "And believe me, I looked. I could've called myself Valkyrie, but I'm not blonde, and I can't sing. And that would have been another tipoff to my true gender."

Heero searched his memory and came up with the Norse legend of women who took the greatest warriors from the battlefield in preparation of Ragnarok, the battle at the end of the world. They were said to sing as they harvested the souls. Duo wasn't tone-deaf, but she could really only sing harmony.

"Only thing close I came across was in Greek mythology," Duo continued.

Heero made an inquiring, "Hn?"

Duo hid her chuckle at this so-typical Heero sound. Efficient to the max. Never uses an actual word when a grunt'll do… "The Greek God of the underworld was called Hades. He had two…lieutenants, for lack of a better word…that worked for him. Thanatos was where the image of the scythe-wielding Grim Reaper came from – he gathered most of the souls. Celeste gathered the souls of the honored dead. Great warriors, nobility…" Duo sighed. "I've always thought of Death as the great equalizer, and I believed that those born to privilege shouldn't…well…"

"Have privileges even in death?" Heero guessed correctly.

Duo nodded. "Exactly."

Heero thought about this for a moment, eyes unconsciously making a sweep across the back lawn as he considered her words. "Is that why you don't like Relena?" he asked finally.

Gak! When did he get so perceptive? "That's part of why I had such a grudge against Relena," Duo admitted grudgingly. "I don't really have anything against her personally, per se, but…" She shrugged.

Heero frowned slightly. "But?" he prompted gently.

Duo fiddled with her braid, and looked away. "I was jealous…that she could try and get close to you and no one thought anything of it." Duo flushed slightly at her own words, and for a moment, Heero was startled. Duo never blushed. She could toss sexual innuendo around with the same casual ease as she could pick a lock, and with the same amount of nervousness – none.

It hit Heero, all of a sudden, that Duo had been joking all of those other times. Now she was being serious, and her usual defenses – talking too much, but rarely saying anything, coupled with her façade of the laughing jester who never took anything seriously – wouldn't work here.

A zing of warmth shot through Heero's long-inert heart as he thought that he just might finally be seeing the real Duo Maxwell for the first time – and in more ways than one.

Maybe she means… Maybe. "Trowa, Quatre and Wufei may all be taken…but you didn't mention me," Heero said, a flicker of some indefinable emotion in his eyes.

Duo just stared at him for a moment, trepidation in her eyes, before she seemed to come to a decision. She spun back around to stare sightlessly at the expanse of green lawn in front of her. "That's because I never lie," she said softly.

Heero frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Hee-chan, from the first time we actually worked together, I've been trying to be your friend," Duo reminded him. Never expected it to become something more. Never wanted the complications.

But I need him.

An unfathomable expression on his face, the Japanese boy said, "I know." He looked down at where his hands were reflexively tightening and loosening his hold on the balcony rail. He opened his mouth and hesitated, seemingly judging his next words before saying, "I never really understood that."

Hearing those quiet, almost broken words, Duo slid closer to her partner, bumping his arm with her shoulder in a gentle nudge to make him look at her. "Understood what?" she asked, voice just as quiet as the other pilot's had been.

"Why you wanted to be my friend," Heero said simply, staring out into the distance, eyes glazed over as if he wasn't really seeing anything. "I've never been a nice person, and I'm fully aware of just how socially inept I am… I don't understand why you'd want to be close to me. You're…" he floundered for a moment, "…such a nice person, so good with people; you could have anyone for your friend. You do have the others…" Looking up into her eyes, his own searching for answers, he beseeched, "Why do you need me?"

"I don't," Duo said, mostly truthfully – Not just as a friend – then continued quickly as she saw Heero's face fall, "But that doesn't mean I don't want you as my friend." Or more, she added silently.

Heero smiled then, that small, lopsided grin that made Duo feel privileged to be the recipient of such a sincere and rarely-offered gesture. "I'm…I'm glad you're my friend, too, Duo."

Duo gave him a brilliant, gamine grin of her own. "Me too, Heero."

The brightness of Duo's smile couldn't hide the shadows in her indigo eyes, however; something which Heero was quick to pick up on. "You…never did answer my question," he said softly.

Startled, Duo turned wide, flustered indigo eyes Heero's way. She swallowed hard. "I didn't, did I?" she asked, panic-stricken laughter bubbling up inside of her. My misdirection has been misdirected…

Quirking a brow at her choked-back chuckles, Heero said simply, "No."

Duo sighed and slumped back against the railing, pointedly looking down at the floor – and not at Heero. "I said that I never lie…and what I meant was that I never wanted to give you the wrong impression." I'm not gay. "And it wasn't like I could go after any of you guys without either continuing my deception, or telling you and risking rejection," she finished, trying to take comfort in the vague nebulousness of those words. Maybe he'll let it go at that.

Duo sighed internally. Yeah, right.

"Lie?" Heero prompted, blue eyes shining with curiosity, and…something like anticipation?

Confused, Duo could only hope that her true answer to Heero's question wouldn't irreparably fuck things up between them. "Wufei asked why I never tried to get close to any of you," Duo replied, needlessly reminding him of the other pilots' question.

"Hai," Heero acknowledged.

Duo gulped and steeled herself. And here we go… "What he failed to take into account was that I've been trying to get close to you guys."

"Not romantically," Heero pointed out.

"Not much difference," Duo said bluntly. "Love is love, whatever its focus." Yeah, only the love that I'm focusing on you is about a bazillion times greater than anything I've ever felt before.

"Like the way you loved Solo?" Heero asked, equally as blunt, though his tone of voice was gentle.

Duo smiled sadly. "Solo was like my older brother. He…" She swallowed. "He died when I was about eight. If he'd lived…" Shrugging, she ducked her head and did her best to hold back tears. "Maybe. Who knows? But…"

"But?" Heero said quietly, in that way that Duo knew was an encouragement to keep talking.

Duo let out a shuddering breath. "But you can't spend your whole life asking 'What if?' What if Solo had never died? What if Father Maxwell and Sister Helen had never died?" She flinched and ducked her head from Heero's all of a sudden too-intense gaze. "What…what if I'd really been born a boy?"

"You wouldn't be who you are now," Heero said simply.

Duo chuckled lowly. But does he like who I am now? "Exactly. 'What ifs' don't get you anywhere. You have to focus on the 'What might bes.'"

Heero was silent for a moment, chewing on his lower lip in the outward sigh of nervousness he'd adopted from watching Duo. "What might be…with us?" he asked tentatively.

Duo's eyes shot open in surprise, but she reeled herself in, knowing there was still more she had to get out. "There are some 'What ifs' that you have to ask, though," she continued, purposely ignoring Heero's question.

Heero frowned, not liking that she was ignoring him, but sensing that what she had to say was important. "Such as?" he asked guardedly, unsure if he was going to like the direction of her thoughts.

Duo swallowed hard. Now or never… "Like… What if…you cared for me, the same way I care for you?"

Heero's breath caught in his throat. He thought he finally understood where the idea of someone's heart skipping a beat came from. He felt sure his had skipped two. "I don't know the answers to all your questions, but I can answer the last two," he said softly.

Indigo eyes widened as they fastened onto and locked with Prussian blue. "Nani?" Duo spluttered as she scrambled to remember which two questions those had been.

Taking a deep breath as if for courage, Heero said, "If you'd really been born a boy, I would feel the same way about you as I do now."

Breath catching in her throat, Duo gulped back her peremptory tears. Oh, please, oh, please… she begged a deity she didn't even believe in.

"Which, I hope, is the same way you feel about…me," Heero said, an almost questioning lilt to his voice. "Suki da, Duo," he murmured.

Her guts twisting into tight, complex knots, Duo croaked out, "You…really?" He does?

Heero nodded jerkily. "Hai," he confirmed softly.

Duo's smile could have rivaled the sun in its brightness. "Me too," she whispered, and threw herself into his arms, hugging him so tightly that he thought she'd crack his ribs. Heero was once more reminded that despite her slenderness, Duo was not nearly as weak as her appearance suggested.

He was also reminded of why he never minded Duo touching him – because it felt so good. It made him feel…cared for. Not many people had ever cared for him, and none the way Duo had.

It was only when he caught himself nuzzling Duo's hair and smelling that faint hint of gunpowder and cinnamon that seemed to cling to her that Heero realized his own arms had wrapped around her in return, seemingly of their own accord.

Duo pulled back after a moment, and though reluctant to let her leave, Heero let his own arms go lax.

"Are you sure about this? I mean, if you had these feelings for me when you thought I was a guy…" Duo babbled, unable to hold her doubts back any longer. Even if I act like one most of the time, I'm not a guy. And she had been serious in her reply to Wufei when the other pilot had asked her if she ever intended to get a sex change operation.

"I'm not homosexual," Heero said plainly. "I'm not heterosexual. And I don't really think that I'm bisexual." He frowned uncomfortably. "I just…it's not a person's physical features that matter to me; there has to be something more. Some…indefinable something."

Duo's lips quirked up in a small smile. She thought she understood. "Je ne sais quoi?" she asked. "That certain indefinable something?"

Heero paused over the French words and then nodded. "That sounds…right."

"Better than saying you're metrosexual, anyway," Duo joked, sensing that Heero was becoming uncomfortable with all the emotional upheavals. Hell, so was she.

Running a hand through his messy brown hair in frustration, Heero quirked a grin at her. "Well, trying to figure out your sexual orientation without being able to talk to anyone about it is not exactly that easy," he said with a snort of self-derision.

"I'm sorry, Heero," Duo said sincerely. "I didn't intend to confuse you so much." But it was so hard keeping my feelings from showing…and it felt so much like a lie every time I started to flirt with you, she thought miserably.

"I know," Heero replied soothingly. "And you didn't, really. At least, not about your gender." He grimaced. "Not that it mattered."

Duo frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that I was trained to completely disregard my emotions, so in the end, what did it matter if you were a boy or a girl?" Heero shrugged helplessly. "I still didn't know how to have a relationship with you."

Compassion welled up inside her. "Oh, Heero… There isn't a specific set of steps about how relationships work," Duo said. "People have to figure them out for themselves. By following their emotions." She had purposely used his own words to Trowa to try and make Heero feel better. Instead, it only seemed to make him feel worse.

Sighing heavily, Heero said, voice vibrating with suppressed frustration, "But that's the problem."

Chestnut brows knitting together in confusion, Duo asked, "What is?"

"Relationships – romantic or otherwise – entail emotions, right?" Heero stated more than asked.

Duo nodded, and obliged him with an answer anyway. "Well…yeah."

"And I was trained to completely disregard mine. So in the end, I had more trouble with the fact that I had…feelings for you than that you were a boy." Heero snorted. "Or so I thought." He ducked his head.

A rather heavy silence descended over the pair, and Duo looked across at the source of the discontent. Was Heero blushing? Heero Yuy, the Perfect Soldier, whose facial expressions were so minute that one needed a magnifying glass to see them? "Heero…?" Duo said leadingly.

Knowing that Duo was referring to his rapidly reddening cheeks, Heero said, "I was just thinking…" He trailed off, mumbling the rest of his sentence as his face heated.

"I didn't quite hear that, Hee-chan," Duo teased.

Clearing his throat, Heero said, rather uncomfortably, "I said that…I was just thinking…that all the research I did on gay sex is useless now." His face flamed and he buried his head in his hands to escape Duo's scrutiny.

Bright peals of laughter fell from Duo's lips. "Well, not all of it is useless, I'm sure," she said once she got her breath back.

Heero just grumbled, his shoulders hunching up to help hide himself from her view.

Sidling up closer to Heero, Duo wrapped her arm around him. "C'mon, Heero, it isn't that bad."

Heero groaned. "Then why are you laughing?" he growled.

Because otherwise I'd be jumping you, came unbidden to Duo's mind. Heero's words had caused certain thoughts to enter her head. She'd spent her whole life fighting off men who wouldn't take 'No' for an answer – even when she was disguised as a guy – and with the war going on around them, she hadn't had much time to think about sex, of any kind, gay or straight. With Heero's sleekly muscled body pressed up against her own, his warm breath tickling her cheek, she couldn't help wondering what it would feel like to have him inside her.

A sharp bolt of lust shot through her and she found herself momentarily at a loss for both breath and words. "Because I find it ironic that we're teenage terrorists, we've killed countless people, and yet we both still blush at the mention of sex," Duo finally murmured, her own face reddening.

Dark blue eyes peeked out at her over the edge of Heero's folded arms. "You too?" he asked, one eyebrow rising in disbelief.

Duo simply gestured to her own pink cheeks.

Heero snorted, smiling slightly.

A few quiet moments passed, no words exchanged between them, but also no tension.

"So…are we…together now?" Heero asked hesitantly.

"If you want to be," Duo said simply. "I know I do."

"I want you," Heero replied honestly.

Duo nibbled on her lower lip, eyes shining with pleasure.

Giving her a shy smile of his own, Heero asked, "So…does this make you my girlfriend now?"

Duo couldn't hold back a chuckle at the bemused, yet eager words. "I think I prefer the term 'koibito'."

Heero frowned, bushy brown eyebrows knitting together in confusion. "Why?"

Wrapping her arms around his shoulders in a loose hug, Duo murmured in husky tones, "Because that way we won't have to change endearments when our relationship intensifies."

Heero flushed as he realized what Duo meant – koibito was Japanese for boyfriend or girlfriend, but it could also mean 'lover.'

"But what about when we get married?" Heero asked unthinkingly.

Duo's heart skipped a beat. "Well, then we'll just add one," she said, giddy with the thought that he'd said 'when' not 'if.'

Flustered, Heero just nodded.

Duo couldn't resist teasing him a little, however. "Although, I refuse to use any vows that include the word 'obey.'"

Nodding jerkily, Heero said, "Deal." He still seemed to be a little dumbstruck. Duo certainly couldn't blame him – they hadn't even had their official first date and already the topic of marriage had come up. It was enough to make even Wufei pause.

Duo still couldn't help snickering at her new koibito's predicament, though. "It won't happen for a while, Heero. We're going to need to date awhile first, and then get engaged…" And figure out how to keep Quatre from trying to make the ceremony into a three-ring circus… Or maybe that'll be Trowa; Quat'll just try and use his money to make everything 'perfect.'

Heero's nod was smoother this time, and he seemed to calm slightly. Then a small spark of mischief lit his eyes, a smirk crossing his lips. "Though perhaps we should practice," he said teasingly.

Duo blinked at him in confusion. "Nani?"

Lips curving up in a smug smile, Heero said pointedly, "Don't Western wedding ceremonies usually end with 'You may now kiss the bride'?"

Cheeks warming slightly, Duo nodded silently. Though I ain't wearing a dress… Well, maybe that once, she conceded. And she'd even give up her customary black, too.

"Does that mean we can kiss now?" Heero asked plaintively.

Duo smirked. "I know I can – but can you?" she asked challengingly.

Eyes flashing his answering smirk, Heero cupped the back of her head in his hand and leaned in to meet his match.

At first, the brush of lips against lips wasn't even really a kiss. Then it was more than a kiss, and at last…it was just perfect. Their lips melting together in one beautifully sweet kiss, Duo couldn't help but think that she'd never been happier. This was why she loved Heero so much. She didn't have to become Death when she was in Heero's arms…she could just be herself. That was the way it had always been.

Duo hoped it always would be.