DISCLAIMER: I don't own the rights Gundam Wing, or anything else for that matter!

Pairings: 1+2
Warning: Sap, fluff, some mild language, Relena-bashing, shounen-ai Notes:Remeber First Steps? Well, George - my guitar playing muse - wasn't satisfied with leaving it so open-ended, and he threatened to learn how to play Britney Spears songs if I didn't write more. *winces* The things I do for my muses...

And this thing is actually beta-read! By myself unfortunately so don't assume it's perfect - but since I usually type and post with no inbetween, I figure this a pretty good start!

Credit goes to Akuma for suggesting Second Steps - thanks A! Also thanks tothe usual barrage of people who comment on nearly everything I write, which in turn inspires me to write more. *grins* Love ya 'Drea, Blue,Hazard, Diane, Kit - BTW, luv the demons pic, have I told you how much Ihate you 'cause you can draw so well and I can't and it makes me jealous?*grins* You are PHENOMINAL!!! - Meph, Cass and everyone else. *flashespeace sign*

Finally - thanks to Lady M - the marvelous, wonderful person who archives everything I write out of her own time - I can never thank her enough for hosting my stuff! *glomps LadyM hard enough to cut circulation* You are the absolute BEST!

Second Steps

Heero looked up as the door to the room swung open, bouncing off the wall with a merry *clang* and was caught on the rebound by one slender,glove-clad hand. Duo stood in the doorway posing for a minute, the backdropof light darkening his front and giving him a mysterious, dangerous air.

" I have...." he paused dramatically. "....returned!"

Heero snorted at the theatrics. " Enjoy detention?'

" How could I not?" Duo chuckled dryly. " Listening to Mr. Taliano going on and on about how I should participate in his class and better myself, instead of falling asleep...man, and you think *I* talk a lot. That man could give ME lessons." He bounced over to his bed and flopped down with an exaggerated sigh.

Heero smirked as he finished typing his long-overdue mission report. That little respite at Relena's home, short-lived as it was, had nonetheless caused him to get behind on his work for the mission. He glanced over at his partner who had sat up and was stretching, arms over his head, pulling the black t-shirt he wore up and revealing the washboard stomach beneath. After taking an appreciative glance, Heero reluctantly pulled his eyes away and went back to work.

Duo seemed to be doing better now that they were back at school, he mused thoughtfully as he scanned some new data Doctor J had sent that morning. The morning after his own encounter with Relena, he and Duo had said their good-byes and headed back, knowing that for as long as they stayed there, Relena would do their best to make them uncomfortable. Correction - to make Duo uncomfortable.

Another glance showed Duo rummaging through the night stand, searching for something. Heero thought of Relena's venomous words and growled inwardly. She was constantly trying to endear herself to him when all he wanted was for her to leave him alone. And when she attacked his partner, it hurt him as well.

That made him pause in his typing. Why, exactly, would that be that case? The logical part of his mind told him that Relena not trusting Duo made it sound like he, Heero Yuy, was using bad judgement in trusting the pilot of Deathscythe. It was as simple as that.

The non-logical and little-used part of his mind told him that it was because hearing that grating, annoying voice insult his partner made his blood boil and induced images of him shooting her at point-blank range. This, in turn, was detrimental to both Relena's health and therefore the health of world peace.

'Protective much?' came a snide voice from inside his mind. Heero resumed typing. Something about the slight pilot from L2 had dredged up a protective instinct that made him want to look out for him. He supposed it could have been the eyes - Duo possessed large, violet eyes that pulled you in and refused to let go. It was the same feature in babies and small animals that made other humans and animals want to protect them. That was all.

' Yeah. Right. '

A muffled swearing sound made him look up and he was treated to the sight of Duo's boxer-clad butt up in the air as he pawed around the floor under the opposite side of the bed. A bead of sweat rolled down the side of his head at such a tantalizing vision. He shook his head - enough!

What WAS it that made him want to protect the boy from Relena's hurtful - though admittedly harmless - barbs? Why did he drag Duo into the kitchen, not content with seeing him go to bed without some form of sustenance? And why on earth was he having this one-sided conversation with himself while the object of his desires was waving his rear end in the air as though beckoning him? He slammed the lid of his laptop down and was relieved when Duo's face popped back up on the bed and his body swung around to face him.

" Having problems Heero?" he asked cheerfully. Heero shook his head and Duo shrugged, sliding off the bed to stand with his hands on his hips, an annoyed look on his face as he surveyed the room.

" What are you looking for?" Heero asked finally, cocking his head to one side. Duo threw him a disgruntled look.

" Mine brush hath disappeared!" he cried, clutching his heart and staggering slightly. Heero smirked.

" NOW he speaks Victorian English."

" What can I say? Taliano is too boring to say this stuff while in class - he'd probably yell at me for butchering it."

" Or commend you for attempting."

Duo brushed his dripping bangs out his eyes as he gave Heero an odd look. Heero felt himself grow defensive.

" What?"

Another minute of intense scrutiny and then Duo grinned at him.

" Nothing. And yeah, you could be right!" He turned his attention back to his search. " Where might yonder stick of wood and bristle be?"

Heero sighed and stretched out his foot, nudging away a pair of Duo's black jeans off the elusive brush.

" Here."

Duo turned to catch the kicked object reflexively and he beamed at his partner. " Thanks Heero!"

Heero nodded and watched as Duo sat down on the bed, pulling the tail of his braid around him. He was startled to note the absence of an elastic - Duo was untying what looked like a ratty piece of black string. " Duo?"

" Hmm?" Duo looked up as he unweaved his hair from its customary binding.

" What's that?"

" What's what?" Duo looked puzzled.

" That thing you tied your hair with." Heero pointed at the string lying on the bed by Duo's knee.

" This?" Duo touched the string and was rewarded with a nod. He smiled faintly. " S'nothing much."

" For someone who never lies, you've been doing it an awful lot lately," Heero remarked. watching Duo's spine stiffen and those violet orbs turning his way.

" I'm not lying!" Duo insisted heatedly. " In terms of monetary value, it's worthless."

" And emotional?"

" It's priceless." Duo sighed and favored his partner with a wry look. " Do you have some kind of hidden radar that tells you when I'm hiding something?"

Heero thought about that for a second. It did seem odd that he was lately sensing a lot more about Duo recently - could those strange and as of yet, unnamed emotions he was feeling have something to do with it? " Hn." Emotions were a curious thing - and he was interested in knowing more about them.

Duo shrugged and held up the string. " Solo gave it to me."

That name. Heero straightened as he heard Duo mention that name again. Solo. That night when Duo had confessed who the boy was came back in full force.

** "What happened to him? **

** " He died in my arms." **

Walking over to the Deathscythe pilot, he was overcome with curiosity, and he sat down, careful not to crunch any of the long chestnut strands that splayed freely about Duo and the bed. Duo looked at him in surprise as Heero reached out and tentatively touched the string. " Tell me?"

Had it been asked in Heero's normally emotionless undertone, Duo would have refused. But he saw in Heero's eyes a kind of fascination, as though he were trying to understand something that had no tangible presence, and the urge to help him learn made him nod his head slowly.

" I lived on the streets for as long as I can remember. Solo had taken me in, along with a bunch of other kids and kept us alive, stealing food, blankets - anything he thought we might need." Duo closed as his as a faint smile grew on his lips. " All of us loved him, but he and I were two of a kind. The others were war orphans, but we...we were just abandoned." A lump in his throat was hastily swallowed. " That bonded us in a way that was stronger then friendship. We were BROTHERS."

Heero listened intently, his eyes devouring Duo's face of its emotion and trying to understand the pilot better. Duo had always been the joker, the prankster, the one who lightened any tense situation with a few words or careless gesture. It was rare to see him despondent, and even rarer to hear such sadness in his voice. Then he reminded himself that Duo had sounded this way at Relena's, when he had opened up to the Perfect Soldier. It was both unsettling, and intriguing, knowing how much he had underestimated the Deathscythe pilot, taking him at face value and assuming there was nothing more under the surface.

' And we know what assuming does to you and me,' he snorted. He focused again on Duo, absorbing the words he spoke of in such serious tones.

" I was about five years old when he found me, and my hair was already near my shoulders. He ran his fingers through it and said I looked like a shaggy sheepdog. I jerked away from him and wouldn't let him touch it. He laughed and backed off, telling me he knew how important hair could be." Duo chuckled at the distant memory. " It was about two years later, probably about the time I was seven or so, when it was so long it was becoming impractical. It constantly got tangled in things, and was even dirtier and shaggier. Some of the other kids used to joke about cutting it off, and it always frightened me, even though they were joking." Duo opened his eyes and began fiddling with the string.

Heero watched, fascinated by the display of emotion running rampant over Duo's face.

" One day, Solo brought me along to learn how he stole our food. He zipped in and zipped out so quickly, it seemed impossible. Then he said it was my turn. " Duo's voice grew soft. " I was so eager to try and make Solo proud of me. I was about to take off when he put his hand on my shoulder and asked if he could tie my hair back for me so it wouldn't get in the way. He knew how jumpy I got when people talked about my hair - even now that I have a reason for wanting to keep it long, I can never remember why I was so protective of it before. I didn't want to but I trusted him. He carefully pulled it back, running his fingers through it so gently...it reminded me of something. I don't know what. Maybe way back when, before my parents decided I was too much of a burden...maybe at one time I had sat with my mother while she brushed my hair for me....it made me feel so warm and safe and loved....when Solo was done threading his fingers through it, he patted his pockets looking for something, and finally gave up. He reached for his own hair, about shoulder-length I think, and untied his own ponytail, taking the string and tying it tightly around mine. He then told me to get going. It was my first heist," Duo reminisced. "-and it went off without a hitch. I went to give his string back and he said not to bother - that he had plenty and that I needed to 'keep my shaggy mop under control'," he quoted with a laugh. He then sighed, tapping the string gently. " I don't wear it in battle 'cause I'm too afraid it would get destroyed or broken, but when we're at school, I tie it as a reminder, much the same way as I keep my hair this length."

Heero listened to the whole story, running through parts of it in his own mind. The story served to shed some light on Duo's mysterious past, and also enforced a few character traits that Heero had already begun to suspect. That inner street-bred toughness, the loyalty he showed, the determination to hang on to his roots all resided in that piece of tattered string and he came to the conclusion that he had indeed completely underestimated the enigma that was Duo Maxwell.

Duo mistook his silence for disapproval for what seemed to be frivolity, and he hastily scooped the string back up, intending to shove it in his pocket. He was amazed however, when Heero's hand shot out and caught his wrist, halting the sudden movement.

" Heero?"

Heero met his eyes squarely and Duo could have sworn he felt a sense of...approval, flowing out of the Perfect Soldier.

" Ano....Heero..."

" You are an...interesting person," Heero said finally, not breaking the gaze. " I misjudged you." He released Duo's wrist and touched the string gently, glancing down at it and then back up into Duo's confused albeit amazed eyes.

Duo rubbed his wrist slowly, while trying to gather his thoughts. " ....Interesting?"

Heero nodded and stood up, walking over to his side of the room. Sitting down, he pulled his tank top off in preparation for bed.

Duo sat where he was. " Interesting?"

Heero finally looked back up and allowed a brief smirk that came extremely close to resembling a smile. " Yes."

Duo gaped for a minute more and then closed his mouth with a snap. His own mouth finally smiled back at the Wing pilot and he stood up to get ready for bed as well. He stopped by Heero's side en route to the bathroom and leaned down to him.

" I find you pretty interesting myself," he said with a wink before sauntering off to the bathroom to brush his teeth. Heero watched him leave with a small smile - yes, an actual smile - on his face.

Some interesting revelations had been made that night, he mused, and he had to admit he liked how these new emotions felt. Duo seemed to receive his clumsy attempts at friendship in a positive manner, and Heero also admitted he liked it when Duo made the same overtures towards him. He threw one last glance at the bed where the precious string lay and smirked.

Who would've thought? And who knew what the future held? For some reason, the future started to look brighter then his nightmares had promised it to be.

Heero stretched out and went to sleep, dreaming of a laughing smile and violet eyes.


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