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The whole mess began with Duo, of course. It had been about three weeks toward the end of the war, and he'd been stuck with Quatre, the two of them holed up in a safe house after yet another raid on an OZ base. Occasionally Duo thought it might be nice to blame the whole thing on alcohol, but there had been no drinking games that night. He couldn't even really remember a reason for the challenge to rise up. He'd been listening to Quatre go over the plans for the next attack, and he'd just... spoken up - just blurted it out as he'd wanted to do for the last six months or whatever. Six weeks? Couldn't be six years, but time was all bullshit anyway, except for the timing during attacks.

"Just tell him, Q. I mean, what the hell are you waiting for anyway?" The question, apropos of nothing, stalled Quatre out, and he turned owlish aquamarine eyes to Duo in confusion. Duo had been ready to let the whole thing go, to just twist his body right and roll off the ragged (and possibly molding) couch so that he could search the kitchen for food. Maybe there was a can of tuna in the abandoned cupboards?

And then Quatre turned away, his shoulders hunched and his jaw set in the stubborn lines that made Duo feel all contrary. "Or are you chicken?" he asked, making the question low and smooth, and relaxing his body back into the couch so that when Quatre turned startled eyes back to Duo, he was positioned just right for the challenging question. He watched Quatre's hand clench into a fist, that small challenge hitting him just as it would any of the rest of them. And when he wrestled control of himself and straightened his back in a determined diplomat's posture, Duo couldn't resist the grin that swept across his face.

"Tell ya what," he said, and he finally did twist his body, a contortion that just might have even impressed Trowa and possibly mucked up his spine a bit. (Where even was the danger in that, really, when his whole body was destined to be decorating some bombed out field before the end of the war?) "I dare you." His lips widened, teeth showing off just a bit as his eyes sparkled with the devil's own humor. "I dare you to tell Trowa exactly how you feel within two weeks."

Quatre's face had paled, his jaw clenched so hard that Duo imagined he could hear the other boy's teeth cracking. His hands clenched again, and Duo knew he had the blond boy pinned down. "Or I can just tell the others you're chicken. I'm sure everyone would be curious how I know."

Quatre had stalked out, slamming the door behind him, and Duo relaxed back onto the couch again, eyes closing with an odd sort of contentment, because it was so damned exhausting to watch them circling around each other.

...He hadn't exactly expected retribution, though on reflection, he certainly should've.

--

He runs...

And he had. The night they celebrated peace, everyone had been sharing plans for the future, and Duo had been squirming. His own words to Quatre, reversed back onto him like some chaotic card game, still echoed in his ears from a mere hour before. "I figured I'd wander around some, see what we've been blowin' up without all the fireworks," he shrugged, when the conversation circled to him. He caught Quatre's glare out of the corner of his eye, turned his back on the boy, and immediately realized his mistake.

No wonder I'm not usually in charge of strategy, he thought, staring straight at Wufei's face for a second before he leapt to his feet. "Anybody want anything while I'm up?" He didn't wait for a response before ducking out.

"Fuckin Q," he muttered, once he'd made it to the kitchen, because he might not have had a strategy for this evening, but certainly Quatre had. Duo could only assume that he'd positioned himself just opposite Wufei on purpose, an extra little push for his own dare. His hand wrenched the tap open, and he splashed his face before moving to set the kettle on. Quatre always appreciated tea, and Wufei generally enjoyed it, as well, and it served as a pretty good reason to stay in the kitchen for five minutes.

"I might not be the king of strategy," Duo muttered to himself, slouching into one of the kitchen chairs, "but I can wing it with the rest of them."

"I'll be more generous than you were," Quatre said conversationally from behind Duo. Duo jerked around, and Quatre just smiled at him. "But only because it's clearly going to be hard for you."

Duo willed his hands to stay relaxed. He could focus on them, even if he couldn't make himself smile at the other pilot to save his life. "...Oh?" The word felt like it ripped through his chest, a xenomorph bypassing his mouth in favor of a very dramatic entrance.

"You have one year," Quatre murmured, sitting down beside him. "We're going to have a reunion one year from today." Duo started to wave away the idea, only to have Quatre reach out and grab his wrist. "If you're not there, then you'd better be dead, Duo," he said mildly. "I will not lose touch with my best friends, and if Heero and Wufei can both commit, then you certainly can." His eyes were gentle as they stared through Duo's soul, but his grip was unbreakable.

"One year, Duo. Otherwise... I guess I'll just have to tell the others you're chicken." Quatre smiled with saccharine viciousness. "Won't I?"