12-6-2006

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Gunman Wing, nor it's characters. I just
love playing with them.

Blood, Sweat and Tears
Prologue - Part 10/?
Pairings: Eventual 1x2 and other pairings that I am working out
Warnings: Swearing, violence, mentions NCS, lemony goodness
BY: SkyLark
Plot Bunny Assistance From: Eos and Tora
Archives: http://www.gundam-wing-diaries.150m.com/gw/SkyLark/gwSkyLark.htm and http://www.mizunoamy.bravepages.com/skylark/skylarkfics. html

 

Prologue:

The sound of the phone ringing pierced through his unusually pleasant dream and pulled him back, mentally kicking and screaming, back to the world of the living.

Before his eyes even opened, his head was already pounding from a massive hangover earned by his late night of celebrating the end of another season. Having forgotten to close the room's shades before he collapsed onto his bed, the sunlight that was pouring into his penthouse suite was burning his irises behind closed lids.

With a very loud groan, he fought with his comforter that had somehow managed to get tangled around him as he slept. As the phone continued to ring, he reached for the pair of shades beside it. Only after placing the frames on his nose did he dare open his eyes.

Quickly grabbing the receiver, he placed it to his ear. "This had better be a good reason for calling," his rough voice greeted. "I really don't want to have to start my off season by killing someone."

"Duo's it's Quatre," his the voice of his friend-slash-agent replied in a hush.

Hissing, the braided running back pulled the phone from his ear and shouted, "Not so loud, man! I have a bitch of a headache right now." Looking down at himself, he noted that he somehow managed to strip himself down to his boxers before passing out.

There was a deep sigh before Quatre frowned deeply, "I'm speaking normally, Duo. If you hadn't had so much to drink last night, your head would be fine." That concerned tone returned as he said quietly, "Look, I just got word from Noventa that you're being traded."

Chuckling deeply, Duo flopped onto his back and smirked, "Was it my punching his precious Coach Khushrenadah in the face on national television at the end of our last game? That son-in-law of his couldn't lead a team to water if he had to. Noventa's not much better, himself." As he pushed his disheveled braid away, he grumbled, "Lousy bastard of a team owner couldn't even wait a couple days before getting rid of me."

A slight hint of amusement filled the agent's voice as he informed, "Actually, I think it was the fact that you carved your name into Noventa's car last night on your way back to your suite. He is making a public announcement about your being traded this afternoon."

Finally feeling safe enough to remove his shades, Duo set them back on the table and stretched. "So, I get to leave sunny San Francisco. Never really liked it much here, anyway," he yawned. "Too much smog and traffic. Do we have any idea on who's looking at taking me, then?" Biting his lip, he sat up and asked, "Any word from Green Bay?"

He could practically hear Quatre turning red at the question. "Duo, you've been a professional football player for four years. Not once in those four years have you played with the same team for more than one season. Green Bay, not to mention nearly every big franchise for that matter, sees you as a liability considering your track record.

"Your reputation of partying, looking for fights, flipping off spectators when they boo you and that lovely DUI that you spent a couple nights in prison for proceed you. So no, Green Bay is not even considering signing you on. Damn it, Duo! I've been telling you that you need to start getting your shit together!"

Wow. To get Quatre yelling and swearing meant that a serious line had been crossed.

Sighing deeply, Duo swung his legs over the side of the bed and sighed deeply, "Yea, yea, yea. Well then, someone would have had to have picked me up since you didn't say 'every' franchise is brushing me off."

His agent paused before announcing quietly, "Pittsburgh. "

There was no fucking way he heard that right, Duo convinced himself. That headache came on tenfold as he gripped the receiver tightly and shouted, "What!? Pittsburgh!? You know they start the name of that town with the word 'pit' for a reason! And need I remind you that team hasn't even come close to a league championship, let alone the Super Bowl! You're my agent, Quat! You're supposed to at least *try* and get me on a decent team!"

Much to his shock, the other young man began laughing. "You didn't even ask me the figure they're offering. They want to sign you for one season for five million dollars. That doesn't even include the money that you would be making if you clean your act up enough to be offered endorsements. "

Silently grateful that he was already sitting, lest he have been knocked from his feet, Duo's violet eyes widened and he sputtered, "F-five mil? For just one season?"

"You're welcome," Quatre grinned over the line before hanging up.

For a long moment, the running back just stared at the receiver in his hand as the dial tone filled the air. Once he regained his senses, he hung the phone back up and rose from the bed. Looking out to the large windows to the San Diego skyline, he smirked, "Well, I'm sure Pittsburgh can't be all that bad."

* * * * * *

"Duo Maxwell!? You signed Duo Maxwell onto the team!?" Heero Yuy shouted as he stormed into his Head Coach's office. Planting his fists on the edge of the tall man's desk, he glared heatedly, "Tell me that the radio announcer just made some kind of mistake when he made the big announcement earlier today."

Sighing deeply, Zechs Merquise folded his arms and leaned back in his leather seat. "Yes," he admitted with a firm nod. "Maxwell is one of the best running back out there and you know that Alex just isn't cutting it in that position. I had to let him go."

His cobalt eyes narrowing further, the Wolverine's star quarterback yelled, "For a guy who broke his Head Coach's nose on national television at the end of their last game! Zechs, our team is one of the most respected because of the way we carry ourselves. Bringing on an asshole like that is going to have people questioning our morale."

Slowly lowering his head, the Head Coach sighed deeply once more. As he raised it back up to meet the eyes boring down on him, he frowned deeply, "Heero, if we don't at least make it to the Super Bowl this coming season with a league championship, the team owner is going to let me go."

At that announcement, Heero straightened and instantly lost his edge as his eyes widened in shock. Zechs shook his head and stated, "My back is against the wall. The only problem that our team has is in our running game. Maxwell is the only player good enough out there that can change that."

Much as he hated the thought of working with a loose cannon as a teammate, Heero couldn't imagine playing for anyone other than Zechs. The man had been like a father to him ever since he signed on fresh out of high school almost four years before. He knew that there was talk amongst the bigwigs that coming close to a league championship and falling short just wasn't good enough for them. And now it seemed like they found a scapegoat to take the fall.

Thought of his coach's wife, Noin, and their two children came in a rush and Heero swallowed down the acid that shot into the back of his throat. With a deep sigh, he lowered his head and nodded, "All right. I'll talk to the rest of the team, since I'm sure that they won't be particularly thrilled when they hear the news of the trade."

A sad smile tugged Zech's lips as he replied quietly, "Thank you, Heero. I always knew that I made the right choice in naming you their Captain." Clearing his throat, he folded his long hands over his desk and asked, "I hope that you don't think badly of me for asking this of you, but could you also see Maxwell in with me when he arrives next week? He wants to be well settled here in town before pre-season training starts up again in September."

With a bit of difficulty, Heero suppressed the shudder that ran up his spine. Forcing a smile, he reassured with a curt nod, "Sure thing, Coach." The two young men exchanged their farewells before the quarterback stepped from the office numbly.

Stepping out of the stadium, the Japanese football player sighed deeply, his breath coming out in a puff of smoke in the cold air. Lightly grumbling, Heero pulled his coat tighter and snorted to himself bitterly, "Great way to start the off season."

TBC

NOTES:

The running back's job is just as it sounds, he is handed the ball by the quarterback and runs it as far as he can down the field. He's not usually a tackler since his soul job is to look for an opening to break through to gain some ground.

The quarterback throws the ball to what would be called a receiver that tries to get open further down the field.

 

Part 1:

The week following the announcement of the trade of Duo Maxwell to the Pittsburg Wolverines passed in a blur for Heero. Between press conferences and interviews from sports reporters that wanted his reaction, the star quarterback was quite busy. Of course, despite the bad taste in his mouth over the issue, he smiled and simply told the press that he was looking forward to the opportunity that the signing would bring.

Wufei and Trowa were the first of his teammates to call their team captain following the initial announcement. Like all of the other Wolverines, to say that they were less than thrilled was an understatement.

Heero did his best to reassure them without having to make a public announcement about Zechs's predicament. Their coach's reasons for signing Maxwell on were personal, something that he entrusted in the Japanese athlete and he was not about to break that trust.

Once the weekend arrived, the looming dread that had been building up came to a head when Heero met with Zechs at the airport to meet and greet his new teammate. On that ten-below zero degree early afternoon, the coach and quarterback were sitting together by the arrival gates when a voice over the speaker system announced, "Flight 210 has landed. Approximate docking time five minutes."

With a deep sigh, Heero rose to his feet and frowned deeply, "Well, let's get this over with." Zechs chuckled deeply as he stood and followed his team's captain towards the gate. The nearly empty airport was an unusual sight for the arrival of a new football hero. Voicing his surprise, he shrugged simply, "It's quiet."

"It was one of Maxwell's demands that his arrival be kept quiet," Zechs explained. "Something about an unpleasant experience at another airport that he had been announced to be arriving in." His tone drenched in sarcasm as he snorted, "Can't imagine why something like that would have ever happened to him. He's such a likable guy." Heero laughed quietly and just shook his head in amusement.

When the doors to the gate opened, the coach and quarterback straightened and watched as the first few arrivals stepped into the airport. The third to step through the gate was none other than Duo Maxwell. Dressed in jeans, work boots, a black form-fitting top and a black leather jacket on top, the running back lifted his shades to rest atop his head.

Swinging behind him as he walked was the rope of a braid that was as infamous as he was, along with those violet eyes of his that were scanning the area.

Quickly spotting his welcoming committee, the American gave them a grin that promised trouble. Heading towards the pair with his suitcase in hand, Duo greeted, "Gentlemen, have no fear. Your savior has arrived."

Heero shot Zechs a heated glare that made the tall man swallow nervously. Clearing his throat, the head coach extended a hand and replied, "So we finally feet in person."

Gesturing with his blonde head to the young man beside him, he stated curtly, "I'm sure that you know Heero Yuy. He's one of the highest rated quarterbacks in the entire professional league. Like him, every player on my team is considered an asset. This is not going to be a one-man-show. "

Unaffected by the comment as he shook the coach's hand, Duo turned his violet eyes to the star quarterback and smirked, "Sure I know 'im. Does he talk for himself?"

Fighting a tight smile, Heero extended his own hand and said simply, "Actually, I do." The fact that the Japanese young man left out any friendly greeting was not lost to the braided running back. His smirk growing, Duo took the offered hand, squeezing it tightly in a firm shake without another word.

As the two players stared at each other with their hands still squeezing tight as if in a test of wills, Zechs's own eyes narrowed as he cleared his throat. Finally, Heero and Duo released their hands, but their gazes remained locked as their silent battle continued.

"Now," the head coach began in a stern voice, "As the quarterback and running back, you will both be working closer together than any other two players on the team. I hope that there aren't going to be any problems between you."

Their heads turning to face Zechs, the two athletes smirked and answered flatly at the same time, "Fine." With that, they looked back into each other's eyes, silently willing the other to be the first to balk at the long stare. At the rate it was going, it was going to be a long time before either of them budged.

Dry washing his face with a hand, Zechs muttered to himself, "This season is going to be a lot of fun."

From the gates, a lithe, blonde young man with a duffle bag strapped across his chest entered the airport. His light blue eyes falling on the trio at the back of the waiting area, he sighed deeply in relief and quickly joined them. Extending a hand to the head coach, he introduced with a wide smile, "Zechs Merquise. I'm Quatre Winner, Duo's agent. It's nice to finally meet you in person, sir."

Blinking in surprise, Zechs grinned back and shook the hand. "Quatre," he nodded firmly. "Nice to meet you, as well. I am glad that the details of the contract that we drew up over the phone last week were to your liking. I hope that you had a good flight into Pittsburgh."

Their hands breaking, the blonde agent replied, "Oh, it was just fine, thank you. I appreciate your coming to see us in." Looking over to his client and the star quarterback as they continued their little staring contest, Quatre's eyes widened in fear before they narrowed with a sharply yelled, "Duo!"

With a slight jump at the cry, the braided running back blinked his wide violet eyes at his friend. Heero smirked to himself in having won the first battle, even if it was only because Duo had been caught off guard. Sighing inwardly, however, the Wolverines' team captain that he hadn't won the war yet.

Quatre folded his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow to his friend. "I'm glad to see that you and Heero have been acquainted," he frowned deeply. "I certainly hope that there aren't any problems already."

"No problems," Heero and Duo both commented at the same time.

Both Zechs and Quatre shared a weary look.

* * * * * *

About an hour later, Zechs pulled his car up to the house where Duo and Quatre were going to be staying. From his rearview mirror, he watched the new car carrying the agent and running back park in the house's driveway.

Looking over his coach to the house, Heero blinked in shock, "This is really it? This is where they're going to be staying?" Even Zechs seemed a bit surprised at the unexpected sight of the place.

The house was a two-story residence without any neighbors for miles. While the outside of the home was nice enough, it was quite a surprise that one of the wealthiest football players in all of North America had chosen to live in such a simple place. While built well, it was certainly on the low end where price ranges went with homes for a person who could afford whatever they wanted.

When Duo and Quatre moved from their car, each with a box in their possession, Zechs shrugged, "This must be it. Certainly not what I had imagined, either." Together, the coach and quarterback stepped from their car and unloaded a couple boxes from the back.

Stepping through the door that had been left open for them, both Heero and Zechs took a good look over the interior. The living room was fairly large, especially without any furnishings around. Next was what looked to be another room meant for dining with a quaint kitchen attached.

It was all very simple and basic. In the large back yard, there was a closed off pool that was not even close to the Olympic-sized one that Heero had at his own home. When comparing their residences, the quarterback knew his place to be more of a mansion. And he was on half the salary that the running back had been signed to.

Finding his moving help staring out at the back hard, Quatre smirked, "Those boxes can go anywhere. We don't have a lot to start with right now, so Duo and I can sort through them pretty quickly on our own tonight. There's a moving truck that'll be arriving tomorrow with the rest of the stuff we couldn't bring on our own."

Nearly jumping at having been caught, Zechs and Heero looked to the boxes still in their arms and smiled sheepishly to the friendly agent. Carefully lowering the case in his hands, the head coach couldn't help but comment, "This is a pretty nice home."

Shrugging, Quatre nodded, "We have pretty simple needs when it comes to where we live. Three bedrooms upstairs. Two bathrooms, one upstairs and one down. A large basement. It's everything that we could possibly need to get by."

From the empty living room, Duo's voice called as he entered, "And there's still more than enough room to through some kick ass parties in here that'll test how strong the foundation is." Grinning widely with his hands fisted at his hips, he nodded his braided head and gazed around the room while declaring, "It's perfect."

A small smirk tugged at the corner of Zechs's mouth as he stated, "As long as you don't injure yourself, specifically your legs, I could care less what you do when it's the off season. But, I run a pretty tight ship when it comes to my team, Maxwell. You're going to have to keep yourself in check when the season starts back up."

Lightly wrapping an arm around his braided client's shoulders, Quatre chuckled deeply, "That's why I'm here, as part of our agreement. I'll be sure to keep some tight reins on him when pre-season rolls around."

Duo just rolled his eyes and mumbled something about 'damned babysitters' that only made his friend grin all the wider. Satisfied at that, Zechs's smirk grew and he gave the younger blonde a nod of appreciation.

Inwardly, Heero wished the agent luck. Taming one as wild as the running back was going to prove quite the challenge. After having stared into those violet eyes as long as he had at the airport, he could see the flames of a fire that was not about to be doused. Still, he showed his own gratitude to the offered assistance with a small smile of his own.

The rest of the move went by smoothly and mostly in silence. When the last of the few boxes was lowered, Duo straightened and clapped his hands together. "I just had a great idea," he announced excitedly as he turned to the head coach.

"Quat and I should have this place set up by next weekend. Why don't you get a hold of the rest of the team and tell them that we'll be throwing a party just for them here next Saturday? That way I can get to meet them all."

After only brief consideration, and a shared look with Quatre, Zechs finally said, "I suppose that I don't see the harm in that. It would certainly help if the lot of you got to become friends before you all had to start working together."

Unable to fight the logic of it all, even the agent agreed, "It would be a bit of a nice icebreaker." He looked back to the coach while quickly adding, "And of course, you would be invited as well, coach."

Only after that offer did the coach nod firmly, "All right. I'll get a hold of the rest of the team to give them the details. Just give me a time later this week. You have my number at home and at the office."

Duo let out a whoop and exclaimed, "Great!" Wiggling his eyebrows, he nudged Heero's arm and smirked, "A lady-killer like yourself would also have to know a few of the cheerleaders. It wouldn't be right of me to leave them out of the fun."

Rolling his cobalt eyes, the quarterback admitted begrudgingly, "I might know a couple." He knew that he would hear it from Relena if word reached her that he hadn't included her and her squad in on a team party. As head cheerleader, and as Wufei's girlfriend, she knew everything that went on with the team.

And with that, Duo rubbed his hands together and hummed, "Awesome. Well, we'll see you back here next Saturday, then."

Bowing his head, Quatre said sincerely, "Thank you both, very much, for helping up out today. We'll be in touch." He exchanged friendly handshakes with the coach and quarterback while Duo began digging into one of the boxes without a farewell. No doubt, his mind already on planning the upcoming party that he would be hosting.

When they were back outside and in the cold air, Heero closed the door and stuffed his hands in his coat pocket. "I suppose that could have gone a lot worse," he shrugged nonchalantly. "I'm still leery of the guy, though."

Zechs chuckled deeply and shook his head, "One the likes of Duo Maxwell should never be underestimated. But, knowing how well you lead the team, I have no doubt that you'll work just fine with him."

Wincing a bit, Heero asked, "I've been meaning to ask you how Alex took the news that he was being traded to San Francisco in a swap with Maxwell."

Alex had been a good friend to everyone on the team and he was going to be sourly missed. But, as much as he hated to admit it, the Japanese athlete had to admit that he simply wasn't cutting it as a running back and he had to go if the team was to get ahead. Such were the politics of football.

Slightly lowering his head, Zechs sighed sadly, "Not well, as one could expect. He was pretty hurt, then very angry that I would allow such a trade. But, he'll do well for himself out there, I'm sure."

Just as they reached the car, Heero looked back to the house and questioned, "Do you really think that this party is going to be a good idea, considering the host? Maxwell isn't exactly known for holding his liquor well."

Fully understanding his player's concern, the coach answered, "At least he won't have to drive home afterward. So, we won't have to worry about him being slapped with another DUI. Having Quatre and myself there will also keep things from getting too out of hand."

"Yea," Heero finally agreed as he opened the passenger side door. "I suppose."

Back inside the house, Quatre folded his arms and frowned down on his friend, "I hope that you don't intend on going too crazy with this idea of yours. This is only intended to get you to meet your new teammates. I don't want any of them wondering how the hell they'll ever be able to work with you on the field."

Feigning hurt and shock, Duo blinked his violet eyes and gasped, "Why, Quatre. You sting me. Of course I'll be good at this party. I know how important first impressions are. Have you no faith in me?"

His agent smirked simply, "No."

Duo continued to go through the box that he was working through and snorted, "Aw just relax, man. You know, having you around here is really going to cramp my style. I really should have read the fine print on that contract before I signed it."

Shaking his head in amusement, Quatre commented, "Well, the ink is already dried now. So, you're stuck with me whether you like it or not." He bent at the waist so that their eyes were on the same level from where the football player was kneeling and warned, "This might be your last shot to change your reputation. Remember, this is just a one-year agreement for another year of football.

"If you don't clean up and gain some respect this season, no one is going to want you on their team. And then you'll have to say goodbye to your hopes of being signed with Green Bay." the blonde young man's frown deepened as he warned quietly, "I don't need to remind you of what saying goodbye to Green Bay means you'll also be saying goodbye to."

With his head snapping up at that, Duo swallowed hard. Sighing deeply, his shoulders slumped and he nodded, "Yea. I know. I know." Raising one hand so that his palm was facing forward, he vowed, "I promise to do my best to stay in bounds." [1]

Quatre straightened and gave a small smile. "Good. I'll take that." Sitting himself onto the floor, the young agent went through another one of the boxes in determining which room it needed to be moved to.

Duo bit his lip before looking up and asking, "So that would mean that the strippers would have to be out, then, huh?"

Laughing, Quatre hit his friend in the arm with an exasperated, "Duo! You know, there is a reason you're my only client. My hands are too full in handling you alone."

The young men just chuckled deeply and went back to their work. As he looked through his half of the boxes, Duo's mind was already back to his plans for the party that he was going to be throwing.

Even if he had to keep himself in check for this event, he still needed to show his new teammates a good time. Right?

TBC

IMPORTANT AUTHOR'S NOTE: I found the *best* website that gives all of the basics of football!!! And it has cute animation, too!!! It explains and shows the field, team positions and jobs and everything!! ! I won't go into too much detail in the fic with the games itself, but it's definitely a help in understanding the simple parts of football!

Highly recommended: http://playfootball-vweb1.playfootball.com/footballfacts/basics.html

[1] In bounds-So long as a player carrying the ball is within the sidelines, they are in bounds and they can continue playing since they are still on the field. This quote was just a play on words. Duo's just saying that he's going to stay on the right side of the line without crossing it.

 

Part 2:

Taking a break from looking over the file before him, Treize glanced at his reflection in the computer monitor. With company coming, he was grateful that the lovely combination of purple, yellow and almost black that the skin around his nose had been was beginning to fade. A thin band aid swept across the bridge as the tiny bone continued to heal.

At the knock at his door, the head coach of the Cougars called, "Come in." When the door opened, he smiled to the young man that he had been expecting. Rising from his seat, he greeted, "Come on in, Alex. I've been looking forward to meeting you."

Closing the door behind him, the tall running back grinned back and nodded firmly, "Coach Khushrenada. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me so soon after my arrival. I'm looking forward to working with you and the Cougars this season." He extended his hand for a firm shake while being careful not to stare at his new coach's nose.

With his free hand, Treize gestured to the chair before his desk and smirked, "Please have a seat. And there is no need for you to lie to me, young man. I know that this trade must have come as a painful blow to you."

His gaze lowering as he sat himself down, the running back sighed deeply, "I'm sorry, sir, but news of being let go is never easy. The announcement was rather sudden."

"Of course," the tall man nodded as he returned to his own chair. "You had been with Pittsburgh for three good years. I imagine that having to uproot yourself after such a long time only added to the pain of it all."

Looking back up from studying the floor, Alex was quick to reassure, "Well, despite all of that, I fully intend to play my best for you. Whatever I may or may not be dealing with in my personal life won't affect me on the field, I promise."

Treize chuckled deeply and folded his hands together. "I know that it won't, Alex. I am sorry for starting our first meeting on such a low note. We have a great deal to look forward to with you on our team. You have a great deal of potential as a running back."

Alex flinched a bit at the word 'potential.' It was all the green flag that the coach had been looking for and he smirked inwardly in victory. Even the young athlete knew that he was not the best at what he did- he was mediocre at best. But in the world of professional football, mediocre simply did not cut it. He knew that he was running out of time to really make a name for himself as a running back. And, if he did not do that soon, he would most likely be cut loose from the sport all together with no one wanting to sign him onto their team.

It was time for Treize to strike while the iron was hot.

Leaning back in his chair, the head coach smirked, "You could be one of the best with the right direction. It's not too late for you to improve your game." A thin eyebrow raised as Treize shrugged, "That is, if you want it to improve."

His eyes narrowing, Alex instantly sat up and sneered, "Of course I do. I've been doing every damned thing that I could to get better. I have worked with every trainer out there. I've been on countless diets for the right amount of protein to build muscle. I've exhausted every other means out there. But, I still just can't seem to get any faster than I already am. There is nothing more that I can do."

Already shaking his head half-way through the frustrated rant, the ginger-haired man chuckled in amusement, "Ah. But that's where you're wrong, young man. There is something more that you can do and I am just the man to help you get there."

Frowning deeply, the running back sat back with the leather beneath him creaking. "What do you mean?" he asked after a long pause. "If there is something that you know of that would help, that I haven't already tried, I'll do anything."

That smirk on Treize's face grew as he replied, "That's very good to hear, Alex. I like that spirit in you." Propping his elbows on his arm rests, he informed, "I do happen to know something that I am sure you have not tried yet."

When Alex's eyes lit up with interest, the coach said, "I have one of the best physical therapists in the world working for me. He is in possession of a wonderful drug named Tinopin. It acts like a steroid, but it is undetectable by any drug test."

Nearly falling out of his seat, the young athlete's eyes widened as he sputtered, "D-drugs? You're suggesting that I use drugs to enhance myself?" He slowly began to rise from his chair on shaky legs and shook his head, "I'm sorry, sir, but I'm not about to try something like that. I've always been a man of integrity and I just can't agree to doing something like that."

Treize nodded to him with a smile that seemed sincere as he reassured, "I understand. And I respect that integrity of yours." Raising his gaze so that it kept Alex where he stood, he warned calmly, "I don't believe I need to tell you that this discussion is to stay between us."

Alex swallowed roughly and with a stiff nod of his own, he quickly replied, "Of course, coach. Not a word." Turning on his heels, he headed for the door.

Just when his hand toughed the doorknob, however, the young man froze. Lightly biting his lip, he looked over his shoulder and asked, "Does that mean that Maxwell uses drugs, too? That's why he's such a fast runner?"

Folding his arms behind his head, Treize grinned, "No. I never asked him if he was interested, because he didn't need the help. He's one of the few raw talents out there, unlike more than half of the players out in the professional world of football nowadays."

Stunned, Alex's hand fell from the doorknob. "More than half!?" he cried. "You really believe that more than half of the players out there are using some type of drug to enhance their skills on the field!?"

The coach laughed at him, "I don't need to 'believe' anything! I know that they are! For the last five seasons, it has been a silent battle of who has the right tools to make the ultimate team. I will, however, give credit to your dear head coach Zechs Merquise. He is one of the few that did not get in that race. However, it is also the reason why his team has yet to come close to a championship of any kind.

"Even if you were to bring this public, no one would believe you because there is no way to prove that the drug is being administered. I would have you removed from this team without the chance of being resigned to another team because nearly all of them are doing the same damned thing! And those teams that are not resorting to drugs wouldn't want you because you're simply not good enough."

Pushing back from his desk, Treize stood and walked towards the wide-eyed running back. "Now," he began quietly, "my offer still stands. Fortunately, you're not such a horrific player that suspicions would rise come the start of the season when you're running laps around those tacklers that always seemed to get a hold of you. Simply saying that a heavy off season of training and preparing would be more than enough to appease the whistleblowers that might think something was going on."

Alex lowered his head and studied the floor again. As much as he hated to admit what he was hearing, he knew that the man was right. If he spoke up, he would lose everything that he had worked for. If he stayed quiet, he would still be able to play.

Inwardly applauding himself for having the young athlete right where he wanted him, Treize leaned in and asked, "What's wrong with wanting to win, anyway? What's so unethical to want to be the best running back that you can possibly be?"

Closing his eyes tightly, the running back took a deep breath before sighing deeply, "Nothing. Nothing is wrong with wanting any of that." Roughly swallowing, he lifted his head and met the eyes watching him.

"I-I want to take up that offer," Alex heard himself say in little more than a whisper.

* * * * * *

Slipping through the crowded living room and dining room, Quatre smiled and nodded to the cheerleaders and football players that greeted him on the way. Once he was in the kitchen, he closed the folding door to muffle the loud music and laughter just beyond.

The braid peeking out gave away his friend's location and the agent smiled, "I must say, Duo, you've been handling yourself quite well so far." Looking to his watch, he commented, "We're already over an hour into the festivities and you've only had a half of a beer. I can't remember the last time that's happened."

Slowly rising from behind the opened refrigerator door, the braided running back grinned with his arms filled of more bottles. "Told you I could be good," he winked as he kicked the 'fridge's door closed.

Carefully pushing the kitchen doors open with his backside, Duo raised the bottles and shouted over the noise, "More beer, everyone!" The crowd let out a loud cheer as he made his way through the crowd while passing out the drinks. As he entered the living room, the American yelled, "Hey, the music isn't loud enough! We don't have any neighbors to worry about, so crank it up!"

Another cheer filled the air as the stereo system got all the louder. A 'dance space' had been cleared away by some of the partygoers and Duo moved along with them as he headed for the front door when he heard a loud knock. Opening it, he smiled widely, "Hey, guys! I've been wondering when you were going to show up. Come on in!"

Zechs and Heero followed the swinging braid into the house along with the last two arrivals close behind. When they were inside, the American took the coach and quarterback' s coats and turned to the new faces. Extending his free hand, he introduced, "Duo Maxwell. And you two would be Trowa Barton and Wufei Chang. Nice to meet you."

The Asian receiver and Latin center gave each other a surprised look before Trowa nodded firmly to their new teammate, "You've done your homework." [1 & 2] He accepted the offered hand in a firm shake and a smile finally tugged his lips as he said, "Not at all what I had expected from you. No offense."

While shaking Wufei's hand, Duo laughed, "None taken. I like to know the people that I'm going to be working with." Nudging the brunette with the long bangs, he smirked, "Especially the blockers, like yourself, since you help keep the defensive tacklers from beating the shit out of me on the field." Trowa laughed along with Zechs.

"Oh, there you are!" a female voice called from the 'dance floor.' Running up to the group at the entrance way, a lively young blonde threw her arms around Wufei and kissed him soundly. "I was beginning to worry about you."

Gently wrapping his own arms around his girlfriend's slender waist, the Chinese receiver smirked, "I was waiting for Trowa to finish with his hair, as always. You know how that goes."

Another voice laughed as it neared, "I certainly do." The redhead that approached grinned to the tall center and hugged him when he flashed her a mocked hurt look.

Looking to his host, Wufei gestured with his head to the young women and guessed aloud, "I take it that you've met Relena and Catherine."

Duo winked a violet eye to the ladies and replied, "Already had the pleasure. You have yourself a keeper there, Chang. And your sister ain't hard to look at either, Barton."

Fighting a blush, Relena and Catherine giggled. "Duo's been a wonderful host tonight," the blonde head cheerleader told her boyfriend with a kiss on the cheek.

As the running back finished taking Trowa and Wufei's coats, Catherine lightly hit her brother on the arm and grinned, "You see that? And they say that chivalry is dead." Her brother and Wufei rolled their eyes, but smiled nonetheless in knowing that their new teammate had been respectful towards the girls. Even Heero's cobalt eyes widened a bit in surprise.

Lightly pushing at the new arrivals, Duo smiled, "Well, get in on the festivities, everyone. There are snacks and drinks in the dining room. I'll be back after I put these coats away." With that said, the small group parted and went to catch up with the rest of the team while the braided athlete headed upstairs.

Stepping into the dining room, Heero saw Mueller standing by the large back windows with his back to the party. A bit surprised at the sight of his teammate, the Japanese young man slowly approached with a quiet, "I didn't expect to see you here."

Mueller looked over to his team captain and snorted, "Neither did I. But then, I didn't want to be the only person that didn't show. No need to make it too obvious that I'm pissed over the situation."

Heero nodded and looked out to the back yard. Of all of the players on the Wolverines, he knew that the news of Alex's trade hit Mueller the hardest. The two were like brothers during the time that they were on the team together.

After taking a swig from the bottle in his hand, the young guard snorted, "Truth is, this asshole can throw as many parties and put on as many good faces as he wants, but he can't keep the act up forever. His true self will start shining through before long."

Frowning deeply, Heero kept his mouth closed, though he had to agree with his teammate. A leopard would never change its spots. Maxwell certainly wasn't any different.

Nearly jumping when an arm suddenly draped over his shoulder, the quarterback looked to the smiling running back as he told him, "You look like you could use this, my friend." Handing over a bottle, he gave a firm pat on the back and chuckled deeply, "Come on, golden boy. Drink up and try to relax a bit."

Slowly handing the bottle back, Heero shook his head, "No thanks. I'm the designated driver tonight."

"Aw, well it's not like you're leaving any time soon," Duo shrugged while holding the bottle back out to the team captain. "One drink isn't going to hurt you."

His eyes narrowing, Mueller warned, "He said 'no thanks.' Just back the hell off." From the corner of his eye, Heero flashed the guard a sympathetic, but cautionary glance that told him to not overstep his bounds.

Whistling through his teeth, Duo held his hands up in a sign of submission and frowned, "Okay. Okay. I can take a hint. Just trying to be a good host and see that my guests are enjoying themselves." He took the beer bottle with him without another word and disappeared into the crowd once again.

Alone again, Heero shook his head, "Easy, there. He was just trying to be nice. The least that we can do is try and get along when he's making an effort."

Mueller sighed deeply, "I suppose. So long as he's willing to play along, so will I. But, I still don't have to like the asshole." Leaning in, so that his near whisper could be heard over the noise around, he told his captain, "Just out of curiosity, I wanted to learn more about the guy.

"It's like he just appeared out of nowhere when he got signed after high school. There's nothing on where he went to school, where he's from, nothing. Considering how long he's been in the spotlight, you would think that his life would be the open book that ours are."

Straightening, Heero's cobalt eyes widened a bit. He, himself, had tried to learn more about the running back over the last couple weeks and had run into the same problem. All that there was to find on Duo were his amazing statistics on the field and his poor behavior record. Anything prior to his football career was a complete mystery-something that was unheard of for a professional athlete.

The night wore on and the young team captain had made his rounds to saying hello to everyone on the team. Confident that the party would continue without incident, Heero was ready to head home. In not being able to find either Duo or Quatre, he decided to just head upstairs and find their coats.

Once he was upstairs, he found the spare room opened and the guests' coats lying out in an orderly fashion. Quickly finding his leather jacket, Heero headed back out into the hallway and paused to stare at the two closed bedroom doors.

Recalling the discussion that he had with Mueller at how little they knew about their new teammate, curiosity was getting the better of Heero. Slowly leaning over the railing to be certain that no one was heading towards the stairs, the quarterback was satisfied that he would be alone for quite some time. No one had seen him head up there in the first place.

Against his better judgment, Heero moved towards the rooms. Carefully cracking the first door open, the glimpse of a colorful Arabian rug on the floor that was lit by the moonlight that poured in through the window was more than enough evidence for him to place the room as Quatre's. Closing that door, he moved to the further door and took a deep breath.

One last, careful look back over the stairwell later, Heero turned the doorknob and stepped inside.

TBC

I am keeping all of the main characters on the same team, the defense team. Every football team has two parts, defense and offense. The defense tries to score against their opponent's offense while the offense tries to stop their opponent's defense team from scoring. The offence of the Wolverines really won't be focused on much at all.

[1] There are two wide receivers on a defense team. They are stationed at the far ends of the line that the defense makes and when the play starts, they run ahead down the field towards while avoiding their opponent's blockers to try and catch the ball thrown by the quarterback. Where Duo as a running back is just handed the ball and runs, Wufei as a receiver has to catch a long throw to them.

[2] The center, Trowa in this case, is station right in the center of the line that the defense makes before a play starts. He bends over the football and throws or hands it to the quarterback to start the play. Once the ball leaves the center's hand, the offense tries to take down the quarterback as the center can then try to hold them back to give the quarterback time to throw the ball, or hand it to the running back.

[3] Mueller is one of the two guards that stay at either side of the center (Trowa). Their only job is to block and push the offense tacklers back to give the quarterback time to throw the ball. They do not make any attempt to have the ball handed or thrown to them. They only protect the quarterback.

 

Part 3:

Quietly closing the bedroom door behind him, Heero felt around for the light switch. Once he found it and flipped it on, the quarterback was surprised to find his surroundings rather tidy. The twin-sized bed at the opposite end of the room was made neatly with a deep red comforter and several pillows draped in black cases. Just beside the bed was a small table with a plain lamp and a frame. A wooden dresser rested against the wall just beside the door with several small items on top.

Yet again, it came as a shock to Heero that Duo hadn't opted for a larger bed, or more elaborate furnishings with the money that he was making. For someone as complicated as he was, the running back seemed a young man of pretty simple needs. There was something to be respected in that.

Since the dresser was so close, the young quarterback scanned the items on top first. Nothing there was out of the ordinary- a bottle of cologne, a gold watch, a pair of sun glasses and a cell phone that was charging. Heero stepped further into the room and looked to some of the images handing on the wall that was free of any furnishings. Most of the images were framed memorabilia of football players teams long past.

One of the images was of Football Hall of Fame member Bret Farve, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. This being the year AC 200, the infamous player was long gone- but his sportsmanship and influence were still respected amongst the new generation of athletes. Smiling at the picture of the legend preparing to throw the ball in his gold and green uniform, Heero chuckled deeply, "So we actually do have something in common." He shook his head in amusement and headed for the table beside the bed.

Carefully lifting the brown picture frame, Heero blinked in surprise to find the image of Duo with a young woman in his lap. The girl had short-cropped, dark hair and a bright smile as if she was captured in mid-laugh. With a wide smile of his own, the braided running back had his arms wrapped tightly around her waist in a tight hug. His violet eyes seemed to sparkle with mischief and a real happiness.

Lowering the picture back onto the small table, Heero looked up to the hanging picture just above the bed. In that image, Duo was standing in a large, green field. His right arm was draped around the shoulders of the young woman from the first photo. His left looped around the shoulders of another young man of the same height with short, blonde hair and brown eyes.

Quietly humming to himself in silent thought, the quarterback moved to the closet door just beyond the table. Opening it, Heero turned on the hanging light within. Hanging there was a wide variety of clothing. That, however, was not what caught the athlete's attention. It was the large, brown box on the floor. Bending at the waist, Heero removed the cardboard lid and peered inside.

Suddenly, the bedroom door opened as Duo stepped in while calling over his shoulder towards the noise, "I'll be right back. Just gotta change shirts if we're going to be making those kinds of dares!" When he turned fully, his violet eyes widened at the stiffened form of his team captain hunched over the box in his closet. His own eyes wide, Heero's mouth opened and closed but nothing would come out.

His hands clenching into fists at his sides, Duo's eyes narrowed heatedly as he shouted, "What the fuck are you doing!?"

Instantly on his feet again, Heero finally found his voice and replied quickly, "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to-"

Closing the distance between them in a heartbeat, Duo closed the box and his closet before glaring at the other football player. "Trying to figure me out more about me, huh?" he hissed. "Maybe before you decided to look through my shit you should have considered just fucking asking me!?"

Heero's own eyes narrowed as he replied, "Look, I told you that I'm sorry. I made a mistake and it won't happen again."

Roughly jabbing a finger into the quarterback' s chest, Duo snorted, "You know, of all the guys on the team, I never would have expected something like this from Mister Perfect." When his teammate's cobalt eyes narrowed further, he chuckled deeply, "Trust me, I know all about you. You were an A student in high school and you hardly touch a drink or does anything remotely out of line. You didn't want for anything with your rich Mommy and Daddy, so God forbid you might do something that upset them and write you from their wills."

Leaning in, the running back smirked, "I'll bet you still sucking your Mom's tit and letting your Dad change your underwear." The punch that immediately followed knocked Duo back into the dresser. As the items on top fell onto the floor, he collapsed along with them.

"Is that what you wanted, asshole!?" Heero shouted down at him through his heavy pants of rage as he stalked towards his teammate with clenched fists and a fiery glare.

Violet eyes wide from the initial shock, Duo reached up to wipe at the blood that ran down the right corner of his lip that he had bit down on. His cheek was already just beginning to swell as he looked up to the team captain with thinning eyes and growled deeply, "Yea. That's what I wanted." Jumping to his feet, he charged into the slightly taller young man and slammed his shoulder into his chest.

The wind knocked out of him, Heero fell back and hit his head on the edge of the table by the bed on the way down. Finally grasping a breath, he managed to get to his feet. "You son of a bitch!" he screamed and went after the running back just as Duo was about to land a swift punch to his face.

Punches and kicks landed in a blur as the two athletes wrestled and attacked with everything that they had. Knocking each other into the walls and anything else that they could manage, they finally tumbled into the hallway and continued their fight. They didn't stop when they reached the top of the stairs. Not paying attention, Heero lunged at Duo when the braided player's back was to the stairwell and they both went tumbling down in a balled heap of blows.

Several screams could be heard over the loud music, and strong arms wrapped around the struggling pair to pull them apart at a safe distance. Panting heavily, the bloodied and disheveled young men continued to glare at each other. The music stopped and all of the guests watched with wide, frightened eyes.

Running into the scene, Zechs and Quatre stood between the restrained players and glared warningly from one face to the other. "What the hell is going on here!?" the head coach snapped.

"I found your Golden Boy, here, snooping through my room!" Duo shouted while trying to break free from Wufei's iron grip. The struggle only made the Chinese receiver tighten his hold on the arms that he had folded behind the braided American. Trowa was having a bit of a time, himself, in hanging onto his team captain in the same fashion.

At the explanation of what happened, several gasps filled the air as the guests displayed varying degrees of shock and disbelief. His own eyes wide, Zechs quickly turned red and growled deeply at his star quarterback, "Is that true?"

With blood running down the left side of his face from a large cut on his forehead, Heero nodded firmly, "It was a mistake and I was in the middle of apologizing when that bastard crossed the line." From the corner of his cobalt eye, he could see Mueller smirking in pleasure at seeing that his team leader stood up to the cocky running back.

Still glaring at his friend, Quatre folded his arms and announced loudly, "All right, everyone. Party's over! Thank you for coming and drive home safely." Relena and Catherine shared a worried look, but knew better than to stick around. Quickly heading upstairs, they graciously took up the job of handing out the coats with the football team and the remainder of their squad filtering up behind them.

In moments, the last of the guests were out the door while casting glances over their shoulder to Heero and Duo. Taking a deep breath, Zechs sighed deeply, "Chang, Barton, you can stand down. I'll take it from here."

Not needing to hear another word, the center and receiver released their holds and accepted the coats that Relena and Catherine held out to them. Together, the four of them headed out silently. Shaking their freed arms a bit, Heero and Duo never broke their fierce gazes that had been locked on each other ever since they had been separated.

Quatre looked over to the head coach and stated, "I'll handle Duo, since I know how he works. Most likely, some words were said that shouldn't have been." The running back's mouth opened to protest, but the look that he was given by his Arabian manager kept him from pressing his luck. "I would appreciate it if you had a word with Yuy, since an invasion of another's personal space is not exactly something that is taken lightly in my culture."

"Of course," Zechs replied in a voice that he forced to keep calm. Gripping the quarterback from behind his neck, the tall blonde led him outside roughly. Heero winced the slightest bit, but made no sound or a move as he allowed himself to be taken away with a rough swallow. On the way outside, the head coach grabbed their coats that had been set up on the end cap of the stair railing with his free hand.

Stepping out into the cold air, Zechs carefully ushered his charge down the stairs, but held a tight grip onto the back of his neck. When they neared his own car, the tall man finally released the quarterback and growled deeply at him, "Mind telling me what the hell you were thinking when you went into that room?"

Heero straightened himself and held his bruised head high as he answered, "I was trying to find out exactly who I'm going to be working with. No one seems to know a goddamned thing about Maxwell's background before he became a professional football player. But he sure as hell can find out whatever the hell he wants about the rest of us."

Zechs shook his head and frowned deeply, "So you thought that going through someone else's personal belongings was the way to get your answers? Heero, you're my team captain. You're supposed to lead by example." Running a hand through his long bangs, he sighed deeply, "Yes, it does help to know as much about your teammates as you can so that you work well together, but you need to start using your head a bit more. Didn't anybody tell you that curiosity killed the cat?"

The realization of what he had done came in a rush and Heero's already chill-reddened cheeks brightened all the more. Lowering his head, he closed his cobalt eyes and said quietly, "I'm sorry, Zechs. I just... forgot myself back there. I wasn't thinking as clearly as I should have and I promise that something like this will never happen again."

A small, sad smile tugged the coach's lips as he replied softly, "Fair enough." Giving a firm slap to his player's back, Zechs told him, "Get on home and clean yourself up. The two of you are lucky that you didn't break your damn necks coming down the stairs like that."

Just as the events that he helped start flooded back, so did the aches and pains of Heero's injuries.

Despite the pain it caused his ribs, he chuckled deeply, "I guess that we did look like a couple of idiots back there." Zechs joined in his light laughter and nodded firmly. Slowly taking a deep breath, the Japanese young man smirked and turned towards his own vehicle with a sighed, "Good night, coach." The tall blonde responded with his own 'good night' before throwing his coat on and removing his keys as they parted ways.

Back inside the house, Duo was still seething as he stormed through the living and dining rooms to reach the kitchen. All but punching the door open, he treaded towards the refrigerator and opened the freezer, muttering several curses under his breath. Throwing a few ice cubes into a plastic bag that he removed from the counter, he hissed, "Should've killed that son of a bitch. What the fuck right did he think that he had?"

As his friend continued to rant to himself, Quatre stepped past the kitchen door and frowned deeply, "You know, you have had this coming for a while now."

Instantly pausing in his work, Duo snapped his head in his agent's direction with wide, violet eyes. "Wha!?" he cried in a slur, his right lip and cheek swelling pretty good by then. "T'll me I didn jus hear you right," he demanded as best he could with his speech somewhat impaired.

Shaking his head, Quatre closed the freezer door and leaned against the refrigerator with his arms crossed. "Don't get me wrong," he began in a sympathetic tone, "I'm not condoning what Heero did by any means, but I know you. I'm sure that you crossed a very thin line with him when you did find him. He doesn't seem the type to resort to blows without a reason."

Not bothering to meet his friend's gaze, Duo rested the cold pack against his cheek. "Mister Perfect needed ta get his cage rattled a bit," he grumbled finally. "He cn cry to Mommy 'n Daddy if he doesn' like it. I can't stand rich snots like 'im." Hissing against the throbbing, he gritted, "Bastr'd has some heat in dat throwing arm of his. Damn near broke my jaw."

Sighing deeply, Quatre moved towards the sink and removed a glass cup from the cabinet just above. "His parents died, Duo," he shared in a low tone while turning on the faucet. "They were in a car accident last summer. Since it happened over the off-season, it wasn't all over the papers and he wanted the news to be kept quiet so that he could deal with the loss privately. Trowa was telling me about it earlier."

The running back's violet eyes widened at that, his hand limply lowering the ice pack from his darkening cheek with a quiet, "Shit." His legs became unsteady and he settled down onto one of the stools at the bar.

Guilt was something that Duo rarely ever experienced. But... family meant a great deal to him. To know that he just insulted another person's dead parents was making his stomach churn uncomfortably.

"And judging by that reaction, I take it that you made a comment about his folks," Quatre's frown deepened as he handed over the full glass and a couple pain pills that he brought with him. His braided friend remained quiet, but set aside the ice pack to accept the offerings with his head lowered.

Silently willing away his dark thoughts of what transpired in that room, the Arab young man sat at a stool beside his client. "You really need to do something about this anger of yours, Duo" Quatre warned gently. "It's eating you alive and it's not healthy when dealing with other people. I know that you think it's you against the world, but that's not the case."

After downing the pills, Duo lowered the glass onto the bar and nodded, "All right, Quat. You've made your point." A sudden thought struck him and he looked up with a curious gaze. "Why would Trowa share somethin' like that wif you when you just met 'im?"

Smirking, the blonde Arab answered, "Because it seems the two of us have something in common when it comes to judging who has the best ass for those tight pants that you all wear. We exchanged numbers and have a date set for next weekend."

Nearly falling from his own stool, the braided running back laughed, the quickly dissolving pills already helping him form words with less pain. "You're kiddin'! I almost forgot that there was a big stint about his coming out two seasons ago." Nudging his friend with his elbow lightly, he chuckled deeply, "Smooth work scorin' a date during your first week here. You must have made quite the impression."

Quatre just shook his head in amusement and switched the gears on their conversation with a suggested, "Maybe you should get out of here for a while. Head back to our old stomping grounds in Chicago for a while and clear your head." Raising an eyebrow, he added, "I'm sure that Hilde would appreciate seeing you."

"Yea," Duo replied while setting the icepack against his cheek again. "I thought about that too. She hates when I'm away for more than a week, not that I blame her. Maybe I'll just stay out there for a couple weeks." Frowning deeply, he asked, "You sure you don't mind being here on your own for a while?"

Before the question was even finished, his agent was shaking his head. "You take care of what you need to take care of," Quatre insisted. "I think that I'm perfectly capable of holding my own out here for a few weeks. And I don't want to see you back here until you have a better attitude. Is that understood?"

Raising his free hand in a salute, the braided American chuckled deeply, "Understood. " Together, Duo and Quatre got to their feet and headed out of the kitchen.

When they entered the dining room, they froze with wide eyes at the pile of food, soda cans and beer bottles that covered the table. In the living room, the scene was much the same, along with the dropped food that was covering the floor. "Would you be opposed to waiting until tomorrow to clean this up?" the running back inquired in a hope-filled voice.

Quatre just grinned in relief, "I was hoping you were going to ask that." With that, they headed upstairs to turn in after a very long night.

* * * * * *

Heero had just finished stepping into his large estate with a million thoughts swirling through his head when his cell phone rang. Not bothering to check the caller ID, he just opened the flip and pressed the receiver to his ear with a quiet, "Hello?"

"So were you able to find anything out when you were in the room?" Mueller's voice was quick to ask. The quarterback was not the least surprised to be hearing from him. The young guard had looked about ready to come out of his skin with anticipation when it was announced what the team captain had been caught doing.

The quarterback shrugged off his coat and hung it in his white, crystal-handled closet as he sighed deeply, "Only that he apparently has a girlfriend. I wasn't able to find out anything more before he came into the room."

His friend snorted, "I'm surprised that there's a girl out there that would give that creep the time of day. Must be the money he's making." Heero just rolled his eyes and refrained from making any comment. "Well, I guess that I better get going then. Whatever that prick said to make you snap, just brush it off, man."

With a deep breath, the Japanese athlete said simply, "Sure. Good night, Mueller." He didn't wait for the response before closing his cell phone and heading to the nearest of his five bathrooms. Once he threw back a couple pain pills, he slowly started heading upstairs.

Along the way, Heero stopped at the large picture hung at the top of the stairwell. The image was of his parents, Odin and Yumeko Lowe. Both smiling warmly, their hands were clasped together in one of the last pictures that had been taken of them.

Lightly running a hand over the gold frame, the young man whispered, "Good night, Mom and Dad." With a small nod to them, he headed down the hall towards his room to put the night behind him.

TBC

IMPORTANT NOTE:

I realized too late after posting the last part that my dyslexia kicked in and the team responsibilities that I had written down were backwards!!! !

So… We will be focusing on the *offense* team and not the defense. Badmomma was good enough to email me a detailed description:

*Offense is the team that attempts to score. They 'go on the offensive' against their opponents to reach the goal and score points. It's made up of Heero (quarterback) , Trowa (center), Duo (running back), Wufei (wide receiver) and Mueller's (guard) characters' positions. The remaining blockers and guards make up the remaining part of the offensive line.

 

Part 4:

As he slipped past the gate and into the waiting area of the Chicago National Airport, the braided running back peered over the anxious faces around. "Duo!" he heard the familiar voice call from the back of the crowd waiting to see their loved ones. Lifting his sunglasses to rest them on his head, the American smiled widely at the welcoming sight of the one that called for him making her way towards him.

Leaping into his opening arms, Hilde wrapped her arms tightly around him and kissed his cheek. "It's so good to have you back," she sighed deeply. "The kids have been going absolutely crazy without you."

With his own arms holding her tight, Duo chuckled deeply, "Good to see you, too, Hil. Sorry I've been away for so long, but it took a while to get the new place set up to both my own and Quat's liking." So as to clear the way for the other arrivals, they clasped hands and skirted their way through the crowd together.

On their way to the baggage claim, Hilde tilted her head and examined the bruises that she could see much more clearly on the running back's face. At her close proximity, the thin layer of liquid cover-up that was used did not hide the dark traces nearly as well as they did from even a short distance. Raising an eyebrow, she smirked, "I see that you're making friends with your new teammates."

Groaning, Duo lowered his sunglasses back onto his nose and kept his voice down as he replied, "I'll tell you all about it when we get home. This really isn't the place to be discussing it." The short-haired young woman just nodded and didn't press any further.

The drive from the airport was made in companionable silence. Driving into the city, they soon reached one of the more run-down areas of town. Finally, they pulled into the two-story apartment complex that they owned. From the nearly condemned homes and buildings around, a variety of loud music was playing and several people were talking in the streets.

Duo removed his sunglasses and pulled his two suitcases from the back of the car as the young woman held the front door opened to him. Smiling widely, Hilde called, "Kids, look who's home!"

Within seconds, five children varying races and aging from four to eight peeked out from different corners. Gasping and smiling widely, the group gave cries of 'Duo!' and ran towards him. Quickly lowering his cases and closing the door behind him, Duo bent down to his knees. Opening his arms, we wrapped them tightly around his greeters. "How are my little ankle biters?" he asked with a wide smile while rubbing the top of their heads.

From the room that had been knocked out to be turned into a living room, three teenagers no older than fourteen entered with wide eyes and elated smiles. Making his way downstairs, a young man with blonde hair and brown eyes smirked as he watched the braided running back take the time to hug each of the little ones. "Good to have you back, brother," he said warmly when he was finally able to get near.

Rising to his feet, Duo pulled the blonde into a one-armed embrace and grinned, "Thanks, Solo." When he tried to walk, he laughed down at the giggling children wrapped around his legs, "All right, kiddos. Just give me a minute to get settled in and I promise that I'll get more time to play with you."

A little girl with curly, brown hair kept her small arms around his right leg and pouted sweetly, "But you'll just go away again."

His heart breaking, the braided football player carefully extracted her from his leg to lift her up in his arms. Lightly kissing her cheek, he grinned reassuringly, "I'm going to be here for a few months, until it starts warming up again, Jamie. And when I go away again, it won't be for as long as this last time."

Jamie's big, green eyes grew as she gasped, "Really?" The other children chorused the same question anxiously and bounced on their feet.

"Really," Duo nodded firmly to the girl in his arms. As the smaller children cheered, one of the three teenagers moved close and gently took the little girl into his own arms.

The African American boy smiled, "Come on, Jamie. Let's get back to our movie so that Duo can relax for a bit. He just had a long morning with his trip." The girl nodded and settled into his arms comfortable.

Resting a hand over the back of the teenager's neck, Duo smiled gratefully, "Thank you, Marcus." Lightly pulling him into a hug, he told him, "After your 'Aunt Hilde' gives me a good drilling, I'll be right back." From where she was leaning against the stairwell, the said young woman smirked and rolled her eyes. The boy chuckled knowingly with a quiet, 'Okay.'

Finally able to get near, the remaining two teenagers approached. The girl, only thirteen and of Latin decent, grinned, "We'll keep them occupied for however long it takes." Behind her, the Asian fourteen-year- old nodded firmly with a smile of his own.

Embracing them and kissing their heads of dark hair, Duo told them gently, "I can always count on you, Flora and Tai. It shouldn't be too long."

Solo insisted on taking the suitcases and headed back up stairs with them. Gently resting a hand on the American's shoulder, Hilde smiled, "Let me make up some tea for you. We have a lot to talk about." Inwardly moaning at the thought of having to share the prior night's events, Duo silently followed her down the long hallway to the back two bedrooms that had been turned into a large kitchen.

Taking a seat at the large table that seated eleven, the braided young man sighed deeply, "Man, spring just is not getting here soon enough. The sooner that we break ground, the sooner I'll be able to sleep better at night. I don't know what I would do if it hadn't been for you and that husband of yours to look after things while I'm gone."

Hilde poured water into the tea kettle and chuckled deeply, "Well, we don't have too much longer to wait now. Believe me, I'll be thrilled when we can get these kids out of this neighborhood, too. It'll be nice when they can actually play outside without having to worry about looking over their shoulders." Starting one of the burners, she sighed deeply, "There were gunshots just a couple blocks from here from another drive-by."

Duo swallowed roughly and suppressed a shudder. Since his own childhood, he had seen the area deteriorate to the hell that it had become. As much as he wanted to find some temporary placement, his options were pretty few when it came to housing seven youngsters. Better to just put his eggs in the basket that he was weaving for something permanent. Thankfully, the agonizing wait was almost over.

Stepping into the room, Solo sat beside his braided friend and smirked, "Nice bruises you have, there. Who did you manage to offend in Pittsburgh in less than two weeks?" His short-haired wife took the seat across from him at the other side of the running back with an eager expression to hear his response.

With a deep sigh, Duo lowered his head a bit and answered quietly, "Heero Yuy, the quarterback. I was hosting a party last night to get to meet the team and I found him in my room looking through my things."

The young couple exchanged a surprised look before turning back to face their friend for the rest of it. Shrugging, the football player admitted, "I said something out of line about his parents and we went at it. I didn't know until after the fact that his parents had been killed in a car accident last summer."

As it all sunk in, Solo dry-washed his face with a muttered, "Shit. Sounds like it was one hell of a party, then."

"Well," Hilde piped in after biting her lip, "I'm not going to go into the riot act, since I am more than certain Quatre already handled that." Duo shifted uncomfortably in his chair, proving her theory right, but remained quiet. "But you apologized, right?" she pressed. When the running back did not so much as raise his head, her eyes widened with a shouted, "You mean haven't apologized to him yet!?"

Glaring at her, Duo replied, "No. I was waiting for an apology from him first, considering the fact that he was the one that stepped out of line first. He won't get anything from me until he says that he's sorry first."

* * * * * *

"If that son of a bitch is waiting to hear an apology from me, he better not hold his damn breath!" Heero yelled as he pulled the milk carton from the refrigerator. With the cut on his head closed off by a band-aid and a few bruises shining through on his face, he stormed towards the kitchen table.

Sitting across from him was the young woman whom for the last five years had served as a cleaning and cooking aid to the Yuys. When the man and woman of the house passed, she had insisted that she stay to look after Heero and had become like a second mother to him. Always a very prim and proper lady, the quarterback always addressed her as such.

A small, sad smile tugged the lovely woman's face as she inquired, "Even though you were the one to start the whole mess by going into his room? Had you kept your curiosity in check, he wouldn't have felt inclined to jab you in such a way."

Just when her young friend was about to open his mouth, she held up her hand and said sincerely, "Now, I loved your parents dearly. And I would never stand for anyone making such a crude comment about them. However, you know better than to just go through someone else's belongings without permission. Your parents raised you better than that."

Wincing, Heero sighed deeply and lowered his head with a quiet, "Yes, Lady Une. I didn't mean any harm. I just wasn't thinking clearly. You know that when I'm set in doing something, I don't let anything get in my way... even my own reasoning at times."

"Fair enough," Lady Une nodded, her smile warming. "You're just like your father. Bull-headed and hell-bent to getting what you want." Propping her folded hands onto the table, she stated, "And in this case, you want answers. Did you ever consider just asking this Duo where he went to school, or what his family is like?"

Heero gave a bitter snort as he poured the milk into the glass that he had waiting for him. Frowning deeply, he replied, "He asked me the same thing when he caught me. I think that the likelihood of his being willing to tell me anything is pretty much shot now."

Unable to help her deep chuckle, the brunette aid folded her arms and smirked, "And does it really matter where he came from, or what his family is like? Does your not knowing more about him other than what you know from the media during his career make a difference on whether or not you can work together?"

Roughly swallowing the mouthful of milk that he was in the middle of gulping, the quarterback considered his words. After a long pause, he lowered the glass once more and shrugged, "No. I guess that it doesn't, really."

Pleased with that, Lady Une raised and eyebrow and grinned, "So you are sorry, then? Seeing now that you went and broke a trust that you really didn't need to?"

Finally raising his head to meet her brown-eyed gaze, Heero laughed, "You really know how to kick a guy when he's down, you know." His dear friend's smile only grew as she nodded. "Of course I am," he agreed at last. With a sly smirk of his own, he added, "But I'm not about to tell him that. At least not right now… but I will eventually."

Rising to her feet, the young woman rounded the table and lightly kissed the top of his unruly head of hair. "I'll take that over nothing," she told him softly. "It is never easy to admit to our mistakes or shortcomings, but I know that you will do the right thing in the end like you always do."

At the small kiss, Heero swallowed past the lump in his throat and tried not to remember how his mother would do the same thing when she was still alive. Looking up to meet the eyes watching him, he squeezed the hand closest to his own as he spoke in little more than a whisper, "Thanks for listening, Lady Une. I needed that."

"My pleasure," she winked with that pleasant smile of hers. Squeezing the hand back, she whispered, "I'm glad that I can be here for you." That said, she patted his shoulder and took the milk carton from the room along with her.

Closing his eyes, Heero raised his head to rest against the chair back. Much as he hated to admit it, he knew that he would have to apologize to Duo the next time that he saw him. Until then, at least he had some time to decide just how the hell he was going to get the nerve to go through with it.

* * * * * *

"Men are so damned proud!" Hilde growled deeply, careful to keep her voice down so as not to have the children hear her swear. "You were looking for a fight, and you know it. Unfortunately, Heero gave you a reason to rustle his feathers. Why can't you just own up to your part in the fight and tell him that you're sorry?"

His violet eyes narrowing on her, Duo hissed quietly, "Because that asshole doesn't know what it's like to have to starve for days on the streets, wondering where the hell he was going to find shelter before the next storm came rolling in. He never had to freeze or beg. I can't stand people who have life handed to them on a silver platter and take all of it for granted."

Shaking his head, Solo frowned sadly, "You don't know if he takes it all for granted, Duo. You hardly know the guy and you're already judging him to be the same as the rich kids from these parts that laughed and looked down on us. Not every privileged person is spoiled and unappreciative. "

Roughly folding his arms across his chest, the braided American huffed, "Sure they are, to some degree. While he might not come right out and act like he's better than anyone else, I know that he's thinking it. Same with all of those other pricks like Treize and Noventa."

"All right," Hilde finally gritted. "Let's just say that he is like all of those spoiled kids that walked with noses in the air. You still had no right to attack his parents the way that you did. Even if they were alive, that was a terribly low blow even for you. Family is one of the only things that you respect."

Pointing to the doorway, she reminded, "You would not have taken up eight children without their own families if you didn't appreciate how important it is for them to have someone that would look after them."

Knocked back on his heels by that, Duo sunk into his chair as if the young woman had physically punched him in the stomach. Solo remained still, but his brown eyes spoke of his own disappointment as they locked with the violet eyes that turned to him.

After a long pause, the running back took a deep breath. "You're right," he admitted softly, staring out at nothing as his stomach's wrenching returned at full force. "I was out of line for what I said and I deserved what came of it."

Both Solo and Hilde sighed deeply, their shoulders sagging as they sat back in their seats. "So you're going to apologize, then?" the young woman asked. While she had won the argument, she had no sign of joy of it. She hated having to hit her friend with such a harsh reality that he had crossed a line that he saw as sacred, but he needed to have his eyes opened.

Running a hand through his long bangs, Duo nodded, "Yea… eventually." Small smiles brightened his friends' faces at that. Quickly finishing off the tea that he had been nursing, he rose from his seat and announced, "I'm going to go catch up with the kids." Within moments of his departure, Solo and Hilde could hear a loud round of cheers of 'Daddy!' echoing from the living room.

The blonde young man began assisting his wife in clearing the table with a reassuring, "He'll come along, Hil. Of all of us, he had the worst experience before he was able to find someone that cared enough to take care of him."

"I know," the young woman sighed deeply. "I know. And when Sister Helen died that was the icing on the cake in his hating the world. The only time he's ever really happy is when he's here with the little ones. I just wish that he would find some kind of peace with everything that happened to him."

Walking towards the sink, Solo thought aloud, "He won't be at peace until he has them out of here. Then, he'll be able to breathe easier. The fact that he hasn't been able to put this place behind him certainly hasn't helped him cope with everything that he experienced while growing up here."

Gently lowering the tea cups that he was carrying into the sink, he wrapped his arms around his wife's waist and kissed her cheek. "By this time next year, we'll all be in our new place. We don't have much longer to wait."

Her smile returning, Hilde wrapped her arms around the tall young man's neck and nodded, "Yea. Then we can all finally move on." Leaning in, she kissed her husband soundly before pulling away to finish the dishes.

* * * * * *

Later that evening….

Quatre was just entering the house, his arms filled with grocery bags, when the vidphone rang. Muttering a small curse to himself, he quickly lowered the items onto the nearest couch and ran to answer. When he opened the screen, his eyes widened at the image of the caller. "Heero," he greeted with a wide smile. "This is a pleasant surprise."

Nodding firmly, the quarterback gave a friendly smile and replied, "Good to see you, Quatre. I was actually calling to talk to Duo. Is he home?"

With a wince, the blonde agent answered, "Actually, he is going to be out of town for the next couple months until the spring training begins. I could give you his cell phone number if you'd like, or I could pass a message on to him."

"A few months?" Heero repeated. 'Why the hell would he just skip town like that?' he thought to himself. 'He didn't seem the type to run and hide.' Maybe, with luck and some time before their next meeting, whatever damage was done would just sort itself out without his needing to apologize.

Shaking his head, the Japanese athlete finally said, "That's all right, Quatre. It wasn't important." And with a brief salutation, the call ended and the screen went black.

The Arab young man straightened himself and blinked in confusion. "Now I wonder what that was all about."

 

Part 5:

The months rolled by and before long, it was mid-May and warming quickly. Back in his office, Zechs was shifting through his paperwork of plays to use on the field. Just the week prior, he had made his calls to his team- or his team's agents in Duo's case- and announced that this was to be their first day of spring training.

At the knock on his door, he called, "Come in." Looking up when the door opened, he smiled widely and rose from his seat. "Trent, Howard," he greeted while extending his hand to them. "Good to see the two of you again. I hope that you have a good few months off."

The young defense coach grinned and was the first to reach the hand to shake it. "Good to see you too, Zechs. I've been anxious for training to start up again to get away from the in-laws. How are the wife and kids?"

"Just fine, thank you," the head coach answered. Turning his head and his freed hand over to the grey-haired man, he smirked, "And how are you, Pops?" It was an endearment that he and his team came up with for Howard when addressing him. It was also a name that was worn with pride.

While up there in years, the old man had been a part of the professional football scene for years and was one of the best offensive coaches out there. And there wasn't a person that knew or worked with him that didn't respect him.

Flashing a bright smile, Howard gave a firm handshake and replied, "Still here, amazingly. So, I guess that I can't complain too much." Zechs just chuckled deeply and gestured to the round table on the other side of the room. Together, the three men took their seats there along with a pen and notepad ready.

Howard sat back in his leather chair with a smirk as he asked, "I hear that you got to meet the new kid not long after he signed on. What's your take on him? Am I going to have to put him over my knee the way I had to for Chang and Mueller?"

At the mention of the rogue running back, Zechs sighed deeply, "I don't think he'll give you the chance, being the handful that he is. He and Heero came to blows just on their second meeting, so you'll have to keep an eye on the two of them."

Both Howard and Trent froze with wide eyes. "No shit?" the young defense coach blinked in shock. Looking over to his counterpart, he smiled sadly, "Good luck with that one, Pops. Heero's one of the most level-headed people that I've ever met. If that Maxwell was able to make him snap like that, you're in for a fun season."

Rubbing his chin in thought, Howard muttered, "Sounds like I'll have to get a bigger paddle for that kid." Through his glasses, he fixed the head coach with a stern gaze and stated clearly, "I expect a full report of whatever details you know regarding that fight later. I can't have our quarterback and running back at each other's throats when they'll be working so closely together on the field."

Zechs nodded firmly, "I'll be more than happy to share that with you." Appraising both of his assistant coaches, he announced, "But for now, let's just go over what we have set up for today's training before the team starts showing up." More than happy with that suggestion, Trent and Howard got ready to out their pens to paper.

*******

"You look like the cat that got its fill of cream," Wufei smirked to his tall friend and teammate when he entered the busy locker room. Trowa's small smirk only grew at the statement and he took a seat beside the Chinese wide receiver on the bench.

Opening his duffle bag to shift through his gear, the Latin center commented, "Well, that would be a pretty accurate way of describing it." When Wufei paused in strapping on his leg guards to meet his emerald eyes, Trowa supplied quietly, "Just becoming very acquainted with Quatre Winner."

Raising a dark eyebrow, the Chinese athlete frowned deeply, "Sleeping with the enemy? I'm surprised that you give him the time of day, let alone share your bed with him, considering who he's associated with."

At that, Trowa straightened and fixed his friend with a stern glare. "Quatre is hardly the enemy. That guilt by association crap doesn't float in this case. You got to meet him at that party, so you know better than that."

In recalling the blonde agent's demeanor at the doomed get-together, Wufei had to give his teammate the benefit of the doubt. "I suppose," he finally agreed and continued to strap on his protective gear.

Heero entered the room and his teammates smiled and greeted their team captain with firm nods as he passed them on the way to his locker. Returning the gestures and quiet greetings to his comrades, he sat at his own bench and went about his preparation in silence as he always did. Wufei and Trowa watched from their spot across from their leader and shared a look that spoke of their concern.

The Japanese young man never was one that was easy to read. And today being the first time since the party that he and Duo would be anywhere near each other, it was hard to tell how he was holding up.

Despite how much they wanted to see how the quarterback was, neither young man was about to interrupt his ritual of setting up without interruption. Mueller and a few of the others all seemed to be thinking the same as they occasionally watched Heero with worried glances.

Before long, Howard entered the room to a round of cheers and applause from his offense team. Smiling widely, he raised his hand and grinned, "You're too kind. But sucking up like that won't get you off easy today." His eyes scanned the room and with a deep frown, he asked, "Where's Maxwell?"

Heero's cobalt eyes widened at the question and he took a good look around the other faces present for the first time since his arrival. Not one of those equally surprised and confused faces belonged to the braided running back. Sighing deeply, the old coach grumbled, "I'll worry about that one later. Let's get going. We have a busy day ahead." With that, he turned and led his team out of the locker room.

When they stepped outside, Trent's team was already there waiting. And on the opposite side of the field, Zechs was stationed in a tower a couple stories over the area to get a good view of everything that was going on.

Taking up a loudspeaker, the head coach announced, "All right, let's start with a warm-up jog in full gear for conditioning. Five laps around the first time. And take it easy. We don't want any injuries before the season even starts."

Given their orders, the team started to head out at a slow pace. Even though they were able to wear normal shorts and shirts in the cool air, the gear on them was not exactly light and it did not take much effort to break a sweat while jogging in it.

Just when the head of the pack was about to round the first corner of the rectangular field, Trent approached Howard and said, "I didn't see Maxwell in your group. Any word on why he's not here?"

Howard just shook his head, "No." The way that the single word was gritted out, the defensive coach winced and dropped the subject. The old man was not one to get frustrated easily. When he did, no one wanted to make the mistake of having that anger turned on them.

From behind them, the two men heard someone running up the walkway that led to the field from the locker room. Before they could turn back to see who was approaching, all that they could get a good look at was a widely swinging braid peeking out from under a shining, red helmet. Running at almost top speed, Duo was rounding the corner that his teammates had passed in no time and was quickly catching up to them.

The speed at which the running back was able to go in his full protective gear was staggering. Howard and Trent watched in stunned silence with wide eyes and opened mouths. Zechs was faring much the same as his folded arms fell limply to his sides.

When he caught up to his teammates, Duo never bothered to slow for a moment. "Pardon me!" he called as he made his way through the crowd. "Coming through!" Startled cries and yells filled the air and before long, the braided American was at the front of the group. Heero and Wufei gasped sharply when they were suddenly passed for the lead. "Care for a race, boys?" the running back smirked over his shoulder as he continued to charge down the sideline.

Growling deeply, Heero's eyes narrowed on his retreating target and he was off running. "Oh shit," Wufei muttered to himself. With Trowa right behind, he picked up his own pace. Before long, the entire team was chasing hard after the running back as fast as their legs could carry them.

By the time the third lap came around, Duo was still ahead by at least a whole half of a lap. Try as they might, his teammates couldn't close the gap any more than that for the remainder of the exercise.

At the end of his run, the braided young man slowed to a halt by Trent and Howard. Undoing the chin strap so he could remove his helmet, he cupped the side of his grinning mouth and called over to the other side of the field, "Come on, guys, you're almost there! You can do it! No pain, no gain!" Loud grumbles carried over from his teammates along with shouted of 'shut up!' and a variety of crude swears.

Zechs sprinted over across the field when the lagging members of his team passed. As he approached, he met the violet eyes that turned toward him. "Nice of you to show up, Maxwell. And what is the excuse for showing up late to your first day of training?" he asked with an irritated tone.

The whole time that he was speaking, the head coach noted the fact that the young man had barely broken a sweat and was quickly calming his breath. It was something quite remarkable considering the speed and distance that he had traveled with gear on.

Smiling brilliantly, Duo shrugged, "No excuse, really. I just like making an entrance." Lightly nudging the taller young man in the arm, he winked, "Gotta make sure you know you got your money's worth." Gesturing to the others, he added, "Plus, I just helped show you that the others need some serious conditioning for better endurance."

Unable to argue with that one, Zechs swallowed the bitter pill roughly. In reality, he had thought that the remainder of the team would have faired better than they were. Changing the subject, he nodded to his staff and introduced, "Howard, Trent, I'm sure you've already guessed that this is Duo." He glanced to his running back and told him, " Duo, I'd like you to meet our defensive coach, Trent and our offensive coach, Howard."

His smile growing, the braided American extended his hand to the grey-haired man and said sincerely, "I know quite a bit about you and your history in the game, Howard. I'm looking forward to working with you."

At that, Howard smirked, "Well, your reputation precedes you as well, my boy." Taking the hand into his own, he squeezed and shook it firmly. When he lowered his arm, he fixed the young man with a stern gaze and warned, "I certainly hope that this will be the last time that you'll be late for one of these sessions. I don't tolerate tardiness."

Duo just smiled and raised his hand as he reassured him, "No problem. Like I said, I just wanted to make a good first impression." He moved to shake hands with an amused Trent in greeting and they exchanged a few friendly words.

Finally, Heero was the first to run into the scene, panting heavily and stumbling to a stop. Wufei, Trowa, Mueller and the remainder of the team all but collapsed when they came in not far behind. Only a few stragglers were still bringing up the rear.

Removing his helmet, the quarterback panted heavily as he glared daggers at the running back. "'m gonna... kill... that bastard," he mumbled. He raised a hand to wipe it across his sweat-soaked brow. Wufei and Trowa could only nod their heads in agreement behind him.

"Hey, gang," Duo waved excitedly to his teammates. The lot just grumbled back or gave the finger as they tried to catch their breath. Chuckling deeply, the braided young man just walked past the team captain and commented, "Looks like someone's gotten out of shape over the last few months."

Any desire to apologize for his actions went right out the window for Heero. Throwing down his helmet, he began to stalk after the American with a deep growl. Quickly regaining their composure, Wufei and Trowa tore off their own helmets and all but dove on top of him to hold him back. "Not here," the Chinese wide receiver hissed quietly in his friend's ear.

Reluctantly, Heero forced himself to calm and the arms securing him in place fell away. Once the center and wide receiver gave the Japanese athlete enough space, Howard approached. "I'm going to have to share a few words with you after practice," he informed quietly as not to have the rest of the team hear. "Zechs told me about your little stunt over the break."

'Just when this day couldn't get any better," the running back thought to himself. With a firm nod, he replied simply, "Yes, sir." Lightly patting him on the shoulder gear, the old man stepped away and took his place beside Zechs.

Gazing over his expectant team with a football in hand, the head coach announced, "Well, it looks as though we have a lot of work ahead of us if you're going to keep up your momentum through a whole game. For now, let's just run a few plays and go from there. First string players on the defense and offense teams line up at the fifty-yard line." [1] and [2]

Heero easily caught the ball when Zechs threw it to him and led the way onto the field, grateful to be able to get the chance to blow off some steam.

Five grueling hours later, the end of practice was announced with the head coach telling his team to hit the showers. Several relieved sighs and grunts filled the air from the worn lot. Even the second and third string players were put to work and were more than ready to call it quits for the day.

"Aw, man," Duo pouted as he removed his shining helmet to free his rope of hair from its confinement. While he looked a bit more worn compared to how he looked after his long sprint at the start of practice, he was still far better that most of his teammates. "And I was just getting started."

Beside him, Trowa grumbled, "Give them any ideas to make us keep going and I'll strangle you with that damned braid of yours." The running back just snickered and shook his head in amusement.

The team slowly made its way down into the long corridor beneath the stands to shed their clothes and gear in the locker room. Sighing deeply when he stepped under the warm spray of water, Wufei looked over torso-high wall of his stall as Heero stepped into the shower beside him. "I hate to admit it," the Chinese receiver began as he pushed back his loose hair, "but that Maxwell was something else out there."

Recalling how the braided running back managed to find the gaps in the tacklers nearly every time he was handed the ball, Heero had no choice but to agree. Once Duo had broken free of the wall of hands and bodies trying to stop him, he was nearly impossible to catch as he headed for the end zone. Unlike Alex, he was willing to take chances in hopes of breaking through even the smallest of openings.

Even Mueller kept his mouth closed in light of Maxwell's performance.

As he turned on his own water, Heero shrugged, "He was pretty good." Looking around at the other players that were getting cleaned, he asked, "Where is he, anyway?"

Trowa was passing by and stripping out of the towel around his waist as he headed to the stall behind the pair. "He prefers to shower alone. Quatre told me that it was actually in his contract that under no circumstances is he to be forced to shower with the rest of the team. Must be some sort of special treatment he's used to getting."

Wufei ran some shampoo through his raven-black hair and shrugged, "No hair off my back. The less time I have to spend around him, the better." Heero just chuckled deeply and nodded in agreement.

Not long later, the cleaned athletes headed out of their stalls with their towels wrapped back around their damp waists to head back to their lockers. Heading towards the steam-filled shower room, a fully dressed Duo smirked and nodded in acknowledgement to some of the glares that he was receiving along the way.

After changing into a new pair of blue jeans and a plain, white T-shirt, Heero took hold of his duffel bag and headed out into the hallway. Only making it a few steps towards the exit, a familiar voice called from behind, "Not so fast."

Wincing, the quarterback looked over his shoulder to the old man watching him with his arms folded. Raising a grey eyebrow, Howard smirked, "Didn't think you'd get away that easy, did you?"

His stomach dropping into the pit of his stomach, Heero's shoulder sagged. A small smirk tugged his own lips as he admitted, "Well… I was hoping." Chuckling deeply, the offensive coach gestured wit his head for his quarterback to follow. Without another word, the Japanese young man walked a few steps behind in their walk to Howard's office.

It was going to be a very long season. And it hadn't even started yet.

TBC

[1] First string players are those that see the most action because they are used the most in the field for both the offense and the defense teams. Second and third string players usually sit the benches until there is an injured player, or just a change up in the line-up.

[2] The fifty-yard line is the ling that draws across center of the field. From there, on either side of the fifty, the numbers go backwards until you reach the one-yard line right before the end zone where a team scores if they enter it.

Part 6:

It had been a long first week of spring training and Zechs sighed deeply in relief as he walked up the front steps to his home. Placing his hand on the fingertip reader beside the door, he waited only a moment before the door opened to him. The moment he stepped into the threshold, two little voices called, "Daddy! Daddy!"

Smiling warmly, the head coach lowered his suitcase filled with notes and scooped his little boys into his arms when they ran up to meet him. Lightly kissing their heads, he grinned, "You're both almost getting too heavy for me to pick you up like this." The five and four-year-olds laughed and held onto their father tightly.

Carefully lowering his precious cargo, the tall man looked up just as his wife entered the room with a bright smile. Pressing her lips to his in a sound kiss, Noin said quietly, "Welcome back. I just finished making dinner." With that, she led her family through the living room and into the dinging room where the food was waiting on the table.

Instantly forgetting his troubles of trying to get his team prepared for the most important season of his career, Zechs took his place at the head of the table with Noin sitting across from him. Derek, the older of the two boys with a head of short, dark hair like his mother, took his place at the father's right. Gavin pulled himself up into the chair to the coach's other side and ran a hand through his shoulder-length blonde hair.

Grace was said and the family ate while the children were excitedly going over their day at kindergarten and pre-school. Smiling to himself, Zechs just took everything in and allowed everything else in the world to go away for a moment. Few things made him happier than spending time with his family.

Once the meal was finished and the kids off to play one of their videogames in the living room, Zechs assisted his wife in clearing the table. "So," Noin began, "How was practice today? Are Heero and Duo finally starting to get along" And just like that, the head coach was pulled back into reality.

While there were few people on the team that were very friendly towards the new running back, there obvious tension between Heero and Duo in particular. And once anyone crossed the team captain, it was next to impossible to win over the rest of the team. While they were both performing well at practice, they could be so much better if only the communication between them would improve.

Sighing deeply, Zechs answered, "If by getting along you mean not physically tearing each other apart, they're getting along just fine. They still don't talk to each other unless it's in grunts or making some kind of snide comment or just arguing for the sake of arguing. And when they're not doing that, they're just glaring at each other out of the corner of their eyes."

As he lowered his stack of plates into the dishwasher, he frowned deeply, "Howard is having a time with them. He's tried just about everything to get them to talk, but I don't think that's going to be in the cards any time in the near future."

Noin placed a sympathetic hand on his shoulder and squeezed it in a simple gesture of reassurance. Smiling at her, Zechs placed his hand over hers and told her gently, "Thanks." After starting the dish washer, the head coach headed to the opening of the living room with his wife right behind.

Derek and Gavin were laughing and cheering as they played their favorite video game, completely oblivious to everything around them. The wistful smile on Zechs's face faded after a short while of watching his boys. Sighing once more, he shook his head, "I don't want to let any of you down by not winning a division this season."

At that, Noin frowned deeply and rounded her husband so that they were facing each other. Once their eyes were locked, she stated, "You won't disappoint us, Zechs. Win or lose, we'll all be very proud of you."

"But if I'm let go, we'll have to uproot from everything that we know," the blonde man retorted. Gesturing to their little ones, he bit his lip and said, "They'll have to leave their friends and everything that they've known behind to live wherever I can work... if I can find work as a coach for another team." His voice was little more than a worried whisper when he finished that last thought aloud.

Wordlessly commanding him to look back at her, Noin waited until their gazes met again. A small smile tugged her lips as she spoke calmly, "First of all, the season has not even started to be worrying about the 'what ifs.' When that time does come, however, we'll deal with it together just like everything else."

Raising an eyebrow, the young woman smirked, "Remember that you told me it's doing your best that matters and not the scoreboard at the end of the game?"

Blinking in surprise, Zechs smiled lovingly at his wife with an amused chuckle. Shaking his head, he asked, "How on earth did I get so lucky to find you?" Lightly kissing her lips before she could answer, he pulled back to whisper, "Thank you. And you're right. We'll get through whatever happens."

Noin just grinned and nodded firmly, "Good. Now, the boys have only a couple hours before they have to go to bed, so I suggest that we spend some time with them. They only stay this little for so long." Gently taking the coach's hand in hers, she led him into the living room towards one of the couches behind their sons.

* * * * *

Later that evening, Trowa adjusted his light, spring coat as he headed up to the house that Duo and Quatre shared. Despite the fact that he and the blonde agent had been dating for a couple months now, he always got butterflies in his stomach whenever he went to see him. Once used to only casual affairs, this was an entirely new thing for the center to be so smitten by someone.

He was falling and fast. It was something that both excited and scared Trowa at the same time.

Knocking on the front door when he reached it, the Latin took a deep and calming breath before it slid open. Trowa was just about to say something in greeting before his green eyes widened at the sight of his braided teammate on the other side. It was the first time in all of his visits to the residence that Duo was ever home, and so he had no idea what to expect as a million questions ran through his head.

Did Quatre tell him that they were dating? How was he supposed to react to the running back when they were not on the field? Why the hell couldn't he find his voice to say something to end the awkward silence?

Finally, a small-and what appeared to be relieved- smile tugged Duo's lips. Gesturing with his head, he said in a friendly tone, "Come on in. Quatre's still getting ready." With that said, he stepped aside to give his teammate room to enter.

His emerald eyes blinking in surprise, Trowa managed to make his feet move and stepped into the quaint home. 'So,' he thought to himself, 'he does know about us.' He wasn't sure whether that was a good or a bad thing just yet.

Stepping further into the house, Duo said over his shoulder, "Take your coat off and I'll get you something to drink since it might be a while. Quat can be worse than a girl sometimes, when it comes to getting ready to go out." Unable to help the small laugh at the statement, Trowa removed his coat and followed the braided young man towards the kitchen.

Once the center was seated at the bar, Duo opened the refrigerator and asked, "What can I get you? We have all the good sodas, milk… water."

"I'll take a root beer, if you have one," the Trowa replied. Nodding firmly, the running back removed a couple soda cans and closed the door after him. He removed a couple tall glasses from the cabinet over the sink and filled them with ice before setting them down on the bar. Pouring his own drink into one of the glasses, the Latin grinned, "Thanks."

Duo gave him a small nod again and took a sip from his glass. Just as his visitor was in mid-swallow, he asked, "So how long have you and Quat been going at it?"

Gasping, a mouthful of soda went down Trowa's wrong pipe and he started coughing. When he was finally able to catch his breath, he accepted the napkin that the running back was holding out to him with an amused smirk. "W-what!?" he managed to sputter before drying his mouth and his jeans. 'Thank God I went with the black pair," he thought to himself.

The smile on Duo's face only grew more wicked as he shrugged, "I was just testing to see if you two already moved things to the next level. Judging by your reaction to the question, I'd say that you have." Leaning in, his smile faded and his violet eyes narrowed in a warning glare. "Quatre is one of my best friends, and he cares an awful lot about you," he said quietly. "So, don't hurt him, unless you're willing to deal with me."

Instantly straightening in his seat, Trowa's eyes widened. "H-he really cares about me?" he heard himself inquire. While he had hoped that to be the case, he really wasn't sure where the agent stood regarding their relationship. It was the first time that the center ever worried about how the other person felt about him.

Slowly losing his edge, Duo pulled back with a small grin. "Yea. He does," he told him quietly. The smile faded into a sad frown and he sighed deeply, "And he's had his heart broken before. Quat's like a brother to me, so I'm not about to sit back without knowing that your intentions are good when it comes to him."

It was such a strange thing to the Latin athlete to see this serious side to his teammate. Where he would have expected some sort of smart-ass comment or joke, there was none. And the weighted look in those violet eyes only proved how much Duo respected and cared for his friend. It was just another side that he never knew existed.

A small, reassuring smile tugged Trowa's lips finally. Taking a deep breath, he replied, "I promise that I only have the best intentions when it comes to Quatre." Looking away and fighting the burning of his cheeks, he added softly, "I've never met anyone like him, and I've honestly never felt this way before."

It was a very freeing thing... this being honest about his own feelings for a change. With one more deep breath, the center turned his head to lock gazes with the other football player and told him, "If I ever do anything to hurt him, I would fully welcome whatever ass-kicking you would have in store for me."

Tilting his braided hear, Duo watched his visitor for a long pause before his bright smile returned. "I knew there was something I liked about you," he commented. And with that, the tension that had been looming dissipated. Raising his glass in a silent toast, he took another long sip.

His shoulders easing, Trowa smiled and drank from his own glass. Clearing his throat when he was finished, he lowered his head and said, "By the way, thank you for not giving me a hard time with my being gay. To be honest, I was afraid that someone with your reputation would have had a field day at my expense."

Lightly chuckling, Duo admitted, "I can imagine that it must have been a pretty nerve-wracking time before we met." Shaking his head, he waved a hand nonchalantly and grinned, "To each their own. Obviously, I don't have a problem with it if I made Quatre my agent even after he came out. It's just a non-factor to me when it comes to judging people."

"Well, it's still appreciated, nonetheless, " Trowa responded. Looking over the bar and into the dining room, he spotted a pair of black leather suitcases sitting in the entranceway. As he gestured to them with his chin, he asked, "Heading out of town for a while?"

Finishing off his soda, Duo turned his head to where the Latin center's attention was focused. With a hum as he swallowed, he nodded, "Visiting loved ones. Since we have the next three days off, I'm going to take advantage of it." He glanced to the clock about the stove and added, "Actually, I'm, going to be leaving in about twenty minutes for the airport for the last flight out of here."

Intrigued, the center questioned, "You take a flight out to visit your family just for a few days? They must be pretty important to you to go through that kind of trouble."

The running back's smile turned wistful as he stared out at nothing in particular. "A good family's everything, man," he all but whispered. "If you have that, you've got it made." Coming back to the present, Duo sat up and slapped his teammate on the shoulder. "And it's more than worth any kind of trouble."

Once again, seeing the American this way was something of wonder to Trowa. He couldn't help the grin from spreading on his face as he regarded Duo in a different light. He almost forgot that this was the same cocky troublemaker that had been traded from team to team for his reckless behavior. Silently, he wondered how many others were fortunate enough to see that there was much more to him than that.

Quatre stepped into the dinging room in a silk blouse of light blue and tan kakis. Smiling at the sight of his lover, he greeted, "Hey, Trowa. I hope you weren't waiting too long."

With a suffering huff of air, Duo exclaimed, "A whole fifteen minutes, not to mention the near half hour that you had taken before he even showed up! Your coach is going to be turning into a pumpkin soon, Cinderella! Better get going!" Trowa was snickering as he rose while Quatre gave his friend an undignified glare.

Sharing a brief kiss with the blonde young man, the center winked, "The wait wasn't that bad. You look wonderful." A slight blush colored the agent's cheeks as he muttered a thank you.

Rubbing his hands together, Duo rose from his seat and stepped through the swinging door. "Well, I better finish getting ready to leave, myself. You two have fun." As he turned to the tall center, he extended a hand and grinned, "Nice talking to you, Tro. See you at training in a few days."

A warm smile lit Trowa's face and he accepted the hand in a firm shake. "It was nice talking to you as well, Duo," he said sincerely. "I hope that you have a good weekend with your family."

Chuckling deeply, the running back replied, "Always do." Lightly nudging his agent's shoulder in a friendly gesture as he passed, Duo winked, "I'll call as soon as I get settled, since I know you'll be up all night worrying if you don't hear from me."

Quatre returned the nudge smirked, "Thanks. Have a good trip." That said, the running back stepped from the room and headed upstairs for a last spot check to make sure he had packed everything he needed. Smiling to his lover, the blonde smiled, "Ready?"

Nodding, Trowa grinned, "Yea." Throwing their light coats on, the pair headed outside with their hands joined. On the way to his car, the Latin football player looked over his shoulder and back to the house. Gazing up to the lit window that belonged to Duo's room, he stated, "He's a pretty nice guy when you really get to know him."

The blonde's blue eyes looked up to where his partner was looking and chuckled deeply, "Duo is many things, including nice." Trowa opened the passenger seat door to Quatre and he smiled all the brighter before lowering himself inside.

* * * * * *

Four days later...

The team was back in the shower room following their first practice after the extended weekend. It's been another day of polishing the problem areas and conditioning. Heero sighed deeply in relief at stepping under the warm spray of water in his stall. Reaching for his bottle of shampoo, he glanced over at Wufei and frowned, "How's the leg?"

With a shrug, the Chinese receiver stretched his right appendage after nearly pulling a muscle that afternoon. "It's a little tight, but it'll be fine in a day once I put some heat on it," he answered without a hint of worry. "Just pushed myself a little more than I should have."

A bit relieved that his friend hadn't hurt himself further than that, the quarterback warned, "We can't afford to lose you before the season even starts, so take it easy for the next few days. You know that the second-stringers can't handle the pressure when it comes to a real game."

Knowing what was at stake this season for Zechs, Heero was bound and determined to see that his team remained as fit as they could for when they needed it. No sense in giving a championship away because of carelessness or over doing it. Of course, as long as Maxwell was showing everyone else up, the others would only want to up their own game.

In the stall just behind the ones that his friends were occupying, Trowa kept quiet but knew where the conversation was heading.

Sure enough, Wufei snorted, "Until someone puts the reigns on Maxwell, we're going to have a lot more to worry about than strained muscles." Taking up his washcloth and rinsing himself down, he smirked, "I'll bet that he doesn't shower with the rest of us because he had a tiny dick and doesn't want the rest of us harassing him over it." Heero and everyone in earshot shared a good laugh with him.

Unable to keep silent any longer, Trowa glared over his shoulder, "That's enough." Heero, Wufei, Mueller and the others close enough all turned to face him with wide eyes. Brushing his wet hair from his face, the tall young man snapped, "Have either of you really taken the time to know him off of the field? I think you'd be surprised."

His own eyes narrowing, Wufei growled, "Taking his side now? I knew your seeing that agent of his was a bad idea."

Slowly turning to fully to cast his green eyes between the receiver and quarterback, the center sighed deeply, "You know, the whole time that I spent with Maxwell before the break he never had one bad thing to say about either of you." His gaze spanned over Muller and the others watching as he added, "Or anyone else on the team for that matter."

For a long pause, the only sound that followed was the running water from the shower heads. Slowly, one by one, heads lowered in guilt. No one was about to voice any further jab at the running back's expense and the remainder of the time cleaning up was done in silence.

Back in the locker room, Duo was just zippering his duffel bag closed when Zechs entered. "The team owner is back from vacation," the head coach announced when the American turned to face him. "I have been asked to bring you to the owner's office for a meeting. I will take you there as soon as you are done with your shower."

Duo blinked his violet eyes in surprise. "All right," he nodded firmly. "What's he like, anyway?"

Chuckling deeply, Zechs grinned, "Well, for one thing, he is a she. And somehow, I think you're going to like Dorothy just fine."

 

Part 7:

By the time Duo finished his shower, the remainder by the team had headed home to leave the locker room empty. There, he tried the end of his damp braid and moved to his pile of clean clothes sitting on the bench in front of his locker. Slipping into his boxers, blue jeans, socks and brown shoes, he reached for his red T-shirt.

With a glance at himself in the mirror of his opened locker, the running back frowned deeply and his right hand over the long and jagged scars that stretched and crisscrossed each other along his bare chest. His back bore the same, angry markings that now looked pink after the warm shower. Sighing deeply, he threw his shirt on to hide them away once more.

Taking up his duffle bag, Duo stepped out of the locker room and down the long corridor to the head coach's office. Zechs looked up when the braided athlete stepped into his opened doorway and grinned, "Ready?"

"As ready as I'm gonna to be, I guess," the young man shrugged. Slipping the strap of his bag over his shoulder, he stated, "Might as well get this over with so that we can both get home at a decent hour tonight."

Satisfied with that, Zechs rose from his seat and stepped from the room. Closing the door behind him, he led the way towards the elevator further down the hall. After a long silence between the two of them, the head coach looked out of the corner of his eye to appraise his player for a moment. "You don't seem nervous."

With a laugh, Duo turned his head towards the blonde man and asked, "Why should I be nervous? I've met plenty of team owners before. They might have better checking accounts than most people, but they're a dime a dozen and nothing to be afraid of."

Unable to help the smirk that tugged his lips, Zechs replied, "Even though this team owner happens to be Treize Khushrenada' s cousin?"

Instantly freezing in mid-step, the running back stiffened with wide violet eyes. "W-wha?" he managed in little more than a breath as his skin paled. Never in the time that he worked under Treize did he know that he had any family that was also involved in the professional football league.

Memories of the last time Duo had seen Treize rushed into Duo's mind. The blood pouring from the arrogant man's nose and the throbbing of the American's right fist were all too vivid. "Oh, fuck me!" he shouted as he buried his hand into the hair at the top of his head. His gaze falling back on his coach, he all but whimpered, "You're serious!?"

Humming an affirmative, Zechs patted the young man's shoulder and smirked, "Let's go. She's been anxious to meet with you." Arms falling limply to his sides, the braided running back followed a few steps behind.

The ride in the elevator was made in silence. Duo swallowed roughly a few times as sweat started to form on his brow. The coach, for his part, was looking rather pleased to be witness to a much more humbled version of his cocky player.

Finally, the elevator stopped at the top of the stadium. The doors opened to a short hallway with a closed office at the end of the stretch. On the door, the gold name plate with the letters spelling out 'Dorothy Catalonia' shimmered in the sunlight that poured through the windows.

"Well, here you are," Zechs announced with a wide grin. Slapping the young man on the back, he said, "Good luck."

Snapping his head up with fright-filled eyes, he cried, "You're leaving me!?" He forced a nervous smile and spoke in a hopeful tone, "But I thought that we were in this together- one for all and all for one and all that jazz."

Gently patting the American's shoulder once more, the head coach chuckled deeply, "She only wanted to meet you. I only stuck around to show you to her office. I'm afraid that you're on your own now."

With a light shove, Zechs forced the running back to stagger into the hallway. When those scared violet eyes looked back at him, he waved with a pleasant, "Have a good night. Send Dorothy my best."

The silver elevator doors slid closed leaving Duo only his reflection to stare at. Groaning to himself and muttering several colorful swear words, he slowly turned toward the office at the end of the hall. His shoulders slumped, the American sighed deeply, "Come on, Duo, you can do this."

Slowly approaching the metal door, the running back raised his arm and rapped very lightly just below the name plate. When there was not an immediate response, he grinned widely, "She must not be in. Oh well. Better luck next time." Turning on his heels, he was just about to make a quick escape when the door slid open.

Frozen in mid-stride once more, Duo slumped before heading back to the entrance. As he peeked his braided head into the room, he was shocked to find the team owner to be near his own age. Long, straight blonde hair framed the thin face that looked up to meet his gaze. 'She's definitely related to Treize,' he thought to himself. 'Not with those eyebrows.'

A smart smile spread on the owner's face as she rose from her seat behind her long, oak desk. The paperwork that she had been sifting through was forgotten as she said, "Ah. The infamous Duo Maxwell. So we meet at last." One of her long, slender hands extended to the empty leather chair before her as she offered, "Please have a seat."

Swallowing roughly, Duo obeyed and walked past the entrance for the door to slide closed behind him. Approaching the desk with an air of caution, he looked to the hand that was still extended to him. When he reached the chair, he lifted his head to the ice-blue eyes that seemed to look right through him. In a rush, the words came before censorship could intervene, "I'm sorry I punched your asshole of a cousin!" Dorothy's eyes widened and the athlete's mouth fell open.

After a long and uncomfortable pause, still looking like a deer in headlights, Duo bit his lip and explained weakly, "Okay, that apology sounded way better in my head just a minute ago. Let me try that one again."

Chuckling deeply, the young woman shook her head and suggested, "Actually, maybe you should quit while you're ahead. We'll get to all of that later." The smile on her face grew as she offered her hand once more. "As am sure you know by now, my name is Dorothy Catalonia. Please call me Dorothy."

His violet eyes widening once again at her pleasant introduction, Duo looked back to her hand before taking it into his own. Relaxing the slightest bit, he grinned, "Nice to meet you, Dorothy. Thank you for the bringing me onboard." When their hands broke, the running back and team owner took their seats.

Folding her hands over her desk, Dorothy began, "I have been very anxious to meet with you and I do apologize for not haven had the time to meet you sooner. I've been on business trips for the better part of the last few months. And the few times that I was here, you had been away."

With a tilt of her head, she smirked, "Zechs tells me that you've already had quite an impact on the team in more ways than one. Especially Heero, I understand."

Duo winced at that and chuckled nervously, "Well, I kinda have that effect on people sometimes. But, we don't have much trouble putting our differences aside when we're on the field." When one of those long, blonde eyebrows raised and the owner folded her arms, the braided player was quick to add, "For the most part."

"Well, I'm sure that you'll be able to work it out," Dorothy waved nonchalantly. "This meeting was simply to meet with you to help get to know me better." Sitting up, she stated, "My father loved football more than he loved my mother or myself.

"Four years ago, he announced that he was considering retirement after a few more seasons. To earn his respect, I asked to take up the responsibility by paying him a large lump some of my grandparents' inheritance. So here I am, in my first year as team owner of the Pittsburgh Wolverines."

At that, the running back smiled, "Well, it's pretty impressive. As long as football's been a professional sport, there have only been two other female team owners. And you're already making steps to improving the team by bringing on yours truly."

Sighing deeply, Dorothy's smile faltered with a quiet, "I hope so. Pittsburgh is in quite a bit of economic trouble. If we were able to ring in bigger crowds to our hometown games by playing better than we ever have, it would be a real help. More business would come out of a large mass of people traveling here. What's more, these people need something to look forward to for a change. Something that makes them proud of this place."

As she turned back to meet her new player's violet eyes, Dorothy went on, "At the rate the team was going, they needed a wake-up call. And I could not think of a better person than yourself to do that. Even if it meant pissing the team off to no end at having to work with such a strong personality. I'm very happy to see that I've been right so far."

Duo's braided head fell back as he laughed. "Well, one thing I am good at is stirring shit up," he replied when he was able to catch his breath. Finally sobering, he nodded firmly, "I'll do whatever I can to help, Dorothy. To be honest, I have played with far better teams in the past, but there is a lot of potential there." Sitting back in the leather chair, the running back grinned, "It's pretty rare that a team owner concerns themselves with anything but themselves."

"The way that my Uncle Treize would have been," Dorothy smirked. "All that he ever wanted was to become a team owner to stroke his own ego. So, he was quite upset that I outbid him to be the owner of this team when my father first announced his impending retirement.

"With that option gone, he moved to San Francisco to become the head coach for the Cougars owned by Marshall Noventa. Marshall and my father have been friends for many years, and so that kind old man welcomed my uncle in with open arms."

Frowning deeply, she shook her head and sighed, "While he claims that his intentions are good, I believe that Treize took advantage of Sylvia Noventa. That girl was smitten by him for some time and it was not long before he arrived that they were dating and then married. Marshall does not have a son to pass his ownership on to. Being advanced in years, himself, he will be retiring soon as well. When he does, my uncle will have his wish."

His mouth snapping closed after falling open wide once again, Duo sputtered, "Y-you think that he would go that far, hurt that many people, just to get what he wanted?" Before the team owner could reply, he bit his lip and answered himself aloud, "Actually, it does sound like something that he would pull."

"I have no doubt in my mind," Dorothy stated. "There is quite the rift between my family and Treize over the whole mess. Now our relationship with the Noventas is strained as well. They simply cannot see him for who he really is. All that we can do is hope that perhaps we are wrong about him, but we may never know the truth."

A long, heavy silence fell in the office. Duo's mind was reeling with everything that he had come to learn. While he despised Treize, he always had a respect for Marshall Noventa and his family. Sylvia was a sweet but very young and naïve young woman. Like her father, she was far too trusting of people. If there was any truth to Dorothy's theories on her uncle, there could be no worse act of betrayal.

Finally breaking the stillness, Dorothy folded her hands and said excitedly, "It has been simply killing me to ask you what it felt like to punch that son of a bitch."

Without a breath of hesitation, the running back grinned from ear-to-ear, "Pretty fucking good. I never could stand that asshole. I've never met a person that actually made me look modest!" He shared a nice, long laugh with the team owner.

Reaching up to wipe at her watering eyes, Dorothy giggled, "We'll have to exchange stories some time." As she regained her composure, she rose from her chair while announcing, " I don't want to keep you here any longer than I already have. You have an early start to the day again tomorrow, so I am sure you would like to be off."

She held out her hand once more with that friendly grin. "It was very nice to meet you, Duo. If you need anything, please don't hesitate to ask me."

Quickly rising to his feet, the young man took her hand in his and smiled, "Nice meeting you too, Dorothy. I'll keep you posted if anything comes up." He bent at the waist to pick up his duffle bag and headed from the room.

When the door opened, however, a fuming Heero Yuy stepped inside. Cobalt eyes narrowed, the quarterback walked past his teammate as he growled, "Good. You're both still here." Stalking towards the desk, he pointed to the running back and exclaimed, "Dorothy, I want him off of my team! Now!"

"Oh, this ought to be good," Duo snorted, folding his arms with an amused smirk on his face. "What's the matter, Yuy? Can't handle your own problems without getting someone else involved?"

Not bothering to directly acknowledge the taunting, Heero kept his heated gaze on the stunned young woman and pounded a fist on her desk. "I've had it with this bastard! And so has the rest of the team!" he exclaimed.

Raising a hand, the running back grinned in his own defense, "Except Trowa. Not everyone on the team has a stick up their ass."

Heero snapped his head to face him, mouth opening for some loud retort when Dorothy shouted, "Stop! Both of you!" Their backs stiffening, the two young men slowly turned their wide eyes from each other to the irritated blonde at the desk.

Fixing her gaze from one face to the other, Dorothy warned, "Not another word from either of you until I give you permission to speak first. I don't want to have to penalize either of you for insubordination. " Like scolded children, the two athletes lowered their heads and muttered apologies before falling still.

"That's better," Dorothy sighed deeply with a huff of air that played with her long bangs. Folding her arms, she focused on the quarterback first. In a calm but commanding tone, she said, "I'm sorry, Heero, but, last I checked this was actually my team. I will, however, give you the floor to say your peace as to why you want Duo off of the team."

She concluded with a warning glance to the braided American, "Without any interruption. " Snapping his opening mouth closed, Duo swallowed hard with a firm nod.

His shoulders slacking a bit, Heero frowned deeply, "Dorothy, with the exception of Trowa, Maxwell has managed to alienate himself from the rest of the team. His track record is already hurting the public's view of us by adding someone like him on. He takes too many risks on the field and it's starting to have an effect.

"Chang pulled a leg muscle earlier today because he's pushing himself to his limit when it's only spring training. If we keep up at this rate, we'll be starting the season with less than half of our first string players because of injuries."

Resting his hands on the edge of the wooden desk, the quarter back leaned in and all but pleaded, "You can't keep someone on the team that is only going to drag us down. He is breaching his end of the contract to be a valuable member to this team and so we can breach ours by letting him go."

When the Japanese football player took a deep breath at the end of his speech, Dorothy smiled, "Finished?" Heero just nodded and straightened himself. Looking from one anxious face to the other once more, the team owner commented, "Well, I certainly see what Zechs was referring to when he mentioned a breakdown in communication between you two."

Slowly rising from her seat, the blonde young woman folded her arms behind her back. "The quarterback and the running back are the heart and soul of the offensive team. And I have who most consider to be the best men for those positions in the whole league. With that, I will not be 'letting go' of either of you." Duo sighed deeply to himself with his shoulders slumping in relief while Heero looked chagrined.

"If you cannot work together," Dorothy frowned sadly, "We've lost the season before it even began. You will simply have to find a way to put your differences behind you. The only time that either of you deal with each other is when you're on the field. It certainly does not help matters when trying to understand each other."

Gasping softly, her ice-blue eyes widened in sudden realization. A wide and mischievous smile tugged her lips as she gazed on her two athletes. "That's it," she breathed. Clapping her hands together, she laughed, "Of course!" All but collapsing into her chair, she pulled out two filed from one of her desk drawers and started making notes on her tablet of paper.

Both Heero and Duo looked on her worriedly. "What's 'it'?" the running back finally inquired.

As she continued to write, the blonde young woman answered, "As team owner, I can add clauses to both of your contracts. It was part of the agreement that you both signed to." Quickly finishing her note, Dorothy looked up and smiled, "You're going to be living together."

"What!?" the pair cried in one, shrill voice. Immediately, they began talking over each other in protest with several swears and colorful names for each other. Their talking stopped when the owner raised her hand.

Sitting back, Dorothy told them simply, "You leave me no choice but to force you to spend more time together. Where you live and how the arrangements will be split are of no matter to me. However, you will be under the same roof from now until the end of the season if you wish to play for this team. I want the move finished before the end of this coming weekend."

With a small sigh, she raised her hands again when it looked like her rogues were going to argue again and questioned, "Is that clear?" After a long pause, she received two very hesitant, muttered affirmatives.

Their tails between their legs, the quarterback and running back stepped from the room. When the door closed behind them, Duo leaned his back against it with a deep sigh" Okay, tell me that did not just happen back there," he moaned through his hands that were rubbing his face. Heero just snorted and headed down the hall.

Watching his new housemate departing, the running back shook his head, "This just gets better and better." As he pulled the strap of his duffle bag higher up on his shoulder, he followed the quarterback to the elevator.

 

Part 8:

On her drive back home, Dorothy's cell phone rang. Opening the silver flip and pressing the receiver to her ear, she greeted, "Hello."

"I certainly hope that you know what you're doing," Zechs's voice replied warily. "I just received a pretty irate call by Heero just now. I doubt that I need to get into my own concerns at having those two in such a close proximity of each other on a daily basis."

Chuckling deeply, the team owner continued to navigate through the streets of Pittsburgh with ease using only one hand. "I know exactly what I am doing," she answered reassuringly. "They'll either learn to actually get along or kill each other in the process. Either way, the problem will sort itself out. You know as well as I that their camaraderie on the field is vital to the team's success."

There was a small sigh on the other line before the team coach said, "Of course. And this does force them to spend more time together. I suppose that I have to admit that you were right on this one-as risky a move as it is."

As she pulled to a stop at the red traffic light, Dorothy grinned, "It'll all work out, Zechs. Just have a little faith. They can't stay angry with each other forever."

It was Zech's turn to chuckle deeply. "Time will tell," he smirked on his end.

* * * * * *

Wufei, Trowa and Mueller were sitting together at one of the small, round tables of Murray's Bar. Speaking quietly amongst themselves, the lot tried to guess the reason for their team captain's phone call requesting that the meet up somewhere that evening.

"Considering he wanted to meet in a bar on a practice night, I can't imagine that it'd be terribly good news," Trowa thought aloud before taking a sip from his nonalcoholic drink. "Did either of you manage to get anything more out of him than his 'Murray's. Eight o'clock' before he ended the call?"

A deep frown fell on Wufei's face and he sighed deeply, "No. That was the same call that I got." Mueller nodded his head that he heard no differently. "He stuck around the stadium for a while after today's practice. I wonder if he had a meeting with Zechs or Howard that might have pissed him off."

Chewing on the inside of his lip in thought, Mueller threw in, "He was pretty ticked at Maxwell for his stunts at practice. It's a lot of work trying to keep up with that guy. Last thing we need is some hotshot that shows off like that. It's not good for the morale."

The discussion ended when the trip spotted Heero entering and heading straight for the bar. Taking up the bottle of beet that the bartender gave to him, the quarterback quickly found his friends and headed toward them. As he removed his leather coat, he greeted, "Thanks for showing on such short notice."

"No problem," Trowa replied. Sitting back in his seat, he watched his discontented captain for a moment before asking, "So what's going on that you needed to meet with us here? From the sound of your voice when you called, it seemed pretty urgent."

Finishing a long swig from his beer, Heero wiped his bottom lip with the back of his hand and peered through his long bangs. "Dorothy ordered that Maxwell and I are going to be living together from now until the end of the season." Three pairs of wide eyes and slack jaws were his immediate response.

After a long pause, Mueller exclaimed, "You're shitting me!" Reaching for his beer once more, the quarterback shook his head grimly. His hands waving in the air, the dark-haired young man cried, "Why!? When the hell is that supposed to happen?"

With a long sigh, Heero answered, "Because she thinks that it'll help us communicate. She wants it finished before the end of this coming weekend. The plans have already been made so that he and Quatre will be moving into my place since they need to be under the same roof, too." Removing his cell from his jacket pocket, he accessed the speaker mode and muttered, "There's more."

Lightly pressing the replay button on the side of the phone, Dorothy's greeted, "Hello, boys. I asked Heero to get the three of you together so you could all hear this message directly. Knowing what good friends you all are, I thought it would be a good idea to have you assist Maxwell and Winner in the moving process."

Wufei groaned deeply, only for the recorded voice to snap, "Knock it off, Chang! You're going to cooperate whether you like it or not." Straightening, the Chinese receiver blinked his wide eyes. "That's better," the tone changed to hint to a bright smile.

After a light clearing of a throat, Dorothy concluded, "Now, no need to mention that this was my idea since I know that you all would have done this simply out of the goodness of your hearts for a fellow teammate. Have a good night, gentlemen. Hugs and kisses."

Trowa was covering his mouth with his glass to hide the laughter that he was fighting back as Heero put the cell phone away. Wufei and Mueller, on the other hand, looked ready to spit nails. "Devil woman," the Chinese athlete grumbled. "Now we're being forced into spending some bonding time with that prick."

Just as the words left him, his dark eyes widened and turned to the heated glare that the Latin center was boring down on him. Quickly retrieving his drink, the raven-haired young man muttered a half-hearted apology.

Shaking his head, Trowa dropped what he wanted to say to Wufei and looked back to Heero to inquire, "Have you told Lady Une about all of this?"

Quickly finishing his mouthful of beer, the quarterback shouted, "That's another thing that's pissing me off! She thinks it's a great idea! And to add insult to injury, she is having a new lock installed to Duo's room 'to make him feel more comfortable after everything that happened' at the party!" Trowa was not nearly quick enough to cover his laugh the second time around and earned a fierce, cobalt glare.

Clearing his throat, the center grinned sheepishly, "Sorry, Heero. But, you know that Lady Une does whatever it takes to make everyone feel safe in that home. I know you wouldn't pull another stunt like the one you did at the party again, but it wouldn't blame me if Duo was a bit leery to be staying under the same roof with you. Once bitten twice shy."

"Yea, yea, yea," Heero muttered into the top of his beer bottle. "Thank God Quatre's going to be staying with us, too. Otherwise, I'd be hanging by a tall limb on a short rope right about now." Meeting the emerald gaze across from him, he asked, "How the hell did those two end up being friends, anyway? They don't have very much in common."

As he lowered his glass from his mouth, Trowa answered, "Quatre said that they went to the same high school in Chicago. Duo came to his aid their freshman year when some upperclassmen were harassing him. They've been practically inseparable since."

Mueller blinked in surprise at having even that much information on the running back. "I never thought of him to be the type to do something like that for another person," he admitted aloud. "I just assumed him to be one of the school bullies with his personality. "

Trowa reminded with a small smile, "I told you that there's a lot more to Maxwell than what he lets on." As he folded his arms, he addressed the quarterback, "And I agree with Dorothy that your living together is a great idea. You certainly would never suggest getting together with Duo unless it's at practice or an event that involves the team."

Leaning into the table a bit, the Latin football player smirked, "You might actually like the guy."

"Fat chance," Heero huffed before finishing off his drink. Looking over his shoulder, he raised a hand to the bartender to have another bottle ready. "No offense, Trowa," he said as he looked back to the center, "but you have a way of finding something good in everybody. So, I'm still not sold on the idea that Maxwell is that likable." Mueller and Wufei nodded their agreement to the sentiment.

His smile only growing, Trowa shrugged, "We'll see."

* * * * * *

"Can't believe I didn't read the fine print on that damned contract before I signed my life away," Duo grumbled as he finished taping another box closed. "Serves me right for jumping at the money without thinking there'd be a catch."

Quatre bit his bottom lip and hummed a weak affirmative without breaking in his sorting through the drink glasses. His back straightening, the running back looked over to his agent with wide violet eyes. "You knew!" Duo shouted. "You saw that she could just add on any little rule to that contract without my being able to stop it!"

With a wince, the blonde Arab replied quietly, "Well… I do remember seeing it before you signed." His friend's mouth opened widely in preparation to shout something and he raised his hands defensively to stop him.

A small squeak escaped Quatre's throat and small beads of sweat sparkled on his brow as he explained in a rush, "Just about every team owner has that in their contract in case something should come up. But they don't normally ever use that power! How the hell was I supposed to know that it would come into play like this!?"

The red was slowly subsiding from Duo's face as he forced a deep and calming breath. Sagging a bit, he looked to the next box that needed to be filled. "All right," he finally sighed deeply. "You're off the hook for that one."

Quatre released the breath he had been holding and smiled. Shaking his head, he stated, "Listen, there's no sense in dwelling on what can't be changed. Besides, in addition to the millions you're already making this season, we'll earn another hundred thousand from selling this place to go towards the kids and your new facility."

Opening the next cabinet over the sink, Duo began to remove the glasses inside and nodded, "Very true. Every bit helps with feeding eight little mouths." As he began wrapping a glass in tissue paper, he frowned deeply, "Hopefully, we'll have the move finished before the weekend even gets here so that I can get out there. Solo said that Hope is coming down with a cold. I hate being away whenever any the kids are sick."

"We'll do everything we can to get you out there to see her," the agent reassured with a small grin. "At the rate we're going now, it should be pretty easy to be finished before the weekend. Luckily we never travel with a lot of things."

When the doorbell rang, the two friends looked at each other in question. Together, they headed from the kitchen and towards the front door. Much to their surprise, they found Heero, Trowa, Wufei and Muller waiting on the front porch.

The Latin center stepped forward first and smiled, "Quatre. Duo. We thought that you might need some help with moving. Just point us wherever you need us." His teammates just remained quiet behind him, forced and tight smiles spreading on their faces.

Under the strict rules that the upstairs was off limits, Heero and his friends were set to work in the living room and dining room. Quatre and Duo moved back into the kitchen to wrap up in there. Smiling widely, the blonde said, "Well, this was certainly a pleasant surprise. The fact that we'll be able to move a good chunk of what we have tonight will be a huge help."

"Even if they're doing this against their will," the braided young man snorted. "With the exception of Trowa, I doubt they're all doing this just because they want to." He sighed, "But, if it gets me to Hope and the others this weekend, I'll take it."

The packing continued in silence for a time before Quatre closed the box he had filled. Taping the flaps closed, he frowned deeply, "Just promise me that you won't make any comments about the place when we get there. I doubt that Heero is living modestly and I don't want you flying off the handle about his family's home. His parents once lived there, too, remember."

With a gasp, Dup paused in wrapping another glass. Gazing over with wide eyes, the running back shook his head, "You sting me, Quat. You really think that I wouldn't have enough tack to make a comment about his family's home? You ought to know me better than that."

* * * * * *

Later that night…

"It's a fucking palace!" Duo exclaimed as he as Quatre pulled into the long driveway that wrapped around the large estate. "What the hell do you need all of this for!?"

Growling deeply, his agent took a hand off the wheel to slug him hard in the shoulder. "Knock it off," he hissed. "Remember what we were saying about tact earlier? I sweat to Allah if you so much as hint anything like that around Heero you're living with him on your own."

Lightly rubbing his shoulder with a wince and a small 'ow,' the running back smiled sheepishly, "Sorry, man. I just wasn't expecting something like this." He raised a hand and vowed, "Nothing more like that, I promise." Satisfied at that, Quatre stopped the car alongside the others that they had followed onto the property.

Heero opened the trunk to his car and asked without looking at his new houseguests, "Did you want to start setting things up now, or just store everything for now?"

"We'll just store things for now so we can call it a night," Quatre answered. It was getting late and he knew that the others would want to get all the sleep they could for practice the following day. "There will be plenty of time to go through everything once it's all here." Duo just nodded his agreement to the suggestion and started taking up boxes from the back of their car.

Opening the large, white garage beside the estate, Heero turned the lights on within and led the lot to the back storage area. Blinking his wide, violet eyes, Duo gazed around the high ceilings and thought to himself how just the garage was big enough to fit the whole first floor of the house he was leaving. All around, there were cars and motorcycles covered with tarps.

Finally, when they reached the empty space in the back, Heero announced, "There should be plenty of room here for everything." The group lowered their boxes and headed back out for another armload.

It was the same every night for the following four nights. That Thursday evening, Quatre sighed deeply to himself as he gazed around the empty space that was once the living room. Duo climbed down the stairs with a suitcase in each hand and a bright smile on his face. "My flight leaves in two hours, so I better get going."

Quatre turned to him with an extended hand. "Have a good flight. Tell the others I send my love," he grinned. "And be sure to call as soon as you get in." He laughed when Duo ignored the offered hand to pull him into a tight hug instead.

"Yes, mom," the running back chuckled deeply as he pulled back. Taking up his luggage once more, Duo headed for the door with a wink over his shoulder.

Walking through the house just to be sure that nothing was left behind, Quatre locked up and headed down the front steps for the last time. As he passed the 'Sold' sign at the bottom of the front yard, the blonde Arab made his way to his car and gave one last look back on the cozy house.

In less than an hour, Quatre was driving up to his new residence. Much as he would never have said anything aloud, he had to agree with Duo that the white-pillared Yuy household was very much over the top to have housed only a small family at one point. Still, how people lived was their choice. And, having come from a very wealthy family, himself, he certainly did not have any right to judge.

Only waiting a moment for Heero to answer his knock on the front door, he smiled warmly when the door opened and gave a friendly 'hello.' The quarterback' s cobalt eyes scanned the front porch as he frowned, "Maxwell's not with you?"

His smile growing, the agent replied, "No. It's just me for the weekend. Duo is spending the weekend with his family."

Blinking in surprise at that, Heero stepped aside so that his houseguest to enter. "Come on in. I'll introduce you to Lady Une and give you a tour around the house," he offered quietly as he closed the door.

* * * * * *

Hilde smiled as she brushed back the sweat-soaked bangs from the ailing little girl cured in a tight bundle of blankets. "Hope," she whispered, "Are you awake, darling?" A pair of brown eyes blinked open in answer as the four-year-old sat up from where she was lying on her side in her bed. The young woman's smile grew and she said softly, "I have a surprise for you."

Slowly rising from the side of the bed, Hilde walked towards the opened door. Peeking his braided head in, Duo grinned, "Hey, munchkin."

With a sharp gasp, Hope's eyes widened. "D-Duo," she breathed with a wide smile of her own. As the running back quickly approached, she opened her arms to wrap them tightly around his neck when he bent down to hold her close. A few tears of relief rolled down the child's face as she was rocked back and forth gently.

Kicking off his sneakers, Duo climbed into the bed so that he was sitting up with his back against the headboard. Lightly kissing the little girl's head when she rested it on his chest, he whispered, "It's gonna be all right, little one." Sighing softly, Hope nuzzled up against him. Almost instantly, she drifted off to a peaceful slumber. With a wide yawn, the running back closed his own eyes to welcome some much needed sleep following his very busy week.

From her post in the doorway, Hilde chuckled deeply to herself and shook her head. Knowing better than to argue with her friend that he might get sick himself, she just turned off the main light in the room and closed the door after her.

 

Part 9:

On the last day of his stay home, Duo was able to breathe a sigh of relief when Hope's cold was finally breaking. With no surprise, his other children were more than understanding that he was giving the little redhead most of his attention over the weekend. They all just wanted her well again and so they waited patiently for their guardian to have a moment with each of them.

Laughing, the braided running back had three little hanging onto his back and a child on each leg as he walked about the living room. The kids all joined in on his laughter as they hung on with their little hands and arms. Watching from where they were spread out in the room, Solo, Hilde, Marcus, Flora and Tai smiled warmly and continued on with whatever they were occupied with at the time.

It was always like this when Duo was home. Everybody smiled and laughed all the time and everything bad seemed to just go away as far as the children were concerned.

Finally tiring, the braided running back stopped before one of the plush couches and panted, "Okay, Sun, Hope, Jamie, Omar and Abdul. The ride's over for now." Giggling, the children extracted themselves to carefully land on the sofa. With an excited cheer, they ran to the large toy box at the other end of the long room.

Lowering his handheld videogame, Tai grinned to his guardian, "So, we'll get to see your first official game of the season, right?" Both Marcus and Flora lowered the magazines that they had been reading to look on anxiously.

Duo smiled and nodded, "Of course. Just like always." The three teenagers lit up at the promise. Snapping his fingers, the running back thought aloud, "That reminds me. I can't believe that I forgot…" He slipped from the room with his young charges turning their 'aunt' and 'uncle' for some kind of clue to what was going on.

With a deep chuckle, Solo wrapped an arm around his wife's shoulders and shrugged, "Don't look at us. We're usually the last ones to know when he's up to something." Hilde just smirked and nodded in agreement.

Quickly returning, Duo held up a bundle of shining, red fabric. "The new jerseys are out and you're the proud owners of the first ones available," he announced as he tossed each of the teenagers a new shirt.

Gasping, the lot beamed and held up the red jerseys with gild trim and lettering. On the front, the letters spelled out 'Wolverines' with the number 21. On the back, 'Maxwell' was displayed proudly with the same number. Solo and Hilde accepted their own jerseys with as much excitement as the youngsters.

"Cool! Thanks, Duo!" Marcus exclaimed as he was already throwing the shiny top on. Gazing down, he commented, "And you got to keep your old number, too!"

The football player nodded his braided head, "That's right. I've had that same number ever since I was in high school. It's not easy to keep the same one when you've been traded as much as I've been." He finished that last bit with a sheepish grin. "Hopefully after this year, I'll finally be traded to Green Bay for the last trade."

Flora seemed almost relieved as she held up her own jersey for a full appraisal. Satisfied with her findings, she commented, "These colors are definitely you. Not like the deep blue and white that the Cougars had."

Laughing, Duo approached her with a wink. "Oh yea, that's just what I worry about when joining a new team, Flora- whether or not their team colors flatter me." The Hispanic girl giggled as the running back rubbed her head playfully. Looking up, she asked, "So what is Heero Yuy like? That guy is dreamy."

Almost having to fight the urge to gag, the American turned to Marcus as the boy piped in, "Well, I'm not so impressed by that, but he's like one of the best quarterbacks out there. And you've been working with him for a few weeks now."

"He seems like a nice guy whenever he's interviewed, " Tai added. "And one of the first quarterbacks that will most likely be inducted into the Hall of Fame with an Asian inheritance, like me." There was a wistful look about the boy. Considering the heritage that they shared, it only made sense that he looked up to the quarterback.

Both Solo and Hilde were biting their lips to fight off the laughter as they watched their 'brother's' face reddening a bit. Quickly hiding his embarrassment, Duo just shrugged, "Oh, he's okay." As much as it pained him to offer, he could never deny his kids anything. Forcing a smile, he told them, "Maybe one of these times, I'll have a chance to introduce you to him."

Practically bouncing in their places at the thought, the trio talked excitedly amongst themselves. Looking to his watch, Duo sighed and frowned deeply, "Well, I better get going, here." He turned to the couple beside him and asked, "Ready, Hil?"

The young woman rose to her feet and replied, "Of course." She and Solo headed from the room to give their friend a moment alone to say goodbye to his charges.

Knowing the drill, the children all lined up for their turn of hugs and kisses from the running back. Quietly promising each that he'd be back soon and be calling them that evening, Duo went down the line with a heavy heart. As often as he said these brief goodbyes, they never got any easier for him.

At the end of the line, Hope looked up with raised arms. Chuckling deeply, Duo bent down to scoop the little redhead up. He kissed her cheek and light pressed the tip of his nose to hers. "You were a brave little girl this weekend, angel" he whispered. "Being sick is never fun, but you handled it like a champ."

Hope beamed, "Really!?" When her soon-to-be-father nodded, she threw her arms around his neck tightly. "You'll be home soon?" she asked softly.

"I promise," he whispered, amazed that he was able to keep his voice from cracking. "You know I run and hide…" he waited until her high little voice said with him, "but I never tell a lie." Smiling lovingly, he said, "That's right. Now you keep being a good little girl for your Uncle Solo and Aunt Hilde while I'm gone."

As they pulled back, she grinned, "Okay, Daddy." Duo almost lost it when she said that title. Only on rare occasions would any of the children call him 'Dad.' It was as if until he actually was named their soul guardian in a few months, it was all too good to be true for them. At Hope's declaration, however, the other kids bit their lips and looked away sadly.

"Thank you, darling," was all Duo could manage after clearing his throat. She gave him a quick peck of a kiss and he carefully lowered her to the ground. Tai, Marcus and Flora moved in to lift the youngest of their family into their arms.

Quickly lowering the sunglasses that were atop his head over his eyes just as they started to water, the running back nodded to the lot, "I'll be in touch as soon as I get in." Knowing that if he stayed another moment that he would never leave, he regretfully turned to head towards the front door.

Hilde was already waiting there with her coat and handed her friend his. Solo walked up with an extended hand. "Have a good flight, bro," he smirked. Duo just nodded and gave him a one-armed hug. With one last round of hugs and kisses for the children that had followed him, Duo took up his luggage and followed his 'sister' out of the house.

Once they were in the car, Hilde looked over to her friend and frowned, "I overheard what Hope said to you. Are you all right?"

Clearing his throat once more, Duo reached up under his shades to wipe a stray tear and replied in a hoarse voice, "Yea. Just looking forward to the day I don't have to keep leaving them all behind like this."

Not wanting to upset him any more than he already was, Hilde just started the car with a firm nod of understanding. There wasn't another word spoken between them for the remainder of the trip to the airport.

Within an hour, the first class passengers were announced to take their places onboard the plane. Bending down, Duo picked up his luggage and went to stand in line. Removing his sunglasses, he placed them in his black shirt's chest pocket. A sudden and very loud sneeze had him reaching up to cover his now running nose. Closing his eyes, he sighed deeply, "Oh shit."

* * * * * *

Lady Une was sipping her third cup of tea, enjoying her company in the dining room later that afternoon. Heero never was a big tea drinker, not the way that she was. He would only have some if his nerves needed to be calmed. While over the last few weeks that had become a more common thing, he never really stuck around long enough for a good talk with her.

Quatre, however, loved tea. And over the course of his first weekend of living at the Yuy household, Lady Une was able to spend quite a bit of time chatting idly with the charming young man. Sitting across from her, the blonde Arab took a long sip from his own cup with a small smile of satisfaction. "It's been a while since I knew someone to have such a lovely variety of herbal teas," he grinned. "I hope that you don't mind my indulging in them like this."

Chuckling deeply, Lady Une shook her head, "Not at all. I'm just glad to have someone to share it with that appreciates it so much. They would just be sitting and collecting dust, either wise." As Quatre went for his teacup once more, she noted, "Duo should be arriving pretty soon, shouldn't he?"

"Yep," the agent answered while lowering his cup from his lips. "He called me on my cell phone not long ago after he landed. Knowing how he drives, the thirty minute drive will only be about twenty minutes. So, he should only be a few minutes out."

Lady Une laughed and shook her head in amusement. Folding her arms, she smiled, "I think that it's wonderful he spends so much time with his family. You don't hear of most football players taking the time to do such a thing nowadays. They're all so wrapped up in their fame and possessions that they lose touch with their loved ones."

At that, Quatre's lips tugged upward. "Duo can be quite complicated, " he stated, "but he values nothing higher than his family and friends. He's always been that way."

Her smile fading, the young woman said softly, "Just like Heero. As much as he loves what he does, he would gladly have given it up if it was what his parents wanted. Of course, all they wanted was to see him happy." Lady Une took up her spoon and stirred it around her tea as if she was searching within the swirling liquid.

The blonde agent bit his lip before commenting quietly, "He must have been pretty devastated after the accident. I know that if anything were to happen to my own parents, I would be beside myself."

Nodding, Lady Une looked up and replied, "He has never really gotten over his parents' deaths. As must of a front as he puts up, I know Heero enough to know that much. They were all very close." She cleared away the lump in her throat as she turned to one of the small pictures of Heero with his parents at his graduation hanging on the wall beside her.

In the image, Heero stood with his father to his left and mother his mother to his right. Dressed in his deep blue cap and gown, the young quarterback held his diploma in one hand and had his other wrapped around his father's shoulders. His mother had her head resting against his shoulder in a proud moment. All three were smiling brightly as they were no doubt looking forward to whatever the future held for them.

If they had known then how little time they had left together…

Looking away from the picture, Lady Une shook her head, "Most successful parents would want to see their children follow in their footsteps, or go on to respected professions. A doctor or a lawyer. A politician, perhaps… But not Heero's parents.

"It's quite rare for a high school student to be brought into the National Football League. However, they cannot overlook talent when they see it. Heero had a gift and a love for the sport that anyone would be a fool to miss," she continued while fighting her own emotional battle in recalling the Yuys.

The young housekeeper took a long sip from her tea and smiled sadly, "When he received a call from an scouting agent [1] that had been following him through his time on the school football team his senior year, he was the most elated I had ever seen him. And his parents supported him all the way, offering any and everything they could to help him. They went to every game that he played, whether here or away at another stadium."

Sitting back in her seat, Lady Une sighed deeply, "I'm just happy that they got to see their son living his dream before they passed."

Quatre shifted in his seat a bit and suggested with a reassuring smirk, "I'm sure that, wherever they are, they're still watching that. I don't believe that our loved ones ever really leave us behind when they pass on."

Lady Une gave him a grateful smile for his words. Biting her lip, she frowned, "Heero has changed quite a bit since the accident. I know that it's to be expected after such a life-changing thing, but I worry about him. He must more cynical than he ever was. And bitter. Even his smile is different. It no longer reaches his eyes to light them up the way that it did before."

As he listened, Quatre tried to imaging such a smile on the quarterback's face. He had to agree with his companion that, while he did not smile often, there was something empty in Heero's eyes when he did. And there certainly was a lot to be said about his demeanor towards Duo after the running back crossed a very thin line with his mouth the night of the ill-fated party.

Running a finger along the rim of her cup, the young woman sighed deeply, "I just hate seeing him like this. Hopefully, it'll all pass when the pain isn't so fresh." The sound of the gym door closing a couple rooms away ended any further discussion on the topic.

Heero entered with a towel draped over his shoulders and his grey tank top sticking to his sweat-coated torso like a second skin. The black, mesh shorts that the quarterback was wearing flowed with every movement as he walked past the two joined at the table. Calling into the kitchen after him, Lady Une smirked, "Good workout?"

"Yes, thank you," the Japanese athlete called back. He stepped back into the dining room with a cold bottle of water in hand. Taking a long drink, Heero panted just a bit and grinned to his housekeeper, "It seems as though you've made yourself a new friend over these last couple of days."

Lady Une just chuckled deeply and reached across the table to pat the agent's hands. "Quatre is quite the conversations. " Taking up her cup once more, she muttered to herself, "Like someone that I used to know."

Quickly sipping her cooling tea, she suggested, "Now, Duo should be arriving at any minute. I think it would be nice if you cleaned up a bit before he gets here. This would be the first time he would be stepping into his new home."

Rolling his eyes, Heero finished his water and nodded, "All right, all right." After having had a battle of wills with the young woman before, and losing every time, the quarterback knew better than to try and argue now. He easily tossed the bottle into the trash can on the other side of the kitchen before heading off.

Not long later, the doorbell rang and the pair at the table went to answer it. Opening the door, Quatre smiled, "Hey, Duo. How was your trip?" Before his friend could protest, he took up one of the suitcases and stepped aside.

A wide smile on his own face, Duo entered the house and answered, "Wonderful as always. Everyone sends their best." Lowering the suitcase in his possession, he removed the sunglasses from his eyes and grinned to the young woman standing in the entranceway. "You must be the lovely Lady Une that Quat, here, has been telling me about."

Gasping softly when the running back took her right hand to kiss the back of it, the housekeeper blushed. "And you must be the infamous Duo Maxwell, I presume," she giggled.

"In the flesh," he smirked with the wink of a twinkling violet eye. Lady Une just giggled again and fought of the remainder of her blush.

On his way down the stairs, a cleaned and freshly changed Heero appraised braided young man and greeted with a firm nod, "Maxwell."

Meeting the cobalt gaze, Duo nodded back, "Yuy."

There was a long pause as the two young men stared each other down. Clearing her throat, Lady Une suggested to the quarterback, "Heero, why don't you take some time to show Duo to his room and show him around once he's settled in?" Reaching into her pants pocket, she handed a small key to the running back and told him, "Here is the key to your space. It's the master copy, so don't lose it."

Beaming, Duo kissed her cheek and smiled, "You're an angel." With another bright blush, the young woman bowed her head. When Heero didn't move right away, she shot a fierce glare at him.

With a rough swallow of his pride, Heero took up one of the bags and gestured to the stairs with his head. "Let's go," he sighed deeply. Duo's cheshire grin only grew as he followed after with the other bag.

Once they were at the top of the steps, however, that grin was quickly wiped from his face in light of the large portrait of who could only be Heero's parents. With the weight of their eyes looking out at him, the running back bit is lip and lowered his head a bit. Quickening his pace to catch up with his teammate, he refrained from all of the smart comments that had been running through his mind up until then.

TBC

[1] A scouting agent basically goes from game to game of an amateur level to see if there is any potential in a player to be brought into the professional level. In today's standards, there are no high school students picked up for the professional level, only college level and college grads. However, for this fic taking place in the future, I imagine that the rules would change if a high school grad was talented enough.

 

Part 10:

The day after his return to Pittsburgh, Duo woke with a piercing headache. Taking cover under a large pillow to shield himself from the light pouring into his bedroom, he turned onto his side and groaned. When one violet eye cracked open, he cautiously peered out to the blinding light. His nose began to run the moment he tried to sit up and every muscle was aching. "Damn it," he muttered to himself, flopping back onto the mattress with the pillow back over his head.

Before he went to bed, the running back thought that he was feeling a bit under the weather. After being the one exposed the most to Hope when she had her cold, Duo was afraid that he'd come down with a spell of it, himself.

As sore as he was, the thought of having to wake up to train all day seemed all too daunting a notion. Which was saying a lot about how bad off he was, considering how devoted he was to preparing himself for the season.

"Quat," Duo's muffled and gritty voice called. Pushing the pilled off of his head, he called to the wall against his bed's headboard, "Quat." A brief moment passed before he could hear footsteps from the middle of the room moving towards the door.

Before long, his own bedroom door opened to reveal a very alert blonde agent. "Sorry to cut in on your morning meditations, " the American said softly with a round of raspy coughing that soon followed.

Gasping softly, Quatre took in the pale and damp face of his friend. "You look like hell," he commented with a deep frown. Quickly closing the door behind him, Quatre made his way across the large room to close the blinds of the massive window overlooking the rolling hills behind the estate.

With a deep sigh of relief when the room was dark enough, Duo pulled the pillow away to lay his head back on it. Turning onto his back, he mumbled, "Thanks, man." A sudden chill ran up his spine. Trembling a bit, he pulled his black comforter tightly around himself.

His frown only deepening, Quatre moved to the bed and rested a hand over his friend's warm brow. "You're burning up," he announced. A small smirk tugged his lips and he shook his head, "Just couldn't help but stick right by Hope's side the whole weekend, could you?"

The running back covered his mouth as he was overcome by another fit of coughing. When he was able to breath again, he shrugged, "What else was I supposed to do? Poor kid was all but quarantined until her cold finally broke. And I wasn't about to risk having one of the others get sick."

In a bit of a panic, Duo's mind quickly went over how much exposure the rest of his family was exposed to him. After recalling that there was very little of any contact that would be cause of concern, he relaxed a bit. A houseful of sick youngsters would have kept Solo and Hilde busy. If that ever were to happen, he would have just found a way to get out of training until they were all well again.

Quatre's smile just grew as he chuckled deeply, "You always were a softie." He narrowly ducked away from a spare pillow thrown at his head. Folding his arms, he said sternly, "Well, you're certainly not going to training like this."

"Any other day, you know that I would argue with you," the running back smirked. Stifling another cough, his smile faded with a deep sigh. "But, I know I wouldn't be of much use today like this. Not to mention not wanting to get the rest of the team sick."

His friend replied with a firm nod, "Right. I'll get a hold of Zechs, then." Turning on his heels, he headed towards the door only to stop just short of it. slowly glancing over his shoulder, he thought aloud, "Maybe I better check on Heero to see how he's feeling. You two spent a bit of time together last night with that tour."

Snorting, Duo closed his tired eyes and grumbled, "We had to. This place is huge. And it wasn't the most pleasant of experiences considering the fact that he basically spent the whole time speaking in grunts and no more than ten syllables at a time."

The agent waved his hand, "One problem at a time, Duo. I'll be back with some medicine in a bit. Just rest for now." Already nearly asleep, the running back hummed an affirmative. smiling, Quatre turned and headed out of the room.

On his way down the hall and past Heero's door, Quatre froze at the sound of a couple loud sneeze coming from the quarterback' s room. Sighing deeply, his shoulders shrugged with a half-moaned, "Oh no."

* * * * *

"But it's just an occasional sneeze," Heero frowned deeply at the image of his head coach on the vidphone. "It doesn't mean I'm coming down with the same cold Maxwell has." Sitting on the living room couch across from him, Quatre fought off a smile. He knew all too well that Duo's cold started off with just a few sneezes as well.

It seemed misery certainly did love company.

Shaking his head, Zechs said, "I would much rather be safe than sorry. We can rely on our second stringers to replace you and Duo for a few days. Better that than having more than half of the team out of commission if they catch that bug. When Sally got wind that Duo was sick, she was inclined to agree at having learned that there is something going around. That's the Spring for you."

At hearing the name of the Wolverines' physical therapist, Heero winced a bit. Sally was one that took her role in the looking after the health of the team very seriously. It was what made her one of the best therapists in the league. And it also made it impossible to win an argument with her when it came to anything such as the one that the quarterback was having now.

With a wave of his hand, the blonde head coach reassured, "Don't worry about it, Heero. If anything, this will give Austin and Fellows more time on the field. If there's ever a time that they need to step up during the season, they'll need all the time that they can get."

Heero knew the truth of that. Brian Austin was still pretty shaky when it came to leading the team as a quarterback. And Terry Fellows had only been signed to the team the prior season the year before. The few times he actually played, the pressure really got to the young quarterback and he made a near obscene amount of fumbles. [1]

"Besides," Zechs smirked, "As team Captain, you're supposed to look out for the team's best interest." Now that was going right for Heero's Achilles heel. His leadership role was something that he took as seriously as Sally took her practice.

Knowing that he officially lost the dispute, the quarterback finally nodded, "All right, coach. I'll sit out these next few days just to be safe." A pleased and relieved smile tugged the lips of both Quatre and Zechs at those words.

The head coach winked, "I knew you'd see it my way. Rest up. I'll be in touch with Winner and Lady Une for a full report on how things are going. Take care." The screen went black with the click of a button.

Sighing deeply, Heero sagged into the couch that he was sitting on. Dry washing his face with his hands, he muttered, "Might as well head for the gym, since it's the only way I'll be able to get any kind of exercise until Maxwell's over his cold."

Quatre sat up across from him and winced, "Okay, but take it easy. Duo's cold started he same way that yours is. Just a few sneezes and in a few hours, you'll be down for the count with a fever and achy muscles."

Rising to his feet, Heero snorted, "I don't have a cold coming on." He raised an eyebrow and commented, "You've been around him more than I have. How is it you're not worried about getting sick, yourself?"

The agent grinned, "Ah. Well, you see, most of those lovely herbal teas that Lady Une and I enjoy on a daily basis are wonderful immunity builders. Case in point, neither she nor I have had so much as a sniffle."

Covering his mouth just as a loud sneeze pulled from his lungs, Heero reached for a tissue from the box beside the vidphone on the table. Quatre rose from his seat with a smirk and said quietly, "I hope that you have good bedside manners when you're down for the count.

* * * * * *

In the locker room, Wufei and Trowa were sitting beside each other as they slipped into their gear. "Wonder what's holding Yuy and Maxwell up," the Chinese receiver stated with a gesture of his head to the two lockers across from them. "They're usually here by now." Some of their teammates were also talking quietly amongst themselves over the matter.

Clearing his throat as he entered with Howard, Zechs announced, "All right, everyone. Yuy and Maxwell are going to be out for possibly the week with a cold." The blonde-haired Brian Austin and the dark-haired Terry Fellows straightened with wide eyes. Grinning to them, the coach nodded firmly, "So, obviously that would mean that Austin, Fellows, are up this week. The two of you get your gear on."

Trowa, Wufei and Mueller shared equally wide-eyed, panicked looks. Knowing how the two young men tended to handled pressure, it was sure to be a very long week for everyone. The remainder of the first stringers for the offensive team lowered their heads and kept their concerns to themselves.

Zechs gave the order, "Everyone else, let's go." He tuned to leave with his team right behind while Howard smirked at his two second stringers. Neither had moved and their eyes only widened all the more at the realization that they were going to get some field time. The notion was as exciting as it was frightening, considering how long it'd been since either of them had a chance like this.

"As soon as you're both done pissing yourselves," the old man began when rest of the team was gone, "Meet with me on the sidelines to go over the play book." Both Austin and Fellows came to life at that. Pulling out their gear, they went right to work in suiting up.

Out on the field, Zechs smiled warmly to the braided young woman approaching. "Sally. This is a pleasant surprise," he greeted. "It's not very often that you leave your office to watch a training session."

Shrugging, the physical therapist chuckled deeply, "Well, I must admit that I was planning on staying in my office to take care of some paperwork until you told me that Brian and Terry were going to be playing today. I had to come and see this for myself since I haven't had a good laugh in some time."

From his place beside the head coach, Trent snickered. When Zechs glared at him, the defensive coach cleared his throat and smiled sheepishly, "Sorry. But you know that she has a point. They're not exactly the most reliable when they're called on."

Zechs shrugged, "So they're still pretty inexperienced when it comes to the responsibility. Maybe they'll surprise us this week and you'll both be eating your words."

Trent and Sally shared a look that said they knew better than to have those high hopes. Whistling through his teeth, the young defensive coach brought his team together to go over some of the plays that they were expecting Howard's bunch to throw at them.

Opening his play book, Trent stood at the center of the young athletes huddled together and began, "All right. The first few plays will most likely be kept in the air to test Austin's arm, so focus on breaking the offensive line protecting him and bring him down before he can even get the ball out of his hands." He fixed his team with a glare as he warned, "And for God's sake, try not to hurt the poor bastard when you catch him!"

Brian and Terry ran out from under the stadium and onto the field in their full gear. Heading right for Howard and the rest of the offensive team, they melded into the huddle. "We're here," Austin's voice cracked into a high screech. Roughly clearing his throat, he tried again, "I mean, we're here, Pops."

Chuckling deeply, Howard patted the young quarterback on the shoulder and grinned, "So you are, my boy." He looked to his grim-looking wide receivers and told them, "Now, Chang and Dobson, we're going to be relying on our throwing game for the first half of the day, to get as far down the field as you can push yourselves and get open." [2] Wufei and his fellow receiver nodded firmly.

"Okay," Howard smiled to Brian, "First five plays, I want the ball in the air. Don't get intimidated by the defense when they come out. If they break through our line, hold your spot and throw it away across the sidelines to stop the play. Better to lose an attempt at the first down than yardage." [3]

Licking his lips nervously, the quarterback nodded, "Sure thing, coach." After breaking the huddle, the offensive team took their places as Howard ran off the field to join Zechs and Trent at the side lines.

The defense team lined up face-to-face with the offense team, smirking wickedly at the already sweating stand-in for Heero. Swallowing roughly, Brian peered through his helmet to watch his line hunch forward. Trowa's hand gripped the football in preparation to snap the ball back to the quarterback. His voice rough, Austin called a series of numbers before shouting, "Hut! Hut!" At that, the center tossed the back just as the defenders plowed forward.

Nearly dropping the ball as soon as it was in his hands, Brian looked around anxiously for someone to throw it to. Wufei was at least fifteen yards ahead. With defenders trying to catch up, the Chinese receiver managed to get a little breathing room. Mueller was struggling to keep back two men and one escaped, charging right for the quarterback.

Crying out at the sight of the brute coming for him, Brian lost his nerve and ran in the wrong direction. From the sidelines, Sally and Trent covered their mouths to muffle their laughing as Howard screamed, "Throw it away! Throw the goddamned ball away, kid!"

"Johnson, don't you kill him!" Trent shouted to his man that was nearly on top of the quarterback. With a yelp, Brian was smoothly taken down by his attacker at a loss of eight yards to make it. Second and eighteen. [3] Zechs's shoulders slumped as he sighed deeply.

As he wiped his brow, Howard frowned, "Let us all bow our heads now and say a prayer that we don't lose Heero or Duo during the regular season." Zechs, Trent and Sally all nodded their heads at that.

*****

The following day,

Heero coughed roughly before pulling the comforter up and around himself. Lying one of the sofas in the living room, he sniffled and groaned at the aches that were creeping in. He glared to the braided young man lying on the couch across from him, "You're a black Angel of Death that's come down to torment me, aren't you?"

Laughing and coughing at the same time, Duo replied, "Love you, too man. If I was anything of the sort, I'd want to be more of a god of Death, than an angel." Unable to help himself, Heero chuckled deeply and shook his head in amusement.

"Somehow," the quarterback smirked, "that does seem more fitting of you."

TBC

[1] A fumble is basically when the running back has the ball and drops it. The other team could then pick it up to gain possession and have their shot at scoring. If the other team comes up with the ball, that is also called a turnover.

Another turnover is called an interception, when the quarterback throws the ball and the other team catches it. The other team would then be in possession of the ball and can now attempt to score.

[2] 'Getting open' basically means staying clear of any of the defenders of the other team that are trying to keep a receiver from catching the ball. If the receiver is open, the quarterback has a clear shot right to them when he throws, so nothing should keep them from catching it.

[3] Every possession that they have, the goal of the offensive team is to get ten yards. That's would get them what is called a 'first down.' They have three attempts to get those ten yards and if they are stopped after all of those attempts before they reach that goal, they have to kick the ball away for the other team to gain possession and have their defensive team do the same thing.

So, when you hear 'second and nine,' for example, that means it is the second attempt to get ten yards with only nine yards to go. Or 'third and two,' third attempt with only two yards to go.

When they get to the ten yard mark, the offensive team has three more chances to get the next ten yards. So, the whole point is to work up the field-slow and sure if needed- to get to the goal line.