4-11-2007

Blood, Sweat and Tears
Parts 41-50/?
Pairings: Eventual 1x2 and other pairings that I am working out
Warnings: Swearing, violence, mentions NCS, lemony goodness
BY: SkyLark
Betaed by Rebecca
Archives: http://www.gundam-wing-diaries.150m.com/gw/SkyLark/gwSkyLark.htm and http://www.mizunoamy.bravepages.com/skylark/skylarkfics.html

Part 41:

Smiling for the camera, Tim announced, "Well, ladies and gentlemen, we are at week three of the regular season and so far, there are only three teams in each division that are undefeated. And so far, not one of those teams looks to be slowing down any time soon." [1]

Adam nodded, "That's right, Tim. For the National Division, we have the Philadelphia Liberties, the Carolina Phoenix and the San Francisco Cougars. In the American League, the front-runners are the Denver Avalanche, the New York Troopers and- the biggest surprise of them all- the Pittsburgh Wolverines."

"This coming forth week of the season, two of those undefeated teams will face off. Denver will face off against Pittsburgh on their own field high in the Colorado mountain ranges," Tim stated, "Many feel that this will be the end of the Wolverine's streak while others believe that this is their turn-around year. They've already had the best start to a regular season in over a decade. This Monday night will be the real test of their metal."

Zechs raised his hand with the television remote to turn the set off. Sighing deeply, he rested his head back down on the cushions of the couch that he and his wife lying on. "I never would have believed that I'd see the season we had three straight wins like this."

Resting her head back on his shoulder, Noin smiled, "You have a lot to be proud of, sweetheart. You've helped push the guys into playing better than they even knew they could." Gently kissing his cheek, she smirked, "And I always believed that you all had it in you to start off this well."

A small frown marring his face, the head coach commented, "Well, this Monday night game coming up is going to be more than a challenge. For one thing, it is a night game and that can sometimes play an effect on the team. Having later practices for one week will only help so much."

He raised a hand and added, "Then there's the fact that this will be played in a dome-covered stadium. You know how loud it gets in those places. It's hard to think over the crowd, let alone get through to one another when you're on the field."

Knowing all too well the challenges of playing on a covered stadium, Noin nodded. They were indeed the loudest of all of the arenas thanks to the dome above sealing the noise of the crowd in. Most spectators in those venues were well aware of that and would purposely bring every noisemaker they had to make it difficult on the visiting team.

"So what are you doing at practice to try and prepare for that?" she asked.

With a small smirk, Zechs answered, "Howard and Trent brought in a few boom boxes that we have set up to play the most horrific death metal music you ever heard through the speaker system at the stadium. I think a few of the guys are about ready to kill someone."

* * * *

"I'm going to fucking kill someone," Duo gritted, shaking his head as he returned to a huddle with his teammates. Overhead, the screech of an electric guitar blaring echoed through the venue. While it was an effective way of preparing for the coming game, his brain was screaming from the assault. "Who the hell listens to this crap!?"

Wufei snickered and shouted over to him, "One of Pop's grandkids, apparently. Give it time. You'll learn to tune it out... eventually. Besides, if you can get past this, you can get past a severely annoying crowd any day!"

"One can only hope," the running back sighed deeply. Grumble as he would over having to endure such torture, he knew the importance of it. Their face-off against the Avalanche was one of the most important that they had faced in the regular season up until then.

Heero shouted over the racquet, "We're going to have to keep changing our hand signals for plays when we can't take time to huddle. If we use any gestures more than once, the others will pick up on it and know what we're throwing at them. Howard is already working on those changes as we speak."

Looking to Duo, Wufei and Scott, the team captain yelled to them, "The three of you will have to pay the most attention since you're going to most likely be carrying the ball somehow. You'll just have to know if I'm throwing or if we're running it in." The trio nodded firmly that they got what he said.

* * * *

Sore and tired in the early hours of the morning upon their return from their late practice, Heero and Duo settled themselves into bed. The adrenaline still running through them, sleep did not come as easily as they hoped.

Lightly running his fingers over the quarterback' s bare check as they stared up to the ceiling, the braided running back smiled wickedly to himself. "You still awake, there, `Ro?" he asked quietly in the darkness.

"Yea," Heero replied without the hint of exhaustion in his voice.

Biting his lip, Duo allowed his hand to slide down to his partner's waist. His partner's breath hitched. Over the last couple weeks, the couple enjoyed the occasional hand job and fooling around. Now, the ball was in Maxwell's court to up the ante, so to speak.

Carefully choosing his words, the running back inquired in a husky voice, "How daring are you feeling in trying something different?"

With a bit of difficulty to catch his breath, Heero answered with a breathless, "What did you have in mind?"

A couple fingers slipping beneath the elastic waistband of the quarterback' s shorts, Duo smirked, "I'm thinking of a number between sixty-eight and seventy."

Heero fought the moan as his cock instantly hardened at knowing what was being suggested. There was a smirk on his own face. "My client is listening."

* * * *

Relena was already at the usual table that she and her friends shared at Murray's when they arrived. Smiling brightly, she asked as they neared, "So how was practice today?"

"What!?" the football players shouted, their ears still ringing from their practice. Several heads and wide eyes from the bar turned in their direction. Quatre just laughed and shook his head in amusement while taking his seat across from the cheerleader.

Giggling, Relena took up her drink and mused aloud, "I'll take that as good." Wufei sat beside her and leaned in for a kiss just as the waitress approached to take orders. Careful not to yell, the athletes of the group just pointed to what they wanted on the menu.

Once their order was placed, Duo asked in a mindful volume, "So 'Fei tells me that you're going to be flying out to Colorado to watch the game."

Her head nodding excitedly, the cheerleader replied, "That's right. My parents and some of my siblings moved out there and so they'll be meeting up with us for some time together." She was smiling so widely that the skin on her face glowed even in the dim lights of their section of the bar.

Quatre grinned, "That's great, Relena." The others all voiced their own kind words and support, knowing from prior conversations how important the young woman's family was to her.

Turning to face her lover, the cheerleader' s smile faded a bit and Wufei quickly took a long sip from his glass of soda in a clear sign of discomfort. Duo frowned deeply in catching the awkward moment, the only one to catch it as Heero, Trowa and Quatre were engaged in another discussion.

An hour into their stay, Wufei excused himself and left for the men's room a couple sections over. Just before his friend vanished from sight, Duo rose to his feet with a rushed pardon. He entered the bathroom just in time to watch his teammate splashing cold water on his face at the sinks with a deep sigh.

Quickly drying his face with a couple towels, the wide receiver's dark eyes met the concerned violet watching him. Frowning, Wufei's shoulders slumped in defeat while discarding the damp towels in his hand. "All right," he shrugged, "Out with it."

Biting his lip, Duo replied, "I was just checking if everything was okay. You and Lena seem pretty... off tonight. Is there anything you want to talk about?"

Only considering a brief moment, Wufei nodded, "Yea. Just not here." Stepping from the restroom, he led the way to one of the side exits far out of their friends' line of sight. The running back remained quiet the whole time he stayed on his teammate's heels.

When they stepped out into the chilly air, their breath came out in puffs of vapor. Closing the door behind them, the wide receiver said in a rush, "Relena wants me to propose soon."

His eyes widening, Duo blinked, "She came right out and asked you-"

Shaking his head, Wufei waved his hands to cut him off. "No, but she's been dropping hints," he explained. A hand running over his hair, he sighed deeply and frowned, "As of last month, we were together for three years. It started then with a couple things- wedding magazines that she a few comments here and there about getting married and the usual stuff like that.

Roughly swallowing, the receiver paced back and forth as he went on, "Now, with our seeing her family this weekend, the tip-offs are becoming less and less subtle. I found a couple wedding magazines and pamphlets to the best honeymoon getaways in her apartment when I went to pick her up for dinner last night. There were even some bridal and bridesmaid gowns circled in it when I checked!"

Taking a deep breath, Duo concluded aloud, "So, you're not ready for that kind of a commitment yet."

Wufei paused in mid-stride to face him. Releasing a long breath that drug out in a cloud, he answered almost desperately, "I just think we're still too young to be thinking about that. I mean we're barely a couple months over twenty-two. I love Relena to death, but that's a pretty huge step and I'm not sure I'm ready for it right now."

Nervously rubbing the back of his neck, he closed his eyes and said, "And I don't know how to tell her that." Those dark eyes opened once more to lock onto his friend's gaze as he stated, "The last thing that I want to do is hurt her if this is something she has her heart set on."

Duo mulled over that for a bit, his own frown deepening in clearly understanding the dilemma. A few puffs of vapor later, he questioned quietly, "What if you don't tell her and she keeps hoping for something to happen and it doesn't? She needs to know how you feel, 'Fei."

Lowering his head, the receiver let out one long, last sigh. "You're right," he finally admitted with a nod. "I've been on pins and needles around her ever since last night and I know she's picking up on that. I have to tell her what's going on."

With a sad smile, the running back stepped close enough to rest a hand on his teammate's shoulder, squeezing it. "Good man," he said softly. "If there is anything else that I can do to help, just let me know, all right?"

Slowly raising his head, Wufei smiled sincerely, "Thanks." Looking around, he suggested, "We better get back inside before they start wondering what's taking us so long. As warm as it is in there, we'll be back to room temp by the time we get back to the table."

Duo trailed just behind as they stepped back into the bar.

* * * *

On their way up the front steps of the Yuy household the following afternoon following their practice, Heero and Duo were discussing the oncoming game. "Nice thing about switching divisions is you get to see all the different cities," the running back grinned. "It's been a couple years since I've been to Colorado."

Smirking, Heero reminded, "Well, we're on the first flight tomorrow morning. No late night programming if you don't want to wake up hating yourself." His partner grumbled to himself as he reached for the doorknob.

When they entered, the pair froze in the doorway at the sound of someone sniffling and crying in the living room. Sharing a worried look, they all but ran into the room to find a sobbing Relena in Quatre's arms as he tried to console her. Duo gasped sharply, "Lena!?" Quickly falling to his knees before the cheerleader, he took her hands in his and asked, "What's wrong?"

The agent loosened his arms a bit so that that the blonde young woman could lift her head from his shoulder. Her face drenched with tears and more on the way, Relena sucked in a breath and cried, "Wufei's going to break up with me! I just know it!"

Stunned, Heero stiffened with wide eyes just as Lady Une appeared with a steaming cup of tea. Frowning deeply, she informed him, "She arrived like this just a few minutes before you got here."

Duo was already sitting at Relena's other side when the young maid moved to offer their guest the saucer and cup with a quiet, "Here you are, dear." Quietly muttering a 'thank you,' the blonde girl accepted the tea and took a small sip.

Gently rubbing the head cheerleader' s back, Duo gave her a moment to relax enough before questioning gently, "What makes you think that 'Fei wants to break up with you, Lena?" Quatre was nodding his head at the inquiry, more than confused over the issue.

Sniffling, Relena fought to keep from breaking down as she turned to her violet-eyed friend to moan, "He's been acting so strange around me these last couple days. It just seemed like he was trying to tell me something but couldn't. Then today, after practice, he called to say he was picking me up for dinner."

A small sob bubbled from her throat and she fished, "He said that we 'need to talk' but wouldn't say about what. I just know that he's trying to end it. I don't know what I'm going to do."

Eyes wide, the running back fought the urge to growl deeply at the receiver's thoughtlessness in his choice of words. He clenched his fists a couple times to calm himself and smiled, "Lena, I promise you that he's not going to break up with you." Gasping sharply, the blonde young woman's own, red-rimmed, eyes widened with a silent plea of hope.

Lightly patting her hands, Duo requested, "Just give me a second to call him to let him know you're here, all right?" With one more sniffle, the cheerleader nodded. As he moved to from the couch, the braided athlete gestured to his partner. Nodding in understanding, Heero quickly took his place at the distraught girl's side.

In the hallway, the running back opened his cell phone and pressed one of his speed dial options.

On his way to picking Relena up, Wufei reached for his ringing cell phone on the dashboard of his car. Flipping it open and pressing it to his ear without checking the caller id so he could focus on the road, he greeted, "Hello."

"You told her you 'need to talk' over dinner and left it at that!?" Duo's voice screeched over the line. "Goddamn it, Fei, you knew she could tell something was up!"

His eyes widening, the wide receiver had to hold the phone from his ear until the rant was over. "Wait," he replied frantically, "How do you know that I told her that?"

Anxiously pacing back and forth in the kitchen, the braided youth gritted, "Because she's here at Heero's place bawling her eyes out thinking that you're about to break up with her." There was a sharp gasp and a choking sound on the other end.

Sighing deeply, Duo rubbed his temples with his free hand as he ordered, "Just get your ass over here and talk with her. Now!" That said, he closed his cell phone and headed back to the living room.

Wufei arrived a few heartbeats later, most likely breaking a few speed limits in the process.

The receiver charged into the living room and fell to his knees before his girlfriend, spilling out a rush of apologies for having her think the worst. Quietly slinking away to give them some privacy, Lady Une and their friends waited in the kitchen for their talk to end.

For a long time, there were hushes tones of the conversation taking place in the living room. Then, much to the lot's surprise, there was an outburst of laughter from Relena. "You thought I wanted to get married!?" she exclaimed as she tried to catch her breath.

Straightening in his seat, Duo turned back to the doorway in surprise. No longer able to keep his voice down, Wufei yelled, "Well, you had those wedding books with the dresses that were circled in your apartment!? What else was I supposed to think!?"

After another round of hysterics, the cheerleader' s voice cried, "You idiot! My step-dad and my mom are renewing their vows in a few months! My mom wanted me to look at some options of dresses that she wants to wear along with the bridesmaid dresses for myself and my sisters! I only found out about it this last weekend! I was going to tell you, but you were acting so strange that I didn't know how to bring it up since I thought you were about to end it!"

Heero, Quatre and Lady Une quickly realized the reason for the tension between the young couple and bit back their snickers in learning of Wufei's overreaction. Duo was not having such an easy time holding back, his head falling back as he laughed fully. The quarterback reached over to seal a hand over his lover's mouth to quiet him.

In the living room, the voices hushed again as a clear sign that the issue was being worked out and handled. No doubts there were a lot more apologies coming from the wide receiver for coming to such a misunderstanding without talking his discovery over sooner.

Before much longer, Wufei and Relena entered the kitchen with relieved smiles and their hands joined. More than happy to see that things had been patched up, Duo smirked, "All better?" The couple nodded.

Lady Une grinned to her guests, "Well, since you're both here, you might as well stay for the dinner that I'm almost finished making. There's plenty for all of us."

At the end of the meal, the solidified pair exchanges embraces, handshakes and many words of appreciation to their friends for their help. Instead of shaking hands as he did with the others, Wufei gave Duo a one-armed hug and quietly gave a sincere, "Thank you, Maxwell."

Not missing the extent of his teammate's gratitude, the American smiled and returned the embrace. "That's what friends are for, pal," he responded in kind.

Walking their friends to their car, Heero and Duo waved them off. As the car rode out of sight, the quarterback lowered his arm and sighed deeply, "I sometimes forget how complicated relationships can be."

"Yea," his partner chuckled deeply before moving back towards the house. Peering out of the corner of his eye, Duo took one of his lover's hands in his own and smirked, "It sure makes ours look pretty damned normal, doesn't it?"

Heero squeezed the hand as he laughed, "That it does."

[1] There are seventeen weeks of the regular season games before the playoffs are fought.

 

Part 42:

The voice of the pilot came over the private jet's speaker system, "Welcome to Denver, Colorado, everyone. Please watch your step on the way out and we'll see you on Tuesday."

Gathering their belongings, the team shuffled off of the craft and into the Denver National Airport. With the altitude of their surroundings, Zechs decided, wisely, to arrive a couple days early so that his athletes could get adjusted to the thinner air. While it meant going all weekend without a practice since they could not use the Avalanche's stadium, he was convinced it was worth the sacrifice.

On their way through the gates, there was not many a friendly face amongst the people coming and going. Some people outright glared at the Wolverines in passing and others muttered crude remarks. Snorting, Duo huffed, "Nice town. Granted, we could possibly take away their team's winning streak and lead in the league, but you'd think that they would be a little more hospitable around here."

Just beside him, Heero chuckled quietly, "It's not that bad. Besides, we're only here for three days. I think we can manage that."

"You suck, Maxwell!" someone from the passing crowd shouted. "You think you're hot shit, don't you, Yuy!" a second bystander yelled. Several other jeers aimed at the team as a whole as well as other individual players followed. Doing their best to ignore, Zechs and the coaching staff continued to lead the way out of the area as quickly as possible.

Sighing deeply, the quarterback muttered, "Then again..."

* * * *

No one on the team even thought of leaving their hotel during their stay that first night. Considering the scene at the airport, it was just best not to make an already uncomfortable situation all the more uncomfortable.

Fans tended to be pretty testy when their hometown team was performing as well as the Denver team was. And with Pittsburgh having just as much to lose if their record was taken away, it was going to be a very tense couple days leading up to the game.

The following afternoon, with baseball caps and bulky coats to shield the mountain air, the group parted ways to get out and exert themselves a bit. It was both an excuse to stretch their legs and get more accustomed to the altitude that they were at.

Zechs and the coaching staff stayed behind to watch the clock and see how long the majority lasted out there before becoming winded.

A few trickled in after a half-hour, most of that lot being the second and third-stringers that were not as conditioned as the starters. After two hours, nearly the whole of the team was back and practically panting for breath. Wufei, Trowa, Heero and Duo lasted the longest at two-and-a-half hours. That surprised few when everyone knew the work that they put in to their training and prepping. It still did not mean that they weren't hurting just a bit.

Satisfied with the results of the outing, Zechs grinned to his young men as they gathered in the lobby. "Rest up for the rest of the day," he told them. "You're going to need it for tomorrow night."

Not long after everyone broke for their rooms, Relena checked in and quickly caught up with Wufei. Quatre and Lady Une soon arrived and took up their shared room before heading out with Trowa and Trent for some personal time together. That left Heero and Duo for a night on the town on their own.

In one of the many gift shops that they visited that evening, the running back's violet eyes lit up at the sight of a little, porcelain carousel horse. "There's Camille's gift," he announced with a wide smile. "She loves collecting these." Taking up the white stead, he appraised it before nodding firmly and heading for the register.

Heero just followed with a smile on his face. Just as every other city they hit, Duo wanted to take some time to get some souvenirs for his children to bestow the next time they were in Chicago. The braided young man now had several bags of different shapes and sizes in both hands, each carrying a memento for each youngster.

Snickering as they headed back out to the streets, the quarterback smirked, "And you accuse Quatre of spoiling your kids. Yet, you can't help but get something for each of them whenever we're playing in a different city."

Duo took the light jab with a sheepish grin and shrugged, "Yea, but they may never get to see the places that we see. At least this way, I can bring something back for them to enjoy."

Lightly brushing their shoulders together in the most contact that either felt comfortable with in such a public place, Heero smiled, "I know. And I'm not criticizing you. I think it's... sweet." 'And it really is,' he thought to himself. One of the running back's most endearing qualities was that he did everything with his kids in mind.

Even at the end of a game, the fact that regardless of what praise and accolade Duo would get- from teammates, coaches, owners, fans or commentators- all that mattered to him was making his family proud. It was that call that he made to his children after every game that he looked forward to the most.

Breaking through the quarterback' s thoughts, Duo readjusted the bags in his hands and snickered quietly, "What are you thinking about? You look like you're a million miles away."

His cobalt eyes blinking and regaining focus on his surroundings, it was Heero's turn to grin sheepishly. Moving to take up some of the bags to relieve some of the burden from his lover, Heero replied quietly, "Just thinking of what a great father you are."

With a small gasp, the running back's violet eyes widened. Quickly regaining his composure, he smiled lovingly and reached over to give a quick squeeze to his teammate's hand in appreciation instead of trusting his voice at that moment.

The way that the heart-shaped face glowed for the rest of the night, Heero knew that there were few compliments that would ever mean more to his partner.

* * * *

"Set!" Heero cried at the top of his lungs over the deafening sounds of the stadium. Straining their ears, the offensive line struggled to hear the call while eyeing their grey-and-black- clad opponents. Glaring heatedly at each other, the two sides dug their cleats into the hard ground to find their footing.

As he reached his arms out in preparation for the snap, Heero screamed, "Set! Hike!" Trowa tossed the ball black as clean as ever just before having to push back two defenders. Ball in hand, the quarterback spun and handed it off to Duo just as he was running past.

By the time reached the wall of bodies wrestling each other, the running back had to dodge and weave this was and that to find an opening. When he broke through, he charged down the field for only eight more yards before being taken down from the side. But it was enough for a first down-four more tries to get ten more yards down with a total of thirty-eight to go before reaching the end zone for a touchdown.

"This has been a nail-biter of a game this Monday night, folks," Adam said as he and his co-anchor watched from their booth. "So far, neither team has had more than a three-point difference in their lead at any given time. Right now, the score is 21 to 17 in favor of Denver. But, with only this and one more quarter to go and so many mistakes on both teams, it's anyone's guess right now to who is going to remain undefeated after this game."

Shaking his head, Tim commented, "Well, this crowd has been doing everything that they can do try and distract the Wolverines and break down their communication lines. So far, it hasn't managed to slow them down thanks to some clever change up in hand signals that they've been giving each other. I can't follow what they're going to do from one play to the next, which means the Avalanche side is having the same problem."

On the Wolverine sideline, Zechs smirked and pat both Trent and Howard on the shoulders. "Brilliant work on those hand signals, guys," he grinned. Both coaches returned the smile and nodded firmly.

Quickly taking his place a couple yards behind the center, Heero shouted, "Set! Hut!" At the snap, he gazed down the field for a receiver when Wufei appeared in the open, just a few yards away from scoring.

Locking onto his target, the quarterback wasn't aware of a defender that had broken through his line. Just as he was about to launch the ball, he caught the muscular giant out of the corner of his eye and took his sight away from Chang while the ball left his hand.

The ball missed it's mark by quite a bit, landing right into the waiting arms of an Avalanche blocker. "Interception! " Alex cried. "Yuy just threw his first interception of the season and now Denver has possession of the ball!"

"Fuck!" Heero hissed, his eyes narrowed as he and his teammates charged the man now running right for them in hopes to break through and down the other side of the field. He was finally taken down at the fifty-yard line dividing half of the field.

The Wolverine offensive team ran off the field so the defense could talk their place to try and stop the Avalanche once again. Sighing deeply, Heero roughly removed his helmet and shook his head in frustration. Interceptions happened, but it was never easy to deal with.

Gently patting his lover's shoulder, Duo reassured him quietly, "It's all right, `Ro. Shit happens. You'll make up for it the next time around." Smirking, he added, "Their quarterback had an interception earlier that we picked up on, remember?"

Howard was actually quite calm as he approached his team with a supportive, "Shake it off, guys. They've made just as many turnovers as we have. We're just a good match-up. There's still time to get things together and win this one. Let's not fall apart now."

"Right, Pops," his young men replied at the same time with firm nods. Finally easing and allowing himself a little slack, Heero turned to gaze into the violet eyes that were on him. A small smile of appreciation curled his lips and he quickly pat his partner's back to let him know that he was all right.

Sighing deeply in relief, Duo moved to the water jug while tuning out the ever-present commotion from the stands. One thing to be said about that torture that he had to endure at practice that week-he did learn to just ignore the ruckus.

No sooner had the running back finished taking a sip from the plastic cup that he filled did the crowd suddenly explode with frustrated cries and boos as his teammates started jumping and hollering. Turning with wide eyes to the field, Duo watched in shock as one of their own red-and-gold uniformed defenders now had the ball and was charging back towards their end zone.

"They just had a fumble! We have possession again!" Trowa yelled in explanation as his braided friend reached his side. Letting out a hoot, the American joined his comrades, leaping and cheering.

The other scene on the other sideline was quite different. The Denver head coach was throwing his headset off while yelling at his men with a reddening face as the players behind him covered their faces and shook their heads in shock and disgust.

When the defender was taken down, it was at almost the same spot where the Wolverines were at the time of their interception. "We still have some yards to go to score, but we can pull this off," Wufei grinned while grabbing his helmet.

All but dancing, along the sideline, Howard slapped each of his offensive liners as they returned to the field. "Get on out there are give it to `em, boys!" he hollered excitedly. "We're still in this!"

On their way to forming a line along where the ball was placed, Heero raised a hand when all of his teammates were watching. Opening and closing his fist three times, he gave the signal that the ball was to be run in. Gasping sharply, Duo shouted, "No! No!" Raising his hands to make them form a `T', he called for a timeout.

Blowing a whistle, the head referee stopped the clock and announced into his microphone, "Time! Three-minute break for the teams to talk!"

Every Wolverine, on and off the field and including the coaching staff, watched the running back with wide eyes and slack jaws. None looked more surprised than Heero. Quickly recovering, his cobalt eyes narrowed as he yelled, "What the hell are you doing wasting one of out timeouts like that!? We only have two left with a whole quarter to go after this!"

Zechs and Howard were talking anxiously amongst themselves on their part of the field, trying to make sense as to why the braided athlete acted on his own in such a way. High up in the stands, Quatre bit his lip and Lady Une held her breath at the obvious disturbance that the move had caused.

"Well, this is an interesting development, " Adam smirked in amusement to the camera. "It looks as though we have a breakdown in the communication now with Duo Maxwell calling a timeout when no one on his team was expecting it. And his team does not look happy with him right now."

Going into a huddle, Duo winced at the heated glares aimed at him from the others. Even Trowa looked about ready to tear his head off. "Look," he shouted to be heard by everyone, but he kept his eyes on the quarterback across from him. "They're expecting the ball to be run because of that interception back there and I won't be able to get very far because of it!"

Quickly raising a finger when his lover opened his mouth to protest, the running back's own eyes narrowed as he cried, "I know that you're still shaken up by it, and that's why you're making the call to keep the ball on the ground, but we should be throwing it in again! They'll never see it coming! We could score with that to our advantage!"

Those glares on him eased into wide-eyed looks of surprise at the logic. Swallowing roughly, Heero kept his own concern at bay. His partner was right-his recent error had shaken him and he was going to have to work at controlling that.

With a deep breath, the team captain sighed, "All right! We're going for a fake, then!" Turning to Chang, he hollered, "Find a way to break past their blockers! Don't look back until you're clear!" Wufei gave a sly grin and nodded firmly that he understood.

Breaking, the Wolverines lined up against their opponents. Heero swallowed roughly once more and raised his arms. "Set! Set!" Slowly drawing a deep breath, he prepared himself for what lay ahead and screamed, "Hike!"

Like clockwork, Trowa snapped the ball back to him without fail. Quickly covering it with both hands, the quarterback turned back to act as though he was about to hand it off to Duo. Wrapping his arms around his chest as though he was accepting the ball, Maxwell charged to the defenders that were trying to get at him.

Just as he had thought, the Avalanche had been counting on the ball to be run in as they made a wall to stop him. And it was damn near impenetrable.

At the last second, just before his opponents could see that he still had the ball, Heero looked down the field just as Wufei ran past the last blocker. That instant, the receiver turned to face the quarterback and raised his hands.

"It's a fake!" Tim exclaimed to the listeners and viewers. "It's a fake! Yuy still has the ball!"

Realizing the same thing a heartbeat too late, the defenders all but froze with wide eyes as Heero launched the ball into the air with a loud grunt of effort. Head up and gaze on his target, Wufei ran on and opened his arms for the ball. Jumping for it, he propelled himself forward to make the catch in midair and landed into the end zone.

Their arms thrusting into the air, the Wolverines yelled and screamed in joy at the play. Laughing, Heero and Duo ran up to each other for a tight embrace before running to the end zone to celebrate with the rest of their teammates. Throwing his playbook in the air, Zechs allowed himself a moment to shed his normally serene exterior to embrace his coaching staff with hoots and hollers.

Adam jumped from his seat, cheering, "Touchdown Pittsburgh! That was a forty-three- yard toss by Heero Yuy and what a beauty it was! He could not have thrown it better than that!"

By the time the last quarter rolled around, the extra point was kicked to give the Wolverines a lead in the score of 24-21.

From there, the Avalanche could not regain the lead. They had thrown everything they had in the first three durations and were winded in the end and could only score a field goal. At the final whistle blow to announce the end of the game, the score was Pittsburgh: 31 Denver: 24.

And it was amazing how quickly the noise died down to an eerie silence when it was over.

Shaking his head, Tim chuckled deeply, "Well, sports fans, we are witnessing history in the making. The Pittsburgh Wolverines are now leading the whole of the American league with a victory over the Denver Avalanche to remain undefeated. This could very well be a Cinderella story in the making this season."

In the locker room, Zechs was actually fighting tears in his eyes as he gazed on his team. "I'm damned proud of you, boys," he said with a rough voice. "Damned proud. And I don't have anything more to say than that. Get showered and get to bed. We head back to Pittsburgh tomorrow afternoon."

Every face was still grinning from ear-to-ear as the team headed off and parted ways before returning to their hotel for the last night in Denver.

On the way to their rented car, Heero reached over to squeeze Duo's hand. "Thanks for believing in me back there," he said quietly, voice scratchy from having to yell all night.

Smiling lovingly, the running back met his gaze and replied with an equally gritty tone, "There's never been a day I didn't believe in you, `Ro. And I don't mean just on the field." By the way that his lover's face lit up at that just before he pulled him in for a heated kiss, Duo knew that he could pay no better compliment.

* * * *

Upon their arrival to their hometown- completely unlike their arrival at the Colorado airport- they received a hero's welcome… their very first.

 

Part 43:

Over the car radio, a sportscaster' s voice was recanting all of week five's wins and losses. "At no surprise, the San Francisco Cougars reigned victorious over the Seattle Wings to remain undefeated and the leaders of their division."

Both Alex and Mueller smirked at the statement as they drove back to their shared, posh apartment after taking some time to get away from their busy hometown.

The sportscaster' s deep tone continued, "However, the big story of the weekend is once again the Pittsburgh Wolverines. They managed to clinch an almost easy victory over Tennessee compared to their match-up with Colorado the week before. While they had also won the face off in their first face-off during the pre-season, the Warriors had not put up much of a fight then since a win or loss would not count.

"For this regular season, Tennessee is expected to go pretty far, but Pittsburgh managed to make the team look almost like a pack of rookies just starting out. Once again, the dynamic pair of Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell was a huge factor in the Wolverines managing to remain 5 and 0." [1]

Growling, Alex all but punched the power button on the stereo system to turn it off. "I'm so fucking tired of our being in those losers' shadows. We haven't lost a damned game yet, either, but you don't hear anyone making a fuss over it."

His eyes narrowing, Mueller commented, "That's because we're on the better team, so it's no surprise that we're doing so well. They have to work for it, so of course they're going to be talked about more." He watched as his lover's knuckles turned white from the hard grip on the steering wheel.

Over the last couple of weeks since his trade, the tight end was growing increasingly frustrated with his partner's behavior. This little tirade was the straw that was about to break the camel's back. Holding his tongue, he remained quiet all the way up to their room with a scenic view of the city.

All but throwing off his coat, Mueller waited for the door to close before turning to his teammate and hissing, "All right. What the hell is going on with you? I can understand a little rivalry and hurt feelings from you trade, but you're fucking obsessed with beating Maxwell. And don't think that I haven't picked up on the shorter temper and other things that are different about you. So out with it!"

Taken aback by the verbal assault, Alex's eyes widened as he struggled to find his voice. And here he thought that he had been so careful to not lead on. Lying wasn't going to help matters- his partner was too smart to believe anything that he might try to make an excuse.

In the end, it was only a matter of time before Mueller found out the truth. Living with him was only going to reassure that. The other possibility to keep his secret was to break off their affair... and that just was not an option as far as Alex was concerned. Whatever effects the drugs may or may not have been taking hold of him, his feelings for the other young man never changed.

Sighing deeply, the blonde running back rolled back the long sleeves of his dark orange top. Showing the inside of his right elbow, he lightly rubbed away the thick concealer he had been using to reveal the pinholes of puncture wounds in the flesh there.

With a soft gasp, Mueller breathed, "Drugs." Rage quickly taking over his shock, he glared heatedly at his lover and shouted, "You've been using drugs!?"

Instantly covering the other athlete's mouth, Alex gave a whispered but sharp, "Sshh! You want to announce it to the damned world!? I have a lot to lose here by sharing this with you, so just keep quiet for a minute and let me explain!"

As the hand was pulled away, Mueller begrudgingly remained quiet, but he continued to glare in a way that told the running back 'This had better be good.'

Sighing in relief, Alex explained, "This is only to help me finally make a name for myself. You know how frustrating it was to do everything in my power to be a better player and always fall short. Treize is offering me a chance to be the best running back out there. I swear that I never intended to stay on these drugs after I've reached my goal." Inwardly, he smirked at the little white lie he threw in.

The tight end opened his mouth to speak when his lover shook his head while adding, "Besides, I know you're tired of always being on a losing team. Even if the Wolverines are doing well now, it's not going to last forever. It's only a matter of time before they'll be at the bottom of the pack again." Reaching to cup his partner's face, he grinned, "We're going to go all of the way with this team, I know it. You want to be wearing a Super Bowl ring as badly as I do."

Mueller took a moment to consider everything. Both surprised and disappointed that he was even thinking such a thing over, he couldn't help the fact that he did want to win a championship. Along with that, after seeing his lover struggle so long and hard to improve on the field, he couldn't deny him the credit he was finally receiving.

Even with all of those issues, the biggest looming problem in the whole mess was Treize. He was not a man that Mueller was about to upset, if he could help it. The head coach was very influential in the league, as well as driven in his ways to achieving his goals. A dangerous combination. That, more than anything else, was the reason why there was a heavy lean to going along with acting as though nothing was wrong.

But there still needed to be one thing made certain.

Raising a finger, the tight end warned, "One season of this shit. Then you either quit and look to sign on to another team with me, or I'll risk my own career in this sport by coming forward to the press about everything."

More than happy with that, Alex nodded, "Okay. That's more than fair. This season will earn you time to regain your reputation for another team to pick you up and I'll go along as a package deal to make sure that we get out of here. No more drugs after that."

It was more than enough time for the next cover story when the end of the season came around.

Still reluctant, Mueller nodded back and turned away. Pausing in mid-step, he looked over his shoulder and asked, "So if Treize is providing drugs to the team, does that mean that Maxwell also-"

Alex bit back a growl at the mention of that braided running back's name. Cutting his partner off, he frowned, "No. He never used a damn drop of the stuff and was none the wiser than anything like that was being distributed as an option."

In learning that, the tight end had to keep from smiling in amusement. 'Good for him,' he thought to himself, impressed with the American's talent.

Biting his lip, Alex stated, "You're already performing to your best when you get to play every-other quarter. But, you could start every time if you had a little 'help.' I could always talk to Treize about setting you up, if you're interested."

That stern glare was back again as Mueller turned to face him. "Mention it again," he gritted, "and our deal is off. I'll go to the press so quickly and you'll be disbanded from the league so quickly you won't know what happened."

His eyes wide, the running back swallowed roughly. "Got it," he managed in a small voice. Satisfied with that, Muller turned and walked off without another word.

All but falling onto the couch behind him, Alex chuckled deeply to himself. "Perfect," he muttered to himself. "Crises handled."

* * * *

"Well, congratulations on your run of five straight wins," journalist Nathan Gallow smiled at the start of his interview with Heero Yuy. "This must be quite an exciting time for you."

Smiling, the quarterback nodded firmly, "It is, thank you. The whole team has been working hard to get where we are right now."

Back in the wings as the conversation continued, Duo was watching and listening behind the cameras while waiting for his turn for the next 'interrogation' as he liked to call them. Quietly grumbling to himself over having to endure another of these weekly tortures, the running back fidgeted with the end of his braid.

Just beside him, Quatre peered to him out of the corner of his eye. "Stop fidgeting," he scorned quietly. "You're making me nervous."

Under his breath, the braided athlete muttered, "Gallow is one of the slimiest interviewers out there. I know that eventually, we have to meet up with the asshole, but it's damned hard not to just slug the guy with the way he tries to start trouble."

"I don't like him any more than you do," the agent tried to reassure. "Yet, we all know that if anyone turns down an interview with him, he'll be calling them out as being scared of him. Better to just endure what he has to say and get it over with."

Snorting, Duo folded his arms and focused back on his lover and his question-and- answer session.

With a wicked smirk, the oily journalist folded his arms and raised an eyebrow. "Now why don't you and Maxwell just take the full credit for carrying the team as far as you've come?" he asked. "Everyone knows that you're both the stars of the Wolverines."

Heero shrugged with a lopsided smirk of his own. "Because everyone on the field makes a difference to whether or not a play we run is successful," he answered, "I'm not about to take away any credit the others deserve. The defense keeps the other team from scoring more than we can handle. The offensive line and receivers are the difference to my being able to pass or Maxwell's being able to run."

Snickering softly, Quatre commented, "That was a clear setup to get the rest of the team mad with him. Very well handled, I must say." A small grin on his own face, Duo nodded his braided head in agreement.

Easily covering his disappointment in not managing to trap the quarterback with that first ling of questioning, Nathan moved on to a new subject that was certain to stir some emotion. "Well, I can only imagine how much you wish that your parents could still be around to witness this season firsthand."

Cobalt eyes widening, Heero's voice caught in his throat as the journalist continued, "But then, you only took enough time off of your training last summer to attend their funeral." That sly smirk returned as Gallow shrugged, "Business as usual, right?"

Both stunned at the sudden turn, Quatre and Duo stood behind the cameras with wide eyes and slack jaws as the quarterback struggled to catch his breath. His own face and eyes soon burning with rage, the running back hissed, "That son of a bitch." Fists clenched at his sides, he stalked towards the smug interviewer.

Lightly placing a hand on his friend's shoulder to stop him, the agent winked to him, "I've got this." Walking past the cameras as they continued to film, Quatre's eyes narrowed on Gallow when their gazes met. Heero continued to stare ahead, lost in a sea of emotions that left him adrift from the world around him. "This interview is over," he announced in a calm, but stern voice.

Nathan laughed, "And who the hell are you to say so? Aren't you Maxwell's agent?"

Smiling pleasantly, the Arab bowed at the waist and replied, "Why yes, I am." He extended a hand and said, "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Quatre Raberba Winner."

At the name, the cocky journalist suddenly froze with tide eyes. "W-Winner?" he sputtered. "T-then your father is..."

Quatre filled in with a wide grin, "One of the most powerful men in the world."

With his smile quickly fading into another heated glare, the agent stated, "And believe me, I know every letter of the law when it comes to the well-being of these football players. As a friend of Mister Yuy, I will be representing him as well.

"Causing undue stress the way that you are now could hurt his ability to play, thus his livelihood. If you wish to continue this interview, or air what you already have, I will come after you with the best lawyers for the emotional distress that it would bring," the blonde warned. "We both know that the courts would never support an oily journalist like yourself. We all know the thin line that you tap dance on with your method of interviewing. "

Gallow swallowed roughly on that one. It was difficult for him to keep a good lawyer handy because no one wanted to represent him. The agent was right and would easily crush him in a courtroom. Not having another choice, he nodded firmly and croaked, "All right. I'll have the tapes destroyed."

A smile tugging his lips once more, Quatre responded, "Good. And I will be there to witness it." Raising an eyebrow, he explained, "Just to be certain that you're living up to your end of the bargain, of course."

His throat dry, the journalist swallowed once more and answered quietly, "Of course."

That said, Quatre moved to his friend as he remained slumped in his seat. Carefully removing the microphone from his tie, the Arab spoke to him gently, "Come on, Heero. Let's get you out of here."

Finally returning to the world of the living with a couple blinks, the quarterback looked up to the agent and numbly rose from his seat. Duo entered the scene and with a hand on his lover's back, led him from the room.

Rubbing his hands together, Quatre turned back to Nathan. "Now, let's get to those tapes," he smirked. "Including the audio recordings from the studio room." At the way that Gallow's eyes widened, the blonde snickered to himself.

Yes, he certainly did know his craft as an agent. And he loved every moment of it.

A steady rain had just started outside when Heero and Duo were making their way for the car. Umbrella in one hand, the running back handed over a bottle of water that he purchased from a vending machine on the way out. "Are you all right?" he asked quietly.

Heero's hand trembled as he accepted the bottle, forcing a small nod. Everything was numb and empty to him as he tried to handle the wave of emotions threatening to drown him.

Quatre arrived moments later and the small group headed back to the Yuy household without a word between them. Sitting in the back, Heero gazed through the rain-glistened window beside him. By the time they reached his residence, he was coming out of his stupor.

Lady Une and the agent worked together in preparing dinner while the quarterback cleared his head with a hot shower. When he emerged back into the bedroom, Duo was sitting on the edge of their bed with a concerned look. Forcing himself not to look into those worried eyes, Heero headed for the dresser and proceeded to change into a fresh set of clothes.

With a deep breath, Duo frowned to his lover's back, "I'm not going to force you into talking, 'Ro. Just promise that you won't keep me shut out forever, okay?"

Pulling his grey long-sleeved shirt on last, Heero faced him and replied quietly, "I'm not shutting you out." he slipped a dry pair of sneakers on his feet as he announced, "You're coming with me."

Duo blinked in surprise and quickly rose from the mattress. Without argument and without asking where they were going, he grabbed an umbrella and followed his partner back downstairs. After a promise to their friends that they would be back in time for dinner, the pair headed back out into the rain.

At the wheel, Heero took his time in getting to their destination. The damp roads and quickly fading light had little factor in that. When they made their last turn, he said quietly, "The last time I was here was at the burial."

A metal arch shown and glistened in the beam of the headlights as the car approached. Gasping softly, Duo's wide eyes read at the top of the arch 'Saint Gabriel Cemetery.' Biting his lip, he reached over and squeezed his teammate's shoulder in support. Heero did little to react as he navigated the vehicle through the twisting and turning hills.

Headstones of various shapes, sizes and colors sparkled in both the rain and the glow of the lampposts all around. Towards the center of the expansive grounds, the quarterback brought the car to a stop and turned the ignition off.

In silence, the couple headed towards the center of that particular hill. Umbrella in hand, Duo swallowed roughly as they neared a pair of headstones joined in the center to make one large, heart-shaped grave marker. On the first half was Odin Lowe's name, date of birth and date of death. The second half had Yumeko Yuy's information. At the bottom of the heart, in inscription read, 'Not even death could part these souls.'

There was a very long silence as the pair silently paid their respects. Even the rain pittering and pattering above and all around was lost to their thoughts.

Finally, without looking over to his lover Heero's voice breathed, "I still think that they're just going to just walk through the door one of these days." At the anguish in that whispered phrase, Duo swallowed past a lump that formed in his throat before turned his head to watch the other athlete.

Slowly moving his head so their eyes met, the quarterback reached up to run his fingers over the gold chain that peeked out the back of his partner's collar. Tears forming in his cobalt eyes, he asked brokenly, "Does the pain ever go away?"

Smiling sadly, Duo as he answered, "I wish that I could tell you 'yes,' 'Ro. But it does get better... over time." Gently brushing away a stray drop with the pad of his thumb, he added, "And it's all right to cry. You don't always have to be strong."

Actually feeling a bit better at that, Heero nodded and gazed back at the tombstone. "Would we mind if we stayed here for a little longer?" he asked in an almost pleading tone.

Reaching over with his free hand to latch onto his partner's, the running back squeezed it tightly and reassured softly, "We can stay as long as you need."

The quarterback sniffled quietly and rested his head on his partner's shoulder for some added shelter from the elements around as well the emotions swirling within. Lightly kissing his forehead, Duo wrapped his arm around Heero's waist and held him against his side.

Neither knew how long they had been out for exactly. They were late for dinner.... but Lady Une and Quatre never complained.

[1] Whenever you hear a team standing- the first number is the number of wins and the second is the number of losses. So, for example, if you hear a team is '3 and 2', that means that so far they have three wins and two losses. In this case, the Wolverines are '5 and 0' so five wins and no losses.

 

Part 44:

Following their visit to the cemetery, Heero and Duo stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking. It was an exchange of their experiences with their families. The running back shared some of his fondest memories of Sister Helen while the quarterback opened up about his parents.

As they lay in bed, their eyes long adjusted to the darkness to make out each other almost as well as if they were in broad daylight thanks to the dim glow bleeding in from the windows. Usually it was Duo cradled in Heero's arms. That night, the positions had switched.

"Do you think that I was wrong for not taking more time off from training to grieve?" the team captain asked quietly.

Shaking his head, the running back brushed a hand over his lover's bare back in soothing circles. "No," he answered. "Everyone has their own way of dealing with things. You just needed some sense of normalcy after the accident to keep yourself together."

Amazed at how well his lover had him figured out, Heero couldn't help but smile a bit. In truth, that was the very reason for his only taking the day of the funeral off from summer training the previous year. Anything more than that and the reality of his parents' death would have been far too difficult for him to deal with.

Lightly running his fingers over the exposed scars of his teammate's chest, the quarterback thought aloud, "My mother was the last of her family. And my father loved her enough that, so the Yuy name would carry on, he had me take on that name on instead of his own."

In hearing that, Duo smiled, "I was wondering why you were born with your mother's name." His eyes widening, he realized something that sent a chill down his spine. `And the name will die with him unless he has an `heir,'' he thought to himself.

Sensing his lover turn rigid and his breath hitch, Heero told him, "Don't think that way. I have no regrets being with you. I'm all right with not having a child that will carry on the name. It's certainly not worth my acting like something or someone that I'm not by taking the `easy' route and marrying a woman for that simple reason."

Relieved by that, Duo released the breath that he had been holding and his guilt ebbed. Raising his braided head, he kissed the top of his partner's unruly mess of hair. Unable to keep his eyes open any longer, he stifled a yawn. "Sister Helen would have loved you," he heard himself whisper as he began to drift off.

Heero grinned warmly as he nestled himself into the securing embrace around him. His cobalt eyes drifting closed, he replied in kind, "My parents would have loved you, too." Sighing deeply, he finally gave into the sleep that was calling for him.

* * * *

"Happy Birthday to you," the family gathered around the dining room finished singing together.

Smiling brightly, Hope stood on the chair at the head of the table before a large, purple-frosted cake with five burning candles. A pointed, colorful hat atop her read head, the little girl looked about ready to burst from the excitement of her first real birthday party.

For that particular occasion, Quatre and Lady Une made the trip to celebrate the child's birthday with their friends. Hilde had her camera in hand and had already taken more than a dozen pictures that day and was ready for the big candle blowout. Heero sat near the middle of the lot with Jamie sitting in his lap while Solo remained across from him with Sun in his own care.

And Duo looked every bit the proud father from his place at the other end of the table. Leaning forward, he grinned, "Make a wish before you blow the candles out, sweetie."

Hope blinked with a puzzled look on her face. Tilting her head to the side, she looked to her Dad and said, "But I have everything I want already."

The running back's eyes widened with a sharp gasp at the sentiment. Small tears filled his eyes as his lover and friends all looked on to him with wide smiles of their own. Clearing his throat, Duo moved around the table to hug his youngest tightly, not trusting his voice at the moment.

Both Quatre and Lady Une looked as though they were on the verge of becoming emotional over the scene. Lowering the camera from her face, Hilde wiped a few stray tears of her own. Solo reached up to squeeze her hand tightly and winked at her. It was just like their little Hope to make such a simple and sweet statement.

Carefully setting the birthday girl into his lap, the braided athlete suggested quietly, "Well, maybe you could wish for other kids without families to find mommies and daddies that will love them, too."

Instantly brightening at that, Hope nodded excitedly and turned back to the cake. Taking a deep breath, she blew out all five glowing candles. Her family around all cheered and clapped. Duo kissed his daughter's head before settling her back down on the chair so that he could take the cake into the kitchen.

Heero followed right behind, clearing his own throat after the touching display. Removing the three large buckets of different flavored ice cream from the freezer, he smirked, "That was a nice suggestion back there."

With a light snicker, the running back wiped the only tear to break his defenses and muttered, "Those kids kill me every time, man." After removing the candles, he took up a knife to begin cutting into the marble cake that Lady Une and Hilde had made together. "It doesn't take much for them to turn me into a blubbering idiot."

Shrugging, the quarterback began scooping ice cream into the bowls that he had set aside. As he looked over to his lover, he commented, "Well, they have a lot to be grateful for thanks to you. It's... refreshing to know that they're not taking any of this for granted the way kids who are better off do."

Unable to argue with that, Duo smiled wistfully, "Yea." They worked together in setting up the bowls with a slice of cake and a large scoop of each flavor ice cream. Quatre, Hilde, Solo and Lady Une entered soon after to help disperse the treats to the lot.

Once the desserts were finished, everyone moved into the living room for the gift unwrapping. The brightly wrapped gifts that made a small pile in the corner came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Flora, Tai and Marcus went about handing the tokens to their little sister to unwrap as Hilde went back to photographing.

Gushing over her new clothes, shoes and toys, Hope was over the moon. She hugged and kissed her dad, aunt, uncles and Lady Une with many words of thanks. After the last present was opened, Duo winked to Heero and with that sign, the quarterback snuck from the room as everyone busied themselves with cleaning up and appraising the gifts.

Moments later, the running back saw his lover peer his head around the doorway to give him a firm nod. Smiling widely, Duo announced, "Well, Heero still has one last present to give. But it is for everyone, so be sure that you all share, all right?"

In hearing that they were all going to be getting a surprise, his children turned to him with wide eyes. His eyes on the youngest of his clan, Duo smirked, "But since it's her day, Hope gets to name her."

"Her?" the youngsters asked with confused looks on their faces. Gathering together, Hilde, Solo, Quatre and Lady Une were snickering and rubbing their hands in anticipation of what they knew was coming.

On his cue, Heero entered the room with a grin and a wiggling puppy in his arms. With a big, bright, red bow tried loosely around its neck, the baby golden retriever looked all around the room. Tail wiggling excitedly, she whimpered quietly in wanting to be let down to explore.

Each one of them gasping, the children all cried out and tried to get as close as they could. Still, they were polite enough to give Hope some space to have a first glance. Very carefully lowering the puppy into her arms, the quarterback stepped aside so the children could all be acquainted with the newest member of their family.

Hope giggled with tears in her eyes as the pup licked her face. All around, her siblings were gently patting and making cooing sounds to the ball of golden fur. One-by-one, the children all took turns to hold their gift. As Duo watched on, he wrapped his arms around Heero's waist from behind and rested his chin on his shoulder.

Somehow, the picture of their family seemed complete now. Well... as complete as it could be with the future being so unknown for what would come of his relationship with the quarterback. Shaking his head to lose that train of thought, Duo centered his focus back on his little ones.

After taking a few shots, Hilde lowered the camera and asked, "So what are you going to name her, Hope?"

Tilting her head in thought, the little girl pondered on that a moment. A bright smile brightening her face, she cried, "Mary! Like Princess Mary on my favorite show!" All around, heads nodded and grins spread at the name.

"Mary's a beautiful name, Hope," Heero smirked. Instantly, he was ambushed with hugs and a barrage of thanks from the youngsters. Laughing, he returned each embrace and rubbed the tops of their heads.

Duo raised his hand after the exchange to call everyone to order. Listing a finger, he told his charges sternly, "Now, everyone is responsible to make sure that Mary is fed, cleaned and taken out to the back yard when she has to go. It's going to be a team effort." More than satisfied with that, the children nodded and voiced their affirmatives.

Chuckling deeply, Lady Une said quietly to Quatre, "He's such a wonderful parent. And his children are absolute angels. But, it still amazes me that he's going to be a father to eight. I don't know that I'll ever be able to get over it."

The agent snickered, "For the record, I've known about this for over a year and I'm still not over it, myself."

* * * *

Later that evening, after tucking all of his children to bed, Duo sighed deeply to himself after a successful party. It was the first for Hope since her being brought into his care almost eight months prior and he wanted it to be a special one for her. The same went for all of his charges' big days.

Thanks to Heero and his friends, he managed to pull it off. For her first night in her new home, Mary slept in the birthday girl's room. It was more than evident what a success that gift was for all involved.

After thanking his friends over and over for their help and their gifts, the running back was ready to retire for the evening. Heero was right behind, stretching and yawning as they climbed to their floor and empty wing.

The moment that the door closed behind them and the light in the bedroom turned on, Duo kissed his partner soundly until the need for air parted them. Panting lightly, he gazed into surprised cobalt breathing, "Thank you for everything today, 'Ro."

A warm smile tugging his lips, Heero shrugged simply, "My pleasure. I could get used to attending more of these birthdays... if you wouldn't mind."

Biting his lip, the braided athlete sighed, "Lately, I've just been worrying about the kids getting too attached to... well, us being together. It would be one thing if it was only the two of us involved, but it's a hell of a lot more complicated that that and I can't be selfish here."

Unable to look into those eyes any longer, Duo turned for the bed and began shedding his shirt. "I mean how serious is this?"

The quarterback blinked in surprise. "You don't know for certain that what we have here is serious?" he asked, the hurt evident in his voice. "Duo, I've never felt this way about anyone else. I..." His voice cracked enough that he had to pause to swallow roughly before admitting, "I love you."

Duo spun to face him with wide eyes. "W-what did you say?" he managed to ask in little more than a whisper.

Taking a deep breath, Heero slowly approached his lover and repeated more firmly, "I love you. Ever since we've been together, it just feels..." He paused in search of the right word before all but shouting, "right. More right than anything else that I've had in my life!"

After that, the words came out easily and in a rush as he paced the room a bit as Duo looked on, his eyes still wide. "I've learned more about myself and my feelings since being with you than I've learned my whole life up to now! Aside from knowing that I wanted to play football, my life didn't have any real direction and I was lost. But now, it's like every aspect of my life is finally pointing the same way."

Heero halted and looked to his stunned partner. Frowning deeply, he whispered, "They're all pointing to you, Duo. And your children." Shaking his head, he continued, "I see you with them and I'm so goddamned proud of you! But you didn't just save them, you saved me as well."

Tears were rolling down the running back's face and he sniffled quietly. His own eyes shimmering, the quarterback stated, "I can't deny how I feel anymore. And I know that you're worried about a trade that may or may not happen. But if it does, I don't care what it takes to make it work. I'll make it happen because I don't ever plan on losing this."

With a deep and shaky breath, Heero closed the distance between them and cupped his teammate's heart-shaped face, begging quietly, "Please don't ever question what we have again. I would sooner die before hurting you or the children."

Swallowing roughly past the lump in his throat, Duo nodded and replied brokenly, "I believe you." Quickly leaning in, he kissed his lover's lips roughly. Pulling back before Heero had a chance to react or respond, he pulled back and breathed, "Make love to me."

The heart in the Heero's chest began racing at that plea. Growling deeply, he pulled his teammate into his arms and into a much deeper and more heated kiss than the one prior. In the midst of the exchange, he lifted Duo from his feet and lowered him carefully onto the bed.

Both inexperienced in this level of intimacy, they found their way together and soon moved in rhythm with each other. Senses were heightened with every touch, kiss and glide. Whispered words and reassurances held more meaning than every before.

And finally, they cried out as one when the both went over the edge at the same time.

Panting heavily, Heero carefully removed himself from his lover's tight channel to collapse onto his side, still euphoric from their joining. At the sight of blood on his limp penis, the quarterback was instantly alert with a sharp gasp and wide eyes. "Duo," he heard himself almost whimper, "Did I h-?"

He never got to finish the question once the running back leaned up to silence him with a soft kiss. "I'm fine," he grinned tiredly. "If you were hurting me, I would've said something." Relieved, the quarterback eased at soft sigh.

Duo reached over the side of the bed for his discarded shirt to do a quick job of cleaning his semen off their chests. Tossing the shirt aside again, he brushed back his loose hair from his face and settled himself into his partner's waiting arms.

Kissing the other athlete's head, Heero smiled wistfully, "That was… amazing." And even then, `amazing' didn't even seem to fit. They had not even come up with the proper word to describe what he had just experienced.

Clearly understanding last of the right word, the running back chuckled deeply and rested his cheek on a strong shoulder. "Yea," he replied softly. Raising his head, he peered into the cobalt eyes watching him and declared, "By the way, I love you, too."

Heero smiled warmly before their lips touched for a lingering, chaste kiss before they settled down to sleep at last.

* * * *

Trowa mused allowed as sat himself by the window and next to Wufei, "It's going to be a pretty good fight tomorrow. Maryland is one of the last teams we haven't faced already."

Grumbling, the wide received added, "And it's supposed to be a pretty crappy weather this weekend there, too. They have a hell of a lot more experience with it since they're right on the coastline."

Across from them, Heero and Duo were taking their seats as the quarterback shrugged, "Well, we'll have to get more used to the bad weather here on out. It's late October and you all know how bad November gets with the cold and the snow in most cities we visit. At least this time, it'll only be rain that we have to deal with."

The running back suppressed a shudder and remarked, "Just as long as no one takes any chances like Darren had during that downpour we practiced in this summer. Last thing we need is losing another starter." His friends all felt a slight chill up their spines in recalling the gruesome incident that rendered their teammate too injured to play for the season.

In the back of the jet, the said receiver was talking and laughing with the coaching staff. While there was a joy in him to be helping the team out, everyone knew how badly he wanted to be back on the field and doing his part there.

Brushing her brunette hair back from her shoulder, the steward was making her rounds once the team had taken their seats to make sure that everyone was buckled in and ready to go. Moments later, the jet pushed off onto the runway and ascended into the heavens.

Once they reached altitude, Heero reclined his seat back as his lover peered out the window for the view of Pennsylvania from thousands of feet above. Looking over to his relaxing teammate, Duo asked quietly, "Comfortable? "

In response, the quarterback took his hand and squeezed onto it. Keeping their joint hands just out of plain sight of anyone that might walk past, he closed his eyes while answering, "Now I am."

A bright smile tugged Duo's lips at that. Gently squeezing the hand in his own back, he watched his partner drift off into a peaceful rest. Still smiling, he turned his braided head to gaze back out the window for the remainder of their trip to Maryland.

In the distance, over the horizon that they were approaching, the sky was dark and threatening in the wake of the weather front that was making its way to the coastline.

Sighing deeply, the running back muttered, "We're in for one hell of a ride." Only he was not referring to the flight.

 

Part 45:

The Baltimore, Maryland Colony Stadium was packed despite the inclement weather. Since morning, the dark heavens opened up to a steady fall of rain and a chilly gust of wind coming off the Chesapeake Bay. Shielded from head-to-toe in brightly colored ponchos, the crowd grew in anticipation as the last minutes of their wait for the game ticked down.

Under the shelter of their tunnel below the stands, Zechs turned to his team and ordered, "I don't want a damned one of you taking any unnecessary risks out there. The ground if nothing but mud right now and you're going to be sinking into it the moment you set foot. We don't need any torn muscles or broken bones just to keep up a winning streak."

Darren readjusted himself on his crutches as he smirked, "Yea, don't anyone be an idiot like I was!" His teammates chuckled deeply and Howard rubbed the top of his assistant coach's head while muttering a fatherly, 'Knucklehead. '

"And now, please welcome the Pittsburgh Wolverines!" the announcer's voice echoed through the stadium. To a mix of cheers and boos, the starters secured their helmets on and readied themselves to take the field.

Throwing on the hood to his clear poncho, Zechs smiled, "All right! Let's go!" With his players right behind, he led the way out to the heavy rainfall.

* * * *

For the first two quarters of the game, the score was neck-and-neck thanks to the wind and weather making it difficult on both teams to score. The kickers had a hard time getting the football through the goal posts even at a close distance while anyone handling the ball struggled to get a good grip.

After the first half of the game, it was 14 to 10 in favor of Pittsburgh.

With the rain pelting on their helmets, Heero and his teammates huddled to make the call on their next move. "We run it this time," the team captain stated. "With our facing the wind to try and score, it's too much of a risk to throw the ball in."

There was no argument from the other athletes as they nodded firmly and broke their huddle. Quickly taking their line, they dug their cleats in deep for better leverage when it came time to push off.

"Set!" Heero called down both sides of the line. "Set!" Extending his arms, he cried, "Hike!" In less time than it took to blink, the ball was in his hands and he was spinning to hand it off to Duo. Carefully shielding the slick football against his chest with one arm, the running back charged for an opening that was narrowing by the second.

Somehow managing to break free, he did not get far before a pair of arms wrapped around his waist from behind. His attacker slipped in his attempt to bring the braided athlete down, but held on in an attempt to slow him down at the very least.

Growing deeply, Duo dug his feet deep into the mud and drug the added weight behind him with his eyes still on the end zone more than ten yards away. A few steps more and he was roughly taken down by two other defenders that caught up. On his way to the ground, the running back's eyes widened in feeling the football slipping from his grasp.

His efforts to try and grip the ball were lost when he did crash to the ground. Between the blow to both sides and the slam to the wet earth, the air in Duo's lungs went out in a grunted rush. The ball sprang free of his grasp in the midst of his trying to regain his breath.

Adam's eyes widened at the sight of the loose football and cried into his microphone, "Fumble! Now who is going to recover?"

Players from both teams sprang and dove for the ball, wrestling for it so that their team would gain possession and the chance to score. Watching the struggle from where he lay prone on the ground, wheezing, the running back silently cursed himself for the slip.

The referees ran into the scene and began pulling members of both teams from the pile that they made over where the ball landed free. Anxiously, those pushed aside waited until the last two players-one from each team- remained.

It was one of the Baltimore Roman in his gold-and-brown uniform that had the ball in his hands. Jumping and cheering, his teammates celebrated their important victory in that turnover. They charged off their sideline so their offensive side could take the field as the Wolverines headed to their own benches sluggishly, their shoulders slumped.

Still struggling to get a good breath, Duo tried to push himself from the mud on trembling arms. "It looks like Maxwell was a little shaken up after the brutal hits from both sides that had to bring him down," Tim frowned in worry. "You hate to see anyone get hurt in these games. Hopefully, it's nothing serious."

Heero was running up to his lover, crying his name in concern. Sliding to a stop on his knees beside the fallen athlete, he removed both of their helmets as he asked almost frantically, "Are you all right?" Sally was suddenly with them, medical bag in hand as she waited from some response from the running back.

Just barely managing a full gasp, Duo nodded, "Fine… Wind just… knocked out… pretty good" Both sighing in relief at that, Heero and Sally each took up an arm and carefully aided their friend to his feet. Slowly, they headed off the field together to the cheers of the spectators that had been holding their breaths.

Alex whistled through his teeth and grinned, "Well, anyone lesser would have been down for the count after a takedown like that, but then few players have the heart that Maxwell shows in these games. It's good that he's walking on his own accord, most likely he just needs a moment to collect himself."

Once she helped the American sit at the bench, Sally opened her medical bag for an oxygen mask hooked to a bag of fresh air. Hading it over, she urged sternly, "Take deep, slow breaths. Even if it hurts. If the pain gets worse, I want you to tell me immediately. "

His face splattered with mud that had kicked up in his fall, Duo nodded as he pressed the mask over his mouth and nose. As commanded, despite the burning in his lungs, he took a few drawn out breaths while the young woman poked and felt around his rib cage for any possible bruised or broken ribs. Much to her satisfaction, her patient did not cry out or whimper during her careful examination.

Heero, Wufei, Trowa, Zechs, Howard and Trent were gathered around the closest with the rest of the team looking on in concern.

Several breaths in, the pain in the running back's chest began to subside and he was able to breathe normally again. Removing the mask, he told the physical therapist kneeling before him, "It's starting to pass."

Just hearing how much stronger his voice was, Sally knew that his words were true. "Good," she smiled. "Keep the mask on a little longer just to be sure."

Nodding, the braided athlete covered his mouth and nose once more. Relieved grins and sighs were down the sideline as his coaches and teammates took in the word that he was going to be all right. Heero took a seat beside his lover and rubbed his back in what could not be consider more than a friendly gesture.

Their defensive team was already on the field and taking their line to keep the Romans from scoring on their newfound possession.

Inwardly fuming over the fact that he was responsible for their lost chance to score, Duo replayed the scenario over and over in his head to think of any possible way that he could have prevented it from happening.

Maybe if he hadn't been so insistent on getting those five more yards while dragging that first defender. Or maybe he should have been holding onto the ball with both hands when he heard the others approaching from behind.

There were a lot of `ifs' and `maybes' playing in his mind. But, the bottom line was that these sort of things happened. While it was as rare for him to cause a fumble as it was for Heero to throw an interception, it just plain sucked when it happened. Turnovers like those often made the difference between winning and losing.

And to know that it was your fault…

Finally comfortable enough to breathe on his own, Duo handed the mask back to Sally and frowned to the faces watching him, "Sorry for losing the ball back there, everyone. I tried to hang onto it."

Howard shorted and shook his head in amusement, "If you did hold onto that thing, you would have come out a lot worse the way it would've jarred your ribs in that fall, kid. We'll deal with a loss of possession over not having you for the rest of the season any day."

Smirking, the old man rubbed the top of his charge's braided head. "You're a pretty tough son of a bitch to have drug that bastard for five whole yards like that," he complimented. `And I appreciate the effort that took."

Duo's shoulders eased at that and grinned, "Thanks, Pops."

A deeply relieved Heero took a seat beside his lover and, without thinking, placed a hand on the running back's leg. Quickly realizing how high his palm was, his cobalt eyes widened and he pulled it away as if it was burnt. Duo snickered at his partner's sheepish grin and shook his head in amusement. Luckily, no one around them noticed now that all attention was focused back to the field.

Trent folded his arms as he watched his defensive team and grumbled, "Wish to hell my guys had half that kind of heart right now, Maxwell. They're falling apart right now. This goddamned weather just isn't cutting us any breaks right now."

Unfortunately, that remained the case for what was left of the game. After scoring thanks to that fumble, the Baltimore team regained the momentum they needed to seal the deal.

Having to work in the mud, wind and rain took too great of a toll on the players that were not conditioned to deal with them for a whole game. Despite the fact that the Romans were having their own problems keeping the ball where they wanted it to go, they could endure the elements far better.

In the end, that was what won them the game with a seven-point lead at 21-14.

At the final whistle blow, handshakes and friendly words were exchanged between the two teams as the Baltimore stadium continued to erupt with cheers and cries from the crowd gathered. Their hometown team had taken down the undefeated Wolverines.

It was a very different Pittsburgh team that headed back to their locker room. Sullen, aching and exhausted, they quietly shuffled under the shelter of the tunnel below the stands on their half of the field.

Tilting his head to the side as he watched the players walking off the field, Alex commentated, "Well, folks, it looks as though the Cinderella story of the year may be coming to an end. The Wolverines were one of the last three teams to be undefeated this far into the season. They are now 5 to 1. Only time will tell whether or not this loss will affect them for the remainder of the season."

As his team settled themselves in the locker room, the starters and second-stringers that saw action splotched with mud, Zechs took a deep breath and began, "You have nothing to be ashamed of, guys. You did everything you could out there today. It just wasn't our game to win. And we all know that you can't win them all."

Several heads remained lowered in disappointment. After the streak that they were on, it was expected for them to be a little disheartened by the defeat.

"We don't have a game to prepare for next weekend. Take the time to shake this off and get your heads straight," the head coach stated. "The season's far from over and I want you to be fresh when we start practicing next Monday again." That said, he turned and left the room alongside Howard and Trent.

One-by-one, the athletes rose from their benches to gather up their shower items and clean clothes. Without a word between any of them, they shuffled out for the showers. When they were the last two remaining, Heero looked over to his despondent partner and asked softly, "Are you all right?"

Sighing deeply, Duo shrugged, "Yea. Just wish that I could have held onto that damned ball. If they hadn't scored from that fumble, we would have been able to keep them from winning."

"No one blames you for the loss," the quarterback reassured. "Like Zechs said, it just wasn't our game to win. Remember, they did score again even after that touchdown, so they would have beaten us regardless."

The running back nodded, "I suppose." A sly grin slowly tugged his lips as he finally turned to meet the cobalt eyes locked on him. "Any chance that I could get some sympathy sex when we get back to the hotel room? I have a funny feeling that'll make me feel better."

Laughing loudly at that, Heero leaned in and kissed his lover's temple. "I'm pretty sure that I can accommodate that," he smirked.

* * * *

Later that evening…

In his expansive estate, Nathan Gallow was rewinding footage from that day's earlier gave of the Wolverines verses the Romans. One particular bit of recorded frames particularly captured his interest-enough so that he reviewed and rewound it several times for a closer review for well over an hour.

His living room only lit by the glow of his wide, flat-panel television, the dark-haired journalist took a long drag from the burning cigarette in his hand. Leaning forward in his leather chair to reach for his glass of brandy, he lounged back and focused on the paused image of Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell on the screen.

Remote in hand, he rewound the footage to where the quarterback ran to his fallen teammate to remove their helmets. Sally Po entered the scene as the two athletes exchanged words.

Nothing out of the ordinary there, the same could be said about the deep concern in Yuy's eyes as his mouth formed the words `Are you all right?' The angle that the camera angle had been facing the scene, one could not see Maxwell's face for a response as Sally Po ran up with her medical bag.

Fast forwarding to when they were back on the sidelines, Nathan leaned forward with his cigarette in one hand and glass in the other. Heero sat beside his teammate when the physical therapist rose and moved away after giving a favorable diagnosis.

Then it happened.

Something so subtle and quick that anyone else watching would have missed it, or never thought anything into it. But then, Gallow always did have a keen eye for things of this nature. It was what made him the best in the `sleazy' realm of journalism that he took such pride in.

It was a hand high on a thigh that seemed so natural. Then, in almost a blink, it was pulled away in a flash of panic. Pausing the screen on the two young men as they smiled to each other after, the quarterback with a sheepish look and the running back with one of amusement, Nathan smirked to himself.

More than convinced of his theory, he lowered his glass on the table beside him and reached for his standard telephone. As the speed dial imputed the number requested, he placed the receiver to his ear and waited for his colleague to answer in her pleasant tone, "Clarkson."

"Karen, Nathan here," the wiry young man grinned. "I'm sending you to Pittsburgh on assignment in a couple days. I want you to keep an eye on Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell. See what leads you can get to follow them around when they're not at their homes. See what you come up with."

The sly grin was heard in his partner's tone, "I take it that you found something that will make it worth our while?"

Nathan finished off his cigarette and replied, "Call it a hunch. Even if it doesn't pan out to be what I am hoping it will, something is bound to come up that we can use to spice up our sports headlines."

"I'll be ready to fly out on Tuesday for when they get back to Pittsburgh, then," Karen said. The call disconnected at that and Gallow lowered the received back onto its cradle with a satisfied grin.

Gazing back to the frozen image of the two football players, he chuckled deeply, "If a story won't come to me willingly, you just have to get to the story."

* * * *

Back at their hotel room, Duo and Heero were lying on the bed that they had been sharing, the other bed's sheets and blankets in disarray to give the appearance that it had been slept in. Between them on a pillow was the running back's cell phone.

The last to say good night to her father, Camille's voice said over the speaker, "Don't worry about the f-fum…"

Duo grinned, "Fumble, sweetie."

"Right, fumble," his little girl replied, grin heard over the line. "You're still the best to us."

Blinking in surprise at the sweet sentiment, the braided athlete suddenly felt the weight of his guilt instantly lifted. Smiling lovingly he replied quietly, "Thank you, Camille. You just made me feel a whole lot better." Good night and I love you."

The child smiled, "Good night and love you, too, daddy. `Night, Heewo!"

Heero chuckled, "Good night, Camille." As lover reached up to close the cell phone with a soft sigh, he reached over to cup the side of his face. "All better?" he asked softly.

Nodding, Duo leaned into the touch and breathed, "Yea."

"Good," the quarterback smiled before brushing their lips together. He reached over to turn the light out while the running back set the cell phone aside.

Climbing under the covers and curling into each other's arms, their eyes drifted closed to mark the end of their physically and emotionally draining day.

 

Part 46:

Something was going on.

From the moment that Heero woke up to find that Duo was already gone, his empty half of the bed already cold, he knew. Climbing out from under the covers, he shuffled over to the dresser to change into a red, long-sleeved top and jeans.

When he reached the cafeteria, the quarterback found his braided partner sitting with Trowa and Quatre. 'Yes,' he determined by the way the trio was speaking quietly amongst themselves in a secluded part of the room, 'something is definitely going on.'

Grabbing a tray, Heero went virtually unnoticed by his friends as he went about making a plate of food for himself from the buffet stands. When he heard Duo and Quatre actually giggling, his cobalt eyes widened. That was definitely not a good sign. His plate filled with lots of protein to start the day off, the unruly-haired athlete moved towards the table.

Finally looking up when he neared, Duo smiled brightly, "Mornin,' 'Ro." Patting the empty seat at his right, he fought the urge to get up and kiss him on account of the other hotel guests spread throughout the room.

With a smirk, Heero sat himself down and replied, "Good morning." locking eyes with the violet watching him, he asked, "So what are the three of you conspiring behind my back?" He almost laughed at the shocked looks on the faces around him.

A hand over his chest, the running back feigned a hurt look as he gasped, "Why, Heero, what on earth would ever make you think that I would be scheming something behind your back?" He gestured to Quatre and Trowa with his free hand, adding, "With these trouble makers, no less?" The other couple just snickered and shook their heads in amusement.

Raising an eyebrow, the quarterback leaned a bit closer to his lover and grinned, "Because for one, you never get up before I do unless you have a good reason for it. And secondly, you and Quatre were just giggling like school girls a moment ago. What else am I supposed to think?"

Duo chuckled and raised his hands in submission. "All right," he sighed, "You got me. But I promise that it's nothing that you need to worry about. I'll take care of it."

"'It?' What 'it' are you taking care of?" Heero frowned.

Taking up his last piece of bacon, his braided teammate winked, "All in due time, 'Ro. You know soon enough. Just don't even think about it and enjoy your breakfast."

After a rough swallow, the team captain did his best to ignore the quiet, devious laughter from Trowa and Quatre. Knowing that he wasn't going to get anything more out of any one of them, he sighed quietly and went about eating his meal.

His mind was so preoccupied with what 'it' could have been that he hardly tasted a bite.

* * * *

It was during a nice dinner early that evening when Duo gave any kind of hint to what he had been planning. "We're going to do some living tonight," he announced after a sip from his water. "It's going to be something neither of us have done before."

Swallowing his mouthful of chicken parmesan, Heero blinked in surprise. "All right," he nodded with more than a little interest. "What did you have in mind, then?"

"Well, I don't want to say just yet," the running back answered with an almost nervous grin. "I don't want to scare you off by telling you in advance." His interest peeking at that, the quarterback tilted his head.

Duo cut into his stake and said, "What you're wearing right now is fine." He tried not to moan as he took another lingering look at the form-fitting top and jeans that his partner had been wearing all day. 'More than fine,' he thought to himself before sharing aloud, "I just need to get changed when we get back to the hotel."

Were this even a year ago, Heero would have demanded that he know everything that was being planned. Now, he was a great deal more open to the idea of these new experiences than he ever thought that he could be prior to his meeting his lover. And he actually did like the bit of mystery behind this schemed venture.

Leaning back in his seat, the team captain nodded, "Okay. You take the lead, then." He knew that he chose the right words when Duo beamed at him in response, his appreciation and love shining through in those violet eyes.

At that moment, if there had been any doubt in Heero's mind to whether he made the right decision or not, there was none to be found thereafter.

* * * *

Running a hand through his hair, Heero called, "Are you almost finished in there? This is the longest that you've ever taken getting ready for a night out."

"Actually, I'm ready now," his teammate answered while opening the bathroom door. Looking up from his place on the edge of the mattress, the quarterback' s cobalt eyes widened and his throat instantly went dry.

Dressed in skin-tight, leather pants and a sleeveless violet shirt that left little to the imagination, Duo stood in the doorway with a pleased smirk at his lover's reaction. His long hair was pulled back in a high ponytail that allowed his tresses to fall loosely like a silken waterfall that hugged his curves. A bit of dark eye liner that made his violet eyes seem all the more captivating and a pair of high, black boots finished the look.

Just standing there like that, the running back dripped sensuality. Finally managing to swallow, Heero breathed, "D-Duo?"

Chucking, his partner spun around slowly to give a full view as he asked, "You like?" Unable to find his voice again, the quarterback nodded enthusiastically, his eyes still wide. "Great!" Duo smiled widely. "I've been dying to go to a gay bar like this for years."

And just like that, Heero remembered how to speak as he all but cried, "A gay bar!? But what it we get caught?"

Once again silently thanking the deity listening for the sound-proof walls for that weekend, the American shrugged, "There is a place five towns away that came with Quatre and Trowa's high recommendation. It's dark and a safe enough distance that even if someone did see us, they would never believe in a million years that two football players would be making out and dancing together in a gay bar."

Closing the distance between them, Duo wrapped his arms around his partner's neck and ground their hips together. Heero gasped at the contact. Hands moving on their own accord, they slipped down to cup the other athlete's firm, leather-clad ass firmly.

Lightly nipping the team captain's neckline, the running back rolled his hips again and spoke huskily, "I said earlier that we were going to do some living tonight. If you can think of a better way of accomplishing that than being able to touch and kiss each other in public without being treated differently, I'll peel myself out of these clothes and into something a little more… conservative if you prefer."

Growling deeply, Heero pressed their lips roughly together in a heated kiss. Tongues plunged into moist caverns and caressed each other in a fierce battle for dominance. Only when he became lightheaded from last of air, the quarterback pulled away and ordered, "Get in the damned car and lead the way."

Without hesitating, Duo grabbed his long, hooded coat to conceal himself before heading for the door with his lover right behind.

* * * *

Much to Heero's amazement, the scene at the gay club was remarkably comfortable.

Just as Trowa and Quatre had described to Duo, it was very dark inside, only some neon lights along the edge of the walkways and bars lighting the area around the dance floor. On the actual floor, the flashing, multicolored lights and lasers from the DJ station made it difficult for anyone to have a very good look at anyone's faces.

After a couple drinks, Duo gently pulled the glass from his lover's hand to set it aside. Taking a firm hold of the suddenly free hand, he led the way to the dance floor. A bit nervous about actually having to dance, since he never had before, Heero bit his lip against the protest that was about to emerge.

Leading them to the middle of the crowded floor, the running back spun and paced his hands on his teammate's hips as he swayed them to the upbeat music. Quickly finding his rhythm, the quarterback began moving on his own. Each sway and step became more comfortable with patient guidance.

Duo smiled and snaked his arms around Heero's neck when they fell into a steady movement with the music. Leaning in, he started a deep and passionate kiss that had the both of them moaning and whimpering when their hips began grinding together again with each sway back and forth.

Several dances in, the running back leaned in to whisper into an ear, "You know another great thing about this place?"

A shiver ran up the quarterback' s spine when a slick tongue traced the edge of his ear. Still holding on tight and never missing a beat, he whispered, "What's that?"

His lips still next to the sensitive lobe, Duo smirked, "There's a back room that can be locked off for some… private dancing."

In having lost all of his other inhibitions by giving his partner the reigns that day, Heero smiled, "Lead the way."

In all of his life, he had never felt more free than he had that night.

* * * *

Karen lowered the newspaper in her hands enough to peer over at the football team that was filing into the airport following their flight back from Baltimore. A pair of sunglasses placed at the top of her head of shoulder-length brown hair, she smirked and folded the reading material into her lap and waited for her targets to appear from a distance.

And there they were.

Heero and Duo were both smiling and talking amongst themselves as they headed off with their teammates to the baggage claim department. Quickly rising from her seat, the young woman followed after a just few yards behind.

For a while, nothing seemed out of the ordinary about the whole experience at the airport. Hand shakes and warm wishes were exchanged between the coaching staff and athletes when they gathered up their luggage.

But it was out in the parking lot when something truly fascinating happened. Bags in hand, the quarterback and running back headed to the same car together. From behind a cement post, Karen watched with wide eyes as they placed their bags in the trunk and prepared to head off together.

"Curiouser and curiouser," the reporter muttered to herself as she walked briskly back to her own vehicle. Keeping a close watch on the black Sedan, from her own stall just a few cars away, she pulled out when it started moving.

The drive through Pittsburgh was a bit of a challenge. Not wanting to make it obvious to her subjects that they were being followed, Karen had to pull back to let a few other cars get between them when they reached the highway.

Finally, once they pulled off the highway and into the suburban outskirts of the town, it was easier to keep track on where the Sedan was heading. Over the rolling hills and vast wooded area, they traveled until they reached the tall, golden security gates to the Yuy household.

Parked around the last bend, well out of sight, Karen watched as Heero reached out to place his hand on the scanner. The doors opening to them, the football players rode through and headed out of sight on the long path leading to the estate.

Grinning from ear-to-ear, the young woman reached for her cell phone and pressed a speed dial number. "Gallow," her accomplice answered after a couple rings.

"You'll never guess what I just discovered," Karen smirked into the receiver. "I'm heading to my office to get a story started for tomorrow's paper." That said, she pulled away and headed back to town.

Later that evening, as she was still typing away in her office, she had missed her subjects heading back out to the airport for a flight to Chicago together.

* * * *

Yawning widely as sat up in bed, Duo stretched his arms over his head. Looking over to the empty spot beside him, he brushed his long bangs from his eyes and rose from the mattress to change into a pair of socks, a white tank top and grey shorts.

On the way down the stairs, the smells of coffee and breakfast being prepared reached his nose. Humming in contentment, the running back hugged and greeted his kids good morning as they watched their early morning cartoons before having to head to school.

In the kitchen, he found Heero giving Hilde a hand with the eggs, bacon, pancakes, toast and other foods. "Mornin'," he greeted with a small smile. His friends grinned and replied in kind as he walked up to lightly kiss his lover on the lips.

Snickering, Hilde shook her head, "You two are too cute for words." Her laugh grew when the pair blushed deeply at her sentiment.

Marcus, Tai and Solo all entered the room together, each with a bag of groceries in their hands and solemn faces. Turning to find them, Duo frowned in worry, "What's with the long faces, guys?" Heero and Hilde briefly ignored the food they were preparing to help put the bags aside and waited for a response along with their braided friend.

The boys turned to their 'uncle,' dubbing him the one to have to answer that question. Sighing deeply, Solo ran a hand through his blonde hair. "There's a bit of a problem." He reached into one of the bags on the counter to remove a newspaper. Opening it up, he held the front page out for his 'brother' to see.

Peering over his lover's shoulder, Heero's eyes widened as much as Duo's at what was staring back at them. Two large pictures of the two of them on the sideline of the Baltimore game was on the cover. The first image showed when the quarterback had his hand high on his partner's leg and the second was of them smiling at each other just when he pulled away.

In bold letters at the tip, the article read, 'More Than Teammates?'

Tightly gripping the edges of the paper in his hands, Duo breathed, "Oh my God." Skimming over the article, he read aloud towards the middle, "Through the findings of a reliable search, many fans would be shocked to learn that this oddly matched pair is sharing a residence at the Yuy estate.

"How long they have been living together remains to be known; however it would stand to reason that perhaps they are sharing more than just a roof over their heads." Growling deeply, he glared heatedly at the print and yelled, "Who the hell is this Karen Heckler that wrote this!?"

Solo sighed deeply, "I looked that up on the way here. She's works with Nathan Gallow and his tabloid company. Apparently, the story was interesting enough that the National Times picked it up for their cover story."

Hilde's hand finally left her mouth as she thought aloud, "So that asshole couldn't just take 'no' to an interview with him. He's been looking for something to throw in their faces for walking out on him."

Lowering his head with clenched fists, Heero hissed, "And I gave it to them when I slipped up during that game. I didn't think that anyone would pay any attention to that."

Gently resting a hand on his teammate's shoulder, Duo reassured quietly, "This isn't your fault, 'Ro. These vultures look for any kind of molehill that they can turn into a mountain. As innocent as that touch looks in this picture, no one would have thought twice about it unless it was made into a big deal."

A bit relieved by the truth in that, Heero eased and let himself off the hook.

The running back roughly crumpled the paper in his hand as he hissed, "That prick should have stayed the fuck out of our lives when we walked out on his little interrogation. "

Wincing at realizing the swear he let slip, he quickly turned his braided head to his sons and warned, "You both know that you shouldn't be saying that." Both Marcus and Tai smiled and nodded in understanding.

Nearly everyone jumped when one of the cell phones on the counter started ringing. Quickly recognizing the tone as his own, Duo reached for it and glanced at the caller ID on the small screen.

Blinking in confusion, he opened the flip and pressed for the speaker phone to pick up. "What's up, Quat?" he greeted.

"Um," his agent's voice began nervously. "Have you had a chance to look at today's paper yet?"

Sighing along with the others in the room, the American nodded, "Yea. We just did."

Quatre replied, "Well, I just wanted to warn you that I don't think I helped matters." His rough swallow could be heard over the phone just before he explained before asked, "There is a wall of photographers and journalists camping out front of the main gates at the estate.

"I told them that you were both on a week-long trip together when they paged me through the com. Of course Lady Une showed up after the fact from her visit to town with the morning paper in her hand to explain why they were hanging around when there isn't another game for over a week."

Instantly figuring what would be thought amongst the reporters when they learned that they were off on a trip... together, Heero and Duo smacked their foreheads. "I'm really sorry!" Quatre cried, obviously having heard the sound of the hits over the receiver.

Shaking his head, the quarterback replied sincerely, "Don't worry, Quatre. You didn't know. We'll have to sit down together when we get back to discuss how to handle this best."

Already nodding at the suggestion, Duo added, "Until then, just hang tight and relax. Keep us posted if there's anything else we need to prepare for before we get back to Pittsburgh."

Sounding a great deal calmer than just moments ago, the agent responded, "All right. If there's nothing to report on either end between now and Sunday, I'll see you both when you get back. Try and enjoy the rest of your time off, okay?"

The football players gave an affirmative before Duo reached to close his cell phone, disconnecting the call. Running a hand through his bangs, he muttered, "Great. How much worse could this possibly get?"

Just then, the cell phone in his hand rang again and he checked the caller ID. Closing his violet eyes, the running back grumbled, "Me and my big mouth."

With a grim look, he turned to his lover and frowned, "It's Dorothy."

 

Part 47:

The cell phone kept ringing as Heero reached up to dry wash his face, muttering, "Shit." Instantly lowering his hands to eye Marcus and Tai, he warned, "You two know not to use that language." Both boys smirked and nodded.

Grabbing his partner's hand, Duo led them out of the room while suggesting, "We better take this somewhere private." He opened his cell phone with his other hand and greeted, "Hey, Dorothy. We'll be with you in a second."

When they arrived at the den, they stepped inside and closed the sliding doors behind them. Taking up one of the many couches there, the couple eyed each other nervously just before the running back put the speaker option on. "Go ahead, Dorothy," he called.

Her tone carrying the utmost professionalism, the team owner stated, "I was just calling to inform you both that I am about to work up a team of lawyers to get back at these bastards for making up such a ridiculous and false accusation. This could be detrimental to both of you if anyone bought into this nonsense."

Their eyes widening and meeting once more, Heero and Duo's jaws dropped. Swallowing roughly, the braided athlete bit his lip and asked a silent question. Without hesitating, his lover gave a firm nod while mouthing, 'Tell her.'

Clearing his throat, Duo rubbed the back of his neck nervously as he replied, "Well, doll, that would be great if the accusations were actually false." Both he and the team captain winced in anticipation of whatever reaction awaited them.

A long pause followed before Dorothy's voice answered quietly, "I'm sitting down now. I am not mad, but just a friendly word of advise- please inform someone in advance that you're about to drop a bomb like that on them." The pair sighed deeply in relief, their shoulders sagging.

The running back smiled sheepishly, "Sorry about that, babe. I didn't realize that you were standing."

"I've been wearing a whole in my carpet pacing all morning," the team owner muttered.There was the sound of her taking a deep breath before she asked, "So how long has this been going on?"

Heero spoke up to answer, "Not long before the preseason started. Actually, we started dating the night of the party that you threw at your estate when it was announced that we sold the stadium out for the year."

With a hint of surprise in her timbre, Dorothy responded, "I see." She paused briefly in thought and sighed, "Well, we are going to have to discuss how to handle this when you return to Pittsburgh. When are you due back?"

Chewing on the inside of his cheek, the quarterback replied, "Sunday. Quatre Winner will most likely be in attendance as well."

Pleased with that, Dorothy breathed, "Good. He'll know all of the legal angles to the options that we have to choose here. Now the two of you will have to take some time deciding how you would best like to handle this. Whether you would much rather deny your involvement or come clean about it, you have my total support."

Both blinking in surprise, the couple smiled and offered their thanks. At the end of their call, Duo closed the cell phone and fell back against the sofa with a heavy sigh.

Rubbing his closed eyelids, he said quietly, "I'm going to have to talk to the kids about this. Whatever we end up deciding to do, there is going to be a lot of talk about this from the commentators during our games."

Heero nodded and lie back on the sofa beside him. He reached over to take a hand in his own and squeezed it.

* * * *

Gathered at the dining room table, Duo allowed his children to enjoy their breakfast before broaching the difficult subject. Hilde and Solo, both sensing their 'brother's' need to talk to his family, cleared the table when everyone was finished and stood in the doorway. It was just enough to give a little space while staying present should their assistance be needed.

Flashing them a quick smile of appreciation, the braided running back turned to his youngsters and began, "Well, everyone, we need to have a meeting."

Carissa was in the midst of reaching down to pat Mary's furry head as she sat by his chair. "Okay, Daddy," he was the first to grin brightly. The others all came to attention as they looked to their father-to-be.

Quietly nudging his seat close to his lover, Heero took his hand and squeezed it once more. Their eyes met and Duo relaxed tenfold at the supportive gesture. Clearing his throat, he gazed back to his little charges and began, "Well, all of you know what it means with my being gay, right?"

All around the table, heads nodded and Abdul answered, "It means you like guys 'n not girls. That's why you're with Heewo all the time. So we would have two daddies `stead of a mommy and a daddy."

Violet eyes widening at the mention of 'two daddies,' Duo chuckled deeply, "Well, not exactly two daddies, since Heero and I aren't married, but we would both be your daddies if we were. So, you're right there, Abdul." The Arabian child tilted his head, but his eyes showed a better understanding to that situation now.

Heero smirked at the child's innocent description of him being a second parent to him. It was something that actually honored him that he was seen in that light. But, his partner was right to correct him-no sense in having the littlest of the family confused in any way.

Shaking his head, the running back went on, "Anyway, you all know that for most people, being gay is wrong." Again, everyone nodded. Duo took a deep breath and stated, "See, someone found out about Heero and I being together, and now it's going to be made into a really big deal so... so..."

Normally, giving speeches to his family was the easiest thing in the world for him, but this was a very different and more personal matter than anything. How was he supposed to explain what they would hear about him now?

Quickly coming to his aid, Heero explained, "You're going to be hearing things about us on the television and all over. Probably mean things. It's just how most people react when they find out someone is gay. It's just important not to get upset over it, because we know to expect it." He was relieved to receive a wide smile from his lover for his assistance.

Wrapping a few strands of her hair around her fingers, Jamie mused, "That's silly that people don't like gay people. It doesn't hurt anyone."

Both Heero and Duo snickered at her sweet naiveté. "You're right, Jamie," the braided athlete nodded. "It is silly, but that is how it is. I just wanted to let you all know so that you don't get hurt by hearing what people will probably say about us, okay?"

Suddenly struck with a realization, Sun gasped, "So, it's like how we sometimes get teased at school 'cuz we're gettn' adopted. It don't bother us, 'cuz there nuthn' wrong with it."

Marcus, Tai and Flora all shared a pleasantly surprised look at their little brother's insightful reasoning. The younger ones of the bunch all turned wide-eyed with a new-found comprehension at the situation.

A proud smile lighting his face, Duo nodded, "That's exactly right, Sun. Very nice job." Heero gave the child a firm nod and a warm grin of his own. Beaming, the little Latina shifted excitedly in her seat from side-to-side.

"I get it," Hope announced with a wide smile. Her siblings all nodded in agreement and voiced their own affirmatives to what was going on.

With a deep sigh at that, the running back chuckled when the puppy started to whine at not getting anyone's attention. "Good meeting, everyone," he told his lot. "Someone get to playing with Mary before she thinks we forgot about her."

Gigging, the youngsters led the pup into the living room with them as they filed out in a rush. Solo and Hilde approached their friends as they rose from the table. "Very nicely handled," the young woman complimented. Focusing on Heero, she smirked, "Both of you." Solo nodded his agreement to the sentiment.

A sheepish grin tugged the quarterback' s lips as he shrugged, "Thanks. I never had to have a heart-to-heart with kids like that."

Duo smiled, "You did great." Brushing their shoulders together, he said quietly, "Thanks for the help back there."

Gently kissing his teammate's temple, the quarterback just smiled and nodded. Taking a deep breath, that smile faded as he commented, "Some time later this week, we'll have to sit down and decide what we're going to do about all of this before we meet with Quatre and Dorothy."

A frown on his own face, the running back replied with a quiet, "Yea. Much later this week." His partner chuckled and smirked in accord. `One dilemma at a time.'

Until then, they just focused themselves on trying to enjoy themselves for the remainder of their trip.

* * * *

That Sunday evening, Dorothy called for a press conference immediately following her meeting with Heero, Duo and Quatre. Though the arrangement had been set up for the following day, it did not keep the press that had been camping out at the Yuy gates away.

Like a swarm of bees, the mass of journalists all but covered the vehicle with shouted questions carrying the two football players when they finally arrived home from their trip together.

With cameras flashes going off all around, Quatre sighed deeply from the back seat, "They haven't moved from their posts here all week. Don't these people have any lives?"

Snorting, Duo looked back at his agent and answered, "Yea. Ours." Heero snickered as he carefully maneuvered through the crowd as they finally started clearing a path for the car to move on.

Once they were past the gates closing off the reporters, everyone was able to breath easier.

Lady Une welcomed her friends with hugs and kisses. Offering a sympathetic ear over dinner and late into the night after, she gave whatever support she could. It was well past midnight before the group decided to head to bed.

Not long after the young maid turned in, Quatre rose from the couch. Stretching his arms overhead, he yawned widely. He gazed on the two football players and asked, "So you're both okay with everything we went over for tomorrow's conference? If you're going to deny your relationship, there can't be any doubt in the reporters that you'll be talking to."

After a look shared with his lover, Heero met the Arab's eyes and replied, "We'll be able to handle it. Dorothy will start off by saying that she arranged for our living together and a story was fabricated from there. Any questions that might have to be answered in a lie I'll handle. Duo will answer the more subtle remarks or inquiries. Them we leave you and Dorothy in charge of anything they throw that could be seen as crossing the line." Beside him, Duo nodded his braided head.

"Okay," Quatre grinned. "You both have a good night. We'll be leaving bright and early, so you best turn in as well."

Not about to argue against that suggestion, the athletes followed him upstairs while turning the lights out on their way. Back in their shared room, Heero and Duo stripped down to their boxers before climbing into bed. Intertwining themselves together, they settled themselves down and stared at the ceiling for a time.

The quarterback bit his lip in the pitch dark before asking softly, "Are you still awake, Duo?"

Snickering quietly, the running back answered, "Yea. I'm not the damn least bit tired with everything that's going on."

"Are you... are you really okay with our denying this?" Heero finally had the courage to question. "I mean, I know that it was my suggestion, but you were pretty quick to agree with it when I threw the idea out there."

There was a long pause after his inquiry. In the silence, the team captain started to panic that he had unknowingly pushed his partner into something that he didn't want to do.

Finally, Duo pushed himself up a bit and sighed, "Honestly, 'Ro, I could stand for denying our relationship or coming out with it and basically telling everyone to fuck off. But, I don't have anything to lose in this either way. The adoption agencies know that I'm gay, so it's not like an announcement about my being involved with you would hurt me there. And I've already done a shit load of things that have me written as the 'bad guy' of the league right now.

"You, on the other hand, would take a huge hit in your reputation if the world knew you were gay," the running back continued. "You're Mister Perfect who everyone looks up to. I'd hate to be the one to make you possibly lose that kind of admiration and respect. So, this needed to be your decision."

Feeling and hearing his partner take a deep breath to say something, Duo placed a finger over the lips that were just about to open. "I'm fine with this," he stated firmly. "You know, as stubborn as I am, that I would have said something by now if I had any problem with denying our being together."

A smirk tugged his own mouth as he shrugged, "Besides, it's no one else's business. I don't need you to pronounce to the world that you're in love with me to know that it's true."

Heero swallowed roughly when the finger pulled away from his mouth.

Just when he didn't think that it was possible, his adoration for the running back just grew tenfold. It meant the world that he was with someone who appreciated and understood everything that he had worked for. What was more, that same wonderful person was keeping their affections hidden for his sake.

"I do love you," the quarterback breathed.

Smiling, Duo nodded, "I know." He leaned down to kiss his teammate soundly before resting his head back on a strong shoulder.

Everything that had been on their minds up to that moment finally started fading away enough for their exhaustion to seep in. Within moments, they were able to drift off to a peaceful night's rest.

* * * *

The following morning found Heero, Duo and Quatre adjusting their ties and suit jackets on their walk from the park to the stadium. When they entered, there was a swarm of activity from reporters and photographers alike were sorting their equipment while filing into the conference room.

Aside from a few glances to the football players, the journalists paid little mind since they would have their chance to interview them in a moment.

Making their way through the throngs of the crowd, the trio was surprised at finding Zechs and Noin making their way towards them.

His eyes widening in shock, Duo greeted, "Hey, guys. What are you doing here?"

Smiling warmly, the young married couple finally reached their friends. "We've been keeping tabs on this whole media frenzy," the head coach explained. "Dorothy told us about the press conference last night, so we got my mom to watch the boys so we that could be here to show our support."

"And we're not the only ones," Noin grinned as she gestured back further down the hall. Making their way into the scene were an equally sharply dressed Trowa, Wufei, Relena, Howard, Trent and the entire starting line-up of the team.

Quatre gasped, "Trowa!"

With a smirk, the tall center gave him a sound kiss and a tight embrace. Heero watched the tender reunion as well as the lack of response from everybody around. What with his Latin friend's coming out, even the reporters and photographers paid little to no mind of the tender moment.

Thanks to his simply being honest with who he, Trowa's involvement with another young man just… wasn't news anymore.

As Duo was in the midst of giving quick hugs and words of appreciation to their coaches, friends and teammates, a new resolve suddenly overcame the quarterback. Once the reporters and cameramen were locked away, Heero addressed their supporters. "Excuse us, everyone," he urged politely. "We have to get ready for the conference."

More hugs and words of thanks were exchanged as the group filed themselves into the conference room. Quatre winked to his clients, "Just try and relax. I'll see you both inside." That said, he headed off after the others.

The very moment that the conference room doors closed after the agent, leaving him alone with his partner, Heero turned to him and said quickly, "We're coming clean with this."

Jaw dropping, Duo gaped at him. "W-what!?" he breathed.

Dorothy decided to appear at that moment. Dressed in a skirted, scarlet red business suit, she smiled warmly, "There you are. Are you about ready to get this over with? By the end of the day, everyone will believe that the accusation of your being together was nothing more than a fabrication. "

Clearing his throat, the quarterback looked from one face to the other. Still dumbstruck, Duo watched his teammate and shook his head in confusion. Finally fixating on the team owner, Heero took a long breath and told her quietly, "Actually, our position's changed. We won't be denying anything."

Nearly falling over, Dorothy placed a hand on her forehead and collected herself. Closing her wide eyes, she chuckled deeply and sighed, "You boys really need to work on warning someone before making these kind of announcements. "

 

Part 48:

It took some time, but Duo finally managed to get his voice to work. Shaking his braided head, he asked his lover, "Why are you changing your mind all of a sudden? We agreed to deny the fact that we're together so that this whole damn mess can finally be put behind us!"

Heero ran a hand through his hair before meeting the violet eyes on him and answered, "Because it's not the truth. The only reason the whole suggestion was brought up was to protect my image. You were the one who that whatever we did in that conference room was my decision. This is what I want."

Stepping a couple paces back, Dorothy held her tongue and watched her two best athletes discuss their future together. In the end, the matter needed to be decided amongst themselves without any outside influence. That included the influence of their team owner.

A deep frown marred the running back's face as he warned, "You know that once this is out, there's no going back, Heero. Your reputation could be tarnished and all of your hard work up to now could be gone like that." He snapped his fingers at the end to emphasize his point.

"I don't care!" the quarterback cried, his cobalt eyes narrowed. Both Duo and Dorothy's own eyes widened at the outburst.

Calming himself with a slow breath, Heero toned the volume back while keeping the same intensity in his words. "I'm not about to deny what I am anymore. If I lose the respect of fans, fellow football players or anyone else for that matter because of who I am, they weren't worth my time."

Slowly beginning a pace back and forth, the team captain continued, "I'm tired be being 'Mister Fucking Perfect' all the time. If I can't be myself, none of the effort that I've put into my getting myself here has been worth it." Pausing, he turned to face Duo.

With his thumb pointing back to the closed conference room doors, Heero stated, "I want what Trowa and Quatre have. I want to be able to hold your hand and kiss you in public without it being a big deal."

In a couple steps, he closed the distance between himself and his stunned teammate to rest a hand on either of his shoulders. "I'm at my best when I'm with you," Heero whispered. "On and off the field. If that's too hard for people to deal with, to hell with every one of them. This is who I am... and that's nothing without you."

Small tears filled Duo's violet eyes just as he suddenly leaned in to kiss the quarterback passionately. Blinking her shimmering eyes, Dorothy wiped away a few tears before they fell while watching the pair with a warm smile.

Breathless when he pulled away, the running back grinned widely and nodded, "Okay. Let's do this." He took his lover's hands in his own and looked over to the team owner. Sheepishly, he smirked, "Sorry for the last-minute change in plans there, babe."

Laughing, Dorothy shrugged, "Perfectly my fault for not remembering to stay on my toes when it comes to the two of you." She squared her shoulders to take on a more authoritative demeanor as she advised, "I'm glad that you're doing this. It's only fair for the both of you. Just know that I'll do everything in my power to keep this from damaging either of your careers."

At that, Heero smiled, "We know you will. Thank you." Sharing one last, chaste kiss with his partner, he asked him, quietly, "Ready?" Nodding excitedly, Duo squeezed their joined hands tightly.

Duo gave their joined hands a tight squeeze and nodded his head excitedly.

Giving the pair a moment to collect themselves, Dorothy winked to them before leading the way to the conference room. She paused briefly when her hands touched the handles of the double doors to allow one more second for her players to ready themselves. Releasing their joint hands, the pair nodded to her that they were ready.

In a flourish, Dorothy opened the doors and instantly, dozens of camera flashes fell upon them as they entered the room and made their way towards their posts. Quatre was already seated at the further end of the long table in the front of the room. The team owner took up the seat beside him while Heero and Duo took up the remaining two chairs.

Every seat in the conference area was occupied either with a reporter or a friend of the two athletes. The team stayed tightly together in the crammed space, smiling warmly on their comrades.

Video cameras began rolling just before Heero addressed the group, "Before we begin with the conference, I know I speak on Duo's behalf as well as myself by first thanking our coaching staff, friends and teammates for attending and offering their support."

The running back grinned and nodded to the said lot that was warmly gesturing back. "For the reporters here, we know you must have a lot of questions," he began, "but we have something that we'd like to say first."

Quatre blinked and frowned deeply in confusion at the comment, since it was not discussed that his friends wanted to say something before the interrogation. Despite his surprise and uncertainty, he held his tongue and let them speak.

Leaning forward to the bouquet of microphones at the edge of the able, the quarterback stated, "We know what all of you are here to find out, so we'll just get right to it. Yes, Duo and I are involved in a romantic relationship. "

Instantly, the room came to life with shocked gasps, cries and murmurs amongst the large group present. Zechs and Noin looked on with dropped jaws, along with most of the team. Relena's hand had slapped over her mouth following her startled yelp. She and Wufei shared a wide-eyed look.

Quatre nearly fell out of his chair at the announcement as he turned to his clients in surprise. Dorothy grinned to him and gently patted the back of his hands that were resting on the table. From her place in the middle of the room, Karen Heckler smirked wickedly, "Well I'll be goddamned."

Over the commotion, Duo continued, "We've been dating since shortly before the pre-season." The talking and gasps only grew louder at that, many of the reporters at such a loss that they were more busy talking amongst each other than typing in their miniature notepads.

Soon over the initial wonder at his friends' coming clean, Trowa gave them a proud smile from his seat. Nodding his head firmly when they looked to him, he winked an emerald eye.

Grinning, the running back had to raise his voice so everyone could hear noise, "Now, who still has a question they would like to ask?" In a breath, the voices rose even more into shouts as hands went into the air to be called upon first.

Heero gestured to a young man in the front row with a nod of his head. Everyone lowered their hands and fell silent as the reporter rose to his feet. Spreading his arms out, he stated, "What do you think this will do to your relationship with your teammates now that they know that two of their own are involved with each other?"

Shrugging, Duo answered, "Considering how professional and open-minded they were when Trowa announced his being gay, I really don't see that this will compromise our camaraderie at all."

"That's right!" one of the starting guards called from the back of the room where the rest of the team was sitting. Applauding and shouting their agreement, the remaining starting line-up offered all the evidence that things were going to be just fine. The quarterback and running back smiled to each other in relief.

Just as their teammates began to quiet again, Heero raised a hand and commented, "In mentioning Trowa Barton, I just wanted to add that he deserves a hell of a lot of credit for having had the courage to be honest with who he was when there was no one by his side to help him. This is a great deal easier for myself having Duo here with me, but Barton was prepared to face whatever came his way alone."

A lump forming in his throat, the said center looked on as small tears filled his eyes. Quatre bit his lip as he watched his lover. They exchanged a warm smile before focusing back on their friends.

Shaking his head of unruly hair, the team captain continued, "I saw first hand a lot of the things that he had to deal with and to this day, I think that he's the strongest person that I've ever known." Duo nodded his head vehemently as his eyes locked onto the shimmering emerald watching them.

Once more, the team erupted in applause, cheers and whistles as they honored Trowa. Anyone within reach patted his shoulder or back in show of their support. Most of the reporters and staffers present joined in on the accolade, unable to argue the bravery that the young man had been demonstrating through his example.

Wiping a stray tear that made its way down his face, the tall center smiled to the pair at the table. 'Thank you,' he mouthed sincerely. He had to clear his throat against another lump that began to form there.

Duo went on, "It's because of his courage to be himself that we decided to be honest with who we are. We're not expecting this to go without some challenges, but we're willing to deal with them together. Hopefully, people are a lot more open-minded and understanding towards this than we're expecting."

Several more questions were fired one after another, each one handled calmly and honestly.

The occasional and rare moments when an inquiry threatened to draw the line, Quatre was quick to put the asker back in their place with a polite smile on his face. One journalist turned the tide and questioned Dorothy, "As the team owner, are you concerned to what this news could possibly do to your franchise?"

Without hesitating, the young woman shook her head, "Absolutely not. I believe that anyone who is a fan of football will still see Heero and Duo as two of the best athletes in the league to hold their positions. Their statistics have certainly proven that."

A smirk tugged her lips as she said, "As such, I think that between their coming out along with Trowa Barton, they're helping to shed new light on some of the stereotypes of gay people. You all looked pretty shell-shocked when they shared their sexual preference with you." Several reporters nodded and murmured in agreement to each other over that sentiment.

Looking over to her players, Dorothy smiled, "And, like Barton, I know that they will continue to carry themselves with the utmost respect on and off the field." The couple smiled their appreciation to her for her faith in them.

Gently pulling back on the long sleeve covering her right arm, the team owner glanced at her watch. She straightened and told the press, "And now, after more than thirty minutes of this, I am more than certain that you all have more than enough to fill your newspaper articles and on-air time slots. That said, this conference is adjourned. Good day, everyone and thank you for your time."

There was a bit of grumbling from a few reporters at not having had more time to ask more questions. Still, they certainly did have more than what they were looking for when first arriving for the briefing so they were not complaining for long.

When the last reporter and cameraman left, Dorothy embraced both Heero and Duo in her arms while whispering to them, "I am so very proud of both of you."

Momentarily taken aback by the gesture, the young men recovered quickly and returned the tight hug. Quatre moved in and offered the same support just as Zechs, Noin and the remainder of the team approached.

Shaking his head in amusement, the head coach smirked, "This is a pretty far cry from your beating the shit out of each other not long after first meeting each other." Heero and Duo both laughed loudly at that one.

Embraces and sincere congratulations were given to the newly announced couple from their group of supporters. After their emotionally charged ordeal, Heero and Duo were more than happy to receive every one.

* * * *

By the time Heero Duo and Quatre even returned to the Yuy household almost thirty minutes following the conference, the big announcement was out. The reporters that had been camping out in at the main gates were nowhere to be found since they had what they wanted.

After changing, the trio was joined by Lady Une as they headed for the nice restaurant that Dorothy invited them to on her treat. And so the entire team, coaching staff and closest friends filled up as entire wing of the bar and grill.

Greeting his girlfriend with a kiss and an embrace, Trent gestured to the two men of the hour and smirked, "I take it you knew about this all along. I'm impressed that you never told anyone, including myself."

Lady Une chuckled, "Of course. What kind of friend would I be if I betrayed that kind of trust? As much as I adore you, no one could have ever pried something that that from me." The defensive coach gave an impressed smirk. Kissing her temple, he gently led the way to their table with the rest of the coaching staff.

Heero and Duo's round table was shared with Trowa, Quatre, Wufei and Relena. Leaning in towards her friends, the cheerleader giggled, "So how does it feel to be `out of the closet' so to speak?"

"Pretty damned good," the running back grinned. Wrapping an arm around his braided partner's shoulders, the quarterback nodded with a small smile of his own.

Dorothy tapped the side of her glass with a spoon and rose from her seat as all eyes turned to her. Raising the drink in her hand, she smiled, "I would like to propose a toast."

With a bow of her head to the guests of honor, the blonde young woman proclaimed, "To Heero and Duo. Many congratulations and warm wishes on your latest, and most important, victory this season."

Cheers, whistles and applause filled the air as the two said athletes found themselves moved speechless yet again that day.

As the sounds from the team faded, the voice of an announcer on the television sets spread throughout the room blared over them, "We have just received some breaking news in the world of sports that will shock football fans all over the nation."

Some of the talking that had begun amongst the group quickly stilled as eyes turned to the screens closest to them. "Just hours ago, we had reported Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell's announcement that they are romantically involved. Since that publicized statement, five other well-noted professional football players have made it known that they are also gay."

Gasps filled the wing as everyone watched the televisions with wide eyes. "Gary Patton, Mike Petrizani, Tim Heaton, James Redfield and Brandon McCarthy are those five individuals. Each one of them on a different team in the league, they are all considered some of the most elite athletes in the sport."

"No shit,' Duo muttered, his own eyes wide as he watched and listened in disbelief. "They're all possible runners to be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame." Recognizing one of those names as a former teammate, he tilted his head and thought aloud, "Though this does explain a lot with Heaton."

Heero turned to him with a raised eyebrow and a smirk on his face. He was wise enough not to bother asking for an elaboration on what his lover had meant by that comment. Some things were just better off left unknown.

On the screen, the young woman continued, "In a recorded interview with James Redfield of the New Orleans Strikers that took place moments ago, he had this to say about this shocking chain of events."

The scene changed to Redfield as he sat behind a desk much like the one that Heero and Duo had sat at with an arrangement of microphones in front of him.

Lights from cameras flashed on the red-headed blocker as he stated, "I think that it's about time that people learned to let go of a lot of the stereotypes when it comes to gay men. There is a lot of pressure in our being athletes to live by a certain standard, but it would all be for nothing if we can't be honest with every aspect of our lives."

A small smile on his face, he shrugged, "I have to admit that I was scared to do this, but it's already nice to know that I'm finally going to be seen for every aspect of who I am. Yuy and Maxwell's announcement helped continue to make the path that Barton started a lot easier to follow.

"They all deserve the credit for having the courage that they've demonstrated. And I think that a lot of people will be surprised to find out just how many of us in this sport, as well as others, are in fact gay."

Flashes still raining on him, Redfield said, "For those who follow the sport and follow us personally, I hope that they'll soon realize sexual orientation does not define who a person is. In fact, it is a pretty minute detail in the grand scheme of things."

Following the brief clip of that interview, the blonde journalist flashed back onto the screen. "This movement is most likely only the beginning," she smiled for the cameras. "Of the five most recent to come forward with their homosexuality, they all believe that there will be more to follow in the world of sports as a whole. And in other news…"

Slowly rising from her seat as the news report shifted gears, Dorothy grinned widely to the three brave men of the evening. Raising her glass once more, she winked, "As toasted earlier, here's to your latest, and most important, victory this season."

Glasses and cheers rose all around the room as the three athletes were given a standing ovation. Small tears in their eyes, Heero, Duo and Trowa shared a smile… the trailblazers of a new day and a new movement.

For each one of them, there were few moments that made them more proud.

 

Part 49:

Treize shook his head as he tossed the morning news paper aside to enjoy with a look of disgust. The cover landed face-up to reveal the image of two major league baseball players that had announced that they were gay just the day before. In bold letters, the heading read, 'The Movement Continues.'

Growling deeply, the head coach cut into his eggs as he muttered, "Damn queers are making a mockery of sports. I don't know how the hell those bastards can live with themselves."

Sylvia entered the dining room with a pitcher of orange juice and took her seat across from her husband. "Now dear," she soothed with a bit of sternness, "No need for name calling. Who are we to judge other people?"

Adding syrup to her pancakes, she shrugged, "Personally, I think it's wonderful that the public at large is getting a reality check to some of their preconceived notions of gay people."

His eyes narrowing, Treize looked up at her and snapped, "Yuy and Maxwell should be ostracized for what they helped start! Instead, they're being treated like damned heroes!" His wife's eyes widened in a hurt look and he quickly calmed himself with a deep sigh. "I'm sorry," he frowned, "I just don't... like this whole mess."

"It's opinions like that I don't like," Sylvia commented quietly. "Perhaps this will help open your eyes a bit to the reality that the world is filled with people that are different. Instead of shunning those differences, people need to start appreciating them more. It would be a terribly boring life to live in if we were all the same."

Instead of yelling at her for her sickening sugar-sweet demeanor as he wanted to, the head coach forced a smile and nodded firmly, "You're right my dear, of course. I will do my best to try and be a little more open-minded from here out."

She gave him a brilliant, loving smile before enjoying her meal. Fighting his churning stomach, Treize shoveled down the last of his own breakfast.

* * * *

Alex was not fairing much better than Treize that morning, himself. After only a few days of rejoicing in the news of Maxwell's fumble that helped cost his team a victory for their last game, his biggest competition was being revered once again.

"I just don't get it," the blonde running back hissed as he threw his long-sleeved shirt on for practice that day. "There's almost nothing that bastard can do wrong. He's the reason his team lost over a week ago, but you didn't hear about that a whole lot over the news."

Rolling his eyes, Mueller finished changing on the other half of the room and replied, "Fumbles happen, Alex. You've had a couple this season, too, even if we were still able to win those games in the end. No one is perfect."

His lover spun to face him as he yelled, "Who the fuck's side are you on here, Mueller!? You know that Maxwell is a thorn in my side and you're actually defending him!?"

Without balking, the tight end met the glare on him with one of his own. "I'm only trying to give you a reality check since those damned drugs in your system are doing a good job of clouding your reason," he answered shortly.

"No one is perfect. Including yourself. You have a grudge against someone who has done nothing to hurt you directly, he's just doing his damned job. You're earning your own merit for how you've been improving, so wake up and be happy with that."

Swallowing roughly, Alex lowered his head a bit. Silently mulling over his partner's words, he tried to make their logic sink in past his rage. "Okay," he finally managed. "I'll try."

When his lover seemed fine with that, the running back headed for the door while advising, "We better get going soon. Treize told me and the others he's assisting that he wants us to throw this next game since we've won every face-off up to now and he doesn't want to raise flags. We can take it easy this week."

Once he was alone, Mueller sighed and shook his head. "What have I gotten myself into?" he frowned. With his career on the line, he knew that he was stuck with laying in the bed that he made for himself.

Maybe things would get better with time.... At least he hoped that they would.

* * * *

Crumpling up his own copy of the morning's newspaper, Nathan Gallow tossed it into his trash bin with a sharp, "Damn it! The way this whole scenario played out, those two are going to come out smelling like roses."

Karen sat before his desk, filing her nails with an amused look on her face. "I don't understand why you're so frustrated," she shrugged. "You got the story that you wanted and then some. The fact that you pressured them into publicly outing themselves is nothing short of amazing."

The wiry journalist growled deeply, "But I want more than that. I need something that will really hit them hard for walking out on me." He tapped the fingers of his right hand on his chin in thought.

Finally settling the matter in his head, Nathan told his associate, "I'm going to have you keep an eye on them from time to time. That'll keep you from drawing alarm that they're being watched. Even if nothing newsworthy comes up, there would have to be something that we could embellish on to turn it around."

Gallow snorted and continued, "Much like what we thought we were doing this last time, except for the fact that what we were fabricating turned out to be true. This time, we need to have something that really sticks."

Chuckling, Karen lowered her nail file and replied, "Whatever you say, boss. You know I'm always up for an adventure."

* * * *

"Mail's here," Quatre announced on his way back into the Yuy household. His arms filled with envelopes of many shapes, sized and colors, he joined his friends in the living room. Already sitting up from where they had been curled up together on the couch, Heero and Duo appraised the stack of letters the agent left on the table.

Snorting, the running back mused, "Now where to start first." Picking up a standard sized envelope, he tore open the back and removed the folded paper within.

Even before their pubic statement, the couple was used to receiving mail from fans and spectators on a daily basis. Since their `outing,' as they jokingly called it, there were some noticeable differences.

First was the fact that Duo's mail was no longer forwarded through a system that prevented the senders from knowing his exact location. Everyone now knew that he was residing with Heero and so all of the letters were addressed alike.

Then there was the actual volume of the mail that came in. It had more than doubled and showed no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Of course a good portion of those letters were enraged rants from writers who were not afraid to voice their disappointment and disgust for what the pair were `doing to the sport.' After a quick skim through, those letters were tossed aside into the `trash pile' to be shredded after the initial sort through.

Much to both Heero and Duo's surprise, however, the `good pile' consisting of letters of support and kind words always rose higher than the `shed pile.' Each letter in the `good pile' would be read from start to finish and responded to.

Quatre retuned to the living room with a garbage bag and a smile as he gladly tossed the letters for shredding away. Smiling sadly as he closed the bag, he watched his friends reading through the supportive mail.

While neither athlete seemed to let the harsh words in the less than kind letters bother them, the agent knew that they were not completely immune to them. They were still human beings, after all.

In time, the sting would fade and they would come out all the stronger for it. The only people that really mattered in the end were the ones who still accepted them for who they were. Luckily, they were outnumbering the naysayers.

Duo shook his head in wonder as he folded a letter that he had finished reading. "I can't believe that we're getting encouragement from other players and coaches in the league." Waving the paper to his lover, he grinned, "Terry Bradshaw the fifteenth of the Minnesota Olympians sends his regards and congrats." [1]

Heero's eyes widened as he carefully took the letter up to read himself. When he reached the end, he smiled, "I'll be damned." Gesturing to a short stack of mail he had been going through, he said, "I have a few here from some commentators and journalists as well." His eyes widening, Duo blinked in surprise.

"Well, it seems you both have even more fans that you realized," Quatre commented. Tilting his head, he decided to change gears and asked, "So how is practice coming for this weekend's game?"

Shrugging, the running back answered, "Good. There's not much that we can do to prepare for the weather in Miami this weekend. After playing in temperatures from fifty and below, it'll be weird to be going into a game where the weather will be over eighty. We haven't seen those temps since the summer."

Beside him, Heero winced, "Last season, we have a couple of our guys come pretty damn close to having heat stroke from overdoing it.."

* * * *

That following morning, just before practice, Sally was sitting with the coaching staff and sighed, "The worst part about overheating one's body is that there are really no signs warning a person that there is something seriously wrong and they need to rest. As badly as everyone on the team wants this win, I'm afraid that some of them will push themselves over the brink and seriously hurt themselves."

Running a hand through his long bangs, Zechs nodded, "I understand your concern, Sally. I'm also worried about the same thing. But just like out last game, there is nothing we can do to prepare for weather conditions. We have to remain in our city to practice and we're not going to reach the temperatures that Miami is seeing right now."

Smirking at that, the physical therapist held up a handful of large, black trash bags. "Actually," she began, "I think I may have come up with something that could help in this case."

Zechs, Howard and Trent all shared a confused look.

* * * *

Later that same day, everyone on the field was wearing one of those trash bags. Their arms, heads and legs poking through holes made in the thick material, they ran a couple plays. All the while, they were sweating profusely.

On the sideline, Sally held up another bag and explained to the young men on the bench, "See, black plastic like this absorbs the sun and heat like a magnet. Even though it's just over fifty degrees outside today, it feels like it's over ninety for the players on the field right now. A little sun makes all the difference, and it's going to be clear all day."

Heads nodded in understanding down the line. Sally folded her hands behind her back and stated, "Now, as I told the others that are using these bags at this time, I want you to pay attention to how you feel. Pay close attention to the warning signs that your body is trying to give you when you start to overheat."

A whistle blew at Heero's signaling for a time out before another snap of the football. Taking his time to step off the field along with the others, he headed right for his bottle of water while wiping the sweat from his brow.

More than pleased at the timing of the break, the physical therapist turned back to her pupils. "Just like that," she nodded firmly. "The last thing that anyone here needs is anyone pushing themselves too far."

Arms folded, Zechs ordered the second and third-stringers, "Get those bags on and start running laps. The second you don't want to keep going, take a break and get some water. This is to make sure you don't forget what overheating feels like when it comes time for the game."

Fixing the anxious eyes on him with a stern look, the head coach advised, "You're all going to be seeing more action for this one game than you have all season so far. The starters know to step down when they need a rest, so most of you will be filling their shoes."

Wide smile lit the back-up players at the thought of having their own chance to get some time on the field during a regular season game. A warm grin on his own face, Zechs told his men, "Make it count."

At that, the back up athletes quickly threw on the trash bags and started running around the field. Lightly patting the braided young woman on the back, the head coach praised, "Excellent idea, Sally. This is just what we needed." She gave a wide smile of appreciation for the acknowledgement.

Finally managing to control his panting, Duo tugged at the plastic around his torso. Face drenched, he murmured, "I'm sweating in places I didn't even know I had." Those close enough to hear all nodded their damp heads.

"It should do the trick for this weekend's game," Wufei replied after a long drink from his water bottle. He winced after sniffing near his right arm. "Lena wouldn't touch me with a ten-foot pole right now," he snickered.

Snickering, the running back replied, "Yea, and it'd be nice if you stood a little more downwind for my sake, Chang. You reek." Narrowly avoiding the hit meant for the back of his braided head, his laughter grew. Heero and Trowa just smirked and shook their heads in amusement.

Not far from them, Sally was busy looking over some of the first-stringers who seemed to be having the most trouble cooling down.

Checking their vitals and sending a couple of her patients off to the locker room to hit the showers early, she was very happy with the results of her little idea since everyone was getting a good sense of where their boundaries were.

Their confidence growing by the day with their new preparation, the Wolverines were more than ready to put their past mistakes behind them.

* * * *

The flight to Miami went smoothly and the team was making their way through the airport terminal to collect their bags. On their way, several people stopped to watch the pack, but mostly focused on Heero and Duo. Aware of the eyes on them, the couple just looked ahead and ignored the stares as best they could.

"Still no regrets?" the American asked quietly with a small smile in place.

Taking up his lover's hand and squeezing it, Heero reassured just as softly, "Not a one." He made no move to let go as they continued to make their way through the airport. His smile growing, Duo squeezed his partner's hand back.

Whatever reactions their little show of affection may have caused amongst the bystanders went completely unnoticed.

* * * *

There was an electricity in the air on game morning. After almost two weeks since their last game, the Wolverines were pumping with adrenaline to have their chance to take the field again. Little was said amongst the teammates as they prepared in the visiting team's locker room at Dolphin Stadium.

"Well, folks," Tim smiled to the camera in the commentator booth high in the stands, "we have been looking forward to Pittsburgh's return and the day is finally here. The question on everyone's mind is whether or not they'll be able to overcome the crushing loss they suffered two Sundays ago when they faces off against Baltimore. If not, their 'Cinderella' story may have officially reached its end."

Adam nodded, "That's right, Tim. This week the weather will be the biggest challenge for the Wolverines once again. Only instead of a torrential downpour, this time they will be up against heat that they have not seen for months now.

"When they beat Miami in the preseason, the temperature did not play anywhere near the factor that it will today. We'll see in a moment if they can keep themselves together in the sight of another climate change."

Back in the locker room, Duo finished streaking a thick line of grease under each eye just as the coaching staff entered. Everyone turned to the three young men when Zechs began, "I know how anxious all of you are to get another win under your belts."

Taking a deep breath, he continued, "Just be mindful of what you went through this week in knowing how far you can push. Don't be afraid to sit out and let someone else take the field if you need to rest like we've discussed. It's about time that we let some of the others shine for a bit after all of their hard work."

Not a single starter spoke up in argument. In fact, they all smirked and nodded firmly to their backups. They were just excited over the prospect as their supportive `brothers' were.

All around, he was given nods and other signs of affirmatives from his team. Smiling, he said, "Okay. Let's go." A loud roar from his players rose as they rose to their feet and charged down the hall.

[1] Just something for the football fans, Terry Bradshaw is a football legend, so I thought to carry his name on in respect. *winks*

 

Part 50:

Under the balmy sun, Heero stretched out his arms and yelled, "Hike!" The moment the ball was in his hands, the quarterback turned to hand it over to Duo. Protecting the ball securely against his chest with his right arm, he charged towards the wall of bodies forming in front of him.

An opening hardly big enough for the running back to slip through opened and he took the opportunity. Breaking free of the line, he continued his sprint down the field until he was finally taken down at the twenty-six yard line on the Wolverine half of the field. The stadium erupted in cheers and boos from fans of both teams in the stands.

Tim grinned into his microphone, "Well, football fans, this has been an exciting game from the first kick. Both Pittsburgh and Miami have stayed within five points of each other, making this anybody's game.

"So far, the heat has taken very little toll on the Wolverines as they have been wisely conserving themselves for the last quarter and a half. And there has even been action from some of the second and third stringers so that the starters could have a moment to catch their breath."

Nodding, Adam stated, "That is something that Miami has not had to worry about. Being used to these conditions, their starting lineup has not had to change once. In this game, that may not be the best strategy considering how Zechs Marquise is making sure his men stay conditioned for the long haul."

Back on the field, Trowa snapped the ball back to Heero once again at the start of another play. Pulling back a couple of paces, the Japanese athlete scanned the field ahead for an open receiver. Wufei managed to break free of his blocker and waved his arm to get his friend's attention.

Just as a linesman was coming up from behind, Heero threw the ball with a loud grunt of effort.

A half-second after the ball left his hand, the linesman that had weaved his way behind him knocked him down to the ground roughly.

Landing onto his head first, the quarterback winced as he looked up to see how his throw panned out.

Wufei had to run into the end zone once he saw that the throw was easily going to make the last twenty-six yards. Two blockers sprinted for him, but were too late by the time the wide receiver leapt to make the catch. His right foot landing in the center of the end zone, the crowd that was already on its feet exploded.

Tim exclaimed, "Touchdown, Pittsburgh! That puts them in the lead with the score now 23 to 20 now with the extra point kick coming up. As easily as their kicker, Smith, has been making those, they're sure to make it 24 to 20 in a moment!"

Still on the ground, Heero cheered and laughed while his teammates celebrated in the end zone with Wufei. Duo was just a few feet away, hooting and hollering as he jumped around while the Torrent players stood around in stunned disappointment.

Grinning from ear-to-ear, the quarterback started to push himself off the ground. He only managed to get half-way up when the linesman that continued to loom over him gave a sharp kick in the square of his back using the cleats at the bottom of his shoe.

With a loud cry as the metal spikes cut into his skin, Heero collapsed with another rough landing on his head. There was a stunned round of collective gasps, cries and shocked murmuring from the audience at the display.

Everything seemed to happen at once and in slow motion after that.

"You better stay down, you queer," the muscular linesman hissed as he bent at the waist over the team captain. "You're liable to get pretty hurt out here."

Duo's wide eyes narrowed when his initial shock over the attack wore off. "You fucking prick!" he shouted in rage as he flew into the scene. The remaining offensive linesmen charged in seemingly out of nowhere after having witnessed the incident from the sideline.

Both Wufei and Trowa were needed to hold their braided friend back when they stopped him just shy of knocking the guardsman a hard blow to the chest. Referees blew their whistles as a call to order while making their own way to the commotion.

Several pushes and shoves were exchanged between the warriors on the field. In the mean time, the benches for both teams were cleared whilst the players that had been sitting out yelled and made threats from their sideline. Even Zechs, Howard and Trent were throwing their arms up in the air with sharp gestures while shouting their demand for a ruling against Miami for their linesman's behavior.

Glaring at the havoc on the field, Adam announced, "Joel Simpson just made one of the most disgusting displays I have ever seen a player make. A direct kick to Heero Yuy's back with his cleats well after the game play was over is going to cost both him and Miami greatly, as it should."

Tim shook his head, "I've never witnessed anything like this. After the announcement that Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell made regarding their relationship, we call expected some kind of backlash. But nothing like this. There is no other reason to explain Simpson's actions since he had every intent of hurting Yuy."

Finally muscling his way through the pack of begrudged players, the head referee in his white cap and striped shirt blew his whistle and screamed, "Goddamn it! That's enough!" The remaining four, black-capped, referees worked together to push several heated players away and managed to call an order.

Slowly coming to his feet at last, Heero winced at the sharp pain the long scratches on his back caused. There were long streaks torn into his jersey from the spikes and blood was seeping through them. Gasping sharply at the sight, Duo rushed to his partner's side. With a hand resting on the stunned quarterback' s shoulder, he led him from the field.

Eyes narrowed thinly, the head referee stood before a smug looking Joel Simpson. Gripping the face guard of the guardsman's mask, he pulled him close and shouted in his face, "You're out for the rest of the game! And you just cost your team twenty yards on their next possession!"

That smug look instantly faded Simpson cried, "What!? You have to be kidding me!" His teammates hurried to take hold of him and pulled him back to their sideline. Their red-faced coach was trembling with anger as he waited for his insolent player to return so that he could give him a piece of his mind.

Back on the Wolverine's side, the team captain was eased to sit down on the bench as Duo gently removed his chin strap and helmet. Sally was instantly kneeling before the quarterback as she waved a hand for him to focus on her with an urged, "Heero?"

Blinking his cobalt eyes a couple times, he shook his head and returned to the real world. Quickly noting all of the concerned faces on him, Heero asked, "What the hell happened?"

A relieved smile tugged the therapist's lips. "I'll explain on the way to the examining room," she replied. Gently placing a hand under an elbow, she assisted the quarterback onto his feet along with her.

Duo removed his own helmet and bit his lip anxiously. Howard looked every bit as worried as a father would be concerned for his own son at that moment. Sally turned to the two of them and nodded firmly, "You're both welcome to come along. I just don't want too many people hanging around until I know that everything's all right."

Both sighing deeply, the running back and offensive coach followed close behind on the way back under the stadium.

* * * *

A couple of stitches were actually needed to seal off two of the deeper cuts. Large bandages that covered the long scratches concealed nearly Heero's whole back. He returned fully to his senses and there was no severe head trauma thanks to the helmet that he had been wearing when he crashed to the hard ground twice.

Much as he wanted to hold and kiss his lover, Duo kept at arm's length. While everyone now knew they were involved, he wasn't about to make anyone uncomfortable with such a show of affection. By the time Sally finished her examination, the second quarter had ended with Miami on the same possession following the last touchdown that Heero threw in.

The Torrent was unable to score to answer before the clock ran out for the half-time intermission.

In the Wolverine locker room, Zechs and Trent looked about ready to collapse with relief in receiving Sally's approval for Heero to return to the game. While there would be discomfort, she was not worried about the stitches staying in place or further damage being caused.

Drinking from his water bottle, Duo watched alongside his partner as their own back ups- Brian Austin and Terry Fellows- enthusiastically congratulated the other reserved athletes that got to play that day. During the whole game, every time one of their second or third-string 'brothers' had been called to the field, the two never complained and only cheered them on with a look of longing in their eyes.

With a soft sigh, the running back turned to the cobalt eyes now watching him. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" he smirked.

"I'm believe I am," Heero grinned with a small nod.

* * * *

Since they lost the coin flip and kicked the ball away at the start of the first half of the game, the Wolverines were going to receive the ball for the first possession at the start of the second. Watching their punt return team on the field, the offensive line up was awaiting their turn to take over once they had their mark.

Brian and Terry were standing beside Heero and Duo when the quarterback turned to the second-stringers and smiled, "Better get your helmets ready." Their heads snapping to face him with wide eyes, the replacements' jaws fell loosely.

"H-Helmets?" Terry sputtered. "You mean we're up!?"

Approaching the quartet, Zechs nodded, "That's right. Finish setting your gear and get ready to take the field."

Nervously looking from one person to the next, Brian cried, "B-but I thought that Yuy was good to come back! We were never told anything when we were in the locker room at the break!"

Duo snickered, "Because it would have given you more time to worry about it instead of just going out there and doing your job." There was a roar from the crowd when the punt return man was taken down at the forty-one yard line on the Miami half of the field.

Bearing a helmet in each hand, Howard held them to the back-up athletes, grinning, "Here you are. Make me proud, you little bastards." Brian and Terry shared a worried look before putting on their helmets.

Once the punting team was back at the sideline, Brian swallowed roughly at soon finding himself being stared at by the offensive linemen-all of them from the starting lineup. Clearing his throat, the quarterback raised a shaking arm and called with his voice cracking, "All right, guys! Let's go!"

Zechs shook his head in amusement as he watched the team take the field. "I hope that you're right about this," Howard muttered to Heero and Duo. The couple just gave him reassuring smiles.

Blinking on shock, Tim stated, "I don't believe what I'm seeing. Yuy and Maxwell are sitting out of a game for the first time all season! It looks like Brian Austin and Terry Fellows will be going in for them! This is a pretty bold move, considering how poorly the two have performed in the past. I don't know what Marquise is thinking here."

"Especially since we received word that Yuy was fine to return again," Adam added, his own eyes wide in disbelief. "Considering the importance of this game, this is more than a bit surprising. Even the Miami team seems stunned by the change."

Both on and off the field, the Miami team and staff had slack jaws and wide eyes. Most shaking their heads in amusement and confusion, several members of the team chuckled deeply at the `deer in headlights' looks that the less than experienced stringers were making on the way to where the ball was marked.

Terry and Brian fell into a huddle with their teammates. Sweating already, the blonde quarterback and dark-haired running back scanned the eyes on them. Grinning, Trowa said kindly, "Breathe you two. Austin, make the call to what you want to have happen."

Shaking his head to bring himself to focus, Brian went over in his head what had been working and what had not for the game. "Well, Howard did say that for the for our last few possessions, we've been running the ball on the first try. So, they may be expecting that. We'll try throwing the ball this time… I guess."

Wufei smirked, "You guess or is that what we're going to do? You have to start asserting yourself, pal."

Clearly seeing the logic in that, Austin took a deep breath and nodded firmly, "Right. That's what we're doing, then." The Chinese receiver grinned and nodded back.

Breaking the huddle, the offensive linemen went into the positions. Hand on the ball as he squatted down, Trowa peered back to see that Brian was in alignment for an easy snap. Over the cheers from the crowd, Brian yelled, "Set! Set!"

From the sideline, Heero and Duo held their breaths along with the remainder of their team that could only stand and watch. "Hike!" Austin cried and the ball was tossed back into his hands. Growling and snarling, the defenders worked to break free of the guardsmen so they could have their shot at the green quarterback.

Nervously looking for an open receiver, Brian found one in Wufei. Biting his lip, he sent the ball hurling in the air. The force behind the throw sent the ball clear out of Chang's reach and out of bounds into the Miami sideline. It was a wasted effort to gain yards. Coming to a halt, the receiver shook his head in the direction that the ball went. At the blow of a whistle, the clock stopped.

Sighing deeply, Heero and Duo's shoulders slumped. Zechs covered his mouth to keep back the frustrated cry that would have been his initial reaction. Howard and Trent started pacing anxiously with their hands folded behind their back and heads lowered.

All around, laughter filled the air from both the Miami team and the crowd. Brian, head low and looking most defeated felt his cheeks burning in humiliation. "Well, sadly, this was to be expected," Tim commentated. "Austin and Fellows are far too inexperienced and scared on the field to really handle this kind of pressure. Again, I really don't see the logic behind having them take their turn in this game."

Making their way back to their posts while the Wolverines huddled, two of the Miami linemen were still laughing. "They just handed us the win by bringing those two in," the taller of the two men snickered. His teammates within earshot all smirked and nodded in agreement.

While his back was at the time turned to them in the midst of the huddle, Austin heard every word of the exchange. Eyes narrowing as a new determination took over, he gritted to through his teeth, "We're doing that." Pointing to Chang, he ordered, "This time get your ass further down the field. I don't want you looking for a throw until you're more than fifteen yards ahead."

Caught off guard by the sudden show of tenacity, Wufei blinked his wide eyes. A small smile tugged his lips as he replied, "You got it." The huddle was broken and everyone got to their marks.

His eyes still glaring ahead, Brian held his arms out and shouted over the crowd, "Set! Set!"

"OhmyGodohmyGodohmy God," Duo muttered over and over, his hands gripping the back of his braided head as he looked on. Heero's hands clenched and unclenched nervously. The remainder of the team was not faring much better in their own waiting.

Austin shrieked, "Hike!" Bodies collided violently in another dance to try and best each other the moment the ball was snapped back.

Without paying mind to the blockers around him, Wufei charged with everything he had until he was eighteen yards past the original line. Looking back, he dodged and weaved from his blockers and signaled with a raised hand that he was ready. Quickly locking onto his target, Brian planted his feet into the hard ground and hurled the ball on.

Everyone at the line stopped to watch as the ball hung in the air for what seemed forever before it finally came down. Right into Wufei's waiting arms. First to react were Heero and Duo as they cheered and jumped in elation. Everyone else, including the spectators, followed right after.

Adam jumped from his seat, announcing at the top of his lungs, "I don't believe it! A perfect toss from Austin just gave Pittsburgh a huge push down the field! Incredible!" Shocked speechless, Tim just looked on with wide eyes.

Making a total gain of twenty-three yards, Wufei was finally brought down. Quickly jumping to his feet, the receiver ran back to his celebrating offensive team. Brian jumped into Trowa's arms as the center laughed and lifted him high from the ground. Pats of congratulations went all around as the quarterback reeled over the excitement.

In the next snap, the ball was handed over to Fellows. Hell bent on proving himself, the running back used his training with Maxwell on how to make an opening even if there wasn't one. On his carry, he managed to make a gain of eleven yards.

The progression did not slow down for a moment. A couple of tosses and runs later, Terry pushed his way into the end zone with a huge smile on his face.

"Touchdown Pittsburgh!" Tim exclaimed. "Brian Austin and Terry Fellows were the big play makers during this possession to score! If I didn't see it with my own eyes, I never would have believed it!" Duo jumped into Heero's arms as they shouted and hooted along with the others on the sideline.

With his own team reeling over the turn of events, the head coach for Miami just smirked and slowly clapped his hands together to join in on the applause from the stands in a show of sportsmanship. Most of the Miami crowd was on their feet and cheering alongside the Pittsburgh fans in appreciation of the brave show from the second stringers.

Being one of the first to reach the end zone to celebrate, Trowa removed his helmet and gave a friendly smile to Austin and Fellows. "Take it all in, guys," he had to yell over the noise. Gesturing with his head to crowd that was still giving them a standing ovation, he grinned, "You've earned it."

Their eyes shimmering, Austin and Fellows scanned the packed audience as their teammates on the field pat their backs and gave one-armed embraces. Allowing themselves a moment to enjoy their moment, the quarterback and running back led the way to their sideline.

First to greet them both with a tight hug was Howard. "That's the closest I've come to a goddamned heart attack!" he laughed. "I'm proud of you boys!" Zechs just gave them a fatherly smile and a firm nod as Heero and Duo ran into the scene.

Instantly brightening at the sight of their mentors, Brian and Terry embraced their first-string counterparts as they spoke excitedly amongst each other. By the time everyone finally calmed, the head coach asked the two starters, "Think you're up to heading back out the next time we have the ball?"

The couple smirked to each other and Heero turned to their back-ups. "Sure, if it's all right with these two," he answered. Zechs gazed on the other pair with a raised eyebrow in awaiting their response.

For Austin and Fellows to actually be asked such a thing by the players that they had looked up to was as thrilling as the accolade from the crowd. Grinning from ear-to-ear, Terry replied, "No problem. We'll sit out the rest of the game." Brian nodded fervently in his own agreement.

"Thanks, guys," Duo winked. "You left two pretty big shoes for us to fill after that performance. " Beaming in pride, the two second-stringers walked off to join their 'brothers' for another round of congratulations and praise.

And the celebration did not end there. With Heero and Duo back in the game, the Wolverines went on to dominate the remainder of the game. In the end, the score was 40-27.

In the locker room, it took some time for Zechs to calm his team enough to announce, "Drinks are on me tonight!" Another wave of cheers and yells filled the room as his athletes continued on the celebration of their special victory.