Disclaimers: No matter how much I wish I do, I don't own Gundam Wing. Neither do I own most aspects of Unreal Tournament.
Warnings: Crossover with the computer game Unreal Tournament, shouen-ai, yaoi
Pairings: (It's always nice to know these things ahead of time) 1+2, 3+4
Note: I don't know what it is with computer games. I guess they give my muses (the chipmunks) lots of material to work with, considering that I play them all the time… ^_^;;
Extra: A special thanks to Amy-chan (Kikotei) for archiving all my fics out of her own time. ::glomps Kikotei hard enough to cut off circulation::

Unreal Tournament
Kitana Bradford
Foreword
(I strongly suggest you read this if you want to understand what is going on in this fic. ^_^)

After Colony 196

A year after the end of the war and the destruction of all mobile suits - including the Gundams - in the name of peace, the colonies settled down for an era of hard-won pacifism. But it was far from a Utopia. Remaining members of the Treize Faction, White Fang, and OZ continued to bear animosity towards one another, carrying on the legacy of hate and the violent bid for power. Ex-soldiers who had lived for the war and had resorted to a life of crime when it ended were promptly recruited by each group.

Mercenaries and citizens alike were drawn into the fierce struggles.

In an attempt to control violence among the residual sections, the government legalized no-holds-barred fighting. A new, powerful company called Liandri worked with the government and established a series of leagues and bloody public exhibitions in deathmatches called Unreal Tournament. The fights popularity grew with their brutality. The government quickly discovered that the public matches were their most profitable enterprise.

The professional league was formed: an assembly of the most violent and skilled warriors in known space selected and sponsored by various corporations to fight in the grand Tournament.

It is now After Colony 199 and the profits from the tournaments number in the hundreds of billions. Companies prey upon aspiring fighters, finding it very beneficiary to sponsor the relatively small equipment and entry fees in the Tournament, for a large percentage of their possible prize money.

The Tournament slowly became centered around the acquired warriors of the competing companies and the stakes were pushed to new bounds. To increase their chances of winning, soon businesses began to form their own teams of warriors. Because of this, various corporations of all sizes, greedy for the hefty sums to be gained in the ultimate prize, compete bitterly for fighters. When none are to be found they think nothing of detaining an occasional citizen and forcing them through the often brutal training in preparation to fight in the arena. The government overlooks their crimes in the interest of maintaining the large amounts of Tournament income money.

At present, to celebrate Unreal Tournament's fourth prosperous year, the prize money for the upcoming Deathmatch is to be over two billion. The announcement drew almost every major company to scour the colonies and Earth for a team of fighters to represent them in the Tournament….

 




Disclaimers: No matter how much I wish I do, I don't own Gundam Wing. Neither do I own most aspects of Unreal Tournament.
Warnings: Crossover with the computer game Unreal Tournament, shouen-ai, yaoi
Pairings: (It's always nice to know these things ahead of time) 1+2, 3+4
Note: I don't know what it is with computer games. I guess they give my muses (the chipmunks) lots of material to work with, considering that I play them all the time… ^_^;;

 

Unreal Tournament
Kitana Bradford
Part 1

Duo finished his last set of chest-presses and sat up, putting away the Olympic-seized bar and set to work carefully stowing the weights in their slots on the wall.

He was just sliding the last iron weight into place when the cry came from behind him. "Hey! Duo!" Duo turned just as a towel smacked him in the face.

Duo reached up and drew the white fabric off, smiling into the mischievous blue eyes of his companion.

"Smooth, Zack," Duo said, sticking his tongue out at the young man. "You just try that again. I dare you."

"Ya seize the chances when ya get 'em." Zack recited smugly, echoing Duo's own words. "Here." He tossed Duo a water bottle which the braided boy caught gratefully.

"Thanks, man." Trying to do everything at once, Duo jauntily snatched up the plastic container, popped the top and sent it spinning into the air with a flick of his wrist. Jerking the towel from around his shoulders, he wiped the sweat from his face then reached out a hand and casually caught the bottle on its decent. Giving the container a squeeze, Duo smiled satisfactorily as a stream of water squirted from the nozzle and splashed into his waiting mouth.

Zack plopped down beside the longhaired youth, opening his own bottle of water.

"Show-off." He grumbled. "You have waay too much time on your hands, you know that?" Duo laughed.

"I know. I've got to get myself a girlfriend."

Zack elbowed the American in the side. "What happened to the plastic blow-up kind?"

"To needy. It was always 'me, me, me' with them. I never got any respect."

Zack laughed, turning to the braided boy and nudging him. "What about that hot babe at the orphanage?"

"Who? Hilde? Nah, we're just friends." Duo said, taking another swig of his water.

"Lucky bastard. Got any plans for today?"

"Yup. I've gotta run some errands them I'm headin' over to the orphanage. Wanna come? Hilde will be there." Duo tempted, knowing Zach's attraction for the slight girl.

"Tempting, but I gotta do some overtime at work. Fallin' behind. Speaking of work, I should get going. How 'bout we meet here same time tomorrow?" Zach said, shoving his bag into Duo's hands while he gathered up his stuff. As he found each item, he tossed it over to Duo, who dutifully caught it in the bag.

"Sounds good. You gonna try to break 400? I'll spot you."

"Four-hundred!? Are you nuts? Sorry man, but I'll leave the heavy duty lifting to you, Duo."

"Chicken. You just don't want me to know how out-classed you are."

"Dream on, braidboy. I just don't want to overwhelm you with my godlike physique." Zack said, hefting his water-bottle like a champion weight then tossing it at Duo, who caught in and shoved it in the bag. Catching a peculiar odor, Duo bent closer to the bag, sniffing cautiously. Duo gagged and his eyes nearly crossed from the smell.

"Ugh! Zach, it smells like something died in there." Duo said, hastily sealing the bag.

"Oh, be quiet," Zack said, snatching the bag away from the braided youth. "I'll bet yours smells just as bad."

"Hardly. I wash it unlike some people."

"Heck with you. I'm off. Bye Duo."

"Break a leg." Duo said, waving to Zack as he went running out the door.

Duo rose, feeling sweaty yet loosened by his vigorous exercise. He knew the days when it was necessary to remain in top physical shape were long over, but it made him feel good to maintain progress and keep conditioned and hone his techniques. Who knew when they would come in handy?

Duo unzipped his own bag, tossing in his towel and water bottle. Slipping off the weighted wristbands and anklebands, he tossed them in as well. He carried it to the changing room, throwing in his sweaty clothes as he shed them. He took a hurried shower in the provided stalls then pulled on the fresh clothes he had brought just for that purpose.

Checking his watch, Duo decided he had more then enough time to drop his bag off at his apartment before running his errands. Gathering up his scattered things, Duo cheerfully shouldered his weightlifting bag and bounded out the building in the typical hyperactive attitude retained from his years as a Gundam pilot, greeting everyone who passed.

Once outside, Duo strode down the street slowly, letting the breeze dry his hair. Anyone passing by would have seen an unusually attractive young man sporting an abnormally long braid which reached halfway down the backs of his thighs. Who's tight black jeans and loose shirt of the same color shifted over his body in a way that hinted at the firm figure below. The most striking feature, however, was the youth's gorgeous pair of brilliant violet eyes that sparkled with good humor, yet revealed wisdom beyond his nineteen years.

Oblivious to the admiring stares of passers-by, Duo stopped by the railing of L2's ocean to enjoy the warm sun and gentle breeze. Putting his elbows on the cold metal, he leaned out over the bars. The blue ocean beyond sparkled in the artificial sunlight. The scene reminded him of a similar one during the war four years ago.

If he concentrated, he could almost feel Heero's stoic presence at his back as they stared out over the ocean at a phantom base. It felt nice and he felt whole for the first time in a long while.

"What am I doing?" Duo suddenly blurted out. "Heero left three and a half years ago for a job as Relena's personal bodyguard. They've probably married, had fifty kids by now, and long forgotten about me."

Duo shoved himself away from the railing and continued down the streets toward his apartments at a more abated pace, arms behind his head.

"Man, do I miss the guys. That was the one thing good about the war; it brought us all together." Duo sighed, tilting his head back to let his face bask in the synthetic rays of sun that shone through the tall buildings. A shadow fell over him and he stopped to glare at the object that blocked the warmth.

It was a large blue billboard that proclaimed loudly in large bold yellow script:

 

DO YOU HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO WIN THE TOURNAMENT?

Another sign right behind it read:

 

WATCH THE TOURNAMENT LIVE WITH NEUROVISION!!

Duo frowned at them, turning away in disgust.

"People don't know how to appreciate peace. We finally finish a bloody war so that we can settle down again and they immediately create a stupid tournament so that they can watch people die horrible violent deaths."

Reaching his apartment complex, Duo stepped onto the glass-walled elevator for the long ride up. It wasn't that he didn't have enough money to afford a house of his own - far from it - but he preferred an apartment. To him, purchasing a house felt too much like committing himself to one place. But that didn't mean he couldn't rent one of the more lavish, secure apartments in all L2.

Fishing around in his pockets for his ID keycard, he slid it through the slot and punched in his code on the number pad. The light flashed green and he pushed through the door into the darkness of his apartment.

Immediately, he sensed something wrong.

A soft noise, inaudible to an untrained ear, alerted him. Old instincts kicked in and Duo spun around just in time to snag a small dagger on its deadly flight millimeters from his left eye.

Duo narrowed his eyes at the sound of slow, deliberate clapping from the shadows of his apartment, his whole body tense, ready for anything. Duo's mind immediately went through his choices for tactics to defend himself and the reasons there would be somebody waiting for him in his home.

Deciding to leave the latter for later, Duo crouched into a defensive posture, deciding to leave the lights off, though his eyes were still adjusting, and hopefully use his dark clothing to gain what advantage he could over the intruder. Remembering the dagger in his hands, Duo flipped it over until he was grasping the hilt, then stood ready.

"There is no need to be so tense. I am not here for a fight. Or, at least, not one with you."

Duo wasn't satisfied. He could see the dark outline of a man in the waxing light from the window and he glared, holding up the dagger.

"What's this about, then?"

"A test," The man offered smugly. "One that, I should think, would be worthy of one of the most feared fighters the world has ever known."

Duo's mind flashed a warning at him and he wondered how this mysterious intruder had come to know about that… and how many other things this man knew about his past. Duo thought that all his records had been erased.

"Who are you? How do you know that?" Duo said, moving out of his defensive posture, but still wary.

"Ahh, so I was correct."

Duo swore softly. He had fallen for the man's trap.

"What do you want? How much do you know about me?" Duo tensed when he saw the man shift. Soft lamplight flooded the room from the small lamp by Duo's couch. Duo squinted to keep the man in sight, wary of his slightest movements.

"I know quite a bit about you, Duo Maxwell… or should I say pilot 02 of the former Gundam, Deathscythe Hell. I am a representative of the new Liandri Corporation and I have come to exploit the rumors about you and see for myself the truth to them."

"And now you've found me. So there's the door."

The man took a seat on Duo's couch and placed his briefcase on the coffee table, stretching languorously and making himself at home, obviously not intending to move until his business was concluded. Duo eyed the briefcase suspiciously before returning his gaze to the smug representative. He said nothing, merely studied the braided young man with dark eyes that glittered with voracity. [2]

Duo shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny and growled, "What do you want? I doubt you're here for idle talk."

"Mr. Maxwell, I have a proposition you might find of interest."

"Really?" Duo drawled dubiously, raising an eyebrow.

<If this guy is a salesman I swear I'm gonna tell him where he can shove that briefcase, sideways, then I'm gonna kick him out the window. At twenty stories up he would make one hell of a pretty decoration on the sidewalk below.> Duo thought inhospitably, aware that the chances that he were something as harmless as a salesman were slim.

"Surely you've hear of Unreal Tournament?"

Duo tensed, his fingers clenching around the hilt of the dagger still in his hand.

"The Corporation I work for, Liandri, has chosen to participate in this year's Games. But the competition is great. The rival teams that must be faced consist of the most seasoned and brutal Tournament survivors."

Duo gritted his teeth. He was no fool. He knew where this was going and wished the man would just get to the point.

"Liandri has carefully previewed the files of many potential fighters and hand-picked the most qualified warriors for our team. You, Duo Maxwell, have been selected for the singular honor of as a candidate for participation in Unreal Tournament under the name of Liandri."

"You make it sound like some great honor to be chosen by Liandri to risk your life and possible mutilation in the Tournament. Is this where I'm supposed to say 'Oh, yeah! I've waited three years through this stupid peace which I fought YEARS to accomplish just so that I could be chosen to risk my neck in this godless fighting for the same company that helped ruin the tranquillity!?' I think not. Go find some other poor fool to do your dirty work for you."

"I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss my proposition, Mr. Maxwell." The representative said deliberately, a hint of menace entering his soft tone.

"Oh, and why not?! Your company, which has never participated in the war and who's employees lived in the shelter of fancy business and never lifted a finger to aid in any of the battles wouldn't understand. Ask anyone who has fought heart and soul, risking their lives countless times for peace what they think of your damned Tournaments. Your answer will be the same."

"Your are wrong Mr. Maxwell. Men more vehement then you have been… convinced… to join our league. It is in the human nature to fight. The games merely provide and outlet for that tendency."

"You don't understand. I will not fight in your damn Tournament." Duo growled. Why couldn't they just understand that he no longer desired to fight and just leave him alone?

Duo suddenly realized that the man was talking and refocused his attention.

"…profiles reviewed. Including those of the other Gundam pilots--"

"You leave them out of this! They deserve what little peace is allowed them!" Duo interrupted angrily.

To Duo's extreme annoyance, the man looked amused.

"No need to be concerned Mr. Maxwell. Liandri wishes to assemble a team based upon stealth to combat the overwhelming brutal open-arena fighting abilities of opposing teams. Liandri has determined that, while they would be invaluable under any other circumstance, the skills of the other Gundam pilots would be counter-productive to the specialty of the team we wish to assemble."

The reasons for why he had been hunted down and the choice forced upon him were suddenly clear to Duo. He cursed his background and abilities. Stealth had always been his forte.

"Will you join our team? The possible prize money will be more than enough to make you a very, very rich man."

Duo's fingers, which gripped the dagger with white knuckles, twitched. The only reason he didn't "return" the dagger to the man in the same fashion he had received it was that was loathe to set back his whole afternoon by having to spend an hour cleaning the representative's blood out of the carpet and furniture. He looked up and caught the businessman's gaze.

"No. That's my final answer." Duo moved to usher the man out the door.

"Mr. Maxwell, you are making a grave error."

Duo whirled on the man, "Don't tell me my mistakes! The only mistake I made was listening to you in the first place. Now OUT!"

The representative stood slowly, taking his time gathering up his things before sauntering to the door. "Don't think you've seen the last of me."

Duo glared at him, turning the dagger around in his hand and thrusting the hilt at the man expectantly. No matter how angry Duo was he was courteous enough to offer the sharp knife correctly. He refused to lower himself to taking petty revenges.

The Liandri businessman paused at the door and looked at the dagger in the Deathscythe pilot's hand then at the former Deathscythe pilot himself. For a second, it looked to Duo like he wouldn't accept it.

Then, in one quick movement he reached out, grasped the hilt, and jerked it from Duo's grasp, deliberately pressing down on the blade and slicing deeply into Duo's flesh.

Duo's eyes widened briefly, then narrowed and he slowly clenched his injured hand.

"Get out." Those two words were delivered in a dangerous tone so softly that they were almost inaudible. Duo gave the man a glare that would've done Heero proud.

With one last feral smile, the Liandri businessman tucked the bloody dagger into his jacket and strode out the door.

Duo slammed it behind him so hard that the windows rattled. Then he slumped against the solid panel, leaning his entire weight against it.

Duo looked blankly at his clenched fist. Liquid crimson had worked it's way up through the cracks in his hand, flowing down the folds of his flesh to form streams of red that became shimmering ruby beads and fell slowly to the floor.

Time seemed to slow as Duo watched the red fluid splash to the ground, each drop reminding him of the blood of countless innocents spilled for the fragile peace already taken for granted and ruined by greedy corporations like Liandri.

As each drop fell, Duo assigned each a name of those who sacrificed their own blood for the peace effort.

Solo… Father Maxwell… Sister Helen… Kory… Asia… Emily… Alana… the other 429 children who died at the orphanage… Heero… Wufei… Quatre… Trowa….[1]

Snapping out of his trance and realizing that he was bleeding all over the carpet, Duo quickly walked to the kitchen, flicking the lights on as he went. He grabbed a towel, filling it with ice then grasping it in his injured hand, holding it beneath the cool stream of water from the sink in an attempt to stop the blood flow.

He hadn't been standing at the sink five minutes when the insistent beeping of his phone sounded from the living room. Duo looked at the clock. Nine A.M. A little early for Hilde to be calling him. He had a few hours before he was supposed to be at the orphanage.

Duo shook the ice out of the rag, squeezed it out lightly in his good hand and walked into the other room to answer the phone, wrapping the damp cloth around his injured hand and securing the knot with his teeth.

Duo plopped down on the couch and pressed the button that would bring the person up on his vidcom. The person on the other end was one of the last people he had been expecting to see.

"Hello, Duo! It's been so long since I've seen you!"

"Quatre!!! Hey, man! So how goes life with Tro? And as the head of Winner Corporations to boot." Duo looked at his longtime friend. Quatre still retained his light good looks though his face had lengthened a little bit and it looked like he had gained a little more muscle under the business suit.

"Great! Trowa helps out a lot. He's very supportive."

"You know that's not what I mean. Have you two done anything fun yet?" Duo grinned and had his answer as the fair-haired blonde blushed a fiery red.

"Duo!"

"That's good Q-man. I'm glad he's taking good care of you." Duo felt a brief rush of envy at Quatre's happiness but banned it to the back of his mind. It had no place in the first conversation with his friend in over two years. "So what's up?"

"Duo, you know that new arena called Unreal Tournament?"

Duo tensed and paled slightly. "You're not competing in it, are you?" He asked hurriedly. Quatre wouldn't do that… would he?

"Oh, no!" Duo relaxed. "I abhor the whole idea of killing for entertainment, but a couple of my associates are planing to compete. I keep telling them it's a bad idea, but they won't listen."

"That's exactly what I think. How can people be stupid enough to consider this kind of violence as a sport?! After all their complaining about the war you think they'd be happy with the peace we just earned but nooooo, they go and spend millions to watch the exact same thing they could've seen on their telecoms four years ago!" Duo realized he was ranting and closed his mouth, growling softly. Quatre's soft laugh interrupted him.

"My, my, Duo. You've developed an eye twitch. When did this happen?"

Duo paused and then laughed. "I guess I am getting worked up about it. Gomen, it just gets to me."

"I know, I know. Don't feel bad, I put Trowa through a forty-five minute episode of the same thing."

"You're kidding. You? The angel? I would've given my eye teeth to see that." Then Duo looked suspicious. "Hold it. Why did you bring it up now? You're not going to go ZERO on me, are you?"

Quatre laughed again, waving his hand as if to fend off Duo's constant jokes.

"No, no. Actually, the real reason I called is: Trowa and I have decided it has been way too long since we all got to see each other last. So I'm hosting a reunion for all of us in a week. I'm calling to ask if you can come. Sorry for the late invitation. I just couldn't get a hold of you, just your machine."

"Yeah, I have been busy lately and I never check my messages." A reunion? Duo's mind whirled in happy circles. He had missed everyone so much, now was his chance to see them again. Abruptly his mind landed on one thing and the question had slipped out of his mouth before he had even realized he asked it. "Will Heero be there?"

Quatre smiled gently. "Yes. He's already confirmed. Heero, Relena, Wufei, Sally-Po, Cathrine, Trowa, and I will all be at the party. We're only waiting for a confirmation from Zechs, Dorothy, and you. Hilde is welcome to come if she likes." Duo's shoulders drooped momentarily at hearing Relena's name, but he quickly perked back up again.

"Sugoi! Hey, I'll get to annoy Wu-man again! I wonder how he's been holding up."

"So I can put you down as an affirmative?" Quatre said, grabbing a pen.

Duo was about to say yes when he remembered what the Liandri representative had said before he left. 'Don't think you've seen the last of me.' A cloud passed over Duo's face and he looked down quickly to hide it from the Arabian. The representative had said that they weren't after the other Gundam pilots, but he didn't trust anything that man said. If he went to that reunion he might just be leading Liandri straight to the other pilots.

Duo raised his head and met Quatre's searching gaze.

"You wanna know what Q-man, don't put me down as an affirmative just yet. I've had a problem just recently and I have some loose ends to tie up." He reached up to push his bangs out of his eyes and was startled by Quatre's alarmed cry.

"Duo, what happened to your hand?"

"Huh?" Duo realized that he had naturally used his right hand to clear his view. His right hand was his injured hand. While he had been talking, the white cloth wrapped around the slash had become soaked with blood and was slowly turning dark crimson in color. Duo hastily lowered his hand and moved it out of sight.

"Oh, nothing. Just had a little accident before you called is all."

"Duo, please be more careful. I have to call Zechs now and get his affirmative. Call me later and give me your answer, okay?"

"Sure, Q-man. You know me."

"That's why I'm worried."

Duo stuck his tongue out at the blonde young man.

Quatre laughed. "See you later, Duo."

"Chow Quatre. Tell Trowa hi for me hmmm? Duo out."

Duo turned off the vidcom before the Arabian had any time to respond, chuckling softly. He said a little sadly to the empty room, "Quatre, you're still so cute. I'm glad you and Trowa finally came around and admitted your feeling for each other. You belong together." The air was suddenly overwhelmingly quiet and Duo felt a wave of loneliness wash over him. Bursting into action, he glanced at his watch.

"Speaking of belonging somewhere," He said, filling the void with his voice, "I've gotta get going if I wanna make it to the orphanage on time!" Duo ran around the room, gathering his wallet and keycard, stopping only long enough to drop his bag and its contents into the washer. Unwrapping the soaked towel from his hand, Duo threw it in too and quickly bound his hand securely with gauze.

Then he was out the door. After making sure he had everything he needed, Duo rode the elevator to the main floor and set off on the first of his little errands.

 

***

"Hmmm… milk, eggs, vegetables, soup, turkey, spices, potatoes, candy, teddy bear… yup! I think I got everything!" Duo hummed cheerfully to himself as he pulled his convertible out of the grocery store parking lot and headed for the orphanage.

Duo grinned when he heard the excited yells as he drew up in front of the orphanage. Turning off the car and hopping out, Duo reached into the back seat and retrieved the three bags of groceries. He strode up the walkway, juggling the bags skillfully.

As he rounded the bend, and saw the large group of kids and Hilde waiting for him, he had to laugh. Duo quickly handed off the bags to Hilde so that they wouldn't get crushed as all the kids but one ran to mass glomp him.

After five minutes of vigorous tickling and laughing, Duo cried, "Enough, enough! I surrender!"

"Duo, you always were such a tease," Hilde giggled. "Did you get everything I asked for?"

"Yeah, It's all in there. And I got a little extra. Here, let me up." The kids scrambled off him and Duo stood and took two of the bags from Hilde, placing one on the ground and digging through the other.

"Ah, ha!" He cried triumphantly, holding up his prize. When the kids saw what it was they squealed with delight, crowding around the braided young man. Duo dutifully passed out the bags of candy he had purchased for them. Soon, they were all seated contentedly in the grass, munching their sweets. Duo smiled and turned to look at Hilde who smiled gently and shook her head at him.

Then Duo caught sight of the little girl looking shyly at him from where she clung to Hilde's legs. His eyes lit up and he quickly retrieved a small fluffy teddy bear from the depths of one bag. Walking over to the little girl, he knelt in front of her and offered her the bear.

"Hi Haily. I got this for you."

The little girl took her finger out of her mouth and gently took the bear from Duo, cradling it in her arm. Then she lurched away from Hilde's legs and into Duo's arms.

"Mithed you."[3] She said softly, and buried her face in his neck.

Duo stroked her back gently, his stomach clenching with the intensity of his emotions for the little girl. She had just lost her parents and arrived at the orphanage a week and a half ago. She had been the shyest little thing. Only four and painfully timid, it had been difficult for her to gather the courage to face other people. Duo had gently befriended her and she had quickly warmed up to the longhaired American. Already Duo loved her as though she were his own daughter. She stirred deep emotions within the former Deathscythe pilot; the very embodiment of everything he had fought for.

"Yeah, sweetie, I missed you too."

Duo looked over the head of the little girl in his arms and laughed when he saw Hilde chasing the other orphans around the yard.

"Hey, hey! No eating all that candy before dinner!"

"Awwww!" Came the chorus from all the kids.

Hilde laughed. "It's only for a little bit. Then you can eat dinner and finish your candy."

"Now will someone help me get these groceries inside and put away? The sooner we do that the sooner I can get dinner started and you can have your candy."

They all jumped up to help, three of the older kids carried the bags in and the rest escorting Hilde and Duo inside. The groceries were all stored away in no time and Hilde started on the dinner while the kids dragged Duo outside for some fun.

Duo put Haily on his shoulders and followed them onto the playground. Of course, as soon as they saw Haily on Duo's shoulders, he had to give all of them a horsey ride. For the next hour, they romped merrily, Duo carefully making sure Haily was included in their games.

Then the call came for dinner and everyone scrambled inside and took his or her place at the table. They said grace, then dug into the delicious turkey with mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, biscuits, and salad.

The kids finished quickly, then bounced impatiently in their chairs, begging Hilde with their eyes for the words that would allow them to go reclaim their bags of sugary treats.

"Oh, man! Emotional blackmail. How can you say no?" Duo laughed.

"I can't. Okay you all, you're excused." Hilde said, giving in. The kids cheered and immediately scrambled for their candy, taking it out into the large den to eat it.

Duo helped Hilde clear the table, carrying and cleaning the dishes with his good hand. Hilde noticed this.

"What's wrong with your hand?"

Duo looked at her tensely. "Some jackass representative from that new company called Liandri came to my apartment today. He wanted me to fight in the Tournament as part of their team."

Hilde was alarmed. She took her hands out of the dishwater and grabbed Duo by both arms, looking up at him pleadingly. "Please tell me you said no, Duo! Those Tournaments are immoral and the chances of even the most skilled warriors coming out alive is really low. You could die and… and I don't think I could handle this orphanage without you." Hilde's voice shook. "You're my best friend and probably the best thing that has happened to these kids since they became orphans. We need you here."

"Of course I said no!" Duo said consolingly, lips quirking his trademark grin. Hilde sighed with relief and lowered her hands. Duo raised his bandaged hand and pointed to it. "That representative wasn't too happy about it, though." Then the smile fell from his face. Duo frowned, absently wiping the soap-suds from Hilde's hands off his shirt.

"Quatre is hosting a reunion for us all. I want to go but I'm worried that they might be using me to get to the other pilots."

Hilde smiled at him. "Don't worry. They can handle themselves."

Suddenly, there was the sound of a muted crash from the den. Hilde and Duo exchanged glances and headed quickly for the source of the sound.

Just as they passed through the hallway, as if on cue, a series of sharp knocks sounded on the door. Duo froze indecisively. Hilde saw his pause and pushed him towards the den.

"You go see what happened in there. I'll get the door."

Duo smiled thankfully at the purple-haired girl and hurried to the main room. He paused at the doorway, taking in the scene with wide eyes. The kids were tumbling around the room, save Haily who was watching safely from one corner. Candy was strewn everywhere. The source of the crash was on its back on the floor in the form of one of the large loveseats that furnished the den. Duo sighed in relief. At least no one was hurt. Then he shouted over the ruckus,

"What's this? Candy warfare? Who gave you permission to get rowdy?" At the sound of his voice, the kids stopped tackling each other and looked towards the door where Duo stood.

Duo walked into the room and righted the sofa. Then turned to the kids.

"Seriously, no more horsing around inside. If you want to play wild, you take your little buts out on the playground, got it? Someone could get hurt in here." The kids nodded obediently, relieved that they weren't in serious trouble.

"And next time you guys decide to roughhouse," Duo grinned. "Call me first." The kids relaxed and giggled. Then, as one, all their eyes shifted to the doorway behind the American. Duo turned, mouth opening to tell Hilde that everything was fine.

Duo snapped his mouth shut when he saw who stood behind him. Hilde was there, standing stiffly in front of five burly men dressed in black business suits, all holding guns pointed at him, Hilde, and the orphans. Duo's eyes landed on the skinny man standing next to her, holding a knife to her throat. It was the Liandri representative Duo recognized from earlier that day.

"You!" He spat. "What do you want?" The representative motioned and one of the muscled men threw Hilde into Duo, toppling them both. The orphans huddled close to Duo and Hilde in fear as the men formed a loose semi-circle around them, effectively caging them in.

Duo untangled himself from the clutching arms and stood quickly, defiance sparkling in his eyes, vainly attempting to use his body mass to protect the group huddled behind him. Duo took in the guns and growled. He couldn't possibly protect everyone from harm and he couldn't fight back. Any move he made would just endanger them further. One of the large men silently came up behind Duo and seized his arms in a vice-like grip. Duo thrashed violently, trying to loosen the strong hold on his arms, but only succeeded in

The Liandri businessman strode forward, a satisfied smirk on his pointy features.

"What do we want, Mr. Maxwell? Well, in short, we want you. You see, I attempted to communicate this to you earlier. We want you on our team, Mr. Maxwell. Whether you choose to be or not."

He continued, casually using the razor-sharp blade to clean the dirt from under his fingernails, "Now, since you refused to be cooperative this morning, you have forced us to take rather… drastic measures to ensure your cooperation." He strode forward, past Duo, and knelt in front of Hilde, who winced and tried to curl her body protectively around Haily. Using the blade, the businessman tucked a strand of purple hair behind Hilde's ear, brandishing the sharp edge dangerously close to her pale skin.

"No…." Duo choked out, his throat clogged with fear and anger. His eyes followed the blade as it slid over Hilde's neck and moved down to caress Haily's little cheek. Haily whimpered and tried to flinch away. Duo clenched his teeth and a low growl rumbled from his chest.

"Wouldn't it be a shame, Mr. Maxwell, if these two sweet young ladies died due to a rather… unfortunate… accident?"

"Touch them and I'll kill you!" Duo bellowed, thrashing fiercely against his captor's iron grip, lashing backwards with his legs in blows that would have crippled a normal man. The burly man behind him was hardly fazed, but his grip on Duo's upper arms loosened a fraction. Time seemed to slow as Duo felt the leeway and seized his chance.

Straining against the hands clamped around his biceps, Duo reached over his shoulders and grasped his captor's arms, simultaneously twisting and sliding a leg between the other man's. Using all of his strength, Duo drew back his leg then slammed it against the back of the guard's locked knee. Unbalanced for all of a split second, the muscled man pitched forward. That second was all Duo needed. Using his weight, Duo heaved the big guard over his shoulder and introduced him to the linoleum floor.

The large crash that resulted when the big man hit the ground echoed around the room, jarring the furniture roughly. Immediately, the other four men were on Duo. Strong arms wrapped around his middle with crushing force, pinning his arms to his sides as blow after blow was delivered to his vulnerable abdomen. When the four brutes finally stepped back to let the Liandri representative through, Duo hung limply from the arms that held him, wreaked with pain taking wheezing breaths that rattled in his chest.

As the tiled floor slowly came into focus, Duo saw the blade of the knife before his eyes as the businessman used the blade to force Duo's head up. Duo grit his teeth as blood flowed over his chin in a slow trickle.

The agent laughed. "You see what comes of resisting? As long as you do what Liandri says, no one will be harmed. You really have no choice, Mr. Maxwell."

Duo spit in his face. One of the guards slammed a fist into Duo's tender midsection and Duo doubled over in pain, but was promptly jerked upright again. The Liandri agent was red with rage. He whirled and stamped back towards the frightened group huddled on the floor.

Taking a fistful of Hilde's hair, he jerked her head back and lowered the knife to her neck, drawing a bleeding line across her fine skin. Hilde yelped in pain.

"STOP!!" Duo screamed. The representative paused, looking to Duo. "I'll… do it. I'll join your damn team, just don't touch them."

The agent laughed, straightening and putting the knife away in his jacket.

"I do believe you have finally come around, Mr. Maxwell. You will become part of our team and do as you're told, when you're told. Protest or resist in any way and they die. Do we have a deal?"

"Fine." Duo spat angrily, looking anywhere but the smirking Liandri businessman as he sealed his fate.

"Good. We leave right away." The agent snapped his fingers and the guard holding Duo abruptly let go.

"Wait," Duo said, pushing his luck. "Can't I say goodbye?"

"Fine," The businessman drawled. "You have thirty seconds."

Duo hurried over to the others and was promptly engulfed by the many tiny arms of the orphans. Then he stood and took Haily from Hilde's arms, holding her close to his chest and burying his face in her baby-fine hair.

Haily sniffled and pleaded, "Pleathe dun go. Stay wif us."

Duo tousled her hair sadly. "Wish I could, baby. But I've just gotta go this one time. I'll be back soon, I promise."

Haily put her finger in her mouth and silently held out the small stuffed bear he had given her earlier as though it would bring him back to her, her large eyes begging him to keep his promise.

Finally Duo rose and slid his arms around Hilde, who gripped him tightly.

"Be safe, Duo." She whispered in his ear. Duo felt the orphans cuddle close, wrapping their arms around his legs.

The harsh drawl of the agent broke the revere. "Time's up."

Duo extracted himself from the group, handing Haily back to Hilde, and walking to the door where the men waited impatiently.

"Let's get going." He growled.

"Excellent. Follow me."

With one last wave, Duo turned and followed the agent out the door, flanked by the guards.

 

[1] LOL!!! ::pokes Solo and whispers in her ear:: I'm bad. ^_^V (For those of you who didn't understand that and are confused, gomen. I'm poking fun at my friends. ^_^;; I know, I know. DUO'S Solo is a guy. This one is one of my friends. Just ignore the note and continue on with the story. ^_^ Sankyuu!)
[2] Think: the agent from Matrix. He's the person I had in mind when I created the Liandri associate in terms of looks, voice, and just overall personality.
[3] Missed you. If you say it out loud it makes more sense. Oi, Haily's still just a little girl and is entitled to have a chibi voice, ne? ::grin::
Notes from Kitana: Soo? How is it? My muses just attacked me over Christmas break and since I was isolated from my computer and couldn't work on my other stories, a whole new one sprang up. Please tell me if you like it or not. Remember, unless you ask me to continue a fic, I'm most likely to move on and concentrate on updating my more popular stories. Sankyuu soooo much!!! ^_^V
Status: TBC. ::Cracks her knuckles:: Now to introduce the other pilots into the plot. MYAHAHAHA!!!