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Duo's Deal

Nettie Roe

"Shit!"  Duo cursed as he wrestled with the sluggish controls of
Heero's Gundam.  What was supposed to have been a routine
mission had turned into a real nightmare.  Duo gritted his teeth
as another blast rocked the badly damaged mobile suit.  He
managed to swing the energy sword up just in time to catch a
charging Leo across the chest and felt the force of the impact
shudder through the metal frame.  Warning lights flashed as one
system after another failed or malfunctioned.  Duo frantically
scanned his surroundings.  The flames and smoke made visibility
little more than a few yards and his radar had died long ago.
But nothing lunged at him from the clouds of black smoke and the
only explosions were from burning fuel tanks.

"Damn it!  It was a trap!  We were set up!"

His left fist slammed into the control panel but the young pilot
barely felt the impact.  Duo closed his eyes and took a deep
breath to calm his nerves.  He would deal with that issue later.
 Right now he had to get somewhere safe.  Somewhere close since
the Gundam was very low on power.  And somewhere he could find
medical help for Heero.  He glanced back quickly and saw Heero
still lying unconscious on the floor of the small cockpit.  Duo
had managed to wedge the injured pilot between the seat and the
back wall.  Blood was still running down from a cut above his
left eye and from a corner of his mouth.  Duo had no idea what
the true extent of his injuries were and no time to find out.
Heero was still breathing and for now that was good enough.

Duo began checking coordinates on the computer and pulled up
maps of the surrounding territories on his view screens.  Yes!
Finally some luck.  "Look Heero, Quatre's people have a base
pretty close to here.  If this thing will fly we can be there in
an hour.  You listening?  Hey, don't die on me Heero.  If you
die you can't call me an idiot for losing my Gundam."  Duo spoke
without looking back.  He was far too busy adjusting controls
and checking readouts.  "Ready?  Here we go!"

It might not have been the most graceful takeoff or
transformation but at least the Gundam was in the air and
flying.  Duo divided his attention between the console readouts
and the view screen.  Without radar an enemy craft could get
uncomfortably close before he ever spotted it.  And staying
close to the ground to avoid the enemy's radar was making the
flight much more difficult.  Duo checked their coordinates and
smiled grimly.  "Hey, Heero, if you thought that takeoff was
good, wait till you see my landing.  On second thought it's
probably a good thing you're unconscious.  I almost wish I was."

Duo frowned in concentration, 'Damn it.  It should be me lying
back there.  I was the one that stepped right in the path of
that Leo's shot.  What good did it do to shield Heero if he just
gets blown up later rescuing me?'  The battle began to replay
itself in Duo's mind.  A simple hit and run.  An OZ supply depot
with tanks of fuel practically begging to be blown up.  But not
all the tanks had contained fuel.  Half of them had stored Leos,
armed and waiting to strike.  It had been a set up, a clever
trap for a couple of Gundam pilots that had maybe grown just a
little too cocky.  A little too careless.

They had decided on a daytime raid.  They would strike with the
rising sun and be gone before it had cleared the horizon.  That
had been the plan anyway and at first it seemed to be working.
Wing Gundam struck from the air while Deathscythe appeared from
the dunes.  Neither Gundam pilot noticed the unusually low
number of soldiers guarding the huge metal tanks.  And perhaps
it was arrogance that caused them to accept the fact that
trained soldiers would run in terror from their huge, heavily
armed suits.  But the truth struck them like the rays of the
morning sun. When the third metal tank split apart, instead of
liquid fuel it spilled forth armored Leos.

More tanks broke open and suddenly they were outnumbered and
completely surrounded by elite OZ soldiers who were not
interested in having their enemies surrender. That was just as
well since the two young Gundam pilots had decided to change
their mission objective.  Now the goal was to eliminate all the
Leos and return to their base victorious. In the beginning the
enemy made it easy for them.  The overwhelming numbers made the
Leo pilots over confident.  They took turns attacking the
Gundams and they fell before the long reach of the laser scythe
welded by Duo's mobile suit and the ground ripping energy blasts
of Heero's Wing Gundam.  But they quickly learned from their
mistakes and began attacking in mass.  The base was soon
enveloped in flames and billowing clouds of black smoke.  The
remains of the fallen Leos littered the ground to become both
obstacles and barriers.

As the enemies closed in Heero and Duo tried to stay far enough
apart to give each other room to fight.  They also faced in
opposite directions to cover each other's back.  That was how
Duo spotted the fallen Leo raising his energy gun for one final
shot at the unsuspecting Heero.  No time for words of warning,
no time for a swing of his blade, just a fraction of a second
for one quick lunge that brought his Gundam partially into the
blast.  The shock knocked his teeth together and sent an energy
feedback through his cockpit.  Warning lights began flashing as
the Gundam's left leg and arm malfunctioned.  The arm was still
partially operational but the leg was on the verge of collapsing
at the knee joint.  Duo swore and began frantically rerouting
circuits and shunting power to alternate relays.  "What the hell
was that?!"  Duo guessed that the Leo pilot had taken off all
the safety locks for that one shot and had blown himself up in
the process.  The arm was still usable but horribly slow to
respond.  As for the leg, the best he could do was lock it
straight which turned him into a standing target.  And what did
he get in return for his valiant sacrifice?  A split second
image of Heero on his monitor saying, "Idiot."

Duo didn't have time to respond.  More Leos moved into replace
the fallen ones and he was put strictly on the defensive.  The
enemy had also seen his weak points and were deliberately aiming
for his left side.  "Damn it!  These guys are really starting to
piss me off!"  For every one of the mobile suits that Duo was
able to cut down it seemed like two more were waiting to take
its place.  Sweat began running down his face and neck as he
countered blow after blow.  But more hits were getting through
and every impact sent shocks running through his muscles.
"Shit, now you guys are starting to give me a headache."  An
explosion suddenly threw him against the chair restraints and
for a moment his vision went black.  Then he was aware of the
metallic taste of blood in his mouth and the horrible sensation
of falling.  Reacting more by instinct than actual thought he
moved the arms of his falling Gundam to bring them around to the
front.  The damaged arm was too slow and the giant mobile suit
landed on its left side with the right hand braced against the
ground.  The discarded laser scythe spun wildly across the
broken asphalt as the energy blade sputtered and died.  Duo
opened his eyes and slowly brought his world back into focus.

Half his view screens were out and the others showed only the
ground.  Duo knew instantly his beloved Deathscythe was done
for.  As if to rub salt in an open wound Heero's image appeared
once more.  "Do you want to self-destruct now or should I just
blow you up?"

"Damn it!  How can you say that so calmly?!"  Duo slammed his
fist down on the control panel when he would much rather have
slammed it into Heero's face.  "Blowing yourself up with your
Gundam may be a great thing for you but I'm not ready to die
yet!"  Duo grabbed the remote detonator from its compartment and
activated the receiver on the control panel.  Releasing the
chair restraints he hit the lever to open the cockpit.  "Damn
Heero, just can't wait to see me die.  Some friend.  See if I
ever save his life again."  At least the Leos had turned their
focus to the Wing Gundam.  Realizing his mobile suit was no
longer a threat they were concentrating all their firepower on
Heero.  Which was just fine by Duo.  Quickly tucking a gun into
his belt at the small of his back, Duo tossed his braid behind
his shoulder and stepped to the open hatch.

Duo looked down and hesitated for just a moment.  The angle of
his Gundam brought him near enough to the ground that the jump
probably wouldn't kill him but the landing would still hurt.
Clutching the detonator in his right hand Duo took a deep breath
... and suddenly found himself being lifted into the air.  Large
metal fingers wrapped around his body pinning his arms to his
sides.  He gasped as they tightened forcing the air from his
lungs and sending pain shooting through his arms and shoulders.
He cursed through gritted teeth and just barely managed to push
the button on the detonator.

The angle of the fallen Gundam directed the first explosion down
and away from the retreating Leo but the concussion from the
blast was still strong enough to upset the OZ mobile suit and
send it staggering.  Luckily for Duo the Leo's body blocked most
of the explosion and as it fell its hand opened instead of
closing tighter.  He was thrown several feet as the Leo crashed
to the ground but managed to curl his body and roll with the
impact. Duo coughed and moaned as he sat up.  There didn't seem
to be one part of his body that didn't hurt. As he staggered to
his feet he failed to notice his gun lying in the rubble beside

Acrid smoke burned his eyes and filled them with tears as he
looked around the battle field.  He blinked furiously and
cleared them just in time to see the end of his Gundam.  The
final explosion sent bits of shrapnel flying through the air to
land several yards away.  Duo winced as he felt something strike
his right cheek.  "Damn."  He calmly wiped away the small
trickle of blood with the back of his hand and began looking for
a way off the battle field.  His first problem was avoiding the
Leo that had been felled by the exploding Gundam.  It was almost
standing and no doubt the pilot would come after him again.  But
before either he or the Leo could move there was a blinding
flash of light and the enemy mobile suit disappeared.  Duo fell
to his knees and covered his face and head with his arms.  A hot
wind blasted over him and when it passed he looked up to see the
Wing Gundam looming above him.  He stared in shock as it kneeled
down and placed one giant hand in front of him.  Suddenly the
cockpit opened and Heero emerged.  He stared down at Duo with a
cold look of disdain but said nothing.

Duo frowned in annoyance. 'I should be grateful but I'd really
like to wipe that look off his face!'  He stepped into the hand
and grabbed hold  as it started to rise.  His head was level
with the hatch when he spotted movement past the Gundam's
shoulder.  A rocket was streaking down from the clouds of black
smoke!  "Heero!" was all he had time to shout as he pointed at
the incoming missile.  There wasn't time to respond.  The rocket
struck the Gundam on the back of the right shoulder and sent it
lurching forward.  Duo felt his world tilt sickeningly for the
second time and held tighter to the giant hand.  He watched
helplessly as Heero was thrown from the cockpit by the force of
the impact.  Another explosion quickly followed the first and
Duo lost sight of his partner as clouds of dust and smoke rolled
past him.

Duo wiped the grit from his eyes and quickly took in his
situation.  The Gundam was leaning forward but still upright.
With a little bit of climbing he could even reach the cockpit.
But where was Heero?  In the clearing haze Duo finally spotted
him lying on the ground near the Gundam's knee. He wasn't
moving.  A cold chill raced down Duo's spine and settled in his
gut.  He forgot his own aches and pains as he scrambled up to
the cockpit.  He quickly assessed the damage and began
maneuvering the giant mobile suit.  Keeping one eye on the view
screens for more attacks, he carefully manipulated the hand he
had just ridden in and used it to pick up Heero's limp body.  He
brought the hand up even with the cockpit, then climbed out to
drag the unconscious pilot in.  He only paused long enough to
make sure that Heero was in fact still breathing.  Duo quickly
strapped himself in and focused all his attention on surviving.
The remainder of the battle took on a nightmarish quality as
Leos emerged from the clouds of black smoke like vengeful

An insistent angry buzzing sound broke through the dark images
replaying themselves in Duo's mind and brought his full
attention back to the present. He looked over to the power gauge
on the console and realized his flying time was over.  If he was
lucky he would have just enough energy to make a controlled
landing.  If his luck had been used up...well, he could only die
once.  Of course knowing Heero's knack for survival he would
probably live to fight again.  Duo scanned the ground for a
likely place to land. The cracked and broken surface they had
been flying over was a parched and barren waste land.  There was
plenty of open space to land but the Gundam would be a sitting
duck in plain sight.  Duo looked to his right and spotted a
small set of hills rising from the stony plain. "Yes!" Duo
started making the necessary adjustments in their speed and
angle of descent.  "Hey, Heero.  Keep your fingers crossed back
there because the Maxwell Air Transport Service is about to

Hell was incredibly hot and dark.  He could understand the hot
part, after all, Hell was supposed to be filled with flames.
But if Hell was made of flames then shouldn't it be bright?  Why
would Hell be so dark?  And why did the air taste so stale and
make his lungs hurt?  Did the dead need to breath?  If he was
breathing, was he dead?  If he was dead why did he hurt so bad?
Duo groaned and forced his eyes open.  He was fairly certain he
had his eyes open but he still couldn't see anything.  Forcing
his muscles to respond he lifted his right hand and touched his
eyes.  Yes, his eyes were open, he just couldn't see.  He tried
to draw in a steadying breath but gagged and choked instead.
Sluggishly his mind made the necessary connections between the
past and present.  A damaged Gundam, low on energy, a forced
landing and a loss of power.  No power, no lights.  No power, no
air pumps.

Duo fumbled at the chair restraints and finally felt them give
way.  He knew the inside of his Gundam like the back of his hand
and he prayed that Heero's was not much different.  His fingers
slid along the control panel until he found an edge.  His hands
shook slightly as he followed the edge of the panel to a
recessed bar.  Relieved, he gripped the handle and gave it a
sharp jerk.  Two loud popping sounds rewarded his efforts.
Bracing his hands against the hatch, Duo summoned the last of
his energy and pushed with all his remaining strength.  Light
blinded him and a breath of fresh air filled his lungs.  He
leaned heavily against the door frame and for a moment just

Looking around he was pleased with what he saw.  They had made
it to the hills and the Wing Gundam kneeled in a small valley
between three of them.  While not exactly hidden it would make
them less of a target than if they had been sitting in the
middle of a flat plain.  Duo noticed that the sun was only half
way to its zenith.  "All that and it's not even lunch time."
Reaching into a back pocket Duo pulled out his black cap.  The
cap's brim shaded his eyes against the bright morning sun as he
looked down at the battered Gundam.  Massive burn marks, jagged
holes and exposed wiring gave testament to their narrow escape.
Duo rubbed the back of his neck as he studied the damage.
"Eyah, I don't think even Heero could put this thing back
together in one night, even if he had my Gundam to steal parts

Thinking of Heero suddenly reminded Duo that he had not bothered
to check on his wounded companion.  He turned a little too
quickly and the floor seemed to sway beneath his feet.  As he
staggered back into the shadowy cockpit he had to clutch the
back of the chair for support.  The drop to his knees to check
on Heero's condition was about as controlled as his earlier
landing.  The morning's battle had exacted its toll on his
muscles and his own energy supply was running low.

Placing the fingers of his left hand against Heero's throat
reassured Duo that he was still alive.  The surprising strength
and steadiness of the pulse was also a welcome relief.  Flipping
his braid  out of the way, Duo straightened Heero's limbs and
tried to make him more comfortable.  He pulled a handkerchief
out of his pocket and applied it to the wound on Heero's
forehead.  "Ah, I think that's just a small cut which just goes
to show how hard headed you are.  You'll probably be up making
my life Hell again by the end of the day."  Satisfied his
partner was going to live to fight another day, Duo forced
himself back to his feet then immediately dropped down into the
control chair to start planning his next move.

The map he had looked at earlier had shown a small base in this
area, hopefully within a few miles.  But maps changed and armies
moved so there was also a chance that Duo had just stranded them
out in the middle of nowhere.  But if there was a base they
would have scouts patrolling the area and one of them would
surely notice a very large mobile suit sitting in the open.  Duo
tried to think through all his possible options.  He finally
decided that the one thing he had to do was get Heero out of the
Gundam and find a place to hide him in the surrounding hills.
If help did arrive in time Duo could easily retrieve him.  If
the worst happened and more OZ troops appeared, then at least
Heero would still have a chance.  Duo knew that he would have to
stay with the Gundam, since he would have to be within sight of
it to trigger the self-destruct if the enemy did show up.

Duo leaned forward and found the compartment for the remote
detonator.  He made sure the safety lock was on then flicked the
switch on the control panel that activated the receiver.  A tiny
red light came on to signify its operation.  Of all the devices
in the Gundam, only this unit had an independent emergency power
supply.  Duo smiled grimly and pocketed the detonator.  No
matter what else failed...

He stepped around the chair and bent over his friend.  He froze
suddenly as a familiar sound penetrated the cabin.  He instantly
recognized the sound of an approaching jet engine.  Worse yet it
was too low and too loud to be just passing by.  Duo rushed to
the hatch and keeping to one side of the opening, peered out
into the valley.  Just as he feared it was a plane capable of
vertical landings.  He watched as it maneuvered into the small
valley and gently landed facing the kneeling Gundam.  Though
several hundred feet away and partially obscured by swirling
clouds of dust, Duo could still tell it was heavily armed and
that it bore the insignia of OZ.

"Shit!"  Duo's mind raced.  He knew that OZ wanted a Gundam to
study and a live pilot to question.  From the air it must have
been obvious that his mobile suit was too damaged to pose a
threat and that was why the OZ pilot had not fired on them. But
he would have contacted his nearest base and they would be
sending out more troops.  Now it was a race to see which side
would arrive first.  Assuming of course that Quatre's people
were even in the area.  In any event, it was clear to Duo that
neither he nor Heero would be going anywhere.  Duo ground his
teeth and reached for the detonator in his pocket.  It looked
like Heero might finally get his wish and worse yet take Duo
with him.  He was just about to remove the safety when he
noticed the canopy lifting on the jet.  The sunlight reflected
off the glass and metal and for a moment Duo was blinded.  The
canopy settled back and Duo saw the pilot stand up with his
hands raised in the air.  "What the hell?"

There was no mistaking the uniform or silver helmet of Zechs
Merquise.  Duo had seen plenty of reports and news stories on
the man.  A top officer of OZ, he had been the one to take on
Heero with a strange new Gundam.  That fight had ended
prematurely when Heero accepted orders to self-destruct.  Then
it was Zechs who let the Gundam pilot Trowa take the seriously
injured Heero and escape.  What was he doing here alone and more
importantly, why did it look like he was trying to surrender?
Duo was confused but that was nothing new in this war.  He
watched as Zechs stepped from the cockpit and jumped lightly to
the ground then began slowly pacing towards the Wing Gundam with
his hands still in the air.  Duo reached back for his gun and
for the first time realized that he had lost it.  He stepped
back into the cabin and made a quick but futile search for
Heero's weapon.  Giving up he went back to the hatch and looked

Zechs was standing halfway between the Gundam and his plane.
The sunlight glinted off his helmet and a slight breeze stirred
his long blond hair.  Duo couldn't help being impressed by
Zechs' boldness even as he wished for a loaded gun in his hand.

"Gundam pilot, I would like to speak with you as one warrior to
another."  Zechs' voice carried easily in the silence of the
small valley.  "I will offer you a trade, your life and my plane
in exchange for your Gundam and a few answers.  It is a fair
exchange and better than you will get from the soldiers on their
way here now."

Duo reached into his pocket and pulled out the detonator.
Making sure the safety was off he gripped it tightly in his left
hand and stepped into the open.  He noticed the slight movement
of Zechs' head and thought it might have been an expression of
surprise.  The helmet Zechs wore had a piece that covered his
eyes which made reading his face difficult.  But Zechs had seen
Heero emerge from a Wing Gundam in their first battle and had
probably expected him this time.  Duo smiled grimly and held up
the detonator where Zechs could see it.  He may not be Heero but
he could certainly blow the hell out of his Gundam and maybe
take this arrogant OZ bastard with him.

"So, another boy and just as eager to die?  What propaganda
could inspire such loyalty and sacrifice?  What kind of
organization uses children as weapons to be discarded when they
are broken?"  Zechs lowered his hands and calmly crossed his
arms in front of his chest.

Duo's hand tightened on the detonator.  Duo had always
considered himself to be an optimist, others called him just
plain stubborn.  Optimism or stubbornness, something kept him
from pressing the button.  He firmly believed that while he
still lived there was still hope.  So if Zechs wanted to bargain
then he would bargain.  Every minute he could stall would be one
more minute of life for both him and Heero.  And if he could
stall long enough then maybe help would arrive before the OZ

Tugging his cap down firmly Duo used the Gundam's left arm as a
ramp to the floor of the valley.  As he made the last jump to
the ground he staggered slightly but quickly drew himself
upright.  His muscles protested but Duo refused to show this OZ
officer any weakness.  Holding the detonator in plain sight he
moved towards the waiting Zechs.

"You want to deal, OZ?  Fine, I have a counter offer.  You turn
around and walk out of this valley right now and I don't blow us
both to Hell."  He kept his voice low and steady and tried to
look older than his fifteen years.  The sun felt hot on his
black clothes and sweat tickled its way down his neck but he
ignored the minor irritants and concentrated on keeping his hand
from shaking.

"So?  I see that you are not so eager to die."  Zechs continued
to stand with his arms crossed and his voice was both gentle and
firm.  "But I am afraid that I cannot accept your offer.  Do you
have another?  If not then perhaps you should just go ahead and
destroy the Gundam."  He tilted his head towards the giant
mobile suit.  "I think that we are close enough that the
explosion will kill us both.  If you like though, we can move a
little closer just to be sure."

"Damn it!  You accuse me of being eager to die and you make that
kind of suggestion?  I can't just give you this Gundam and I
sure as Hell won't willingly answer any questions for OZ!"  Duo
knew he was loosing this battle of words and caught his breath.
He was trying to think of something else to say when Zechs
suddenly reached up and removed his helmet.  Duo stared in
amazement at his enemy.  He had always thought of Zechs as an
old war veteran, none of the stories had mentioned his age or
much else about his background.  His records had indicated a
great deal of experience and Duo had equated that with years.
The man he faced now could only be a few years older than
himself.  While a head taller and about twice his weight, Zechs
looked to be no more than twenty.  His eyes which had been
hidden until now were a lighter shade of blue than Duo's and
they seemed to express a certain sadness and understanding.

"We both fight for goals that we believe in our hearts to be
right.  I think that if it ever proved necessary we would both
be willing to die for those goals.  But I don't believe that now
is the time or that this is the place for our lives to end."
Zechs bent over and rested his helmet on the ground then
straightened up to meet Duo's gaze once more.  "You and the
other Gundam pilot fought well in this morning's battle.  I flew
over the base and was amazed at the destruction.  Did you know
that you destroyed thirty Leos?  Of course the loss in equipment
is negligible but a few of those pilots were among our best.  I
regret the number of lives this war is costing both our sides."
Zechs fell silent and bowed his head.  He rested his chin in one
hand and seemed to be thinking.  Duo was at a loss for words and
could only stand and watch.  He was confused and a little shaken
by Zechs' honest discourse.  OZ soldiers were the enemy and one
did not stand around having a deep, philosophical conversation
with the enemy.  Suddenly Zechs looked up and a his lips seemed
to curve into a slight smile.

"Very well, I will make you another offer.  You say that you
cannot just give me the Gundam or willingly answer questions so
I will suggest this.  We will have a fight.  No weapons of any
kind.  Just the two of us.  If I win I get the Gundam and you.
If you win I will walk out of this valley and leave you my plane
which you can fly away in after you destroy your Gundam.  In
either case one of us wins without the other having to die."

Duo blinked in surprise.  He mentally repeated Zechs' words in
his mind and tried to find the trick.  Of course time was the
real issue.  Duo had started this conversation in an attempt to
give friendly troops a chance to arrive.  Now it seemed to him
that Zechs was making this counter offer for a similar reason.
Win or lose, if OZ troops showed up during the fight he might
not have a chance to destroy the Gundam or prevent himself from
being captured.  But still there was the possibility of rescue
and Duo clung to that hope as tightly as he gripped the detonator.

Licking his lips Duo slowly nodded his head in agreement.  "All
right, I accept your counter offer but I get to make up the
rules for this fight."

Zechs seemed to think about that a moment then nodded.  "Agreed.
What are the rules?"

Duo grinned and carefully switched on the safety lock before
pocketing the detonator.  "There's only one rule, no hair
pulling.  Anything else is O.K."

Zechs smiled and eyed the long, thick braid of brown hair that
hung across Duo's chest.  His own long hair blew softly across
his face as he nodded.  "I think that sounds fair."  He watched
as Duo took up a fighting stance, his feet spread apart and both
hands balled into fists.  Zechs admired his bravery and
determination.  The boy was still years from reaching his full
growth and was certainly aware of the one sidedness of the
fight, but still he acted like he had a chance of winning.  Of
course Zechs had also realized that the Gundam pilot was
stalling for time.  No doubt hoping that forces on his side
would arrive first.  It was possible that Zechs would be the one
taken prisoner.  But such risks were what made the war

Shifting one foot back, Zechs also appeared to be taking a
stance.  But a swift kick sent his helmet flying from the ground
straight at Duo's head!  Duo swore and ducked the silver missile
only to find himself tackled to the ground.  Reflexively his
hands grabbed the front of Zechs' uniform even as their bodies
collided.  As Duo felt his shoulders hit the ground he pushed up
with his legs and sent the heavier man flipping past him.  Both
pilots regained their feet at the same time.
"Bastard!"  Duo spat out as he glared at Zechs.  The young OZ
officer merely smiled at the insult.

"You did say anything but hair pulling."

"I thought we also agreed no weapons?"  Duo circled around to
his left in an attempt to get Zechs facing into the sun.

"I did not consider my helmet a weapon, merely a distraction."
Zechs knew what Duo was attempting and refused to be maneuvered.
 He moved with the boy and kept him from circling then waited
for the attack.  He had learned a great deal in that first brief
encounter and what he had discovered only raised his opinion of
the young Gundam pilot.  The boy had spent the entire morning
fighting Leos but still found the energy to put up a fight. And
he had not come out of the battle unscathed.  Zechs' blue eyes
had also taken in the bruises and cuts along Duo's arms and one
cheek.  The spots that he had at first thought were dirt on the
boy's white collar and rolled up shirt sleeves had the distinct
reddish tinge of dried blood.  While Zechs could not help but
admire the boy's determination he also realized that this fight
would be a very short one.  For some reason that made him feel a
little disappointed.

Duo was watching his opponent closely and was irritated when he
refused to turn.  But he also noticed when Zechs' eyes seemed to
shift away slightly.  Taking that as a cue he launched himself
with one fist aimed at Zechs' face.  The taller man raised his
arms in defense and was caught off guard when Duo stopped in
front of him without striking at his face and instead sent one
foot shooting out to kick Zechs' legs out from under him.  Zechs
felt his shoulders hit the ground and quickly rolled to avoid
Duo's second kick.  He backed away as Duo continued to attack
with kicks and wild punches.  Some he blocked, others he avoided
and a couple he allowed to connect.

As Duo gasped for air he finally realized what was happening.
Zechs was letting him use up all his remaining energy in
attacking while he simply defended.  Duo moved back and planted
his feet wide to hold himself steady.  He sucked air into his
lungs and silently damned himself as an idiot.  He had let his
anger override his logic again and now he was going to pay the

Zechs noticed the change in his adversary and mentally applauded
him.  'If he lives to be an adult he will make a truly
formidable opponent.  But this lesson he has learned too late
and now I will have to bring an end to this fight.'  Moving with
the speed and grace of a professional athlete, Zechs closed the
distance between them and began raining blows down on the boy's
head and upper body.  Still he could not find it in himself to
make his victory too overwhelming.  He allowed Duo to block some
of his punches and held back his strength on the ones that
connected.  He threw one punch that he was sure would be blocked
and was surprised when it connected with the boy's cheek.  The
young pilot spun around and landed on his hands and knees, his
head hanging almost to the ground.  His sides heaved as he
gasped for air and a couple of small drops of blood hit the dirt
below his face.

Zechs stepped forward and his shadow fell across Duo's back.
"You are very brave.  Now that I have won I would like very much
to know your name."

Duo drew in a couple of more lungs full of air then slowly
answered.  "Duo...Duo Maxwell.  I can run...and I can hide...
but I don't lie.  My name is Duo Maxwell and you haven't won
yet." Zechs realized his mistake the second he saw Duo's hand
sweep the dirt in his direction.  He stepped back and threw his
own hands up in front of his eyes then gasped as the air was
forced from his lungs by Duo's head connecting solidly with his
stomach.  Zechs stumbled back and just barely managed to stay on
his feet.  He clutched his stomach and frowned darkly at Duo who
was standing once more.  "I take it the dirt was considered a
distraction and not a weapon?"

Duo smiled and wiped the blood from his lip.  "Lets just say
that I'm a slow learner but I do learn."

Zechs straightened and took a more wary stance.  "Speaking of
learning, shouldn't you be in school today?"

"Oh, so now your a truant officer as well?"

The light banter gave both pilots a chance to catch their breath
and rethink their strategies.  Zechs still had no doubt he would
win but now he knew he would have to be more serious.  Duo was
still determined to draw the fight out as long as possible.  So
far Zechs had accommodated him but he had a feeling that was
about to change.

He was proven right when Zechs moved in once more and this time
his blows were more accurate and landed a lot harder.  Duo still
managed to honestly duck and block a few and even landed a
couple in return but he was simply out classed.  The fight came
to a sudden and abrupt end when Duo had both arms raised for a
block and Zechs' knee drove into his gut.  To Duo it felt for a
moment like the knee had actually connected with his spine.  A
loud roaring seemed to fill his ears while the sun exploded
behind his eyes sending him into darkness.  He was distantly
aware of hands gripping his shoulders and gently lowering him to
the ground.  He curled around the pain in his middle and his
last clear thought was that Heero was going to kill him for
losing the Gundam.

Zechs kneeled down beside his fallen opponent.  He watched as
the grimace of pain faded from Duo's face as he slipped into
unconsciousness.  Zechs was actually gentle as he removed the
boys belt and used it to tie his hands behind his back.  He
started to leave Duo lying where he had fallen but decided to
carry him into the shade of the Gundam.  He was surprised at how
light the boy really was.  To think that one so young could
fight so well in one of the huge Gundams.

Zechs cradled the boy in his arms and moved towards the Gundam.
He came to an abrupt halt when he detected movement above him.
He looked up at the open hatch and saw the boy he remembered
from the previous battle.  But this time his hand held a gun
instead of a detonator and the gun was pointed directly at

Moving very slowly and carefully Zechs allowed Duo's legs to
drop but held him upright against his chest.  The boys head
rested on Zechs' shoulder and he could feel his breath on his
throat. "I should tell you that your friend and I had a deal."
He met Heero's eyes and was shocked at the deadness he saw
there.  Where as Duo's dark blue eyes had held life and hope
Heero's seemed to reflect nothing.  Zechs remembered the old
saying of eyes being the window to the soul.  If that were true
then this boy did not have one.  Zechs was about to speak again
when Heero finally asked, "What deal?"

"We agreed to have a fight.  I won so I get the Gundam and him.
I did not know you were up there so you were not part of the

Heero stared down at Zechs and kept his gun leveled.  He seemed
to be thinking.  Finally he spoke again.  "The Gundam is mine so
he had no right to make it part of the deal."

"So?  Well in that case I guess I will just have to settle for
him as my prize.  Unless you claim ownership there as well?"
Zechs lowered Duo's body to the ground and waited to hear
Heero's response to his challenge.  He was fascinated by the boy
and felt a certain amount of respect and even awe.  This was the
boy that had actually sacrificed himself on the battlefield at
the command of his superior.  The fact that he was still alive
gave testimony to his endurance and fighting spirit.  He
desperately wanted another rematch with him in his own Gundam
and found himself actually hoping to lose this encounter.

"No, I don't own him."  The sound of Heero's voice caught Zechs'
attention once more.  He stared at Heero and waited for him to
speak again.  Now it was Zechs' turn to be confused.  Surely the
boy was not going to let him just fly away with his compatriot
as his prisoner.  Deciding to test this theory Zechs bent down
as if to retrieve his captive.  He froze as the shot echoed from
the hillsides and a small plume of dust erupted within inches of
Duo's head.

"He doesn't belong to me but did your agreement say he had to be
alive?"  Zechs stared down at the furrow dug into the ground by
Heero's bullet.  Was there any doubt that Heero would shoot his
own comrade to keep him from being taken alive?  Zechs looked up
and into Heero's eyes once more.  No, there could be no doubt.

"I see.  Well, in that case I don't see much point in taking
him.  I suppose this means I am also your prisoner as well?"
Zechs raised his hands and calmly waited for an answer.

For the first time Heero looked away and he seemed to be
watching something in the distance.

"That depends on how long you intend to stand there.  From up
here I can see trucks approaching and they aren't yours."  Heero
looked back down at Zechs and it seemed like one corner of his
mouth twitched upwards slightly.  "I have no use for prisoners."

"I see."  Zechs lowered his arms and did a good job of hiding
his surprise.  "Well, in that case I think I will take my leave
of you.  I look forward to our next encounter.  Please hurry and
repair your Gundam and try not to fall into any more traps."
Zechs bowed  slightly and turned to his plane.  A sudden whim
struck him and keeping his face turned towards Heero he reached
down and pulled the black cap from Duo's head.  "Its not part of
the deal but I would like it as a souvenir."  Smiling he quickly
adjusted the size and placed it on his own head.  Giving Heero a
jaunty salute he returned to his plane and lifted off just as
Quatre's troops crossed the horizon.  Once in the air Zechs
spotted his own troops further out.  He hesitated for just a
moment and then radioed them with a change of orders.  He
circled just long enough to watch them reverse direction then
flew ahead to their base.

Duo moaned and lifted a hand to his head.  Such a strange dream.
 First there was a raid that had turned into trap and then a
flight across a barren landscape and finally a fight with the OZ
officer Zechs.  Duo shifted in his bed and gave a small gasp as
pain ran up his body.  He quickly opened his eyes and blinked
his surroundings into focus.  Over his head was the canvas roof
of a tent and his bed was nothing more than a fold-away cot.
The flap of the tent was pulled partially back and through it
Duo could see Quatre's troops moving about with the Wing Gundam
stretched out on the back of a truck.  Sighing with relief Duo
relaxed back onto the cot.  So it hadn't been a dream. Obviously
Quatre's people had reached them before the OZ troops and had
either captured Zechs or scared him off.

Duo suddenly thought of Heero and quickly sat up.  He fell back
in the next instant as a wave of dizziness threatened to send
him back into unconsciousness.  As his sight cleared once more
he turned his head and noticed the occupied cot on the other
side of the tent.

"Ah, there you are Heero.  And still asleep too."  Duo closed
his eyes and relaxed.  "Well, you certainly missed all the fun.
But at least you didn't see me get beaten up by Zechs.  That and
loosing my Deathscythe in the same day would be just too much.
At least this way you can only ride me about my Gundam."  Duo
rested his head on one arm and was about to surrender himself to
some much needed sleep when a derisive snort caused his eyes to
fly open.

"Idiot.  Next time you make a deal leave my Gundam out of it."

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