Hehe! Now this is more like it!
by Anria Chiou Lalumin

Past Encounters
Part Six: The Tournament


Heero stared out across the milling sea of commoners and nobles seated in the stands, watching with eager, bloodthirsty eyes for the tournament to begin. He could barely repress a scowl at the nonsense that had dragged him away from his duties as part of BG to come to a tournament, of all things, where the only time it was likely that someone would die was if there was a personal grievance there. And with the monarchs of four kingdoms scowling down on the 'battleground', after having declared that they would severely reprimand anyone who tried to start a real fight, there was no possibility of that. Absolutely none.

And it meant that Princess Relena was attached to his arm again.

Heero sighed, ignoring the babbling blonde as she tried to interest him in what was going on. Looking dutifully where she pointed, Heero saw a knight in what had been a good set of armor be carried off the field unconscious. His lip curled. The two knights had gone one run with the lances, and he was unconscious already?

Silently enduring Relena's monologue, Heero tried to work out some way of getting rid of her. He could throw her from the stands onto the grass below. No, scratch that, it would mean her brother (who was sitting on the other side of Heero) would kill him. He could throw himself onto the grass below. No, scratch that, when he survived—and it was a when, not an if—he would probably be tied to his chair for the rest of the three-month tournament. He could make up an excuse and leave for 'a short period of time'—otherwise known as the rest of the year. No, scratch that, his parents would go ballistic and every home he had lived in was theirs.

So what other options were there?

Even if he got a mission from J, he couldn't get away from the damned tournament as his parents didn't know he was a member of BG. They would disown him if they did.

Gloomily Heero considered the possibility that there was no way out of this. Then it hit him.

The tournament!

It had been one of the Kings' suggestions—probably Treize's—to have all the contestants in the tournament vie against each other without knowing who the other was. That would mean that no court politics would interfere with the tournament. So if Heero entered the tournament, he would get out of having to endure Relena's company and would not even have the annoying Princess cheering him on!

The more Heero thought about it, the more he liked it. If he entered the tournament, on the days he was not jousting he would not have to sit with the little blonde bitch, since to prevent people from finding out who they were fighting by a process of elimination, if you weren't fighting on a particular day you were to absent yourself from the surrounding area.

Heero couldn't repress the small smile that found its way across his features as he turned to Relena and said, "Well, Princess, since you seem to enjoy the jousts so much I think I will take part."

"What? But—Prince Yuy!" Relena gasped, eyes wide. "You could be hurt—maybe killed!"

Strange, Heero thought, that I have become so accustomed to thinking of myself as Heero that my real name sounds like a fake one. But I've only thought of myself as Heero since...

Heero shook himself out of it before his silence became even more conspicuous, and said (cringing inside), "But you seemed so impressed with the knights who are jousting that I thought you would like to see your fiancé do the same."

"Well—when you put it that way—" Relena was such a pushover.

Heero stood, bowed to the princess and her brother, then made his way to his parents to inform them of his decision. They were delighted with the idea, so Heero picked his way through the benches and went down to the field to sign up.

"Come back tomorrow morning, your Highness," the herald told him. "Please be fully suited when you do, and ride a horse that is not your favorite."

Heero nodded and walked off. If he rode a horse that was not his court favorite, it would mean he rode Zero, so that was all to the good. Perhaps he could work off some frustration...

As he strode back to his apartments in the Royal wing of the palace, Heero's mind slipped back to when he had begun to think of himself as Heero, when the sound of his real name caused him to start with surprise. It was when Duo had come into his life, he knew. They only knew each other as Duo and Heero, neither one knowing the true name or rank of the other, yet when Duo called him Heero, it had seemed to fit him more than ever before, more than his true name did. Duo was the one who had given him this identity, that even now, two years after their last meeting, still lasted.

I miss him, Heero realized. Three years and I still miss him.

Then he wondered why he wasn't surprised.

+

Duo scowled at the small black marks that equated one knight who had volunteered for the joust. There weren't nearly enough of them for him to blow off some steam, steam which had been accumulating more and more as there just weren't enough missions nowadays, with the four kingdoms advocating peace, for him to let out his frustration in.

Then his scowl became even deeper as he realized he was skirting the issue. Face it, Maxwell, he told himself, his mental voice sounding almost scornful when it used his real name, you want another mission against BG so you might have the chance to meet up with Heero again. Even though if you do meet up, you'll have to try and kill each other, you still want to meet him any way you can.

Is that a crime? Duo snarled back at it. Yeah, I want to see Heero again. Is anyone really fucking surprised?

Duo added another black mark to the list. He would be competing tomorrow.

He stalked off, still angry and still confused as to why he was angry, and headed away from the field. Head down, still deep in his mental argument with the small voice in his head, he didn't see the small figure come out of a door and walked straight into him, knocking them both to the floor.

"Shit! Hey, I'm sorry! You okay?" Duo asked, picking himself up and grabbing the other boy's arm through the brownish-gray material that covered it.

"I am fine," the boy said, standing up as well. He looked at Duo through bright blue eyes, the sun shining on his blond hair. He was wearing the burnous that only people who came in on the caravans from Arabia wore, but this guy was no Arabian.

"Excuse me, but are you an Arabian?" Duo heard himself asking.

"Yes, I am. Oh, I'm sorry, I haven't introduced myself. My name is Raberba Winner," the blond boy said. "And you are. . . ?"

"Oh . . . Duke Maxwell of Irage," Duo said automatically, extending a hand. Jeez, a blond Arabian. Now I've seen everything. "Pleased to meet you. Sorry, man, I've gotta be going..."

"Please, go ahead," the blond boy said, bowing. It looked odd with the voluminous folds of the burnous covering his slight form.

"Thanks," Duo said, and strode off, putting the encounter from his mind.

+

Quatre watched the braided nobleman stride off, a small frown between his golden brows. There was something off about that meeting, something he couldn't quite put his finger on. His natural ability to sense other people's moods and sometimes thoughts had sense a very great confusion inside that man, one of identity more than anything else. Just as when he had said his name was Raberba Winner, the name 'Duke Maxwell of Irage' rang false. As thought it was a cover name.

But a noble's rank couldn't be faked.

Shaking his head slightly, Quatre moved down the hallway, heading towards his companion's room. He poked his head around the door in time to see Trowa stow away the last of his things. Not that Trowa had many things.

"Hello," he said, opening the door further and coming into the room.

Trowa turned and what could be called a smile flickered across his face. "Hello," he agreed.

"Remind me again why we're here."

"To see why J and G have not responded to S, H, or O," Trowa said. "And to get them to stop fighting their own personal little war and remind them what BG and BR were originally made for."

Quatre shut the door and moved closer, snuggling up in Trowa's arms. "Anything else?"

"No. Except..."

"Hmm?" Quatre looked up from where he was unbuttoning Trowa's shirt.

A sigh. "Quatre, the people here are mindless bigots. If we're found at any time in any place, we will be executed."

"I know that," Quatre almost purred, nuzzling his lover's neck.

Trowa's arms tightened reflexively, but even knowing how stubborn Quatre could be when he wanted something, he still tried to reason with the boy. "Quatre, please, this is serious..."

"So am I..."

Trowa gave up. "At least let me lock the door."

+

The next morning Duo sat on his horse in line, in full armor including full-face visor, and listened to the herald's instructions.

"You will be given a number," the herald was saying. "This number will remain the only name you answer to throughout the jousts. To begin with, even numbers will joust with even numbers and odd with odd. On this board every morning will be posted who is jousting with who at what time. At the end of this tournament, which will last for one week, everyone will have jousted against everyone else and we will have a place list of who has won and who has not.

"In the jousts," he continued, "you take three runs. The person who knocks the other out of the saddle in those three runs is the winner. If both come out of the saddle, the judges will award the match to whoever left the saddle last. If neither come out in the three runs, the match will progress to swords, and the outcome of the sword match determines who wins and who doesn't in that particular match.

"The overall winner of the tournament, the person with more wins than anyone else, will be asked to participate in the next one."

The herald then pointed to people and gave them a number. Duo found himself as number two. He looked at the board and saw he was third in line, to joust with number sixteen.

Number sixteen, whoever he really was, was a pushover. On the first run Duo unhorsed him, despite the man being almost twice his size and the target (his shield) seemingly minuscule beside the man's bulk. The man had to be carried off the field on a stretcher.

Trotting his black horse Death back to the board, Duo saw he had nothing more to do until tomorrow, and so excused himself from the field and went back to his apartments to change out of the heavy plate armor.

Even as he negotiated his way around the leather straps and metal plates covering him from head to toe, Duo's thoughts were distracted. He would have thought that Heero would be at the tournament. If he was honest with himself, the probability of Heero's presence had been the only reason he had come. Yet he hadn't seen him anywhere, and he'd been looking hard at the stands, scouring them for the familiar unruly mop of chestnut hair and intense Prussian blue eyes.

But no scowling boy had materialized.

Duo realized he was scowling himself. It had been his frustration over the continued absence of Heero that had driven him to sign himself up for the tournament. Maybe knocking a few people out of their saddles would let out some of the tension he had been building up.

One thing that Duo had not considered doing was looking at the Royal Booths to look for Heero. That explained how he had missed him.

Once in the more comfortable black breeches and shirt, Duo stalked out of his rooms looking for food. There had to be some in this place somewhere with a few hundred nobles crawling over the palace. It had been generous of the Peacecrafts to volunteer their kingdom as a venue for this tournament, but they had to be crazy. The cost of this thing had to be enormous, nearly enough to bankrupt them. Duo grinned sourly. They should make the troublesome nobles pay for it, just so they don't have enough money to pay for armaments or the like.

Then he blinked. Hey, that'd be me!

Duo suddenly noticed the decidedly sour turn to his grin, and wondered what was wrong with him. So Heero wasn't there. So what? It had been two years since their last meeting, and three years since they had spent just over half a week together. Heero was probably avoiding him now, since his embarrassing admission two years ago.

But then... He still didn't know what 'aishiteiru' meant. Could it be... Nah.

Duo found himself wandering out to the paddocks where the horses were running around the fields. He noticed two new arrivals; a small, light desert mare, bred for speed and endurance, and a reasonably large gelding that just looked mean.

"Oh, hello again," a light voice said beside him, and Duo turned his head to see the blond Arabian approaching. What was his name again? Raberba Winner, that was it. Odd name.

"Hello," Duo said, returning his gaze to the paddock. Death, and his new horse who he had named Hell, chased each other around their paddock, seemingly wanting to hone their teeth on each other's hide. That wouldn't do.

Frowning, Duo climbed up onto the fence and over, ignoring the two new horses in the paddock he crossed.

"Duke Maxwell! Behind you!"

Duo threw himself to the right before he knew what he was doing, rolling as the gelding galloped straight through where he had been standing. Following the Arabian's shouted warnings, he dodged as the two horses each tried to brain him in their own separate ways, and used his speed and agility to make his way over to his two horses.

"Uh—my Lord Duke—are you sure you want to do that—" the Arabian's voice followed him as Duo jumped over the second fence into the paddock with his horses.

"I think those are his horses," a new voice, calm and male, said, its soft tone nonetheless carrying to Duo.

"Death! Hell! Stop it now!" Duo snapped, lunging to grab handfuls of each horse's mane. He yanked them around to face him.

You take pieces out of the hide of people who are trying to hurt me, do you understand, not each other." He flung the heads away from him. "No oats for you until you learn."

The horses hung their heads, Death scuffing one hoof through the dirt. They looked properly abashed at a chastening from their usually easy-going master. Duo rolled his eyes, sighed and hugged each horse around the neck.

"It's okay, just don't do it again," he said.

Satisfied both horses—remarkably intelligent for ones of their kind—had got his message, Duo decided that instead of going back through the field with the homicidal strange horses in it, he would take the fence route instead. This involved him walking along the edge of the fence, ready to jump off either side if one of the animals charged at him.

It suddenly struck him that he, Duo Maxwell, BR's most feared warrior, was avoiding two horses as though he was afraid of them. A maniacal grin coming to his face, he jumped off the fence and bolted straight for the two horses.

They stood their ground. Once he got close enough, the desert mare reared, hooves striking for his face, and Duo ducked, swerved, and vaulted onto her back.

The mare went crazy.

Bucking and rearing, she tried every trick in the book to get him off her back. Duo grinned, then laughed aloud, enjoying himself for the first time in—well, a long time.

"He's crazy..." came drifting to his ears, and he laughed harder.

Finally, the mare came to a halt, shivering, legs splayed, realizing he wasn't going to come off. Duo leaned forward to whisper in the horse's ear.

"No human has ever beaten me. You think you, a horse, are going to?" Duo grinned. "I will not be defeated by any human, let alone you."

The mare stood there, still shivering, sweat covering her flanks as Duo dismounted. He grinned again and patted her on the nose, then fished a sugar cube out of one of his pockets and fed it to her. "Good girl. You'll make your owner proud."

"She does," the Arabian said, bemused, from where he sat on the fence.

Duo grinned over at him, then turned to the gelding, who was staring at him in astonishment. His fists settled on his hips, legs apart. "You wanna try too?"

The gelding shook its head. Duo laughed and fed him a sugar cube, too.

"I have never known anyone to get the better of either my or Barton's horses," Raberba's voice, still bemused, came over to Duo.

"I just have a way with horses."


[cont]