Author's Notes:  I started this fic for a 1x2 GW fic contest, but I missed the deadline.  This is a very long fic, with a number of 'mini' crossovers geared to
advance the 1x2 pairing.  The namesake 'game' is modeled after the Greed Island story in the HunterxHunter manga, and a mix of the FF role playing game
layouts.  There will be some very minor pairings, but you shouldn't need to know any of the other anime in order to follow the story.  It's told almost entirely
from Duo and Heero's perspective (not first person, just focused on them).  The story starts as a timeline-what-timeline and grows into something more
alternate universe.
Credit and thanks go to my first and only beta reader, Kat, who had the patience to put up with my very irregular updates.
Category:  Anime, Gundam Wing, Yaoi, Timeline-What-Timeline
Pairings:  will be 1x2
Warnings:  light shonen ai
Author:  Arigatomina

The Game

Part 1:  “A chance meeting”

The screening for contestants was held at a remote satellite off colony NU-695, one of the lesser used facilities destined to be cannibalized once the Alliance
decided what they wanted to do with the area.  Whoever currently held rights to the satellite had covered his tracks quite well, with enough secondary
corporations listed to keep any snoop busy for years.  Like the rest of the newcomers, Duo didn’t have years to spend looking for the person behind the
project.  He was satisfied knowing that the United Earth Sphere Alliance gave their dismissive approval.  If they weren’t the least bit curious, he doubted the
project was anything too dangerous – or potentially rewarding.  One thing he’d give the new alliance, they were as ambitious as their old figurehead had
been.  Relena wasn’t one to let opportunities pass her by, no more than she’d allow potentially threatening technology to be studied by an unidentified group.

Rumors of that technology had caught Duo’s attention a few weeks back.  He’d been prowling the cybernetic airwaves between colonies and had picked up a
transmission discussing 'The Game.'  The cryptic language might have sparked his interest, if the capitalization hadn’t done so already.  In the
correspondence following that first transmission, the project was continually referred to only as The Game.  Nowhere did he find anything to tell him what sort
of ‘game’ they were talking about, or why it had no proper name.  He’d tapped into a communiqué between the project leader – someone located on this very
satellite – and a mixed group of Preventor rejects and retired soldiers.  Whatever rumors surrounded the game, they seemed to have been kept within military
circles.  That made it interesting to a retired Gundam pilot with too much free time on his hands.  Duo had signed up for the first screening.

Despite how dirty the project appeared, with all the cloak and dagger secrecy, Duo hadn’t bothered to use an alias.  He had a suspicion it was either funded
by some low key military intelligence group – which would explain how uninterested the Alliance had appeared to be in it – or it was the brainchild of an
entrepreneur with more money than he knew what to do with.  Whichever were the case, the backers had welcomed a former Gundam pilot into the fold much
quicker than they would have if he’d forged some military record for himself.  

It was his age that had struck the interviewer, a forty-something man with charcoal circles under his eyes and a perpetually bored expression glued to his
face.  He’d taken one look at Duo and signed the form for his participation, muttering that it was about time and that games were designed for young people,
not overeager soldiers.  Duo had simply flashed a winsome smile and held his tongue.  The last thing he wanted was to ask the wrong question and be barred
from even competing.

The competition was the so-called ‘screening’ they were taking part in now, a series of tests and simulations designed to identify those best qualified for the
project.  Again, the cryptic language fueled Duo’s curiosity.  He’d listened to the talk among the men on the shuttle, all of whom had been a good ten years his
senior, and most of whom had chosen not to even look at him aside from raising an eyebrow when he first boarded.   They’d filled the passenger section with a
mix of boasts and speculations.  The main consensus was that The Game was really a training program, and that they were the test pilots to help the
designers work out the kinks before sending it off to the military.  Duo dismissed that notion as soon as he heard it.  No one would test a military program on
an open group of volunteers whose absences would be noticed if anything were to happen to them.  

His guess was far more mundane, but, in his opinion, more likely.  The Game really was a game, some advanced computer game, probably a virtual reality
program designed to appeal to young adults.  If so, then there was the possibility of some later version of the game being sold to military groups for training
soldiers.  But the main income would be from average citizens eager for a virtual adventure.  Duo had noticed that the gaming community – formerly an
underground group of teens – had become widespread enough that games were getting much more advanced.  He’d even seen a recent game that simulated
a mobile suit so well he might have believed it were real…if he hadn’t spent years piloting one.  As far as economics were concerned, there was money to be
had in the gaming industry.  A lot of money.  Enough money to fund a hushed project like this.

The shuttle docked in a dingy hangar that looked its age, with dark shadows marring the walls where someone had already done a bit of cannibalizing.  Four
men in boring black and brown suits met them and escorted the group out of the hangar.  Duo trailed behind the older men, who seemed quite excited and
nervous now that they were on the ‘ground’.  He let a little amused smirk come to his lips, enjoying how the former officers attempted to look restrained and
official.  He could just imagine them playing a game, shoulders stiff, eyes wide and alert, mechanically shooting virtual targets and obeying every order handed
down to them.  

They were led down a sterile gray hall lined with dull yellow light panels along the ceiling, chipped dark material that might once have been a rubber walkway
spotting the floor.  As Hilde was fond of saying, the satellite was a sty, an abandoned, gutted, sty.  Duo had seen toys with better seals than some of the doors
they passed.  He could only hope the satellite didn’t suffer from a breach during his stay – those seals couldn’t keep out water, let alone keep in oxygen.

Voices sounded down the hall as they moved deeper into the satellite, and the surroundings changed accordingly.  The lights overhead grew whiter, with only
a few sickly flickers of moldy yellow to show their age.  Duo noticed that the air was fresher as well – points for something in the place, at least they had
running filters installed.  

He eased closer to the group, vaguely annoyed that he hadn’t yet hit a growth spurt that would let him see over the men’s shoulders to the room ahead.  From
the murmurs he knew it was either a meeting hall filled with other potential candidates, or a cafeteria filled with the same people.  As many transmissions as he’
d listened in on, he knew there were more than fifty people determined to go through the screening trials.  He’d hoped to get there ahead of the rest, but last
minute delays had landed him on the final shuttle.  Now he’d get only a day to judge the competition before the tests began.

Duo wasn’t particularly worried about competing against former soldiers, and he didn’t think he would be terribly disappointed if he didn’t pass the trials.  He
was there mainly for the distraction, and to settle his curiosity about the game.  But, as it always was for him, competition was competition.  If he were pitted
against the men he’d flown in with, he’d take no small pleasure in wiping their noses in his virtual dust.  He wasn’t about to be shown up by old men, some of
whom he’d probably fought in real battle as a Gundam pilot.  The participants weren’t just rejected Preventors.  There were former OZ soldiers as well as a few
names he’d recognized from the White Fang faction.  It was unnerving to think he’d be ‘playing’ with people who'd once tried to kill him.  It was also a little
amusing that none of them had any idea who he was.

One of the four guides began speaking to his group, the words making it over the murmurs coming from the room beyond.  Duo gave up lagging behind and
slipped along the wall.  He ducked behind a surprisingly robust man with a quirky mustache, and popped up in the front.  His sudden appearance surprised the
heavyset man, who gave a girly jump that nearly had Duo choking back laughter.  The dark-haired guide, another racoon-eyed man who looked like he hadn’t
slept in years, paused for a brief frown at Duo.  Then he took a breath, rocked his shoulders back, and began speaking again.

“As you may have noticed,” said the man, “this satellite was not designed to house so many people.  We’ve turned the cafeteria into an all purpose room for
the duration of your stay.  There are bathing and restroom facilities in the left corridor, with an informal laundry system in place.  Due to the cramped
conditions, we require daily bathing.  Any complaints will be met with immediate dismissal back to NU-695.  Meals are available by the hour in the south side of
the hall.  There will be a noise ordinance in place once the testing begins.  Any confrontation outside the simulations will be met with dismissal. I know it’s
cramped, it’ll get hot in the simulation rooms, and you will be cold in the hall.  There is nothing we can do for this.  As you are all from strict backgrounds, you
should be able to handle the arrangements.”

The men answered those warnings with sharp nods, a few sticking their chins up, one or two actually twitching at the fingertips as they fought the need to
salute.  Duo choked back a snort of laughter and turned his face toward the wall to hide his amused expression.  They were soldiers, all right.

“You’re now dismissed,” the man droned.  “The trials will begin in ten hours.  I suggest you sleep at least 8 hours before and after each day of trials.  If there
are any questions, they’ll have to wait until we separate you into groups at the beginning of the first trial.  Most of your questions won’t be answered, so I
recommend you save your breath and concentrate on the tests.”

With that, the man stalked toward the group, the former soldiers parting to make way for him and the other three suits.  Duo watched their guides head back
the way they’d come.  Then he turned his attention on the room that was giving all those murmurs.  He immediately groaned aloud, not caring that the uptight
soldiers sniffed at him for doing so.

The main ‘hall’ really had been turned into an all purpose room.  Straight ahead of them, the ‘south’ side, was lined with food items, all prepackaged and easily
heated in the little machines stacked on the shelved tables.  That ‘dining area’ accounted for one wall of the room.  The others were covered with cots small
enough to give even a former pilot claustrophobic fears.  A few men appeared to have made their beds on the floor, their blankets spread out so they spotted
the room like stoic picnic-goers.  And, just as Duo had suspected, there were at least forty men in there, easily adding up to more than fifty once his group
joined the masses.

“Oh, joy,” Duo breathed, still ignoring the affronted men standing behind him.

He shoved away from the wall and stalked into the room, his eyes flicking from one stranger to the next.  His gait was a little showy, just cocky enough to show
he wasn’t intimidated, but not confrontational enough to get him tossed out before the trials even started.  It was a bit of psychological warfare he’d thought up
while ‘ignoring’ the men he’d come in with.  Let the former soldiers think he was some cocky kid, and they’d be all the more humiliated when he got down to
business.  He thought it was a workable game plan.

Those picnic-style beds were separated enough that he easily picked his steps through them and directly toward the dining area.  Ten hours with nothing to
do?  He’d find himself something bordering on edible and settle down on a cot to nibble and listen to the gossip.  He really didn’t like the idea of sleeping in a
room full of former enemies.  And it wasn’t as if he hadn’t gone for days without sleep in the past.  Lack of sleep hadn’t kept him and his friends from winning a
war, so he seriously doubted it would hurt his performance in some virtual tests.

The food was every bit as abysmal as he’d suspected.  His gaze shifted sadly over the processed bars that were a soldier’s idea of junk food, wrapped
sandwiches waiting to be heated into a mushy paste, pasta and meat mixes that appeared to have already been eaten…twice, and covered salads that were
curling brown at the tips despite the cool air wafting over them.  Duo hadn’t thought to ask how long the trials would last.  Now he wondered if they were really
expected to survive on what would have sickened vending machine addicts back on Earth.

“This sucks,” Duo muttered.

“You still talk to yourself…”

The tone was laced with faint surprise, a hint of hesitance.  But the voice was achingly familiar.  Duo’s eyes widened slowly, a smile twitching the corner of his
lips as he forced himself not to whip around and grin.  

“Yeah,” Duo drawled, “but only when you’re around.  I don’t really have to talk aloud to talk to myself, you know.”

“What did you do to your hair?” asked Heero, his tone muting till it was as casual as Duo’s had been.

Duo turned at that, raising an eyebrow as if it hadn’t been a year since he’d last seen the boy.  “What makes you think I did anything to it?  It’s still long
enough to get me in trouble.”

“It hasn’t grown an inch,” Heero frowned.  “That’s not normal.”

“Like you would know anything about normal.”

A restrained smirk spread over Duo’s face, hiding his need to grin like crazy and maybe dance circles around his stoic comrade.  Heero hadn’t changed any
more than he had.  The boy was still his height, slender but compact in that impossibly ‘Heero’ way of his.  If there were anything different, it would be that the
boy’s dark brown bangs were a little thicker.  And he’d lost those golden brown highlights he’d gained during his extended stay on Earth, only a vaguely
shimmering chestnut shadow remaining.  He still looked healthy and severely focused, with that piercing blue stare he almost never lost.  There was only a
slight softening to the expression, a hint of confusion and surprise dancing around the corners of his eyes.

“What brings you here?” asked Duo.  “Haven’t seen you in what…a year?   And you just happen to show up here.  If I didn’t know you don’t believe in
coincidences, I’d pass it off as some chance meeting.  You haven’t been stalking me, have you, Heero?  You don’t look surprised to see me…”

Duo turned his head a little so he could give his friend a sidelong, suspicious look.  Heero snorted, his brows lowering in a resigned frown.

“I’m probably here for the same reason you are,” said Heero.  “To see this game.”

Heero turned and shot a sharp look over the men milling closest to them.  Once he was sure they weren’t being spied on, he stepped closer to Duo and
lowered his voice.  “Did you tell them who you are when you applied to take part in this?”

Duo could almost hear the recriminations he’d get as he nodded.  Sure enough, Heero scowled and looked away.  He was probably biting his tongue and
reminding himself that this wasn’t a mission, and that they had no real reason to go undercover, and that lecturing Duo had never gotten him anywhere in the
past and would only be a waste of time now.  A minute passed before Heero sighed and glanced back to him.

“So did I,” Heero admitted.

The unexpected response had Duo’s shoulders slumping in exasperation.  He had to remind himself that a year had passed without any war to engage his
fellow pilot.  It was unreasonable of him to expect Heero to be the same suspicious soldier he’d been before.  Then again, old habits died hard.  Heero’s eyes
were once again flicking over the room, alert and watchful as if he expected an attack.

After a moment of staring at one of the men, a young dark-haired one who smiled when he caught his gaze, Heero scowled and glanced toward the far wall.  
His expression was visibly uncomfortable as he folded his arms over his chest.

“Sit with me?” Heero asked suddenly, not looking at Duo.  “We can share what we’ve learned so far.”

And maybe catch up on old times?  Duo gave a slow smile that was lost since Heero had his eyes averted.  If nothing else came from his participation in these
trials, at least he’d have a chance to talk to his old partner.

“Why, Heero,” Duo whispered, his tone affronted, eyes very wide.  “Are you inviting me to share your cot?”

Heero’s shoulders twitched upward, and Duo was sure the boy’s expression had just shifted into a scowl.  He grinned and stepped around so he could catch
the boy’s eye.  “I hear it gets cold in here…it’s probably wise that we share body heat.”

If anything, Heero appeared to have grown more stoic over the last year.  His face twitched in annoyance for a long moment before he managed to raise a
calm, slightly challenging expression.  His dark blue eyes glinted on Duo, sharp and a tad amused.

“Following that logic,” said Heero, “we’d do well to invite some of the others into a group pile for the combined heat.”

“Oh, sure,” Duo nodded amiably, “combined heat, and some old guy snoring in my ear.  I’d rather freeze.”

Heero led the way to the far wall, and Duo trailing him with a wide smirk.  It was surprising how easily he’d gotten back in the habit of teasing his sometime
partner.  What had taken him months to figure out – how hard he could poke before Heero would snap, when Heero’s sharp comments were actually attempts
at humor, how to slip past the stoic defense and establish trust, and when it was best to back down so that Heero didn’t reinforce his defenses – all of it
seemed natural now.  Of the friends Duo had made over the years, Heero had to be the most complicated.  But the firmly established lines, boundaries, and
rules, all made it more comforting to know that they could function as partners.  Their differences meant it was never boring with Heero around.

There was a man sleeping three cots down from the two Heero stopped at.  Duo sent the stranger a quick glance and wrinkled his nose.  That one looked
even older than the ones he’d flown in with.  He was a wiry, partially balding creature who could have looked perfectly at home in front of a podium back on
Earth, talking politics and scowling at the masses.  Duo couldn’t imagine someone like that playing any sort of game.

“You know,” Duo said slowly, “I’m getting really biased against old people.  You’d never guess I’m close to being one myself.”

Heero sat down on the cot and glanced over at the man Duo was watching.  He frowned, his expression suspicious.  When the sleeping man didn’t move, he
turned back to look at Duo.

“You have to hit twenty before you can say you’re close,” said Heero.  “And he isn’t nearly as old as one of the men I rode in with.  They’ve recruited men of all
ages for this.  There doesn’t seem to be any limit on age or physique.  With virtual tests, the physical strength won’t matter.”

Duo stretched his arms up in a blatant display of getting the kinks out.  Then he flashed Heero a smug smile and perched beside him on the cot, instead of
sitting across from him.

“I take it you don’t think this is a game,” said Duo.  “The way I see it, even if these guys have good reflexes they aren’t the sort to play games.  The man who
interviewed me let it slip that ‘games are for young people’ – so why are we the only ones here under twenty?”

“If it’s a strategy game, age and experience make the difference.  You also have to take into account the core of recruits.  They interviewed only people with
military backgrounds, ourselves included.  Even White Fang didn’t accept soldiers under seventeen, and most of the young ones they did accept died during
the rebellion.  That leaves a majority of middle-aged soldiers to choose from.  I suspect that’s one of the reasons they were interested in having us here.”

“Fresh blood,” Duo smirked.  “And here I thought it was my superb piloting skills.”

“That, too,” said Heero.  He didn’t seem to notice the way Duo’s face lit up with a slightly smug smile.  “Once they knew who we were, they could check our
skills through videos of the battles.  They broadcasted the end of the last rebellion live, so they would have detailed proof of your skills in a mobile suit.”

Duo nodded at that, his smug smile settling into a pleased one.  It was always good for his ego to hear Heero praise his piloting skills, not because Duo
needed praise, but because Heero was so stingy with compliments.  They’d established early on that between them Heero was a much better soldier and Duo
had far more creativity in unpredictable piloting.  He’d never get tired of hearing how easily Heero handed him that compliment – it was a fact they’d agreed on,
sure, but it was still a big compliment.

“And you’ve had the unwavering support of the Queen of the World, Vice Foreign Minister to the Colonies, and current Head of the United Earth Sphere
Alliance,” said Duo.  “They wouldn’t need to see proof of your skills.  All they’d have to know is that you’re the infamous ‘Heero’ Relena’s been talking about for
years.”

Heero sighed and sent a slightly resentful look at Duo, who beamed back at him.  “Most people assume she was speaking of the former Heero Yuy when she
uses the name.  Recently, he is the person she’s talking about.  If you’ve been keeping an eye on her broadcasts, you should know that.”

There was something in the way Heero frowned at him that caught Duo’s curiosity.  Sure, he’d been teasing the boy – Relena had long been a great way to
needle Heero, from her continual meddling in the first war and Heero’s perpetual determination to get rid of her, to her excellent work as a peacekeeper
afterward and Heero’s begrudging assistance in that mission.  Over the years they’d known each other, Duo had gone from insinuating the two were in love –
four o’s in that croon – to tormenting Heero about the unsavory men Relena was associated with in her role as a politician.  He’d come to expect a scowl,
maybe a growled death threat, or even a bristling embarrassed glower.  He couldn’t remember seeing Heero look…hurt…by the teasing.

“Speaking of Relena,” Duo said slowly, “I haven’t heard from her in months.  She sent a few letters to Hilde, but she didn’t even contact me the last time she
stopped by L2.  How is she?”

Heero gave a noncommittal shrug and dropped his eyes.  “There hasn’t been as much resistance to the last few laws the Alliance passed.  I assume she’s
content with her role in the push for reformation.”

“You haven’t heard from her, either?” asked Duo.

“I haven’t stayed in one place very long.”

Not that being mobile and underground had ever kept Relena from tracking him down in the past.  Duo’s expression softened into a sober look.  He’d thought
it was just him.  Relena had kept in contact with them, all the Gundam pilots, for a few months after the last rebellion.  Then the letters had slowed and
eventually ceased. He’d taken it to mean she didn’t need anything from him.  They’d never been particularly close.  But for her not to even try to contact Heero
was unexpected.  Sure, she had her own life, and a very busy life considering her role in politics, but this was Heero.

“Ah, well,” said Duo, “she’s probably up to her ears in negotiations. Seems everyone’s busy these days, everyone but me.  I’m here out of sheer boredom,
honestly.  I even thought about joining up with the Preventors for a while there, but Wufei didn’t sound very encouraging when I mentioned it to him.  Not even
Quatre returns my calls, anymore.  So here I am, joining up with a bunch of middle-aged men just on the off chance that this ‘game’ of theirs ends up being
entertaining.”

Heero had turned to look at him, and Duo flashed the boy a wistful smile.  He pretended not to notice the flash of relief in his friend’s eyes.  Just as he’d
thought, Heero hadn’t heard from any of them since they went their separate ways after the rebellion.  While Duo was slightly resentful – he’d been in one
place, so Heero could have easily contacted him if he were lonely – he was also sympathetic.  It was horrible feeling abandoned by your friends.  And Heero
hadn’t even had Relena’s well-meaning stalking to keep him connected to the old days.

“How about you?” Duo pressed.  “What made you decide to join up?”

“The technology.”

Duo smirked and patted a fond hand on Heero’s head.  He pulled his hand away before Heero could do more than glower at him.

“I figured that much,” said Duo.  “But was it curiosity about the game, or do you actually know something about the technology?”

Heero shrugged and folded his arms over his chest, his gaze shifting off to glance over the other men.  “I don’t know anything about it.  That makes me
suspicious.”

“So you’re here out of boredom, too,” Duo grinned.  “You’re looking for enemies, conspiracies, and I’m looking for virtual adventure.  It’s great how boredom
can bring people together.”

Heero inclined his head, the closest he could come to agreeing with that sentiment.  He didn’t consider it boredom, but he knew his motivation had been partly
due to his wanderings.  He’d spent months looking for his past, anyone connected to Odin Lowe, anyone who might know who he’d been before he became a
child assassin.  It had seemed the logical thing to do after the fighting ended – find his origins, reconcile his past, and settle into a normal life like everyone
else.  The very idea made his brows jerk down in annoyance.

He’d tried.  Searching the information was simple enough – hacking into databases on colonial birth records, travel information recorded from flights he
remember having taken with Lowe, tourist records from colonies he knew he’d visited during their trips.  He’d been very thorough, so when he found nothing
for his efforts he’d been content that the information didn’t exist.  After that he’d considered his options, employment anywhere would have been easy enough,
with his skills in both computers and machinery, and an option to work for any enforcement agency providing he admit to being a former pilot.  Nothing had
appealed to him.  And contacting the others for advice was not an option.  Aside from the Preventors, he hadn’t heard from any of them.  The last thing he’d
wanted was to intrude on one of his friends, disrupt one of those normal lives.  

He’d kept wandering, listening to rumors, learning new tricks from programming agencies that were experimenting with super computers.  And that was when
he’d heard about The Game, something all of the high tech agencies knew about without actually knowing anything.  The very idea – that they’d know it
existed without discovering its origin or purpose – had sparked in his mind as a potential threat, and a challenge to learn what no one seemed to know.  Duo
was right in a way…he hadn’t been looking for an enemy, but he had been looking for a challenge.

“I didn’t expect to see you here,” said Heero.

That soft tint was still on Heero’s face.  Duo flashed a warm smile and put an arm over the boy’s shoulders, squeezing playfully.

“Don’t worry, you hid your surprise well,” Duo smiled.  “And I promise, if we end up competing in these tests, I won’t beat you by too much.  I know how fragile
your ego is.”

A moment passed in silence, then Heero snorted and shrugged off the arm.  His eyes glinted with amusement.  “Duo, you’ve never beaten me at anything
except piloting, and you likely never will.  If you want to promise something, promise you won’t throw a fit when you lose.”

“Hah, hah,” Duo scoffed.  “It took you long enough to think up that retort.  I think you’re getting a little slow.  Take a nap.  I’ll take first watch and tip you off on
the spryest guys out there.  I bet you’ve been staring at them since you came in.  You never were big on blinking.”

Heero raised an eyebrow, his gaze shifting from Duo’s mocking smirk, down to the cot they were sitting on.  “Am I supposed to believe you’ll actually stay
awake?  You sleep like the dead.”

“Nonsense,” said Duo.  “If I doze off, I’ll fall on you.  Then you can knock me to the floor.  That’ll wake me right up.  Worked every time in that boarding school.”

A quick memory of dragging the braided boy out of a dorm bed ten minutes before class flashed through Heero’s mind.  He couldn’t help the smirk that curved
his lips.  Duo really was a deep sleeper, but he was also right – falling out of bed seemed to be the most sure-fired way to wake him up.  

Heero gave a shake of his head and conceded.  He’d been waiting in the satellite for close to forty hours.  That wasn’t a long stretch for him, but given the
unknown tasks waiting for them in nine hours, a little sleep couldn’t hurt.  He just hoped he didn’t break a bone or two if Duo really did fall on him.  Unlike his
cheerful counterpart, Heero was a very light sleeper.

.-.

PART 2

.-.

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