Disclaimer: I don't own any part of GW nor it's characters, nor do I profit from it other than having hours of dreaming up stories to share.

Warnings: angst

To Change the Future - Part 2
Duo's Friendship Arc 19
by Dyna Dee

The Deathscythe pilot checked the systems of his gundam...again, something he'd done several times already as he piloted Deathscythe while bearing down on the target's coordinates. Yet on this final check, he did it automatically, without really registering the results as his mind wandered constantly back to his meeting with Wufei the elder. Taking a glance down at the system's panel, he mentally registered his sensors showing him the positions other four gundams flying in close proximity to him as they traveled in a tight formation through the dark of space to their target, a captured Earth resource satellite that was transformed into a military station storing and commanding mobile dolls.

"Duo?" Quatre's concerned face popped up on the Com board. "Are you sure you're alright?" he asked, his cerulean eyes probing Duo's face on his own visual screen.

Duo sighed. Quatre was definitely the worrier of the group. Yet in looking at his young-looking, blond friend, he felt a wave of relief course through him and a sense of happiness at the knowledge he now possessed that the kind hearted Arabian would survive not only this battle, but the war. "Don't worry about it Quatre," he told the other boy, trying not to let the empathic teen look into his eyes by avoiding the small camera in front of him.

"They didn't mean it," Quatre said in reference to the tongue lashing Duo got from the other three pilots for being extremely late for their strategy meeting held shortly before their departure for the impending battle. Quatre first became concerned for his friend during the lecture Duo received from the others. He watched as the braided pilot stood quietly before them, slightly apologetic, eyes to the floor and perfectly still while he took the verbal reprimand, without a smart retort. The Arabian also noticed the brightness in his friend's eyes as he chanced a looked at Heero, and that Duo's eyes shifted fleeting glances in Wufei's direction. The others had stopped their tag-team berating abruptly seeing and sensing something was different in Duo's response to them.

Though the four were curious, they let the matter pass and the meeting resumed with Quatre telling each pilot their battle positions and the form of attack they would carry out when they reached the satellite. They all turned to stare with disbelief once again at Duo when he voiced his reaction to the plan.

"No!" he said in a definite tone with regards to his assigned position in the upcoming battle. "I'm flanking Heero," he stated simply but firmly, indicating his mind had been made up.

Heero actually looked startled. "I don't need you flanking me Duo." His voice was curt, but not unkind. "We need you in the position you're assigned to."

Duo shook his head, rejecting Heero's statement. "I'm flanking you and you can't change my mind." His statement seemed to temporarily stun the other pilots.

Quatre spoke up quickly before the others could explode in anger against Duo's refusal to follow the outlined mission plan. "What is it Duo? Is something wrong?" he asked, feeling his friend's shifting emotions.

Damn his empathy, Duo thought. He ached to tell the others what had happened that morning but he knew without a doubt that they would think he was deranged and would make him stay behind, probably believing he had some sort of space sickness. No, he couldn't chance it; he had to stay next to Heero in order to protect him. It was easier to stay silent and let them try and guess what was wrong than to explain. He would tell them later, if there was a later.

"Just a feeling, a premonition," he replied with a weak smile.

Now several hours later and almost to the target, Quatre again studied Duo's face and body language along and his emotions as viewed through their Com unit, searching for the well-hidden truth behind the American's face. He could see nothing unusual other than a bit of nervousness, but he definitely felt Duo's anxious evasiveness. "Be safe," he told his American friend, vowing to keep an eye on him during the battle.

"You too." Duo have him a warm smile. "Well talk later, okay?"

Quatre nodded and smiled at the invitation, then the screen went blank.

Before they arrived at their destination, Wufei and Trowa also came on line to communicate their concern to him regarding his welfare. He casually shrugged off their worries with a smile and reassurances. As the battle drew near, it was obvious to the American that Heero was going to remain stubbornly silent; his friend had been openly unhappy with his obstinacy regarding his position in the upcoming battle.

Upon arriving at their destination, the five were met with waves of mobile dolls used as a defensive shield to protect the opposition's base of operations. Heero's gundam sped to the front, leading the attack and confronting the enemy in his usual head-on approach to battle. Duo kicked in his thrusters to follow as closely as possible without being a hindrance or distraction to his partner. After knocking off the first few enemy suits, Heero's face suddenly popped up on Deathscythe's Com screen. The serious Japanese boy's eyes silently studied Duo's face, his dark eyes speaking of his concern for his comrade.

Duo gave him a small, reassuring smile, then his eyes shifted to his blinking board. "Heads up Heero," he warned as several mobile dolls approached Wing Zero. Heero's face turned from the camera and his visage blinked off the screen, leaving both boys to concentrate on the battle at hand.

As was their habit, Duo left his Com audio link open to the others so they could all hear each other as they fought, ready to help if needed or called.

"I hate mobile dolls," Wufei growled as his voice carried across the void of space and came through to the other four in their own gundams. "There is no honor in fighting a soulless enemy." They all grunted in agreement.

"Oh no you don't." Duo shouted at a new group of dolls headed towards Heero's location.

"To your left, Duo." Heero warned in his steely battle voice as shots from beam rifles came from his left.

Deathscythe responded to his slightest touch and dove sharply, his shield deflecting some of the blasts that he couldn't entirely elude. In a matter of minutes he counted twenty enemy suits that had fallen under his scythe. The teen's sharp eyes constantly searched the space around Heero and himself, looking for the sphere his visitor from the future had described. Slicing through the middle of another dozen metal suits, he began to have doubts if what he had experienced that morning was real or not. Though he now wore two identical crosses to prove that it had happened, he hoped it was anything but real.

"What's that?" Trowa asked over the shared link.

In order to orientate their positions while fighting in space, their target, currently the resource satellite turned battle station, was the focal point and considered down in their battle positions; Heavyarms was currently fighting in a position above Wing Zero and Deathscythe. Duo quickly scanned Trowa's position on his sensor screen, and from there looked for whatever Trowa had seen that prompted the question. There, he saw it; a small and fast moving object was coming from the opposite direction of the resource satellite. Clicking on the visual screen of that area while dodging an energy beam from a rather persistent doll, he had only a moment to glance at the approaching object. He instantly recognized it as the object ancient Wufei had described. Quickly noting Heero's coordinates as well as the probes and, as he sliced the doll in front of him in half, he worked out the trajectory of the orb and calculated it was definitely heading for Wing Zero.

"Heero!" he shouted, and hitting his thrusters, he moved to intercept his friend.

It all seemed to happen so fast and yet at the same time in slow motion. Wing Zero finished off three suits and turned towards the direction of the silver sphere as it approached. Duo watched as the buster rifle slowly rose up, even as he spurred his suit forward at a reckless, desperate speed to stop what was about to happen.

"Let me make it." Duo prayed out loud, his voice desperately pleading.

"Duo, move back!" Heero warned as he had the object nearly in his targeting range.

The orb, which had appeared as a smooth metal ball with only an exhaust system visible behind it, suddenly began to split open from the middle. The growing crack revealed a red glowing energy inside, the building particle beam ancient Wufei had predicted would end Heero's life. The red intensified, leading Duo to suspect it was preparing to fire.

"Duo!" Heero shouted again in a sharp warning as he found himself unable to shoot down the threatening orb with Deathscythe too close a proximity to the Buster Rifle's firing range.

Suddenly, the red particle beam streamed out from the object and struck Wing Zero when Heero failed to fire on it. The Japanese pilot's initial gasp of surprise was followed by a scream of agony that was heard by his comrades as the beam enveloped the white gundam.

"No!" Duo yelled in dismay, then thrust his own precious gundam into the path of the particle beam even as it had began to change color and withdraw from Wing Zero.

"To Heero!" Duo shouted to the others as Deathscythe's cockpit filled with a red-gold, hazy static charge of energy. His own agonized, pain-filled scream began even as Heero's ended.

Moments later, a cold, icy static filled the black gundam as the system's warning lights grew bright, then faded, blinking out completely for a several moments as all the systems shut down. Then slowly, the lights on the system's operations panel began to pulse, weakly at first, dimly blinking on and off in an increasing steady and growing pattern as energy crackled both inside and out of the gundamium suit. Several tendrils of red-gold energy danced out of the interior walls of the cockpit and touched the unconscious teenager hanging limp from the restraints in the pilot's chair. The boy's body twitched slightly at the shocking touch and the pilot gasped. Silence and pulsing lights surrounded the boy trapped within the gundam even as a battle raged outside in the space surrounding him. He was unaware of the mobile dolls that raced to attack him as he remained unconscious, his gundam appearing inoperative and defenseless. He didn't see Trowa and Quatre fly to Heero's side, nor Wufei racing to defend him, attempting to intercept a blast from an enemy's mobile suit which hit the unmoving black gundam in the upper chest, sending it to flipping helplessly head over heels through the dark of space.

With his body slumped over, strapped into his pilot's chair, his head having fallen forward was resting at a slight angle, chin on his chest, only Duo's eyelids displayed any movement as his eyes beneath them shifted as he received flashing images of Zechs and Treize Kushrenada in his vision-filled mind. They were his true enemies, a voice whispered to him. He clearly saw Peacemillion crashing into a large battle station, and soon that structure was careening in pieces towards the earth. He saw himself and his friends in various situations, desperately fighting, and then the last memorable vision of himself in Deathscythe, lost inside a great ship, trapped as a wall of fire surrounded and crashed down on him, burning him inside his melting gundam. He screamed mentally, feeling the agony from a death that seemed destined for him. Another jolt of power that had snaked out from the control panel sent a shock through him causing a sharp, piercing pain in his chest, and it was at that moment that he had an overlapping vision, one in which he and Deathscythe melded together to become one, mutating into a new entity, the ultimate war machine.

He first became aware of being cold, as he was so often in space. That feeling was immediately followed strongly by the predominate ache throughout his body and chest. He was dimly aware that there were others around him talking in urgent tones and that someone was touching him.

"His heart rate has stabilized." He recognized Trowa's voice and felt a hand on his horribly aching chest and one on the pulse on his neck. He was only dimly aware of the activity surrounding him as his jacket and clothes were removed and someone tended to what must have been superficial wounds on various parts of his body. As if from a great distance, he could hear his friends as they talked encouragingly to him. Sometimes he understood words and phrases and other times he couldn't discern the voice, much less the words, just vague murmurings. His eyes remained closed, his lips silent as he drifted in and out of consciousness, unable to respond verbally or physically to their questions or requests.

When at last he woke, or at least he was pretty sure he was awake, he forced himself to open his eyes, then blinked. It was completely dark. He lay on his side with his body aching, yet had a predominant feeling of being warm and safe. He let his eyes drift closed again, and the memory of the last battle came back full force. "Heero!" he said in alarm and tried to rise but was stopped by the pain that shot through his body. He clutched his sore chest and ribs by wrapping both arms around his torso, then was suddenly aware of not being alone, that someone was in the bed with him.

"On. Low light." A deep, groggy voice spoke from behind him, and suddenly, the lights from the ceiling came on and the room was dimly lit.

"Duo?" Heero's voice called out to him in concern.

The so-called God of Death's response to the voice was immediate. He choked back a sob of relief. He had succeeded, his mission completed; Heero was alive.

Heero gently pulled Duo from resting on his side to lie on his back so he could study his friend's face. Watery blue-violet eyes met his friend's concerned scrutiny. Neither boy uttered a word, both seemed almost incapable of that communication at the moment, but their eyes relayed the emotions they shared of relief and gratitude that neither one of them had died. After a few silent moments, Heero lowered himself down and commanded, "Off." And the lights complied leaving them in darkness again. The Japanese teen gently pulled his friend to rest in his arms, into their familiar comforting embrace of Duo's back to his chest. "Sleep," he ordered the other gently. "We'll debrief in the morning."

The "debriefing" ended up being held in Duo's room as the Deathscythe pilot's body was too sore to move more than a few inches without causing him considerable pain. The other four pilots sat on his bed in spaces where Duo's body wasn't. He sat up, somewhat attentive with his back propped up by several pillows behind him. The other pilots watched him, concerned for his welfare.

"I'm fine, guys." He assured them with a weak smile. "Just really sore." He had some electrical burns on his arms, neck and chest, which hurt like hell, as well as bruises on his shoulders from his harness, and also on his aching chest. Heero told him earlier that morning that his heartbeat had been erratic when they removed his unconscious body from Deathscythe. In fact, it had stopped twice on their way to the medical bay and they had to perform CPR in order to get it back and into a consistent rhythm. No wonder his chest hurt so much, he thought to himself.

Heero began their little meeting by speaking directly to Duo. "That was the bravest and most stupid thing I've ever seen you do, Duo. Would you care to explain what happed out there?"

The other three nodded in agreement, though a look of apprehension was apparent on their faces.

"Okay," Duo began. "Can you guys keep an open mind and not interrupt me until I'm done?" he asked, and was visibly relieved when the other pilots all nodded or muttered their agreement. With that assurance, and after taking a deep breath, the boy from L-2 related what and happened the morning of the battle, of his encounter with the elderly Chinese man claiming to be none other than Wufei. He repeated ancient Wufei's words of his past, the catastrophe at the end of the war that causes the people of Earth to suffer for decades and the people responsible for making a time machine with one purpose in mind; to come back to this time and save Heero in hopes of changing the outcome of the war. The four other pilots looked at the braided boy with expressions of shock and astonishment at his tale and of the description of the old Chinese man's request to keep Heero alive.

Duo proved to be a master storyteller. He wove the story for them, even though he was silently amused at the flabbergasted look on his friends' faces. In unison they displayed their skepticism along with their interest as the four hung on his every word. He waited until the moment was right to prove his story was true. "Look." Pulled out the two chains around his neck that disappeared down the front of his tee-shirt. The four teens all leaned forward to get a good look at the matching crosses. "He put this in my hand when he said goodbye." With emotion filled eyes he looked at the Chinese boy. "You had saved this to bring to me to prove I wasn't hallucinating. They're the same, the exact same cross," he said in a tone of awe.

Disbelief and wonder crossed the other pilots' faces as they looked at Wufei, trying to imagine the white-haired old man that had traveled across a life time to change the past. Finally Duo told them of the mission he had for him, and the reason for it. Then repeating the old man's words as he described the sphere and it's purpose. The other three pilots reached out and touched Heero in relief and reassurance as Duo described Heero's death in the other time line and how he had been instructed to stop it from happening.

"And that's why I was late for the briefing," the long haired teen said, and sighed deeply with near exhaustion from the effort it took to finish telling the story. "And why I changed my part of the battle plan. I needed to defend Heero, to keep him from being killed" he said with a yawn.

The four pilots sat with the look of astonishment on their faces. Wufei was the first to speak as he offered his right hand to Duo. "Mission accomplished." He nodded his head in approval at his friend's actions and shook Duo's hand with a firm clasp as soon the other boy's hand was placed in his.

Duo, for his part, smiled crookedly at the Shenlong pilot. "Thanks for trusting me Wu."

He then abruptly found Quatre pressed against his chest as he was warmly hugged.

"Good job Duo." Trowa said quietly and, as soon as Quatre sat back, he also shook hands with the braided teen.

The three moved back slightly to let Heero approach with his congratulations. But to their surprise the Wing pilot sat unmoving at the bottom of the bed, his dark blue eyes regarding his friend. "For better or for worse, you changed the future Duo." Heero said in a somber tone. "The rest of my life, however long it may be, is a gift from you." He then added in a sincere voice. "I thank you."

Duo nodded his acceptance of Heero's words. He didn't need or want his friend's thanks, he was just happy that he was still alive.

"So we live through the war." Wufei said in a pose of thoughtfulness while Quatre and Trowa exchanged a smile that they would live not only past the war, but to an advanced age.

"What happened to you in the other future, Duo?" Heero asked and brought everyone's attention back to the braided teen.

With an insouciant but painful shrug, Duo replied offhandedly. "I didn't make it. I died in a battle near the end of the war."

There was a moment of heavy silence in the room as the other four took in the unwanted and heartrending information.

"But now that you've changed the time line, that can change too, right?" Quatre asked anxiously, his face looking pained at the thought of losing his friend.

"Man, I sure hope so." Duo answered with a forced snicker, trying his best to add a little levity to the conversation. "Wufei, the elder," he clarified. "Said that we were all affected by Heero's death, and in my.." He hesitated, feeling self-conscious suddenly at admitting his path of self destruction in the other time line. "Grief," he continued. "I acted hastily and caused my own demise by being careless. "He looked up with a trace of hope in his eyes. "I guess if we can keep Heero alive, I can avoid that scenario."

The other four pilots exchanged a knowing look with each other, silently agreeing not to let those events happen that would take their friend from them.

Feeling the lingering concern in the room, Duo's face grew bright with a large smile, attempting to appear much more energetic than he truly felt. "Hey, let's celebrate," he suggested. "This is like a new birthday for Heero. How about some ice cream?"

The somber mood was suddenly lifted. Quatre and Trowa left the room to obtain whatever treat they could find in the cafeteria. Wufei moved away from the bed and Heero left his place at the foot of Duo's bed to move closer to his friend. Dark blue eyes bore into the violet hued ones that watched him questioningly.

"What?" Duo asked, feeling nervous under the steady stare.

"Not to sound ungrateful, but if you ever do that again, put yourself in the line of fire to protect me, I'll cut off your braid off and strangle you with it." Heero threatened, his demeanor and voice spoke of his seriousness.

Regardless, Duo smiled. "Unless white-haired Wufei comes for another visit, I'll try." That was as close to a promise as Heero was going to get from him.

The Wing pilot scowled at the weak reply, and Duo put his hands up as if in surrender. "Alright, alright. I'll try really, really hard." He smiled as he sunk back into the soft pillows.

"If ancient Wufei should come," Heero unconsciously pulled the covers up to keep his friend warm while he spoke. "Let me know. I'd like to see him as an old man." He had a smirk on his face as he turned to look at the slightly amused looking Chinese boy who leaned against the opposite wall with his arms folded across his chest, a half smile on his face.

Duo, having followed Heero's gaze, also smiled at Wufei. But as the moments passed, his smile faded as he returned his gaze to his best friend. "I'd rather you meet white haired and old Wufei the old fashion way, Heero. By living and letting him see you as an old man also."

The shaggy haired teen turned to look down at his tired-looking friend, his faint smile disappearing as he soberly replied. "Alright, Duo. But only if you promise to let that ridiculously long hair grow grey with the same aging process. I'd like to see all of us as old men, having enjoyed peace and a long life."

"I'm sure I'll contribute to a few of those grey hairs you're going to get." Duo chuckled, his statement including both boys.

Wufei snorted as he joined them. "I'm sure you will, Duo. That stunt you pulled yesterday might have given me a couple already."

With a smile on his face, the braided pilot closed his eyes for a moment, feeling a deep weariness steal over him. "How are the gundams?" he asked, yawning through the sentence.

"The Zero system is gone," Heero reported. "But it can and will be replaced. It's as if it was sucked out by the probe's beam .

"Deathscythe?" Duo asked tiredly with his eyes closed.

"It's in tact." Wufei spoke up. "I didn't see much exterior damage when we took you out of the cockpit. The system's lights were on, so I shut it down and told Howard's men to wait for you to look at it before they tried tweaking it."

"Thanks," Duo said, appreciating the effort his friend had gone to on his behalf. Then a new thought came to mind. "Do you think we should warn Zechs, or let him lose Epyon?" he asked, opening his eyes again. "It would certainly be to our advantage to have him out of commission," he added.

Heero chewed on his cheek at the idea, then addressed both boys "I don't like it," he began thoughtfully. "If we didn't create the sphere, and obviously neither did the Colonies or White Fang or Oz, is it possible that a fourth party is interfering. Do you know who developed and sent the sphere, Duo?"

The braided boy paused to think. After a moment, he shook his head. "Wufei did say something about a Barton Faction, but he didn't specify anything in particular about it."

"Could be Treize," Wufei suggested as an alternative. "He has knowledge of the Zero system, having designed Epyon."

"That's the most logical explanation, but wouldn't Zechs know about it if that were the case?" Heero asked.

"It's strange to think there's a fourth faction quietly waiting in the Wings," Duo said, his voice sounding more tired by the moment as weariness began to steal over him. He silently wished the ice cream would hurry and show up.

Wufei sighed. "We don't have the intelligence resources to determine who and what they are with the scientists on the run. If this Barton Faction designed the sphere, then the war get's thrown into an even more fractioned and unbalanced state, four groups fighting for what purpose and against whom?"

"Then it should be our mission to destroy the sphere when it appears again. Since it seems thus far to be their only line of offense, we eliminate it to keep this Barton Faction neutral in the war." Heero said resolutely. "Zechs is our enemy, but to this point he has been an honorable enemy, fighting us face to face in combat."

Wufei nodded. "He shouldn't be destroyed by a soulless machine, but in honorable combat with one of us. Then his death will have meaning."

Duo yawned deeply again. Feeling like Wufei was about to launch into a speech about honor in dying during a battle, he let his eyes drift close once again. The talk of justice and honorable death wasn't stimulating enough to keep the weariness he felt from washing over him. The two boy's voices faded as he pulled his covers up closer to his neck. He didn't hear the opening of the door just before the other two pilots stepped in, but was alerted by Quatre's familiar voice stating in a chipper tone, "We're back!"

Duo's eyes were instantly open and he carefully rose to a sitting position, wincing at the pain in his chest but, nevertheless, with a hungry look in his eyes. Heero and Wufei laughed at him as Quatre walked over to hand the boy in the bed one of the two large bowls of ice cream that he carried; Trowa carried a bottle of chocolate sauce as well as a tray with three bowls of the frozen treat for the rest of them.

"This was all we could scrounge up." Quatre said apologetically.

"Hey, this is great!" Duo said just before he put a large, over-flowing spoon of the cold dessert into his mouth. He then stopped and, catching the others' eyes, raised his bowl in the manner of a salute. "To Heero. May you have a long, happy life."

The Wing Zero pilot raised his bowl in response. "To friends and friendship," he replied, to which they all murmured their approval and dug into their treat.

on to part 3

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