Title: A Standard of Trust
Author: Lady Arral
Disclaimer: I wish I did own ‘em…This’d make a damn good manga! ^_^;
Ummm…did I forget anything this time?
This is my longest fic to date. Man, it took long enough! This takes place about three-quarters through the war, before EW.
A Standard of Trust
Milliardo Peacecraft, as Zechs Marquise, once said, “Space…It’s so quiet…” And so it is. In the void of space there are no echoes of sound, no rush of wind, no advance warning of approaching objects like the whistle of a bullet before it whizzes past you. There aren’t even witnesses out there…The nearest stars are too old, too far away to pay attention to the efforts of enemies and allies so tiny they could all fit on its stony surface. There is something frightening about that…all the gallant war cries and blood and tears shed by these warriors of evil and good matter nothing to the ancient vacuum that spans farther than the imagination.
Duo sighed in the cockpit of his gundam and shook his head roughly. Wisps of his bangs swept slowly across the air before him as though he were in water rather than space. When he caught himself staring glassy-eyed at the tendrils instead of concentrating on the fighting he reprimanded himself sharply. “Damn it, Maxwell,” he muttered as he shifted the gundam to the left just before another missile hit his scythe arm, “Get a grip. You can’t afford to fuck up now.”
He turned his head as the console beeped a warning of a mobile doll at close range. Hardly thinking, he swept his Scythe back and caught it perfectly in the center. Smiling grimly at the satisfying explosion, he took a deep breath and gripped the stick. “No matter that I can’t remember the last time I slept.”
Over the intercom he heard the commands of the Oz captain and his smile turned into a wry grin. “Destroy that gundam! Send out as many mobile dolls as it takes! Don’t stop until we have him or he dies!”
“Finally came up with an original idea,” Duo snickered and tried to ignore a tiny flutter of fear at the corner of his mind. After all, he had been fighting for nearly three days with hardly a break to answer the call of nature, much less eat or sleep. Every time he had tried to break and flee more would show and drive him back into battle. He’d given up on his guns long ago but still had more than enough energy in his scythe to last. “I just hope I have enough to last,” He whispered and ducked another missile.
Time passed and Duo found himself desperate. Much too far away to get help from the other pilots and running on reserve energy, he knew he had to get out of there. As he looked at the figures on the monitors he found himself squinting, reading the same numbers over and over again. Even with the crash and boom of exploding mobile suits, missiles, and bullets, Duo began to doze off. A sharp jolt shook him awake and he swore loudly. “I can’t make mistakes, damn it! Where the hell are they coming from?”
He saw that there were only a handful of mobile dolls left and whooped in triumph. “IT’S ABOUT TIME!” Duo yelled as with his last spurt of strength he swept through them. He screamed hoarsely as he circled, seeing that there were really no more to fight and ignored the tears that floated from his eyes and coasted silently across the cockpit. “Finally…”
“Something’s wrong,” Heero said as he looked at the monitor. “Duo isn’t back yet and when I searched for his coordinates there were signatures of Oz ships out there.”
Wufei crossed the small living room to look over Heero’s shoulder. His brow furrowed and he thoughtfully chewed his bottom lip. “Then I suppose we must go after him.”
“Could it be a trap?” Quatre asked, his eyes wide with concern as he joined them.
“Could be, I don’t know,” Heero answered. “He has been caught before, though. Ordinarily I would feel that he could get himself out of this, but this time I have a bad feeling.”
“Me too,” Quatre said as he put a fist against his heart. “He needs us, I’m sure of it.”
Trowa glanced at each one of them, then stood and walked silently toward the door. The others exchanged looks and followed, each one grim and ready for battle.
Some part of him knew he had to get out of there, but his body had taken enough orders and before he knew it he was deep in much needed sleep. He didn’t see the next wave of mobile dolls approaching swiftly. He didn’t hear the warning siren until it was too late.
Hit after hit rocked Deathscythe and Duo tried unsuccessfully to get out of the way. He looked up and gasped as a cannon barrel from an Oz ship aimed directly at him. How had they gotten so close? Had he been asleep that long? He knew Deathscythe was riddled with bullet holes and that there was too much damage to keep track of, but if he was about to be destroyed he hoped the cannon would leave nothing intact.
The cannon began to glow a deep red at first, but whitened as it heated. Duo seemed paralyzed as he watched it prepare to fire, then heard a voice speak calmly into the cockpit. “This is Oz. Surrender your gundam at once or you will be destroyed. You have ten seconds to answer.”
The braided pilot gritted his teeth. He swung the scythe and grinned maniacally. “Kiss my sweet pink ass, you bunch of walking corpses,” he lilted.
The cockpit filled with the bright light of the cannon beam and time seemed frozen. He turned the suit toward the approaching blast, closed his eyes, and waited for the end. “Goodbye, old buddy,” he said as he lovingly stroked the console. “At least we went down fighting.”
“Hurry, guys, something is very wrong up there,” Quatre said urgently into his com unit as they all sped toward the fray.
“Thrusters at full. Maintaining full speed. All weapons online,” Trowa stated softly, as much to calm his friend as to break the tense silence.
“We’ll get there, Quatre,” Heero said, then pointed. “There, see the glow?”
“Shit! An Oz cannon! We won’t make it!” the blond cried.
The beam was blinding. Duo clutched the cross at his throat, silently wishing his friends well, pissed that he was going to die but almost too tired to care. As the cannon fired he couldn’t help but laugh at the comment he heard from the other ship: “What a waste.”
The cannon fired and the explosion was incredible. But even as it hit him he didn’t feel the gundam shift away from the beam just as it hit. He felt nothing at all as the cockpit jarred him mercilessly into unconsciousness and the force of the blast broke bones. He wasn’t aware that Deathscythe had moved just enough and in just enough time to avoid being vaporized.
The gundam’s processors checked the body of the little human inside it and perceived it was alive, though badly wounded. What was left of its power would go to protecting the pilot until it was told otherwise. It sensed the approach of even more suits and rotated slowly, unaware of the creaking protest of twisted joints and melted metal. In its current state it saw the suits as enemies; all suits that had approached it thus far had caused harm and therefore had to be destroyed.
“NO!!!” They heard themselves scream as the cannon fired, illuminating the valiant black gundam for a moment before engulfing it entirely.
Every pilot shot forward with all their strength, rage and grief consuming them as they attacked the Oz ship. Oz never had a chance; they had no time to release the dolls before Heavyarms and Shenlong tore through the cargo bay, destroying everything within range. Great balls of light were seen from without as they crippled the ship.
As Trowa and Wufei made short work of the ship Heero and Quatre engaged the remaining dolls. It didn’t take long at all. It was Heero who had the nerve to turn his gundam toward the floating wreckage first. “Quatre, it’s still intact,” he breathed, in awe.
Quatre finally faced the wreckage and swallowed hard. “Duo?” he called into his headset. “Are you there? Copy.”
Silence met them. The blond pilot looked worriedly at Heero, who continued to stare ahead. Neither listened to the final defiant roar of the Oz ship as it disappeared in a great wave of fire and napalm.
“Anything?” Trowa asked as they rejoined their friends.
“No, no answer yet,” Quatre answered tightly.
“Look, Deathscythe faces us,” Wufei said, and all pilots jerked their heads toward the damaged gundam.
At first they all looked like a still life painting, each hopeful and expectant but wary. Then they watched as Deathscythe raised its cannon arm and aimed at them.
“What the –“ Heero started, but never got to finish as Deathscythe fired. “Shit!” They scattered, but as Heero ducked out of the way he felt the cannon fire graze Wing.
“Duo, it’s us!” Quatre shouted. “Please stop!”
Deathscythe fired again, this time aiming at Heavyarms. Trowa didn’t duck, however. He gunned his engine and flew directly at the damaged gundam, ignoring Quatre’s frantic cries. He grunted from the impact but held his course. As he neared he peered closely at the cockpit and frowned thoughtfully before swinging back
“Back off,” Trowa commanded as he approached the others.
Wufei nodded. “It is wisest,” he agreed before turning toward home.
Quatre and Heero hesitated. “But Trowa, he may be dying in there!”
“Yes, Quatre, but it seems he doesn’t want help right now. Would you rather risk it?”
More fire erupted around them as the black gundam advanced. Explosions racked Sandrock and Wing and Quatre knew he could be of no help if Duo killed them. “Damn,” He whispered shakily and retreated. Heero watched the gundam’s advance carefully, then gritted his teeth and followed suit.
The gundam stopped firing the moment its enemies fled. It watched until they disappeared, then turned its attention to its fuel reserves. It had used almost too much energy to fuel the cannon; the pilot’s heartbeat waned. Quickly it remedied the problem and as the pilot stabilized began to run through its options. It knew the human needed oxygen and the best place for it was Earth. It considered returning to the safe house from which it had come, but there were more mobile suits there, the same ones that had tried to destroy it. This was not an option. Therefore, it would choose its own place to land.
For any human it would have taken a few minutes to come to the same conclusion; for the gundam it was only a split second before it turned its thrusters toward Earth.
Quatre sat at the table, his cup of coffee cold and untouched, eyes wide and horrified. Brimming with tears, he stared at the guns lying on the table. “I don’t understand,” he kept saying over and over.
Trowa moved up behind him and set a hand on his friend’s shoulder, squeezing gently.
Heero sat heavily across from Quatre and rubbed his eyes. “I don’t either. But look at his suit. He had been nearly obliterated, and do we even know how long he had been fighting before we got there? After all that, something had to give.”
“You mean a breakdown of sorts?” Trowa asked as he sat also.
“Hn,” Heero nodded.
Wufei sat across from Quatre and folded his hands. “I have been fighting long, and many are the times I have seen a man suffer a change of heart. Even I have questioned myself in battle.” He started to say more, but closed his mouth and stared moodily at the wood grain.
“No,” Quatre whispered, glaring at Wufei with a hurt _expression. “How could you think it? This is Duo we’re talking about here…Duo, the goofy, gentle guy who kept our wits in one piece half the time…He wouldn’t change sides. He couldn’t.” He lowered his head on his arms.
“If he is still our friend, then, why did he fire on us?” Wufei asked gently.
Trowa glanced at Heero, who was frowning thoughtfully. He made a note to speak to Heero alone later. If he suspected what Trowa did as he neared the shattered cockpit, perhaps they could figure out what happened…
The battered gundam touched down in a secluded area seemingly far from civilization. It continued to monitor Duo’s condition, though it almost seemed a moot point now. Twice the human’s heartbeat had slowed to nearly nothing and it had to pause until he stabilized again. Now the beat was slow but steady. It settled into the soft ground and went into dormant mode, waiting for its cargo to awaken, keeping vigil in the darkness.
Two days had passed and still no sign of Duo. It was doing nothing to improve Quatre’s mood, which had become increasingly tense. It was obvious he felt responsible for Duo’s possible demise and nothing anyone else said made him feel any better.
“We should have brought him back,” he muttered crossly as he paced through the safe house. “Damn it, he’s no enemy. Why did you make us leave him, Trowa?”
Trowa sighed. “I felt we needed to leave him alone. I spoke to Heero and we both noticed something. His cockpit was nearly obliterated, but what I could see of him showed he wasn’t conscious at all. At least, that was what I think I saw.” He shrugged. “There was something odd about it.”
“If he was unconscious we should have pulled him out!” the little blond yelled, his hands fists at his sides.
Wufei shook his head. “I say we must keep our distance. We were wise to withdraw. If he has survived, there are precautions we must take. Staying in this same place is not a wise idea.”
Ignoring the glare, he walked to the window. Heero spoke, then. “Wu, think a moment. How well do we know Duo? Think about the way he advanced on us. It was…mechanical. There was no whim to it, no sarcasm, no nothing. That just doesn’t seem like a thing Duo could do.”
“Perhaps, but I did not survive this long trusting all I thought I saw. I did not survive war by living off the faith of my friends.” He grimaced a little. “I didn’t mean that to sound like it did. I apologize.”
Heero nodded once. “Neither did I, Wufei. Neither did I.”
Duo felt like he was up to his forehead in sludge. Every breath took effort and his tongue was dry and swollen. He couldn’t open his eyes and his arms felt like lead weights. He groggily began to think back on what had happened and slowly became more aware that he wasn’t dead. What happened to him? The cannon was at point blank range…It should have turned him and his gundam to space dust. Already overwhelmed, he drifted back into unconsciousness.
When next he woke it was dark outside and he could faintly hear the sound of crickets. He moaned and instantly regretted it as his parched throat protested being used. He tried to swallow and failed. /Gotta get outta here…/ he thought as he tried to claw his way to the world of the living. His body mercifully felt nothing yet as he reached up with his good arm to pry his crusted eyelashes apart. “Ugh,” he managed as his body screamed at him. It took a few minutes but finally he got one eye opened. The other he painfully discovered was too bruised.
Cautiously he turned his head and nearly cried out in pain. “Damn,” he said thickly as he slowly pulled his head forward again. Days had passed with his head on his chest and the stiffness was almost too much to bear. He closed his eye against a wave of nausea and waited until it passed. “Gotta get out,” he croaked and fumbled with the harness straps.
They wouldn’t budge. At first he tugged uselessly on it with his good hand, then remembered he had a knife in his boot. As soon as he reached for it he became aware of every broken bone in his body and a hoarse scream tore itself from him. He still got hold of the knife, though, and quickly sliced through the tough material before he blacked out again.
“Okay,” he whispered when the pain subsided. It hurt to speak but his voice kept him company, so he continued. Besides, the more he spoke the more his throat relaxed. “I’m in trouble. Gotta get out. Don’t wanna fall. Die for sure. Water first.”
He reached down at his side and felt for the bottles he stowed for long trips and found one half empty. “Sip,” he mumbled, and did just that. The shock from the cool water surprised his tired system but he relished the taste of it. “Gotta get out,” he mumbled again as he eased out of the straps.
He hardly noticed the gundam’s hatch opening for him, the lift poised at the lip to safely lower him down. He slid carefully onto it and sagged against the cord, praying it wouldn’t just drop him. It didn’t. It lowered him with agonizing slowness and deposited him gently beside the huge foot. He rolled off and patted it. “Thanks, buddy.”
Duo leaned against Deathscythe and looked himself over, the night air just cool enough to refresh him but not enough to be uncomfortable. The moon highlighted his wounds garishly and he winced at the weird angles his bad arm was in. “God, what’d I do to myself?” he asked. “Well, Heero, here’s where you’d have no problem just popping ‘em back in, but this…” he trailed off. Just the memory of watching Heero set his own leg made him sick. “Figures,” he chuckled and instantly regretted it. “Well, it isn’t going to set itself.”
The night wore on but the creatures that lurked in the brush and trees slept little that night, as occasional screams pierced the silence like the wails of a mad man.
“Much better,” Duo grunted as he settled against the gundam. He had managed to set all the bones and dress the wounds pretty well after finding a tiny stream nearby. Fortunately he didn’t have to stand to get there and he replenished his bottle of water and bathed as much as he dared. Now he lay in the nude, letting the warm afternoon sun warm him and sooth his aches and pains, his tattered and soiled clothes left behind at the water’s edge.
He sighed and began to review the events of the past few days.
“I was supposed to die,” he stated, looking up at his massive gundam. “What’d I miss? We were supposed to be toast up there.” He frowned. “That’s another thing. How’d I get way out here? On earth? I didn’t set any coordinates down here and obviously I haven’t been tended to. What gives?”
He hoisted himself on the lift and slid a bit roughly back up to the ruined cockpit. After rummaging around he found new clothes and the little reserves of food he had left. He glanced at the soiled seat and scrunched his face. “Uck,” he said, grabbed his laptop and whatever he could salvage, and headed back down.
He laid everything out in front of him and turned the computer on. He typed a few commands and waited for the screen to produce the readouts that might tell him what happened in those last moments in space. “Hmmm,” he said, twirling his braid in his good hand (old habits die hard) and munching on some unnamed foodstuff that looked a bit like granola. “I was attacked again. Okay, that much I knew. But when the cannon fired…Hey, you moved!” Duo looked up again at his silent companion. “You moved out of the way! Man, when I get us home I’m gonna give you the best lube job you ever had.”
Duo worked on the gundam as much as he could during the next day or so and found he had enough reserve power to get home. Cleaning as best he could and loading it up, he patted the console. “Time to go, buddy,” he said and started it up. He walked it across the landscape, unwilling to risk another crash if its rockets failed, relieved to be on his way.
“The guys’ll be so happy to see me,” he whispered.
Quatre bolted upright in his bed, his hand clutched to his chest again. “He’s coming…”
He quickly ran through the safe house, excitedly opening doors and shouting as though it were Christmas. “He’s coming, Duo is coming back!”
The others joined him as he bounded outside, quite a bit calmer and grumbling about late nights and the injustice of waking them up at three in the morning. Trowa tucked his robe and watched the direction Quatre was pointing to. “There!” he laughed. “I knew he was still on our side, I knew it!”
Heero stepped forward and watched as the faraway crashing noises of the gundam came closer. He knew he should be excited, so why this strange dread? He glanced back at Trowa, who moved subtly away from the house. The others unconsciously followed suit, not knowing yet how lucky they were to do so.
Duo started shouting and waving as much as he dared, ignoring the painful jab in his joints as he grinned. “I’m back!” he shouted, though no one could hear him.
But even as they excitedly closed the gap Deathscythe remembered its previous problem. Its little human pilot didn’t know that these other pilots had fired on it, causing the damage in the first place. Did the human not know these people were enemies? It suddenly stopped in its tracks. Duo frowned in confusion and threw switches, checking readouts and trying to steer it homeward. “What’s the matter, buddy?” Duo asked it. “Aren’t you happy to be home?”
Outside the pilots froze as well. Something wasn’t right and they all felt it. “No,” Quatre whimpered.
Deathscythe could feel the commands given but simply could not obey. The pilot was not aware of the danger he was in and so it was up to Deathscythe to get rid of the problem. It raised its cannon arm yet again, this time aimed at the safe house itself.
“Deathscythe! No! What are you doing?” Duo screamed as he tried pushing every button, to no avail. He watched his dear friends scatter as the cannon fired on its target, obliterating the safe house entirely. His scream was washed out by the sound of mortar fire. Horrified, he saw his friends tossed to the ground by the force of the blast, the house reduced to splinters.
“God, no, I gotta get you out of here before you kill them all,” he cried and reversed thrusters with all his strength. Deathscythe perceived this as acknowledgement; its pilot now realized the danger and sought to flee it. It gave control back to him and he quickly took advantage. Weeping bitterly, he fled.
On the ground, Wufei was first to get to Quatre who was bleeding from various cuts on his head. The others joined them, limping and sore but all right, though pajamas were singed and spirits crushed. Wu helped the little blond up and they looked through shocked eyes at what was left of their temporary home. “I told you,” he said, with no self-righteousness at all.
Duo finally stopped and rested his arm across his eyes. He wept still, mortified that his gundam would fire on his friends. “How could you?” he gasped, sobs hurting his ribs terribly.
He got a grip and sat back, still not believing what he had just seen, what Deathscythe had just done. “What went wrong?” he asked softly, his breath still hitching a little. Suddenly he looked determined as he began to run every program he could think of. “Let’s see just what happened to you out there,” he muttered.
He worked into the next afternoon. Finally, as he reached the readouts from the cannon blast, he stopped on a certain page and whistled. “That’s it,” he breathed. “Holy shit.”
Heero woke in his hotel room to the beeping of the vidphone. He activated it with his eyes half shut until he saw the face. Instantly he was wide awake.
“Duo,” he said softly.
“Yeah, Heero,” Duo replied tiredly. “You guys okay?”
“Fine,” Heero said guardedly.
When he didn’t volunteer anymore Duo sighed heavily and winced. “Duo, you look like hell.”
“Thanks for noticing. Dude, those attacks weren’t me.”
“We saw you, Duo.”
“I know. I was in Deathscythe both times, I guess, but I wasn’t the one firing on you. It was Deathscythe, man. Both times.”
Heero shook his head a bit. “Don’t follow you.”
“I know it sounds hard to believe, but I guess when we got hit by the blast it made him think you guys were the enemy. When it saw your gundams it automatically thought you were gonna kill us too, so he fired on you.”
Heero ran his hand through his hair. “Duo, we didn’t have our gundams at the safe house.”
Duo was quiet a moment and when he spoke there was turmoil in his voice. “I know. That one I can’t explain. I need help, Heero. I’m a mess and so is he. We need to come in but somewhere where he won’t think it’s a trap. Either that or I have to leave him there until I’m healed enough to do some real work on him.”
Heero was caught between wanting to believe his friend and worrying about the possibility of betrayal. Finally, though it sounded lame in his ears, he said, “Let me talk to the others, okay? That attack really shook them up.”
“Understood, Hee-chan. I’ll contact you tomorrow night at this same channel.” With that the vid went dark.
Heero sat back, letting the air from his lungs slowly. He went back to bed, though sleep was now long in coming.
“You have got to be kidding!” Wufei said, exasperated. He spun away from Heero’s stoic face and stalked away.
“Wu, he contacted us, and Heero says he looked sincere. He isn’t a bad guy, why do you distrust him so?” Quatre pleaded.
The Chinese pilot turned to face him. “The man fired on us in a battle we were trying to help him in. If we had not been outside the safe house we would all be dead now. No matter that you bled for an hour after the attack and that you dared not even show your face in the lobby for fear they would turn us out. You desire to accept him back because your heart will not allow the thought to cross your mind that he could have changed is interfering with realism, Quatre.”
Trowa sat on the corner of the rumpled bed. “I tend to believe that his heart is right, though, Wufei,” he said quietly. “Heero said he looked severely battered. The possibility that his gundam mistook us for the enemy is actually fair considering how many alterations Duo made on it. For such an emotional pilot as he is and such a lover of life, it would stand to reason he would put some of those capabilities into Deathscythe.”
“And as I said before, we have no idea how many suits he had been fighting before being wounded,” Heero agreed. “Breakdown, mistake, or short circuit; any of these could be responsible. I believe at least one or two of us should go meet with him and find out.”
“And if it is a trap? How better to lure us into weakness. One of us must be sensible here!” Wufei countered, then he folded his arms and turned toward the window, looking out on the street below. When he spoke again, he was subdued. “He was my friend too. I do not wish to think such things of him. But even I have come across as a betrayer to you before…and it is this that keeps me from running to him with open arms.”
Quatre stood, his face set. “I am going to go speak with him. If it is a trap, so be it. I love him. He’s my comrade-in-arms, my friend, and my brother. If you choose to accompany me, then do so. I will not leave him out there to die again.” He then stepped out the door.
The other pilots watched the door close with a soft click and looked at each other, troubled.
“Well, Hee-chan, what’s the word?”
Heero moved over and Quatre’s face appeared. “We will meet with you. Trowa and Wufei will stay here. Where’s the rendezvous point?”
Duo grinned, his sweet face full of relief. “I’ll come to the large park west of the city square, that way we can be as public as possible. I have a feeling yer having some trouble trusting me right now.”
Quatre’s face immediately became guilty and Duo smiled. “See, Quatre, I do know you guys. Can you do me a favor when you come?”
“What do you need, Duo?” Heero asked.
“I’m a mess. Been running on fumes for a long time now and I’m about to crap out. Can you bring a complete med kit, Hee-chan?”
“Yes. We will be there. And Duo?”
“Quit calling me that.”
That night Duo walked Deathscythe to the park and found a good place to hide it. He shut down all primary power and disconnected the main and reserve power cords to ensure that his buddy wouldn’t try to save him again. “Not that I don’t trust ya, DS, but I think this time I’m gonna save myself. I’ll be back for ya.”
He opened the hatch and saw a flicker of movement about five hundred yards away and smiled. “Right on time,” he said, and prepared to lower himself. On the way out he grabbed the schematics, readouts, and his laptop and patted the cool metal, then slid to the ground.
Quatre was first to get to him and immediately offered his shoulder. Duo gratefully accepted it and leaned on his friend. Heero took the papers and computer from the braided pilot and they eased him to a waiting car. Duo chuckled when he saw the busted steering column. “Love your service,” he grinned sleepily and settled in.
He woke in a motel room with Quatre hovering over him and the soft sounds of Heero’s fingers playing over his laptop’s keyboard. He felt much better. He could tell he had real dressings on his wounds and had been given a shot to lessen the pain. He smiled brightly at Quatre’s hopeful, anxious face. “Mornin’ sunshine,” he said as he resisted the urge to stretch.
“Glad you’re awake,” Heero said over the sounds of his typing. “I have been running through your programs and have found several anomalies.”
“Love you too, Hee-chan. And how’d you get into my files?” Duo asked as he eased into a sitting position.
“Like you I know a little about technology,” Heero said wryly, then glanced sidelong at him. “Change your damn passwords, ‘Death Incarnate’.”
Duo laughed and clutched at his sides. “Damn, Heero, don’t make me laugh!”
Quatre beamed. “Now THAT’S the Duo we know!”
“I’m so sorry guys,” Duo said soberly. “I didn’t know he had fired on you up there. I thought I was gonna die and totally expected to. He moved. I still don’t know how he did it, but he saved my life and I guess just mistook you for more Oz soldiers. It was mighty kind of him to try to save me, but if I had known that it was you he was afraid of, I’d have tried harder to stop him. And then, at the safe house…” he teared up then, and Quatre hugged him. Duo couldn’t help but chuckle, even as his chin quivered. “Okay, okay,” he smiled against the blond’s shoulder.
“Do you mind my interrupting the Disney show to get back to business? And quit calling me that!”
“Sure,” Duo grinned and wiped his eyes. It made him feel better to see Quatre doing the same.
“According to this, you are telling the truth. I’ll have to get a lot of equipment to repair it, but I am satisfied with the explanation.”
“Glad you trust me,” Duo wryly noted and Heero looked him in the eye.
“Duo, if I had been you, would you have trusted me?” he asked.
Duo sighed. “No, I guess not, even if I wanted to. But you have enough honor that even if you had fired on me I’d know you come back sooner or later. I’m sure of it.”
Heero finished on the laptop without saying another word, then closed the lid. “Okay. Let’s take you home.”
A couple of weeks later, Duo was healing nicely despite the itchy casts on his arm, torso, and left leg. He complained about it a lot, and loudly. Still, his relief at being allowed back home made him much happier than he wanted to admit. He was painfully aware of the scrutiny when he first came back, wary glances aimed at his back every time he mentioned missions or gundams. Gradually the looks tapered off, but he had to remind himself that they were nearly blown to bits the last time they had run into each other.
Wufei had been hardest to warm up to. He refused to speak to Duo at all when he first returned, and every time Duo would ask something Wu would look him over carefully, as if trying to gauge Duo’s honesty. It was Wufei Duo sought out now.
“Wu?” Duo asked when he found the Chinese pilot standing on the rickety porch. He stiffened at first, but relaxed as Duo neared. The braided pilot stood beside him, silent for a while as they watched the sunset. “Wu?” he asked finally.
“I’m sorry. Believe me, man, it was not me. I’m not an Oz soldier in disguise. I am not gonna stab you in the back. Do you understand me? I am and will always be your friend, okay?”
Wufei turned to him and studied his eyes a moment before answering. “I understand, Duo. But think about it. When we are all that stands between Oz rule and peace, one mistake could cost everything dear to us. Yes, there is a standard of trust, but all it takes is one turncoat to sweep the Earth and colonies to ruin. When there is so much at stake, one must remember that the overall mission must always come first. Friends come and go so easily during times of war that the term means little to real soldiers. One turncoat, Duo, is all it takes. If you had turned, and killed either one or all of us, do you not see what would have happened? At this time you would not see the sun set. You would see the horizon burning.
“If I seem removed from you, then it is because the first and last thought in my mind is what could have happened to us all, whether your gundam malfunctioned or not. And in every thought, no matter how the outcome or the responsibility, I see your face in the cockpit, watching it happen. Forgive me, Duo, but it will take time to dispel that vision.” He then turned and went back inside, leaving Duo to watch the horizon and think.