This is the second story in the Times' Change trilogy, which started with "A Second More". In ASM, available at, an injured Prince Stryfe is taken away from the palace by Redd and Slym Dayspring after they defeated Apocalypse and raised as their son, Sean. Now with their parents gone, Nathan and Sean are left to survive in the middle of a world at war. They can either be swept away or learn to control the current...

I'd like to thank Persephone Kore, Mitai, and Timesprite for all their valuable help in beta reading and just general encouragement. I couldn't have done it without you! *hugs* Feedback is worshipped and adored at

"Minute By Minute"
By Andrea

*We're going to put it back together again.*

Nathan Dayspring thought back over his arrogant words with a mental snort. He'd been overwhelmed with losing his parents suddenly and was grasping desperately at *anything* to keep himself calm and focused. Restoring the dream Apocalypse had taken apart seemed as good a goal as any.

Of course, he'd been young then. Barely thirteen. Now looking back from the mature vantage point of fifteen, Nate had to shake his head a little at the rash vow.

"Hey, keep your eyes on where we're going!"

Nate blinked a little, then grinned at the voice that pulled him out of his reverie. "But it's nothing but dust, dust, and more dust. Why bother looking at it?"

"So you don't step on my feet, maybe?" Sean suggested with an irreverent grin.

"But that's not as much fun!"

"You're not here to have FUN, so shut your mouths and keep walking!" a harsh voice snarled at them both. "We're almost to camp. A couple of scrawny conscripts is better than none, I guess." The man kicked at the dirt and stalked off, leaving the other men in the troop to keep an eye on the new recruits. Sean and Nate exchanged glances and rolled their eyes in unison.

#This group is even more annoying than the *last* one,# Sean sent in exasperation.

#Just smile and nod and play along,# Nate repeated patiently. #We'll get to their camp, wait until night, and THEN escape. With supplies. It'll be worth it.#

#Yeah, yeah. I still don't like it, Nate.#

#We need the supplies, AND it's better to be a couple of conscripts who deserted than ones who beat or killed a whole patrol. They'd be looking for us then.#

And besides, the plan had worked well enough the *last* three times they'd been unable to avoid the patrols of soldiers who combed the area, "recruiting" anyone who could hold a weapon to fight in the latest wars between the different Canaanite generals. The wars had been going on since Apocalypse had died and his Heir disappeared, and didn't look to stop any time soon.

#I still don't like it,# Sean repeated. #Skulking around like this when we should just fight and be done with it. And how are we supposed to *help* anybody like this?#

#If we die because we don't have supplies, or because one of these generals sends the whole army after us, we won't do *anyone* much good. We have to figure out *how* to help people first, instead of just jumping into everything. ...Slym taught me that.#

#I miss him.# The words were very soft. A slight pause, then louder, #But that's all we've *been* doing for two years, Nate! We have to start SOMETIME.#

#...Soon. I promise.#

Sean almost groaned. #Oath, Nate, don't try to make it sound like I'm a toddler whining about when we're going to stop walking or eat. I'm *serious*. If we're ever going to accomplish our mission, we need to get started.#

#We WILL! But charging around without any kind of a plan won't help.#

#It would be doing *something*.#

With a sigh, Nate pulled out the old argument. #We could go to the Askani--#

#No! I just don't trust them, Nate. Remember how they wanted to *use* you? They don't even think... I'm real.#

#Redd and Slym trusted them.#

#I'm a SCIENCE EXPERIMENT to them, Nate!# Sean blew out an irritated breath. #Redd and Slym only trusted them as far as they had to. I don't want to go to them as long as we have another choice. We'll do this your way this time, but after we get out of here, we need to start thinking about what we're actually going to DO. I... have a lot to make up for.#

Nate met his twin's eyes for a long moment, saw the fierce determination there, and nodded his agreement before looking away. They BOTH had a lot to do.

#"Just a little camp. We'll be in and out in no time." I *told* you this wasn't a good idea, Nate!#

#...Okay, so it's a *little* bigger than any of the other camps.#

#A *LITTLE*?!#

#Okay, a lot! But I *checked* their thoughts. They were supposed to be taking us to a secondary camp.#

#And what if this IS their secondary camp, Nathan?#

#...Then this might be slightly harder than we thought.#

#You are SO good at stating the obvious.#

#Just relax! We'll have to be a little more careful than usual, but we can still pull it off.#

#I don't *like* this,# Sean grumbled again as he looked out over the camp. Compared to the other camps they'd pulled their trick at, this one was not only large, but well-organized and orderly. The visible soldiers were going about their duties efficiently, with those at rest relaxing or playing idle games of chance quietly. The tents and equipment were relatively clean and in good repair.

All in all, it bespoke an organized army, more like the units Sean was used to from his time as Prince than the rabble disguised as soldiers that was more common these days. And with all the fighting going on all around them, that meant a strong commander. And a good one.

Sean *really* didn't like the way all this was adding up.

Lost in thought, he almost didn't see the soldier until it was too late. The man was striding along as if he owned the camp, and from the high rank bars on his collar, that might well be the case. Probably not THE commander, but certainly one of his top lieutenants. As if THAT wasn't enough reason to avoid him--#*Vande*! Flonq!#

#Huh?# Nate repeated intelligently.

#Just keep your head down,# Sean hissed.

#Okay...# Nate looked around curiously through the corners of his eyes, and saw a high-ranking soldier sweep right past them. #Is that who you're upset about?#

#I'm not upset; I just don't want him to see me! That's Vande. *Lord* Vande. A courtier. Or an ex-courtier, I guess.#

#Ohhhh. He knew you?#

#Well enough to recognize me. And he didn't like me. Well, no one at Court did, really.#

Nate patted his twin's mind reassuringly. #*I* like you. And you're lots nicer now.#

Sean curled up a little in Nate's mind. #Thanks. But that doesn't mean I want Vande to recognize me. Even more reason NOT to want it. I... I don't want some courtier to decide I'm a good way to claim the throne.#

And having the former prince (and only legitimate heir to Apocalypse, even if Stryfe hadn't been his *real* son after all) would probably be the only way to get some of the factions to band together. He was legally an adult, but only barely so, which meant a courtier supporting him would probably think he could be easily controlled.

He *wouldn't* be, especially not with Nate beside him, but THEY didn't know that, and Sean didn't feel like tempting fate. The sooner they got out of here, the better.

Nate could sense his twin's anxiety, so he kept a light mental hand on Sean's mind while they were handed over to the conscript trainer. In a contrast to their usual act, Sean kept his head down and restricted his replies to mumbled "Yessirs" and "Nossirs". Nate stepped into the gap, keeping the attention focused on himself instead.

They had a lot of experience by now in acting cowed, scared but willing to fight for the army who'd captured them. They didn't stand out from any other recruits who'd been brought in, except for perhaps their youth and Nate's disease. At any rate, they didn't stand out enough to warrant anything beyond the usual precautions given to recent conscripts when they were assigned their sleeping arrangements that night.

Precautions not nearly sufficient to deter two of the planet's most powerful psis.

#I told you there wouldn't be any problems,# Nate sent along the link, a communication so private no nearby telepaths would be able to detect it even if they were trying to.

#You can say 'I told you so' *after* we get out of here,# Sean retorted, shoving supplies into his carrysack while keeping a nervous eye on their surroundings.

#It's not paranoid if you're--oh FLONQ!#

#Don't panic.# Nate wasn't sure if he was telling his twin or himself, the words coming out as a mental squeak. The entire flonqing *camp* was rousing. #What tipped them off?#

#I don't know. Let's just get OUT of here!#

The boys swung their bags over their shoulders, abandoned any hope of more supplies, and started for the nearest perimeter in a flat-out run. Nate had grown up a subversive and in hiding, so he knew how to obscure their trail and confuse trackers until ten trackers would swear they'd gone in ten different directions, but that always assumed at least a bit of a head start. Essentially surrounded, there wasn't much his obfuscation skills could do.

#I guess *you're* the one who can say "I told you so",# Nate sent softly as they were surrounded.

#I take it back!#

Nate almost smiled, then gulped and said bravely, #So we do this the hard way. We can do it.#

#Yeah...# Sean braced himself for battle as he watched the troops grow closer, but he kept sneaking sideways looks over at his twin. Nate had his fists clenched, his eye glowing brightly, but he looked pale. Scared, for the first time Sean could remember since Slym and Redd had disappeared.

They were strong, good fighters and powerful psis. But they were also fifteen, and Nate's powers were dampened by the T-O virus. They *might* be able to take down enough soldiers to escape, but... they might not. All it took was one lucky hit and...

Sean's eyes locked on Nate. He was NOT going to lose his twin. He could handle Apocalypse trying to kill him. He could handle Slym and Redd disappearing into thin air. He could handle being on the run and constantly in danger. But he *COULD NOT* lose Nate.

No matter what.

#No matter what happens, just play along,# he hissed to his twin, feeling Nate's rush of astonishment as he stepped forward and dropped out of fighting position, assuming a languid pose instead. "Not bad. Maybe this wasn't a *complete* waste of time, after all."

#What are you *doing*?#

A question that seemed to be echoed by the nearest soldiers, who were giving him a VERY odd look and seemed to be trying to decide if they should shoot him or not.

"I want to speak to your commander," Sean said in his most arrogant voice.

"Why? Trying to give me a reason not to have you executed on the spot, you little thief?"

"Don't call me a common thief." Sean leaned back and crossed his arms, fixing the commander with a steely gaze. "I was testing your security to see if I should even bother speaking to you. Most people can't manage to even detect us, much less catch us. I suppose you're not a *total* failure."

#Um, Sean? I don't think this is *helping*...# Nate observed nervously, eyeing the surrounding soldiers. A few of the lower-ranking ones looked confused, but most of them looked angry.

#I had to say *something*!#

#I don't think insulting them was the best idea!#

#I'm still working on it, okay?#

"Your arrogance is almost amusing, thief. But I'll take your critique of our security into consideration after your execution."

Sean glanced over at Nate again, then took a deep breath. "You won't touch me. I am Prince Stryfe, the heir of Lord Apocalypse!"

#WHAT are you DOING?! Are you NUTS?!#

Around them, the soldiers exchanged some glances... then died laughing.

#...That's a little insulting,# Sean observed mildly.

#They just captured a delusional thief who thinks he's the missing heir of Apocalypse. What did you EXPECT?#

#Well, I guess a standing ovation was too much to ask for, but I'm not really used to people *laughing* at me.#

"I will give you marks for creativity, thief, but not for intelligence," the commander observed in an amused voice. "For that, I'll make sure your execution is a creative one as well."

Sean opened his mouth again, but he was doubly interrupted before he could say anything. Once mentally by his twin's sigh of #Do you really need to get us in any MORE trouble?#, and once out loud by a booming voice that proclaimed, "What is going on here? I thought you ran an orderly camp, Zain."

The mass of soldiers parted respectfully in front of a hulking figure that strode confidently through the ranks. The commander--Zain--smiled in anticipation. "Now you find the hazards of lying to the General, thief. Try your story to him." In a louder voice, he announced, "My lord, I have captured two young thieves. One is delusional."

"I am not delusional! Do you require a *demonstration*?" Sean raised his chin arrogantly and turned towards the approaching general. "I am--"

~In *serious* trouble...~

#Sean? Tell me that's not Ch'vayre...#

#That's Ch'vayre,# Sean confirmed morosely, watching the huge former Prelate come closer. Well, he wanted to prove his identity, didn't he? Who better than the man who had practically (for lack of a better word) raised him?

#Well... at least he should recognize you.#

#He doesn't LIKE me.#

#I'm trying to look on the bright side here!#

#On the bright side, he never ACTUALLY tried to kill me.#

#...See, now you're doing better.#

#That was mostly because Apocalypse wouldn't let him,# Sean sighed, then turned the arrogance up another few notches. How ELSE would Ch'vayre recognize him? "Greetings, my lord Ch'vayre. It's been a long time. You really should work on the quality of your commanders, you know. This one has NO imagination."

"I would have no acquaintance with a petty thief such as you," Ch'vayre rumbled, pacing over to stand in front of them.

Sean raised one eyebrow and allowed his eye to flare brightly. "You were saying?" he asked coolly when Ch'vayre's eyes widened in a satisfying display of surprise.

The former prelate looked past Sean to examine Nate with narrowed eyes, then back. "A good disguise."

Sean swallowed. His eye flared again, and a soldier behind Ch'vayre suddenly let out a hideous scream as his clothing burst into flame. Sean let him scream for a moment, then damped the flames. "As I said, it's been a long time. And we have few enough troops as it is."

Nate gave his brother a very long look. #...Did you have to do that?#

#He had to believe me,# Sean replied simply. #And it would have been more convincing if I'd killed him.#

#...I'm glad you didn't.#

Ch'vayre stared at him for another long moment, then inclined his head and said, "Greetings, Lord Stryfe."

Zain's eyes widened in an almost comical display of horror, then he hurriedly dropped to one knee behind his general. "Welcome back, your highness."

All around them, soldiers were bowing or kneeling. Sean kept his head high as Nate looked around in growing horror. #What now?# Nate asked softly.

#Now?# Sean looked coolly around the soldiers, then met Ch'vayre's eyes again. #Now we start to make a difference.#

Continue To Chapter Two

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