Author: Maldoror
Genre: Action, Adventure, Humour, AU
Pairings: 3x4, 2x5, eventual 1x2x5
Rated:NC17 - for language, lots of violence, yaoi, sexual content
Feedback: Please! Particularly what you like/don't like about the fic.
Disclaimer: Gundam Wing belongs to its owners (Bandai, Sunset, and a whole host of others, none of which are me) and I'm not making any money off of them. Not a single peanut


In case it's confusing, […] is Quatre’s I/O interface with Zero. It’s him running programs and Zero giving him the results.

The Source Of All Things + Chapter 37
Parameters of Life and Death, Part II

“Are you alright?” Trowa asked softly.

Quatre wasn't surprised at the question; he knew his eyes were flicking around so fast, it probably looked like he was having seizures. “I've been better. Too many vectors, too many possibilities.” Too many potential enemies.

A multitude of rats squirmed and skittered all around the clearing they’d been led to, making the clumps of long grass shiver. Zero had even abandoned its calculations about the end of the universe to try to elaborate a survival strategy in case the creatures turned on them. So far, the only thing it had come up with was ‘run like hell and hope they eat the others first’. And even then, it didn’t like Quatre’s chances. Zero was giving him merry hell for walking into a situation where he had so little control.

“I meant…are all these rats making you nervous? You hate them.”

Quatre stared at Trowa blankly, then glanced at a nearby gaggle of rodents who gazed back at him curiously, noses twitching. “As a healer, I abhor them; they carry disease, as well as lice and fleas. But these rats have never seen a sewer, I’m sure. Besides,” Quatre muttered, nodding minutely towards a rat as big as a pony, near the throne, “getting ticks or catching the plague is the least of our worries at this juncture. A phobia is illogical in that light.”

“How about you?” S asked, glancing back at Fen. “Getting the heeby-jeebies?”

Fen was hanging back again; his own Zero had probably elaborated the same survival tactic as Quatre’s, and he was getting ready to use a head start if he needed it. He stared at S as if the man had spoken another language. “They’re simply small mammals. They’ve not hurt me yet. At this point, I find them less repulsive than humans.”

Zero was busy giving itself and Quatre a headache, but it took time to note that little nugget of information down for later analysis.

“…Okay.” S turned around with a 'no offence meant' hand gesture, then he rubbed the metallic patch that covered his scarred and ruined nose. “Well, make sure you both keep that enlightened attitude. She hates it when someone disses the rats. ‘Your host is never wrong and always has the best of tastes, while you are under his roof’.”

“Or in her jungle, surrounded by her pets,” Trowa murmured.

The clearing they crossed was alive, for want of a better word. Gulls hung around a watering hole, and pigeons and crows flew between the shrubs and bushes. A few deer nuzzled the bark of a small grove of aspen, and an old bison was ruminating off to one side. The grass of the huge clearing crawled with rabbits, ground squirrels, cockroaches the size of matchboxes and, of course, rats.

The throne was at the center of all this life. Well, it felt like a throne, though on the face of it, it was a mere broken and rotten tree stump. Bugs crawled over the carpet of moss that covered it like a cloak of ermine. They did not seem out of place; they were part of life, slowly returning the old tree to the earth that had birthed it. Toadstools sprouted like ornaments up and down the sides of the broken stump. Banners of lianas trailed from the two tall trees standing sentinel by its side. Beneath them stood the particularly big rats that Quatre had been eyeing from the start. A phobia was an irrational fear of something. He considered that being wary of these monstrous rodents was in fact quite reasonable indeed.

The woman sat on the throne with the dignity of a queen, despite her near nudity. She had twists of vines around her slender limbs, like gilded armbands and anklets. Small pebbles dangled from them, pierced and carved by water and time, as elegant as jewels against her sun-browned skin. Her sarong was woven out of grass, decorated with a simple geometrical design in ochre. A necklace of nuts and dried berries hung around her neck. She had one hand in her lap, holding a small vole, and her other hand rested on the head of a fox, one of the few carnivores Quatre could see in the clearing. Not that any of this obeyed any laws of ecology anybody had ever heard of; this was a source, and it blithely ignored such rules the same way the fox ignored the rats and plump mice scampering near its paws. It was getting its ears scratched by its mistress, its eyes slitted in satisfaction. Quatre was still a healer, despite everything, and a tiny part of him shuddered at the thought of lice. A glance at Anima's cool blue eyes as they neared the throne prompted Quatre to use one of Zero's mind-modification tools -

[Program 'Switch-off' - Target disease neurosis]

- to get rid of that strand of thought. This was a Goddess, a representative of a source. She might not have the power to read minds, but he wasn’t about to bet his life and their mission on it. And talking of missions…he glanced around discreetly, but he couldn’t see a stone that corresponded to the power source they were looking for. Damn. They’d have to play nice.

“Trowa.”

Quatre glanced up in surprise, and it took a lot to surprise him these days. Her voice had been rich, deep for a woman of her small stature. And she knew Trowa’s name. Trowa had said he'd been here before, but that was a far cry from being on first-name basis with divinity.

“Anima Mundi.” Trowa bowed from the waist.

Anima looked appraisingly at Trowa A couple of rats skittered over the shaman's boots, and one stopped and put a paw on his leg, staring up at him too. Quatre managed to stop a twitch from escaping. Maybe he should have allowed 'Switch-off' to be a bit more aggressive at rooting out such reactions from him.

“You have changed. You are older. Has it been that long, shaman?” Anima's whisper seemed to brush through the clearing, it was carried by the buzz of insects, the scutter of rats, the warm hum of sunshine warming the plants. It was plainly audible, through skin and bones as well as ears.

“Yes. In the world outside your source, several decades have passed.” Trowa raised his head slowly and looked at her without fear. S was doing the same. Apparently, this Goddess did not demand obeisance.

Anima was silent for awhile. The chirp of grasshoppers, the scuttle of bugs and the cheep of rodents seemed to intensify.

"I am glad to see you again," the Goddess finally said. "Before the end."

Now, that’s what you call a loaded remark, Quatre thought weakly. Those three words shoved Zero down a whole new avenue of calculations. The spell shelved a lot of the battle strategies it was elaborating for the present; Anima did not seem to be hostile. Instead, it picked up the threads of the equation that was Juusan. Quatre forgot about the clearing and its scruffy and possibly disease-ridden inhabitants, and concentrated entirely on the Goddess's next words.

"You know about Juusan's arrival?" Trowa asked, tripping slightly over the length of the -uu-.

Slowly Anima nodded. "That. And more."

"The Source of All Things."

Quatre blurted the words out, as Zero suddenly made one of its lightning connections in his mind.

The Source of All Things. The words, heard during Duo's visions of the past, had slashed through his mind like trails of fire, setting off explosions of equations, tremors of patterns breaking and reshaping...The way Anima’s eyes had fastened on him, and the powerful lines that moved her, were giving Zero new elements to place into its overall view of the future, though even the spell was still at a loss to see how it all fit together.

The vole in Anima's hand suddenly started up in a flurry of claws and fur and shot off her lap, and the fox slunk away behind the throne, its ears twitching back against its skull. Anima stood up, and took a step forward, or at least Quatre supposed she did, from the sound of her foot on the leaf mulch lying like a tasselled golden carpet before the throne. He didn't actually see her move because Trowa was suddenly in front of him, blocking the view.

Quatre prudently glanced over Trowa's shoulder. Anima was still walking towards them. She was smaller than he was, he realized now that he saw her standing; the top of her head would barely reach his chin. Her figure was slender, her bare breasts small. Her hair was the colour of pine polished by water and sunshine. Quatre glanced at her two big furry guardians, but they didn't seem particularly upset.

"Anima..." Trowa spoke softly, beseechingly.

Quatre finally reacted; Zero had been crowding his mind with strategies and equations, and he was only just realizing that his lover had placed himself between Quatre and a potentially pissed-off Goddess who might want retribution for something that he, Quatre, had imprudently blurted out. He tried to slip around Trowa, but the shaman's arm shot out and held him back.

"You know much." Anima sounded much older than before, and so much older than she looked. Her eyes and movements were not particularly hostile; Trowa began to relax. Zero did a quick reading of the spread of the future, and foresaw little immediate danger. Except the danger of getting so much information that Quatre's brain might explode, the healer amended sarcastically. Zero pushed more words into his mouth to exploit this source of wisdom, regardless of that and other risks.

"I know that Juusan is- Trowa, let me - " He grabbed his mate's hand and hauled it to his side. Trowa said nothing, though the fingers that clenched Quatre's were still taut with concern. "I know Juusan is the thirteenth aspect of the Source of All Things, at least, that's what the Jishin called him. I'm not sure what that means. I know that the Source Of All Things and Juusan are somehow connected to the sources. And you're-..." how to put this politely, and, above all, non-atheistically, since lighting bolts were hard to dodge this close up.

"I know you're a wise and powerful Goddess who inhabits a particularly potent source," Quatre finished diplomatically.

"Then you do not know enough." Anima shook her head gently. "If you did, then you would not ask me for what you are about to ask me."

The members of the party glanced at each other, puzzled.

"We came to borrow the power to which you are guardian, dark one," Trowa said firmly, after a glance at Quatre.

"I know what you are here for, Trowa."

"It's born from the life-force of the Earth. It will return to you, eventually. You don't need it yet, not until the end of times." Trowa was speaking quickly. S had drawn near as well, as if ready to support his one-time pupil. Fen had taken several steps back and was looking at them as if he wanted little to do with them and whatever trouble they'd gotten themselves into. "If we do not have it, then Juusan will destroy all life on Centre. Including the plants and animals."

"Yes," Anima said simply.

"Yes, you'll give it to us?" S asked, as if not quite daring to believe it would be that easy.

Anima glanced at him. She was silent for a spell.

"Yes, I will give it to you, Trowa, if you ask me. You walk tall in the patterns of the dream-earth. You see far. You care. Your soul is one of the golden ones that always return to Centre, to me. I knew this when I accepted you as my lover, all those decades ago."

Quatre felt more than saw Trowa's quick glance sideways at the healer. Oh. Oh, so that was why Trowa hadn't wanted Quatre to come, and had tried to talk to him before they stumbled upon Anima. It took Quatre a few seconds to figure out why. Long ago - not that long ago, actually, only a few months, but it felt like much longer - he was still an uncertain recently-cloistered nineteen-year-old healer with a head full of rigid dogma, no experience of the world, and a lover who was much older, well-travelled, and very experienced indeed. They'd run into some of Trowa's former lovers during their voyages; the shaman didn't quite have one in every town, but he had a few in every country. They were all older than Quatre; self-assured, sensual and mature. They'd accepted Trowa's nature and had merely enjoyed his company and his bed, without ever looking for more. They'd invariably left the young healer feeling callow, prudish and rather inadequate, whatever Trowa said or did to reassure him.

Yes, it seemed like a long time ago now. Quatre wondered how he'd have reacted to this particular situation back then, and he couldn't even guess. He probably would have been as intimidated and threatened as Trowa apparently feared he would.

It saddened him that Trowa still thought it would bother him now.

It saddened him a bit that it didn't.

He shook himself. Think about it later. If ever. It really wasn't that important. And Anima, after a moment of contemplation, looked ready to speak again. Since apparently the Goddess had never mastered the art of small talk, or didn't know how to end a sentence without dropping a bombshell, Quatre had to pay attention to her every word; he didn't need Zero to remind him that a lot more than his feelings were at stake here.

"I will give you my charge, Trowa," Anima finally said, her voice as soft as the humming of flies in the sunlit clearing. "But be careful what you ask for. You see far ahead, shaman. But like most humans, you do not see far enough."

I'm sure she's actually enjoying being this obscure, Quatre thought with an inward groan as Zero pounced on the cryptic sentence and started ripping it apart for all its possible meaning.

"He'll destroy Centre," Trowa answered, uncertain. "I don't see what else can-"

"But life will return. It always does. Even if he burns the land to barren rock and boils the seas dry, in time, the rock will fritter to soil, the seas will fall as rain, and life will rise once again. The wheel keeps turning. But for you-"

Anima reached out slowly, and brushed the bangs away from Trowa's face in a gentle gesture that was familiar and intimate, as if he'd only left her side yesterday.

"Oh Trowa. If you knew. If you saw a bit further. The Thirteenth is only the beginning."

Her words echoed in Quatre's mind. Zero was howling in frustration; it had gaps in its knowledge, holes in its data. It was touching something; it was a few unknown variables away from solving a puzzle it had first glimpsed in the Jishin chamber of memories. And it was somehow connected to the equations that had predicted the end of the universe in ten billion years. It all hung together, and despite the ten billion years business, it was, in fact, all terribly immediate and Zero was getting more and more frantic to solve it and it couldn't find the required information to do so! Quatre was dimly aware that he was hanging on to Trowa's hand to avoid falling, but he could do nothing but listen to the Goddess’s measured words.

"You are part of a pattern of greater destruction than any Juusan can bring. In fact-...but I can say no more." Zero did the mental equivalent of a full-throated scream of frustration at that. "The wheel turns. For the children of Men, it will stop turning very soon. And then I will be alone, with only my animals. I should want this. Humans are destructive, even as their dreams are seductive. But..." the hand reached up again, and this time she caressed Trowa's cheek. "But despite all this, I would not see the race of Men disappear. I cannot help but wish for your failure, Trowa."

"Wish for my-...but Juusan will destroy everybody living on the planet. You should wish for my success..."

There was silence for a few heartbeats.

"You weren't just talking about the people living on Centre, were you." S stated flatly. His eyes were wide, staring blindly at the throne behind Anima. "You're talking about humans everywhere."

The clearing, which had gone a bit quiet, seemed to shiver with the simple, ominous words. The sunshine felt weak on Quatre’s skin.

Anima said nothing. Something had closed off behind her eyes. Quatre had the strange feeling that there was...less of her here than there was before. He realized with sick finality that she would probably not say anything else on the subject.

"If Juusan re-sources himself, I think it's fair to say that most humans will be in considerable trouble," S murmured, trying to tease a reaction out of the Goddess. "Is there something worse that could happen, just because we kick this guy's ass?"

Anima was silent. She didn't appear to be listening. The hand returned to linger on Trowa's cheek and a tiny portion of Quatre still managed to feel rather annoyed at that.

Trowa slowly shook his head. "If you cannot tell us more, Anima, then we have to work with what we know. If Juusan destroys Centre, the repercussions on the arcane plane will condemn humans to another Dark Age. We might even go back to the galaxy-wide isolation of the Scattering. Even the techno-cabalists would be hard put to rip Ether with their machines if we lose the mystical knowledge on how to navigate it."

"But men, like life, would rise again." It was barely a whisper. Quatre didn't see her lips move. The words were not sad. He had a sudden feeling of what Anima represented, as a source. Nature, and the strength and inevitability of life, in any form. She surrounded herself with rats and cockroaches because they were the most vigorous and omnipresent of her children. She didn't care for pretty, she didn't care for kind. She saw the wheel turn for many species, and others rise to take their place. She saw further than any mortal could; the wheel turned in her eyes, on and on, forever. Even if it did stop, once and for all, for Mankind, Anima would not regret it. She would wait around and see what next sentience the galaxy might produce, if any.

"That might be so. But I cannot make that kind of choice for so many people," Trowa answered simply. "I can only defend what is in my power to defend. Centre is my home, my mother. I will protect her, and all the animals that live here, and all the people who dream along with her. It's the only choice I can make."

Anima nodded slowly, with neither surprise nor regret. Then she held out her hand, palm up. A bird started chirping loudly and excitedly in the branches nearby, as if it had just figured out that this might attract females; a rat the size of a poodle glanced curiously up at Quatre, then rubbed itself against Anima's bare legs.

There was something shaping above Anima's palm. It was small and black. Quatre saw that much before he had to close his eyes and mind. The lines around it...they held all the power, the greatness and the raw cruelty of nature. It was shaped from the inevitable end of the small, woodland creature at the teeth of predators. It reeked of illness and death. It held the end of entire species in its darkness, the end of mankind, and it didn't even care enough about them to notice. It was the antithesis of the bright sunshine and the clearing full of life. And yet it also belonged here.

Then the terrible lines warped and folded in onto themselves, and vanished. Anima was holding a black rock, shining like basalt, in the shape of a pyramid. It fit comfortably into her small palm. It looked very innocuous; Quatre could now examine it without feeling his eyeballs being ripped from their sockets, much to his relief. He could still feel the potential there, though. It lay in the facets of the object, quiescent, like a tree held in its seed, dormant until needed. Quatre hoped Duo and Svale would know how to use it in the sanctuary. He doubted the thing came with an instruction manual.

Trowa slowly reached out, and Anima tipped the small stone into his palm, steadying his hand with hers. Then she folded his fingers over the stone, and caressed them.

"Now you have what you came for. The wheel turns. Will you stay with me tonight, Trowa? I fear that I might not know many more bright, animal spirits like yours."

Zero started to compute the probability of Trowa getting more information out of Anima while - yeah, well, good plan, but no, not if I have anything to do with it, Quatre interjected. Zero came pretty close to whining, but Quatre ignored it.

Trowa smiled gently at the small Goddess, in obvious friendship and gratitude. "I'm afraid that I cannot, dark one."

Anima didn't appear put out. She merely glanced at Quatre, with her beyond-old eyes, and smiled ever so slightly. "I understand. You are fortunate."

"Yes," Trowa answered, without any hesitation or undercurrent in his answer. Zero was momentarily puzzled by this; it went against most of its calculations regarding Trowa's attitude at this time. Then it formulated a theory that the shaman might be hoping to hold his relationship with Quatre together by sheer denial. It ran that equation against the patterns of probability and was satisfied with it. Quatre had noted the discrepancy between Zero's predictions and reality, and quietly stored it away in the part of himself that felt the same way as Trowa; the part he refused to get rid of, despite Zero's persuasive and eminently logical arguments.

"Maybe you could both stay?" S suggested artlessly. He tossed that out innocently enough, but Zero had spotted the curl of a tentative thread of control, in the way the old shaman had glanced at Anima. Apparently, S was just as hopeful as Zero was that the pair could get more information out of the Goddess.

Trowa turned slowly and gave his mentor an uncharacteristically irritated glare. Quatre's lips quirked. He had an itch to say something like 'good idea', just to see the look on Trowa's face. Well, now that he was thinking about it, instead of merely reacting, he had to admit it wasn't exactly the worst of plans, either. He'd told Trowa not half an hour ago that he was willing to sacrifice them both for the greater good; this was a lot less dramatic and would be over in the morning. He was no longer the timid youth he'd been. And he trusted both Trowa and himself not to become emotionally entangled with the product of a source.

Anima was looking at him as if she were reading his mind. Quatre looked back, not particularly bothered. She'd given them the stone, and he had the feeling this was a gesture that had much more depth and meaning than just putting it into Trowa's palm. Whatever happened, she could not take it back, so-

"No. No, that would not be wise. There is something in this one that I should not leave in contact with my source for too long," Anima said slowly. Ah, so she was back to throwing cryptic remarks around. "It is not yet time. And he is not the one."

Trowa's fingers had tensed in alarm over Quatre's, probably at the 'there is something in this one'. Quatre's fingers were digging into his mates' in return; Zero was having a field day trying to figure out what those last two sentences meant. Equations were going off in Quatre's mind like fireworks in a bag, until he wondered numbly if the top of his skull was about to be blown off.

[4-(X3) - // Interrupt. Data drill query. Equation 'Fen - motivations', input required - strategy to obtain input available.]

Quatre didn't try to think - at this point, he could barely hang on to his own mind, much less think. He knew why Zero needed this, he knew why it was important. He didn't question the plan as he turned towards Fen.

"If you want someone to stay with you tonight, Anima, maybe Fen could oblige?"

Fen started at being mentioned, and stared at Quatre then at Anima as if he wasn't sure what was going on. "What? Why should I want to stay here? I want to get back to that bastard Maxwell before he pawns my Soul Stone or gets himself killed or something. Why would she want someone to stay with her anyway? She's got all this." His chin took in the scurrying creatures around the clearing.

Trowa and S stared back at Fen blankly, but Quatre wasn't terribly surprised that he had to elaborate. "She wants someone to have sex with her, Fen," he explained patiently.

Fen stared at him again, as if he was now certain that Quatre was insane. "I'm not human, Winner, why should I-"

"Neither is she."

"Then neither of us should be interested." Fen gave Anima a look that suggested she belonged in the padded cell next to Quatre's, and went back to watching the rats move around the clearing with a mixture of suspicion and detached scientific curiosity. Anima was scrutinizing Fen, and she didn't look very interested either, despite the fact that Fen was probably an even more appealing specimen than either Trowa or Quatre. Quatre nodded gently, slotting a few more results into his calculations.

"I prefer the bright fervour of the candle, flickering before it goes out," Anima murmured to nobody in particular. Then she glanced around. "And you? Are you attached to anybody at present?"

S, the one addressed, nearly fell over. "Me?!"

Of course, you, Quatre thought with both amusement and exasperation. The old shaman's dreaming soul was just as powerful as Trowa's, and what did a Goddess of raw primal nature care about someone's age and appearance? He was surprised S took a few startled seconds to come to the same conclusion.

S recuperated with commendable speed. "Anima, it would be a great honour and pleasure," he said, bowing slightly. Anima smiled. It was pleased, openly carnal, yet warm and welcoming. The darkness of death that lurked in nature was her domain, but also the raw force of life and birth, and sex was rather intimately linked into all that. For a shaman, touching such a living embodiment of their beliefs must be an amazing experience, as well as a deep and moving one. Quatre made a note to ask Trowa, later, what it had been like for him; although on second thought, that might not be such a good idea. Trowa had probably had enough surprises and shocks for one day.

"Well, Trowa, my boy, you all be careful getting back to the edge of the jungle." S turned towards Trowa with a distracted smile. "If you leave now, you should be able to get through without that other source sending out more jackals-"

"They will be safe. My friends will see to it," Anima murmured. Zero had already picked up the pattern of the dog-sized rats forming a circle around the party, preparing an escort.

"Perfect! Don't worry about me, I'll make my own way home. Trowa, in four nights the moon will be full. I will meet you in my dreams, by the left paw of the Great Bear Pattern."

"I'll see you then," Trowa murmured, smiling at his old teacher. Quatre noted the date; if the old shaman learned anything more from Anima and passed it to Trowa, Quatre would have to be sure to get the information from Trowa when his lover had finished his Dreamwalk the next morning.

Anima said nothing else, and did not answer their goodbyes. They left the silent Goddess and her night's lover alone in the clearing full of life, the small black stone tucked safely in Trowa's pack.

Quatre left Zero to speculate its heart out about the cryptic bits and pieces Anima had let drop. That was part and parcel with the huge equation it was working on, the strange, overlying pattern that stretched from a start point that Quatre couldn’t put his finger on, all the way to the end of the universe. He did shunt a few of Zero's resources away from it, though, and used it to work on the more pertinent problem at hand.

They had two of the three stones that could fuel the shield spell. They should be able to find the third in time; they'd found the first two quickly enough. But that would not be enough to guarantee Juusan’s defeat. Zero was coldly forthright about that. Even Heero, Wufei and Fen's concerted power might not be enough to stop all and every one of the possible attacks that Juusan and his armies could launch at them. Too many variables. There was not enough knowledge and/or power on their side to ensure victory, in every possible pattern of the future. If only Juusan wasn't such an imponderable...

"Winner?"

Quatre glanced up from his thoughts. "Yes?"

"You didn't answer me on the shuttle earlier." Fen looked annoyed. "Will you talk to Maxwell when we get back? Try to convince him to return my Soul Stone? I am useless to you if I do not have it."

Quatre stared at the fierce blue eyes, half-hidden under the ragged bangs that fluttered like loose threads of white silk as Fen walked.

"Yes, Phoenix," he heard himself say. "I think I will talk to Duo. I think that will be very useful."

He walked forward quickly, ignoring Fen’s satisfied air and Trowa’s puzzled look. The final parameters of a helpful equation were about to fall into place. Yes, it would be very useful indeed…

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