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

AN: Whew, I managed to polish this up and post it, dodging family left, right and centre. Thanks, as always, for all the encouragements and reviews!! This chapter and upcoming plot-point is one of those which have been boiling in the back of my mind for ages.

The Source Of All Things + Chapter 39
Show Me

“Just tell me one thing...”

Trowa had his back almost completely turned to Quatre. He was standing, shoulders stiff, near the small desk where Quatre made up unguents and potions for his healer’s craft.

Quatre leaned back against the wall near their bed and waited, but Trowa had fallen silent. The shaman was rubbing his hands together, as if they were cold. Then one of his long fingers moved a pot of antiseptic lotion on the desk, to line it up more neatly with the others. Quatre watched him with morbid fascination. In the two years - nearly three now - they’d been together, he couldn't remember seeing Trowa ever make a nervous gesture. Until now, he didn’t think the shaman even knew how to fidget.

“Yes?” he finally prompted. He wanted this conversation about as much as he wanted to lose a limb, but it was inevitable, and maybe it had been delayed long enough. Zero quietly computed the most likely starting point of Trowa’s last argument, down to 5% probability. Quatre waited to see which way the shaman would broach the subject.

Trowa finished righting the row of little pots. They left a smear of dust on his fingers; he stared at it sombrely for a few seconds, before wiping it off his hands with a rough, nearly angry gesture. The pattern of his aura fluctuated between hurt and worry.

“Just tell me one thing. Is it still possible for you to get rid of Zero?”

Quatre's head sank a fraction. Zero had calculated that the most likely start to their inevitable break-up would be a demand by Trowa that Quatre give up the spell.

This question was a direct lead-on to that demand; Quatre didn't even have to bother with Zero, he could feel it with his empathy alone. But the fact that Trowa had thought to ask if it was possible first, meant that he was still capable of being reasonable about the whole matter.

Zero studiously added a few parameters to the equations that predicted the shaman's behaviour. The spell's assessments of Trowa's strategies and his actions in battle were overall faultless. It also managed to predict a lot of Trowa's behaviour towards others, such as Duo and Heero. When it came to Trowa's interaction with Quatre, however, Zero got it mostly right, but on several occasions, the shaman had acted more patiently, generously and with better acceptance than the spell had calculated as likely. Zero didn't like getting even small details wrong and worked on fine-tuning its assessments constantly. But, overall, Zero was still accurate. It was certainly dead on the money in this instance. Quatre could feel the demand shaping itself in Trowa's mind, the arguments he would use to persuade the healer. But if Trowa was starting the conversation with a reasonable question, maybe he could be persuaded in turn, and the scene between them would be less...ugly. Though not less painful. No, nothing would help that.

The thoughts and feelings had flickered through Quatre's enhanced mind in a fraction of a second, while he was still drawing breath to answer the question.

“Get rid of Zero? No. It is too...” Quatre searched for words to explain the symbiotic link that existed between him and the spell, but it only really made sense in the language of mathematical magic. He didn't want to get bogged down in details, anyway. “No, it is not possible.”

Trowa’s fingers slowly clinched into a fist. His face was almost completely turned away.

Quatre wondered what Trowa would say now. Zero immediately started to compute the most likely options-

[Program ‘Probability Tree’- Abort.]

He didn’t think knowing would help.

Zero still ran a few programs in the background, putting the equations through different modules; it wanted to be sure Quatre knew how to respond in the unlikely event the shaman grew violent. It wouldn’t risk any injury to its carrier. Apart from that, it respected Quatre’s wishes and the Abort command, and let the future arrive at its own pace.

“Shortly after you got infected with this m- um, thing, you said that the less you used it, the less it would harm you.” Trowa had tripped slightly over one word, but otherwise he remained remarkably collected. Trowa wasn’t the kind to lose his temper. Zero, who didn't respect anybody's attempts to remain calm, informed Quatre that the most likely word that Trowa had been about to use (estimated at 89% probability), had been 'monstrosity'.

Quatre waited. Trowa stirred, and took a deep breath. He appeared to suddenly remember he still had his small crossbow in his hand. He put it down on the desk with a thump. The strain that he kept out of his voice was obvious in the force of the gesture, causing the nearby mortar and pestle to jump. Trowa breathed out slowly through his nose, then reached out and carefully put the mortar back in its exact place, using the clear ring left in the dust as a guide.

“I know you’ve been forced to use it by circumstances," he said, just as carefully and precisely. "You've had to counter Duo’s manipulations, then Fen approached us, and then the herald attacked us...but now, you've given us a fairly good strategy to counter Juusan. Heero, Duo and Wufei will take it from here. I think you should stop using it now. Or at least, cut back on using it quite so much.”

“Why?”

Trowa spun around to face him.

“Why?! You’re changing! It's getting- I don’t think you realize how much this thing is changing you.”

“And is change such a bad thing?” Quatre asked softly.

“In this case, yes,” Trowa said firmly.

“Really? Is there anything I did since I obtained Zero that you disapprove of?”

Trowa hesitated, obviously caught short by the question. His aura became introverted; probably rifling his memories for a concrete example of what must seem so obvious to him.

“What you did with Fen, for instance. I know, you say he'd have betrayed us sooner or later, but to just let - no, to manipulate Duo into giving him the stone back like that, just to see what Fen would do- and you didn't warn us, Quatre. That was a very dangerous situation-“

“We will all be in a much more dangerous one in a few months," Quatre answered neutrally. "I’d rather know now that Wufei, Heero and Duo can spontaneously put aside their differences and work as something like a team, and they needed to know it too; particularly Duo. Besides, Fen has Zero as well. If I’d told any of you what I suspected about his reactions, you’d have been expecting his attack, and that would have shown in the way you moved, thought, and acted. He’d have read it in your lines, and it would have spoiled the...”

“Experiment,” Trowa supplied icily, when Quatre paused to search for the best word to use. That had been the word Zero had suggested. Zero had no emotions, no needs and no desires, except to minimize harm to Quatre and give him the most control over any given situation. Even this one. It saw no need to sugar-coat the truth and drag out the argument, and it was probably right.

“Yes. Experiment. Is that your only problem with my decisions these past few months?”

“No! Quatre, it’s not- this thing is-...” Trowa grimaced and ran a hand through the fall of bangs. “The way you- you used S as bait yesterday-“

“I thought we’d been over that already. I gave you my rationale, and I didn’t hear you suggest any workable alternative. You accepted my reasons for my actions at the time.”

“Yes, but...” Trowa looked lost. His good eye was searching Quatre’s face with something more and more like desperation.

Quatre took a deep breath. End it. End it now.

“’But’? But they are not reasons you want to hear. You would accept that kind of hard logic from Duo, from Wufei or Heero, even from S himself. But not from me.”

The shaman stared at him for a few seconds. Quatre saw Trowa's aura flare with a burst of intuition, his mind feeling the shape of what Quatre was trying to make him understand. But Trowa shook his head abruptly, rejecting the start of a strand of thought that he wouldn’t accept.

“I don’t know what- Zero has warped your way of thinking! Quatre, I can see it in your lines. Most of the time, they're not too bad, but sometimes, I see them change in ways I can barely understand- those occasions are just plain alarming!"

No, Quatre thought with self-directed annoyance, those occasions are just plain slip-ups. A lapse in my concentration, where I let you see more than you should.

"I know it’s not made you delusional," Trowa continued bitterly. "You don’t need to throw that in my teeth anymore, thank you. But it’s made you...harder. Colder-“

“Yes, it has. Also more effective. More powerful. Able to help. Maybe, if I’d had Zero-“

Quatre's resigned calm suddenly shattered under an unexpected wave of self-directed anger and guilt. He glared at their bed, and ground out: “Maybe if I’d had Zero from the start, I wouldn’t have sat there like a gentle, well-meaning lump of blonde goodness and let Duo put his mark of control on me. Hell, forget Zero! If I’d been just that bit more cautious, if I’d been stronger, more suspicious, I wouldn’t have ended up nearly disembowelling you with a mage bolt on Duo’s orders-”

“Quatre-“

“I am not going to stop using it, Trowa.” Quatre rubbed his eyes, trying to get rid of the vision of his own hand rising against his will, power gathering, aimed at Trowa who was rushing towards him, intent only on protecting his mate...the helplessness...the fury...the pain, as the bolt smashed into his lover. The agony echoing up their bond to hammer into Quatre until he thought he would die with Trowa, and oh God, how he’d wanted to...But Duo had needed them still, so he’d had Quatre dampen the blast. Quatre himself had had absolutely nothing to do with that small mercy. He'd had no control over any of it!

Quatre blinked away the past and focused once more on the present. Zero obediently came back with an analysis of Trowa’s lines and thoughts, and a quick read of the future probable ways this conversation might head. Quatre interrupted Trowa just as the shaman opened his mouth.

“Don’t say it. Yes, I know it’s not really my fault. I was just a handy tool, and Duo used me. Since I’ve obtained Zero, I am the one who has been using him. And no. I can see what you are thinking, Trowa. But no; Zero is not ‘taking me over’; it’s not manipulating my friends through me without my consent. It’s a spell. A complex one, but a spell nonetheless. It has no more self-will than a hammer. It gives me different ways to shape the future, but I am the one who makes the decisions, and though I wish some of them had been kinder, I regret none of them. And I do not regret the changes I've had to go through, to better use this spell. Centre is also my home. I will not let millions die. I will not let the Scourge have his way, if I can help it.”

Trowa's moon-touched eye was boring into Quatre, trying to read his lines. Not that he could. He'd been unable to read them for months, though Quatre had kept up a semblance of his old patterns on the surface so that his lover would not be too alarmed by this.

“Can you believe me?” Quatre asked gently.

Trowa started to say something, then stopped, eyes narrowing at the choice of words. ‘Can you believe me’, not ‘do you’.

Quatre gathered his strategic abilities, and said the words that had to be said, the mathematically precise words that were like the small, well-thrown stones that started an avalanche.

“Can you believe that I am controlling Zero, and not the other way around? Or is it easier for you to believe that I am a weak-minded healer who is being overtaken by some kind of spell with a will of its own. You're a shaman, Trowa, and you know the limits of magic as well as I do, you know that's not actually possible. But does it make it easier? To think this is something you can save me from? That you can rip it from my mind and I’ll return to being your gentle Quatre? Your child-lover happily following you around, easy to predict, and control, and protect?”

“Quatre...”

The nascent protest died on Trowa's lips. The green eye widened.

The avalanche started, memories tumbling into a new light, false perceptions falling away, hard, ugly truths crashing through the mind like massive boulders-

Quatre watched, with some sadness, as the shaman’s gaze turned inwards...

...and realized that Quatre was right.

The empath mentally recoiled from the jarring pain and self-doubt that ripped through the normally confident mind. Zero tried to help him, but even its suggestion to seal off the pain was a bit weak. It knew its owner well enough now to know that Quatre would feel the pain sooner or later, and to its full. Quatre cast around for a way of cushioning the self-realization shaking Trowa's mind, instinctively, like one caught a child who had stumbled.

“You see it now," he whispered. "But don't-...I don't blame you, it's not wrong..." Quatre looked for words - words were so heavy, so useless.

Trowa looked up at him, his eyes wounded, lost. Quatre hugged himself, looked away and tried again.

“I love you, Trowa. I love you for what you are, but also because you protect and care for me. And you love me for who I am, but also because I am someone you can cherish and protect. It’s natural; it's perfectly human. But I can’t be that any more. Can you see that?" He looked at his lover beseechingly. Wanting him to understand all of it, and stop hurting so much. "I would if I could, but we cannot afford it. I cannot stand idly by when I can act. I'm sorry. I know this hurts you. But I think it’s better for us both if we put some distance between each other. I-...”

It had been remarkably easy to say. But the sudden flare of agony in Trowa’s eyes still caught him short, even though he’d predicted every facet of it.

“I have other things to do, more changes...” to be exact, more potential slip-ups that would reveal to a concerned and protective shaman more than Quatre wanted him to know. “I don’t think you want to be around me for what follows. And, to be quite honest...”

Quatre hesitated, but cruel honesty and a clean break would be better for both of them in the long run. His voice was quieter when he spoke again; the hesitation lost.

“To be quite honest, Trowa, there is nothing that you can do here anymore. You have nowhere near the power to oppose Juusan. And your desire to protect me is dangerous and distracting. It's putting you needlessly at risk, and I find myself making allowances for your actions in my strategies that I should not have to make. I can do so; Zero can incorporate your presence in my tactical programs, it's been doing so from the start. But Zero fears what my concern -my love for you is doing for my detachment. And some of the things I'll have to do in the future-...I think it would be easier for both of us if you were not here any more, when I use Zero against Juusan.”

Quatre turned away. Logically, he should stay and argue it out, and make sure Trowa fully understood the situation. The part of Quatre that was as detached as Zero wanted him to be, argued this. But he’d have to hope his lover could figure it out for himself, because right now, even with his empathy nearly quelled, it just hurt too much. He headed blindly towards the door.

There was an indrawn breath behind him. Quatre shook his head swiftly and reached for the knob. He didn't want to argue any more.

[Proximity alert - violence calculated as unlikely (3.2%)]

Trowa's arm slammed across the exit, barring Quatre's escape. Despite Zero's warning, Quatre still started back, alarmed. The shaman could move as fast as a panther when he wanted to.

"Tro-..."

Quatre stared.

Trowa's aura was in chaos; anger, directed at himself and at Quatre; pain; self-recrimination; loss; resentment; sorrow...

But the look on his face was one of steely determination. It was slowly leeching into his lines, fighting the anarchy and the helplessness.

“Very well. Use Zero.”

The words were clipped, firm.

Quatre took another step back, away from this unexpected turn of events. Zero automatically rallied to Quatre’s surprise.

[Possibility of anger was calculated at 65%, pain at 79%, resentment at 44% -]

Quatre had known that. But those numbers were just a theory, and he’d thought - he had wanted to think that Trowa would rise above cold logic and calculations. This reaction was petty, coming from Trowa.

“What are you saying? You’re washing your hands of me?”

“I’d sooner rip out my soul," Trowa answered softly.

Trowa had only glanced at him. He was leaning against the door frame, his arm across the exit, but the shaman’s eyes were turned inward, as if he were reading something from his own lines he’d never seen before.

"Yes. I love the fact that you are young, innocent and gentle, that you prefer to avoid violence," Trowa said abruptly. "I admire that in you, I find it precious. I was not just protecting you from physical harm; I wanted to keep you from losing that. I love that part of you, maybe a bit more than I should.

"But it's not why I love you."

Trowa's eyes fastened on Quatre's. He tilted his head; the fall of his hair uncovered both his eyes, one burning green with emotion, the other a cooler white.

"The man I love is a battle; that gentleness and innocence fighting against his need to do something, to protect and help the people he loves, to make the world better. I've seen you fight with yourself over every man who's attacked us; I've seen you torn every time I've had to kill to protect us; I've seen you accept the necessity without blaming either of us for it, with a maturity beyond your years. I never...really thought about it, that much. Maybe because I was ashamed that I was the one to put you into these situations. There have been times I tried to leave you behind so you didn't have to face these things, or see the blood I spilled. But in the end, I always let you persuade me to keep you by my side, whatever the danger. And I always wondered why I let you talk me into it. And now I know. Do you?"

Quatre knew why. He could see the lines of thought unfolding in Trowa's mind; they were discovering them together, as it were. Trowa had probably never questioned the emotions he felt towards his lover; he just accepted them, the good and the selfish together, with no more thought than an animal protecting its mate. But Quatre's words had ripped away a lot of the comfortable illusions and self-centred needs that all love involved; those feelings that were left were now pared down to the bone.

Now, Quatre could see a new pattern emerging. His eyes were wide, his mind - and Zero - silenced. The new structure rose from the ashes of what he'd destroyed, and both he and Trowa were just now realizing that they'd always been there, underpinning everything.

He knew what Trowa was about to say, but he didn't interrupt. Sometimes, words needed to be said.

"I let you follow me, each and every time, because I trust your strength. If that bloody Zero ever told you I thought you were weak-minded, or just plain weak, then I'm really getting worried about that piece of junk," Trowa growled. "If I'd thought you were that fragile, I would never have allowed you to follow me out of that cloister where they'd walled you up in the first place.

"Quatre, I’ve seen you battle death itself. Plunge so deeply into a dying man’s body I was afraid you would never come back to me, but I let you do it because that was your battle, and your strength. You followed me, away from your old, comfortable life without ever complaining. You stood at the sidelines and let me fight without putting yourself at risk and distracting me. Always at my back, ready with a shield or a bolt, even though you would have rather avoided the path of violence where my line took us. You were always there."

Trowa's arm fell away from the door frame. He crossed them over his chest and took a deep breath, his eyes closing briefly. When he opened them, his gaze was firm. It spoke of anguish, but also of faith.

"I'm not asking you to give up Zero, if you do not want to. I'm not asking you to stay defenceless if you have a weapon that can make a difference. I was worried that Zero was changing you against your will, because your lines have been very contradictory of late. Well, what I could see of your lines looked pretty contradictory; I get the feeling you've been hiding them from me even more than I assumed." Quatre got caught in the heat of a sharp glare, which faltered into resignation.

"No matter, I guess. If I can't trust you to explain it to me in a way that I can understand, then I'll just damn well trust you blind. Either way, I won't leave. Not to spare my feelings, and certainly not for Zero's bloody convenience or whatever stupid-" Trowa shut his mouth, his lips thinning. He took a breath and started again, his voice lower and calmer. "I trust you, okay? Don't make me leave. You made your point. I understand it, and I accept it. I can't protect you any more. So I'll not put myself at risk, I'll try not to distract you, and if I can be of any help, however small, at least I'll be here. I want to keep our lines parallel, until the very last moment, until the wheel turns. If you can no longer follow and support my line...then I guess it’s my turn to follow yours. Wherever you go."

Trowa 's words ended in a simple monotone, as if the emotions were too big to make it into them.

Quatre was silent for awhile. He was having an internal argument with a rather confused Zero.

[Recalibrate, dammit!]

"Quatre?" Trowa looked hesitant to interrupt, but his worry must have finally won out.

"Zero has hit a limitation," Quatre muttered. "And it's one I knew of; I should have seen this coming."

"...What?"

"Zero is a tool of war, and that colours what it can do, how it operates," Quatre explained, rubbing his face slowly, trying to sort out his sudden understanding into mundane words. "It doesn't comprehend human emotions that don't fit into that context. In fact, to be on the safe side, it treats all feelings as weapons, as things that can hurt me. It classifies people as either threats, tools or somebody who might limit my ability to anticipate and manipulate the future. It thinks that love is an insidious emotion that allows another person to influence and control you, even harm you."

Quatre snorted and let his hand fall. "To be honest, even after making allowances for Zero's interference...I am not entirely sure it's wrong about that."

Trowa looked at him thoughtfully for a minute, his eyes flickering over Quatre's face, still trying to instinctively read his lines. Then he sighed, and a ghost of a smile twisted his lips. "If S were here, he would say that 'Only the wind is completely free, and that's because it has no home'. Yes, love can be a weakness. It doesn't have to be, though."

Quatre tried to smile. He couldn't. This wasn't the time for humour; this was the time to face some hard truths, for both the shaman and himself.

"I will change, Trowa." His voice was harsher than he'd wanted it, but even Zero couldn't catch words once they'd tumbled from the future into the past. Quatre closed his eyes. "I have already changed more than you think," he admitted, forcing it out. "I might become someone you don't know anymore. I might become someone you don't love."

"Only if you lose the battle," Trowa whispered. He wasn't talking about Juusan.

Quatre opened his eyes and fixed his lover sternly. "And if that's needed to win the war? I will do it, you know. Can you accept that?"

Trowa didn't even flinch. "I might have to die too, to save Centre. You know this, you've already accepted it."

"Yes," Quatre sighed. "But if I have to do this-...I won't be dead, Trowa. Not physically. I won't be gone, but I'll be changed beyond recognition. If you stay till the end...that will make it hard for you to mourn me and move on."

"Good," Trowa answered softly. "Then I won't move on. I'll stick around, in the hopes that one day, you'll come back to me."

"Then you've got the worse end of the deal," Quatre countered, his voice hard and uncompromising. He would not accept any ambiguity about this. "If you died, I would mourn you, probably for a long time. But I would ultimately get on with my life. To have you hang around after a ghost, a mere memory wearing my body, with none of my mind remaining...that hardly seems fair to you."

"Really? I don't see it that way. I see myself as very fortunate."

Quatre stared at him.

Trowa smiled. "I might have never met you at all," he explained simply.

"You might have been better o-"

The hand covered his mouth with almost bruising force.

"Don't say that," Trowa told him, his voice suddenly as hard as Quatre's. "Never say that."

Quatre stared at him above the hand on his mouth. Trowa took a breath to add something, then realized he was nearly gagging his lover, and jerked his hand away, with the start of an apology - Quatre caught it in his fingers, gently. Then he gathered the other hand. He looked steadily at the long fingers; the pads callused almost to the point of horn from drawing back the strings of bow and crossbow, nicks and cuts on the knuckles.

They'd talked, and that was something they had to do, but now, words were no longer enough. They were at the nexus of several possible futures. One was the one that Zero advocated; it was simple, straightforward; the pain would be searing, but brief, and then there was nothing but duty, and complete control of the future and himself.

The other...might also hurt. Considerably more. But maybe what was most frightening was that this future did not lie entirely in Quatre's hands. Part of it was entirely out of his control. Quatre had seen his own death repeatedly in Zero's mirror, but this path into uncertainty was more terrifying yet. If he walked this line, then a part of him would always rest in these strong, scarred hands. There was no doubt in his mind that he had to go that far, if this was the path he chose; Trowa had said he'd trust Quatre blindly, but that would be unfair. Trowa didn't deserve to have no trust in return for his own.

Zero whirred a bit in the back of Quatre's mind. It still preferred the simplest way forward, but it admitted that it had a bug in its ability to understand certain human emotions unrelated to war, and that it lacked the capacity to properly calculate the parameters of a relationship. If Quatre was willing to give it a complement of information, it could build a computational module to get around that limitation.

[Estimated time: 8 months, 3 days, +- 10 days. Required Information would be -]

[Abort]

Quatre made his choice. He lifted Trowa's weathered hands to his face.

Trowa looked puzzled. Quatre laid the shaman's fingers against his forehead, brushing aside a blond lock. This would be easier if the moon were shining, or if Trowa had some ochre and a magic circle, but if Quatre opened his mind, then the shaman should be able to read his lines with nothing but his mind and his fingers.

"Quatre? What are you-"

Trowa's fingers touched the spot which corresponded to Quatre's Third Eye, at the same time the healer, with grim determination, dropped the shields he'd kept over his true lines for the past few months.

The fingers went rigid - Trowa choked and jerked away, but Quatre held on bleakly - the shaman sagged back against the door frame, gasping, eyes wide and blind.

Quatre said nothing. After a few seconds, the strangled breaths grew more even as Trowa recovered from the shock. Maybe I should have warned him, Quatre thought. But he hadn't. Maybe it was finally time they both stopped trying to protect one another. Maybe it was time they both started to trust each other's strengths, rather than compensate for the others' weaknesses.

Trowa shook his head, as if that could change what he was seeing, or get it to make sense. The shock was ebbing. His mind tentatively felt around, trying to understand; Quatre could feel it, like a feather touch right in his head. The Third Eye was what allowed humans to sense the future, mainly by basing themselves on past experience and minute observations of the present so small they weren't aware of them, a minuscule imitation of Zero. Normally it extended to a few seconds ahead. In seers, it extended a few days or hours, darting occasionally forward a few months, in an uncontrollable way.

In Quatre, however...Trowa must have thought he was touching a puddle, to find himself sinking into the depths of a bottomless sea. Quatre's Third Eye was huge. Some areas reached out to the future to such a distance that it would crush the human mind to fully perceive it. Quatre kept a shield up around that, and it wasn't only for Trowa's benefit. He didn't go there either, not without Zero's assistance.

The fingers caught within Quatre's flexed, and tried to move away. Quatre let them. Trowa's eyes were closed now, a line of pain and deepening confusion on his brow as his fingers searched more and more frantically for-

Quatre touched the strong hands again - they tried to escape his, agitated, but he persisted, guiding them.

Trowa wasn't a spirit healer like some of the other Nightwalkers, but he knew the basics of the craft, like all of his kin. When a seer's Third Eye went too deep, saw too far, it unbalanced the rest of his aura. It meant self-absorption, confusion, retreat from the present, even madness. Trowa's fingers were tracing a pattern known to any shaman who'd had to treat a seer who couldn't awake from the Dreaming. He was trying to find the Ground Cords, the lines that helped the mind stay anchored and focused in the present. In bad cases of a seer going insane, those lines were tattered, sometimes even absent.

Quatre moved the fingers a bit more to the sides of his forehead. Finally, those shamanistic books Trowa had made him read were coming in handy after all. He knew some of the names of what Trowa was looking for, and why.

He let his touch and his mind do the talking. Here...here is what you are looking for.

Trowa's fingers stopped and felt about, as if the lines he was looking for were palpable. He stiffened again. Quatre could imagine what he was thinking. The Ground Cords were nowhere near where they should be; Quatre's Third Eye was so big, it had shoved them away. But because he had Zero, they were not broken. Zero had reinforced them and lengthened them to an abnormal degree, so that Quatre could still be effective in the real world with the predictions from the future. To Trowa, it must feel as unnatural as insect antennas sprouting from Quatre's forehead, or something equally as loathsome and strange. There was a good deal of distress in Trowa's aura, and Quatre could do very little about that.

The green and white eye flew open. The hands tore away from Quatre's. Trowa hugged himself, staring at the healer. Quatre didn't have to try very had to read Trowa's mind. It was a muddle of confusion, considerable awe, and a good dose of disgust and fear.

Quatre waited. He wondered if he looked calm. He didn't feel it. He'd barely shown Trowa anything yet, and already the fear was there.

That's why you've been hiding from him all this time, isn't it? The question didn't come from anywhere near Zero. Quatre's heart threw this at him, as it challenged him to confront his own true feelings, as Trowa had done earlier.

Yes. He was afraid. He hadn't wanted to show Trowa how much he'd changed, because he was afraid of frightening his lover so badly that he'd never have a chance of winning him back, even if they defeated Juusan. And that's when he realized that, whatever Zero had had to say about a relationship, part of Quatre had always hoped he'd be able to get Trowa back, despite ripping them apart and chasing him away in the first place.

And more than that. Quatre touched the root of his fear. He had wanted Trowa away so that the shaman would not see the very lines that Quatre was now showing him. Quatre didn't want to be forced to see, through Trowa's eyes, how changed he'd become. He'd talked boldly about accepting the changes Zero imposed, but he was afraid of actually seeing how inhuman he'd become; afraid to see Trowa recoil from a monster-

He realized that he was staring at a pair of hands again. They'd picked up his own, but then turned around in them so that they were lying in his palms. The long fingers were taut with stress, the scars stood out across the whitened knuckles.

Trowa was staring at him. His aura was still a mess, but that determination was back, slicing through it all, and this time, it had realized exactly the hurdles it had to face.

"Show me," Trowa whispered.

Quatre could feel the slightest tremor in the hands he held. Trowa, it appeared, was braver than he was. Or maybe just more ignorant, Zero speculated, before Quatre told it to shut up. Not that the program was entirely wrong. But that wasn't the point. Just because Trowa couldn't begin to understand how much he'd changed probably didn't stop him from imagining the worst. At this point, Trowa must think there was nothing recognizable left-

A sudden thought made Quatre smile slightly. Of course. That's what he would show him next. He wondered if Trowa would recall this...

He pressed Trowa's palms together, and drew them back to his forehead. He placed Trowa's joined fingers higher on his forehead, above the Third Eye, touching blond curls and his Crown Chakra.

Trowa let out a short puff of air; Quatre had felt him brace for the worst. Instead...Trowa let out a weak chuckle. The memory danced between them, like warm sunlight in a clinic three years ago.

"How did you know I was an empath?" The seventeen-year-old healer asked, startled, of his guest - one of the infamous Nightwalkers, but actually Mr Barton was quite nice, Quatre had decided. And he knew all sorts of herbs that Quatre had never heard of.

"I can see it."

"What? How?"

"Here."

Trowa Barton leaned forward and touched Quatre high on the forehead. The healer started back with a surprised squeak; Trowa had been his guest for two weeks and this was the first time the man had touched the healer deliberately. His fingers felt warm.

"This energy node in your pattern is known as your Crown Chakra. It is a manifestation of your higher feelings and abilities. I can't see many details without Walking your lines, but just looking at it, I can see that you're compassionate, intelligent, and also empathic," the shaman explained with a smile. He had turned to look at the fire, kindly ignoring the blush that was invading the healer's face.


"You're still compassionate," Trowa whispered. "And intelligent. And..." he frowned a bit in concentration, his eyes closing, "actually, your empathy feels a bit rusty."

Quatre shook his head, and was about to launch into an explanation about how he'd hotwired his senses together to help him read the future, before realizing it would make for a very complicated three-hour lecture. Talking wasn't necessary at this point, anyway. He sent a flash of thought thrilling up Trowa's fingers, into his mind; it illustrated the link between the Crown Chakra and Quatre's Third Eye.

"Oh." Trowa looked a bit doubtful about that setup, but his fingers were still caressing the blond locks, feeling every aspect of the Crown Chakra. It hadn't been changed much; it probably felt reassuringly familiar.

Trowa licked his lips, and his eyes focused on Quatre's. He was silent for awhile, and then he nodded shortly.

"Show me more," he murmured.

Quatre held his gaze for a few moments, but Trowa didn't look away. He moved his hands to cover Quatre's hair, smoothing it down absently, and looked at the healer expectantly.

With a sense of release, relief, and resolve equal to his fear, Quatre slowly began to reveal the lines that moved him now.

All of them.

Trowa's mouth twisted and his eyes shut tightly, as his fingers and mind felt the edge of the abyss.

Faint threads of panic shot through his aura. Quatre blinked, and tried to soothe them away with his mind. Too much, overwhelming. He had to- he had to expose this logically, he had to give it some kind of order, or it would only be an insane, frightening jumble to Trowa. How could he...?

He let go of Trowa's hands. He cupped Trowa's face, caressed the tawny hair away from the tightly shut eyes until he'd caught the shaman's attention, then he placed his smaller hands on Trowa's head.

Here. We can start here. Go slow. Let me show you.

Trowa froze. He stayed still for a few seconds, then slowly he nodded. Permission, and acknowledgment. When Quatre started to move his hands and mind along Trowa's pattern, the shaman imitated him, following his lead.

A few months ago, the world had exploded into dazzling arrays of lines, as Zero opened his eyes to them. Quatre had wanted to see everything, touch everything. But that first night, when he'd touched Trowa like this, Zero had shown its true colours. It was a tool of war. It had warped the innocent touch, the intimacy, and showed him instead how they could be used as weapons. He'd not touched Trowa this way since. Except some times, at night, when his lover slept by his side. Quatre had tentatively touched some of his minor lines, careful not to invade Trowa's privacy, or give Zero any fodder for its cruel equations.

But he had to move beyond fear. Now his fingers moved freely over Trowa's pattern.

Below the Crown Chakra lay the first branch of the Tree of Life. Quatre didn't need physical contact to see this; Zero had given him vision that went way beyond needing to touch anything, but touch he did anyway, marvelling in fine details that he'd never quite appreciate the same way otherwise. The branch was rich with Trowa's strength of will, his calm, serious nature, his commitment to Centre. It glowed in Quatre's eyes as he caressed it, his fingers tracing the lines over Trowa's brow at the same time. Quatre found himself smiling.

Trowa imitated his gesture, still cautious after his shock with the Third Eye. A callus caught in a wisp of blond hair, tugged a bit before giving. The panic and worry in Trowa's aura started to fade. Quatre's first branch had changed very little, besides a new determination to never be used again, and to serve Centre in a more active role. The shaman rubbed Quatre's temples briefly with the pads of his thumbs as he finished reading the first branch. The gesture felt soothing. Maybe he had felt a flicker of Quatre's own fear and doubt...

The hands settled, the fingers flexed.

Show me more...

Quatre traced Trowa's second branch of the Tree, dipping down to deeper lines of spirit and mind. He felt the body near his own shiver as he explored.

Trowa's mind stumbled and reached blindly. Quatre waited patiently. The fingers pressed to his face as if trying to gain an anchor. They brushed Quatre's lines and his hair. They caressed his Astral Body and his lips. They touched the marred remnants of his spiritual faith, rather shaken by all the recent events, and the folds of his eyelids. They stroked the overgrown Fifth Chakra and the curve of his throat.

That thread of fear/hurt/worry was back in Trowa's aura. What he was tracing was only remotely familiar now. Hell, it probably didn't even look human to him.

"How...how does-how can you still-"

Quatre's fingers ghosted over Trowa's lips. The shaman fell silent. His hands were trembling, and Quatre tasted a hint of wonder and of fear, of pain, regret, longing and determination, all blending and swirling before his mind's eye, under his fingertips. He passed his thumb over Trowa's lips again - not following any particular pattern; just because he felt like it.

Trowa was still for a few seconds, as if trying to integrate and understand what he'd just seen. Then pressure against Quatre's fingers relayed his lover's slow nod.

More. Show me more.

Quatre's hands and mind led the way over Trowa's life pattern. He was still afraid, but he wisely decided to enjoy the feel of his lover's lines while he could; the warmth and the intimacy of touching him like this. He concentrated on the simple pleasure of Trowa's hands moving over his face, skull and throat, and let the future arrive at its own pace.

Trowa was moving with slowly growing confidence. To a shaman, Quatre's lines probably looked like a rampant, chaotic machine gone awry, but now, Trowa was discovering order in the apparent anarchy. The shaman was used to reading patterns from the smallest insect to the mighty ley-lines of Center; he was picking up the new order that regulated Quatre and Zero, faster than Quatre had ever imagined.

The exploration and new understanding came at a price, though. Quatre opened one eye to peek at his lover, worried at the signs of stress growing in Trowa's aura. The shaman was leaning heavily against the door frame now; his eyes screwed shut as if he were protecting them from a blinding light.

Then Trowa's fingers, following the path Quatre was drawing on his body, tripped over the first real hurdle after the Third Eye. The complex mess that Zero had made of Quatre's Focal Point.

Quatre froze, his hand pressed to the same spot on Trowa's body. In the real world, it corresponded to the little dip just above the joint of the collar bones. Under the healer's fingers, Trowa's Focal Point was simple, almost primal. Quatre's had always been more complex, but now it must look completely neurotic, if not downright incomprehensible.

He waited. To a shaman, this muddle must look almost obscene, a massive rift with nature. He waited for rejection. Trowa's mind was trembling with something like horror, but his fingers continued to press against the tiny dip, almost bruising hard at some point, as if he could reach in there and just rip it out- He was swaying now, his face had gone pale. He was concentrating so much, he probably hadn't even noticed the bead of sweat trickle down his face. Quatre watched him. He knew his own fear of rejection coloured his aura, but he didn't try to hide it.

Trowa's lips moved. Quatre read the words automatically: 'What the hell...'. Ah, he'd found it. The massive railroad that led from Quatre's Focal Point to Zero's pattern. Trowa shook his head again, but this time in something like wonder. Quatre closed his eyes and checked the shaman's progress. He was understanding how it all fit together. It was as if Quatre's pattern had been blown apart and scattered, to make room for Zero. But though it was greater than before, and connected by artificial constructs, the overall scheme of things...was still Quatre. He was the one controlling the spell. Not the other way around. Trowa's mind was probing Zero's input/output system like one prods a wild tiger in its cage. Zero ignored him with sublime indifference.

Quatre smiled, for no reason he could readily name, and opened his eyes. He dropped his hands from their own exploration to grip Trowa by the shoulders. A few judicious pokes and shoves, and he managed to nudge his lover sideways, away from the doorframe which was probably trying to make a permanent imprint into his spine. Trowa stumbled, eyes still shut, almost unaware, deep in the complex tangle that was the Zero/Quatre interface. Quatre steadied him, then he pushed down on his shoulders. Trowa stayed leaning against the wall for a few seconds, body stiff and resisting. Finally he sank down, Quatre guiding him somewhat until the shaman was sitting with his back to the wall, eyes still shut, his legs before him. Quatre bent forward, so that Trowa didn't lose his contact with the healer's body. He followed Trowa down to the floor a bit awkwardly, until his knees touched the ground on either side of Trowa's thighs. He settled them both as comfortably as he could and put his hand back on Trowa's Focal Point.

Trowa's eyes were still screwed shut, and Quatre wasn't sure he'd even noticed the change in position. He was looking confused. The complexity of Zero and the changes made to Quatre at this level were probably beyond him. He would need Zero himself to understand them.

Quatre slowly moved his own hand, until it reached Trowa's Fourth Chakra, his astral Heart, in the centre of his sternum. He pressed slowly, dragging Trowa's attention back to what he was doing. He didn't force his lover to leave what he was studying, though. He waited patiently for Trowa to decide what he wanted to do.

The shaman's mind finally dropped away from Quatre's Focal Point, still confused and unsure about what he'd seen there. But he let himself be guided, and moved his hand to Quatre's Heart Chakra.

Trowa suddenly smiled, his aura suffusing with relief and a muted joy that seemed to tremble like a heartbeat beneath Quatre's fingers. Quatre almost purred with reflected pleasure; he knew what Trowa had found. Quatre's Fourth Chakra was different; changed and modulated by his overall pattern and Zero's modifications. But one part of that pattern had not changed, and Quatre knew now that it never would, even if Trowa left him, even if his lover died...even if Quatre died for that matter. Fuck the wheel, it couldn't touch this.

"That's rather blasphemous, my love..." Trowa whispered, catching the thought.

Quatre shrugged, knowing Trowa would feel the movement under his palm, and the sentiments expressed in his aura. His lover was deep within him now, following strands of Quatre's thoughts and emotions. Quatre didn't stop him. He encouraged him, moving his hand over Trowa's chest to his heart. He relished the familiar beat beneath his fingers for a few seconds, before moving on.

The Twin Circles, the Thread of Life, the Soul Anchors, the Male-Female Poles, the Fire Chakra...Each mystical point tingled beneath fingers drawn to explore, to discover and share.

Quatre led them, discovering subtle new twists in Trowa's pattern that even Zero's far-reaching vision had missed. He revealed his own pattern by increments under Trowa's touch. He didn't try to hide anything. Neither did he throw the worst at Trowa in a deliberate test of his resolve, daring him to stay no matter what. Trowa's fingers discovered by themselves the massive changes; the edge of cruelty the Jishin spell had taught Quatre; the programs that ran part of his psyche now; the seal, that cut off part of his heart to give him detachment; the dance of madness at the back of his mental layout...Quatre just moved on; the changes, good and bad, fell into place into the overall pattern.

While he caressed the base of Trowa's Silver Cord, his thumb drawing lazy circles around Trowa's navel, his free hand rose to his lover's face. He combed aside the long hair clinging to the forehead, damp with sweat. The shaman's eyes were open now, but completely blind; he was plunged deep into Quatre's pattern. Quatre let his fingers run down Trowa's nose, caress his cheek, slip gently between his parted lips, obscurely fascinated by it all, as if he were touching his lover for the first time.

I think, Quatre concluded, that I am a little high on arcane energy right now.

Zero posted a comment from somewhere within Quatre's reasoning ability. A little warning: if the sanctuary was attacked now, it would take both of them several precious minutes to untangle their psyches and get back to the real world.

Quatre could feel Trowa's pattern flinch and change, his mind suddenly aware of Zero's alien voice communicating with Quatre. The healer sent Zero a curt order to keep a wary eye out for intruders and otherwise mind its own business. But he didn't try to hide the spell from Trowa's mystical gaze; Zero was also a part of him now.

He started tracing patterns across Trowa's lines. Like that first night after Zero had taken up residence in his head. Patterns that were strange to the shaman. They weren't based on natural lines, they were Jishin creations. They were artificial, and very invasive- Trowa's hand jerked away from Quatre's abdomen, with a protesting grunt.

Quatre reached for the shaman's hand and put it back, though the touch wasn't needed anymore. Still, it was a handy anchor. Trowa was still hesitating, despite the implied permission. Quatre let his fingers and his mind play on Trowa's body and pattern, showing him slowly. You do this...and this...it verifies the harmony of these sets of lines. It indicates the validity of someone's intent. This variant of the tool can also show if someone is lying...

Trowa stood at the start of the pattern, not going forward, until Quatre leaned forward, pressing his lips to his lover's in encouragement. Trowa's tongue darted out absently, testing the sensation he'd probably barely felt. His mind started to walk the Jishin pattern that Quatre had shown him.

Pattern followed pattern. Quatre was distantly aware that his knees were very unhappy with him. After a few seconds, he remembered how to move, and leaned back into Trowa's lap a bit. That just made another set of muscles complain. How long...? Quatre tipped his head back, focusing his eyes slowly, for the first time in over an hour.

His muscles were actually a minor inconvenience, easily ignored. Inside, he felt raw, ripped open and revealed. Trowa's hands trembled, and Quatre realized his own were no better. This was harrowing, like ploughing through hundreds of thick webs, while trying to make sense of all of them together.

Finally Trowa stilled.

"Enough," he whispered, his arms abruptly falling away.

Quatre stopped. His hands felt laden. He waited.

Trowa sighed and leaned his head back against the wall. Quatre heard a crick in the shaman's neck and instinctively reached for it with his fingers. A healer's reflex.

"Enough. You...can show me more later..."

Quatre closed his eyes, leaned forward and sank his head onto Trowa's shoulder, drops of sweat peppering the leather jerkin. Later...was a very nice word.

His fingers absently rubbed completely nonsensical patterns down Trowa's neck, kneading the muscles. He moved forward a bit, trying to reduce the angle between their two bodies so he could rest against Trowa more comfortably. Trowa's hand started to brush up and down his back. It had squat to do with shamanistic patterns and everything to do with a gesture of comfort that was as old as humanity.

Their minds were still so entangled in each other's auras that they both turned their heads at the same time. In the real world, their lips met awkwardly; Trowa's eyes were still unfocused and dazed. It was just a touch. It shivered, unsettling but pleasant, over nerves scrapped raw by too much self-revelation. Quatre blinked and set his hand against Trowa's jaw, tilting his head to kiss his lover again.

They'd just been more intimate with each other than humans were really meant to be; the bonds they'd tied between them pulled them closer, melded into something else, more primal, more natural, just as necessary- Quatre's mind brushed Trowa's instinctively, reaching out to touch more of the comfort/warmth/sharing-

Trowa jumped, gasped and slid sideways along the wall until he caught himself.

"Wh-what was that?!"

Quatre, mortified, retreated hastily; he'd sparked off that pattern without conscious volition, he'd just wanted to touch Trowa for pleasure instead of ripping their souls bare-

Trowa caught the fleeing mind as well as the body that was struggling to move away.

"No," he whispered, the word fluttering across Quatre's lips as the shaman leaned forward, away from the wall, and dragged the slender body to him again, "no, no, no...do that again..."

Quatre's higher functions pondered this; they were both exhausted, mentally and physically, and really, they should take the time to reflect on all this, and- then he noticed that his fingers had already sneaked around Trowa's back and dropped to the Basal Chakra where they were contemplating something quite naughty that the shaman had probably never seen before.

Zero issued a few more protests about battle readiness and keeping energy reserves in case they needed to fight off a surprise attack. At the same time, Trowa, apparently puzzled but still willing to imitate Quatre's movements one more time, let his hands slide down Quatre's back, one of them placing itself comfortably on his hip, the other moving to imitate the healer's fingers, resting on his Basal Chakra, near the root of his spine. Energy lines on Quatre's body crackled and sparkled.

Quatre told Zero to take a flying jump.

His nails scratched and probed at Trowa's lower back, hitting pressure points and stroking the lines that led from the Basal Chakra to all sorts of interesting places. Trowa's fingers mimicked his hesitantly; perplexity colouring the shaman's aura. This was a pattern Trowa didn't know; it relied on tools of war, something Zero had taught to Quatre. The healer was quite happily using his knowledge of human anatomy to subvert them to a purpose that Zero's creators had probably not had in mind. His fingers slowed until Trowa caught up with him, and they both completed the pattern just as his lover was about to ask what it was they were doing-

"Whoa!" Trowa's head nearly slammed back into the wall, but Quatre had slipped a hand behind his neck to avoid that, having expected that reaction. Zero had its uses, Quatre thought, just before his mind dissolved. His lower body felt joined to Trowa's in a wave of searing heat and pleasure.

He rocked forward. The pattern he used made everything more sensitive. He could feel every flinch and start of movement against his cock. Trowa groaned, his free hand hard against Quatre's hip, nearly crushing him, exhilarating.

Trowa's hand slipped from the pattern on Quatre's back, but it no longer mattered. Quatre shuddered as the fingers flexed, gripping his ass, pressing their erections together until it felt like they were going to fuse like that.

Quatre, panting, smiled down at the face dazed with bliss, and leaned back a bit, tilting his hips. Trowa blinked, stunned, flushed - Quatre, tantalized, leaned forward, and fell into a wild kiss like a bite. He threw out his free hand to brace against the wall, and keep them from pitching back into it, as trivialities like balance were lost in the writhing, pulsing movement that thrust them together. Trowa's hand on his ass made him writhe and shove and push- Quatre choked - he ripped away from Trowa's mouth - he couldn't get enough air into his lungs - he couldn't get enough - very, very far away, he saw his other hand slam against the wall, desperately keeping them upright, keeping the pressure, the contact between them - the wild movement of his hips, grinding him against Trowa's cock. Auras tangled; pleasure melded them into a single entity, something primal, mindless - pure -

"Ahh!" The cry broke from his throat. The pattern he'd used to tease and arouse them exploded into little fragments -

Trowa hadn't cried out. He'd buried his head in Quatre's shoulders as he shoved their bodies together one last time. An animal instinct had pressed teeth into the healer's skin, an age-old meaning. Mine. Still mine.

Quatre sagged against him, trembling and panting. One hand left the wall to smooth down Trowa's hair, petting him gently, in a gesture that was just as proprietary as the mild bite on his neck.

A trickle of sweat ran into his eye, stinging - as if that had been a signal, every part of his body that had a justifiable complaint queued up with a petition. Starting with his knees. Quatre groaned. Trowa went Hmmm deep in his throat. It sounded a lot more contented, but of course, he was sitting down relatively comfortably.

Quatre made a move to disentangle himself. It was pretty much doomed to failure. They ended up in a limp heap on their sides. Trowa grunted as his shoulder thumped against the flagstones.

"Quatre...?"

"Hmm?" Quatre tried to move one of his legs out from the tangle. He managed to straighten it in a three-stage movement accompanied by plenty of creaking noises.

"...what are we doing on the floor?"

"You don't remember?"

"Oh, I remember...but why didn't we do this on the bed? And without our clothes on, I'd add?" Trowa shifted and moved his legs apart, grimacing.

"Lack of foresight. Strangely enough." Quatre frowned, suddenly introduced to another point of discomfort, cooling in his pants. Oh yeah, they were still wearing clothes. He'd somehow managed to forget that in the past hour.

Trowa snorted. "Lack of foresight? May I ask what that piece of junk in your head was doing all this time then?"

Quatre started to mentally highlight the lines of thought Zero was following, but then he realized that Trowa could no longer follow them. The climax had blown their patterns apart. An interesting way of coming down from a Nightwalker trance, Quatre thought with a smug internal purr.

"Do you really want to know what Zero's doing?" he asked sardonically.

"Yes," Trowa whispered. He was still smiling, but his eyes were suddenly serious.

Quatre took in a breath, and let it out again. He turned towards Trowa, propped himself up on his elbow, and examined the shaman's aura. Strange to look at it and feel it from the outside again.

The taint of fear was still there. And a good helping of worry. Trowa didn't like Zero. He was afraid for Quatre. A small part of him was afraid of Quatre. The latter tried to imagine what he had looked like to Trowa; some sort of God-Machine, controlling the future like clockwork, bent on victory at all cost, with uncaring power that could obliterate them all if it needed too. Something alien, against nature.

Trowa's eyes met his, unflinching.

"It's been very busy, actually," Quatre sighed. "It had calculated our break-up as inevitable, mathematically, and that simplified some of its equations. So it's been redoing them. It's trying to ensure that whatever I- we decide to do now, it can compensate for our decision. It's including all possible futures of our relationship in its tactical modules, so that it won't compromise its overall strategy for Juusan's arrival."

There was a moment of silence as Trowa stared at the ceiling.

"Did you just tell me that Zero has given us his blessing?"

"It. It's an it. And trust me, it's not your new mother-in-law. It doesn't know the concept of blessing. Essentially, it's labelled this whole issue as 'your bloody business', and is just making sure it won't cause any negative consequences in our fight with Juusan."

Despite Quatre's attempt at humour, the look they shared was grave. There was an unspoken thread of thought between them; if Zero decided that their relationship definitely impacted their ability to fight the Scourge...then it would have to be put on hold. On hold though. Not over.

"Exactly what is it doing to compensate for our decision?" Trowa grumbled, not looking like he wanted to know, but soldiering on anyway.

"There's not that much impact, really." Strange, how little this momentous decision between them really mattered to the outside world..."Mainly, it's making allowances for my desire to avoid putting you at risk, and for any attempt on your part to protect me that might cause interference."

Trowa blinked and turned to look at Quatre angrily. "I said I wouldn't-"

Quatre laid a gentle hand on his mouth. Trowa lapsed into an irritated silence, but Quatre could see he was realizing the logic behind that. He could say he wouldn't be protective, but it was his nature, and they both knew it. It would probably take some time for him to conquer that, to stop thinking of Quatre as someone who needed to be protected. The revelation of what Quatre was now had probably helped a lot, but the rest would be up to Trowa. There was no guarantee that he would succeed, or that Quatre wouldn't relapse and fold back in on himself again, or that their love would be strong enough to keep them together for what would follow.

"Zero has dedicated a few of its resources to work on another project," Quatre continued, trying to lighten the mood. The future would arrive at its own pace and in its own shape; that was one thing he'd learned.

"What?" Trowa asked, not very interestedly. He was shifting on the floor, an unconscious attempt to get more comfortable. Neither of them suggested moving to the bed close by, though. There was an unspoken reluctance to lose the contact between their two bodies.

"It registered a fault when it completely missed its predictions of the future where we are concerned."

"Uh?"

"It screwed up when it predicted our break-up and that pisses it off," Quatre translated.

Trowa frowned. "But you said it hit a limitation."

"Yes. I'm sure that if this thing came with a manufacturer's warranty, it would say: Warning, contact with illogical emotions such as love and faith can cause errors in analyses. Bloody Jishin..."

"So why is it working on this?"

"Zero is a self-evolving program. When it's confronted with a factor it doesn't know, it elaborates a research plan to address this. Like it did with the Immortal question, observing Fen to understand-"

Trowa covered his eyes with a groan. "No. Don't tell me."

"Yes. I'm afraid that a tiny part of Zero has created a new parameter called Love which it is now researching, by dutifully observing, recording and analyzing everything that we've been-"

"I asked you not to tell me..."

"You want to know something even better?"

"...not really..."

"We have a couple of other eavesdroppers."

Trowa lifted his hand from his face to peek at Quatre questioningly.

"Svale and Duo hooked in to the sanctuary lines over an hour ago, to see if we were having a fight- oh, funny that, they just left right this moment," Quatre added sardonically.

Trowa sighed, then he bundled Quatre more comfortably into his arms. "That's okay. Them we can kill later. Not much we can do about Zero..."

"No," Quatre whispered.

"...I wish I could help. Without being condescending and over-protective, of course," the shaman added with a ghost of his old smile.

"Well...you can make sure to give me a human perspective to weigh against this bloody weapon in my head," Quatre muttered.

"With pleasure." Trowa brushed aside a blond curl that was trying to work its way into Quatre's eye. "I just wish I could do more. I wish I could help you carry this burden."

"I know," Quatre answered softly. "But you can't."

"I know."

The acceptance colouring Trowa's aura was tainted with helplessness and regret, it was fragile and pained. But Quatre trusted Trowa's strength. Trowa would overcome this, he would accept this. He would be by Quatre's side, wherever their lines carried them.

"So...now what do we do?" Trowa asked quietly.

"Well, we could move to the bed-"

Trowa rolled his eyes. "I meant, when-"

"-and I can show you a few more tricks with patterns I bet you never even thought of."

Trowa paused, and looked at Quatre's predatory leer with a mixture of interest and some trepidation. "...I think I should mention that I just enjoyed a very satisfying orgasm; I don't know what you have in mind, but it might have to wait for a shower and a short rest first-"

"Lover, the human body has resources you never even dreamed of," Quatre murmured, his fingers playing not-so-innocently over Trowa's belt.

The shaman appeared to consider this for a moment. Then in an explosion of movement, Quatre found himself hoisted away from the flagstones bruising his hipbone, and into a pair of strong arms.

"Really? Show me."

[chap. 38] [chap. 40] [back to Maldoror's fic]