Disclaimers: Don't own any part of Gundam Wing nor it's characters. Merely borrowing them for a little torture.

Warnings: Shounen-ai (because I suck at yaoi) , major A.U, some OOC I think, probably future mpreg

Fates and Choices

Part 1 : Of Healers and Saplings

It was late afternoon and all the children of the village had awoken from a mandatory nap forced on by their parents. They piled into one of the homes of the oldest villagers, knowing he would always be good for a story or two. The village was still bustling with activity, merchants and villagers alike trading along the narrow pathway that made up the main street of the smallish village. As the horde of children ran along the pathway, the crowd parted quickly, shouts of annoyance rising into the air as small bodies barrelled into legs of bigger ones.

"Damned kids," one crusty eyed merchant groused, picking his basket of cabbages off the floor.

"They are just children, sir," a tall slender man, with deep violet eyes admonished softly.

The merchant eyed the new arrival warily. He didn't seem local and the cut of his clothes made the boy, yes he was barely out of manhood, seem like one of those creatures out of the Forbidden Forest. The young man had almost delicate features and a fair complexion, but not enough to be called pale. He had broad shoulders and was slender around the waist and hips. Though deceptively slender, the merchant was familiar enough with whipcord strength to judge the boy to be strong enough to take him on in a fair fight and win easily. Overall, the merchant thought the boy was a pretty good looking kid, minus the long thick chestnut braid that hung down his back, hanging just above his hips. That gave him an almost effeminate look and the merchant hated men looking like women.

"What's it to you?" The merchant challenged.

Violet eyes flashed for an instant. "I'm not looking for trouble, just for the herb trader Howard," the boy backed up a few steps, indicating the every sense that he meant no harm and wanted no trouble.

The merchant waved his hand in the general direction where the herb trader can be found and watched as the young man disappeared into the crowd.

The bevy of young children found their destination easily and ran into the dusty shop calling at the top of their voices.

"Grandpa, Grandpa, we want a story," they chimed excitedly, clambering up onto an elderly man's lap.

"Now, now, children, be careful now," a middle aged man warned. "Grandpa Joe is not young enough for your exuberance. You want a story, you better behave."

The children sighed in unison. "Yes, Mr Howard, we will." Then they all gathered on the floor in front of the smiling old man, waiting for the story that was forth coming.

"What do you want to hear about today, little ones?" Grandpa Joe asked, voice weakened by age.




"Evil sorcerers."

Came a cacophony of voices.

Both Howard and Grandpa Joe burst into laughter. "Tell you what, little ones? I will tell you a story about the legend of the Spirit Shifters."

Herb trader Howard stiffened. The Spirit Shifters were not legends. They existed within the Forbidden Forest. He had seen them before, hell, he was friends with one. But he held his tongue. This was his grandfather's story, not his.

The children squealed their agreement and settled down to listen to the tale.

"Well, the Spirit Shifters are a strange group of men. They live within the Forbidden Forest. It was said that they used to be normal men like you and me and they angered the Spirits of the Forest. You know that we aren't allowed inside the forest, but these bunch of arrogant young men believed they could tame the Spirit of the Forest."

Grandpa Joe stopped, seeing the wonder shining in the young faces before forging on. "So they went in, hoping to confront the Spirit of the Forest. The Spirit came to them in a form a beautiful young woman, and they were all instantly smitten. That means in love, little ones," he clarified seeing the incomprehension in the eyes of his audience. "They began to fight each other for her and the Spirit decided that these men were just too proud of themselves. One night, she stole their Spirits and made them one with the Forest. From then on, it is said that their souls roam the Forbidden Forest. Haunting it for all time."

Howard smiled at the fanciful tale. Spirit Shifters were not ghosts, but very virile and beautiful men. They were part of the Forest itself and they guarded its entrance jealously. No one knew what lies beyond the boundary of the Forbidden Forest, but Howard knew it was not ghosts. It was rumoured to be a most beautiful place where creatures of legends dwell. And these Spirit Shifters were their eternal guardians. The Shifters were able to take on the Spirit of another being and physically transform into that body, making them mysterious and elusive. If Howard had not met one of them, he would have continued to think they were ghosts of some kind. His first meeting with one of them had complete shocked him to the core.

He had been gathering herbs one day near the edge of the Forbidden Forest when he found a couple of men beneath an ancient tree. One of them, as unbelievable as it sounded, appeared to be heavy with child and giving birth. His mate had been injured and unable to help. Upon seeing him, both Shifters gone into a defensive stance, but the pregnant one was having some difficulty. Howard, appearing as non-threatening as possible, offered his services as a healer and delivered a beautiful baby boy with exquisite violet eyes. It was through them that he found out more about these elusive Shifters.

Apparently, all the Shifters were men as legend dictated. They were apparently cursed to be the way they were long ago but the details of the curse and who did it to them was lost in the tomes of history. All they do remember was that they were supposed to guard the Forbidden Forest for eternity as it was a place of safety for all mystical creatures. They were intricately tied to the life of the Forest. They lived and died with it. Whoever made them the way they were, ensured that there would be no dwindling numbers amongst them as well. Certain Shifters were able to procreate. At birth, every single Shifter baby would be taken to the Ancient to be chosen to either be a sire of Shifters, a bearer of Shifters or a Healer. Three different types but no hierarchy. If the Ancient chose a child to be a bearer, there would be a tattoo of an ancient oak on the right shoulder of the child, while a Healer would bear on of a sapling and the a sire of the Shifters would not have any markings on his body. Howard had assumed that a child bearer would be the weaker one in a Shifter Tribe but was quickly disabused of this notion when the Shifter would had just gave birth killed a rampaging forest cat with one throw of a knife.

No, they were all equally strong, it was just the requirements of nature. They all had some mystical power given by the Ancient to serve the Forest. Healers, Hearers, Coaxers and they could all transform their bodies to imitate anything they desired. It was called Shifting. Howard wasn't sure of what all the other gifts were, as he was not allowed to be told.

"Howard," a quiet voice from the doorway jerked the herb trader from reverie.

"Duo," Howard hissed. "What are you doing here?" He stared hard at the violet eyed young man he had help bring into the world almost eighteen years ago.

"I need your help," Duo sounded dejected, his hands pulling at his long braid nervously.

Howard motioned with a slight tilt of his head towards the back of the shop, after seeing his grandfather still entertaining the children. He was followed by the young Shifter towards the back room. Duo Maxwell, younger son of a tribe leader and chosen by the Ancient as a Healer. One who Heals and will neither sire nor bear a child. Technically his godson and he loved the young man to pieces. He settled his body into a chair and motioned for Duo to do the same.

"What's wrong? You seemed trouble."

"I need you to help me with some herbs," Duo spoke almost reluctantly.

Howard's brow furrowed in concern. Was Duo sick? "Are you all right?"

"Yes," Duo hurried to assure, instantly realising the conclusion Howard had come to with that kind of opening. "I'm fine, I need you to help me with a little….." Once again uncomfortable. "…Art." He pulled the collar of his crisp black shirt down to reveal his small tattoo of the tree sapling the signified his identity as the Healer of Shifters.

"What?" Howard was confused.

Duo took a deep breath. "I need you to make it into a tree."


Three hours later, one dejected Shifter took to the air as an owl, winging his way through the night air back to the Forbidden Forest, one shoulder throbbing painfully. Duo had taken a big chance to leave the Forest to meet Howard but he knew of no other that would help him so unconditionally. Howard had become a major part of his life and his father had allowed the contact beyond the Forest boundaries. One reason was due to his status as a Healer, who normally had an instinctive need for independence and second, he trusted Howard, both as a Healer and as his son's godfather.

I hope I did the right thing, Solo He cast the thought telepathically towards his errant brother, who right now was possibly far, far away with his human lover. How Solo had met a human lover, Duo had yet to find out, but when his brother found out he was to be mated to the tribe chief on the other side of the Forest, he had practically begged Duo to help him run away.

Thank you, brother dear. You did good Came a ghost of a reply, barely there.

Solo and him cooked up this hair brain scheme. For Duo to replace him as the tribe chief's mate. A tribe chief would definitely need an heir and Duo already admitted to lacking certain abilities in that area. While Healers normally did mate, they were not mated with tribe chiefs and this duplicity could very well mean trouble for everyone. The violet eyed man figured to give his brother as much time to run as far as possible before he gave himself up to the tribe chief for punishment and hoped that was enough.