Fire bursts forth, and ice flies to meet it—

Time is a river that touches the shores of countless worlds, one that curves back and divides into a neverending labyrinth of intertwined pasts and futures. And along these threads, one can see events, people, creatures mundane or fantastical that glow with light, marking them as turning points, diverging paths; they are what will change the story they embody so drastically that they are divided into two or more entirely different ways.

—And all vanishes in a well of soundless white light that is elements burning each other out of existence.

Jin Uzuki shakes with the strain of standing against the blast. He wants nothing more than to let his legs fold under him, to drown the pain of his wounded side in unconsciousness.

At this point – the moment the dust clears and fates reach their crossroads – he does not allow himself that luxury and remains resolutely upright, though he sways involuntarily when Margulis' bloodied face appears through the hazy pall between them.

There is Canaan's hand steadying him at his left, and at his right chaos' light touch is reassuring. And this time, this time, he finds some hidden reserve of strength within him and pulls. His opponent does not expect him to have woven a spell of breaking after the effort it has taken for him to summon his beautiful bird of ice, and Jin can see it clearly in his face as he vanishes into the darkness of the ruin below.

It feels very little like victory.

"We should get you back on the ship." chaos' voice is a quiet suggestion by his ear, and very reasonable as things go, but something in it gives the swordsman pause. His mission, the three U.R.T.V. units he has been sent to retrieve, may yet be accomplished, and…he has taken worse wounds than before. Has he? It doesn't matter. He will keep going.

Despite Canaan's protests at his condition, and chaos' aura of obvious worry, they keep moving through rubble and fires and the madness of a dying world. Twice Jin stumbles on hidden obstacles, and both times is hauled up well before he can hit the ground.

The choices have been made. In a separate world, three are lost and one vanishes back behind the curtain of history. In this one, eyes have focused on a new set of paths. The fabric of eternity is rippling into the divided tapestry of lives…for better, or for worse.

They are getting closer.

- - - - - - -

They are lost, they are lost with no hope; there is silence echoing terrible in his mind and it is all his fault, he, Rubedo, has been a coward for the first time in his short life and all that is dear to him has paid the price for it. He hugs Nigredo's doll-like (corpse? has my br/other died in my arms?) to his chest and wails quietly into dark strands of hair. (i'm sorry) (i'm sorry) (nigredo/albedo/everybody i know you can't hear me) (but please, please, forgive me and do not die.)

No one responds. They are alone and no less lost than before his plea, and if no one comes he is afraid Nigredo will leave him as well (if he has not already—no!) They must move, or rather, he must, hauling the other U.R.T.V. as far as his tired arms will allow and settling them in the lee of a wall that seems solid enough to shelter them. If anything can be called shelter on a planet that has gone to hell.

He whispers his brother's name and presses a hand to his neck, feeling what may be a shivering pulse, weak under his fingertips. There is still a chance. But how is he supposed to get either of them to safety when he stands and looks around to see nothing, nothing, nothing?

A different Rubedo will see no one, and save his brother and himself nonetheless. There are still ship-transports on the planet large and crowded enough that two boys, one awake and one not, can make their escape unnoticed.

This Rubedo is spared a little bit of heartache. For him there are voices that are not the military tones of soldiers or a victim's dying shrieks; these are low and thinned by distance, but not indecipherable to his ears, enhanced long before his 'birth' to make him an even better fighter.

"…could be dead for all we know…" This one is plaintive, but in a place like this that tone is easy to understand. No sane person would want to be here any longer than necessary.

"…shouldn't be…made to be resilient…units…" This one is a low, soothing alto, androgynous. For a moment Rubedo frowns as he attempts to puzzle it out. "Not immune…nothing's invincible…pack of child soldiers, and if the others have been destroyed – and there were supposed to be hundreds – why would those three be the only ones to survive?"

The redhead's eyes widen as his numbed mind finally makes sense of the approaching conversation. For a moment he debates finding a better hiding place. He wants Nigredo cured, but—

(so little time to choose) (better dead than used again?) (better used than dead?) (little br/other, i wish you would wake you are the one who always knows what to do) (what would you do?)

No answer, and so quickly he is learning not to expect one. Instead, he searches for the memory of a mind that should be as close as his own, and what his dark counterpart might have given him had he been aware of their predicament.

(go) (better any chance of rescue) (prisoners may still escape) (i trust you rubedo)

It is hollow, but it is the truth and by this time it almost does not matter because even through fire-glare he can see the three coming near, near, near, looming silhouettes and heavy footsteps on the broken ground.

He finds his voice and cries out, animal and wordless, and the figures lurch to a halt (are they carrying the one in the middle, is he hurt? Wait, he sees long hair…man or woman?), turning in the direction of his shout.

Ducking back behind the wall, he waits, shielding Nigredo with his body as best as he can in case these strangers have not, as he hopes, come to save them.

As it turns out, he doesn't have to worry. There is movement to his left (his gun is ready in wary, battle-trained fingers) and then – oh, it is a man now, obviously, despite the ridiculous length of the hair. He is almost concerned when the stranger gasps and clutches at a sticky red gash along his side, blood welling beneath gloved fingers.

"Hello," this odd man smiles, and even though his words are edged with pain, the expression is a welcome one. "You wouldn't happen to be Rubedo, would you?"

- - - - - - -

Authoress-ramble: OMG Shanna, heeheehee, I can't believe your insanely AUlicious plotline would leech into my brain so far—you've gotten me HOOKED, HOOKED, you hear?! I couldn't stop writing this if I tried, and I don't care if I know zip about the game's plot…please, readers, if there are any huge glaring storyline errors with it, tell me, because I haven't played Xenosaga yet, and unless I get a job, I'm never going to be able to afford it.

So yeah, you could call this an offshoot of Shanna (Tala1)'s fic, 'Passion of Freedom,' because while I don't have her incredible talent for cooking up long and complicated plots full of Gnosis and monsters and angst (though I honestly wish to get it someday), I did want to write my own version of Xenosaga with Jin as a central character. 'Passion' and 'Unraveling' are two completely different stories, with completely different plotlines, never fear…

Next: Rubedo angsts, Nigredo is heard from in a totally unexpected way, and we begin to wander into completely AU territory…