Sun-kissed rooftops were the only view to be seen for miles around. Trowa led Quatre-Hime through a haphazard path past crumbling plaster and weathered wood, finally coming to a halt at his small rooftop shelter. It wasn't much, just the remnants of an old roof shed, now carefully maintained by Trowa, but he winced when he looked at it -- to Quatre's eye, most certainly, it was a crumbling wreck.
He had taken Quatre's hand at one point to help him skirt a tricky section of floor riddled with holes, and now he observed their still-joined hands with vague surprise.
Looking over at the shorter boy, he could see a sweet smile curving the profile and his own lips tugged a response. Then, self-consciously, he withdrew his hand and began tidying up odds and ends around the shack.
"So when did you decide to leave the palace?" Trowa finally put forth after a long silence, knowing he wasn't much of a great conversationalist but knowing he just had to say *something*. Here, finally, was the golden boy he'd been longing for.
Quatre tipped his head sidewise, blue eyes gleaming at him for an instant before he fixed them onto the stretch of palace framed by two dilapidated chimneys. Quickly Trowa pulled the curtain shut in consideration. Quatre-Hime had just escaped from the palace, after all, and why would he wish to see its fabulous view when he had been a prisoner within?
"When I saw you this afternoon," Quatre replied with that same warming smile.
Trowa blinked. He hadn't expected such a candid reply. "Me?" he echoed with bewilderment.
"Yes... " Quatre trailed off, uncertainty working its way over his featyures. "I -- I thought... I mean, when I saw you this afternoon, I thought you were struck by the encounter as I was."
Like a ton of bricks, Trowa mused ruefully.
"I had been prepared to admire you from afar," Trowa returned, a half-smile crossing his mouth. "I wasn't exactly expecting to meet you in person. And so forcibly, at that."
A sweet, merry sprinkling of laughter. "You did look pretty stunned."
Trowa wouldn't be put off. He didn't have enough of an ego to think Quatre-Hime had left the luxury of the palace for his own rather unimpressive self. "Really, though, Quatre-H--er, I mean... "
Quatre leaned towards him. "Please, just call me Quatre."
"Quatre," Trowa repeated, averting his eyes from a wealth of blue scintillation. "Honestly. Why did you leave the palace? And how did you expect to make a living?"
"Well... " Quatre scraped a foot over some of the loose stones of the roof. Trowa glanced over the rooftop and wanted to sink through it. It was so dirty! Quatre was probably used to polished marble floors.
"Treize wants to marry me off to some fat, grasping old prince," Quatre began, his expression distressed. "I think because he doesn't want me to inherit Agrabah. I've always suspected I'm not his real child. But it's more than that. I want to marry for love."
He trailed off, then raised his eyes to Trowa's. His sudden smile all but glowed.
And Trowa all but choked.
Love? ... Him!? A no-name, worthless street rat? Even the name he used wasn't his; he had borrowed it from the merchant who had brought him to Agrabah initially.
"L-love... ?" he stumbled over the word.
Quatre's smile faltered. "Yes... well... maybe it was a silly idea," he continued sadly, almost to himself. The next words were produced in such soft tones he had to stoop forward to hear them. "But... well... but I saw you, today... this morning... and I thought it seemed, from the look on your face... "
The golden head bowed, white-blond bangs overshadowing the lapis pools of Quatre's eyes. Trowa abruptly felt like the worst heel on the face of Arabia.
"Please forgive me for my presumption."
Trowa stared at the bent head, utterly floored. Quatre wanted his forgiveness? When it was he who was botching everything?
"I have to admit," he put forth, his voice somewhat unsteady, "I don't understand."
Quatre's brow puckered. "What?"
"Why you l-like me."
He couldn't maintain it. He had to look away, as the heart-shaped face lifted, eyes alight with confusion. Now it was he who hung his head, unable to meet Quatre's eyes.
"Why?" Quatre echoed. He stepped forward, shoes scuffing over the dirty rock-littered roof and Trowa flinched -- then started, as he felt gentle hands on his shoulders. "Why? But, Trowa... As I understand it, there doesn't need to be a 'why' for love at first sight. It just is. You were the only thing I could see, only you. I felt as if I could see your soul."
With a great effort of will, Trowa wrenched his eyes up. Quatre was still looking at him, his gaze clear and bright. It was exactly the way he'd felt, from the first moment... and to hear Quatre describe it so only made the sensation sharpen within him.
"Quatre... I... " He wanted to look away again, but as inescapably as his gaze had been drawn away before, so now was it fixed in place. Securely to Quatre's upturned, anxious face. Putting his own hands to Quatre's shoulders, soft gold hair at the nape of his neck just barely brushing his fingers, Trowa surrendered to the inevitable. "Quatre, I feel the same."
Gem-bright eyes lit up. "Really? You do?"
A swift, almost embarrassed nod. "Yes."
"That's wonderful!" Quatre's face beamed up at him. "I was so frightened that I was wrong, and that there was nothing of the sort in your eyes... that I'd imagined it all... "
"In my eyes, there was only you," Trowa managed to return, Quatre caught his breath and merely looked at him, eyes shining. Trowa still couldn't wrench his gaze away and he was filled with the awkward certainty that he was probably supposed to kiss Quatre-Hime. It was now or never or... well, or later actually, considering that Quatre would probably want to be kissed sooner or later but probably sooner would be nicer...
Then Trowa became aware he was mentally babbling, and screwed his courage up to bend over and...
"Stay right where you are, street rat!" the voice of Zechs Marquise snarled out, puncturing his lovely dream.
Dream. Of course. That was what this must be.
Except that Quatre was still standing in front of him, staring at the intruder in absolute horror.
"They're after me, so soon!" he cried in dismay, simultaneous with Trowa's "They found me!"
They shared a quick grin of uneasy commiseration before backing to the edge of the roof. Trowa cast a glance over his shoulder at the gleaming bulk of the palace. Had they found him because Zechs and his guard had been looking for Quatre-Hime, or had they been searching for the 'street rat?'
"We're trapped," Quatre whispered, tense, as their heels met with the edge. Zechs advanced, face grim and scimitar in hand. Behind him the guard wore equally businesslike expressions.
"Do you trust me?" Trowa returned, grasping for Quatre's hand. The warm sturdy fingers linked with his at once.
"Of course," Quatre replied steadfastly.
He suppressed a smile, holding Quatre's hand firmly while staring Zechs in the face as the large blond guard approached.
"You've got nowhere to go, street rat," Zechs gave him a nasty smirk.
"Is that so?" Trowa raised a brow, holding Quatre tightly and throwing them both over the edge.
Cries of shocked dismay rang through the air as they plunged off the top story and the roof dropped away, Zechs' surprised expression swirling over their eyes. "Dammit -- we're supposed to take him alive... these damned Gundam pilots; why does this always happen to me... "
Quatre was absolutely silent in his arms but Trowa only had a brief instant to worry, savoring the feel of him there during that time as he maneuvered them both in a position to bounce off the awning below and slide into the pile of hay at the hay-vendor's stall. They hit the awning and rolled, landing in a tangled pile of limbs buried chest-deep in straw.
"Are you all right?" Hurriedly he helped Quatre to his feet.
"Just fine," Quatre assured him, then his jewel-blue eyes widened. "We'd better run... "
He seized Quatre's hand again and began to tug him up the street. Trowa nearly plowed into Zechs' broad chest and fell against Quatre with a grunt. Behind them, the men of the guard were closing in.
"We've got you cornered, now," Zechs informed him with a smug, overbearing expression. He seized Trowa in a rough grip.
"Don't you hurt him!" Quatre flared, darting forward to tug ineffectually at Zechs' arm.
"Oho, what have we here?" Zechs sneered, brushing Quatre away. The shove jostled the smaller boy back, and he fell to the packed dirt of the street with a stunned expression. "Looks like the street rat found himself a pretty, shiny bauble!"
"You leave him out of this!" Quatre ordered, rising to his feet in a fluid movement. "Don't you recognize your princess, o Captain of my father's guards?"
Zechs squinted at Quatre, shock breaking over his features. Then a wave of sudden, brief anger that was succeeded by an expression of carefully-schooled abasement. He bowed. "Quatre-Hime! Princess, you're wearing boys' clothing. Wh-what's the meaning of this?"
"Never mind that," Quatre returned, cold fury infusing his tone. "You let Trowa go at once."
Zechs all but smirked. "I would, my princess, but my orders come directly from Vizier Heero. You'll have to take it up with him."
Helpless fury shone in Quatre's eyes as he glared back at Zechs, and the taller man began to haul the snared Trowa away.
"Rest assured, Zechs, I will. I won't let you get away with this."
But his eyes were anguished as he watched Zechs drag Trowa up the street.
Wufei peered around the darkened, crumbling corners of Agrabah's dungeon, searching for the tall slender boy who had been targeted by the Vizier. Supposedly Captain Zechs had taken him during a search-and-seize earlier in the afternoon that had, surprisingly, turned up an escaped Quatre.
Why was he doing this miserable errand? Vizier Heero didn't hold any great claims over his love or loyalty, he mused as he stepped into the dank confines of the dungeon, but it was a living. Wufei's red-clad shoulders shrugged. That, and Heero had a reputation for ruthlessness with those he regarded as his enemy.
The soft-pronounced word drew his attention at once. Wufei's eyes dilated, the barely-discernable light filtering through the dungeon beginning to provide enough feeble illumination as his vision adjusted. There, in a corner -- a young man his own age sat against a pile of rock, wrists manacled above his head.
"What an idiot I am... " the boy was murmuring to himself, quiet. He sighed heavily. "Quatre... "
Wufei's gaze sharpened and an unwilling smile crept over his face. Heero already had plenty of leverage to ply the unfortunate boy with, but by promising him something he thought was out of reach -- ah, Trowa wouldn't have a chance.
"You want to get out of here?" Wufei demanded briskly, popping up at the boy's elbow. Trowa released a surprised cry and jumped as much as the manacles would allow. Of course, his hair couldn't stand on end because it already was. Wufei eyed the overhanging shelf of brown bangs that sprang from the boy's hairline with no little wonder.
"Wufei. Court Parrot," Wufei replied, expression growing surly. He fluttered his arms to demonstrate and the red streamers grabbed at whatever light seeped into the cell, catching fire with a flowing molten glow. "So, do you want out, or what?"
Trowa's expression grew closed. "You come from Heero."
"Yes, well," Wufei shrugged. "You can't afford to be picky, can you? And Heero can offer you something that a life on the streets certainly won't provide."
"What's that?" the boy asked, expression even more wary.
Wufei couldn't blame him. If their positions were reversed, he wouldn't trust Heero for a screaming instant. He was lucky he was still considered useful.
"You want Quatre, don't you?"
Wufei chose not to insult either of them by calling the boy 'Quatre-Hime' as Treize insisted on perpetrating the ridiculous charade.
Trowa's eyes widened and he surged forward, brought up short by the iron shackles at his wrists. Wufei prudently scooted out of reach of the boy's limber legs. "What are you saying!?" His voice emerged as a painful rasp.
"Vizier Heero wants something from the Cave of Wonders," Wufei confided in conspiratorial tones. "While you're there you can take anything you like... and become rich enough to sue for Quatre's hand." He folded his arms and cocked his head, regarding Trowa, assessing the impact of his words. Irritaby Wufei brushed at the dust settling over his red-clad thighs. Dirty dungeons were no place for spandex.
"Why doesn't he do it himself?" Trowa's eyes narrowed.
A snort emerged from his throat. "Please. That Yuy -- er, Vizier Heero, I mean -- why would he do it for himself when he can get others to do his dirty work?" Privately Wufei was gaining respect for the other boy. Heero would do it himself, if he were capable, and Trowa was right to suspect.
Trowa's mouth pursed. Slowly he shook his head. "Why me?"
Wufei affected casual hauteur. "You happen to be handy in these dungeons, at the moment." He gestured to various skeletons and decomposing slumped figures chained to the wall.
Trowa's lips quirked. "Point," he conceded.
"Will you do it?" Wufei prodded, watchful.
"What's to guarantee Vizier Heero won't kill me?" Trowa put forth, expressionless.
"Nothing," Wufei admitted, voice soft. He shrugged again. "But if you want Quatre, you're going to have to take risks. And it's not like you've got many alternatives. Likely he'll kill you if you say no."
Trowa's eyes fell shut, considering. An indecipherable expression flickered over his face, gone just as fast. Then one green eye speared him through. "All right."
A flood of relief filled him. He had succeeded this task, as well --Heero had a real hang-up about completing tasks properly -- and so he still proved useful to Heero. Still alive. With the cavalier attitude of a practiced magician, Wufei produced a large manacle key from somewhere about his spandex-clad person and unlocked Trowa's shackles.
Trowa rubbed at his wrists. His face was shuttered, unreadable to Wufei. "Cave of Wonders, huh?"
Wufei met his gaze with a resigned look. "Right this way," he returned with a deliberate florid sweep of his arm.
"Tell me one thing, Wufei."
"Why a parrot?"
Wufei gave him a half-grimace, half-smile. "The alternative was Sultan Treize's personal harem boy."
Quatre entered the rear gardens, blue eyes flashing like sun-dazzled chips of ice. The Sultan Treize was at the edge of a large expanse of lawn, selecting a bejeweled rapier from the rack and sighting it with an appraising eye.
"Father," he began, storming up to the edge of the lawn, "something intolerable has just happened, and I won't stand for it."
Treize looked up, his languid aquiline features stirring into an expression of vague discontent. "Quatre," he said in his mellifluous, cultured voice, "you're wearing boy's clothing." He tapped the rapier against one gloved hand, glaring down at the much shorter young man.
"Never mind that," Quatre brushed it swiftly aside, "I came to bring something to your attention, and I want you to do something about it, because Viz--"
His complaint stopped cold on his lips as Vizier Heero himself stepped around the corner of a large latticework birdcage, wearing a not-quite-smirk in addition to his patented tight, tiny black spandex shorts and army-green halter top.
"What?" Treize prompted, impatient. "Vizier Heero and I were about to spar. Make it quick, child."
Quatre glared at Heero, who looked back with perfect unruffled calm. Heero had gotten here first, so it was useless. But he had to try, for Trowa's sake. "A man has been wrongfully imprisoned," Quatre said, casting imploring eyes up at his "father."
"Oh, do you mean the tall, brown-banged young man that Captain Zechs took this afternoon?" Heero dropped the information casually, picking up a rapier of his own with that same infuriating little smirk.
"Yes," Quatre gritted, meeting his cool stare with furious lapis eyes. Heero knew very well which man he was speaking of!
"You're too late," Heero raised an eyebrow. "He was already tried and executed."
"WHAT!?" Quatre yelled, appalled.
"Very efficient," Treize murmured, congratulatory. "Good work."
Quatre blinked several times, feeling numb. This couldn't be happening. No, he decided firmly, this was NOT happening. He had just found Trowa, just this very day, and Trowa felt the same way he had from the moment their eyes had met... he couldn't have taken that all away from him. No. It wasn't possible.
"What... what was his crime?" Quatre asked, voice hoarse.
"He was a thief," Heero snapped. "He's been pestering and evading the guards for years. So when he kidnapped you this afternoon, I took more extreme measures."
Quatre wanted to flare instantly, he didn't kidnap me! but from the watchful look in Treize's eyes, he realized that Heero had, in seeking a way to sentence Trowa, unknowingly provided him with an escape for Quatre. Treize was trying to find any means to marry him off swiftly. If he admitted in trying to help Trowa -- already dead -- he would damn himself.
The golden young prince bit his tongue and thought with anguish of the look in Trowa's eyes, that instant as his head bent slightly forward. Almost as if he was hesitating in that decision between kissing him, and not kissing.
Damn you, Heero.
He turned away, still stunned. Trowa, dead? It couldn't be possible; they had just been together not hours before.
"Shall we spar?" Treize suggested.
There was an infuriated, undignified squawk behind him, sounding as if some poor unfortunate soul had been booted in the rear. Heero's features shifted, becoming -- if possible -- even more crafty.
"Spar!" the voice squawked. "Shall we spar?"
"Wufei," Heero greeted the young man clad in rich red spandex, smudged over now with dust and long black streaks. His hair, loose and coal-dark around his shoulders, was mussed. "Where the hell have you been?"
"Running the errand you asked me to, sir."
Wufei's sloe-dark eyes moved over Quatre, looking almost... sympathetic? No, that couldn't be. The young prince dismissed it, then hid a smile behind his hand as Wufei's eyes met the Sultan's and he froze in place.
"Ah," Treize exhaled, gliding forward. "The lovely young bird-of-paradise approaches once more."
"Bird... of... paradise... " Wufei parroted unsteadily.
"Did you complete the errand, Wufei?" Heero demanded.
Wufei inched away as Treize approached him. His eyes were riveted to the Sultan's with the terrified fascination of an animal staring into a coiled snake's eyes. "Yes... sir."
"I have something for you, pretty bird," Treize smiled a lazy, predatory smile. He reached one gloved hand into his pocket.
"I must be going now, Sultan Treize," Heero announced briskly. He seized Wufei's spandex-covered arm and dragged him off with a businesslike expression. Wufei cast one last wide-eyed glance over his shoulder before they disappeared around the corner.
"Well," Treize stroked his chin, expression bemused. "That is one damn good-looking parrot."
"Father," Quatre tried again. "Don't you even care that Vizier Heero wrongfully imprisoned, and then executed a young man?"
Treize eyed him with a diffident air. "You. Get changed, at once. You're a disgrace in those boys' clothes."
"But Father, I am a boy--"
"SH!! SHHH!!" Treize waved his hands at him frantically. "At this rate I'll never be able to marry you off... Now go get changed!"
Quatre sighed and gave up. After rounding the first mound of flowers, he broke into a run and dashed into one of the most secure corners of the garden. He slumped into a ball of tight-curled, miserable limbs at the base of the tree he had climbed only earlier today to escape the palace walls. It had been such a brief happiness, now it hardly seemed real.
And Trowa was gone.
A cold, wet nose poked at the underside of his bare arm and, sniffling, Quatre raised his head. Rasid butted at his chest, wearing a doleful expression of tigerish compassion. "Oh, Rasid." He threw his arms around the tiger and sobbed his heart out. "I only knew him for such a short time... "
Rasid rumbled unhappily and let the golden boy cry himself out against his orange-and-black patterned fur.
The moon cast a chill silver eye over the shifting desert sands, impersonal half-lidded observer to the lands below. Far out in the trackless wastes, a scintillating quicksilver dune leapt and danced with glowing fire as the giant stone lion reared its head once more.
"Are you absolutely sure about this?" Trowa raised one pencil-thin eyebrow. He peered down the golden-blasted sandstone steps as far as he could see, and divined only a warm hazy glow.
Heero folded his arms and looked back, expression stony. "It's your only option," he returned. "Go get the lamp. That's the only thing I want. Take anything else you like, and consider that your reward."
"Unh-hunh," Trowa muttered, uneasy. It did seem to be the only way to obtain enough riches to vie for Quatre's hand in marriage, but he didn't trust Heero as far as a self-destruct device could throw him.
He put his foot on the first step, wincing reflexively, and was surprised at the surge of relief when nothing happened. Nodding to himself, he began to thread his way down the golden sandstone steps, the color reminding him of the way Quatre's hair had gleamed so brilliantly in the sun. That in turn reminded him of why he was doing this in the first place, and he quickened his steps.
Trowa came to a dead halt when he looked down into the cavern below.
Where there should only be a cave floor of barren rock, a rich green forest spread out below, green boughs uplifted and glittering too brightly to be natural. The golden light that bounced and gave the immense cavern its bright glow came from the heaps of gold that reflected, and re-reflected, whatever scant light made its way into the cave. Gold was strewn everywhere, like the dunes above the cavern over his head only this shone more brightly than the most brilliant sand dune.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, he realized that the uplifted boughs were covered in wedge-shaped emeralds that only looked like leaves. Some were so thin that the light shone right through. Others caught and concentrated the light with a steady glow. And, hanging from every tree as he wandered past, multi-faceted fruits as big as his fist gave off a subtle jeweled luster.
The trunks of the trees were bronze, gleaming dully in the light, their surfaces rough like true bark. He could only stare in marveling astonishment as he threaded a path through the trees, searching for the lamp.
With hesitant fingers Trowa reached to pluck a rich fruit from the tree, when some cautionary twang made him draw his hand back. What if Heero had been lying?
... What if the lamp was the only thing he could touch?
That would make sense... Heero had been a little too adamant that all he wanted was the lamp. Trowa dwelled on the faceted ruby apple with covetous eyes -- it could mean the difference between a beggar's life and a rich, princely one -- but he forced himself to keep walking. Maybe he would scoop up some gold as he reached the stairs, but for now it was best to keep his hands to himself.
He reached the end of the jeweled trees and heaps of gold-dunes, and passed into another cavern.
Once again, Trowa nearly had to shut his mouth with both hands. In this cavern, even bigger than the one before, there were statues. Cast in solid gold or silver, any one piece could represent the lifetime achievement of an artist. He recognized some classic Greek themes, Venus with her lovely arms posed in a welcoming gesture, Adonis with his lyre and wreath of laurel... Tapestries in rich burgundies and deep forest greens and startling-hued blues, color he had never before seen achieved by any Agraban artist, lay strewn everywhere. Any artisan would sell his soul to know the secret of that coloration. Thick carpets from Persia, delicate painted foreign vases, and man-sized paintings in vibrant palette of a composition he didn't recogize... they were scattered all throughout the cavern, adorning the walls, stacked or set haphazardly about.
This room was somewhat easier. Not much could be carried out with his own two hands; it woud require several camels. Although the temptation was great to snatch a vase and tuck it into his vest, Trowa persevered and walked into the next cavern.
It was tiny, and rough-hewn. Trowa spotted the tarnished, small lamp in the middle of the room, set down carelessly on a rock. He smiled slightly in triumph and scooped it up, stowing it away in his vest. If Heero wanted it so badly, it had to be valuable. And now that he had it, he had his bargaining chip.
On the way out, Trowa paused in the tremendous gem-strewn forest of the first cavern. He hadn't seen any warning signs. He was poor, and dead certain that Heero wasn't going to pay him for his efforts. So, why not take the Vizier's advice and snag something for himself?
Trowa reached for a dangling pear, deep blue and reminding him of Quatre's eyes. He hesitated, then seized it.
"BIG MISTAKE!" the lion's roar shook the cavern, and pieces of ceiling rained down. "YOU WERE TO TOUCH NOTHING BUT THE LAMP!"
Trowa shook a powerless fist at the ceiling. "You never said!"
"TOO LATE NOW!" the lion roared back, and the cavern shook harder.
In panic now, Trowa scrambled for the golden sandstone steps. They were falling to pieces even as he ran up them, frantic. He couldn't die, not now -- not with the sapphire pear tucked into his pocket, enough money to buy him a respectable life...
Heero crouched at the steps to the Cave of Wonders, his face grimly intent. Trowa threw himself up the remnants of the staircase, scrabbling for a handhold.
"Throw me the lamp," Heero demanded.
"Think I'm stupid?" Trowa growled back. "Haul me up, first."
"Throw me the lamp, and I'll haul you up," Heero countered.
"Not a chance," Trowa stared him down.
Heero's mouth contracted to a fine point. Behind him, Wufei was fluttering in dismay. He could see the Chinese boy's anxious eyes and knew that the court "parrot" didn't trust Heero any more than he did. Finally, the Vizier extended his hand.
Trowa seized it and felt himself hauled up instantly. He breathed a sigh of relief.
Rough hands grabbed at him, tore his vest open, and the lamp dangled from Heero's fist. "Stupid," the Vizier sneered at him, and gave him a hard, swift shove.
Trowa flailed at the edge of the roaring, crumbling Cave of Wonders, and felt himself slipping. The ground beneath his feet was starting to crumble. He snapped out one long-fingered hand and just barely brushed the edge of the lamp.
The last thing he saw as he tumbled over the brink, lamp wrenched out of Heero's hand and gripped tightly in his own, was Vizier Heero's shocked and furious expression.
Cold, faintly damp stone against aching head and sprawled arms and bare chest was what finally woke him. ~Must've been kicked out of a bar into a gutter,~ flickered through his mind before he pushed himself upright. He opened his eyes and squinted around the dim interior of the cave - it was big and dark and echoingly empty, only emphasizing how very alone he was.
Cave -- waitaminute!
Trowa jerked fully into consciousness with a swift sensory burst. The Cave of Wonders, Heero pushing him into the gaping maw of the sandstone lion, clutching the battered lamp so tight in his fist... He sat bolt upright, scrabbling frantically over the roughened stone. Immediately his fingers encountered cool metal and he sighed with relief. He didn't know why Vizier Heero wanted the lamp so badly, but if he wanted it he was surely furious by now. If he wanted the lamp, then Trowa was going to keep it.
Fat lot of good it would do him, entombed in solid stone.
He lifted the weather-worn brass to examine what Heero had sought so desperately, and peered at its vague outlines in the dim light the now-barren, sealed-shut cave afforded.
There was some kind of writing, an inscription. Trowa's brow furrowed. There wasn't much light, but the lamp looked smudged so he couldn't quite make it out. He lifted a hand and rubbed at the surface. Some kind of foreign language...
The metal trembled in his hands, then shook violently.
It clattered from his fingers to the cave floor, too hot to touch. Trowa stared at the suddenly-moving lamp, shaking and chattering over stone, blowing out a cloud of dark vapor like a teapot belching steam.
What the hell had he done!?
The lamp's formerly dull brass was now glowing a turgid gold and spewing clouds of the vapor everywhere. Trowa scrambled back, wary -- he must have released an ifrit, or some other demon! Well, he thought to himself, resigned -- at least it would be a swift death, as opposed to the slow painful wasting away of starvation.
The vapor exploded upwards and grew a head, dark masses of chestnut-colored hair spilling everywhere. Then a body popped into view, masculine despite the long fall of hair... a boy, his own age with bright, wide violet eyes and incredibly long, loose hair that fell to his bottom. He was clad only in silky blue trousers, golden shoes with curled toes, and a skimpy red vest that covered absolutely nothing.
"HELLO, NURSE!" the boy thundered, bursting into explosive giggles and stretching his arms wide with a huge sigh. He settled to the cave floor, wisps of vapor still sworling about his body, and proceeded to stretch his arms wide again, arching his back like a cat, vertebrae up and down his back making loud crack and pop noises. Then he settled back down onto his heels and looked down at himself and made a face. "Oi... I'm just having no luck with wardrobe lately, man... "
Trowa stared in stark astonishment. Just when his life couldn't get any stranger... The boy looked almost human, but for the pointed tapering ears that betrayed his ifrit heritage.
The boy blinked his wide violet eyes and looked over at Trowa, then grinned. "Hi, there! You must be my new Master!"
"M-master!?" Trowa exclaimed, looking around, panicked. No, no, no!! HOW had he gotten himself into a Key fic!?
"Yup, you're my master, sweetheart. And I'm your friendly neighborhood genie, Duo!" Duo grinned at him, bouncing over and snapping his fingers. Drumrolls sounded in the background. "Ya get three wishes, then you have to pass the lamp to the next dolt I have to serve."
"Three wishes," Trowa mused, suddenly elevated from the pit of despair to the highest peak of the world. Trapped one moment... and now he had the means to obtain his dreams, at hand!
"What are you, a parrot?" Duo demanded, seizing the corners of his mouth and flapping his lips loosely. "Oi! What's your name, anyhow?"
Trowa smacked his hands away and scowled. "Trowa."
Duo raised his eyebrows. "Heh. What a dull name. Sounds French," he sniffed. "Hey! Thanks for getting me out of that damned bottle." He pumped Trowa's hand vigorously.
"It was a lamp... "
"Whatever," Duo brushed it aside. "Thanks a lot! I've been in that damned thing for hundreds of years... you know how boring it gets, staring at those same dull walls? No one to talk to! So I had to amuse myself. Ya know, talking to myself. And the sex life!! Nonexistent!"
"... I think that was the worst part of the whole deal. Yup, no sex. So! How's it going?" Duo slapped his back so hard he staggered. He babbled on without giving him a chance to answer. "Whaddya want for your first wish, huh? I can do anything. Well, almost anything... " He held up a finger. "I can't make anyone fall in love." He held up a second finger. "I can't kill anyone." He held up a third. "And I can't raise the dead." He scrunched up his face in a beam.
He clapped Trowa on the back again and grabbed a handful of his own chestnut hair, beginning almost absently to braid it. "Other than that, my powers are pretty much unlimited! Cosmic! World-shaking!" He grinned over at Trowa. "You look a little disbelieving! Do you doubt the awe-inspiring powers of Duo the Genie?"
Actually, Trowa was starting to wonder how Duo could produce intelligible speech at such a rate. Didn't the boy have to breathe!?
"You look pretty dubious to me, Trowa, man!" Duo waggled his eyebrows. "So, how 'bout a test run? A freebie. Have a wish on me. Just to see what I can do. Sound good? C'mon, better take me up on the offer; I'm feeling generous after being squished in that can for a few hundred years but my patience might run out soon! Damn, you're such a quiet kid."
In point of fact, Trowa couldn't get a word in edgewise.
Duo tapped him on the nose. "Anything you want. Eh? How 'bout it. Eh?"
He paused for breath and Trowa spoke into the gap before Duo could plunge on once more. "Can you get me out of this cave? And back to my hovel in Agrabah?"
Duo looked mortally insulted. "Can a suicidal Gundam boy plunge off a cliff? Of course he can, because it's such a simple thing to do! Geez, you could've tried something harder." He cracked his knuckles and looked at Trowa expectantly.
"Well, you have to make it official," Duo prompted him.
"Oh. Fine. I wish for you to get me out of this cave, and back to Agrabah," Trowa phrased it.
"Sure thing, buddy!" Duo rubbed his hands together briskly, and a scintillating blue glow sprang up around him. He eyed it with satisfaction. "Thank GOD. No fairy dust... Hang onto your hat, Trowa man, 'cause here we GO!"
Trowa raised one eyebrow -- no hat. Then he yelped and grabbed for the magic lamp with both hands as Duo seized his elbow and they rocketed into the air on a sparkling silver-and-blue trail, bursting painlessly through the roof of the cavern and spiraling up into a deep star-spattered sky.
Heero turned on his heel, tread the full length of the room for the sixtieth time, pivoted, and glared at Wufei. "This is all your fault," he accused.
Wufei glared back. "I don't see how it could be my fault," he returned with a sniff. "I did exactly what you told me to. It's not MY fault the boy fought back when you pushed him back into the cave."
Mouth thinned to a grim line, Heero stared silently at the red-clad boy an instant longer before he resumed pacing across the thick carpet. "What the hell am I supposed to do now? The boy has the lamp. The boy is sealed shut in the Cave of Wonders. The damned boy has MY lamp, and probably figured out its secret by now!"
Wufei watched him pace in silence, enjoying Heero's squirms thoroughly. He was pondering whether or not to mention Trowa's interest in Quatre... then decided that if the boy did figure out how to use the lamp, he'd be showing up sooner or later for Quatre. Wufei might as well be the one to tell Heero before he figured it out for himself.
"He'll be back," Wufei offered.
Heero stopped stock-still and whirled, his expression set. "What makes you say that!?"
"Well, if he does figure out how to use the lamp, as you say... "
"He's not stupid," Heero muttered. "He'll figure it out."
Wufei ignored him. "... then he'll come back to Agrabah, for Quatre."
Heero's eyes narrowed to thin slits. "Quatre did seem awfully upset when I said I'd had him executed... "
"He'll be back," Wufei repeated, feeling uneasy. He felt somehow in the pit of his stomach that he shouldn't be saying this to Heero, shouldn't be giving him the pieces of this puzzle but it was the only way he made a living.
"And I can seize the lamp from him then," Heero's cold blue eyes lit up with an unholy fervor.
"Oi," Wufei cocked an eyebrow. "Why do you want that lamp so badly?"
Heero frowned at him. "None of your business, parrot-boy."
Wufei's nostrils flared. Bastard. *See if I ever give you any more crucial information,* he vowed silently.
Maybe, when Trowa showed up... just maybe, he'd help the other side.
A white flare of St. Elmo's fire lanced a sparkling trail across the star-pinpricked sky. Any Agraban native looking up at that moment would have seen only a shooting star and on any other night, they would've been right.
Duo the Genie threw his arm around in a broad, sweeping gesture that took in the glitterball night view of palace and Agrabah, nearly taking Trowa's head off in the process. "Here we are! I present to you... Agrabah!"
Trowa prudently ducked in time to save his life and popped up again, green eyes wide with alarm. "Duo! Where the hell did you get that scythe!"
Duo blinked at him, wide-eyed and innocent, the effect somewhat spoiled as he twirled his scythe in one hand. "Huh? Umm... I guess it just comes naturally." He offered Trowa a disarming grin. "So, howzabout them wishes? Eh? You got your sample of sumthin' simple; you ready to go about setting yourself up in style?"
Trowa pondered it. "Well... there's really only one thing I want."
Duo's eyes lit up like hundred-watt bulbs. Literally. Trowa flinched back and shielded his eyes. "Oh? OH? What is it?" he demanded, stowing the scythe away. He rubbed his hands together eagerly. "Uh... hey. If you won't be using up all your wishes... " Duo scuffed his toe over the littered rooftop, clasped his hands together, and batted doe eyes at him.
"Huh?" Trowa blinked, confused.
"Well... " Duo flushed and looked away. "Um... y'see... "
"Say it," Trowa prompted.
"Um... ano... Trowa-man, I've been a genie for nearly a million years, and a genie stuck in a bottle for the last few hundred," Duo began, twisting a lock of chestnut hair between his fingers.
"So, it sucks!" Duo burst out. "Yeah, sure, I've got the 'phenomenal, cosmic power' but hell! I'm stuck in a dinky brass lamp! And like I said, it's hell for my sex life! I want out! I wanna go cruising for some hot, loaded merchant or noble who'll spoil me rotten for the rest of our married lives!"
"Ah... " Trowa nodded, enlightened. "I see. You want me to use one of my wishes to set you free."
Duo beamed at him. "Well, sure! If you don't need 'em all... heck, no need to be stingy, eh?"
Trowa rubbed at the back of his head, taken aback by Duo's brash presumption. "I guess."
"Sugoi!" Duo glomped onto him. "That's terrific! Trowa-man, you're a great guy! So... your first wish. What can I do ya for?"
Trowa pushed off his clinging hands. "Well... there's this guy... "
"Ah, ah!" Duo waved a finger nearly in his nose. "I can't make him fall in love with you."
"That's not what I want," Trowa demurred. "That's not what I need. Quatre wants me too... I know he does. But he's a prince, and I'm nothing... "
"Aha!" Duo brightened. "Now that, I can take care of! So... " He rubbed his hands together and considered it. "You wanna be a prince, too?"
Trowa raised both eyebrows. Treize was searching for a prince to marry Quatre off to... "Yes. Duo-Genie, I want to be a prince."
Duo grinned. "Sure thing!" he bobbed his head. Then he cocked an eye at him. "This does mean you'll set me free with the last wish, right?"
Trowa frowned. He considered it. He couldn't really foresee any difficulties. "All right, Duo, I'll free you with the last wish."
"Great!" Duo cheered, making as if to glomp him again. Trowa swiftly stepped out of range. "I hear there's this really hot Vizier in the palace... "
"Duo," Trowa said, capturing the brown-haired genie's attention again. "I wish for you to make me a prince."
Duo's violet eyes seemed to spark for a moment, with a glitter that made the comet they'd rode in on pale in comparison. "You GOT it!" The silver glow started up between his hands again; he pointed, aimed... and the world fogged out in a cool crystalline glow.
Quatre stormed into the immense reception room where Treize lounged on an ornate high-backed (very well-cushioned) throne. The boy's arms were full of gauzy white taffeta material that trailed behind him on the polished marble floor. Following behind him came Rasid the tiger, worrying at a mouthful of the frothy substance.
"What is THIS?" he demanded, pulling up short when he was confronted by Vizier Heero standing stiffly near the throne. "It was laid out on my bed when I woke up. Explain this!"
Sultan Treize lifted one slender, tawny brow. "Quatre-Hime, I thought it was obvious. It's your wedding dress."
Quatre was speechless with rage.
Rasid tore off another scrap of taffeta.
"Really, Quatre-Hime, you should resign yourself to the concept of your upcoming marriage," Treize began expansively, waving a hand. "You won't be able to depend on my good graces for the rest of your life, so you may as well recognize defeat and choose a husband."
"I won't do it!" Quatre stamped a foot, eyes flaring. Heero had killed his only chance for a happy relationship. Literally. "I don't even *like* any of those men you showed me."
"Get used to it," Heero smirked at him. "If you don't want to be on the streets, them one of 'those men' will be sticking it to you for the rest of your life."
Quatre glared at him murderously. Rasid growled and with another shrrp tore off half a yard of cobwebby material and some silken lace trim.
"Now, now," he waved a hand placatingly, casting an eye over the two squared-off young men, chill cobalt meeting furious sapphire. "No need to get angry. Because Heero is right."
Quatre's furiously impotent glare snapped focus to Treize. "How can you call yourself my father? You're horrible!"
"Horrible!" Wufei echoed, sounding very sincere this time. "You're horrible!"
Treize's eyes glinted down on the spandex-clad boy from his superior vantage point of the throne. Then his hand shot out and he seized Wufei's throat, gripping it with inexorable fingers as he drew the squirming young man close. "Does pretty polly want a cracker?" Treize crooned with a broad smirk.
"No, 'pretty polly' wants to shove a sword in your gut!" Wufei gasped back, black death in his eyes.
"How disappointing," Treize sighed. "And here I was hoping to shove--"
Heero coughed diffidently. "Treize, there's still the matter of your son-- iie, I mean your daughter to attend to." He raised an eyebrow at Quatre with a half-smirk.
Between the two of them, Quatre and Rasid were in the process of doing a good job of dismantling the 'wedding dress.' The tiger was rolling in the pieces he had ripped off, batting at them absently and having a great deal of fun shredding them into even smaller pieces. Quatre, on the other hand, was venting his frustrations on the misbegotten material.
Treize frowned down on the rebellious boy. "What do you think I should do with him, Vizier Heero?"
Cobalt eyes kindled with unholy fervor. Heero had already covered this contingency in his own head and it fit perfectly with his revised plans. "Confine Quatre-Hime to her quarters, Sultan Treize, and marry her off to the next suitor who comes along."
"You can't DO that!!" he howled, ripping the bodice from neckline to waist.
Two pairs of cold blue eyes fixed on him, reflective. Heero was naturally unsympathetic. And Treize...
"Who are you to tell me what I can and cannot do?" Treize's tones could have chilled liquid nitrogen. "Quatre-Hime, you have left me no other options. I will do as Heero suggests and confine you to your quarters."
"No! No... Father, don't do it," Quatre pleaded, upset. He fixed anger-filled eyes on Heero. "This is all YOUR doing! And when I'm married, I'll have the power to have you executed, just like you did to Trowa! You're my enemy! My ENEMY!"
Heero lifted an unmoved brow.
Quatre clapped hands to his mouth. "Oh, dear, what's wrong with me? Am I having a Wing Zero flashback?"
Treize's gaze was narrow. "Go to your room. Am I going to have to summon the guard?"
"No, father." Quatre's mouth twisted into an expression halfway between a pout and a scowl. He turned to leave the room, ragged bits of taffeta and silk trailing behind him. Rasid scampered to follow, pouncing on the fluttering material. The double doors slammed shut behind them.
"Well, I think that went well," Treize remarked, turning his attention back to the Wufei he still had firmly in hand, not for Wufei's lack of trying to escape.
"Ninmu... kanryou," Heero muttered, an icy smile touching his features. As soon as Trowa showed up, he would be offered Quatre-Hime, everything he desired. And as soon as he was distracted with his new prize, Heero would be in the perfect position to seize the lamp.
"Wufei. Come," he snapped curtly, turning on his heel to leave the throne room.
"J-just a minute," Wufei chattered, trying to pry himself from Treize's grasp, who was trying to coax him into his lap and feed him crackers.
Things were looking up for him, indeed.