Bane of Darkness


North Gate: 1


We had been walking for approximately half an hour when the first faint hints of light started to show themselves. The end of the tunnel was near. I smiled slightly, half turning to watch Duo continue to question just about every answer he’d been given. I wonder how Heero and Wufei will react to him.

"I don’t know everything, Duo!" I could’ve laughed at that. Quatre looked so frustrated, eyebrows slanting ever so slightly downward, eyes wide and agitated, lips pulled to barely half their fullness. How expressive that face was… That was what fascinated me about Quatre – he was so beautifully emotional, apparently to the point where it couldn’t stay on the inside and had to spread over his face and into his movements.

The tunnel was dimly let, so the colors on my two companions seemed to have been muted. Their eyes, both, were dull shades of grey, their faces only a bit lighter. Duo’s hair seemed tinted black, while Quatre’s defied the dark by taking up a white that almost appeared to glow. I had been to their world in an earlier time, when television was still black and white, but this image put that concept to shame. Quatre and Duo, I realized, both had the same type of beauty, expressed in entirely different ways.

Of course, I was far too biased to judge which way was most appealing.

"We’re almost there," I interrupted them, not bothering to try and speak over their voices. They would both hear me, regardless.

"Great!" Duo grinned. "I’m getting jus the slightest bit sick of the whole ‘deep, dark, dank’ thing. I’ve almost forgotten what sunshine feels like."

Quatre looked up at me. "How can you tell?" His face was bright, curious – as long as he was around, I don’t think I could’ve forgotten the feel of sunshine, no matter where I went.

"It’s getting lighter."

He glanced around quickly, as if trying to spot the difference for himself. "I can’t tell." He gave me a rueful smiled. "So I guess I’ll have to take your word for it, Trowa."

I moved closer and slid an arm around his shoulders. It felt nice – Quatre was one of those people who seemed, unconsciously, to invite such affectionate touches from those who cared about him. He responded well, too, relaxing under my touch, sinking into the half-embrace as if that was where he belonged. He felt warm, heartbeat steady against me – not too quick, not too slow. It made me feel more alive, somehow, as if the life in him was overflowing, and I could catch the excess. Another beautiful thing about Quatre.

"Not sleeping together…" Duo gave a snort of laughter. "Hah!"

Quatre’s face flushed and he tensed a little, seemingly torn between the desire to stay where he was and the instinct to pull away in embarrassment. "We’re not… I mean…"

"Oh, relax." Duo waved a dismissive hand. "Don’t let me stop you from getting all cuddly. You guys look pretty good together." He winked at Quatre. "And you know you’ve got to be doing something right if you can get Sir Laughs-a-lot here to start opening up to you."

The blush on Quatre’s face deepened, and I squeezed his shoulder lightly, sensing his embarrassment and pleasure at the statement. "Something or everything," I answered Duo.

"See?" Duo grinned. "You’ve turned him into a regular sweetheart, haven’t you? Man, Quatre, you’re pratically a miracle worker!"

"Or just a miracle," I agreed.

Quatre looked up at me in mild surprise, then smiled, still gazing at my face and letting me lead him along. "You two aren’t just teasing me, are you?"

"Who, me?" Duo blinked in exaggerated shock. "Hey, I’m the soul of sincerity!"

The light-haired boy laughed helplessly at that.

I smiled and kissed his temple. "I wasn’t teasing," I told him softly.

He melted even further into my arms. "I know."

"You guys are unbelievable." Duo shook his head, moving ahead of us toward the fast-approaching cave. "I feel like I’m drowning in a jar of honey. It’s sweet enough to make your teeth turn yellow."

"Duo!" Quatre glanced at his friend in consternation. "Did you have to use that kind of comparison? You make it sound like some sort of disease."

The braided boy laughed out loud. "Sorry," he apologized. "It’s been more than a year since the last time I was with anyone. I almost forgot what it’s like."

I glanced up, and abruptly changed the subject. "We’re here."

Quatre instinctively shielded his eyes against the glare as we stepped out of the tunnel. I didn’t bother. There were a lot of things my eyes could handle. Enduring intense light was the least of what they could do.

"You’re late." Wufei’s voice. I looked up and found him standing a few feet away, arms crossed over his chest. His voice and eyes were flat, and he was looking at Duo. Clearly, the time wasn’t the real reason for his irritation.

"I apologize." Formality was best when dealing with Wufei. "I brought the Seeker with me as promised. And the keys."

"The delay is acceptable." I shifted my gaze to Heero, who was leaning against a tree, one foot braced slightly on the rough bark. "I’d like an explaination for the extra addition to the group, if you don’t mind."

"What, without even asking for introductions?" Duo imitated Wufei’s pose, arms crossed, but with a wide grin that spoiled the effect. "Didn’t your mother even tell you it’s rude to talk about someone without even acknowledging their presense?"

Heero looked at Duo.

Duo looked back at Heero.

I was mildly interested. This has the potential to be either very good, or very bad…

Heero finally shifted his gaze back to me. "Trowa. An introduction would be appreciated."

Never thought you’d give in first. "Duo Maxwell, meet Heero Yuy." I squeezed Quatre’s shoulder to draw their attention to him next. "This is Quatre Winner, and that over there is Wufei Chang."

"Seeker." Wufei nodded at Quatre. "You have all the keys?"

Quatre seemed to catch on to the fact that the dark-haired warrior had some respect for formality. "I do," he answered simply, then returned the nod, smiling politely.

My comrade seemed to approve. "That’s well done."

"To repeat the earlier question," Heero interrupted, "Who is your other friend, and why is he here?"

"Duo Maxwell, remember?" Duo graced him with a cheeky grin. "Or weren’t you listening the first time?"

Heero fixed his eyes on the braided boy. "I was referring to your importance, not your identity," he replied coldly. "And I always listen."

"Well," Duo said huffily, frowning, "excuse me!"

"Apology accepted." Heero spoke over the inevitable response from Duo. "Trowa?"

"He chose to come," I answered. "I have a feeling he might come in handy."

"Nice to know somebody loves me," Duo grumbled, still eying Heero.

Heero eyed him right back, coldly.

"I’ll trust your judgement, as always," Wufei cut in. There was a note of disapproval in his voice. "But I can’t see what good will come of having him along."

Predictable. "We’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?"

"More importantly," Heero began, earning himself a scowl from Duo, "I’d like to take a look at those keys. Just one forgery could cost us this war."

I took my arm away from Quatre’s shoulder, and he reached into his bag to draw out all seven keys at once. "Here they are," he said calmly, holding them out. He didn’t look even a little bit worried. Of course, Quatre was the Seeker. He didn’t have doubts, because he knew the keys were real.

Heero glanced at them once, briefly. "Good. They’re the real thing. Put them away."

"That’s it?" Duo gave him an incredulous look. "How can you tell?"

"If you must know," Heero answered, slowly, eyes narrowing ever so slightly, "I’m a part of the prophecy as well. And that gives me certain abilities."

I exchanged cautious glances with Wufei. "Yuy," the Eastern warrior said, a warning note in his voice.

"I can keep track of my own words, Wufei," Heero replied, still watching Duo. "I know what I’m not to say out loud."

"About what?" Duo demanded. "Come on, you can’t go around being all mysterious without bothering to explain things to me and Quatre."

"This isn’t a question of trust," I explained. "It’s a question of survival."

"Just about anything can be overheard here," Heero commented.

"Well, yeah, but – "

"Maxwell." Wufei caught Duo’s eyes with a frown. "Don’t push it. You’re only here because Trowa said you could be. Start asking too many unwelcome questions and we’ll send you right back where you came from."

"Geez, everyone’s just all fun and games around here, aren’t they?" Duo grumbled. "Good thing I’m around, for Quatre’s sake."

The light-haired boy smiled at him.

"We’ll start traveling tomorrow morning," Heero told us. "For tonight, there’s a clearing nearby." He glanced at first Quatre, then Duo. "There isn’t much in the way of comfort, so if you don’t like sleeping on the ground, you’re going to have a rough time."

Duo waved a dismissive hand. "I’ve dealt with worse."

"I can handle it," Quatre added bravely. I had my doubts – he came from a well-off familiy, after all – but I figured I’d hold him while he slept at any rate. He glanced up at Heero. "Where are we going, anyway?"

"I’ll explain in more detail later," the cold-eyed soldier replied. "For now, just know that you have four gates to lock with those keys. We’re going to the North Gate first."

Quatre nodded. "All right."

"If that’s settled, then let’s get on with it." Wufei moved away from the tree he’d been leaning on and started off in a direction that was vaguely north, not looking back to see if we were following. "The clearing is this way."