Keeper of the Keys

 

Ice

 

"Well, this is the place." I held the door open until Trowa was inside, then closed and locked it. "It’s not very big, but most people manage to have roommates, so I don’t think it should be a problem. I turned the second bedroom into a sort of library and music room, so there isn’t an extra bed. But the couch is OK with you?"

Trowa shrugged. "It doesn’t matter. Hopefully, finding the keys won’t take you long, and we can get back to the others."

I frowned. "Others?"

His eyes met mine. I couldn’t avoid that gaze; it was so intense and thrilling, sending shivers down my spine. "Friends of mine. They’re waiting for us on the other side."

Something about the way he said ‘the other side’ made me feel ever so slightly uncomfortable. I tore my eyes away and turned toward the closet. "I’ve got plenty of extra blankets in here if you get cold. There’s food in the kitchen if you’re hungry – you just have to look around to find what you need." I handed him a pillow and blanket. "Is there anything else?"

"This is more than enough." He turned toward the couch, and set down the two items. "You don’t need to trouble yourself."

"It’s no trouble." I smiled, catching his eyes again. This time was better: less intense and more comfortable. Could I have caught him off-guard? "I’ll just be in the next room if you need anything."

He nodded, and I moved into my room. I suppose it’s selfish of me, not offering him the bed. But it’s just…Fire burned on my cheeks. The idea of having Trowa sleeping in my bed seemed way too personal. I’ve only just met him! Besides, he said he was fine with the couch.

That settled, I changed into my pajamas and climbed into bed. He doesn’t seem to be the kind of person who’d demand high-class living conditions. I’m sure it’s fine. But I couldn’t sleep, even after assuring myself of that. For some reason, I couldn’t step thinking about Trowa. Maybe it was the whole business with the keys and this war, but… If that was the case, why did it seem more like I was just fascinated with his eyes? The image of them wouldn’t leave my head. Every time I closed my eyes, there they were, green and intense and so piercing it made me shiver thinking about it.

Don’t be stupid, Quatre, that warning voice at the back of my head told me, as I flopped against the pillow. You’ve only just met him – you don’t even know who he is or anything at all about him.

I could practically see his eyes in front of my face, staring directly at me, as though he could gaze into my soul. My stomach fluttered at the thought.

Not good. Not good at all. I turned my head to glance at the gold key on my bedside table. Trowa’s words came back to me: ‘I have something for you’. Why can’t I stop thinking about him? I don’t even know him!

What was it about Trowa that held my attention so firmly?

~~~~~~

"Quatre."

I mumbled something under my breath and pressed my face further into the pillow.

"Quatre. Wake up."

Wake up? I’d just gone to sleep! It couldn’t be time to wake up yet.

"You need to get up, Quatre. Right now."

Memories were starting to drift back into my head, slowly. Going climbing up on the mountain… finding the gold key… meeting Trowa… Trowa!

I sat up as quickly as I could manage to under the circumstances. "Trowa! I’m sorry – I just had a late night, and then I couldn’t sleep – "

"Calm down." He leaned back, away from where he’d bent over my bed to wake me up. "I need to know where you keep your cooking utensils. I can’t make breakfast if I don’t know where anything is."

I blinked. "You’re making breakfast?"

Trowa shrugged. "You were kind enough to offer me your hospitality. I thought I’d return the favor."

"You don’t have to, Trowa," I protested. "I didn’t let you stay here just because I thought you’d repay me for it. You’re my guest."

His eyes burned into mine again, and I almost forgot to breathe. "It seems too much like charity. I like to be sure my debts are paid. That way I’m not tied to anyone."

I pulled my gaze from his, with effort. Right. That made sense. "Anything you say, Trowa." My pajamas were rumpled, but I was too tired to care. Yawning, I dragged myself out of bed and back toward the kitchen area. "I’ll show you where to find everything."

Trowa was fascinating to watch in the kitchen. Actually, I had to privately admit that Trowa was fascinating to watch anywhere, but it was still interesting to watch him cook. He didn’t seem self-conscious under my scrutiny, either; everything he did was done with seemingly perfect ease. It was like I wasn’t even there at all.

"So, you know how to use a stove." I probably should’ve been surprised, but I don’t think anything Trowa did could surprise me. He gave the impression that he knew how to do most things, and well, too.

"I’ve been in this world before," he answered, not looking up. "It’s not that hard to catch on." He took one of the plates I’d gotten out for him, set an omelet and a piece of toast on it, and held it out for me.

I glanced at the empty pan. "Aren’t you having anything?"

"I ate already." He continued to hold out the plate, waiting for me to take it

I relieved him of the burden, but grabbed a fork and dug it into the omelet. "That’s fine, but you should have the first taste, as the cook." I smiled and held the forkful of omelet up toward him. "After all, you might be trying to poison me."

His eyes fell on the offering, then rose back up to me. Though I could still see that wall over his face, there was puzzlement in those dark green orbs. It seemed he was having as much trouble understanding me as I was understanding him.

Well, at least I know we’re more or less on equal footing there, I thought to myself, as he finally took a bite. He can’t be ahead of me in everything.

"So," I began, sitting down at the table with my plate, "what am I supposed to do now? Go looking for another key?"

"You said you received a note," Trowa answered, seating himself across from me. "Why not check and see what it says?"

I shook my head. "All it said was that one line, about the gold."

Trowa smiled slightly. "Can I see it?"

"If you want to." I got up and moved back into my room to get the sheet of note paper. Trowa waited where he was until I came back and handed it to him. He unfolded it, paused to read what was there, then wordlessly held it out to me.

I took it, and stared. "But… This wasn’t what it said yesterday."

The note now read ‘Find ice when darkness blocks the sky’.

"It changes as you find them," Trowa explained briefly.

I put the note down and managed a rueful smile. "I guess I should start trying to get used to these strange things that happen, shouldn’t I?"

He didn’t say anything, but his eyes were intense again as they watched me. I looked down and tried to concentrate on my food. Thrilling as they were, those intense stares made me a bit uncomfortable. I preferred the other one, the time when there almost seemed to be warmth between us – a little more soft than the first.

"Do you have any idea of what this line means?" I asked, looking back up when I’d finished eating. "It sounds to be like I have to wait until there’s some kind of darkness."

"It’s the Seeker’s job to find the keys," Trowa answered. "I’m here in case they come after you."

My curiosity must have shown on my face. "They?"

A hint of a smile tugged at his lips. "Don’t worry about it. You’ll be meeting a few of them before this is over."

I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of that.

"You said you had a music room," Trowa commented, completely changing the subject.

"That’s right. It’s also a library."

"Do you play an instrument?"

I smiled. Music was one of my passions. "Several, actually."

"Any favorites?" The intense stare wasn’t there, but his eyes were unfathomable. It was equally as fascinating to me as before.

"Not really. I like all kinds of music."

He smiled again, slightly. "I know how to play – but it would be interesting to hear someone who actually takes pleasure in making music. Would you?"

"I’ve never had a more welcome offer." I stood, returning that half-smile with a full one of my own. "There’s nothing better than having an audience while you’re playing. If you want, you can borrow an instrument from me – I’d be happy to listen to you as well."

Trowa stood and moved toward the room I’d pointed out to him. "Not today. Just give me a chance to hear you."

He’d caught me off-guard again. I couldn’t help but feel unsettled by the look in his eyes – unsettled and drawn by it at the same time. "Oh – all right. Just pick an instrument and I’ll play."

The smile given in response to that was a small one, but there was something in it that dazzled me all the same.

~~~~~~

That one last, aching note hung in the air as I lowered the bow of my violin. There was silence following, but I still felt like I could feel the music. It was satisfying, to know I’d played well and it sounded just right. Somehow, I always seemed to play better with an audience. My eyes opened to catch Trowa’s response.

No expression on his face, of course – but I thought his eyes were somehow softer, in a way. "You play well," he commented, impassively. "Passionate."

"That’s nice of you to say." I lowered the instrument. "Thank you."

He nodded. "Do you do this often? It sounds more like instinct than something learned."

"I was taught." It was almost disappointing to admit. I wondered if Trowa had thought that I was self-sufficient enough to teach myself music. This, then, would certainly shatter his ideals of me. "I do play often, though. Almost every day, when I can."

"It shows. It always shows when a person is passionate about something."

I decided to be daring. "What are you passionate about, Trowa?"

His eyes locked with mine again: intense and beautiful. "I haven’t found anything yet," he answered steadily. "I’m not sure if there is such a thing, that I could find passion in."

"There’s always something." I wasn’t sure why, but I was struck with a sudden desire to find some such thing for Trowa. Maybe it was just because of how I felt while playing, how fulfilled it could make a person feel to thoroughly enjoy what they were doing. I didn’t think it right for anyone to be completely without that sort of experience.

"Perhaps. I’ve been looking out for something for longer than you probably think I’ve been alive."

That startled me. "How old are you, Trowa?"

"If you mean how many years have I physically aged, the answer is about twenty." He smiled cryptically. "But I’ve consciously been alive for a few hundred."

I couldn’t doubt his words. "But how is that possible?"

"I spent most of my life in their world."

"So, they live forever?"

"Possibly, if they stayed in that world."

"But they don’t."

"Because of a desire for dominance. They feel that we are inferior, and should be their slaves."

I was beginning to understand. "And that’s what this war is about, isn’t it? You’re fighting with them over who gets control."

"Yes, generally speaking. There are humans on their side as well."

"Who on earth would actually want to be a slave?"

Trowa shrugged. "They believe that they will be rewarded for their service – that they will be masters, while the rest of us are slaves."

"But… that’s just an illusion, isn’t it?" I asked softly. "Even I can see that. If these things think that we’re inferior, they wouldn’t let any of us exist at a level equal with theirs. How can people believe that?"

"Dominance is a powerful driving force," Trowa replied calmly. "People will believe what they want to believe, whether or not it’s the truth."

"But there are people willing to fight back," I said, with certainty. "Otherwise it wouldn’t be a war."

Trowa smiled briefly. "The ‘others’ I told you about earlier come from nations that are actively involved in fighting against them. Heero is from the Sanc Kingdom itself, and Wufei from somewhere to the east. They, too, follow the prophecy."

I frowned thoughtfully. "So where does this prophecy – ?"

I never got the chance to finish that question, because there was a fizzling noise and all the lights in my dorm went out at once.

"Damn!" I stumbled to my feet, nearly tripping over the violin. "There must be a power outage. I’ll have to get a flashlight from my room."

I walked toward the door slowly, hands extended in front of me. "It’s pitch black in here. Can you open a window for me, Trowa?"

There was a pause, and I felt Trowa brush past me, moving confidently. I envied him his instincts – obviously, he could sense obstructions well enough to avoid them in the dark. I heard his voice answer me a few seconds later.

"The window is already open, Quatre."

"What!?" I let go of the wall and stumbled forward. "But it’s barely even mid-morning! It can’t be this dark out already!"

"Apparently, it can."

"But that’s – "

Someone knocked on the door, interrupting me. "Hey kid! Quatre, you in there?"

"Duo." I sighed. "Now is not a good time…"

"Now’s perfectly good!" he retorted, through the door. "I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Quatre, but every single light in the building is out!"

"Duo," I said again, trying to sound firm, "I’m – " I stopped.

"Quatre?"

"There it is," I whispered, eyes caught on the small glittering something floating up near the ceiling. " ‘When darkness blocks the sky’."

"Quatre! What’s going on in there?"

"Congratulations," Trowa said quietly, ignoring Duo. I couldn’t see him at all, but I could picture how he’d look clearly in my mind – expressionless face, just the barest hint of a smile, and with that same intense look in his eyes. "You’ve found the second key."

I didn’t move my gaze from the glinting of light above my head. "Can I stand on your shoulders?" I asked. "I can’t reach it on my own."

Barely ten seconds passed before I felt Trowa take my hands and brace them against his shoulders, which were waist height next to me. "I can handle your weight," he gave permission. "So don’t worry about hurting me."

"Quat-re!" Duo’s voice sounded half irritated and half whiney. "If you don’t open this door in thirty seconds, I’m going to pick the lock and let myself in!"

"Just… wait… a second!" I grunted in response, pulling myself into a precarious position on Trowa’s shoulders. "I’m busy!"

"How can you be busy? There’s a power outage!" Duo rattled the door handle. "I’m coming in. You’ve got about ten seconds to finish up whatever it is you’re doing."

"No, wait! Duo-whoa-AA!!!" I lost my balance and grabbed desperately at the air. My finger closed around something cold and solid as I tumbled down on top of Trowa.

The fall was painful, but the resulting position… wasn’t entirely.

Light suddenly flared back into existence. I opened my hand and revealed a misty-translucent, ornately-carved key – very cold to the touch. Trowa let out a noise that sounded like a muffled groan, and then the door flung open and Duo burst in on us.

The expression on his face when he first saw us should’ve been a Kodak moment.

"Well, well, well." He recovered from that initial shock quickly, taking in the situation with a grin and one eyebrow raised. "It’s not every day you find your best friend on the floor in their pajamas entangled with a complete stranger." Then he chuckled. "I think you’ve got some explaining to do, Quatre."

I shut my eyes and slumped back over Trowa. Oh great…

 

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