Keeper of the Keys

 

Ice

 

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

Trowa shrugged. "It doesnít matter. Hopefully, finding the keys wonít take you long, and we can get back to the others."

I frowned. "Others?"

His eyes met mine. I couldnít avoid that gaze; it was so intense and thrilling, sending shivers down my spine. "Friends of mine. Theyíre waiting for us on the other side."

Something about the way he said Ďthe other sideí made me feel ever so slightly uncomfortable. I tore my eyes away and turned toward the closet. "Iíve got plenty of extra blankets in here if you get cold. Thereís food in the kitchen if youíre hungry Ė 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 donít need to trouble yourself."

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

He nodded, and I moved into my room. I suppose itís selfish of me, not offering him the bed. But itís justÖFire burned on my cheeks. The idea of having Trowa sleeping in my bed seemed way too personal. Iíve 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 doesnít seem to be the kind of person whoíd demand high-class living conditions. Iím sure itís fine. But I couldnít sleep, even after assuring myself of that. For some reason, I couldnít step thinking about Trowa. Maybe it was the whole business with the keys and this war, butÖ If that was the case, why did it seem more like I was just fascinated with his eyes? The image of them wouldnít 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.

Donít be stupid, Quatre, that warning voice at the back of my head told me, as I flopped against the pillow. Youíve only just met him Ė you donít 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. Trowaís words came back to me: ĎI have something for youí. Why canít I stop thinking about him? I donít 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? Iíd just gone to sleep! It couldnít 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 mountainÖ finding the gold keyÖ meeting TrowaÖ Trowa!

I sat up as quickly as I could manage to under the circumstances. "Trowa! Iím sorry Ė I just had a late night, and then I couldnít sleep Ė "

"Calm down." He leaned back, away from where heíd bent over my bed to wake me up. "I need to know where you keep your cooking utensils. I canít make breakfast if I donít know where anything is."

I blinked. "Youíre making breakfast?"

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

"You donít have to, Trowa," I protested. "I didnít let you stay here just because I thought youíd repay me for it. Youíre 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 Iím 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. "Iíll 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 didnít seem self-conscious under my scrutiny, either; everything he did was done with seemingly perfect ease. It was like I wasnít even there at all.

"So, you know how to use a stove." I probably shouldíve been surprised, but I donít think anything Trowa did could surprise me. He gave the impression that he knew how to do most things, and well, too.

"Iíve been in this world before," he answered, not looking up. "Itís not that hard to catch on." He took one of the plates Iíd 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. "Arenít 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. "Thatís 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 weíre more or less on equal footing there, I thought to myself, as he finally took a bite. He canít 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. "ButÖ This wasnít what it said yesterday."

The note now read ĎFind ice when darkness blocks the skyí.

"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, shouldnít I?"

He didnít 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 Ė a little more soft than the first.

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

"Itís the Seekerís job to find the keys," Trowa answered. "Iím 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. "Donít worry about it. Youíll be meeting a few of them before this is over."

I wasnít sure I liked the sound of that.

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

"Thatís right. Itís also a library."

"Do you play an instrument?"

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

"Any favorites?" The intense stare wasnít 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 Ė but it would be interesting to hear someone who actually takes pleasure in making music. Would you?"

"Iíve never had a more welcome offer." I stood, returning that half-smile with a full one of my own. "Thereís nothing better than having an audience while youíre playing. If you want, you can borrow an instrument from me Ė Iíd be happy to listen to you as well."

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

Heíd caught me off-guard again. I couldnít help but feel unsettled by the look in his eyes Ė unsettled and drawn by it at the same time. "Oh Ė all right. Just pick an instrument and Iíll 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 Iíd played well and it sounded just right. Somehow, I always seemed to play better with an audience. My eyes opened to catch Trowaís response.

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

"Thatís 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 havenít found anything yet," he answered steadily. "Iím not sure if there is such a thing, that I could find passion in."

"Thereís always something." I wasnít 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 didnít think it right for anyone to be completely without that sort of experience.

"Perhaps. Iíve been looking out for something for longer than you probably think Iíve 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 Iíve consciously been alive for a few hundred."

I couldnít 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 donít."

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

I was beginning to understand. "And thatís what this war is about, isnít it? Youíre 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 Ė that they will be masters, while the rest of us are slaves."

"ButÖ thatís just an illusion, isnít it?" I asked softly. "Even I can see that. If these things think that weíre inferior, they wouldnít 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 itís the truth."

"But there are people willing to fight back," I said, with certainty. "Otherwise it wouldnít be a war."

Trowa smiled briefly. "The Ďothersí 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 Ė ?"

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. Iíll have to get a flashlight from my room."

I walked toward the door slowly, hands extended in front of me. "Itís 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 Ė 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 itís barely even mid-morning! It canít be this dark out already!"

"Apparently, it can."

"But thatís Ė "

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

"Duo." I sighed. "Now is not a good timeÖ"

"Nowís perfectly good!" he retorted, through the door. "I donít know if youíve noticed, Quatre, but every single light in the building is out!"

"Duo," I said again, trying to sound firm, "Iím Ė " I stopped.

"Quatre?"

"There it is," I whispered, eyes caught on the small glittering something floating up near the ceiling. " ĎWhen darkness blocks the skyí."

"Quatre! Whatís going on in there?"

"Congratulations," Trowa said quietly, ignoring Duo. I couldnít see him at all, but I could picture how heíd look clearly in my mind Ė expressionless face, just the barest hint of a smile, and with that same intense look in his eyes. "Youíve found the second key."

I didnít move my gaze from the glinting of light above my head. "Can I stand on your shoulders?" I asked. "I canít 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 donít worry about hurting me."

"Quat-re!" Duoís voice sounded half irritated and half whiney. "If you donít open this door in thirty seconds, Iím going to pick the lock and let myself in!"

"JustÖ waitÖ a second!" I grunted in response, pulling myself into a precarious position on Trowaís shoulders. "Iím busy!"

"How can you be busy? Thereís a power outage!" Duo rattled the door handle. "Iím coming in. Youíve got about ten seconds to finish up whatever it is youíre 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 positionÖ wasnít entirely.

Light suddenly flared back into existence. I opened my hand and revealed a misty-translucent, ornately-carved key Ė 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 shouldíve 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. "Itís not every day you find your best friend on the floor in their pajamas entangled with a complete stranger." Then he chuckled. "I think youíve got some explaining to do, Quatre."

I shut my eyes and slumped back over Trowa. Oh greatÖ

 

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