Keeper of the Keys

 

Emerald

 

It was impossible to sleep. I stared at the ceiling, once again going over the conversation I’d had with Trowa before we’d gone to bed. Every time I thought about it, my face burned. It was so humiliating! I’m not weak! I wanted to scream at him. I’ve taken care of myself since my parents died, I’m going to school and studying hard, I’ve taken martial arts classes with Duo and done very well, and I… AM… NOT… HELPLESS!

With thoughts like that running through my mind, it was no wonder I couldn’t relax for long enough to fall asleep.

Sighing, I flopped over onto my stomach and went through the fateful conversation one last time.

~~~~~~

"The key was a trap, of course." Trowa turned to face me – again with the intense stare that made me feel so nervous. "You need to be more careful."

"I didn’t know," I protested, wincing even as I did. My words sounded defensive, childish. "You weren’t there, and I just thought…" I trailed off.

"You should’ve stayed close, like I told you," he replied, voice not changing to sound anything other than offhand. Still, I flushed – I could almost feel his opinion of me lowering every second. "A person without my gift can’t hope to stand up to them."

"I didn’t know they’d be there!" I was desperately trying to think of something – anything – that would erase my mistake and make me look less weak in his eyes. "All I knew was that we were looking for the key, and I’d found it."

"They let you find it."

"How was I supposed to know they had it?" I demanded.

"You should’ve been more cautious."

"I’m sorry." I was flushing horribly, with embarrassment and despair. "I made a mistake, I know, and I am sorry. But if you’d just told me – "

"I assumed," Trowa interrupted, blandly, "that you’d be prepared for danger. I apologize for making such an assumption. I won’t next time."

That statement felt like a dagger thrust in the stomach. I tore my eyes from his, fighting tears. Stop that, you baby! I ordered myself, and walked stiffly into the bedroom, not looking back. I didn’t want to see the disdain that would surely show in Trowa’s eyes when he watched me.

~~~~~~

He was right. I felt that ache start to build at the back of my throat, and tried to push it back. The note even said ‘danger’ right on it. I shouldn’t have been so overconfident. And feeling sorry for myself won’t help me. Instead of lying here agonizing over the fact that Trowa thinks I’m weak, why not get up and go do something about it?

That made a surprising amount of sense. I sat up abruptly. Obviously, I wasn’t going to get any sleep until I’d at least proved something to myself, if not to Trowa as well. So I might as well put that extra time to good use.

The note sat on my bedside table, untouched since I’d left it there when we went to search for the Rowan key. I’d been so upset by Trowa’s words that I hadn’t even remembered to glance at it when I came into the room. But… the best way to earn back Trowa’s respect would be to find the next key – alone. I reached out and snatched the note off of its resting place.

‘Emerald in the dive to the lake from the seas’. I stared at that for a moment. There was a bit of a problem there… We weren’t anywhere near any seas. There was a lake nearby, with a river flowing out of it at one end and a waterfall pouring into it at the other. The whole area was generally known as Richland Falls.

But it still didn’t have any seas.

Well, it’s the best we’ve got. I pushed aside the covers and stumbled out of bed, reaching for my clothes. So it’ll just have to do. I peeled off my pajamas and hastily dressed. It would spoil everything if Trowa woke up before I left. This was something I had to do by myself.

My luck was holding. When I cautiously opened the door and peered out, my mysteriously companion was still asleep. I noticed that he was a quiet sleeper – didn’t snore or murmur or make any noise. That was probably training more than anything, though. I had to stop for a moment and watch him – in sleep, he was somehow entirely compelling to my eye without being so otherworldly and intriguing. He looked just like a normal young man, one who drew me as thoroughly as the fascinating stranger side of him had. My eyes traced over his jawline, down what there was of his chest above the blankets. The smooth muscles on his arms and shoulders seemed to be something awe-inspiring, though I’d seen the same sort of thing on others many times before. On Trowa, it was entirely different. It was… Trowa.

I tore my eyes away, silently berating myself for getting distracted. It’s not going to improve his opinion of me if he wakes up and I’m staring at him, is it? I tried to ignore the sound of Trowa’s rhythmic breathing and padded quietly toward the door. He can’t wake up now, he can’t…

The door shut quietly behind me. No noise from within. I breathed a sigh of relief and leaned against it. All right – the first obstacle was out of the way. Now to find that key.

"Hey Quatre!"

I jumped guiltily. "Duo! What are you doing out here?"

"My laundry." He tugged at the sack over his shoulder. "You didn’t think I washed all of my clothes by hand, did you? Besides, I need something from the dry-cleaners for that semi-formal dinner party tonight." He made a face.

"Right." I realized I’d have to actually go out and buy something for Trowa to wear, or he wouldn’t be able to come. "You’re still getting me a ride, aren’t you? I don’t know how to get to – who’s giving the party?"

"Dorothy Catalonia. And don’t ask me why we’re invited – I’ve never even said two words to the girl." He shrugged. "Big pain in the butt if you ask me. But… she specifically told me to invite you." At that, he grinned. "Maybe she’s got a thing for you, Quatre."

I thought back to the first and only time I’d actually spoken to Dorothy. "I don’t think that’s it," I answered dubiously, shrugging. Actually, I didn’t really care about Dorothy Catalonia or her party. "Hey, Duo, could you help me out with a riddle?"

"How to distract your best friend from your secret sex life?" He grinned at me.

"Duo!" I tried to glare at him. "I’m serious!"

"All right, all right." He held up his free hand in surrender. "So what’s the riddle?"

"It’s sort of like something in a treasure hunt, actually," I clarified, then repeated the clue on the sheet of note paper out loud.

Duo shook his head. "Gold, emeralds… Man, what is it with you and treasure, huh? I don’t suppose you got this one on another mysterious note, did you?"

I squirmed uncomfortably. "Sort of…" That was awkward.

"You sure live an interesting life." He grinned. "Anyway, the riddle… Hmm…" He put a hand to his mouth in a classic thinking pose. "Well, I understand the lake part," he mused. "And a dive… That would make you think of Richland Falls, except…" He stopped, and his eyes lit up. "Got it!"

"What?" I leaned forward eagerly.

"Well," Duo began, grinning like anything, "where, exactly, do the rivers all come from, and go back to eventually?"

I suddenly felt very stupid. "Oh… right. I should’ve thought of that."

"Yup!" he said cheerfully. "You should’ve. Since that river pouring into the lake as Richland Falls is originally from the sea, you’ve got the answer to your riddle right there. Go dive off the waterfall." He paused. "Not that I think an emerald is worth inviting death like that."

"You’re probably right." I smiled ruefully. "But I’d like to take a look anyway. I’ll meet you out here at around six o’clock, all right?"

"Sure thing, kid." He headed off in the opposite direction, toward the laundry room. "I’ll see you there. Let me know how the treasure hunt goes."

"All right." I turned back in the direction I’d already been heading. Well, at least I was going to the right place the first time.

I opted against taking my car, as we had for the park. For one thing, Richland Falls was only a twenty minute walk, and for another, I was doing this to make an issue of the fact that I could do things for myself. It wouldn’t look too good if I had to drive when my destination was an easy walk away. And hopefully, by the time Trowa realizes where I’ve gone, I’ll have the key already.

Hopefully.

I made good time, and got to the lake in closer to fifteen minutes than twenty. The sun was out, so it was nice and bright, though quiet. The day had that crisp coolness to it that generally categorized early morning. For some reason, that was raising my spirits a great deal. I felt better already.

I know I can handle this. The falls were not very high, but they would make any sort of dive a dangerous trick. I couldn’t shake that confidence I felt, though. This was something I was meant to do. I was brave enough to handle it, and if I could pull the feat off properly, then I wouldn’t need to worry about the danger. It was my destiny to find those keys – and I would be alive to do it.

The rocks that lined Richland Falls were close to perfect for climbing on. I didn’t have to scramble much for hand- or foot-holds, which made things easier. I doubted that was coincidence. In a matter like the one I was involved in, it seemed there wasn’t much left to pure chance.

If you were here to watch me, Trowa, I thought to myself, making it over the edge of the rock face, you’d see that I can handle this. I’m a lot stronger than you think. And I am worthy of you. You’ll see.

The falls made a loud rushing sound. I swallowed and made my way over to the river, where it poured smoothly down the steep line of rock and crashed into the still waters below. There were a few rocks I could stand on in the midst of that rushing liquid. Gathering my courage, I stepped out onto them.

Come on, Quatre. The height seemed to multiply as I stood there, gazing down. There was a hypnotic quality to the movement of the water, like diamonds and sapphires churning over each other, the drops of white and blue spilling, swirling, blending together. Don’t freeze up. Just… don’t think about it. Your key is in there somewhere. Your Emerald…

Taking a deep breath, I dove off the rock and into the churning waters below.

It was probably about half an instant between the point where I dived off to when I hit the water. But it seemed longer, somehow… I was falling, or flying, or… something. And then there was something smooth and solid pressing into my palm, enclosed in the tight grip of my fingers.

I smiled.

And felt water close around me.

~~~~~~

The walk back was one I made quickly, feeling lighter than air. My clothes were soaked and heavy, and my shoes squished uncomfortably as I walked, but I’d never felt happier. There was a smile on my face that just wouldn’t lessen, no matter how it made my jaw ache.

And the Emerald key was clutched tight in my hand.

"Quatre? Quatre!" A tall, lithe form was hurrying down the path toward me. He slowed as he caught sight of me, then stopped altogether. "Where were you?"

I shrugged. "I went to get the next key."

"Without telling me." It was a statement rather than a question. Trowa’s face was perfectly composed, but his eyes and posture showed at least a million signs of a previous distress. He gripped my shoulders with both hands, just slightly tighter than was necessary. "Are you all right?" Even that normally emotionless voice had slipped – I sensed concern.

"Fine, Trowa." I, on the other hand, was the picture of serenity – barring the soggy appearance, of course. "Sorry to worry you. I thought that since you were asleep I didn’t really need to bother you. The keys are my responsibility, not yours."

"Quatre…" There was something in his eyes as he looked at me – I couldn’t place it, but I knew it had to be good.

"I am the Seeker, after all," I told him, holding out the Emerald key. "I’m capable of handling this job. I’ll need your knowledge and your skills, Trowa, but the job of finding the keys is mine."

He stared at me for a moment, and then another of those small smiles warmed his face. "You’re going to do an excellent job, Quatre," he told me softly, eyes seeming to glow as they studied me.

I don’t think I’d ever heard anyone tell me something that made me feel as happy as I did right then.

 

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