"So what do the other keys do?" I glanced up at Trowa’s face briefly, then concentrated on the path in front of me. "Or do you know?"
"Some." He smiled back at me, fingers brushing the back of my hand from where they twined with mine. "The Ice key is fairly obvious. Gold can take me directly from my world to yours, and back – at specific locations. Otherwise, I’d have had to go through their world."
"That makes sense." I thought about if for a minute, though it was somewhat hard to concentrate. The memory of Trowa’s kiss seemed to want to consume all of my attention. I’d never felt that way about a kiss before, though it definitely wasn’t my first. But, from what I’d experienced, I had formed a sort of opinion about kissing – that it was some casual activity between people who were looking for amusement and affection. What I’d shared with Trowa blew that theory away as if it were an insignificant piece of dust on a smoothly carved jewelry box. Every fibre of my being had been involved in feeling that simple kiss, and the emotion it stirred in me was something overwhelming. Even then, after it was long since over, I revelled in the memory of it. Every one of his touches, no matter how simple, brought it rushing back. There was something special between us, like a connection of some kind…
And I couldn’t help but believe that he felt it the same way I did.
"You’re quiet all of a sudden," Trowa noted, looking and sounding faintly amused. I looked at him and smiled, enjoying that warm affection that seemed characteristic of his eyes now when he looked at me.
"Just thinking." I turned to look at the path again, still feeling his gaze on me and liking the feel of it. Was this sort of thing even possible? It was like something in a fairy tale… But there was a reality to it that told me I wasn’t dreaming. "Do you know about any of the other keys?"
"Only the last one – the Amber key. I don’t know how much, just that it has something to do with loyalty and emotions." He paused. "I doubt very much that you’ll need to use it. I think you could bring out loyalty and emotion in a stone."
I blushed, but felt pleased. "Do I bring out emotion in you, Trowa?"
"I didn’t think it was possible, but yes, you do."
I smiled. "Then I’m glad."
We were both silent for a while then, just more or less enjoying the moment. It was almost amazing how fast and hard I’d fallen for Trowa. I’d just met him and all I could think about was how I never wanted him to leave. It was the kind of thing that made me immediately start to think of destiny and other fantastical things. Corny as it sounded, the notion seemed almost plausible when speaking of what Trowa and I had.
"Do you have the note with you?" Trowa asked, breaking the silence and bringing my mind back to what we had to do. "We could see where the next key might be."
"Right." I reached into my pocket. "I did remember to bring it this time." Carefully, I unfolded the note paper and read the latest clue: ‘Silver from the fury at the feast’. Right, that made a lot of sense.
Then again, none of the clues made sense at first.
Trowa glanced at it over my shoulder. "Didn’t we just finish buying a suit for me to wear to a dinner party tonight?"
I had to smile. "Everything fits together, then."
"That’s generally a rule when dealing with prophecy. They tend to fulfill themselves."
"Makes things convenient, doesn’t it?"
"Yes." Trowa’s eyes shifted to worry. "But I should warn you of something, Quatre. Not everything in dealing with this prophecy is so simple. The keys are a common part in two separate prophecies – but they are the only similarity between the two."
I wasn’t sure I caught that. "What do you mean?"
"We have our prophecy, and they have theirs."
"And they say different things will happen?"
"Yes. They also have very different outcomes. Ours says that we will in the end seal them back into their world. That would result in peace."
I caught on. "And theirs says that they’ll take over, doesn’t it?"
Trowa nodded, then looked up. "I’ll tell you more later. We should go back to your place if we’re going to get ready in time for that dinner tonight."
I followed his gaze. We were back in the parking lot again. "That’s probably a good idea," I agreed, reluctantly letting go of Trowa’s hand to unlock my car door. And I hope we can do more than just talk, later.
"What time are we meeting Duo at?"
I straightened the front of my good clothing. "Six o’clock. And we haven’t got much time, I know." A glance in the mirror assured me that everything was in place. Dorothy’s party wasn't a tuxedo affair; it was more like a semi-formal. Fancy black clothes with white touches would get me by.
"Are you ready to go?" Trowa opened the door to my room slowly, then came inside when he saw I was fully dressed. "We should be going soon."
"Yes, I know." I smiled at him. Trowa was in all black, and he looked smashing. I’d chosen the outfit myself, but it took my breath away all over again when he stood in front of me right then. "You look great, Trowa."
He returned my smile, the expression reflecting more in his eyes than it spread on his lips. "Consider the compliment returned. You’re beautiful, Quatre."
I felt heat rise to my cheeks. "Thank you." It was all I could say; Trowa had effectively rendered me speechless with just those three words. Does he really think I’m beautiful? The question didn’t need an answer; I knew that he did. It felt… nice.
"We should probably go," Trowa said suddenly, breaking that spell that seemed to have kept us bound in place. I’d been staring into his eyes – I still was, actually, and he was staring right back. "I’m sure we’ll have time later on to continue talking."
I don’t think talking was the first thing on either of our minds.
Trowa brushed light fingers over my cheek, and I blinked – hadn’t realized he was so close. "Come on," he said softly. "Let’s get going."
I nodded, not entirely trusting my voice, and followed him out of my dorm room.
"Hey Quatre!" Duo greeted me outside the building. "You’re right on time. As usual. All ready for a nice long evening with Miss Dorothy Catalonia?"
I smiled. "Yeah, I can’t wa – "
"Catalonia?" Trowa interrupted me. He glanced at Duo.
"Uh… yeah." Duo raised an eyebrow. "What’s the problem? Her family declare war on yours or something? I wouldn’t be surprised…"
"Do you know her?" I asked, ignoring Duo.
"We’ve met." I couldn’t tell anything from Trowa’s face or his voice.
"Hey, loosen up, Chuckles!" Duo slung an arm around Trowa’s shoulders. "If you’re afraid she might murder you, don’t worry. It’s a public place; there’ll be plenty of witnesses around, so we’ll be able to avenge your death."
"Comforting, isn’t it?" I smiled at Trowa. "So how do you know Dorothy?"
He shrugged. "The last time I was here, we were introduced. I wonder if she’ll remember that when I see her tonight."
From the impression I’d gotten of Dorothy when we met, I had to doubt whether she’d ever forgotten anything in her life. "I think she will."
He smiled briefly in response. "I hope she will."
"Man!" Duo scratched his head. "I feel like I’ve missed something in this conversation. Mind filling me in on – oh, I don’t know – everything?"
"Sorry Duo." My smile turned apologetic as I turned to look at my best friend. "I met Dorothy once, and she didn’t seem like the type who’d forget anything easily."
"Oh." He looked at Trowa. "So how do you know her?"
"I told you." The taller boy calmly returned that stare. "We were introduced a few years ago."
Duo looked ready to respond to that, but a car horn beeped loudly, and then Hilde pulled up alongside us. The car already had several other people piled in, and I saw the problem even before she voiced it out loud.
"You didn’t tell me there’d be three of you, Duo," she accused, leaning out the window to talk to him. "I don’t have enough room in the car to take all of you."
"Aw, Hilde, can’t you make room?" He tried an appealing smile. "For me?"
She rolled her eyes heavenward. "I might for anyone but you."
"Don’t worry about it, Hilde," I cut in. "I just need to know how to get to Dorothy’s house. If it’s OK with you, I’ll take my car and follow along behind you. All right?"
Hilde grinned. "Works for me. Get in the car, Duo."
"You ordering me around?" He got in all the same, then turned to look at Trowa. "I take it you’d prefer to go with Quatre, would you?"
"I’d rather he came with me, too, actually." I smiled. "We’ll be right back with the car. Don’t leave without us!"
"Don’t worry." I could hear the grin in Duo’s voice even though I was heading in the opposite direction and couldn’t see it. "I don’t think any of us are that anxious to go visiting with Dorothy."
"I am," Trowa said, so quietly that I wasn’t sure I was meant to hear it.
So I didn’t answer.
Dorothy’s house was actually only a fifteeen-minute drive from the dorms, but you could see it in ten. The place was huge. I had a mansion myself, our family house, and it was a decent size, but the Catalonia house outstripped it by far. I had to wonder what they needed all that space for. Even the grounds surrounding it seemed dwarfed by comparison. It was impressive, but it made me uncomfortable. People who needed to have houses that size generally thought of themselves as being big as well – large in nature, opinion, or importance. It was an awful assumption, but my memory of Dorothy seemed to fit it. She’d had that smug air of superiority about her, like she knew everything about everybody, and considered herself above it all.
"I guess this is the place." I got out of the car, handing the keys to the attendent – valet parking, how appropriate – and waited for Trowa before moving to rejoin Duo and the others.
"Impressive," Trowa commented, gazing impassively at the house.
"I guess it is," I smiled, in reply.
"Geez!" Duo grinned. "Everything in moderation, hmm? You guys need to lighten up." He put an arm around my shoulders. "I thought I was doing OK with you, before EZ Laughs here showed up. You gotta learn to relax, Quatre!"
I exchanged looks with Trowa and we both smiled.
"This place is massive," Duo went on, either not catching the exchange or else totally ignoring it. "Don’t ask me how one family can live here. That house could fit a small town in it!"
"Some people need more room than others, I guess," I said.
"What, a room for each article of clothing they own?" Duo shook his head.
"As I remember, Dorothy Catalonia was very much impressed with the illusion or reality of immensity," Trowa added. He caught my eyes with his, and I wasn’t at all surprised to find that I couldn’t read them this time. Trowa was being secretive again.
The Catalonia family had both a butler to answer the door and a footman to lead visitors from the entrance to the large room that had been set up with tables and fancy decorations. Everything was formal, and very upper-class. It was something I could deal with easily, since I had been upper-class myself for a good part of my life. I wondered about Duo and Trowa… but Duo seemed as relaxed and confident as ever. Trowa remained impassive, and in the black clothing akin to shadows, he seemed just like part of the background. It would be easy, I realized, for anyone to overlook him, or just brush aside his presense. And I think that was how he wanted it.
There were quite a few people there already, sitting at some of the beautifully set up tables, chatting politely with those beside them. It was like a wedding feast, but without the place cards, the bride, or the groom. None of the food had been served yet.
"Why don’t you find us a place to sit down, Quatre?" Trowa suggested quietly. "I have something I need to take care of." He moved away from my side.
I turned to ask what, but he was already gone, through the people coming in, and disappeared to somewhere behind me. I frowned. What on earth could he be doing? Trowa…
"Quatre Winner." I turned back at the voice and found myself faced with a smiling Dorothy Catalonia. "I’m glad you could come tonight," she said. "Would you care to sit beside me during the meal?"
"That’s a kind offer, but I’m here with a friend of mine." I offered a polite smile.
"There are plenty of seats at this table, Quatre." She inclined her head to the side slightly. "I made certain that there were more than enough seats for the number of guests I would have over tonight."
"All right then," I agreed, somewhat reluctantly. What could she want me to sit with her for? We barely even know each other!
Dorothy led me toward her table, and sat down gracefully, waving a hand to indicate that I should do the same. "It’s so hard to observe all the formalities and still enjoy yourself, isn’t it?" she asked conversationally. "Sometimes I’m not even sure if it’s possible."
"I’m not sure I follow you." I sat down, feeling a bit puzzled.
"Oh, that’s all right." She smiled, as if satisfied by something, then leaned over, close to my face. "Welcome to my party, Seeker," she purred."
I started, and my breath caught in my throat. Impossible… "You… you know?"
"Naturally, I do." She smiled again, eyes narrowing in that smugly pleased manner. "You didn’t think your charming savior was the only one keeping tabs on you, now did you?"
It all seemed to click into place at that point. Why she wanted to invite me… Why Trowa knew her… "You work for them. The other side." My eyes widened as another realization hit me. "And you were the one who had that lightening beast summoned, weren’t you?"
" ‘The other side’…" She chuckled. "What a charming term. I can see that you’re just oozing with wit and brilliance, Quatre Rebarba Winner. Why don’t you save yourself some trouble and hand the keys over to me right now?"
"Not a chance."
She raised an eyebrow. "Oh, I think you will eventually. I have ways of – "
"Good evening, Miss Catalonia." Trowa took the seat across from me, giving Dorothy an almost bored look. "It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Do you still remember me?"
There was an irritated frown forming on her face. "Darksbane."
"I go by Trowa Barton these days," he corrected her. "Unless you’re talking in prophecy."
"Your prophecy is meaningless," she muttered, scowling.
"Only if you choose to believe in power rather than people," I spoke up, catching both of my dining companions’ attention. I had an inkling of an idea… "You’d be surprised what plain, ordinary people can do when they feel they have to."
"People like yourself?" She raised an eyebrow, snidely.
"Quatre is anything but ordinary." Trowa didn’t look at me, carefully keeping his eyes focussed on Dorothy. "If anything, you might consider it a referrence to yourself."
Her eyes flashed angrily. "I, at least, have chosen to fight on my own. You only do this because you think you’ll have to." There was disgust in her voice.
"That’s why you’re ordinary, Dorothy," I told her. "There are so many people who fight for the sake of fighting. Because they feel fulfilled or satisfied if they can outwardly express the agression they feel inside them. That’s why true peace can be so fragile."
"You’re wrong!" She looked furious. "There are too many like yourself, bleeding hearts who can’t bear to see people suffer! Sacrifice is necessary for the greater good!"
"If I were part of a majority," I replied, "then there would not be the kind of battles that we may soon be involved in."
"There will always be battles!" she spat, angrily. There was a dangerous light in her eyes. "Humans are territorial creatures. No peace will last forever."
"But there are those who are strong enough to seek out a world that may have some measure of peace," I countered. "Those strong enough to hope."
"Hope is weakness!" she snapped. "And those who hope are weak!"
"That’s not true." I was keeping myself calm, even as Dorothy seemed to become more and more agitated. "It’s simple to give up on hope and strive to gain power over others. Those who can keep their dreams and who do not purposefully start battles to prove their disillusioned views have to be strong in order to do so."
"I am… not… weak!" The last word was a shriek, as Dorothy finally lost her head and stood violently, knocking the table to the floor with a loud clatter. "That’s what you were saying, that I’m weak and you’re strong! Well, prove it, Seeker! Prove it!"
The entire room had gone silent, all heads turned toward us. Trowa had leapt to his feet as the table overturned and Dorothy stood beside me, harsh breathing loud and almost seeming to echo in that intense silence. I was still sitting, and both of them had their eyes fixed on me, waiting for my next move.
Something caught me eye as I stood, and I bent, unsurprised, to claim it. I heard Dorothy’s sharp intake of breath as I rose with the Silver key in my hand, but I didn’t smile. "Thank you for your help, Dorothy," I said softly. "I think that Trowa and I had better be going now."
I detoured around the spilled table and made my way across the room, pretending that I didn’t notice the amazed stares in my direction. Duo’s mouth was hanging open, making him look something like a gaping fish. Trowa followed behind me, silently, and I could feel his pride in me even from that distance.
And all the way to the door, I could feel Dorothy’s gaze on me – hatred, anger, and dark plans for revenge.
"You were brilliant."
I smiled up at Trowa, turning the key in the lock of my dorm room and opening the door. "I just had a feeling about it. I’ve noticed that most of the time with these keys, I should trust any kind of feelings I get."
"That’s a good idea. You have good instincts, Quatre." Trowa shut the door behind us and pulled off the jacket part of his outfit. I moved toward my room so that I could do the same.
"Are you checking the note?" He followed me into the room as I carefully folded the article of clothing and placed it on a chair. "Why don’t you let me have a look?" He shut the door again.
"Sure." I started to move back to where I’d last left it, on the drawers lining the wall between my room and the rest of the dorm. But Trowa had been following me too closely; I crashed right into him when I went to turn around. "Oh, sorry." I stepped back. "I guess I’m tired. I…" My breath caught.
Trowa smiled and brushed my cheek with gentle fingers. "It’s all right," he told me softly. "My fault." His hand moved to cup my chin and he pulled my face close for a kiss.
I felt like I was spiraling upward as Trowa gently pulled me closer, arms secure around my waist. His lips were so soft against mine… It was different from before – the place and the mood were different. He seemed to express an intensity that made my head start to spin and my knees go weak. I was already exhausted from the loss of that rush when I’d been verbally fencing with Dorothy, and Trowa’s closeness banished any hope of independent thought. I could only moan softly as his lips trailed a path down my jawline, over my neck. It felt so good…
"Trowa…" I breathed, eyes fluttering shut as he attacked the soft spot just behind my ear. He’d planned this, too, I realized, in the tiny part of my mind that still functioned. Following me into my room and closing the door, standing so close… He wants me… He really does. I raised my arms up to pull him closer, bringing his mouth back up to mine and returning his kisses with as much passion as I could manage, tired as I was. I want you too, I tried to let that say. I want you… Trowa…
I think I love you.
Trowa pulled me even tighter against him, kissing me insistently, and I felt myself falling back…