Chapter 8 - Masters of the Elements
Sally and Noin made a silent compact with each other never, ever to have children. They had patiently and in excruciating detail explained all the duties of the Warrior Mages to the boys. The duties were quite simple, really. They were supposed to defend the world from the forces of Light. That was it. But they were so full of questions, from how they tapped their powers to what the powers were. They asked questions that neither Sally or Noin had any answers to and they asked multiples of times. When it became apparent that they did not know, the boys had begun talking about the why, the how, the when, et cetera, et cetera. Now they were talking amongst themselves while Sally and Noin observed in silence.
"Fire Dancer? That name is too.. feminine for a man like me. I'm not that Warrior."
Wufei had adamantly refused to admit that he was the Fire Dancer since he heard the name. In fact, he had gotten red in the face and had demanded an explanation for such a girly name to describe him.
"Well, at least you are in control of fire. What the hell am I supposed to do with water? Clean you to death?"
Duo's sullen tone matched his woeful face perfectly. He was not resentful or in denial of his position as the Water Glider, but he definitely was unhappy with his elemental powers. If he had his way, he would be the Fire Dancer, girly name or not.
"Why must you gripe about such trivial things? Can't you just accept what you are?"
Heero's tone was disdainful and it earned him a glare from Wufei and an obscene gesture from Duo. He didn't care which Warrior Mage he was and he was tired of the complaints. Heero wondered if he could somehow use his air powers to smother the complainers.
"I don't like being the Mind Bender. It sounds so manipulative. I don't like the sounds of that."
Quatre was having a moral crisis over his powers. He was a gentle boy who preferred to deal with people genuinely, not with deceptions. He did not like the fact that his power concentrated on the minds and spirits of people. It was frightening in a way.
"I like Earth Shaker. It sounds like fun."
Trowa said his piece in a quiet and firm voice. He gave Duo a wry smile when his childhood companion gave him a look filled with surprise. Trowa may have projected a stoic front, but it could not be denied that he was still a boy. Super powers bestowed upon him to save the world sent his blood running in a pleasant hum. He, too, dreamt of heroic adventures and magical battles like every other boy.
"You boys can talk it over once we get to the Dome. For Darkness sake, please go to sleep now."
The boys all turned their heads at the same time at Sally's exhausted statement. Smiling apologetically, Quatre immediately laid down and closed his eyes. Duo mimicked Quatre's movements but ruined his efforts by emitting a loud and completely fake snoring sound. The rest of them slowly lowered themselves to the ground, trying to pretend that they were doing so because they were tired, not because someone had told them to do it. When all five were on the ground and silent, Sally closed her eyes and let out a relieved breath. Finally, there was some peace.
"People want to kill you? That's great. There are always people trying to kill me. What did you do to them?"
Duo's enthusiastic voice drowned out the naturalsounds of birds chirping. Duo was busy grilling Quatre about his absence from the world, asking him more questions than an overzealous inquisitor. Sally and Noin walked about ten yards ahead of the boys trying to ignore their idle chatter. They swore once again to never have children.
"Do? I didn't do anything," replied Quatre, innocence pouring out of his aqua green eyes, "I am the only heir to the second most powerful position in the empire. Naturally there are people willing to kill me."
Duo and Trowa gawked at Quatre's casual statement while Wufei nodded in agreement.
"You did nothing and people want to kill you? That's just unfair."
Wufei snorted at Duo's reply. Only a lowborn would say such stupid things. Wufei's disdain clearly showed itself on his aristocratic features and Trowa took exceptions. No one looked down on Duo, not even the almighty Winner and his adjuncts.
"Duo's right. You two are the strange ones thinking that it's natural to be targeted because of what you are."
Trowa ignored Duo's elbow in his gut. He would say what was on his mind even if Duo objected. He didn't care that they were all supposed to be Warrior Mages and that they should get along like best of friends. No one would ever make Duo seem less just because he did not wear nice clothes or understand the twisted politics of the nobles.
"You are right."
Both Trowa and Duo looked at Quatre in shock. He had said they were right in a quiet voice, as if he really meant it. Duo grinned. Quatre wasn't as bad as Wufei after all. Without waiting for a reply, Quatre continued, almost to himself.
"People should not be killing each other anyway, provoked or otherwise. I hate the idea of it. I hate the fact that I had to hide away for a year. I hate the fact that I'm a target for being born. It's all wrong and I can't change the way it is."
Duo patted Quatre's back sympathetically. He had sounded so despondent that he couldn't help but feel sorry for him.
"Hey, Quatre, it's all good. I'll watch your back. We're supposed to be magical and shit now so we aren't easy to kill."
Quatre smiled gratefully at Duo's comment. As casual as Duo had made it seem, Quatre could feel the offer of friendship behind the light words. It made him feel part of the human race again.
"Thank you. I'm not entirely helpless, but assassins have been after me for a long time now. I get tired of it sometimes."
Wufei nodded in complete agreement. When Quatre fell silent, he continued.
"You see, it is not easy being an heir. Maxwell, thank you for your concern, but I am his bodyguard and protector. I don't need your help."
Duo was about to retort but Heero grabbed his wristand pulled him back towards him. Trowa watched the movement with hostility in his one visible eye. He did not like this Heero Yuy. In fact, he didn't really like Wufei either. If it hadn't been for Duo, he would have abandoned this group a long time ago, Warrior Mage or not. So Trowa watched Heero with extreme closeness to make sure that he did not do anything to Duo.
"What did you yank me for? I was making conversation, Gorgeous."
Heero ignored Duo and held onto his wrist, preventing the braided boy from outpacing him. Duo did not mind that Heero was holding his wrist – it was almost like holding hands, a romantic and silly gesture. Relaxing into Heero's hold, Duo decided to goad Heero instead of Wufei. He was getting bored again.
"So, Gorgeous, you like me enough to hold my hand, do you?"
Duo laughed heartily when Heero dropped his wrist like a hot potato. Surreptitiously, Duo rubbed his wrist; Heero had gripped it tightly enough to cut off circulation. When Heero did not reply to Duo's deliberate poking, Duo continued talking. He talked loudly enough so that everyone could hear him.
"I told you, Gorgeous, didn't I? You wouldn't be able to resist me. I guess I'll have to suffer your attentions. I mean, so many people want to be with me so you'll have some stiff competition."
Duo glanced around for reactions. Quatre's eyes had widened slightly and his pace slowed so that he could hear Duo's monologue more closely. Wufei was red in the face, trying to ignore him but failing rather miserably. Trowa was smirking – he was always in complete accord with Duo's outrageous pranks and statements. And since Duo was goading Heero, Trowa was more than supportive of his efforts. As for Heero, Duo could not discern any explicit reactions. However, his keen eyes picked out the steady ticking at his jaw and the involuntary clenching in his right hand. Even though Heero was pretending not to pay attention to him, he was hearing every word and reacting to it. Duo widened his smile and continued. After all, he was Shinigami. He liked playing with imminent threats of death.
"I could take you on as a lover, I suppose," Duo said airily, "but I like my boys to smile and simper. I'm gonna have to break you first, Gorgeous. Otherwise, you might insist on being on top."
Duo braced himself for the inevitable lunge from Heero, but to his surprise, Heero did nothing violent. In fact, Heero had a speculative gleam in his eyes that was entirely unwholesome and Duo had to force himself not to be nervous. Trowa also did not like Heero's unusual reaction to Duo's teasing because he did not trust Heero. If Heero had lunged at Duo and they had gone down tussling, Trowa would have taken it as a matter of course, bet with Quatre about who would win and then dust off Duo after he was done. But not this time – this time, Heero was thinking about something else. Heero was acting so out of character after one of Duo's taunts that even Quatre and Wufei watched owlishly. Then, Heero did move. Not his arm in a punch or his leg in a kick, but his mouth in a reply.
"Duo, I would like to see you on top."
Four sets of jaws dropped to the ground and everyone became completely still. Sally and Noin walked on, blissfully unaware of the new tension brewing behind them. Duo worked his jaw, trying to get some sound out to no avail. His vocal cords were frozen and his mind was whirling from the succinct but suggestive comment from Heero. All this time, Heero had never bothered with clever retorts; he had always gone with his first instinct to knock Duo on his ass. What was different today?
"Did he actually say something back? And it wasn't 'I'm going to kill you'?"
Duo and Trowa turned their heads dumbly at Quatre's shocked question. Wufei did not even bother looking at Quatre – he was concentrating on Heero, in case the boy was an imposter instead of the real thing. Then Duo burst out in laughter. Finally, the shock had worn off and Duo was able to respond.
"Darkness, Gorgeous, I had no idea you had it in you. I really have to bag you now, you know?"
"How do you know I won't bag you first, Pretty?" Duo hardly noticed that Wufei was gasping like a landed fish or that Quatre was trying to roll his tongue back into his mouth. He even failed to see that Trowa was coughing uncontrollably from the sudden lack of air to his lungs. All his noticed was Heero smirking at him with that unholy gleam in his eyes. "You think I'm pretty?"
Heero managed to hold back the chuckle that tickled his throat. Duo had sounded half offended and half flattered, an interesting combination of emotions that had made his voice crack at the end. Rather than answer back, Heero gave Duo's body and face a leering once over, licked his lips sensually and walked ahead. He could feel Duo's eyes boring holes in his back but resisted the urge to look back.
"You guys coming?"
Heero threw back his nonchalant comment over his shoulder, pretending as if nothing unusual had happened. Quickly recovering their wits, Trowa, Quatre and Wufei hurriedly caught up to Heero. Duo lingered a bit more, trying to absorb the fact thatHeero had bantered with him, won the verbal combat and had told him that he was pretty. All things considered, Duo decided that he only had one option. Payback.
"When I became a full fledged Star Dreamer, I thought I had it made. But look at me, trudging around the damned continent with a contingent of bratty, ungrateful boys."
Sally nodded sloppily at Noin's complaint. It was so true – she sympathized and understood completely. When Noin stuck out her cup, Sally merely poured more hazy liquid into it and topped off her own. Then they continued in their holy crusade to get completely wrecked.
The five boys sat nearby in their separate table and watched in awe as Sally and Noin tossed back drinks like it was the end of time. Their private table already sported several empty jugs of whatever alcoholic brew this inn served and they weren't showing any signs of slowing down. Once in a while,one of them would say something and the other would nod but they could not fathom what the ladies were talking about. Whatever it was, it had to be depressing or frustrating because they had never seen anyone drink so heavily and so quickly. Sally was already slithering down on her seat, nearly sliding off to the ground underneath her table and Noin was sprawled back in her chair bonelessly. Their white robes had spots of alcohol they had managed to spill on themselves. Sally's twin braids, her pride and joy she took care of ceaselessly, hung in half tangles to her shoulder blades. Noin was drooling a tiny bit from the left corner of her mouth. It was entirely disturbing.
"Do you think we did something more seriously offensive than usual today? They are sloshed!" No one could answer Wufei's question. Just this afternoon, they had been told that the Dreamer's Dome was only a week away. All they had to do was catch the outgoing ship the next morning and it would be only three more days after landing. The Dreamers had looked so deliriously happy at the prospect of going home that the boys had behaved extra well today. Duo had cut back on his verbiage and Heero had become somewhat more pleasant. Quatre had been sweeter than usual, Trowa had smiled a few times and Wufei had mellowed. It had been one of their best behaved days ever since they had traveled together. And for some reason, the Dreamers were drinking enough to tranquilize a herd of hyperactive rhinos.
"Well, I don't know about you guys, but I gotta get out of here before they start dancing on the tables, you know?"
Duo quickly stood and left the inn's common room. It wasn't that he didn't want to see those two dance on the tables – they were pretty ladies and he wouldn't have minded seeing a little flash of flesh. However, he genuinely respected and liked those two Dreamers. He had no intention of seeing something that would embarrass them later. He left his companions behind him and stepped out into the night air. The night smelled fresh, like open fields with a touch of frost. The moon was hiding somewhere in the clouds and refused to light his way. Smiling ruefully, Duo started walking towards the small patch of grass behind the inn where the horses grazed during the day time. It would be a good spot to sit and relax, notwithstanding the possible piles of manure. Duo managed to step on only fresh grass and he sat on a soft spot. The air was ridiculously wonderful. Then quiet footsteps interrupted his peaceful interlude. "Darkness, can't a guy get a moment alone?"
Duo knew he sounded peevish and perhaps even a bit peckish, but that did not matter. Even he needed some down time away from people – Duo Maxwell needed solitude, too.
"Little touchy today, aren't you Duo?"
Duo turned his head slowly towards the voice. In the moonless darkness, it was just a disembodied voice floating out to him like a ghost. It gave him the chills, but not the kind that came from fright. These chills were more dangerous.
"Gorgeous, I know you can't get enough of me, but stalking is a bad sign of obsession."
"Always have to say something sarcastic, don't you?"
Without further words, Heero stood next to Duo and looked down. His eyes could not discern features too clearly in this almost complete darkness, but he felt Duo's gaze. He could always feel it, even when he slept. When Duo refused to respond, Heero sat down next to him carefully and stretched out his legs. He did not know exactly what he was doing out here, but he had followed Duo when he had left. Something in his body and mind made him follow this strange yet alluring boy outside – the action had been automatic, practically a reflex. Now that he was here, sitting next to Duo, he had no idea what to say or do next. So Heero did what he did best – he was silent.
"Gorgeous, are we really going to save the world?" Heero turned his head towards the voice. Even at this close distance, he could hardly see Duo's face. But he could imagine the pensive and sad expression which must have graced his delicate features with that question.
"I know we will. The stars are not foolish."
Duo looked askance out of the corner of his eye. All he saw was the silhouette outline of Heero's face but he felt the determination flow from the shadow beside him. Heero meant fully with his mind and heart that the five of them would save the world.
"Why do you believe that? How can you have so much faith?"
Duo winced at the harsh sound that passed for a laughcoming from Heero. It was mocking and sadistic, but had a twinge of genuineness.
"Faith? It isn't that, Duo. It's not fate, either. I know I can do it. It is a mission I can't fail. And I don't think you ever considered failing. The five of us, as different as we are, are warriors inside. I have no doubt that we can save the world from the Light. That is, if we can manage not to kill each other along the way."
They sat in companionable silence until the moon peeked out from the clouds. When the silver beams hit and illuminated them in a soft glow, Duo looked over to Heero.
"Darkness," Duo said, his mouth suddenly dry, "you are unreal, Gorgeous."
"So are you, Duo. We're even then, aren't we."
Nodding, Duo stood and stuck his hand out for Heero. After a moment's hesitation, Heero took Duo's hand and let him pull him up. They stood nose to nose for a while, drinking in each other's presence. Trembling, Duo inched his head forward, drawing his lips closer to Heero's. He could feel Heero's hitched breath on his lips, smell his intoxicating musk – he could practically taste him. When he was so close that a hair's width separated his lips from Heero's, a voice shattered the intimate moment.
"Duo! Heero! Where are you guys? Sally and Noin have lost it!"
Quatre's voice, usually gentle and soothing, broke into their moment like sharp glass and Duo and Heero jerked away from each other. Their wide eyes looked at each other in shock and wonder, then in confusion. Neither could admit to themselves that they had feelings other than animosity and teasing companionship between them. The kiss that could have been was quickly buried into the deepest recesses of their minds as they headed towards Quatre together. Neither would forget about the moment nor admit how much they wanted it.