Duo's breath caught in his throat, and for a moment he felt a wild, unexpected rush of happy anticipation, as if running across a long-lost friend. Then he saw that Heero was watching him carefully with narrowed eyes and managed to force back a wide grin just in time.
"Ah... Atreusio you say?" he repeated, clearing his throat. Suddenly even the shade seemed uncomfortably warm. "He sent the note?"
"That's right." Something about the way Heero was glaring at him made Duo uneasy. He looked unduly irritated by Duo's reaction to the name. "He's the boy who was at the school. The one who helped you out of the ravine. He was hiding something." His jaw flexed. "You should have let me kill him."
Duo straightened, glaring right back, acid dripping from his tone. "Why don't you go jump off a cliff, Heero Yuy?"
Heero actually raised his eyebrows at the unveiled animosity in Duo's eyes.
Duo blinked abruptly, feeling his face flush. "Uh- I mean..." he stammered. He lifted a hand unconsciously, pressing it against his mouth. What was he *saying*? And to Heero, who in his present mood would probably be only too happy to throw Duo himself off a cliff? "S-sumimasen... I don't know what's wrong with me," he mumbled, glancing away uneasily. "Though.. I'm glad you didn't kill him, Heero."
Heero's glare could have melted an iceburg. "Hn."
"Anyway..." Duo was decidedly uncomfortable in the face of Heero's smouldering anger. Was he really so mad just because of one stupid little comment?
Of course, he had seemed pretty irritated back at the school when Duo had acted buddy-buddy with Atreusio. He didn't seem to like the strange boy, or the fact that Duo got along with him.
But why? He couldn't be jealous. This was Heero Yuy. And Heero Yuy didn't give a damn about anyone enough to get jealous.
"We have to find him," Heero said.
Duo blinked. "Ara? Wanna run that by me again? Isn't finding Quatre our priority right now? Who knows what could happen to him?"
Heero's eyes were hooded as he turned away. "I think Atreusio is responsible for Quatre's capture."
Duo's jaw dropped. "Nani??" he sputtered. "Are you insane?!"
They both glanced up as Wufei appeared in the doorway, face tight. "Both of you come here- we got a message."
Duo swallowed his indignation and churning anger at Heero's attitude and hurried inside after his partner. Trowa was standing by the table in the kitchen, with Heero's laptop open on it where he had left it. He glanced up as they entered, face dispassionate. "It's Dr. J," he said simply.
Heero sat down before the laptop, clicking on the blinking note. Duo stood back, for once not hanging over his friend's shoulder, still fighting his internal anger. Why he was so upset by Heero's accusations towards Atreusio was beyond even him; all he knew was that Heero's bad temper towards the other boy was annoying the hell out of him.
After a few tense moments of silence Heero rose, shutting the laptop with a click.
"Well?" Wufei demanded as Heero stalked off. They followed him back outside.
"The message was for me," Heero said curtly, heading towards the garage where the Gundams were being stored.
"Hey!" Duo sprinted to catch up, dodging in front of him and blocking his path, glaring. "What did it say?"
Heero halted, glaring right back. "It has nothing to do with you. I'm going to go meet Dr. J. The rest of you try to find out more about Quatre."
Trowa frowned slightly as Heero pushed past Duo and continued on his way. "Why would Dr. J want to meet him in person alone?" he murmured.
Duo gritted his teeth, feeling his fists clench by his sides. "Who cares?" he spat. "Let him go. C'mon, let's try to figure out where those bastards took Quatre." Swivelling on his heel, he stomped back towards the house. After only a moment's hesitation his two partners followed, their concern for Quatre outweighing whatever secret Heero was keeping from them.
Quatre flexed his arm, piqued by a brief, terrified memory. "Ah... Atreusio," he began timidly, "didn't.. didn't I break my arm when Neo came to get me? I could have sworn I broke it falling down the stairs..."
The two dark-eyed boys exchanged a brief, unreadable look.
"Oh, that," Neo said easily. "You didn't break it, you just twisted it."
"Oh." Quatre was relieved. "I could have sworn, though..."
"You thought wrong," Neo said sharply, and Quatre wisely decided to drop it.
It seemed to him that the more they walked the deeper into the woods they went. He had been expecting them to head for civilization; weren't they supposed to take him to some place called Avarion or something? He had never heard of it; he'd assumed it was some small out-of-the-way town. But instead they only led him deeper and deeper into cool, shady woodlands.
The peacefulness of it and the ancient beauty of the trees around him comforted him somewhat, and he found himself admiring his surroundings despite himself. Atreusio, and especially Neo, had been noticably more respectful towards him, almost as if they were just a band of companions out for a stroll. He couldn't help- with his openly honest and loving heart -but like Atreusio. The boy was quiet and a little strange, but he had been kind towards Quatre since the beginning. Even Neo, with his abruptness and all, was not so terrible. He shook his head, smiling a little ruefully at himself. If only Wufei could see him now, carrying on a conversation with his captors like they were old friends. He'd throw a fit.
He missed his friends. Even cold, calculating Heero. He missed the easy laughter and joking nature of Duo, the protectiveness and fierce intelligence of Wufei. He missed Trowa's quiet warmth and his honesty. He frowned a little at the thought of the solemn clown. Trowa... he had been so crushed when after weeks of shyly worshipping the pilot from afar he had realized that Trowa seemed to feel nothing for him. Or at least he didn't notice. Duo had once commented that perhaps Trowa was simply unsure of what to do about the situation, but it didn't matter anymore. He had Wufei. Strong, stubborn Wufei. He didn't care if Trowa didn't want him.
Or.. at least that was what he told himself everyday.
He was fiercely fond of Wufei... he felt warmth whenever the Chinese pilot was near. But, he thought to himself sadly, he could not stop himself from thinking of Trowa, or watching the boy sometimes when he was being particuarly graceful. He shook his head, angry at himself. He and Wufei were together. End of story. And he did love Wufei, he reminded himself. Wufei wanted him, Wufei might even love him. Trowa...
..well, Trowa probably wanted nothing to do with him. His sarcasm towards himself and Wufei just showed how contemptuous he was towards their chosen same-sex relationship. It made him flush with shame and sorrow just thinking about it.
He blinked, looking up quickly and blushing even more on catching Atreusio watching him. "Ah- H-hai?"
"Daijabou? We're almost there."
"Uh, hai." He smiled reassuringly. Sometimes, he noted offhandedly, he could conjure a smiling mask that could rival Duo's. "I'm fine."
Atreusio smiled briefly, pushing a branch carefully aside. "Liar," he teased gently. And promptly tripped over a root hidden in the loam.
Neo caught him easily, a tolerant look on his handsome face. "Clutz," he sighed.
Quatre couldn't help laughing, and Atreusio straightened himself with a sheepish look.
"I am," he admitted, offering Neo a small smile of thanks before turning back to Quatre. "I'm always tripping over things...running into walls.."
Quatre laughed harder. "That's cuz you always walk around with your head in the clouds," Neo grumbled. "So to speak."
"Oi." Atreusio pulled off a surprisingly cute pout that had Quatre giggling helplessly. "Meanie."
It was surprising how much the two had relaxed and opened up. He could almost...almost see them as friends; not as two strange boys who had captured him.
A flicker of nervousness within him quieted his laughter. Neo had put out that fire with a glance and a gesture... just who WAS he?? But when he had frantically questioned them about it, Neo had brushed it off a little coldly, and Atreusio, after giving his partner a warning look, had politely asked Quatre not to ask any more questions. Quatre had reluctantly relented, unwilling to try Neo's dark temper.
"Hear it?" Atreusio interrupted his confused thoughts, pointing up ahead. "We're almost to the falls."
Indeed, when Quatre stopped to listen, he could hear a low rumbling. "A waterfall?" he asked.
Neo stepped over a thorn vine, nodding. "Aa. That's where Silverwolf is waiting for us."
"Is this him? You're late."
Quatre jumped, startled by the voice. He instinctively stepped closer to Atreusio. The two boys seemed unruffled as they halted and turned to face the girl who had appeared out of nowhere, hand against the trunk of a tree as she watched them with slightly narrowed eyes.
She looked a little older than Quatre, with a short bob haircut and hazel eyes. She was wearing a simple green sundress and a pendant around her neck.
"Hello, Miki," Neo greeted- a little coolly, Quatre noticed. "Long time no see."
"Harebell," she corrected with a slight edge to her voice, locking eyes with him. "I don't know why she entrusted *you* two to bring him to us..." her eyes strayed towards Quatre, "but it looks like you actually managed to get him here in one piece. Impressive, Phoenix."
"Neo," he corrected her in turn, eyes narrowing. "We gave up those names long ago."
"You don't deserve them anyway," Harebell agreed, giving him a cold look. She motioned. "Come on, then. Silverwolf's expecting you." She turned and padded away.
After the briefest of hesitations, the three boys followed her. Quatre glanced at Neo curiously, but decided after a minute to keep his questions to himself. He would find out more when he met this 'Silverwolf'.
They followed the short girl through the woods as the sound of the falls grew steadily louder, the very earth seeming almost to hum in vibration to it. They began going uphill, steeper and steeper, and despite Quatre's earlier declaration of his own strength, he began to get out of breath.
Then suddenly there it was.
The trees abruptly disappeared, forming a ring around a large clearing flanked by a wide creek with a small but impressive waterfall at the end, farther uphill. Quatre came to a dead halt, too entranced by the sight at first to notice the people standing or sitting in the middle of the clearing until Atreusio nudged him.
There were about a dozen of them, young men and women, some standing idly, some lounging comfortably in the grass, carrying on low conversations that drifted into silence as they all turned their faces towards their visitors. They were all dressed simply, in what looked like a dress rehearsal for some play: the girls in nature-toned sundresses, the men either in khakis or cargo pants, with ordinary t-shirts with no writing or design on them. Most of them were wearing jewelry, and a few girls even had flowers and daisy chains in their hair. The whole scene was like a picture from a fantasy novel, and Quatre felt as if he had walked into a field of fairies, his breath coming out in a little "oh" that he could not supress.
Then he saw Silverwolf.
It had to be her. The way Atreusio and Neo had spoken of her made her sound like the main person he was to meet, a leader of some sort. And she definately looked the part.
She stood tall, willowy, with graceful limbs and a serene, pretty face. Long dark hair- almost as dark as Atreusio's -hung loose and free around her shoulders, framing her delicate face and falling down near her waist. Tiny white and yellow flowers were interwoven through the strands. She was wearing a thin, long white dress and a cuff around her right upper arm. She was wearing a pendant similar to Harebell's, but shaped slightly different, and larger. She stood straight and proud at the head of the group, and met Quatre's eyes with gentle but intelligent gray eyes. She was a young woman, perhaps in her early twenties, but the serenity of her gaze made her seem much older.
She was like a fairy queen, and Quatre felt suddenly humbled in her presence.
This was not the time for loitering, however, and Neo reminded him of this rudely with a poke to his back. He swallowed hard and followed as his three companions approached the group. Everyone who had been sitting got to their feet and grouped silently behind Silverwolf, watching them come. Some of the older ones looked on calmly, the younger ones looking eager and curious.
Harebell halted a few feet away, inclining her head respectfully and gesturing at the three boys behind her. "Silverwolf, Atreusio and Neo have brought the one you wanted to meet. The Gundam pilot Quatre, controller of Sandrock."
Some of the people murmured amongst themselves at this, and Quatre squirmed, uncomfortable. They sure seemed to know a lot about him.
Silverwolf smiled, and Quatre was instantly soothed. "Phoenix, Selket. Thank you for bringing him to us. Though I wish you had been more gentle and simply asked him, it is a pleasure nevertheless to meet him and to see you again."
Neo lifted his chin defiantly, strange eyes sparking. "Good to see you in good health, Priestess," he said grudgingly. "Though as we told her-" he jerked his chin dismissively towards Harebell, "we go by our real names now."
If Silverwolf was offended or upset, she certainly didn't show it. She merely nodded once before turning her full attention on Quatre.
Quatre's heart was fluttering in his chest as he looked up at her, holding his breath.
This is it, his heart sang. This is what you have waited for!
He hadn't been aware he'd been waiting for anything.
"Quatre-kun," Silverwolf said with quiet warmth, extending a slender hand. "I am Silverwolf. This is my coven, Avarion."
Coven? Priestess? Quatre felt a twinge of- something. Coven... wasn't that...
"Please," she continued smoothly, "let me explain why I sent for you."
Author's Notes: this chapter is dedicated to diane for her very much appreciated reviews. Arigato, I'm glad you like the story!! ^___^
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