|Disclaimer: Gundam Wing is the property of Sunrise and Bandai. Final Fantasy 7&9 and Vagrant Story are property of Square Soft. No money is being made from this work of fiction. The only character I can claim is the devil, and isn't that just a scary thought?|
"Faster Rashid!" Quatre urged, bending lower over his mount's neck. The horse snorted in response, but didn't increase its speed. It was already moving at a breakneck gallop, a foolish move given the low lighting and narrowness of the dirt track stretched before it, but its rider didn't seem to care. He was too caught up in thoughts of the time and what his father would say if he wasn't home *very* shortly. //The old man's gonna have my hide!//
"Be back no later than midnight, and be careful!" The memory of his father's words hung in the night air. Two, simple conditions, all it took for him to travel to the next town and attend Trowa's birthday party, and here he was at ten minutes to midnight, dangerously close to breaking both of them.
//I can make it, if I'm lucky.// Squeezing his eyes shut, he tried not to look at the tree limbs reaching out to grasp at him, or watch the sharp twists in the path appear and disappear behind him. He was nearly unseated as Rashid jumped a fallen gumball tree sticking out of the kudzu-choked vegetation to either side of the path. Shivering slightly, he all but buried his face in his horse's mane and clung tight to the reins, thanking providence that the horse had excellent night vision for its species. If it had been Quatre guiding them, they probably would have ran straight into the obstacle, slowing them down at best, breaking one of Rashid's legs at worst. //I should have stuck to the main road, even if it does take longer. This place isn't *safe* at night!//
There was something in the path ahead. It didn't look like much, about the size of a tailless cat, and at first Quatre thought it was simply a rock that they would have to avoid. Then it turned and grinned at them. The startled boy had enough time to register an eyeless, wrinkled face with a short, blunt muzzle full of razor sharp teeth before Rashid screamed and came to a sudden, bucking halt that sent Quatre flying over his head into the bushes on the left side of the road. By the time Quatre managed to untangle himself from the kudzu that had instantly entangled his limbs as if it were alive, there was no sign of either his horse, or the thing that had surprised them.
"Rashid?" Peering into the surrounding
underbrush, Quatre tried to determine which way the frightened
horse had bolted. "Rashid?"
There was a low moan from behind him, almost as if someone were answering his call. Quatre spun to face the sound, half expecting to find himself face to face with some nameless horror. He found only more kudzu vines waving in his face. Frowning, he looked around him, trying to figure out exactly where he was. He failed miserably, the pale moonlight and his unusually close proximity to the ground throwing any land marks completely out of perspective. He was about to start inspecting the ground for signs of Rashid's hoof prints when another moan caught his attention. It was definitely coming from somewhere off the path and although it didn't sound particularly like a sound of pain, it made Quatre uneasy.
//Maybe there are more of those creatures around. Maybe they caught someone else. If that's the case...// If that was the case Quatre was alone and unarmed and wouldn't be able to do much to fend the creatures off. //But what kind of man am I if I don't try?// Squaring his shoulders, he cautiously moved off the path, brushing brambles and long strings of kudzu and nightshade out of his way.
He was quickly lost, the trail behind him swallowed up by vegetation, the only clue of his destination a broken stream of moans and whimpers. Eventually they were joined by high pitched squeaks and a sort of chattering noise, odd bursts of laughter and the dim flicker of firelight dyed green by the kudzu leaves. Slowing his pace even further, he made his way toward the source, a large clearing, so far off the beaten path as to be inaccessible. He paused at its edge, trying to ascertain what he was getting into before moving further.
Something caught at his legs, sending him sprawling face first into the clearing. Shaking his head slightly, he looked up, yelping as he found himself face to face with what looked like a large cluster of eyeballs. One of the eyes bulged out unexpectedly, sending the cluster rolling along the ground away from him. Half-horrified he watched the cluster roll away, occasionally changing directions by puffing up one of its eyes like a bull frog's throat. A hairless cat thing like the one that had spooked Rashid pounced at it. Even as he numbly wondered how it could see to pounce, having no eyes of its own, Quatre slowly became more aware of his surroundings, and the fact he was being watched quite closely.
The clearing was large and perfectly circular with a round, dirt track worn quite deep into the poor grass. An assortment of strange little horrors like the eyeballs rolled, slunk, crawled, or flew crazily around a large campfire in the very middle of the clearing. To his right, a pale haired figure lounged beneath an oak tree, peering out at him from under long bangs with glowing aqua eyes. A single wing curled from his right shoulder, wrapping around to hide most of his frame, but from what Quatre could see, he didn't seem to be wearing a shirt.
A long tail fell from the tree above the winged figure, its tip twitching slightly. Following it upward with his eyes, Quatre expected to see some sort of large cat or other monster. Instead another figure sprawled out along one of the overhanging branches, half hidden in the shadows. Its dark eyes, visible only because of the firelight reflected in them, flicked from him to the center of the clearing and back, its lips twisted in a sort of secret smile.
Quatre steadfastly refused to follow that mischievous gaze to see what the tailed figure was seeing. //Just turn and run,// He told himself, backing up slightly. He hadn't more than glanced at the center of the clearing, but what he had seen looked *terribly* indecent and probably fairly frightening. It was certainly nothing he wanted to see and the entire clearing screamed 'danger' at him. He was just gathering up his energy to turn around when something seeringly hot brushed down the side of his face. He screamed, jerking away from the heat, one hand coming up automatically to cover the burning skin.
A chorus of laughter made its way through the clearing, accompanied by the chitters and screeches of the various little evils. "What have we here?" A rich, amused voice asked from behind him. Turning completely, Quatre found himself facing a whip thin, half clad man watching him with an expression that was disturbing combination of entertained and hungry. Firelight glinted off the metallic surface of his arm as he reached one clawed hand out toward Quatre's face. Heat radiated from those fingers, causing the boy to pull back defensively before they could actually make contact, certain that those fingers were what had burned him earlier.
"Whatever it is, it looks like it would be fun to play with, wouldn't you say?" The response came in a voice that made certain portions of Quatre's anatomy tighten alarmingly. It seemed to meld the warmth of the fire, the delicate light of the stars, and the softness of a beaver's pelt all into one fluid stream of words. Reluctantly, the boy allowed his attention to travel to the center of the clearing where the speaker stood, accompanied by two others.
The speaker's face matched his voice, flawlessly smooth, nearly feminine in its beauty. Long, black hair fell down over his shoulders, glinting with bright red highlights. A pair of short horns sprouted up through the wisps of his bangs and wings curled from his shoulders, their surface mottled like heated copper. The eyes that watched Quatre so closely seemed to change color every few seconds, now gold now blue now green now purple, a never ceasing parade of hues, only some of which were natural.
Instinctively backing away from what his mind instantly recognized as 'demon', Quatre nearly backed into the thing standing behind him, whimpering as its silver arms came up to encircle him. The creature's breath whispered in his ear, long strands of gold hair falling across the edges of his vision. "Indeed, I think I'd like that very much."
"Let me go!" Quatre squirmed, trying to escape without letting his skin come in direct contact with those burning claws. The demons laughed at him again; each laugh distinct enough in tone and direction that he was beginning to be able to tell which demon possessed which laugh.
"Oh but why?" The winged demon in the center of the clearing all but purred. "After all, the more the merrier. Isn't that right, my pet?" Stretching one wing out slightly, he ran it up under the chin of one of the last two occupants of the clearing, who purred and tilted his chin back, resting his head on the shoulder of the black haired demon holding him in place from behind.
Quatre gasped. *That* one wasn't a demon. That one was human, someone Quatre had known his entire life, someone that, while their political views clashed frequently and violently, Quatre respected a great deal. "Treize?"
The young, ginger haired man didn't respond, didn't even seem to register his presence. He simply pressed back against the demon holding him, nuzzling at the gold clawed hand that came up to cradle the side of his face. Quatre shuddered slightly, wondering if that golden hand was as unbearably hot as the sliver ones that held him. Turning his attention back to the demon with the ever changing eyes, who he found he'd unconsciously labeled the leader, Quatre tried to stop his limbs and voice from shaking as he demanded, "What are you doing to him? He's a good man, let us both go!"
The demon laughed. "Oh no, little one, I have no intention of releasing him! After all, he's mine." A satisfied smirk graced his too perfect lips. "I won him from his uncle in a card game."
Quatre choked, eyes darting from Treize to the demon and back again. He didn't want to believe it, didn't want to believe that even someone as depraved as Dermail would gamble away someone's soul like that. And yet, Treize certainly seemed to be enjoying himself, heavily glazed blue eyes half shut, whimpering happily as the demon holding him ran one hand down through the shreds of what had once been a very nice dress shirt. //Even if the demon *is* lying, they very definitely have him under their control. Dammit! How do I get us out of this?// Shifting his weight slightly, rolling his head away from the clawed hand that came up and tried to run through his hair, his foot bumped into something hard, yet light and hollow sounding. //What?// Glancing down, Quatre felt his eyes light up. //My violin case!//
Grasping onto a thin strand of hope, he shot a quick look at the lead demon's hands. Although apparently flesh and bone, as opposed to the metal limbs of his companions, the demon's hands ended in a wicked looking set of talons. //There's no way he could properly hold a bow, let alone finger chords! If I can just get him to take the bait...// Straightening his back as much as he could, he met those ever changing eyes defiantly. "If you won him by gambling, perhaps you'd be willing to lose him the same way!"
All other activity in the clearing came to an abrupt halt. Even the flames of the fire stilled, pausing to listen to what the brash young mortal had to say. "Really?" The demon tilted his head to one side. "And what is it that you'd propose?"
Quatre felt a smug smile of his own slide across his face. "I bet I can play the violin better than you can." He was shocked and no little bit dismayed when the entire demonic assembly burst into riotous laughter. The leader gestured grandly and the tailed creature in the tree dropped gracefully to the ground, sauntering to the center of the clearing. Now that he could see it more clearly, Quatre was hard pressed to guess whether it was male, or female. In the end he decided it really didn't matter. Far more important was what the creature was holding - a small, black, violin shaped case, which it handed over to its winged leader with a smirk and a low bow before returning to its tree, opting to fold against the other demon at its base rather than climb back up.
"An interesting bet, little one."
The demon smiled broadly. "I think I'll take you up on it."
As his leader unfastened the case, the black haired demon holding Treize guided his captive out of the circle to sit opposite the pale demons, one blood red eye winking at Quatre as he went.
All in all, it was *not* a scene that inspired Quatre's confidence, especially the way everyone was either smirking or grinning at him, like he was the butt of some grand joke. The demon with the violin ran his taloned hands over the neck, somehow managing the proper fingerings despite his overly long nails. "If you win, I'll let your friend go. But what do I win if you lose?"
"It only seems fair that you win both of them." The demon behind Quatre purred, tightening his grip on his captive's waist, pressing their bodies together tightly. "After all, you already *have* his friend, so simply getting to keep him isn't much of a prize."
"I think you're right." Red-black-orange eyes met Quatre's mockingly. "Wouldn't you agree, little one?"
//Oh dear God what have I gotten myself into?// He nodded shakily, trying to rid his mouth of the ashen feeling that had settled there. "It s...sounds only f...fair." His voice cracked horridly. The demons on the sidelines licked their lips; their eyes boring into him with an intensity that made him want to pass out. It was as if his fear were some sort of food and they could taste it.
"Excellent." The word hissed through the air, wrapping its self around him like a second skin. "Then why don't you make yourself comfortable and we'll begin, shall we?"
//Comfortable? I'm very likely going to die before the night's out, and I'm expected to make myself *comfortable*?// A thin whimper escaped him as the demon behind him sat, pulling him down into its lap possessively. He put up a token struggle, not really expecting to escape but slightly resentful of the creature's attitude. //I haven't lost yet! Can't he at least wait until I have to start treating me like a pet?//
The first strains of music filtered through the clearing, low, dark, and powerful, carelessly killing Quatre's thoughts with their quiet intensity. Slowly the music gained depth and volume, swelling like a roll of thunder to crest over the surrounding audience. As it grew it also gained speed, the bow flying over the strings as if of its own accord, each chord perfectly fingered and crystal clear, building layers of sound. It worked its way in Quatre's ears and mouth, down his throat and into his veins until it seemed to fill him, threatening to rip him apart. His limbs quivered in time with the song's driving rhythm and he found himself swaying slightly against his will, almost as if dancing. The clearing seemed to move with him, the music twisting it in waves of vertigo, or maybe it was just the way the melody seemed to climb inside his brain that caused the effect. Breathing became difficult as his heart sped up, his eyes slowly drifting shut as the music consumed him from the inside out, a dark presence that slowly took control of his body, making it his. Time stretched out unendingly on those fiery chords, battering against his meager defenses, wringing him out and leaving him drained. The music didn't slow at all as it ended, simply stopped with all the abruptness of a gun shot, leaving Quatre dizzy and gasping in its wake.
It took several minutes for the world to stop spinning. When it did, he was quite dismayed to find that he was curled up against his captor, half clinging to the demon's bare torso, face buried in its shoulder length hair, shivering like a leaf. Pulling back slightly, he glanced around at the rest of the gathering. They were all watching him expectantly, triumph and an odd sort of pity mingling in their faces. 'Why don't you just give up?' those looks seemed to ask. 'You've clearly lost, there's no way a mortal like you can beat that.'
It was tempting. So tempting to just curl up against the warm solidity beneath him and sob. Helplessly, he glanced over at Treize. The other man lay cradled against his black haired captor, half-nuzzling under the demon's chin, smiling softly as the demon brushed its lips across his forehead. Smirking, the group's leader put his violin away, then walked over and folded himself next to the pair, half pulling Treize into his lap, running one hand possessively over the man's chest and licking at the side of his neck. His eyes found Quatre's, radiating victory. "Your turn, little one."
Something inside Quatre snapped and he stood, pulling abruptly away from the now loose arms holding him, scooping up his violin case in the process. A light titter ran through the demons, a sound of amusement spared for the fiery youth who still dared to carry out his half of the farce. Resting the violin under his chin, Quatre fixed his eyes on Treize, catching the other man's hazy gaze. There was no intelligence in those blue eyes, none of the wit that by rights should have been there.
//It's wrong.// Wordlessly, he placed the bow on his strings, fingers finding their chord. He had no idea what he was going to play, but it would be something bright to counter the darkness, //Something right to counter the wrongness.//
His eyes slid closed, but he still saw Treize, etched a million and one places in his memory. His hands moved of their own accord, somehow finding a melody for each picture his mind brought forth. The song was strong and proud and beautiful, everything the man lying across the clearing had been, should have been.
He played the time Treize's little cousin Dorothy had pushed him in the river and the older boy had jumped in to rescue him, then taken him home and bundled him up to keep him from catching cold.
He played the time that Trowa, Heero and Duo had dared him to climb the big pecan tree on his father's estate, and Treize had come up to get him when he'd gone too high and been stuck in the tree's branches.
He played Treize's patience as the older boy slowly, painstakingly taught him to fence, so that he could defend himself from Dorothy's frequent, vicious attacks...
... The sun shining off Treize's hair as he walked through his Mother's rose garden, stopping to lavish attention on the newest of the blooms...
... The perfect line of his body as he and his best friend Milliard raced their horses over the hunting course...
...The quick confidence of his smile...
...The wry, ready sting of his whit...
Quatre was so caught up in the memories, he wasn't even aware of his own song winding to an end. The violin and bow fell from his nerveless fingers, landing roughly on the grass as the chords slowly faded away leaving a silence so deep as to be tangible. Slightly dazed, he lifted his head, arms wrapping around himself to ward off the sudden chill that seemed to have descended on the clearing, as if the fire had forgotten to give off warmth.
They were still looking at him, four sets of eyes riveted on his face, a fifth undoubtedly watching him from behind. Something had changed, though. The looks of certainty and triumph were gone, replaced by blank masks and a sort of quiet shock. From behind him, a soft, bitter sound of disappointment broke the silence. The world seemed to fold in on its self, twisting around and vanishing before his eyes, taking the firelight away and leaving him alone in the clearing, bathed by the cold light of the moon. The deep track was still there, worn permanently into the earth, but the grass around it was sweet and full. The center of the clearing was empty, not so much as a singed twig to suggest that the area had ever burned since the beginning of time. The only sound or movement was a low groan from his left as Treize shifted slightly under the gumball tree he'd been left under.
//I won.// A high, nervous strain of laughter worked its way through Quatre's body. More joined it and soon he was doubled over in the grass, giggling hysterically, limbs trembling with pure relief. //IwonIwonIwonIwonohGodIwon!//
"Nn? Who?" Treize slowly pushed himself up off the ground, mumbling almost incoherently. Quatre watched him pause, picking at the tattered ruins of his shirt in obvious confusion. Rich, blue eyes found his, confused but clear of the frightening emptiness they'd held earlier. "Quatre Winner? What...what happened?"
"Never mind." Still smiling, Quatre shook his head. He put a hand out to push himself back to his feet and encountered his violin. A moment's search produced the bow and he placed them both carefully into their case. "Never mind," He repeated, walking over to help the confused man up. "It's over and not worth dwelling on." He heard familiar hoof beats behind him and Rashid's soft whicker. "Let's just go home."
Treize nodded slowly, looking around him as if he had just woken from a very strange dream. Quatre lead Rashid over and helped Treize to mount, settling the older man awkwardly behind himself and taking up the reins. The moon was just starting to set. //Father will be furious.// Quatre sighed unhappily as he aimed Rashid back in the direction of the trail. Then Treize shifted behind him, tightening his arms around his waist, pressing closer to his warmth and he smiled. //Father will be furious, but it was worth it. Well worth it indeed.//