A tall young man can be seen trudging up a shimmering golden bank of sand, a large sack slung over his shoulder. He pauses at the top and wipes sweat from his brow, muttering "I am never going to let those fic writers stick me in a bit part again... " The young man has dark turquoise hair and moon-gray eyes, and he looks down the embankment at a city spread out to fill the sandy valley below.
White buildings gleam in the last fading rays of the sun. Typical Middle Eastern-style architecture predominates, with the occasional adobe hut, more frequent in the lower quarters. The young man smirks and hurries down the towering sand dune into the opalescent city.
By the time he reaches the city, the first dusky shadow-tipped fingers of night have wrapped the streets. He pauses, looks around, then comes to a halt, setting the bag to the cobblestones with a grunt.
"Konbon--er, salaam! Welcome to the city of Agrabah!" he says brightly. "I'm Tamahome. Better known from the series of Fushigi Yuugi... " he trails off sourly. Then he affixes a wide, obviously forced grin of cheer on his face. "I-have-been-chosen-to-introduce-this-parody. I-am-very-honored." Tamahome picks up the large sack and shakes it out, then with a dramatic sweep reveals a shabby booth stocked with miscellaneous objects.
His grin is significantly less forced. "Come one, come all, minna-san! The best sales this side of Konan--uh, er, I mean Agrabah! Discounted just for you, at starting prices of 1 silver ryou for the most humble of trinkets!" Tamahome rubs his hands together gleefully. "Might as well make a little something on the side while I'm stuck here... "
A sizzling thunderbolt leaps down from On High and Tamahome jumps nimbly aside. He growls and shakes his fist at the sky. "Oi, it wasn't my idea to be here! Watch it, you nearly singed my ponytail! I'm sick of losing my hair... "
Tamahome blinks and his eyes snap center front again. "Oh, you're still here?" He brightens. "Great, maybe I can still make that sale!" He rummages behind the counter of the shabby stall produced from hammerspace and comes up with a somewhat faded red scroll. "Look, a copy of the Shijintenchisho! Still good! And it only eats its Mikos on about a fifty-fifty basis, give or take a Yui... "
His expression turns anxious. "Nonono! Wait! I'm sure I can find a real bargain for you!" He steps out from behind the counter, producing a small, somewhat battered golden lamp from gods know where. "Do not be fooled by its cheap fake gold plating. This is the real deal! Genuine brass, and I've probably got a warranty around here somewhere. At 5 gold ryou it's a real steal... "
Tamahome skitters forward, nearly dropping the lamp in his desperation to score a sale. "Matte! This is no ordinary lamp! It once changed the course of a young man's life -- a man who was, like this lamp, more than what he appeared to be." He gives a wide, bright smile again, tapping the lamp against his palm. Then his smile grows somewhat edgy. "Ano... this is the cue for the fadeout... "
The scene of the shadowy city street obediently begins to fade out. Tamahome's voice continues, deepening dramatically as he gets into the part.
"Our story begins where a dark man awaits on a dark night, with a dark purpose... "
The sand threw back the silvery light of the moon, making the landscape a shifting sea of pearlescent fire. A man on horseback galloped madly over the crest of a dune, then once he reached the expanse of flat plane, he skidded to a halt where a shadowy figure awaited without much patience.
The flat voice was unemotional and chilling.
The fat man approached, knees quaking with fear.
"I'm sorry... I... I got held up," the man mumbled.
For a moment a red symbol seemed to gleam out at him through the darkness, then it faded, replaced with a pair of searing cobalt-blue eyes. Irritably the young man tugged at his tight black shorts.
"H-Heero-sama?" the man faltered.
Heero Yuy scowled at the hired thug. "Just let it pass," he said curtly. "I had to... erm... change." His nasal voice is remarkably similar to the tall turquoise-haired young man... "Did you bring it?"
The fat man looked sly. He withdrew a small, gleaming object from the rags wrapped around his face and neck. "I brought it. Had to slit a few throats, but I brought it. So... the treasure?" he prompted, dangling the gleaming golden piece.
Faster than thought, a red blur darted forward and snatched the golden trinket from the man's fingers, depositing it in Heero's palm.
Heero lifted an eyebrow and tightened his hand around the golden piece.
"But... but my treasure!" the fat thug pouted.
"Don't worry," Heero told him coldly. "You'll get what's coming to you."
"Awk!" A young male voice blurted out, sounding like someone had poked him with a sharp object. "What's coming to you!" The voice sounded somewhat strangled.
"Are you ready to throw your life away so that I can acquire the power of the treasure?"
The hired thug blinked a few times. "Uh... WHAT?"
A diffident cough sounded in the background. "Ne, Heero-san, you weren't supposed to tell him that."
Heero lifted an eyebrow. "Mm. Perhaps I wasn't," he agreed, watching the hired thug gape for another instant longer, then began turning to flee.
"He's running," that diffident voice observed. Behind Heero's slender body, crouched on the sands was a young Chinese boy dressed in bright red spandex and a sulky expression. Fluttering red streamers had been attached to his arms, pantomiming wings. And a bright red crest of feathery plumes had been fixed to his loose, coal-black hair.
Wufei did NOT look happy.
A large *BANG* brought the fat man to a screeching halt and he nearly flopped dead onto the sands from shock. Quivering in his boots, he turned and faced the very large barrel of a smoking gun.
Wufei coughed again. "Heero-san, you're NOT supposed to have a gun."
Heero scowled blackly. "Well, I stopped him, didn't I?"
Heero stared the hired thug down, cocking the gun for emphasis. The man's eyes were wide as saucers. "You are going down into the cave. You are going to find the magic lamp in the center of the caverns. Then you are going to bring the lamp back to me."
"Awk!" Someone had jabbed Wufei again. "The lamp!" he repeated hastily, glowering at all and sundry. "The lamp!"
"What do I get out of this?" the man managed to squeak out, somehow getting the words past the maw of smoking metal inches from his face.
Heero gave him a tiny, feral smile. "Your life."
"Sounds fair," the man nodded vigorously, seeing death in Heero's cold flat gaze.
The young man stowed the gun away. Considering that the only thing he was wearing was a skimpy green tanktop and even tighter shorts, that was a marvel in and of itself. Then, from the same hammerspace he produced a golden scarab. Its pure yellow light shone brightly in the reflective rays of the moon.
Heero tossed it in the air.
The scarab came to life at once, its rigid gold metal wings vibrating back and forth with the rapidity of a hummingbird. It paused, hovering mid-air throwing off sparks of scintillating gold, and then it zoomed off, leaving a broad trail of glittering sparks.
"After that scarab!" Heero shouted, launching himself into a well-trained ground-eating stride. The fat man puffed behind him, and Wufei half-heartedly flapped his arms, somehow managing to become airborne. He looked even unhappier than before.
The golden scarab plunged itself into the darkened sands of the desert five dunes later. All three men skidded to a halt, dumbfounded. Then the ground began to shake.
"Finally. The Cave of Wonders," Heero said woodenly, his eyes barely impressed as the sand began to heap up into a tremendous dune. When one has seen barrages of missiles heading for oneself, and been launched into space more times than could be counted on both hands, a heaving mound of sand was less than spectacular.
The fat man stuttered back, eyes the size of dinner plates. "By Allah!" he breathed, genuinely awe-stricken.
The sand poured away to reveal a gigantic lion's head formed of sandstone. Its mouth gaped open wide, leading into the depths of some great cavern bearing treasures beyond mortal man's comprehension.
*"Only he who is worthy may enter into the Cave of Wonders. The diamond in the rough."* The sepulchrous voice echoed through the air, exhaled from the breath-deprived lips of the lion. Heero scowled, twisting his mouth into an annoyed point. He glared at the lion. He glared at Wufei. Finally he growled at the fat man.
Heero prodded the hired thug. "You there. Go."
"Uh... " The man gulped.
Heero's eyes held that same chilling glint. "If you don't go, I'm going to kill you."
The fat man shuddered and nodded. He stepped up to the lion's head entrance, peering down into its gaping maw. He wiped droplets of sweat from his forehead. Tentatively, he put a toe to the rough stone lip of the lion's head, grimacing with anticipation.
He sighed, relaxed, and put his full weight on the first stone step.
In a tremendous explosion of sand, the great jaws of the lion's head ground shut. The fat man shrieked as he was crushed between the ponderous sandstone teeth. His shrieks subsided after a moment and then the lion's head settled beneath the sand once more, invisible to prying eyes.
*"Seek thee out the worthy one... the diamond in the rough... "* the sepulchral voice exhaled as the shifting sands settled again.
Heero frowned in annoyance.
"Obviously, he wasn't worthy," Wufei's dry voice needled the silence.
Heero glared at him and turned on his heel. "Come, Wufei. We're going to go find him."
"Well, obviously the guardian had *someone* in mind. The diamond in the rough. So we're going to go find him." Heero cast one last glance at the now-smooth, apparently undisturbed desert sands where the lion's head had appeared. "I have a mission." His cold blue eyes burned with fanatic fervor.
"Wakatta," Wufei sighed as Heero began to march back to where the horses had been tethered. He flapped dispiritedly after him, trailing straggling red streamers.
"What the hell are you supposed to be? A phoenix?" Heero's irritated voice punctuated the still desert air. "An almighty chicken of doom, maybe?"
"A parrot, moron," Wufei sneered.
Heero raised one fine dark eyebrow.
"Oh, well, it's all well and good for you," Wufei sniffed. "You always get the good jobs. The lemons with Duo, and occasionally having to force yourself to punch Relena in the nose. You've got it EASY, Yuy!"
"I'm going to GET her one of these days... " Wufei avowed.
"Get *her* later," Heero replied, testy. "First, we're going to get that diamond in the rough."
Trowa assessed the six huge, ham-thewed men barrelling towards him at top speed. He looked over his shoulder at the ledge of the rooftop he was perched on -- it appeared to be quite a long drop.
Their blades were naked and spewing sunlight in all directions. He gave them a nod, a wave, and leapt lightly off the edge of the building.
The men screeched to a halt, barely avoiding the plummet along with him. Their rough bearded faces registered surprise.
"It's just a loaf of bread," he observed to himself. This was no surprise, however; the guards of Agrabah targeted him on a regular basis because he was slender and seemingly fragile. They preferred easy prey.
Trowa hit the brightly-striped awning two stories below and twisted his body with the impact, rolling with expert grace to slide down the slick material, then landed with a jolt on the hard-packed earth. He gathered himself then resumed his steady running stride, bread tucked under his arm, face set. He tossed a glance over his shoulder. Another grouplet of guards was in full chase, scimitars flashing in the sun. But their bearded faces were red and wheezy with effort.
A brief smile flitted over the taut line of his mouth. The guards of Agrabah weren't much of a challenge for him.
"Stop right there!" another guard shouted, scimitar out and gleaming in his hands.
Trowa took one look at him and skidded to a halt, then scrambled up another awning despite the squawks of protest from the upset shopkeeper and the roar of pursuit coming from the guard.
Not just any guard. Zechs, Captain of the Guards.
Zechs chopped the wooden poles of the awning clear through and the shopkeeper shrieked like a woman and ducked beneath the stall. Trowa gasped, tossed the bread high in the air, then vaulted after it, grabbing desperately for the second-story railings of a balcony above.
He flipped into the sun-gilded air and caught his bread neatly as he seized the railing in his other hand, bracing his feet against the wall.
"I'll get you!" Zechs fumed, long platinum hair swirling about his broad chest. He glared very convincingly at Trowa and shook the fist with the scimitar. "Just wait, you street rat!"
Trowa saluted him with the bread.
Zechs snorted, cast one last look at him, then stormed off in a snit.
The morning sun was turning molten, a thick heat that seized at the skin and shook it for moisture when Trowa finally ventured onto the busier streets again. He'd managed to fleece enough money and extraneous jewelry to keep him eating for nearly a month, if he fenced everything carefully. And he had to be more and more careful these days. Some of the more unsavory guards had dealings with the black market, and all the guards were united in the purpose of capturing him. A shudder flicked along his tanned skin.
Trowa wedged himself into a nook of one crumbling building and listened to the cheers and swelling thread of melody -- a procession was approaching from the palace. Another one of his rare smiles touched the normally straight, solemn mouth.
One of his favorite things to do -- other than dream of respectability, of course -- was to watch the royal processions. The sheer glut of wealth in the passage of pomp and circumstance was dizzying to the senses.
And then, of course, there was Quatre-Hime.
Trowa was acquainted with a little-known fact that the general populace of Agrabah was unaware of. Their darling, sweet golden-haired princess --the laughing, blue-eyed beauty -- was a gorgeous young *male* heir.
Trowa chalked it up to his observational skills. Certainly, Quatre was lovely enough to be a girl, but he'd detected the difference somehow. He had been watching Quatre for a very long time.
The first palanquin went by, hefted by four burly thick-chested slaves, men even bigger than the guards who had chased him this morning. It was the Sultan, a bored-looking, rangy man with thick sandy blond hair and heavy-lidded blue eyes. There were rumors that Quatre-Hime was not his real daughter (son, Trowa obstinately corrected) and that Treize was far more interested in the dashing, handsome young Captain of the Guards with long white-blond hair and piercing eyes. Of course, those were *rumors.*
The Grand Vizier marched stiffly past, disdaining the weakness of a palanquin. His piercing Prussian blue eyes stabbed through the throngs of people and silenced all those his gaze touched.
Trowa withdrew further into his shadowed nook. He had no wish to be noticed by Vizier Heero. People who offended him had an uncomfortable habit of turning up dead. Or never turning up at all.
Behind him fluttered Wufei - the court parrot, a gorgeous young spandex-clad boy - a slave from the East who had been forced to assume the guise of a parrot after his unfortunate arrival at court.
In a cloud of glittering sunshine-yellow silk, the next palanquin advanced and Trowa strained forward. A glimpse, just to touch his eyes on that ethereal sweet face would be contentment for at least a week. Maybe more. The people who had fallen silent with Heero's passing began to cheer and exclaim their endearments and praise. Silk billowed up to screen the slender, enthusiastically-waving figure and Trowa leaned even more from his observational niche, hungry for a draught of sky-searing eyes.
He toppled into the dry, dusty road, directly in the path of the advancing litter-bearers, too stunned for words. He hadn't tumbled by accident for as long as he could recall, once having mastered perfect control over his movements. Dimly a logical portion of his brain informed him he would be trampled in mere seconds.
"Stop! Please, stop at once!"
The orders were called out crisply before he even had a chance to react. Scuffling noises ensued as the palanquin-slaves grated to a halt.
Trowa barely had time to register the soft thudding footfalls as he pushed himself to his knees. He squinted up against the biting harsh sun, a cool outline superimposed against its backdrop. The shadow-silhouette knelt, and gem-bright blue eyes were meeting his, anxious.
"Are you okay?" a husky alto voice thrilled over his nerves. "Oh, I do hope you're all right."
Trowa drank his face in deeply. He wanted to touch him, the skin that looked so soft, maybe run his fingers over the petals of his lips.
He had to force the words out over the startled freeze of his senses, the part of him that wanted time to stop so he could admire the young prince's beauty for this perfect, suspended moment.
A smile broke out over the boy's features. "I'm glad." His voice was light, not particularly high but androgynous. Briefly Trowa wondered why the Sultan would want to masquerade this perfect boy as a princess, but it was easy to see how he'd succeeded for so long. Quatre was beautiful, and at sixteen not expected to have developed *all* the endowments of a woman.
Whoever he was married to would receive a nasty surprise.
Abruptly reality came crashing down around his ears, as the face of one of the young "princess's" guards contorted with rage. The man began to advance, and Trowa bowed his head and shoulders before the golden boy kneeling beside him.
"I'm sorry! Forgive me, your highness," he apologized at once, expecting at any instant to be clubbed with the hilt of a heavy scimitar. "It was entirely my fault. I've slowed your progress."
"It's all right," Quatre replied, and there was a peculiar note to his sweet voice. "Please, you don't need to bow."
Trowa lifted his eyes again, wary of being chastised -- not by Quatre, who was mild-tempered and kind, but by the guard who was hovering at his elbow, fingers itching to draw. Quatre met his gaze squarely, and his expression was soft and puzzled.
"Your highness, we must continue with the procession," the guard's respectful, but pointed tones rang out.
"Ah... yes! Yes, I forgot... " Quatre trailed off, his voice grown vague and soft. His eyes were still fixed on Trowa, and Trowa remained frozen in place, unable to tear himself away.
Fingers clasped his shoulder, a fleeting touch that made his whole body thrum, and then the young prince was gone.
Trowa scrambled out of the street with considerable haste, and crammed himself back into his nook. He was trembling, but upon his life he couldn't figure why. Quatre's touch had been cool in the heat of the afternoon, yet at the same time it burned. He stared after the glittering palanquin a long time after it had vanished down the street.
Grand Vizier Heero entered the room stiffly, like a marionette that hadn't been oiled for awhile, his sneakers squeaking on the marble floor. Behind him Wufei was making indignant noises about the presence of anachronisms in the story, while Heero ignored him. He was focused on Sultan Treize.
"Another suitor, refused!" Treize fumed, crashing one fist onto the table. "Dammit, Quatre-Hime is being far too picky! If I don't get him-er, her, married off soon, this could spoil my plans!"
Heero paused and took stock of the situation. Treize was desperate to marry off Quatre, passing him for a princess for reasons he wasn't entirely sure of, but suspected had something to do with the fact that Quatre wasn't Treize's real son and there might be a bastard heir somewhere. Perhaps he could turn Treize's desperation to his advantage.
"May I be of assistance, sir?" Heero supplied tonelessly.
Treize fixed him with burning eyes. "Heero. Good. Maybe *you* can find an answer to Quatre's reluctance, with your knowledge of the mystic arts."
*Mystic arts, my ass,* Heero nearly responded rudely, but bit down on his tongue.
Wufei had hopped onto a table behind him, still sullen in his resplendent red-feathered clingy spandex. "Mystic arts!" he squawked, rubbing his leg as if someone had poked him with a red-hot iron. He leaned forward. "Get some valuable jewelry off him," he whispered.
Heero nodded, mouth taut. "It will require the use of His Majesty's mystic blue diamond," he said emotionlessly.
"Fine, fine," Treize tossed the ring at him carelessly. "But I want him married off soon, and if you don't succeed I'll take it out of your salary."
*I'll have the lamp by then,* Heero smirked. *Then you can kiss your worthless Sultanate and petty schemes goodbye.* He turned to go.
Treize leaned over the table, his expression mesmerized. "My, what a lovely bird of paradise you have here," he murmured.
Wufei regarded him with incipient terror.
"Rasid. Sit. Stay," Quatre instructed as he shimmied up the tree, his loose filmy pants striving to catch every branch on the way up. The tiger looked up with a doleful kittenish expression.
Quatre softened. "I'm sorry, Rasid. But I can't stay here or Treize will marry me off to some ugly fat prince that I don't love."
The tiger shook his head and sneezed.
The blond boy laughed. "Awful, isn't it? Be a good boy, Rasid. I'll be careful, I promise." His face turned sad as the tiger continued to look up at him with huge mournful eyes. "Goodbye."
He hit the packed dirt on the other side of the wall, rolled, then got to his feet, brushing at his clothes. Quatre released an explosive sigh as he realized he was free, at last, beyond the palace walls and unaccompanied by guards or slaves or any attendants worthy of his rank... nothing but his own wits and determination to stay free.
As he began to walk among the streets of Agrabah for the first time, that long, solemnly handsome face filled his head, the face of the young boy he had seen earlier today. That had been his final impetus for leaving. Quatre believed with all his heart in love at first sight, and the look in that boy's eyes had encouraged him to think that maybe... just maybe...
Well, even royalty could dream. For a little while.
He wandered into the market place, and was instantly assailed on all sides. The crowd gripped at him, locking him into a slow-moving sway that diffused up the street. Scents tickled him from every direction, mouth-watering confections of sugar-spun sweets, roasted nuts, fresh slices of melon slathered in honey, meats turning on the spit that dripped fat onto sizzling coals; he could even detect a faint but powerful undercurrent of sweat and perfumes and unwashed bodies. Raucous noises pounded into his ears - "Fresh goat's milk! Milked this past hour!" "Camel tongue! Camel tongue on the spit!" sly laughter, the babble of conversation from all sides, the lyrical senseless musicality of foreigners and even, further off, the sinuous, sonorous tones of a snake charmer busking at the street corner. So much to see... gouts of flame issued from the mouth of a fire eater; shining twists of jewelry caught his eye, the people on the street were a mixture of drab and colorfully clothed, pale skin flashing here and there, swarthy skin predominating, slim veiled women swaying up the street...
Senses reeling, Quatre twisted this way and that, trying to take in it *all.* It was too much and so wonderful he wanted to drink in everything at one shot.
"Would the young master like to buy a scarf?" a vendor plucked at his sleeve. "A scarf to protect your fine, fair skin?"
Quatre smiled and shook his head, bemused for a moment that the man had realized at once he was male. Then again, divested of the pinks and pale greens and blues of delicate lady's clothing that Treize forced him to wear for the suitors, and outside of the palace, he even *felt* very different. He moved past the vendor and it hit him.
Money. He had no money, or even valuables to sell.
Quatre cursed his lack of foresight, moving with the flow of the street and worrying at his lower lip. No money. No assets. Only the clothes on his back. What was he going to do!? If he went back to the palace, Treize would surely seize the opportunity to demand that he choose a husband, for his punishment.
Eyes nearly blinded by the unfamiliar assault to his vision, nevertheless one sight caught at his attention.
A long slender oval of bones, high cheekbones and a thin sensitive mouth, crowned by a jagged fringe of overlong bangs.
It was him!
Quatre nearly cried out before he realized he didn't know the boy's name. The cry died on his lips but he surged forward, his determination suddenly given a focus. He would follow him, and find him, and see if he felt in any way comparable to the peculiar sweet ache that had filled him earlier.
The ebb and flow of people tugged and clung to him, impeding his progress, but Quatre shut out the unfamiliar clamor and turned his whole attention to following the boy.
By the time he stumbled into a dusty alley redolent of sweat and filth, the boy was several houses ahead of him. Quatre quickened his pace and wanted to cry out in frustration when the boy vanished from sight.
He broke into a run and reached the place - a doorway, blocked by a man as large as a palanquin slave. The place inside looked dark and closely-packed with bodies and reeked of smoke.
The big man glared at him from one sunken, bloodshot eye. His biceps were as large as Quatre's head.
Quatre made a tentative move to enter.
Quick as a snake, one heavy arm lashed out and barred the doorway. "Thief, swindler, or murderer?"
Quatre blinked in shock. Was this one of those places? But... the boy had gone in, so... His mouth firmed. "Thief," he replied.
Quatre stared up at him with mute dread. "I... forgot?" he tried hopefully.
The big man glowered, raising one ham fist. "Maybe I can dislodge it," he returned, his small eyes hot and narrowed with the promise of impending violence.
Quatre prepared to run for his life.
Quatre opened one eye. A slender, long-fingered hand had caught at the burly gorilla's arm. The boy's calm handsome face -- the boy - regarded him with astonished confusion. The big man shook him off as if his touch were gauze, and lifted his clenched fist again, gaze murderous.
"Run!" the boy told him, pushing at his shoulder and following his own advice. Quatre broke into a stumbling run.
With a maddened roar that reminded Quatre of a bull he'd heard once in another country, the door guard gave chase.
The boy caught his hand and upped their pace, running nimbly through the twisting alleys with breathless speed.
Behind them the bellowing tapered off as the boy led them through turn after turn. Quatre's head spun, sense of direction fouled. At last, the boy allowed them both to come to a gradual halt. Quatre slumped against a scaly sun-dried wall of bricks, breathing heavily.
"What on earth are you doing here?"
The boy crouched beside him, his clear green eyes full of wonder. He reached one hand as if to touch him then drew back, eyes suddenly wary.
Quatre caught his breath at last and gave the boy a shaky smile. "Trying to get myself killed, apparently." The face that a brief instant's glimpse had afforded was now, up close once more, still every bit as handsome and intriguing as the one that had caught his attention earlier. The mouth was clever and sensitive, his hands quick and graceful. The green eyes that had flicked away were guarded and suspicious, however, and Quatre wondered if he'd imagined the look he thought he had seen earlier that day. "I wanted to know... what's your name?"
"You came here all the way for that?" The dark-haired boy lifted an eyebrow but there was a faint smile on his lips. "I'm Trowa."
"I know," Trowa interrupted him. "You're Quatre. But not the princess everyone thinks you are."
Quatre smiled ruefully and rubbed the back of his head. "Did you guess that just from seeing me earlier?"
"No, I'd guessed before," Trowa replied softly. "Quatre, what are you doing outside of the palace? The Sultan-"
"Is trying to marry me off to some fat, old, fretful, very wealthy prince, and I won't do it," Quatre returned, his jaw set stubbornly. "I don't even like any of them, much less... " He trailed off and looked at Trowa.
Trowa looked back and his green eyes widened a little. He flushed and looked away. "So you left," he observed. "Have you got a place to stay?"
"I don't even have money," Quatre admitted ruefully.
Trowa stood in one fluid movement and Quatre looked up the length of him. He took the offered hand and got to his feet. "Come on," Trowa said. Quatre's cheeks warmed as the other boy retained possession of his hand. "You can stay with me."
"You're sure this 'Trowa' person is the diamond in the rough?" Heero's eyes bored sharply into the eyes. Behind him Wufei was flapping the ragged streamers with a dispirited air. Treize's attempt to hand-feed him crackers had shaken him considerably.
"I'm sure." The woman's eyes flickered nervously to the small pile of gold he'd poured out onto the table. "That's what everyone on the street calls him. Well, that and street rat. Take your pick."
Heero smiled a small, very unpleasant smile that made the woman draw back with a small cry of dismay, gathering up the coins quickly. She withdrew into the shadows with considerable haste, afraid of the laughter that had welled up from the handsome but sinister boy's throat.
"Yosh'," Heero proclaimed, striding out of the tent.
Wufei trailed after him, tugging absently at some streamers caught underfoot. "Heero, you're not supposed to use Japanese... " he tried to remind the Vizier for the twentieth time. "We're in Arabia."
Heero's head jerked sharply as he delivered a bone-chilling stare at the red-clad young Chinese boy.
Wufei shrugged uncomfortably. "You'll pay later."
"How?" Heero's voice was unconscionably smug. "By tomorrow I'll have the street rat. By the day after that, the lamp. And that evening, Agrabah will be wiped out once I get my three wishes." His maniacal laughter started up again, blue eyes glowing with unholy fervor.
Wufei regarded him with unblinking sloe-dark eyes. "Baka," he pronounced knowingly. "Just wait... "