"Make WAY! Make WAY!"
Jewels glittered in the sunlight, grabbing at the radiant streams of light that abounded in the streets of Agrabah. The jewels were affixed mostly to anything in the procession that moved -- a testimony to the prince's great wealth. And a bright-eyed boy with an incredible length of shimmering brown hair bounced up and down the street, calling out the name of the approaching prince to everyone -- market vendors, bustling townsfolk, guardsmen who had seen it all...
"Make WAY for the prince!"
Trowa stood on the camel's back and sweated.
The heat was already ungodly-uncomfortable, but when compounded with the get-up Duo had magicked up, he was grimly sure he would be dead of heatstroke before they ever reached the palace gates. He was also nervous, swamped not just in heat but the incessant fluttering clench of his stomach that had often served as instinct to bail out of a situation before it became a total loss. If anyone recognized him -- just one person, a passing acquaintance or a cutthroat enemy; it didn't much matter which -- he was ruined. His disguise would be pricked like a camel's bladder and subsequently deflated, and he'd probably have to use his second wish just to extricate himself from disaster. That wasn't the only thing bothering him, typically. More trifling concerns weighted his brow.
He tugged at his lumpy bulbous hat, pulling it upright for what seemed like the umpteenth time. "I'm not so sure about this," he murmured. The sick sensation in his belly agreed. A brown-and-blue blur streaked up and settled beside him on the broad back of the elephant.
"What are you talkin' about?" Duo dug an elbow into his ribs. "This is a great idea! 'Cuz it's mine, of course! We'll just march up to the palace with this big-ass procession, Treize will be dazzled by the display of wealth, Quatre will swoon into your arms, and you slip a ring onto his finger to seal the deal!"
The streets of Agrabah were packed tightly with people swelling the narrow sanded streets, jaded thieves and busy shopkeepers with their sleeves rolled up for work and demure maidens alike, all lined up and down and jostling each other to see the procession. From the impressed-sounding rumble of the crowd, Trowa figured Duo might actually have done a good job.
He didn't want to admit it but Duo's efforts impressed him. It began with mode of transport: they rode in on the back of a majestic elephant draped with rich fabrics and a head-dress set with a single sun-glittering ruby. As they swayed up the streets he had a full view of the dizzying whirl of color and bright flash and glitter that comprised the princely parade.
A chorus of harem girls, lovely women matched in coloring with dusky skin, dark flashing eyes and silken jet-black hair, their plump arms clasped with gold preceded the elephant, strewing flowers every which way. Ahead of them, a brace of well-muscled men carried heavy baskets over their stout arms. They dipped their free hands into the baskets and scattered gold coins into the crowd. Children darted in the dust, vying for every smallest coin and even the grown-ups were unhesitating about kneeling to snatch up their share of the prince's wealth. Oh, this prince would be very popular indeed!
That was only a part of the grandeur Duo had magicked up. Next was a line of beautiful young boys and girls dressed in filmy gauze and wispy veils, their bright clothing a sharp contrast to the paleness of their skin, luminous and untouched by desert sun. They leapt light over flagstones and dust, flexible young bodies twisting and swirling with ease in elegant dancing patterns that blended grace with astonishing athleticism. Flamethrowers and knife-jugglers dazzled the crowd's and even Trowa's eyes with their eye-catching tricks, gouts of fire and flash of sharpened steel. And ahead of it all marched row upon row of strong, fierce-looking guards mounted on matched black horses, preceded by enough music makers to form an orchestra.
They were singing his praises.
"Isn't this a little overdone?" Trowa murmured, tugging at the drooping turban-hat.
"Nonsense!" Duo scoffed, clapping him on the back with vigor. "Quatre will swoon right into your arms."
More likely, Trowa mused, he would faint dead away with disgust at the display of another ostentatious suitor, and be chagrined when he discovered it was him.
The elephant undulated to a ponderous halt. His procession had reached the gates of the palace and Trowa regarded the immense bronze portal with vague dread. Treize had been known, on occasion, to refuse entry to a suitor based on the fact that his procession hadn't been enough to capture the cynical sultan's attention. Suddenly he was glad for Duo's showmanship skills.
"Well?" Duo shook a fist at the gates, twirling a lock of his hair in the other. "Let us in!"
The gates grated open.
Trowa breathed a sigh of relief as they passed through.
As the elephant proceeded into the inner courtyard, Trowa was stricken with an icy shaft of dread. Vizier Heero was standing at the sultan's elbow, his face stony. "Oh, no."
Just what he'd most feared. Trowa was painfully aware that a single person could unmask him; just one man could have the power to scrape through this most seductive illusion he had woven with Duo's power to disguise his homely self. Heero was sharp; there was no way he wouldn't recognize Trowa rigged out in his gaudy frippery. Then his cold eyes would kindle with triumph as he denounced him. Trowa's stomach bottomed out; did gleeful backflips to the tune of 'told you so.'
"What's wrong?" Duo demanded, peering at him. "Everything's going perfect!"
"Not perfect," Trowa corrected. "That's Vizier Heero. If he recognizes me, I'm dead!"
Duo took a long look across the courtyard and he blinked. Those expressive violet orbs got very wide. Then he started grinning. "Trowa-man, just leave the distraction to me."
Between one blink and the next, Duo was gone and across the courtyard. He was babbling fit to kill and he had attached himself to Vizier Heero's arm. "Good afternoon, my good fellows! On behalf of my master Prince Triton I would like to take the opportunity to say what a lovely place you have here. Just lovely. Now, where's this princess of yours? Oh, and how soon can we make wedding plans? My... what a handsome man you are! You must be Vizier Heero, who I've heard so much about... you're even better looking than they give you credit for! Perhaps a tour of the palace is in order? Perhaps you'd like to show--"
Heero clamped a hand over the boy's mouth. Trowa remained on the elephant and hoped he hadn't seen him. His hands shook with a slight tremor. What would happen to Quatre, if he failed?
"What's your name?" Heero demanded. He removed his hand.
"Duo!" Duo said with enthusiasm. "And--"
Heero replaced his hand. "Have you finished your duties for the prince for the day?" He let up again.
Duo bit his lip and looked over at Trowa, eyes wide. Trowa contained a smile and nodded.
This time Heero replaced his hand with his mouth and applied it liberally. The sultan regarded these actions with amusement, then began shooting very significant heavy looks at Wufei the Court Parrot, who wasn't far behind Heero. Wufei glared at him, sniffed, tossed his head, and looked away.
"I'll show you the palace," Heero smirked directly into the ifrit's passion-dilated eyes, threading one hand into the gold-lit mass of his hair. "Part of it, anyhow."
The Vizier began to drag the Genie off in the general direction of what Trowa assumed to be his quarters. Either that or the nearest handy bush. Duo looked ecstatic and clung to him.
Distraction, indeed. Once more he had Duo to thank for saving him where no wish was required.
Trowa breathed a sigh of relief as he climbed down from his perch on the elephant, and he was firmly resolved now more than ever to use his third wish to free Duo. He'd earned it with that generous sacrifice of himself to Heero's person. Then he found himself straightening his drooping hat once more as he glided to a halt before Sultan Treize. "My lord sultan," he nodded gravely. They shook hands.
"How soon can you marry Quatre?" the sultan asked him, point-blank.
Trowa blinked. "Uh..."
"Is tomorrow too soon?" Treize continued. "We may have to improvise a wedding dress, but I can guarantee a very nice ceremony."
"It seems hasty," Trowa stated the obvious. He knew Treize was in a panic to marry off his 'daughter' because each day that passed increased the chances of someone finding out. Even so, to the unsuspecting suitor this sort of blatant haste surpassed the bounds of all courtesy. Yet he already knew Quatre was male and didn't care, since he had come here solely for the blond boy, so it all worked. But to conform to the role of unsuspecting suitor, he would have to be reluctant.
"And of course, the dowry is generous," Treize put forth, his expression pleasant. He named a sum that made Trowa think the sun really was baking his brains.
"Can I meet her?" Trowa requested.
Treize bared his teeth briefly in a smile. "But of course." He moved his arm in a sweeping gesture. "Right this way." In passing, he snagged a fluttering streamer as Wufei, Court Parrot, made an abortive movement to get out of Treize's reach and eyesight to disappear down a side corridor.
"This way," Wufei repeated, his voice indignant. "This way..."
The sultan's eyes assumed a proprietary gleam and Wufei jerked away, a desperate move that he obviously expected to fail. The streamer that the sultan was clutching on, seeking to bring him in with an insistent haul stretched and finally ripped apart with a ragged tear, frayed between Wufei's escape attempt and Treize's pulling. Trowa watched him vanish in swift order, bemused.
He thought there had been a flicker of recognition in the Chinese boy's eyes, but dismissed it. Wufei wasn't the threat that Heero was, who must hate him for seizing the lamp, wrenching it out of his grasp and possession on the brink of that cliff.
Trowa wondered as the sultan led him off if Duo remembered that he still had at least one more wish coming to him, then decided he was probably way too engrossed by now in catching up for lost time.
Silenced with a kiss.
"Oi -- are you sure about this -- "
A cold blue glare. "Positive. It's been months, and I've been dying to do this. No one in Agrabah will do it with me."
A violet blink. "Okay, but -- "
Another kiss, and this time Heero wrapped his arms around the slender Genie's waist. "I don't understand why none of the Agrabans will play Battleship with me," he groused.
Sweatdrop. "Heero, they're all afraid of you."
Hands slipped lower. "You're not afraid of me," the Vizier noted slyly with a flash of his cobalt eyes.
Duo grinned. "Yeah, but I'm hot for your body."
As they approached the Princess's quarters in the opulent marble palace of Agrabah, Trowa found himself nervously trying to reswallow his rapid-beating heart. What would Quatre think? He must have seen the procession already. Everyone had seen the damned procession.
Treize glided to a halt before a pair of carved double doors, raising a hand to tap with one knuckle at the door. "Quatre-Hime?" he called gently in his mellifluous voice. "Quatre-Hime, I've got a suitor here to see you. The next suitor, and you remember what we agreed." There was a note of steel under that last.
Trowa looked at him suspiciously. Was there something going on here? His level of wariness, which had already been jumpstarted by Treize's instant offer of marriage on behalf of his offspring, upped more than a few notches at those cryptic words. It looked as if he'd arrived just in time. If he had been too late, if it had been some other suitor arriving...
"Go away," came the muffled reply. "I don't want him."
Treize sighed, shook his head, and looked amused. "Girls will be coy," he confided to Trowa.
Trowa nearly choked.
This 'girl' was a boy...
"I'm coming in," Treize informed his recalcitrant 'daughter' in the Voice of Authority. He opened the door with a key while Trowa looked on with growing suspicion -- why was the door locked? -- and one of the carved panels swung in gently.
A vase came hurtling out of the dark room and exploded against the far wall.
Trowa leapt back. Treize clucked his tongue disapprovingly. "Now, Quatre-Hime, there's no need to be violent."
The muffled reply was definitely not a word used in polite company.
"Let me try," Trowa murmured, waving a hand at Treize. He stuck his head around the doorjamb and another objet d'art -- a small statuette this time -- nearly took his head off. He ducked. "Quatre?"
The darkened shape hesitated.
Trowa eased his way through the door and approached slowly. "Quatre," he called again, softly. As soon as he was far enough away from Treize, he stage-whispered, "It's me!"
"Yes, Prince Triton," he corrected, then he was close enough for the blond boy to look him full in the face. He smiled. "It's me."
Quatre's heart-shaped face filled with disbelief. "But -- but Vizier Heero said he executed you! And he's serious about that sort of thing!"
Trowa stopped smiling. "He tried to kill me, but I escaped."
"Trowa," Quatre repeated in wondering tones. He took a single step closer, eyes still working over his face and body searchingly. "You mean...that silly procession...it was you?"
Trowa grimaced. "Yes, that was me. It got me through the gates. I'll tell you everything later -- right now, I just..."
"You came to save me!" Quatre finished for him, stepping closest and hugging tightly. "Oh, Trowa, Treize locked me in and he said I would have to marry the first suitor who came along! I'm so glad..."
"It's me. I'm glad, too," Trowa stroked the silken gold locks. He felt sudden anger towards Treize, but there was nothing he could do. Well, he could take Quatre away. "We'll have to leave Agrabah."
"That's okay." Quatre gripped a fistful of his tunic. "If I never see Agrabah again as long as the sands spawn fire, I'll be happy."
"Then...you'll have me?" Trowa put space between them and gripped his shoulders. "Quatre, will you marry me?"
The 'princess' flashed him a sunny smile. "Silly, of course I will. I have to! But at least you asked properly." He melted against him and Trowa reflected that this was what he'd been missing for sixteen years. This warmth, this feeling within was something to melt and dispel the shaft of ice that had taken hold of his being. He hadn't even been aware of it until the brilliance of this boy's smile wrought its changes on the frigid casing that shielded his heart. Quatre was still speaking. "I'd marry you even if we were poor and living on the streets."
"I...I love you," he returned, helpless to say anything else.
Quatre caught his breath and the radiant look he bestowed on Trowa was so intense it shook him. The cynical foundations of his street-scraping existence crumbled at his touch, those looks.
Trowa felt a sudden stab of anxiety. What if they were poor and living on the streets? What if he'd never found the lamp? Would Quatre still leave with him, then?
Even worse, what if the lamp were taken from him?
Everything Duo had wrought would be rendered in one stroke to the ashes, the street dust, that his dreams had risen from.
Quatre was looking up at him with sparkling blue eyes. It hit Trowa, a swift mental kick in the gut, that he expected to be kissed and this time with luck there would be no large angry guards around to interrupt.
He bent down an inch for every heartbeat, hesitating as he felt Quatre's warm breath tickle over his lower lip. Quatre's eyes slid shut and he moved closer, feeling more awkward than any word could express, his own eyes locked onto the shadow-softened delicate features, caressing over his cheekbone and brow bone and the corner of his kissable lips. The urge to touch him swelled up to fill the awkward spaces, smoothing away anxiety until all he wanted was... At last his eyes slid closed, reluctant to release their hold on those sweet features and their lips brushed. Quatre's sturdy fingers tightened at the base of his neck and his eyes nearly flew open as the blond boy pulled him into the kiss, deepening what had been meant as a brief chaste gesture. Moist lips worked against each other in a striving dance of simple passion. When Quatre finally allowed him to pull back, his whole face was wreathed with delight and a certain satisfaction.
"I've been waiting my whole life for that," Quatre confided.
"Not just any kiss," Quatre corrected. "The first one. Our first one. It's something that matters, you know, to dreamers like me." He tilted his head and looked thoughtful. "It wasn't as awkward as I thought it would be."
"Prince Triton," Treize's voice filtered into the room. "Have you found the princess acceptable, or have you killed her? It's awfully quiet in there."
Trowa's jaw tightened. This was the kind of man who called himself a father? With one wish, he could deprive him of the lifestyle of high comfort that he abused as he did.
Quatre touched his hand, watching his face and obviously reading the intent. "Don't, Trowa. Let's just get through whatever marriage ceremony he stages, and then we can leave and be happy."
Trowa gave him a taut nod. "I'll try to make you happy." Even in this, Quatre's nature was forgiving; more than he would be. The only reason Treize would be spared was ironically through the whim of the 'daughter' he sought to get rid of, in a manner as expedient as possible without actual killing.
"I know you'll make me happy." Quatre tugged on his hand, and gave him an expressive little grimace. "Come. We must tell my 'father.' "
It struck him all at once -- that if Treize were to publicly acknowledge Quatre as his son, then the blond boy stood to inherit the enormous wealth that was Agrabah. It was a significant bequest; nothing to sneeze at... Certainly it kept Treize comfortable. Yet Treize sought to pass his 'son' off as 'daughter' and marry him to a foreign prince, taking him out of the line of inheritance.
Treize must have other plans for that inheritance.
As they approached the door, a faint muttering could be heard. "Now, where has my lovely scarlet bird-of-paradise gotten -- ah! Ah, I see you've managed to tame the shrew!" Treize remarked with a sardonic smile as they emerged from Quatre's room, arm-in-arm. "Prince Triton, is tomorrow acceptable?"
Trowa inclined his head the minimal degree he thought necessary to accord honor to the Sultan. Duo had given him a quick overview of the courtesies required and the 'honor among princes' seemed awfully familiar to the 'honor among thieves methodology' he'd learned on the streets.
Treize made shooing motions with his hands. "Go and occupy yourselves until dinnertime," he suggested. "Get to know one another. Quatre-Hime, perhaps the gardens...?"
"Of course, father," Quatre responded, casting his eyes downward in such a demure fashion that Trowa looked at him, a bit stunned.
Treize dug an elbow into his ribs. "I think h--she really likes you," he gave Trowa a broad wink. "You're the only suitor she's shown such good manners to." Then he waggled a stern finger at them. "But no jumping the scimitar and consummating the marriage a day early!"
"Father!" Quatre blushed.
Trowa was positive he was turning red, too. He just didn't want to admit it. Oh, he knew why Treize had said it -- he didn't want the potential bridegroom finding out his "bride" was another bridegroom. But it was still embarrassing to have the man come out and say it in such an indelicate fashion.
"Have fun," Treize made another flapping motion. From his pocket he extracted a rather large cracker. "Heeeere, pretty polly..." The sultan glided up the hallway, brandishing the cracker.
Quatre took his arm firmly and led him out of the palace. The back gardens were lush and well-cared for, as if a hundred little men swarmed over the place every night and tended to it, then vanished by morning. A profuse carpet of flowers ran riot over the gardens, a colorful myriad patchwork of golden and crimson blossoms, bouquet of dusky violet and vibrant fuchsia and luminous, pearly white. Palms spread their fronds against the deep dappled gold of the ripening dusk. Majestic fruit trees, an alien sight out of context in desert sands, thrust up in thick stands and perfumed the air with fruit and blossom. Desert-bred Trowa wondered how much water was required to maintain it, and where all that water came from.
Treize's people paid top dollar for drinking water. They scoured their bodies and dishes in sand rather than waste a single precious drop on the unnecessary. Yet Treize's flowers drank deep.
"Who is he trying to catch with that cracker?" Trowa inquired, curious.
Quatre met his eyes, sighed, and rolled his blue irises.
"Don't tell me," Trowa blinked. "Wufei!?"
"Poor Wufei," Quatre nodded. "First he was Vizier Heero's wetwork boy, and now he's being chased all over the palace by my overly-amorous father..."
"That just gives us more privacy," Trowa returned, drawing him in with both arms around his waist. He banished somber thoughts from this moment. "That kiss thing. Can we try that again?"
Quatre turned his face up with a melting-sweet smile.
Wufei skulked into the room that had been assigned to Prince 'Triton', caught himself doing it, and made a face. Skulking, again. He'd been around Vizier Heero for too long; he already knew all the guards had taken a look at the court "parrot" and dismissed him as harmless. No need to go about skulking. It was just nice to practice, once in awhile.
Once again, somehow he got stuck doing the dirty work while Heero got the fun parts. He'd seen the Vizier drag off Trowa's young male servant with the long cascade of tawny-chestnut hair and the startling violet eyes. He didn't look like a desert brat; he was something foreign, a delicate-seeming treasure from abroad. It had been something of a shock, actually; Heero's abrupt, forthright claim. He hadn't thought Heero possessed a single sex hormone in his entire body.
He'd recognized Trowa practically the moment the young man had come in riding that huge elephant, and spotted the beautiful servant boy for the distraction he was. But Heero hadn't; he had fallen for the foreign brat's charm and now Wufei had the advantage. Should he keep the Cave of Wonder's prize for himself, or give it to Heero. Hn. A tough one, he smirked. Get killed or sloughed off as useless, or get something for his efforts?
With a shrug of his slender shoulders, the dark-haired boy began rifling systematically through the meager belongings that had been carted in with Prince Triton. Aside from some truly outlandish clothing -- curious, the scholar part of Wufei noted that it seemed to be outdated by several centuries -- Trowa didn't seem to possess much.
Aha! Behind the black silk and forest green underwear, the subtle gleam of battered brass.
The lamp, prize of the Cave of Wonders. Wufei snatched it up. Trowa was either stupid or woefully shortsighted to leave something this patently valuable just lying about.
Keep it? Not keep it? Wufei tapped it idly against his palm. What the lamp was for, Wufei had no idea, but Heero wanted it badly. That was reason enough to keep it in his reckoning.
"Oh, bird-of-paradise..." a smooth tenor penetrated to his ears from the corridor. "Where have you gone, my scarlet jailbait? I'm looking for you..."
Wufei's eyes widened in terror. He HAD to get out of here! Treize held all the deadly fascination for him of a venomous, glittering snake keeping a young bird pinioned with the intense power of his riveting fixed gaze. He was a predator poised to strike, and Wufei had no intentions of being snapped up in those jaws. Besides, Treize had a hot-and-cold affair going with the Captain of his Guard. Wufei wasn't interested in playing the lively diversion to a cold phase of their relationship.
He cast about frantically for an exit, any means of egress, and cursed. He realized in disgust that the only way was to use one of the secret passages Heero had installed in the palace awhile back. Taking the passage would have him going straight to the room Heero had dragged the bewitching servant boy to, and then the Vizier would see the lamp. He ground his teeth together. This room was situated on the top floor, with no convenient vines to cling to; no ledge aside from slippery marble that would cause him to plunge all six stories to an inglorious death.
"I have a cracker for you," the voice purred. The door handle began to turn. "Are you in here...?"
Wufei bolted for the hidden switch.
The concealed passage was a rough stone corridor that had been hewn into the palace walls long after it had originally been built. Wufei wasn't sure of the details -- Heero had arranged everything before Wufei had come to court -- but it had involved some skilled stonecutters and carpenter craftsmen who had disappeared not long after the installation. He scurried up the dark passageway, eyes intent for any sign of flickering torchlight to guide his steps. Then his ears caught a faint sound. It grew louder and he homed in on it, heading for the source of the noise.
"Oh, YES! YES, YES, YES!"
"Oh, BABY! That's three times already!"
Wufei swallowed hard. It lumped in his throat. Was everyone getting lucky but HIM!? Wufei remained rigid for a moment with outrage.
"Once again," the unfamiliar voice proclaimed, ringing with triumph, "I have SUNK your Battleship!"
Wufei nearly keeled over. Then Heero's nasal voice was saying something, and the Chinese boy forced his limbs into motion again. He had nearly forgotten Heero's obsession with Battleship. The Vizier had forced him to play with him again, and again, and again until he finally declared he was bored with defeating such an unenthusiastic opponent. Wufei was no stranger to battle tactics but he had learned early on it was the wisest course to pretend to lose.
He pressed a hidden switch, intending to slide in and stick to the shadows while Heero was hopefully distracted with rage for this new, intractable opponent. Fate had other plans as he stubbed his toe on the loosened floorboard of the threshold and fell out of the secret passage into the secret chamber that Heero had installed along with the myriad ins and outs that none but he and Wufei knew existed, save for a group of craftsmen who wouldn't be talking anytime soon. The lamp clattered from his hands across the cold stone floor.
As it pitched from his grip, so did Wufei's mind similarly plummet in despair. There went his chance at winning autonomy.
There truly WAS no justice!
It was snatched up instantly and Wufei levered himself up, finding himself on the deadly end of a pair of searing azure eyes.
Wufei heaved a sigh. Might as well bite the bullet. "It's the lamp."
"NANI!?" The braided foreigner leapt to his feet, brilliant violet eyes wide with a sort of panic. Were those... pointed ears?
"You're not supposed to speak Japanese," Wufei chided him irritably, dismissing the impossibility he thought he might have seen.
"Oh, shut up."
"You shut up, Duo," Heero told him absently, cradling the lamp in his hands. "Finally, the lamp, after all my years of searching..."
"You been lookin' for me?" Duo brightened. "Well Hell's Bells, why didn't you say so?"
Heero eyed him, lamp clutched tightly in his hands now. "...?..."
"Heero!" Duo glomped onto him, violet eyes shimmering. "Wanna rub my lamp??"
Wufei and Heero gaped at him. Duo leered back, then blew a kiss.
"YOU'RE the genie!?"
Warm sunlight fell in radiant slices across his face and Trowa cracked his eyes open, a yawn striking him full-force. Then the unusual softness beneath him registered, and his eyes popped all the way wide as he sat up bolt-quickly. Soft bed. Gentle sun's warmth filtered through a screen of silken curtains, not the blistering heat he was accustomed to. He clutched the sheets to his chest, noticing in passing that they were satin, the like of which he'd never before felt against his skin.
Agrabah's palace; it came back to him in a rush. The greater part of his memory was comprised of a vivid pair of blue eyes and the curving soft mouth. As Trowa rose into awareness he realized he had a smile on his face. He remembered drinking deeply of those parted carmine lips, water to the parched sun-stricken; banquet to the starved. There was one other thing, though, a revelation that lingered...
The Cave of Wonders!
He started again, casting about for the lamp then remembered he'd hidden it in his underwear. He looked around for the telltale chestnut torrent of hair but Duo the Genie was nowhere about.
A frown tugged at his mouth; it was a more familiar expression than the smile. If Duo hadn't popped in he must still be with Vizier Heero. The thought sat uneasily on his brain but he had to admit Duo was entitled to his fun, after a few hundred years of being stuck in the 'dinky brass lamp.'
Ruefully Trowa shook his head -- there was no accounting for taste, he supposed -- then got up and dressed himself. Rich clothing was still scattered about the room; more of Duo's magic. Today, he contemplated with wonder, was the day he was to be married.
Two days ago, if someone had jetted in from outer space wearing a great suit of armor swinging a quicksilver sword and prophesied that he was to marry Agrabah's 'princess,' Trowa would have called him crazy, pillar of light or no.
Thanks to Duo the Genie, even the stars were within his grasp. The unattainable dream, the one that made his heart race, was now the sweeping reality that showed glimpses of salvation. He dared to do more than just hope for the first time.
Trowa dressed in deep greens and a complementing shade of blue, leaving the hat exactly where he'd slung it the night before. He had enough trouble dealing with his unruly brown bangs without adding the flimsy bulbous hat to his worries.
"Trowa...?" the voice called from his door, hesitant.
"Yes, Quatre?" he returned, recognizing the voice as his spouse-to-be.
"Father wants to present you to the city," Quatre told him. "Are you dressed?"
He opened the door. "Will this do?"
Quatre's eyes traveled up and down in a lingering assessment that made the skin of Trowa's high cheekbones flush and then the blond broke into a shy smile. "I think you look wonderful," came the reply. "Handsome."
Trowa shrugged. "Thanks." Quatre was the truly beautiful one, but as long as he wasn't off-put by Trowa's looks that was all he could really ask for. He caught his breath. He knew Quatre was a boy, and he was delighted -- but dressed as a girl, Quatre made a very lovely one. He was dressed today in luminous blue silks that only accentuated his lustrous lapis eyes, and the gleaming blond head was crowned with a deep blue gem that shone like a third eye -- the gem alone being enough to keep an Agraban family eating for a year, maybe two.
Quatre's eyes were wide and waiting as he completed his appraisal of the slender supple figure. "Well?" he prompted, tremulous. "Do I pass inspection?"
"Never doubt for an instant," Trowa forced the words out past the obstruction that had seized his throat, "that you're anything less than perfect in my eyes." He felt a vague sense of satisfaction. Finally something had come from his lips the way he intended.
Quatre lowered his face and flushed.
"Now...let's get me presented to the people," Trowa said with a faint smile that concealed shakiness.
"And then we'll get married!" Quatre's smile was sudden and glinting as he caught at Trowa's hand. "C'mon, we don't want to be late!"
Trowa hesitated, even as Quatre was tugging him along. His young blond 'princess' hadn't asked even once how Trowa had come to the palace as a suitor, or what means had enabled him to become 'Prince Triton.' Perhaps Quatre didn't care -- perhaps he didn't mean to pry -- but whatever the reason, Trowa wanted to make a clean breast of it.
"Quatre -- I -- "
Perhaps Quatre thought he really was a prince, and had been incognito before.
"Come on, we have to hurry!" Quatre urged, pulling him along into a swift stride that wasn't quite a run on Quatre's part. Trowa lengthened his strides and kept up.
"Father is an absolute tyrant about punctuality," Quatre tossed him another sunshine smile over his shoulder.
"Quatre, I have to tell you--"
"Later! After you're presented to the city. There should still be enough time!" Quatre squeezed his hand.
Trowa chickened out. "All right, later," he murmured assent.
Quatre led him out of the palace to the palace balcony that overlooked the main city square, to the left of the city gates. Treize turned to greet them with the lazy, predatory smile of a large hunting cat.
"Good morning, Prince Triton," he pronounced. "Now, we'll have you, the groom of my daughter -- Agrabah's princess -- meet the city before the ceremony this afternoon."
Trowa nodded gravely and quelled the nervous stuttering of his heart by taking a long, bracing look at Quatre's intent delicate features. He stepped up to the balcony's edge.
"Just smile and wave," Quatre advised.
Easy to say. The rumble of the crowd broke over his senses, refracted and tumbling to echo in his ears with an ugly undercurrent. If they knew, if only they knew... A street rat like himself making pretensions of royalty, and the immense sum of bride-money that Quatre would bring to their marriage... The people were poor and the only thing that resigned them to remaining thus was the simple inevitability in their lives. They were locked into their life's status, and for anyone to overreach so high was pure outrage. If they knew... if they knew... The murmur of the packed square of people roared up into an angry mob in his ears and grim imaginings.
"City of Agrabah!" Treize's voice rolled out over the assembled citizens in the trained tones of a professional orator. "Meet the future husband of Quatre-Hime, beloved of the people!"
With a thin smile plastered to his face, Trowa lifted one hand and waved.
Duo moved his head. Something was tickling his nose just somethin' AWFUL! He batted at it -- something soft, and silky -- and something else seized his wrist. It was then, staring into twin laser beams of cool blue, that he realized he wasn't squashed into a sleeping compartment the size of a lady's shoe. A really ugly lady's shoe.
"H-Heero!" He sat bolt upright. "Where the hell am I?"
Well, the obvious answer was that he was curled up in bed with his former master's deadliest enemy, the sheet twisted around both their spooned bodies. Duo grimaced. He had really blown it this time. Then he nibbled at his bottom lip. Weeellll... it hadn't been so bad for him.
"You forgot already?" Heero sat up too, sounding disgruntled. "I didn't even get you drunk last night."
"No... Oh... Um... Ah..." Duo blushed furiously, clapping hands to his cheeks to hide the betrayal of his fair skin. After the overwhelming results of Heero's first wish, he would NEVER have to worry about cruising the streets for some fat merchant to marry and keep him up in an extravagant lifestyle, ever.
But it was Heero's other two wishes he was worried about.
Heero drew him close with one arm around his waist, looking heavy-lidded and still tousled with sleep. "Back to bed," he mumbled, making an abortive movement to drag Duo back down to the sheets.
Duo remained upright like a beanstalk. "Uh-uh, no way!" he shook his head vigorously. "Not again! I'm way too sore!"
Heero's brow creased in puzzlement. "..."
"After sleeping for a few hundred years in a dinky brass lamp, I'm used to being squashed," Duo clarified. "I was all stretched out and sore from--"
"--from sleeping on my side like that last night! What? What'd I say? Why, I didn't even have to curl up into fetal position!" Duo beamed at him happily.
Heero stared at him. A few small sweatdrops formed.
Duo fiddled with a handful of his loose rumpled locks and crossed his legs underneath himself, indian-style. Poor Trowa-man hadn't even gotten his second wish in, let alone the one that freed him. And now Heero had gotten his hands on his lamp...Duo smirked...and he had two wishes left, and well... Heero's first wish basically guaranteed he wouldn't be imprisoned in the lamp anymore after Heero's last wish... but it wasn't freedom per se.
'Cause he'd still be calling someone 'master.'
"Duo," Heero finally said, twitching the hair out of his fingers and playing with it himself.
Heero quirked an eyebrow at him, blue eyes turning to frosty chips.
"I mean, 'nn, master?' " Duo corrected hastily, flashing him a grin.
"I'm ready for that second wish of mine."
Duo heaved a sigh. "Your wish is my command, master," he returned with reluctance. He hoped to all gods that Heero's second wish wouldn't interfere with Trowa making out -- err, that is, making off with the blossom of Agrabah. Well, with Quatre anyhow. "Hey, where did Wufei go?"
"How should I know?" Heero shot back with a flash of impatience. "The wish, Duo. My second wish."
"Sorry. Go ahead."
Heero's eyes were positively dark and wicked as he leaned forward to grasp Duo's shoulder, whispering into his ear. Even as the first hints of his fatalistic plans became clear, Duo could feel his genie-stomach sinking to the bottom of his genie-curled shoes.