Labyrinth (or a Somewhat Reasonable Facsimile Thereof)
by Blue Soaring
He stood in the middle of a world gone white. Huge, soaring, the ballroom teemed with people. The floor gleamed with marble tiles, tall columns spearing up out of the floor, the tops of them lost in long sweeps of white silk and satin that draped from the ceiling, spilled down the mirrored walls. More warm velvet and softly shining cloth whirled around him, masked women in elegant cream-coloured dresses twisting and turning in the arms of men clad in flowing shirts, form-fitting trousers and tall, ivory boots. His vision was filled with shades of not-quite white, light golden browns, sweeping coats, trailing skirts and a sea of masks, horned and leering.
A woman leaned close, the horns of her dark demon mask dipping low as she looked at him, her skin as pale as the snow silk of her dress, her lips a precious dark red. She smiled and twirled away, her partner's eyes a flash of dark green behind his mask.
Music surrounded him, pressed against him until his lungs ached. The sound of their laughter, high and decadent, echoed in his ears. Hands brushed over him as he turned, his limbs slow and sluggish, and caught his own reflection in the glass.
Dark tan leather boots, butter-soft, covered his calves and ended just below his knee. He wore snug trousers of off-white, a shirt only a shade lighter with billowing sleeves and a collar left carelessly loose and open. His hair fell down in a glossy line of chestnut, small braids hidden and twined through the thick mass.
Mind clouded and reeling, he met the ice blue gaze of another in the mirror, shadowed by the coffee-coloured mask he wore. A hand touched his shoulder, and Duo turned, looked up at the demon's face and the softly curving lips beneath it. His clothes were darker, the colour of melted milk chocolate and startling against the backdrop of white on white. The man's hand took his, an arm sliding gently around his waist and pulling him close. Soft blond hair, almost as light as the silk they both wore, brushed his skin and suddenly Duo was engulfed by the whirling crowd, trapped in the blue-eyed man's arms as he led the dance.
Unable to think, Duo let himself be led in the steps of a waltz, seeing nothing but the endless array of masks and dancers, the frosted blue eyes of his partner and the knowing curve of his lips. A woman laughed in his ear, and he turned to see her slender fingers trail over the masked brow of another man. She looked at him, pressed those same fingers to the smooth line of her throat and laughed again.
Watching them, lowering his own mask, Treize's expression was unreadable. Blinking dazed eyes, Duo caught sight of him as he spun in the other man's arms; saw the dark blue of his clothes like the frenzied ocean between froth-covered waves. Another turn, another step in the dance and he was gone. Duo whipped his head around, searching. His partner merely laughed low, wickedly. There, again, through the crowd was the shock of midnight blue, a split-second before it was gone and Duo doubted he had ever seen it.
His partner leaned close, soft hair bushing Duo's face, the edges of the mask pressing sharply into his skin. Lips close, brushing Duo's ear, the man whispered quietly and the words were lost in the muddle of his mind. When he pulled away, Duo found himself staring up into a painfully familiar face, unadorned. At the look of pure shock, Treize merely smiled, and led the man in his arms through the unending dance.
Duo's vision blurred again, the parade of masks and smiles blending and melding into one. The white crystal world began to spin around him as the sound of a tolling clock reached his ears through the laughter. Worry flickered behind Duo's eyes as his brow creased. He began to struggle, tearing out of Treize's grasp and elbowing through the crowd that pressed close, laughing and leering at him. He broke free, and Treize let him go, simply watching again as Duo ran to the mirror walls. Desperate, he grabbed a heavy chair, caught sight of the blond man with ice blue eyes watching him seconds before he slammed it against the smooth surface.
Shattered pieces rained down, hitting the marble with the sound of tinkling chimes. The wall burst outward, then up, and the laughter behind him abruptly turned to piercing screams. Gravity failed, the shattered glass began to fall upward, silk and marble following. Long confused and frantic moments passed before Duo realized he was falling, the ballroom dissipating into the air. The white darkened, vanished, and he was drifting through the night sky. Slowly, the ground rose up to meet him, and he was set down with the quiet rustle of clothing, consciousness already fading.
Heero sat hunched over a pitifully small fire, eyes tortured and lips thin. "He'll never forgive me...." His voice was a strained whisper as he dropped his head in his hands. Behind him, mountains of junk, as discarded and useless as he felt, loomed like dark shadows. There was the sound of something dropping on the rusted piles, and curiously, he turned to look.
Duo blinked bleary eyes, hand automatically going to hold his spinning head still. He blinked again, this time in confusion as he realized he held something in his hand, and, after a moment of attempting to focus, he saw the peach with rotten core and a bite taken out of it. A worm started to crawl out of it, black as the rot, and Duo jerked back with a curse and flicked it away. "Jesus! Gross!" He scrubbed his palm roughly against his jeans and ended up displacing the pile of junk he was flopped against, sliding down a few feet before grabbing randomly at things and bringing himself to a stop.
"Get off my back!"
Startled, Duo jerked back again, rolling away to his feet as the pile shifted and moved, revealing a gnarled old woman with a carefully tied bundle of junk on her back. "Why don't you look where you're going, young man?" She demanded, stumping around to glower at him.
Expression clouded, Duo muttered, "I was looking...."
"Hmm?" the junk lady said, shuffling closer. "And where were you going, hmm?" she sneered.
"I...don't remember," he admitted.
"You can't look where you're going if you don't know where you're going!" she shouted, jabbing at him with a rusty pot.
Still dazed and uncertain of his memory, Duo merely shook his head and looked around. "I was searching for something."
"Well," the old crone said, stomping over to a mountain and digging around in it. "Look here," she said, emerging with Duo's pocketknife in hand and passing it to him.
Blankly, he looked down at it, still unsure. "Thank you...."
"That's what you were looking for, wasn't it, my dear?"
"...yes, I forgot."
"Now why don't you come in here," she said, shuffling over to another mountain and pulling things out of the way, "and see if there's anything else you like, hmm?" She gave a cackle of a laugh and tugged a curtain aside, gesturing for Duo to go ahead.
He walked in, not noticing as the curtain fell behind him and vanished. He stared at what was his own room, his own things exactly as he'd left them. With a grunt, he flopped face first down on the bed and lay there for several long minutes. "Just a dream," he said finally, voice muffled. "Crazy, fucked up dream; should lay off on the clubbing." He remained motionless for a moment more before lifting his head with a second grunt. "Better check on the brat."
Swinging his legs off the bed, he flicked his hair out of his eyes and strode toward the door. As soon as his hand touched the knob, it burst open, the junk lady shambling in and muttering, "Better to stay in here, dear, there's nothing you want out there. Oh, no."
Duo sucked in a breath and stared as the crone bustled about, picking and poking at his possessions.
"Oh, what have we got here?" she rambled on, shoving things as she named them towards Duo. "Oh, your little car models. You like your little car models, don't you? Oh, you remember this, don't you? Yes, yes, yes. Now, what else have we got...." Patting Duo's arms as he clutched the painstakingly assembled retro cars she shuffled on over to his desk. "What's this - it's a pencil box! Lots of pencils, too," she said, rattling it as Duo slumped down in the chair, disbelief etched plainly on his face.
"There was something I was looking for," Duo repeated slowly, as if trying to convince himself.
"Don't talk nonsense, it's all right here." When Duo shook his head, she gave a nervous, grating laugh and said, "What's the matter, my dear, don't you like your things?"
"It's all junk." Duo said, expression hardening.
The junk lady hesitated and grabbed randomly at Duo's things, thrusting a portable CD player at him. "What about this? This is not junk," she said, waving it under his nose.
"Yes, it is!" Duo said, dropping the models, snatching the player from her and throwing it at the mirror behind the door. "I have to find Relena!" he shouted, standing up, sending the chair flying.
Around him, the walls started to crumble, dirt and dust choking the air. Garbage started to fall through the collapsing walls, skittering across the floor and tripping him. He looked wildly about, searching madly for an exit.
Duo looked up at the sound of the familiar voice, reached through the flying dirt to grasp Trowa's hand. There was a grunt, the sound of more junk tumbling down, and Trowa hauled him up, stumbling back a few steps as the mountain continued to fall in on itself.
"Finally found you," Wufei said, voice flat but eyes light.
"Where are we?" Duo asked, coughing and patting the dust from his clothes.
"Junkyard," Trowa said with a shrug.
Quatre snickered quietly and Wufei shook his head. "Look," he said, pointing. "We're almost there. Those are the gates to the city."
Duo slowly stopped and turned to follow Wufei's gaze, letting out a slow breath at the sight. "Then let's go."
"We don't have much time," Quatre said, his own gaze on the lightening of the horizon.
"Yeah," Trowa agreed with a slight nod.
"Alright," Wufei said, hand resting on his sword hilt. "Forward."
Duo rolled his eyes behind Wufei's back, making Trowa smile as they moved off.
Behind them, peering over an old broken dresser, Heero watched with obvious worry. "Oh, no," he muttered, and jumped down from his perch, skirting the bottom of the hill.
The sun rose slowly, listlessly climbing up from the horizon and creeping across the dusty, bare expanse in front of the city. Marching straight up to the gate and the snoring guard, Wufei pounded on the giant gates. "Open up," he demanded. "Open the door!"
Duo, eyes nearly bugging out of his head, ran up and grabbed Wufei's arm. "Ssh! Christ, Wufei."
Ignoring him, Wufei kicked the wood. "Open up!"
"Wufei, you'll wake the guards!" Duo hissed, trying to drag the other man back as Trowa watched with an odd little smile and Quatre warily eyed the guard.
"Well, let them all wake up!" Wufei said, storming over to the dozing guard, drawing his sword and rapping him smartly on the head with the pommel. Happily he watched as the hapless guard slumped to the ground, knocked out cold.
"Wufei," Duo said, grabbing him by the arms and spinning him around. "Shut the hell up."
"He's upset I made him miss his fight with you," Quatre said conversationally to his tall companion.
"Ah," Trowa said.
Wufei opened his mouth to say something more and Duo cut him off by slapping his hand tightly over the other's mouth. Wufei glowered and crossed his arms, tapping his foot slowly against the ground. Cautiously, Duo took his hand away. "Fine, have it your way," Wufei muttered and satisfied himself by giving the slumped guard a disdainful glance.
"Right," Duo said as Trowa wandered up to the gate and started looking for a way to open it, voice low. "We sneak in."
"You expect to sneak in after that?" Quatre asked.
"I don't see why we have to be so quiet," Wufei continued to mutter as Trowa swung the gates open enough for them to squeeze through. "It's only the damn city."
Paying no attention to them both, Duo looked ahead at the stone portal. The streets beyond were quiet in the early morning, haphazard dirt paths leading through the hodgepodge of houses. "I smell trouble," Duo said uneasily.
Wufei gave a small grunt while Trowa warily glanced behind them. "I don't like this," he stated.
"You want me to hold your hand?" Duo asked with a grin.
"...erm, Duo?" Quatre tapped him on the shoulder, drawing his attention back to the stone portal.
Underneath it, two giant gates were swinging shut, the metal armour of a golem set into the wood catching the early morning rays of light. The air was suddenly filled with metallic clanks and the grinding of gears. Slowly, steam hissing, the golem's eyes opened.
"Who goes?" it demanded in a booming mechanical voice. "Who goes?" it rumbled again, shifting away from the barred gates.
Behind them, sharp metal spikes sprung out of the ground, cutting off their escape. Duo let out a sharp breath as the golem swung around to pick up a humongous double-headed war axe set against the stone.
"I knew I didn't like this," Trowa said.
"Watch out!" Duo shouted, staring in horror as the axe headed straight towards Quatre.
"Quatre!" Wufei cried at the same time, relieved as the blond dived and rolled out of the way.
Abruptly the golem shifted forward, sweeping the axe in a wide, low arc and making them all scramble out of the way. Duo stumbled back against the spikes, letting out a sharp curse as they sliced through his shirt and nicked skin. Trowa rolled out of the way of one giant stomping foot, jumping up to grab Wufei as the axe swung again, just missing shortening Duo by a foot as he ducked.
"I hate this," Quatre stated, ducking behind a stone outcropping as the axe passed over his head, raising sparks as metal screeched against stone.
"Jesus Christ - Heero!"
At Duo's shout, Trowa started and looked up. Heero was running low across the top of the wall, heading straight for the golem. They watched as he took a flying leap at the golem's shoulders, swung around to the back of its head and vanished from sight. The war axe sailed through the air again and Duo dived face-first into the dirt to escape it. There was the sound of metal grinding and controls squealing as the head of the metal golem tumbled off to reveal a bald man staring at Heero in disbelief.
"Duo, look out!" Wufei warned, and Duo quickly rolled and scrambled out of the way of the falling head.
Duo couldn't help but grin as Heero drew back and punched the man in the face and heaved him out of the pilot's seat, tossing him over the edge with a negligent, "Bombs away."
Sputtering, the man scrubbed dirt off his face. "That wasn't very nice," he said, sitting up and brushing off his clothes. Trowa stared at him as Wufei drew his sword with an evil little smile. "Ah...." the man said before shrugging and making a run for it.
"My turn now." Heero slipped into the seat he'd emptied, frowning at the array of controls. "How do you drive this thing?" he asked no one in particular, punching a button.
"Drop the axe!" Duo shouted, ducking as the axe wobbled above them.
"I'm trying," Heero grunted in response. Curious, he grasped the controls and swung the axe again, burying it deep in the stone. He grinned, poking at a few more things and giving a satisfied grunt as the machine started to smoke.
"Get out of there, Heero!"
Brushing off his hands, Heero climbed up out of the pilot's seat and shimmied down the side of the convulsing machine, sprinting across the ground as the golem made a series of loud clanks and bangs, ending with an ear-shattering explosion as everyone dived for cover.
Spitting grit out of his mouth, Duo peeked up at the smoking wreckage. Heero stood in front of him, hand out, as the others slowly got to their feet and wandered closer.
"I'm not asking you to forgive me," Heero said as Duo took the offered hand and heaved himself up. "I don't care what you think of me-"
"Man, I forgive you." Using the hand clasping his, Duo dragged a startled Heero in for a quick half-hug and a pat on the back. "S'alright."
Heero merely blinked.
Trowa smiled his little smile and reached out to pat Heero's back, resting his other arm on Quatre's shoulder. Wufei stood beside them and added, "Rarely have I seen such courage."
"This belongs to you," Duo said, finally letting go of Heero's hand and passing over the long-forgotten gun. "Thanks for your help."
Heero stood for a moment, looking from face to face before he gave a small grunt and tucked the gun back into his pocket. "What are we waiting for?"
Duo grinned. "Right."
Wufei nodded his agreement as Trowa said, "The gate."
Heero wandered forward, sizing it up with Trowa by his side. As one, they set their shoulders against it and started to push. The gate groaned in complaint, scraping the ground and moving only a little before the other three joined them. Ponderously, the heavy wood was pushed back.
The city was still deserted; the only sound the soft trickle of water in a fountain at the centre of the main street. A clock high on a roof showed a mere twenty minutes remaining until Duo's time was up. An eddy of wind disturbed the dust, sending it twirling around them.
"Cosy," Quatre murmured.
Treize lounged on his throne, watching indulgently as Relena wandered the Great Room. Outside, there was the sound of a scuffle as the tall blond strode in, stopped in front of him and bowed perfunctorily. "Your Highness."
Treize merely cocked an eyebrow.
"Your Highness, the man-"
"What?" Treize said, only mildly interested.
The blond bit back a sigh and continued with the news. "The one who ate the peach and supposedly forgot everything-"
"What of him?"
"He's here, with all four of them."
"What?" Treize demanded, his full attention now fixed on the man before him.
"They're through the gates and on their way to the city, Your Highness," he man with ice-blue eyes reported.
"Stop him!" Treize demanded, moving quickly down the steps. "Call out the guards, take the girl and hide her," he said, pointing at Relena.
The man bowed again and turned smartly, the call to arms already sounding as he moved to collect the girl.
"He must be stopped!" Trieze thundered.
"I think we're going to make it," Duo murmured as he and his companions snuck from alley to alley, the stairs leading to the castle already in sight.
"A piece of cake?" Heero asked wryly.
"I don't like this," Trowa added.
The sound of stomping feet gradually grew louder, and the five paused, hidden in the shadows. On top of the wall and one after another, lines of soldiers marched into place. Around corners more appeared, blocking off all entrances to the castle.
Quatre winced. "You shouldn't have said that."
"Company, halt!" came the ringing voice of a solider.
Duo exchanged worried glances with his friends. "I don't like this," he said.
High above them, Treize braced a foot on the sill, fingers cupping his chin as he watched. There was the rustle of weapons, then the same commander called, "Forward!"
"Run!" Duo shouted.
"Split up!" Wufei called, ducking and dashing across the plaza with Quatre close behind him.
Duo glanced from side to side, then took off in the opposite direction. "Quick, this way!" he hissed to Heero and Trowa.
Wufei burst out of an alley, came face to face with a canon and abruptly about-faced. "No, not that way," he said, grabbing Quatre's shirt as the other dashed past and hauling him back seconds before the canon fired.
Across the street, Duo peered around a house, darting back quickly to where Trowa and Heero crouched as a line of soldiers marched by. "Okay, come on, guys," he whispered after checking the way again, and the three of them sprinted into the next alley.
Quatre shot up the street they had just vacated, followed quickly by Wufei. A troop of soldiers marched after them, and they split away from each other, ducking into separate side streets. They circled back, just missing Trowa as he followed the other two down another street.
"Where's Wufei?" Duo muttered, receiving two blank looks in response. He took a sharp corner, skidding to a halt when he came face to face with a line of soldiers manning canons. Two sets of hands grabbed his arms and jerked him into an alley as the line fired, sending smoke and dirt into the air. "We have to find Wufei and Quatre," he hissed.
Heero nodded. "Down this way - the soldiers are spread out across the entire city."
Two streets over, Wufei and Quatre skirted another contingent, slipping into an empty house at the same time the other three ducked into a long, low building and out the other side. Two soldiers were posted outside, scanning the street, and were quickly taken down as the three jumped them from behind.
"Wufei'd approve," Trowa said, nodding at where Duo had rapped one of the soldier's head's hard against the brick wall. Duo just grinned.
Quatre and Wufei jogged up the street, tailed by another three guards. Heero whistled, and, taking the cue, both turned and headed for the other three. They ran past the alley, leading the soldiers on; as soon as they were clear, Duo, Heero and Trowa tried another from-behind attack. Again, Quatre and Wufei did an about-face, turning and taking down a guard of their own.
The five grinned at each other and split again, slowly and methodically making their way back to the poorly guarded steps of the citadel. From his high view, Treize saw the confusion of his soldiers and the now-carefully coordinated movements of the five intruders. His mouth set in a firm line, he turned away from the window and vanished back into the depths of his castle.
Catching a break in the defensive line, Duo made a dash for the front stairs. Suddenly a canon rolled out in front of him, already smoking. "Whoa! Shit!" He dived out of the way as it fired, jumping up and sprinting around again as the soldier debated between giving chase and reloading. Heero ran by, made the decision for him and nailed the guard squarely in the stomach. Trowa waved a little as he jogged past.
"This way!" Duo called, ducking through another alley and around to the steps again.
He stopped short as another group of soldiers trotted in front of them, Trowa just missing barrelling straight into Heero. "Now we have you!" the lead soldier declared.
Wufei turned the corner with Quatre beside him and both aiming abandoned canons straight at the guards. One caught sight, abruptly turned and fled, knocking over another soldier in his haste. Sputtering curses, the commander picked himself up, saw the two canons and dived out of the way as they fired.
"And now you don't," Heero said.
"Quatre!" Duo called, pausing in his mad dash up the castle steps.
"Coming!" was the response, and seconds later, both Quatre and Wufei ran up the stairs to meet him.
At the top, Heero and Trowa were already pushing the doors open, and one after the other, they slipped inside the eerily silent fortress. Wufei kept watch while the other four quickly closed the heavy doors, sealing them with the giant metal crossbar.
Ahead of them, more steps led the way up, with two corridors branching off and circling the main hall. The walls were made from dark brown stone, evidence of the rushed marshalling of the troops strewn across the floor.
"This way," Duo said, heading towards the wide staircase. The others followed close behind, each warily keeping watch.
They crested the stairs, spreading out into Treize's empty throne room. The ticking of a clock pierced the unsettling silence, and Duo cringed when he saw he had mere minutes remaining.
"That's the way he would have gone," Heero said, nodding towards a dark spiralling stair that led up and away from the Great Room.
"Well, then," Wufei said, turning with Quatre to climb it.
Four pairs of eyes turned to Duo, the same question in each gaze.
"I should go alone," Duo said by way of explanation.
Looks were exchanged, puzzlement, understanding and worry in each.
"Why?" Wufei finally asked.
Trowa said, "I don't like this," and Heero gave a small grunt. Quatre merely looked disappointed.
"Because...I should." Duo shook his head, not fully comprehending but certain he was right. "Because that's the way it's done."
"Well," Wufei said, glancing at the rest of their companions. "If that is the way it is done, then that is the way you must do it." He hesitated, lifting coal eyes to meet Duo's. "But...should you need us?"
"What will you do?" Trowa echoed.
Quatre asked, "How will we know?"
There was a moment of silence before Heero spoke up, saying, "What if you need us?"
Standing at the base of the steps, Duo faltered. He faced them, one hand braced on the stone arch. "I'll call," he promised, turning to quickly climb the stairs after one last hesitation.
The four watched, silent as the shadows closed around and swallowed him.