It was midnight, and Dee was wide awake.
He didn't feel tired at all. He wasn't even lying down.
Dee was sitting up, trying to see out into the dark. It was rather hopeless, really. Waddle Dees had terrible night vision, and the world seemed to be made of soft, hazy patches of gray bleeding into black. All the colors of the scenery were muted to the point where they were barely discernible. The sky itself was gray from cloud cover, and every so often, his head would be adorned by wayward droplets of rain that weren't deflected by leaves.
Thankfully it was never a sufficient amount, or they'd all be soaked. Considering the others lay about him sound asleep, he hoped the clouds would move on. Not to mention if there were the barest hint of thunder, he wouldn't sleep a wink until long after it had passed. And he did want to sleep eventually.
By all rights, it had been a long day of travel, and he should probably feel exhausted, yet he kept waking up. He heaved a quiet sigh.
Part of the problem was the environment, he knew. They were camped out beneath a large tree on the edge of a field, exposed to the elements. The forest behind them seemed to shift and chitter in the inky darkness, very much alive, though in a way that was impossible to see. Dee told himself that the shuffling noises were merely leaves being blown in the night breeze, and the snapping of twigs came from them falling from the tree branches, and the... other sounds, well, those were just his imagination.
(They were not.)
Looking out at the grayish field was not much better, if he was being honest. The grass swayed and made soft whispering sounds, and every so often there was a quiet rustling. Off to his right was the steady bubbling of what was either a small river or a large stream. It reminded him of the familiar sounds of the ocean, but it was different enough that it wasn't quite as comforting. And he couldn't see it at all. He remembered the bright sparkles of moonlight on the waves, and how calm it seemed. Dee knew if he got a better look at the things around him in daylight, it wouldn't be half as bad.
But he was still out of his element. And he knew it.
Normally he'd try and shut out all the "creepy" things around him; just try his best to sleep and block out the sounds of the unfamiliar nighttime world.
Alas, there was one last thing keeping him awake.
Sailor Dee had noticed maybe half an hour earlier when he first woke up from an unfulfilling attempt at sleep that Meta Knight had seemingly vanished. He knew that the knight wouldn't leave them alone in a dangerous place in the middle of the night, but he couldn't help his unease regardless. Besides, they were in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the witching hour. Where could he have gone?
The rain picked up suddenly, growing to a sprinkle. Each pitter-patter on the tree leaves above was accompanied by a few plops from raindrops that made it through to the ground. Several managed to land on Dee before the rain died again. And a moment later picked back up. Until finally it seemed to stop for good.
But Meta Knight had failed to reappear. Dee looked around again, trying to pick out any familiar shapes from the gloom. Nothing. He wrung his hands. Where did he go?
Something bright flickered in the field, just in the corner of Dee's eye. Slowly, he looked over at it.
It was gone.
Then it was back.
It was a tiny, flickering light, moving slowly through the gray of the field. It glowed one second and was invisible the next, having dimmed out, black as pitch. Dee followed it with his eyes, staring in apprehensive curiosity. And suddenly he saw another one. It was further behind the first, blinking at a different interval, but definitely caused by the same thing.
It was that same shade of yellowish green, and as both lights flickered and moved, Dee started to see more and more. There was a third. Then a fourth. Then a fifth, farther off.
He began counting is his head. Six, seven, eight. Nine and ten. He kept going, slowly, as more tiny lights appeared, until, with all their fading and gliding about, he just couldn't keep track. It was almost like, because of the clouds, the stars had decided to come out near the ground, and dance in the grass instead of the sky.
They made no noise. They barely changed speed. They just floated gently, winking at him from afar.
Dee looked around again for Meta Knight. Nowhere to be seen. He was starting to worry... There wasn't... a good chance that something had happened to his lord, was there? Dee didn't think it likely, but that didn't make the worry go away.
He heard the faint rustling of one of his fellow crew mates shifting in their sleep. Turning back to them, he looked over the group. All were sleeping soundly. Dee rubbed his eyes, but froze when another twig snapped in the trees behind them. Something rustled around then stopped. After a tense moment, Dee heard the sound move away, and then he relaxed with a sigh.
Wind blew through the night air, making him shiver. It was a bit further north here than what he was used to...
Maybe he should look for Meta Knight.
Don't be stupid, you don't wanna get lost out here! They'll never find you!
But Sir's out here!
And he doesn't want you to get eaten or something!
Dee huffed and pushed himself to his feet. He turned back towards the field-
"Woah..." His voice, very softly, exited his non-existent mouth.
The tiny lights were everywhere; floating and blinking in a huge group that spanned out into the field. They really were like tiny stars. It was… beautiful.
Sailor Dee started walking out towards the field. He kept his footsteps quiet, (he didn't think he'd wake anyone up, but he wasn't keen on taking the chance), and moved slow and careful until he was a good distance away. The tall grass swayed a little in the night breeze, but it didn't upset the lights. They were still performing their slow-motion dance. As he got closer, he noticed a few appeared to be blinking on the ground, or low in the grass.
He parted the plants with his hands and began pushing through into the field. The things were all around him, blinking and flashing. After a few more feet he stopped.
Dee turned in slow, halting circles, suddenly aware of the voices of crickets. The sound of the stream must've blocked them out before. One of the lights sailed silently by his head. He watched it with wide eyes and gently reached out a hand.
But he paused.
There was something faint that, unlike all the other noises in the dark, was familiar. Just the subtlest hint of moving air, more a feeling than a noise. Then there were several quiet flaps, air blowing against his back, and the soft sound of something landing in the grass behind him. Dee turned around.
A pair of golden, oval eyes stood out against the dark.
Sailor Dee sighed audibly in relief.
"Dee, what in NOVA's name are you doing up?" Meta Knight said in a faintly accusatory tone. He stepped forward through the grass.
"I couldn't sleep." Dee confessed. "I tried for a while…"
"Are the others awake?"
"I don't think so, Sir; I didn't wake them."
"Then why are you out here?" Meta Knight's wings shifted back into his cape.
"...I was looking for you. I woke up and saw you were gone, and then I couldn't get back to sleep. I know I shouldn't be out here alone but I… thought you'd show up. It's not like I went far." He finished quickly, eyes drifting back to the tiny lights. Meta Knight followed his gaze.
"...I suppose I should've guessed that…" The knight replied. "...There's a lot of them out tonight, aren't there…"
"What are they?"
Meta Knight turned back to face Dee.
"You've never seen fireflies?" He asked incredulously.
"Fireflies? That's what these are?" Dee gestured to the things. "N-no. I've heard of them, but… I guess there weren't any around where I grew up…" Meta Knight blinked, then moved away.
Dee watched him pick out one of the fireflies and swiftly capture it in his hands. Meta Knight gestured him over, and Dee moved through the grasses to follow.
"Here. Look." The knight held out his hands and revealed… a little dark thing. As they both watched, it pulsed back to life, and Dee could almost make out the shape of a tiny, insect body. It crawled around on the knight's glove, flicking bright and dark.
"Wow… they look so different from far away!"
"I'll admit," The knight said, "They're a bit underwhelming during the day." To prove his point, he increased the glow of his eyes, illuminating the insect so Dee could see it. It looked merely like a slender beetle, mostly black, but with a hint of red. Meta Knight dimmed his eyes back to normal and the bug's glowing resumed.
Dee held out one hand, and Meta Knight let the bug crawl from his fingers to Dee, who seemed slightly in awe.
"Why do they glow like this?" He asked, watching the creature on his hand.
"To find mates, I think." Meta Knight absentmindedly pulled his cape around himself. "The females don't fly. They crawl up into the grass or stay on the ground and glow. Then the males fly out to look for them."
"Where does the glow come from? Do they make their light the same way you do?" Dee held his hand away from himself and the firefly's wings whirred to life, carrying it back to its fellows.
"I imagine it's the same process, if a bit less… specialized."
The pair watched it fly away. Dee found himself yawning, his eyes watering. Meta Knight glanced at him.
"It's very late."
"I know, Sir."
"Then you should try to sleep. We'll be covering a lot of ground in the morning."
"What about you? You're awake. What were you doing, anyway?"
"...I couldn't sleep well, either. Sometimes flying helps me clear my head, so I went. I certainly wasn't expecting anyone to notice I was gone."
"Why couldn't you sleep?" Dee cocked his head.
Meta Knight paused for a moment before he answered, sounding hesitant;
"...Nerves, I think. I thought about what we set out to do for a long time, and I don't regret my decision. But it's still… difficult. I will not turn back, but I'll admit I've been rather restless because of it…" He seemed to deflate slightly, as if ashamed.
Dee tentatively inched closer and laid his hand on about where he thought Meta Knight's arm was, beneath the cape.
"I think that's normal, Sir… But if you want, I won't tell anyone."
Meta Knight's eyes seemed to smile.
"...Thank you. But now I'm ordering you to sleep so that we can both get up in the morning."
"I think it's morning already." Dee laughed.
"Of course it is," the knight muttered. "Come on." He started walking, with Dee trailing a ways behind him. "...You know that the fireflies will be out again tomorrow night." He chuckled. "You won't miss them. If the weather stays clear I'm sure they'll be out much earlier, as well."
"I'd like that." Dee said, hurrying to match Meta Knight's pace.
As they returned to the little nook at the edge of the forest where the rest of their group had camped out, Meta Knight quietly surveyed his crew. Apart from the wayward one at his side, they were all here, safe. He sighed. Dee was starting to look tired, now, and Meta Knight figured that he would fall asleep rather quickly. He wasn't sure about himself…
Dee crawled back onto the small sleeping mat he'd been curled up on earlier, tucking a blanket around himself. He pulled off his hat but clung to it tightly, and peeked out at the fireflies from where he lay.
Meta Knight crept over to stand by him.
"Do you think you can sleep now?" He whispered.
"Yeah… as long as there's not any more creepy noises…" Dee whispered back, shuddering.
Right on cue, something rustled in the leaves behind them, causing the Waddle Dee to flinch. Meta Knight stifled a quiet laugh.
"Dee, I can promise you that is a mouse." Meta Knight's eyes glowed a soft pink.
"How do you know?" Dee demanded.
"Because I can see it."
"Hmph. Not all of us can see in the dark, you know, Sir."
"So I'd noticed." Meta Knight's eyes returned to normal as he settled himself beside Dee on the ground. Dee looked up curiously.
"...You're gonna sleep over here?"
"If you didn't mind." Meta Knight froze, fully prepared to remove himself from such a close proximity. "I can easily-" Dee was already shaking his head.
"You can stay!"
"...All right." Meta Knight slowly relaxed. Dee watched as he detached his cape from his body with a shimmering of magic, leaving his wings folded neatly. Meta Knight reached out and tucked the fabric around Dee. "I know this place is a bit cooler than what you've been used to," he explained, "But this might be of some help…"
Dee slipped a hand out from his blanket to touch the cape. It was smooth and barely warm… probably from its recent connection to Meta Knight's body, if anything.
"Thanks, Sir." Dee hummed as he closed his eyes. Even without a mouth, one could tell he was smiling. Behind the mask, Meta Knight smiled back.
"You're quite welcome." Meta Knight nestled in beside him, draping his wings over himself. Then he sighed.
For a few minutes, there was mostly quiet, and Meta Knight lay silently, watching the clouds move overhead. He would've liked a clear night to stargaze, but nature tended not to take people's desires into account. So he watched the clouds and listened to the sounds of the world, and the gentle breathing of his followers. There wasn't much point in closing his eyes; he was relaxed and calm, but still felt wide awake…
In fact, he rather envied that the rest of them had all fallen asleep so easily-
"Sir…?" Dee mumbled, clearly half asleep already, but awake nonetheless.
"I know everything will work out…"
Meta Knight glanced over at his companion. Dee's eyes were shut.
"...I'm sure they will…" Meta Knight said after a moment. He looked back to the sky, hoping for just one star. Nothing.
"G'night, Sir," Dee slurred quietly, tugged the cape up closer.
"Good night." He whispered back.
Meta Knight quietly watched the clouds. Admittedly, his worries had started to ease, and he was glad of it. After shifting his wings a bit, he closed his eyes.
One lone firefly landed on his mask as he fell asleep.