The Darkest Road
by Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs

Episode Five: Child-Lord I

* * * * * * * *

There was a constriction in the air that made my breathing hard, my movements careful and slow, as though I was afraid to awaken some terrible beast. But it was not really my choice whether all hell would break loose here tonight. I had never been the kind of person to make that kind of decision. I felt it, however, could clearly sense that this evening, something would change.

I sat quietly on my no longer well-made bed, keeping my gaze locked onto the pages of the book that rested in my lap. I wasn't reading it, hardly even pretending to, but if I kept my eyes on it carefully enough, I would not have to look at the woman who was sitting in a chair at the far wall and displaying such an aura of cold, pure fury.

Indeed, neither she nor Nephrite could have continued like this forever, and tonight she would force a change.

The bed emitted a creaking noise, and I looked up briefly to see Zoisite move about nervously. The small boy folded his legs beneath him, then stretched them out, then crossed them. Sighing, I put the book away. Green eyes swept over me for an instant before the other boy resumed his ritual of changing position. It annoyed me beyond all measures that, despite all my attempts to the contrary, I found Zoisite's biting on his tumb nail cute rather than irritating.

That was stupid of me. Very, very stupid. But at least absorbing the sweet perfection of the younger boy's features gave me something else to concentrate on. Of course, the problem was that such admiration distracted me far too easily in any circumstances.

At the age of thirteen, I had grudgingly accepted the hopeless lovesickness that followed my equally hopeless crush on Zoisite. I supposed that it had been inevitable that I fall in love with him sooner or later, the scenario was so blatantly obvious; a very lonely boy longing to love and be loved, and another, the only friend he had, someone whose beauty had enchanted people far more experienced and cold-hearted than he. No, I ought not to be surprised.

That, however, didn't make me any happier about the situation. He would never care for me that way, it was impossible, so much so that not even a love-struck young mind like mine could pretend otherwise. Zoisite was my comrade and friend, nothing more. Oh, he might playfully flirt with me every now and then, but that was not and could never be enough. It shouldn't be hard to get over an eleven-year-old with a subconsciously coquettish smile who had never said my name with that honorific and that brilliant smile and that adoring glimmer in his eyes. It shouldn't. Yet I found I could not even try to.

Along the road of my life, I had become so used to failures and impossibilities that, somehow, such an unrequited first love seemed natural. And that was all that it was - a young boy's first brief contact with romance rather than a desperate passion. Even I, caught up in my private misery as I was, could see that. But it hurt badly enough, and if this was the reward for something as shallow as a simple crush, then I never wanted to fall in love for real.

My thoughts were interrupted by the familiar, creaking sound the door emitted when being opened, and in stepped bishounen senshi Tennou Nefuraito. His hair was somewhat tousled, and his clothes looked slightly the worse for wear despite the expensive choice of colors and materials.

I stared at him, and I knew I wasn't the only one. The moment he entered the room, he held our undivided attention.

Mesala rose with a sharply graceful movement, walking forward until she stood far too close to the bed that Zoisite and I occupied for my liking, facing her eldest son with very cold eyes.

Nephrite himself calmly closed the door behind him, his features sober and neutral. Expressionless the way an iceberg is expressionless.

"Where have you been?" If ice could burn, it would resemble the tone of voice with which Mesala asked her question. Despite the words, it was more of a command, really. She was in the military, after all, and angrier than I'd seen her in a long time.

"Downtown," Nephrite replied, evenly enough, and I was forced to admire his discipline. Though I had witnessed enough of these disputes to know it would not last.

"And what, exactly, have you been doing during your unauthorized visit there?" It was just short of a sneer, constantly threatening to turn into a scream.

"I've been formulating my new motto," Nephrite answered, his tone inscrutable, "of Women, booze and gambling."

And she exploded, and he followed suit, as was their habit. What was not so usual, was how Nephrite suddenly appeared to calm down a bit. He was still flushed and passionate, no question about it, but he was also comprehensible; a seldom seen trait during these sessions. "Look," he said, "you have no right to make rules for my spare time. If I'm grown up enough to fight a war, then I'm grown up enough to decide what to do with my own life. I'm not unreasonable, I'm absolutely willing to continue my employment here, but on my own premises."

The expression on Mesala's face was beyond shocked, far beyond furious. Before she could say anything, however, her son continued, "Half the kingdom's damn population is mad with hate or love or both for us, their mystical Shitennou, and your war against the demons is inevitably lost without us. You can't afford to try to force us."

Surprisingly, Zoisite suddenly piped up, saying into the calm that had succeeded Nephrite's last words, "He's right, you know."

His mother whirled, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him wildly. For a few, eternal moments she screamed at him, pushing him back and forth, his head banging into the wall in the process. The panicked frenzy ended as abruptly as it had began, was called to a halt by the sound of Zoisite's hand striking her cheek.

It was a hard, in itself quite panicked slap.

I watched in terrified, unmoving apprehension as she steadied her grip on Zoisite's arm and dragged him up to face her. She seemed quite intent on returning the slap in kind, which didn't exactly surprise me.

She never had the time, however, because that was when so much happened. "Stop," came Nephrite's voice in a very final tone, and the next moment, both he and Zoisite, with a strange synchronization, had snapped open the seal over their powers and let the magic flare around them in full and wild glory.

Golden Amaterasu, I thought, incredulous. Can we do that? Snap the restraints, just like that?

Nephrite was a god where he stood, a creature of flawless power, embraced by energies strong enough to destroy a world. He'd had a lot when he flipped on Mamoru-sama's birthday, but that was nothing compared to this. Nothing at all.

Zoisite, without the bland cloak of humanity, yet not so mighty as our comrade, was simply lovely. So very, very lovely that I was surprised that the Earth itself did not fall so in love with him as to rise from its foundations to beg the favor of being allowed to die for him.

God of power, God of beauty.

Mesala, regardless of how strong or stubborn, was neither of it; an awed, helpless expression was on her face as her legs folded slowly beneath her and left her kneeling on the floor.

And the earlier thought returned to me, though slightly different in formulation, Could I...?

I turned my attention inward, traced the power-patterns to the heart of my magic, sensed the seal which had been placed over it. It was familiar. It was brittle.

The rest of the exchange between Mesala and the other two was lost to me. I registered it only as a blur, obscured and rendered meaningless by the surging rush of divine power. I was golden, I knew I was, surrounded by pure, shimmering brightness.

For the first time, I was free. Whole. A god.

Though it no longer meant the world to me, I was still mildly interested in what was going on around me. Turning my attention towards the other occupants of the room, I heard my comrades agree that though Kunzite was visiting his ill mother and thus not present, they might well speak for him as well in this question. "Remember what we've said, Mesala-san," Nephrite said. "You can inform anyone you see fit."

She nodded, still kneeling on the floor but no longer with that dazed expression on her face. "I shall inform everyone concerned," she said. It was not a threat, not a promise, but merely an establishing of fact.

Her eldest son nodded his head a fraction of an inch. "Do so, Mesala-san." He offered her a hand, which she ignored in favor of regaining her feet on her own. In the doorway, she suddenly stopped and turned to face us once more, an almost hesitant look in her eyes.

"You have never called me 'mother'," she said softly. "Neither of you ever have."

"With all respect..." her oldest son began.

"'ve never wanted us to," the younger finished.

I was still wondering over this extremely strange and out-of-character team spirit between Nephrite and Zoisite when Mesala-sensei nodded sadly and left.

My second-eldest comrade gave an absent, astonished shake of his head, mumbling, "If I'd known it would be this easy, I would've turned god a long time ago." A grin played over his lips as most of the fire that had enveloped him bleached away until he was plain Nephrite again, not the Tennou. A boy, though beautiful and promising, no more divine than any other. We were all kami, in a way, human and god wrapped up confusingly in a mind that was neither. Midway between order and chaos, we had to maintain some sort of balance.

But it had never been like this before. Both the other two were back from the stars and strength and wilderness now, and reluctantly I thought that I should do the same. I wondered how any of us had ever managed to live without this, bereft of this other half of ourselves. But it was dangerous, and I could indeed understand why they hadn't wanted us to access these powers - passing a certain line, I could feel my humanity fade, could hear the voices of fate and destiny, the song of the Harp itself calling for me to shrug off all boundaries and throw myself into the night-sky, to fly wild and glorious between the stars. If they were in my way, I could move them.

That was when it all went wrong. A sudden cough wracked my body, and I felt hot and dizzy. It was almost like a fever, except that those don't usually make the body feel cramped and outgrown. I was in a daze, but the pain was very clear. Oh gods it hurt. This was nothing like the pain-training we'd been through, bad as that had been - this was a burning, crystalline pain running along my every nerve.

"...aerrrgh..." I forced out between clattering teeth.

"Holy shit!" Nephrite cursed, catching me by the shoulders to keep me from falling down on the floor.

"Jadeite!" Zoisite cried, something very akin to panic in his voice as he too rushed forward to help support my limp weight. "Nephrite, what's wrong with him?"

"His body isn't used to energies this strong. It's collapsing from the stress." Nephrite sat me down on one of the beds as he replied, but I couldn't feel it under me. I couldn't feel anything but pain and fear.

"But that didn't happen to us!" Zoisite argued.

"I'm a bit more used to it, and you didn't take in this much," Nephrite said, his fingers groping my head. "Dammit! I have to shut down the magic, but it won't let me. We have to distract him somehow."

I really wished I could help them, but I couldn't speak. Kami-sama, I could barely stay conscious.

"Slap him?" Zoisite asked uncertainly.

Nephrite shook his head in dismissal. "He's in too much pain already. It wouldn't make any difference." He closed his eyes a moment, still cradling my head in his hands, then took on an expression of triumph. "I know! Kiss him."


"It should work," Nephrite argued. "Everyone knows he's in love with you, so just hurry up before he suffers permanent damage!"

"He's what?" I hadn't thought Zoisite that clueless, but then, I hadn't thought that Nephrite knew about it either.

"Just hurry," Nephrite sneered imaptiently. "And do it like you mean it!"

Zoisite gave him a dubious glance, then looked at me with wide, scared eyes, and his expression softened. I don't know what I'd been trying to say at this point if I'd been able to speak. Anyway, I wouldn't have had time to talk, for the next moment Zoisite's mouth pressed against mine. He followed Nephrite's command, kissed me like he meant it, like he loved me. It was as if I was in the midst of some delusional fantasy - and then suddenly something snapped into place under Nephrite's hands, and I could breath and speak and think again.

Zoisite pulled away from me, and sorry as I was for it, I didn't dare attempt to keep him.

Nephrite gave a triumphant grin. "Feeling any better?" he asked, and I nodded languidly. Though no longer hurting, I felt rather tired, as if all of my strength had been forced down along with the magic. It was calm again now, in passive mood once more, but it was still there, enveloping me as if in an embrace of comforting warmth. Whatever the consequences, I was no longer crippled, and I neither could nor wanted to regret that.

Yet some of those consequences would be harder to face than others. "Mother'll kill me," I blurted. It was a silly statement, but a terrified one all the same.

Nephrite laughed, an honest though slightly edgy sound. "Come on, Jadeite, after a life of training like ours, you should've learned to handle her long ago." Obviously he had failed to decide whether to be amused or annoyed by my admittedly rather childish fears.

Zoisite, meanwhile, wrapped his arms around me in a hard, warm embrace. He had clearly heard the terror in my voice. It was apparent that he was uneasy as well, but whatever else transpired, I would always love him for that seemingly instinctive gesture of comfort and caring.

Ignoring us and flopping down on the closest bed, Nephrite yawned and kicked off his footwear. "I think the first thing I shall be requesting is a private room," he announced airily.

"You're welcome to leave anytime," Zoisite assured him in a none too friendly tone of voice.

I decided that if I wanted any sleep tonight, I should probably interrupt them before they stared to argue for real, and besides, it was a very valid question. "Really," I mused, "I wonder what Kunzite'll say about this."

"Not much, if I know him right," Nephrite shrugged. "But speaking of that, perhaps we should tell him about it before any of them comes to see him."

"No," Zoisite said decisively, releasing his grip around my waist. "He wants to see Isila-san in private."

"Whatever you say," Nephrite replied, lowering the light with a thought.

I let my gaze linger on Zoisite for a moment as he approached his own bed, then blushingly turned it away when he unshyly stripped off his shirt and carelessly flung it away.

* * * * * * * *

At the age of fourteen, I, youngest daughter of the old noble house of Kaioh, had claimed the henshin wand of Neptune, planet of the stormy seas. Few had doubted my right to do so - several magicians might have enough power to use the transformation device and wield some amount of the planetary power, but no other had the color of the ocean in hair and eye. Some said it was fate, other called it coincidence; it remained fact, and highly symbolic.

Whatever it was, it had been enough. I was on the sure side now, or as close to that as I could ever hope to come as ruler of a planet that had officially renounced the believes in divine ancestry for the royal house and was reigned by chosen council members and whomever was strong enough to become Senshi Neptune and protect them from the Night. The crown of seashells was mine now, and the Neptunian Council had offered me the Aqua Mirror as a belated birthday present not long ago. Indeed, perhaps a dozen could have utilized the wand; few or none would be able to master the talisman. It rested gracefully in my hand.

It waited in my quarters now, hidden within a secret space in one of the walls, secured by many a skillfully woven spell. I couldn't actually do much with it, as of yet. To be completely honest, I could only perform one single attack as Sailorneptune, so perhaps it wasn't that strange that I hadn't managed to completely master the talisman. But I was still very young, my energy-lines immature in a way that I myself had never been, and the Council was thrilled. Not since my great-grandmother's day had such a powerful avatar been found. In time, I would learn, or that was what they claimed.

Holding the housecoat together in the front with one hand (as I had stupidly forgotten where I'd put the ribbon intended for that purpose) I used the other to push my hair back over my shoulders. It was still wet and heavy after the bath, and I didn't want it in my face. It was a lull in the war, presently - not peace, but as close to that as we had come for generations, no doubt because of the Shitennou, and thus it could be considered allowable for me to stand here alone and unguarded on my open balcony, watching the sunset with a hint of melancholia. Not that a forbidding would have stopped me.

My mother had died when I was still very young, leaving my father, Lord Kaioh, to raise their four children on his own. Growing up in House Kaioh's old palace with my two older brothers and my younger sister had prepared me quite well to become Queen of the Waters, as well as anything could have. I could handle servants, could handle the nobility and the Council and most of the matters of state. Yet it was strange verging on disturbing how easily I had come to regard this suit in the Mason of Waves as my home.

I needn't turn to hear the soft footsteps make their way through the room behind me, but merely cocked my head slightly to the side and asked whom it was.

"Just me, your dear old little sister," came the reply, and I smiled a little as I returned indoors.

"And what would my dear little sibling want?" I asked.

"I was supposed to give you this." Laura smiled, almost giggling, and threw me a grand bouquet of flowers.

"Roses again," I sighed in acted despair. "Can't he even change the color a little? I am assuming they are from Kuno."

"Of course they are."

Pushing the doors to it open once more, I dropped the flowers on the balcony-floor. "Doesn't he ever give up?"

"You know he won't, not for this little discouragement at any rate. He would become Prince Consort if you married him, or maybe even King, and that's not something he'll give up easily."

"I suppose that's so. Well, mind you, he is quite good-looking. Perhaps I should paint him sometime."

"If you say that kind of things with such a serious expression, you'll have half the planet convinced that you are madly in love with him within a month."

"Oh?" I said, smiling innocently. "And if I am?"

The blonde beauty who was my sister stared hard at me for a moment, then shrugged. "Then Kuno will be very happy. He'll be the only one, though."

"I know, La-chan, I know." I was grinning now, even as I caressed the fair crown of her hair. "Don't worry yourself so much over me."

"I don't. Really, I don't. You've always had this uncanny detachment. You'd be a lousy wife, but it'll probably make you a great Queen."

My hands stopped. "Detachment?"

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be rude, but you must admit that all the passion in your music very seldom shows in your reactions to anything in the real world."


A look of worry appeared on my younger sister's pretty features. "Michiru..."

"Daijoubu." Though my hands had fled her hair. "I never would've thought that you wanted me to fall hands over heels for Kuno, though. No, seriously, this is my destiny now, the fate I took upon me. Gods know, I was practically raised for it."

"Sailorneptune in first hand, Queen in second and Michiru only in third." Hearing the edge in Laura's voice, one could think this was the first time she'd realized it. I ought to paint her too some day.

Her statement was true, though, just as my own had been. Nobody had doubted that I would be tried as a possible Senshi, and few had doubted that I'd pass. And the wand and mirror felt right in my grip as nothing had before, the first parts of a destiny I had slowly began to realize within myself.

Yes, she'd be perfect in a tableau, preferably with something pink in the background.

Painting was nice, wonderful, even - very different from playing. Oh, people loved my music, but they didn't understand it. No one had ever managed to follow me through an entire concert, on whatever instrument it may be, or even in their minds. Probably it was just as well, as I certainly didn't want all the people who came to listen to see straight through my soul and down onto my very heart. Because that was what I played.

Oh yes, it was befitting; the Lady-Queen of Neptune playing so indescribably beautifully the instrument of the planet's tradition. Playing all her heart and soul, but that, they needed never know. Only a twin-soul could understand it - I didn't fully comprehend all the strange disharmonies myself. Which might be just as well, because some of it was very sad, and other parts were passionate enough to make me blush. But it was I, it was my fate, and I was curious rather than afraid.

"Anyway," Laura said at length, "believe it or not, but I actually had a real reason for coming here. The Council wants to see you. From what I gathered, they've found the Senshi of Uranus and Saturn."

"Certainly? Well, I suppose it was to be expected; the powers of our talismans are in a sort of symbioses, after all, even the Silence Glaive..." Turning my back to the younger girl, I roamed through my dresser, searching for something more dignified to wear than the coat. The Outer Rim of the Solar system was closely bound together; if one planet found its Senshi, so would the others, very soon. And now it had happened, and I heard a strange symphony play in my mind, darkness and light woven together in exquisite tangles. Darkness of pain and strife and sacrifices; a single enchanting note so light as to make my heart twist.

Light as the wind.

Which should have been peculiar, as I was guarded and guardian of no air but of the ocean, the bottomless and eternal stormy seas. Yes, it should have been strange, but with that brightness burning through my mind, I could not find it in me to consider it that.

Though somewhat inward-turned by nature, I was not usually this melancholy, yet I found I could not shake the emotion - or indeed, the premonition - off entirely, and I walked through my palace still caught in the music I knew to be fuller than any I had ever played. I suddenly wondered if I would be able to carry it of - I, who had played alone all my life, suddenly doubting that it was meant to sound that way, asking myself if there should not be another instrument as well. Because it was, it was...

Light as the wind on water.

* * * * * * * *

I made my way through the corridors as though in a daze, nodding absently to the servants who offered their greetings, unexpectedly finding myself caught up in thoughts about Before. The time before the First Penetration of Evil, that mythical era of absolute light and love and happiness. There hadn't been any servants then. Strange musings, and highly uncharacteristic as I had never lived of dreams or idyllic hopes. I was a battle commander, or at least I had been one before mothering the Tennou, hard and focused and with both my feet placed steadily on the ground.

But the way my dark skirts swirled apprehensively around my legs made it obvious that I was upset, perhaps more than that. I was mastered.

The taste of that was one I was unused to, and one I didn't particularly like, though I had swallowed it before and would swallow it now. Reality before all, after all, efficiency in the war. Despite what most people might think, I was not unreasonably proud. I would take the errand to those whose duty it was to deal with it.

It was out of my hands now, and remembering my children glowing with inhuman power, I thought that maybe it had been that for a long time. Well, I tried to convince myself, Nephrite was old enough to reach majority, and whatever else I might think of his attitudes and behavior, it was clear to me that he was strong and mature enough to do what was necessary. He'd grown up, into the place in heaven intended for him. It was all above my head, and I respected that and him enough to obey, to do it regardless of my own sentiments. The military line of thought again, I assumed. But that was how the world worked - with a very few exceptions, people fit in either of two categories. There were people to command, and there were people to obey. I could do both, and do it well. I would have to.

I supposed that it was these ideals that had made my relationship with Nephrite so stormy. I was the one in command, thus he ought to follow my instructions without inquires. But that had never been my son's style. Not either of my sons' style. Henceforth, our interaction would probably be a lot smoother, as I would not question Nephrite's authority as he had mine. He was a King of Heaven, and I was merely human. They had made that very clear to me, and I felt no shame about it.

Zoisite was younger, and I would have liked to keep him longer, but it was no longer my decision. It would never be the same again. When I resumed my role as their teacher, my yells and orders would turn into suggestions and respectful bows. There was no Zoi-kun anymore, it was Zoisite-sama. I wouldn't have survived this long at court if I hadn't learned years ago to keep my strength moldable. I shook my head a little. Being able to handle any human meant little to nothing when dealing with Tennou.

Soon enough, I waved the guards and attendants away and knocked politely on a royal door. The little prince apparently suffered from insomnia, and so both the king and the queen were with him in his bedroom.

"It's Mesala, your Majesties," I called. "I have some urgent information."

"Enter." It was the queen's voice, light and melodious and arrogant.

I obeyed, making my way through a hallway and a chamber before reaching the actual bedroom. The dark-haired prince half-sat in his bed, supported by a mountain of pillows. His parents perched on either side of him, Relisiana-sama in a white nightgown and her husband wrapped in a thick purple housecoat. Obviously their son had inherited most of his looks from his father; the black hair and broadening shoulders, and most particularly the clear blue eyes. The tallness he promised, however, was a characteristic of the queen, who stood head to head with the king.

I paid my respects with sincerity, bowing my torso with my hands placed palm-to-palm in front of it as I made a deep courtesy. My mistress impatiently waved her hand. "Don't waste time on formalities when there's no one around to impress. Let's hear this important message of yours instead."

"Yes," Endymion agreed. "Come over here and tell us."

I nodded, walking forward to take place in a chair before objectively and tactlessly retelling the events that had taken place in the dormitory of the Tennou.

They all stared at me, wide-eyed, open-mouthed and paler than snow, and I suddenly wondered that they had allowed Mamoru to overhear this. It seemed the monarchs shared my opinion that it was for the best not to shield one's child.

"I think we shall talk to Kunzite," the queen said at length, raising and kissing her son's forehead.

"But dear..." Endymion's voice was weak, fading from his ashen lips. He suddenly looked very old and very frightened. Without hope. Despite everything that had happened during these sixteen years, it kind of shocked me that the divine ruler of our planet, the descendant of Holy Amaterasu, could appear so human and so... fragile.

"It's what we have to do," Relisiana replied very firmly. She extended a hand to her husband, and they quietly conversed in the other end of the room.

"Ano, Mesala-san," Mamoru said hesitantly. I went over to kneel at his beside. After all, I couldn't very well take place on the bed itself, as though I was of royal blood or well acquaintanced with him.

"Yes, Mamoru-sama?" I asked.

"I just... Will they.... What is...?"

"I think that it will be all right, your highness. It would surprise me a great lot if they broke their oath to you."

The boy nodded, apparently gaining confidence from my words. I couldn't help but wryly reflect that he seemed to be handling it all a lot better than his father did. Perhaps that was only because he did not fully comprehend the seriousness of the situation, but his calm, concentrated mien spoke of anything but such foolish ignorance.

"Yes," he whispered, seemingly more to himself than to me. "I want peace and light for the Golden Kingdom, nothing more, so they will aid me, and everything will be all right. Yes. I don't need absolute power. We'll come to an agreement. They'll help, and we'll win, and the war will be over with."

Despite the delusional content at the end, I regarded him intensely as he spoke, wondering whom the words came from - they sounded quoted from a memory, not of his own making. The obvious suspicion struck me, but he couldn't have met the Tennou on his own, could he? It was not possible, or at least, it should not be.

Endymion still looked bleak when he and Relisiana returned to the bed, but he seemed to have come to terms with doing as she as had said. The queen smiled at her son again before turning towards the door.

"Mesala-san, if you would accompany us..."

I nodded and hurried over to them, when Mamoru spoke behind me. "Should I come too?"

His mother hesitated for a moment, a tight expression on her face, then shook her head with a light smile. "Little boys should stay in bed where they belong, not run off on political missions in the middle of night. Sleep well, Mamo-chan, love."

He looked as though about to protest, then gave a sigh of what sounded like relief and sank back against the pillows. "Good night, mother, father, Mesala-san."

I thought it slightly ironical that his Holiness the Golden Price treated me with more politeness and humility than either of my own two sons did.

His eyes half-closed, Mamoru watched us leave.

* * * * * * * *

I sat by her bedside, listening to the shallow breathing that just barely managed to move her chest. It was about midnight, according to the clock on the far wall, but time had long since ceased to matter to this room or its sole permanent inhabitant. Heavy draperies obscured the windows, and a persistent golden glow from the lamps illuminated the chamber, its shade uncaring of night and day and never changing.

My mother lay still and white beneath the thick blue blanket, her once long and glimmering blonde hair cropped short and missing its luster. Her hand, thin and fragile-looking, lay on the bedclothes where it had fallen when sleep claimed her and she dropped my fingers. I'd made no efforts holding on to it, and now wondered if I should pick it up again.

Finally, here at the end of all we might have had, her tears had stopped.

It was strange that her dying should disturb me so much. After all, she'd never been one of the main characters in the story of my life. I'd come by every now and then over the years, dropping in when I felt like it. It might have been simply because it was expected, was custom for a boy to visit his mother. It could have been because I'd always known that I was the most important person in her life, the only important person in her life, even though it was I who had ruined it for her. Perhaps because I had needed it as some sort of emotional closure of my own - a selfish reason, certainly, but she'd been happy to see me, whenever I came, as maybe she should be after all that crying when I was younger.

Or, I admitted to myself, it might have been because I loved her. It wasn't something I'd ever said to her, but I was certain she knew it anyway, even though it was not a great or deep emotion, but only a soft warm glow like that of a firefly. Never admitted, but acknowledged all the same.

We'd never been close, had never needed to be close. Or perhaps it was just that none of us would have been able to handle that. But it was what it had had to be, and a beautiful thing in its brittleness, like a slight tough warm searching smile, as from one not knowing how to right make the expression.

A part of me would disappear with her, the big-eyed boy with the uncertain smile that I had used to be. I would not mourn it, but perhaps sometimes I would miss it; memories of the sad angel from my childhood's imaginary sky, too-soft furniture and too-sweet tea.

I enclosed her hand in mine again, caressing her bony knuckles. She died giving birth to me. Oh, it had been more than sixteen years since the event in question took place, but the time frame did not change the cause.

"I don't have time for this," I muttered, yet continued to hold onto her hand.

"I'm sorry to trouble you," she replied weakly, with long pauses between every word. Even though she had just woken up, she was already so tired as to struggle with speech.

"I wasn't referring to you, and you know that," I said, bending forward to place a soft kiss on her forehead.

"Kunzite," she whispered as I sat down beside her again, her voice calm and serious despite its apparent weakness. "Forgive me."

I suppose I was shocked, because even as her head fell aside and her hand went limp, I didn't react. I just sat there and stared at her. It was several minutes before I leaned forward and closed her eyes. She had died for me, and the gaze in her dead eyes had been empty and horrible. She had always been fragile, too much so even to refuse a burden that she must have known would be too heavy for her. So she was dead.

I was still holding her hand as the sound of footsteps in the empty quarters made me turn. Surprised, I watched the monarchs of the Golden Kingdom enter the room, followed by Nephrite's mother.

"Your Majesties, Lady Mesala," I greeted them expressionlessly, offering the peculiar hybrid of nod and bow that I had invented lately.

The queen nodded gracefully to me, and the others followed suit. "Kunzite-tennou," she said, a pleasant smile fluttering over her pale, youthful face. "How is Isila-san?"

"She just died," I said, the reply resulting in a chorus of more or less sincere laments. "She was tired. She wanted to pass on." I said it with a sort of shrug, suddenly realizing that her hand still rested in mine and placing it gingerly over her chest.

"Well," the queen said in what sounded very much like a back-to-business voice, spreading the skirts of the...could it be a nightgown?...she was wearing and sitting down in a sofa. Endymion joined her there, and Mesala took place in an over-stuffed chair. "I assume you are not aware of what came to pass between your comrades, the other Tennou, and Mesala-san earlier this evening?"

"No, I'm not."

Endymion moved uneasily. "Dear, perhaps you shouldn't..."

"We do what needs to be done," his wife replied sternly.

Now this might be interesting, I thought. I was right.

"Thus..." the queen concluded, her voice thinning out in uncertainty before gaining new confidence and saying tightly, "Based on this, I presuppose that it would be easy for you to break the seal over your powers as well, if you haven't done so already, and therefore... We would like you to do so."

Well, I saw no harm in showing them. The seal was no longer there, having been done away with a sunny autumn day two and a half years ago when I fell down a fairly high cliff and needed some extra power to support my levitation, so of course I could not break it now, but I sincerely doubted that they would ever be able to determine that with any level of certainty.

"If you wish," I heard the boy say, and then there was no need for words at all, for it was no longer a human I saw.

All at once, he was completely different - despite that he was beautiful and well-built also for a very powerful magician, he had seemed tired and slightly shabby with the tousled hair that looked as though he'd been dragging his hand trough it and the faint shadows beneath his eyes, earned by tense nights of waking over the dead woman in the bed. When the power came alive, all of that vanished. Oh, he was sitting the same way, looking the same way, yet there was...such an aura of strength and divinity about him that I had to fight not to fall on my knees and worship him. The King of Heaven.

It was small condolence that also Mesala, who had witnessed the three others do much the same, sat with open mouth and tears running down her face. I supposed Kunzite was the strongest, but still. Perhaps the others hadn't been quite this impressive. On the other hand, a tenth of this aura would suffice very well indeed for anyone in the galaxy. A twelfth of it.

I knew I was panting, thanking the gods that I hadn't brought Mamoru with me, and thanking them again when the first Tennou turned back to being merely an extraordinary human boy.

Quite soon I made the power fade, not die out entirely but soften its violent glow to a mild shimmer. They stared at me as though I was some kind of divine creature, the fear and awe so blatantly obvious on their wide-eyed faces that I seriously began to wonder if I had gone too far. Too much of the first emotion was unadvisable, after all.

Surprisingly, it was Endymion who spoke first. Even though his voice was faint, I had to give him credit for that. "Then I think we are quite well informed. Should I assume that your views are similar to Nephrite-tennou's?"

Essentially they were, even though I would doubtlessly have presented them otherwise. Still, perhaps it was best that had happened. Accordingly, I nodded in answer. The king rose shakily, placing an arm around his wife's shoulders.

"I am certain we will have no difficulties reaching an agreement," she said. I contemplated for a moment, then rose as well and nodded deeply/bowed slightly as they left with Mesala in tow. The sound of their wishing me a good night faded away, leaving me alone once more in the silence caused by Isila's lack of breathing in a room that smelled of illness and flowery perfume.

I ought to inform a servant, so as to let them begin the preparations for the funeral ceremony in which the corpse was burnt and the ashes buried in one of the palace gardens. That way, it was thought, a little part of the dead person remained with the people whom she had left behind even as her soul passed through the realm of the dead and was reborn. I wasn't sure if I believed in it, but she had always liked flower gardens. And despite what the people of the Moon might say, I didn't find it bizarre to grow vegetation in someone's ashes. It was the Earthen custom.

I nodded to myself, yes, I should tell someone. So why didn't I?

Instead, I spent half an hour kneeling by her bedside, holding her hands and caressing the cooling skin. I didn't know why I did it, really, but continued anyway, stroking away some stray tendrils of hair from her face before quietly exiting the room. I found a servant on the way and told him, then wished I hadn't. I didn't now why that was either. I shouldn't really care. Even though she had died for me.

I tried to be silent as I entered the Shitennou dormitory, but a slight figure sat up in one of the beds nevertheless. The faint light reflected in darkly golden hair. Had he ever been this beautiful?

"Kunzite-sama," he whispered. He'd always used that honorific, and I'd never actually questioned it, just thought of it as another of Zoisite's cute eccentrics. It seemed I had a lot of strange thoughts tonight.

"Mmh," I answered. "How come you're not sleeping?"

He shrugged, then asked, "Isila-san...?"

"She's dead."

"Oh. Kunzite-sama..." He got out of bed and walked across the room until he stood very close to me, small hands clasped around my arm and worried green eyes looking up at me. He really was short, not even reaching me to the shoulder anymore.

"I'm all right," I claimed. "Besides, it's cold, you shouldn't run around like this and freeze or you'll catch a cold." Since I'd always looked after him, it didn't even feel strange to say that kind of thing, even though, as Nephrite used to remind me, I sounded somewhat like one of the nurses. Despite what I'd said, though, I made no objections when he snuggled closer, biting his lips as if to stifle a yawn before reaching up a hand to touch my face.

"You will be," he said, "but right now, you're not." And surprisedly though unquestioningly, I found myself hugging him with a great deal of gratefulness.

* * * * * * * *

return to Index / go to Chapter 6

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury