The Darkest Road
by Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs

Episode Seven: It is the East

* * * * * * * *

My booted foot swung back and forth in the air, at irregular intervals making contact with the table leg and thus producing a clicking, knock-like sound. It was annoying - more than that, it was infuriating, unproductive and so damned pointless that it could drive me over the line to insanity. If I hadn't passed it already, that was.

With a groan I got off the piece of furniture I had been sitting on and rested my head against the cold glass of the window. I was going to -

Burst, probably, I acknowledged with a hint of bitterness. When did my mind become this twisted?

But I really had no cause to be surprised - this had been building up for a long time. I just hadn't admitted it, even to myself. That might have been what irked me the most, because it had been so clear, so blatantly obvious. After all, I didn't usually blast Nephrite trough the library windows. No, that had been because he'd hit too close to the mark for his own good.

This is pathetic. I'm a perverse fucking pedophile. There had been so very many leads, yet I had only fully acknowledged it earlier this afternoon. But I must have realized, I had to have, it had been so goddamn obvious.

I'd adored him since he was newborn, but I sincerely hoped that that, at least, had been platonic. Over the years, obviously, that had changed. There had been that time on the training yard, for example, when I'd run into Zoisite in the Complex.

"Kunzite-sama," he called. "Where are you going?"

"To the dojo. Nephrite recently proved that my fencing could use some practice."

"Oh." He sounded disappointed.

"You can come with me if you like," I offered. "If I remember correctly, you aren't exactly best friends with a sword either."

He sulked but accompanied me anyway. The walls of the training hall was lined with blunted weaponry, mostly katakana but also a quality assortment of Western swords, axes, spears, whips and creations that I didn't even have a name for. Well, physical combat had always seemed rather pointless to me. Still, boys are boys - I wasn't about to let Nephrite kick my ass around in here completely without effort. So perhaps I ought to have chosen another opponent than Zoisite, but then, during the few minutes he kept his concentration, he was a very fast little tiger.

"Are you done?" I asked, taking a katana from the wall. It was quite long and heavy, but it gave good reach, and since I was fairly strong, I could wield it without trouble.

"Just a moment," Zoisite replied, standing on tiptoe to reach for a much more slender weapon high on the wall. It was odd how I looked at his stretched legs and back, but I managed to shake the feeling off, at least temporarily.

We sparred for a while, and I noticed the way his breathing became heavier, his skin flushed. Distracted as I was, it was a rather even fight, but eventually he tripped and dropped the sword. The sparse sunlight that fell in through the small windows made his hair a blazing halo as he bent to pick it up. Sweat-moist, dark-golden locks fell around his face as he smiled in his usual coquett fashion.

"Kunzite-sama? Are you paying attention?"

I mentally shook my head. "Of course I am." I couldn't very well have said what passed through my mind right then, that there wasn't really a world with him in it - there was him, and then there just happened to be a world around him. It was a rather unwelcome thought.

I'd gotten over that - or at least, I thought I'd gotten over that - when everything got complicated again. I could admit that I cared about him, certainly, but as for anything more than that... Whether I excluded the word love from my vocabulary or not, though, I could hardly deny - was forced to admit - that I had inappropriate feelings for him. The bedroom issue had proven that beyond any doubt.

Zoisite had never liked the idea of private rooms. Or why yes, he was certainly happy to be rid of his enforced closeness to Nephrite, but a twelve year old who'd lived his entire life surrounded by others could hardly be expected to go to bed on his own. It was a stupid oversight not to see that coming, but at the time being, I didn't mind his knocking on my door shortly before midnight.

"Yes?" I called, expecting it to be some sort of messenger and slipping into a pair of pants.

He looked very abandoned and very cute as he stopped uncertainly in the doorway. "I couldn't sleep. It was so quiet and...scary." He sniffed and hurried forward, putting his arms around my waist and resting his face against my chest.

"I understand," I mumbled, gathering him in my arms. I'd been a bit uneasy falling asleep in this unusual solitude myself. "But you weren't afraid to go all the way here by yourself?" It was a couple of corridors.

He shook his head emphatically. "It wasn't so quiet out there."

I supposed that it kind of made sense - after all these years of sometimes very rough training, he could hardly fear darkness, but he was unused to silence. "It's all right now," I told him. "You can sleep here if you like."

"Mmh." I felt a warm breath on my skin as he yawned. He seemed quite tired, now that he wasn't afraid.

"Come here, then." He curled up on his side in the bed, and I drew a blanket over him, then half-sat beside him, caressing his hair and mumbling reassuring nothings until he fell asleep. Putting some pillows behind my back, I made ready for a night of sitting sleep. It wasn't exactly news, any of this - I'd calmed him down from a lot of nightmares over the years, even though I usually returned to my own bed when he was sound asleep again. Very few times had I been forced to sit on his beside all night. Well, the times I'd had to get up at all hadn't been many at all, as Zoisite didn't usually have nightmares. It was Nephrite who had always been the loud and bad dreamer of us. Several times, I'd seen him have this blissful expression on his face as he mumbled very quietly in his sleep. Once or twice, I'd caught the word 'naru', but that was all. Many other times, he'd suffered severe nightmares, coming back to his senses panting and trembling. He was certainly happy to be woken up at such occasions, but I certainly doubted that he would have appreciated my rocking him back to sleep. Or perhaps he would, as positively terrified as he usually was, but even if that was the case, he could never admit it, and I never suggest it.

However, none of the other times with Zoisite had there been such a fire in my blood. He snuggled up against me in his sleep, his head resting against my stomach and his hair spilling over my chest and thighs. One of his arms was flung casually over my knees. Every such contact made the flames burn higher. Uncertainly, I let my fingers trace the lines of his face. What the hell am I...?

I still sat like that when he suddenly tensed, making an uncomfortable noise and bolting up into a sitting position. I withdrew from his hastily and apprehensively, probably with confused guilt written all over my face.


Wide dark eyes turned towards me, then closed as he drew a deep, calming breath. "Kunzite-sama..."

He looked so unhappy that I'd drawn him into my arms and held him closely against me, stroking his back, before I really knew what I was doing. "What is it?"

"A nightmare. About Jadeite's mother. I saw her, you know, after she'd hanged herself. Her face was all swollen and bluish, and her tongue stuck out." He trembled.

"It's okay," I claimed, cursing the damn woman to hell as I placed a kiss on his brow. "How is Jadeite, now?"

"I think he's all right. He didn't like her much, so he's just a bit...numb, I guess." He was quiet for a while, then said, "None of us ever really liked our mothers much. We never had this family thing."

No, we hadn't, and I was suddenly furious had anyone had denied him such a simple thing as that, such basic happiness. He should have had a happy, brilliant life, not this kind of existence. He'd probably be insulted enough to flay me if I ever let him hear that, but it was true nonetheless.

He had calmed, was already drowsing off again, but I was anything but. Spending the remnants of the night sitting wide-awake with my arms tightly around him and burning blood, I was forced to realize that I wanted him. And, as he gave me a blissful, sleepy smile when waking up in the morning, that the responsibility not to ruin both our lives was entirely mine. I could have kissed him, I could have done more or less anything without him protesting, because he trusted me, and I couldn't think of anything worse than hurting him.

I probably should have made a stand right there and kept myself carefully out of his bedroom, but how could I just leave him there when he was so small and needy? Gradually, I could shorten my bedtime visits until they were nothing more than brief goodnights, but for a fortnight before that, I spent my evenings talking to him and reading for him and trying my best to keep it at that. Need I mention how screwed-up my temper got by all that sleep-deprivement? Nephrite probably got the idea when I threw him out the window. I was lucky that he was so forgiving. When the librarians saw what had become of their beloved stained glass window, they certainly weren't, but I could hardly blame them for it.

As for myself, I just couldn't figure out how to act to Zoisite. I wanted nothing more than to be with him, but I was increasingly unsure that I could answer for the consequences of that. Definitely, not minding him falling asleep all over me was one thing, to like it another matter entirely. And I was so uncertain about where to draw the line. A caress over his back, a kiss on his head, an arm around his unsuspecting waist? If it had been perhaps two, three years ago, it would have been entirely innocent. On the other hand, I hadn't felt like this then, and if I'd acted like this with someone my own age, it could have been called making out without much exaggeration. With Zoisite, I was no longer sure what it was. He was such an acutely confusing combination of a very immature human boy and a deity of love. Whereas I, as mentioned, was a very sick and disgusting creature.

I had admitted to being fond of and attracted to him when, this afternoon, my mother had been buried.

For such a ceremony, it had been beautiful. A humble bunch of people had assembled before the priest in the little rose garden. I recognized about half of them, and could have named perhaps a third. The queen was there, and so were Mamoru and the other three Tennou. Nephrite seemed a bit uncomfortable, probably feeling that he didn't really belong here. I stood over one of the graves with Zoisite's hands clasped loosely around my arm, and Jadeite presided over the other with the prince beside him. There were no traces of tears on his face, but he was very pale, looking like he could break under the arm Mamoru held over his shoulders. Really, he was the one who could truly have used some of Zoisite's cheery warmth, but I doubted that Zoisite would see it that way. He apparently thought that I'd taken mother's death a lot more to heart than I had - probably because of the behavior changes that, in actuality, were caused by my unwanted feelings for him. The irony didn't completely escape me, but I would probably have found it a lot more amusing before it could be applied to my own situation.

A light wind teased my hair and the black coat I wore, played with the queen's skirts and blew the scent of Zoisite's hair into my face. The flower petals that the priest strewed over the buried ashes danced away with the breeze as soon as he let go of them. He then used that as an obscure and rather tasteless metaphor in his little speech about my mother and Jadeite's. Isila's corpse had rested in the temple for the appropriate month, but since they wanted to cover up Sosaya's suicide, she hadn't been on any such lit-de-parade. As my mother's burial had already been planned, I assumed that it had been practical to make it a double.

I disliked the priest and was a bit distracted by my companion, but all in all, it was good for being my mother's burial - serene, pale, beautiful, dominated by a detached sadness. Hopefully, Jadeite was able to feel at least a little of that.

Zoisite still had his hands around my arm as we left, and it was then, when during our small talk he looked up and I down so that our eyes met - I don't know how to describe it. It was as though it was life itself peering out through those emerald eyes, or at least, all that I could ever want of life.

A small, uncertain smile rested over his mouth, and with a great effort indeed, I refrained from leaning down to capture his lips. I thanked all the gods that I didn't believe in that most of the others had gone their separate ways as I placed instead the softest kiss on his cheek.

"I adore you. I'll take care of you. You know that, right?" It was words the like of which never previously spoken, yet known clearly between us - and now I'd said them, for darkness only knew what reason.

"Kunzite-sama?" His hand still held loosely onto my own.

Throwing a desperate look over my shoulder, I caught Nephrite's eyes and - thank the Harp and its player! - the auburn-haired Tennou placed a restraining hand that might or might not have been needed on Zoisite's shoulder as I - all right, I admit - fled.

Which left me here. Like an idiot. In love.

* * * * * * * *

I yawned gracefully. That was a very rare talent indeed, and one that I was quite proud of - I'd never seen anyone else who was able to execute such an ugly motion with the least bit of elegance, and here I was, a natural. Right now, though, my mind was occupied with other musings, most particularly something at the lines of why the hell am I awake at this hour?

I wasn't about to even try opening my eyes, but judging on my state of fatigue, it was several hours left until noon. Which was the earliest I'd ever voluntarily leave my bed. Evidently, though, there had to be some reason for me to venture up, or why would the alarm still be peeping?

With an effort far more inhuman and awesome than any magic I could think to perform, I struggled to crack open my eyelids. That much accomplished, I waited for a few seconds to see if any idea of why I should torture myself like this would show up, or if I could simply blast that beeping thing to hell and go back to sleep. It did take its time, but finally, just as I was about to get rid of the annoying noise, a thought popped into my drowsy head. We were supposed to meet the Moon delegates.

I bit my lower lip angrily as I crawled out of bed, suddenly wide awake. A lot of people might claim that I never listened to anyone, but undeniably I had heard enough yesterday to realize that a bunch of people from the Moon Kingdom was going to show up - and take Kunzite and Nephrite with them.

Which was a thought too horrible for my being able to even consider it. Naturally Nephrite mattered little or not at all, but they opted to take Kunzite-sama away from me.

He was my world, and I would not, could not stand it, yet...I would have to, since it was not in my power to prevent it. And I wondered suddenly whether Kunzite-sama wanted to leave. No, he didn't, he couldn't - surely he didn't want to go away? No, he couldn't. But he'd been acting a bit...unusually...lately, so maybe... No.

I dressed hastily and without care, too absorbed by panicked fear and anger to realize that I was crying until I began wondering why I wasn't able to see clearly. Facing my reflection in the mirror, I fought to make my shoulders straighten - for some reason they seemed to want to slope, curl together with the rest of me and wail in a corner until Kunzite-sama came and made it all right again. This would never do.

The mirror was a big and very good one, made of enchanted ice that never melted and showed my picture clearer than any natural frozen water ever could. As for now, it was a tragic appearance - teary face, red nose and swollen eyes. That's the curse of fair skin, I thought absently. It's ruined so easily.

No indeed, this wouldn't do. I'd learned long ago that I didn't master the commanding tones of Kunzite, or the spiritual rhetoric of Nephrite, but I'd also learned that none of those techniques were half as effective as a soft, trustfully whispered please from between my own flower-petal lips. I couldn't help smiling a little at that - someone had actually described them that way, to the incredulous amusement of both Jadeite and myself. Sure, I liked being beautiful, but I didn't enjoy it even remotely as much as I appreciated the benefits I gained from if.

I blinked slowly to rid myself of the last stray tears, then reached for a comb and began to cursingly annihilate the knots that had managed to appear despite the braid.

Nephrite, Jadeite and Mamoru were standing on a half-open yard with a bunch of adults, most of whom were vaguely familiar even though I couldn't place them. They were all bedecked in formal glory, the prince already sweating like a pig in his twelve-layer ceremonial kimono. Certainly the idiot who'd lain this particular dressing scheme had earned herself as severe tongue lashing, since no matter how fine the silk of his clothes were, or how ancient and priceless the circlet around his brow, an heir whose hair clung together in moist strands, with his fine-boned face pink working on red, was hardly an impressing sight. Most of the other dignitaries were obviously suffering the warmth as well, even tough the more sensible of them had placed cooling spells around them. Well, considering it was the hottest part of summer and that the weather control devises had suffered so much damage, it wasn't exactly unsuspected weather.

Jadeite and Nephrite, at least, had been sensible enough to dress in the same light fashion as I had. One of the few good things with this new order that Nephrite had enforced - to be honest, there were more than just a few, but since they were because of Nephrite, I was unwilling to admit them as such - was that no stupid ceremony master could force me into wearing anything similar to what the adults or their prince had to endure. Their prince, as I had never thought of myself as a subject of the Golden Throne, nor as a vassal of the monarch inhabiting it.

I didn't dislike the royal family, and neither did I like them. However, my feelings for them were closer to the first alternative, which was the reason for my never seeking any closer contact with the prince or his parents. Childish as short tempered as I was, even I could see that not knowing one's comrades/lieges was better than to outright detest them, and therefore I stopped at naive fairy-tale prince in my description of Mamoru.

I went over to the other non-adults. Jadeite was engrossed in the prince as usual, and Nephrite could burn in hell for daring to spank me - how dared he! - but there had been just about a ton too much manipulation and espionage during my life for me to encourage any closeness to grown-ups, let alone trust one.

"Aren't we going soon?" I asked. Considering how late I'd been, I'd figured we'd be off at once.

"Kunzite was seized by a Neptunian ambassador, and we're still waiting for him to return. They say we can afford at least a few more minutes."

"Right," I said disinterestedly. Giving Nephrite a sidelong glance, I tapped my foot against the ground.

"Oh, stop that bloody noise!" he sneered at length, as I'd known he would. All the others were engrossed in some boring conversation or other, hence I felt it safe to blow him a raspberry.

"Why?" I asked with mock sweetness. "If you're so hung over you can't even stand this, you should have stayed in bed."

"I was just starting to hope that you would refrain from leaving yours, princess."

I made a sour mien, at which he grinned sardonically. Bending down a little, he plucked a blossoming pink rose and tucked it behind my ear. At this outrageous behavior, I naturally began hissing and spitting like an angry cat, at last drawing some quite embarrassing and decidedly unwanted attention from the group. Like I cared now.

Fortunately, Kunzite chose that particular moment to appear, arriving just in time to catch the thorny blossom as it flew through the air.

"Now what are you doing?" he asked bemusedly. "Having a flower war?"

Taking in that wonderfully familiar figure, I wasn't sure why I'd been so angry. "Kinda," I answered with a shrug and a sunny smile.

"Then I suppose that this belongs to you." And the big, dark hand offered me the rose. I reached out my hand to take it, my fingers brushing lightly over his. Smiling, he changed his mind and tucked the flower behind my ear. I heard Nephrite make a disgusted noise behind me in delight.

Kunzite-sama's hand moved towards me for barely an instant, as though to touch me, then suddenly fell away. His smile abruptly vanished as he turned away. What the...? I might have assumed that he tried to behave correctly in public, but that would undoubtedly have been quite pointless after putting a flower in my hair. He'd said once that with all the gossiping servants, who were certainly employed by the Kingdom Intelligence every last one of them, there really was no point in trying to put on a different persona. Even though he'd frowned when he said it, it did make sense, so I just didn't understand what he was doing now. My sudden happiness burst like a dream, and, fisting my hands, I noticed that the thorns of the rose had cut me. A thin, uneven line of blood snaked over my finger and down on my palm.

It would have been both easier and faster to simply open a doorway, but since I liked riding, I had no complaints over the century-old tradition which craved that delegates from the Moon be met mundanely at a certain great warp that connected the two kingdoms. The ride was fairly nice, although I didn't have anything more interesting to look at than Kunzite's back.

The company from the fell and fair fairy kingdom on the Moon was a fascinating sight. Among the first of them to appear was a thin, delicate woman with her dark curls in a peculiar hairdo not unlike the one favored by the Lunarian queen herself. Her face was that of a girl, yet her aura was far too dignified and demanding for such a word.

Her energy was strange, winding about her in peculiar loops - far clearer than the mildly yellow dress of so uncommon a fashion did it tell the story of a traveler from very far away. The way it centered around the crystalline pendant on her breast made her identity obvious. All in all, I'd expected the famous Lady Luna to make a more impressing figure.

But the rumors did not do her justice either. After all, how could she be both frigid and unfaithful? And as for the other shape-shifter, I had a hard time believing that this woman would stand a pathetic drunk as her husband. I didn't even contemplate the claim that she'd miscarried another man's child - it was simply too absurd.

Unusually tall for a fourteen year old, Mamoru stood half a head taller when she embraced him. From the uncomfortable rustles among the people that I'd come with, I gathered that that had been an unexpected move on her part. Surely they had imagined bows, courtesies, hand-kisses and not anything as natural and intimate as this. Rejoicing in their obvious discomfort, I silently wished her luck. The next moment I remembered that I hated her.

I stared daggers at her all the way back, but fortunately nobody seemed to notice, or at least, no one reacted. Then, after some more boring formalities, I was finally allowed to leave. Seeing how Kunzite and Nephrite appeared to be staying with the crown, I contemplated joining Jadeite and Mamoru. They weren't the best company I could imagine, but anything was better than being mad all by myself.

* * * * * * * *

The page telling us that Lady Luna would appreciate our presence left me strangely relived. It had been almost an hour since I and the two youngest Tennou had been dismissed from the delegation, sent off to play like the unimportant and ignorant children they appeared to regard us as. In Zoisite's volatile, unpredictable company, it had been a fairly long time.

Jadeite adored the little blonde, that much was more than obvious, but I wasn't quite sure I shared that favorable opinion. Zoisite was refreshing company, no doubt about it, spontaneous and impetuous in a very charming way. I couldn't just overlook, though, how at other occasions he was rude and completely impossible to deal with. Jadeite usually just shrugged that last away with a, "Kunzite can handle him." Fairly often, I suspected that Kunzite was the only one who could handle him. If the first Tennou hadn't arrived when he did before we took of to meet Luna and the others, it could easily have become a disaster. I remembered unhappily how every single member of the party had shrunken away, doing their best to ignore and thus hopefully be ignored by the Tennou.

As we trotted of to the designed meeting place, I wondered curiously what Lady Luna would make of us, or rather, of them. I'd heard that she was training the Sailor Senshi, and doing a job as good as hard. Fate show the planetary avatar mercy, who didn't live up to her standards - or who was half as arrogant to her as these Shitennou seemed to consider normal. On the other hand, the Senshi weren't demi-gods.

The others were already there - Nephrite posing in the window, Kunzite sitting the only chair and the small black cat occupying a little table. I nodded in greeting before taking place on a couch. Jadeite sat down next to me, whereas Zoisite simply folded his legs beneath him on the floor. It should have looked childish, ridiculous, but as always when Zoisite did something, it appeared to be the only right thing to do, as though it was sitting on furniture that was strange. I had no idea how he managed to pull that kind of thing off, but I'd be willing to give a great deal to learn it myself.

Elegantly jumping down from the table, Luna curled up in his lap. Zoisite scratched her behind the ears, not even seeming surprised. I guessed he shouldn't - everyone was drawn to him like flies to honey. It was just the way he was. One could get mad at him for being an impossible brat, certainly, but one could never ignore him. I didn't know if it was accurate, but I personally had a theory that it might be his power making a subconscious manifestation. Probably he just had a remarkable personality.

I shifted my weight uncomfortably, as the atmosphere of the room was fairly awkward. Jadeite was tense, Zoisite was unhappy, and though I couldn't read them half as well, the other two Tennou didn't seem to be in good moods either.

"You asked us to come here, and so we did," Kunzite said at length. "What do you want?"

"Oh dear, we sound cranky today," Nephrite replied lazily. "And here I thought I was the only one suffering a hang-over." That didn't sound like his usual self at all, and he regarded his comrade searchingly. It was almost as if he was trying to provoke him into some sort of revelation.

"I'm quite confident that you are perfectly capable of entertaining those yourself, and I assure you that I would never dream of intruding on your domain." The tone was icy, but lacked its usual sharp edge. If it hadn't been Kunzite, I would have said that he looked weary.

I had to speak up. Really, this would never do, and someone had to try and take charge of things before it all went overboard. "Tennou-san," I tried.

"Mmh?" Nephrite said, then shrugged and bent over to open the window. "My deepest regrets, but I'm suffering a hellish headache and an equally strong desire to get out of here. If this was all you needed me for, I'll take my leave now."

There was really nothing I could do, but it was...humiliating, definitely humiliating. He hadn't even called me 'my prince'. Well, Nephrite never used any form of title towards me. He probably has authority problems. The thought was small consolation.

"Matte yo." I turned my head, seeing Lady Luna in her human shape.

Looking back towards Nephrite, I had the dubious pleasure of watching a highly insolent grin play over the auburn-haired Tennou's lips. "Gomen," he said, "but you're still not my type." And then he jumped and was out of our sight. I closed my eyes a moment. What did I do to deserve this? I knew I wasn't in position to command them, but did they really have to make it so extremely obvious that I had no authority whatsoever?

"I'm most terribly sorry, Lady Luna," I gritted out between my teeth. "Please accept our most humble apologies. I'm sorry to say this, but with all the energies of the Tennou here, I'm afraid your transformation wand might suffer damage. If you'll let us, rest assured that the problem will soon be taken care of." I'm cheeks were positively burning, and she didn't look overly happy either, but at least she didn't say anything before reassuming her cat form. I turned to the silver-haired man. I had to try. Honestly, there were limits. "Kunzite-san."

"My prince?" His dark, deep voice was smooth and expressionless. Unlike Nephrite, the first of the Tennou had never cringed about voicing my titles, but even though there was no scorn in his tone, the words were uttered just like any other, as though he was talking to an equal, or perhaps someone higher ranking who still had no right to judge him or anything he did.

"I fear I must say that I found both you and Nephrite-san quite rude in regards to our honored guest."

If I could ever bent them to my will - or at least, have them agree to pretend that such was the case - I'd have the most effective weapon in the galaxy. Despite my hardest efforts, I doubted that I managed to hide my discomfort as Kunzite looked at me, as though faintly surprised that I'd spoken. For some obscure reason, I remembered someone saying that I was too soft for the Earth but too hard for the Moon. I'd have to be hard now.

"You are quite correct," Kunzite emitted calmly. "My most sincere regards to Lady Luna." He nodded to her, his gaze momentarily darting to where she was still sitting in Zoisite's lap, his face suddenly despaired. No, I had to be imagining.

Then, as I was fighting to come up with an appropriate answer, there was a loud thud outside. For the first few seconds, none of us moved. Jadeite, who hadn't moved an inch since he sat down beside me, kept his gaze steadily on the floor. 'If you don't want anyone to notice you', he'd told me once, 'then keep yourself beneath their dignity. Really, how did you think the servants know so much?'

"Zoisite," Luna said at length. "Take a look at it."

"No." The word was uttered indifferently, absently. Zoisite's concentration was obviously elsewhere.

"Why is that?" Luna asked sharply. I supposed she could generally expect obedience, and undeniably, we were all somewhat on edge.

Zoisite's gaze finally turned to the cat. He looked...was that anger or sadness in his eyes? "Because I don't want to."

'On edge' evidently didn't suffice to describe Luna's emotional state - she hissed, lifted a paw with bared claws and said, "Do it."

First I almost thought that Zoisite was going to laugh - then the cat launched a full frontal attack against his face, and there was only fury. "Don't you dare!" he sneered venomously, his tone all but scandalized.

My magic was too weak and underdeveloped to allow me to see the energies that wrapped themselves around the little animal, but I did have a very clear view of how she was violently thrown through the room. Oh gods!

I didn't know whether it was Kunzite or Jadeite who stopped the fatal voyage, but I was certainly very grateful that it was done before Luna struck the opposite wall - considering her speed, she would probably have broken through it. As it was, he was still dumped rather carelessly on the floor and remained lying there, as if dizzy. Well, she would be, considering how the auras of the Tennou had affected her amulet.

I was on my feet immediately, yet I hadn't taken more than a step before Zoisite knelt beside the cat. It appeared I might at well sit down again. The fourth Tennou cradled the limp animal in his arms, mumbling stuff at the lines of, "I'm sorry, Luna-san, truly. Are you hurt? Gomen nasai, I shouldn't have..."

It all ceased when Luna resumed her attack.

"Why you damnable little - "

Undoubtedly, it would have been quite interesting to hear what Zoisite intended to say - being the prince, I was hardly allowed to associate with anyone who could teach me to swear creatively. On the other hand, doing nothing and thus letting the little blonde destroy the entire peace treaty of the galaxy would definitely give me reason to use the few curses I knew. The problem was that I doubted that Zoisite would listen to me at the best of time, let alone now that he was furious. Fortunately, there was someone else here whom the spoiled brat found fit to obey.

In a way, it was outrageous that it was when Kunzite rose that the entire room seemed to breath a sigh of relief, as though all troubles must give way for his presence - it should have been for me, for Mamoru Endymion, prince of Earth, but I was not the one to command such a charm.

A heavy, restraining hand fell on Zoisite's shoulder, long dark fingers closing around it. "Temper, little one." Calm and affectionate though it was, his voice held a underlying thread of decisiveness and...pain?

Had previous experience not taught me otherwise, I would've been dead certain that Zoisite was bound to explode at that - no matter how commanding an aura imposed on him, the youngest Tennou was hardly known for bowing smoothly to authority. In fact, most authority stopped where his desires began. But perhaps, I thought, he felt the urge only to test masters that he didn't respect, because he rose to his feet gracefully, gently lowering Luna to the floor.

Since she made no attempts to move, I wasn't sure whether she was freed from the energy-bonds or not. Yes, she moved her tail, she was released.

The little cut on Zoisite's hand was fast healed, yet it took much longer for Kunzite to let go of his hands. Deciding that my curiosity won over my higher emotions, I kept my gaze on them. Beside me, Jadeite was apparently struggling with the same dilemma.

"Kunzite-sama," the copper-haired boy said hesitantly, still that sweet though slightly hurt smile on his up-turned face, "do you really have to leave?" There were tears in the quiet voice.

"I'm afraid so, little one. I -" The rest of whatever he'd intended to say drowned in Zoisite's low sob. For barely a moment, there seemed to be some kind of struggle in Kunzite's face - then he had his arms tightly around Zoisite and rested his chin on top of the smaller boy's head as he buried his face in Kunzite's shoulder. "It'll be all right, Zoi. I'll be coming back soon, promise."

It appeared, I thought belatedly, as though the green-eyed Tennou's fondness for Lord Kunzite wasn't half as one-sided as I had thought. Perhaps that was something which I could use in order to get on somewhat more even terms... I shook my head slightly, making an inward grimace at my own folly. If I tried anything like it, Kunzite would doubtlessly kill me. This was Earth, after all, not the subtle, intrigant Moon - Earth, where one took what one wanted, so long as one could, and where the strongest always prevailed. Lady Luna must certainly be shocked, having so rudely experienced her kingdom's dignified carefulness turn into this realm's primal, primitive openness. It was not unusually a tad violent and sudden as well, least compared to the Lunarian Empire of dreamy fairy tales.

"I've got an appointment with one of the sensei on the training range, so if you'll excuse me I'll be going now," Jadeite said, carefully avoiding my eyes as he rose from the couch. Before he could receive any sort or reply, he vanished in a swirl of blue energy. Here in the palace, aided by the latent spells, I might just have been able to follow him, but he hadn't exactly looked like he wanted company. Besides, my magic was fairly erratic, above average in some certain aspects, but sadly lacking in others, and I didn't think the prospect of ending up in the wrong place a very attractive one. Still, there's obviously something wrong. I wonder if he wants to talk about it.

However, companionable as we might be, we hadn't known each other all that long, and there was still a lot of personal stuff between us. Even Nephrite and Kunzite, who didn't even really like him, knew him better than I.

At this point, Zoisite appeared to have calmed down fairly well, as no more sobs shook the thin back. Kunzite held him for a moment longer, closing his eyes against the smaller boy's hair, then gently disentangled himself until they were only standing next to each other, although at a close proximity and with Zoisite's fingers curled around the older Tennou's.

"The training yard, huh?" Zoisite said, giving the spot from which Jadeite had vanished a slightly worried glance. "I guess I should go after him."

"Yes, you probably should."

At first, I'd had the impression that Kunzite simply ignored Zoisite's holding his hand, but now, looking harder, I saw the silver-haired youngster's thumb brush quickly over Zoisite's before he let go. Then, after closing his eyes in concentration, the youngest Tennou was gone as well.

Erasing the last races of a sad smile from his features, Kunzite knelt down in front of Luna. He did say, "if you permit", I had to admit that much, but he didn't wit for any reply from the cat before two bronze-golden fingers plucked her amulet away. "My apologies, Lady Luna." There was a strange sincerity that I had not expected in his words, spoken as his fingertips brushed lightly over the little crystal trinket. "I trust we will both be more comfortable this way." After putting the amulet back around her neck, he leaned back on his heels as she erupted in white-golden light. Fading, it left a small, graceful human female.

"Why thank you, Kunzite-tennou."

He gave her only a faint smile as he extended a hand to her, easily drawing her to her feet. "Lady Luna."

She stared into eyes of silvery ice for a moment, shuddering, and I ached in sympathy - what demi-god could you reasonably have a staring-contest with?

"I was against the creation of you from the beginning." She spoke calmly enough, but...edgy. "Beings of questionable loyalty and unquestionable power, obviously not half as leashed as ought to be. I fear you." Her smile was very sad. "Oh, I'm aware of the sacred choice you bring, the possibility to create one's own destiny. I don't care. I've seen too much darkness, too much chaos - I don't give a damn whether it's all predestined, all orderly, so long as it is light. They are fools who compare you to the Senshi - which of them are of the seed of Chaos?" She blinked, slowly. "I am not ashamed to admit I fear that which killed Diana."

"I'm sorry," Kunzite offered at length.

She only shook her head. "If you'll excuse me."

We mumbled something at the lines of yes, then stood in silence for a little while before Kunzite made to leave as well, offering a polite though not overly submissive nod in my general direction.

"Wait, please," I stuttered, and the turned. "Kunzite-san, I am crown prince of this planet. Could we try to...?"

He gave me what could almost be called a grin. "If you wanted to deceive the cat-woman, you should have said so before we arrived here."

"So we something out?" I asked cautiously.

"I would believe so. After all, we aren't enemies. We should both be able to profit from a certain amount of cooperation. Just tell me in advance, next time. I'll see you around, I assume." And I was left alone in the room with the last sparkles of energy from his teleport. Quite satisfied.

* * * * * * * *

Jadeite was standing with his favored sword as I appeared in my fancied flurry of flower petals. He went through the motions precisely, like a well-oiled machine, following the instruction book in every detail.

"Ne, Jadeite," I called by way of greeting. "This just isn't healthy."

He never stopped the Phases of the Sword as he turned towards me. "Zoisite? Did Kunzite send you?"

What the...? Sure, it's nice that he thinks Kunzite's concerned about him, but I'm not some sort of servant to be sent around with messenges. "No," I said, "even though he did agree that it was a good idea for me to come here."

"Oh? I thought Mamoru-san was the only one who worried about me like that."

"Mamoru isn't like us. He can't understand." I had no idea, really, how I would feel it Mesala would die. I didn't think I wanted to know. But certainly the prince would never be able to understand a Tennou - on the other hand, perhaps that was exactly what Jadeite needed. Or at least what he thought he needed. "Seriously, thought," I tried to change the subject, "why are you doing this?"

"Because I need to." He looked down, shaking his head slightly, then corrected himself, "Because I want to."

"No, you don't. You only think you want to because this is what she always told you to want."

He shrugged. "Even so, it's been so thoroughly imprinted in me that I can't imagine not wanting it anymore."

This was just too sad, and so I caught on to the important issue here, the one we had so briefly touched previously. "You know, Jadeite, I'm your friend too." His eyes misted over at that, and I thought he was going to cry, which would have been all right, except that perhaps then he would need more than I could offer. 'I know! Kiss him! It should work. Everyone knows he's in love with you, so just hurry up before he suffers permanent damage' - usually I just put it up to Nephrite's usual bullshitting, but then again, maybe he had had a point this time. It hadn't been unpleasant to kiss him. Not exactly, even though it wasn't an experience that I particularly wanted to repeat. "Come on," I said, flashing the startled Jadeite a brilliant grin. "If you're so set on this, let's spar a little."

We did so amiably, lightly. After a while, he was even infected by my laughing, enough so to give one himself. No one could ruin this, what little it was that we had.

* * * * * * * *

return to Index / go to Chapter 8

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury