So. I had to make a whole new post for this story because it was too damn large for the entry with the other shitennou stories. Great. This the Venus/Kunzite "La Petite Mort".
Title: Cast This Darkness From My Soul
Theme: "The Only One" by Evanescence
Genre: Angst/Drama/Smut (take your pick)
Version: Manga (Crystal Tokyo)
All your lies,
I'm not believing.
Heaven shine a light down on me.
And you're right, I don't deserve you but you know I'm not the only one.
— Evanescence, The Only One
“All this time you’ve been alive and you didn’t let me know. Not a word. Not even a dream.”
She stood there, arms folded, blonde hair blowing around her figure like a cloak. He remembered what it had felt like to roll in that hair, to wrap it around his fingers, to watch it slip over her naked breasts.
“You knew I was alive.”
“You know what I mean!” She strode forward, high heels clicking, sending shivers up his spine. “Don’t play semantic games with me, you’re not in court now.”
“Aren’t I?” The question was soft but it stopped her in her tracks. “It seems to me that I am in court, and you’re the judge, jury and executioner.”
“I won’t execute you unless I have to,” she said.
“I feel so reassured. No, don’t say anything. You shouldn’t even have promised me that, really. Come inside. The least we can do is talk on equal terms.” He turned and walked ahead of her. Manners were redundant in this situation, there was no way she would willingly show him her back. The steps rang under her heels and he had to marvel at how easily she moved. He left the light off so the room was bathed in the neon lights of the street and turned to face her. She lifted a hand to the brooch in the centre of her chest and pressed it, the uniform disappearing and becoming a short black dress. A party dress. He wondered where she was supposed to be. Something to do with the industry, no doubt.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she demanded and there was a catch in her voice. “Were you so afraid of my reaction?”
“Afraid?” He shook his head. “No. I just wanted you to have a chance at happiness.”
“Happiness!” She laughed and looked out of the window. “My God, you have no idea.”
He felt the first prickles of anger. “No idea? Didn’t you dream of being a singer?”
She glared at him. “Yes.”
“Didn’t you want a famous boyfriend who’d shower you with gifts and attention?”
“Didn’t you want your name to be on everybody’s lips?”
He felt some kind of satisfaction that she was admitting this out loud. “You’ve got everything you wanted and you’re telling me you’re not happy?”
“NO!” she screamed, hurling the word. “No, I’m not happy, and I didn’t even know why until he told me you were back!”
The words hung in the air for a moment. He didn’t know which of them was more shocked, but she was the first to recover. “Ever since I first began to fall in love, I knew I was searching for something, for someone,” she said, suddenly quiet. “And I had some idea of what he looked like, because the boys I liked were all the same: fair and confident and always out of my reach, somehow. But I never put it all together because I didn’t have all the pieces. So no matter how I tried, I couldn’t solve the puzzle. But tonight, Endymion gave me the final piece. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because you deserve someone better.”
She stared at him. “Better?” she repeated. “Better than you?”
“Much better than me.”
She shook her head. “He doesn’t exist.”
“There are hundreds of men who—“
“Aren’t you and never will be you, so don’t try and tell me that they’re better than you!” she flared. Then she gave him a smug smile. “Objection overruled.”
She was taunting him. She was taunting him in his own language. He couldn’t believe the audacity and yet he should have expected it. Infuriated, he strode forward and grabbed her by the shoulders. “Don’t you understand?!” he yelled, feeling her jump. “You deserve better! You deserve better than a two times traitor with blood on his hands! There are plenty of decent men in this world, go and find one of them!”
“They’re not you!” she yelled back, pushing his hands off. “You’re the one who doesn’t understand, Kunzite. Even if there are better men in this world than you — which I doubt — I don’t want them. I want you. Why is that so hard to grasp?”
“Because I don’t deserve you!” For a moment she thought he was going to do something terrible — not to her, but to himself. Then the rage seemed to vanish, just as it always had, back inside him, deep inside. He stared at her, into her. “But what’s worse is you think you don’t deserve me,” he said softly.
She turned from him. “Don’t do that!”
“Read my mind… how can you still do that?” She hugged herself. “It’s not fair…”
“For what? For still knowing me so well? Pretty pointless apology.” She tried to smile.
“For everything.” He reached out and pulled her into his arms, noticing that she automatically fitted herself against him. “I can’t do much to make up for it now, I know that, but I am sorry.” He cupped her face in his hands, trying not to feel the softness of her skin. “I never meant to hurt you.”
She gazed up at him with such clear eyes. “You hurt me every time you say that you don’t deserve me.”
“Who does deserve you?” he asked, his hands sliding back into her hair of their own free will. It was just as thick as he remembered, just as silky. “Who deserves a world saviour? Who deserves the Goddess of Love and Beauty? Who deserves Aino Minako?” He shrugged. “I can’t really think of anybody.”
“And there’s nothing I can do to change your mind.”
“No. So you’d better go to whatever party you’re missing and let Artemis know you’re alive. Because I know you didn’t tell him you were coming here.”
Minako snorted. “Of course not. He’d have had forty fits.”
“And now he’s having fifty because he has no idea where you are.”
“In this case, I think that’s a good thing,” she replied, but she didn’t move. She remained exactly where she was, just looking at him, all golden hair and long legs, legs that would be perfect wrapped around his hips as he held her up against the wall and —
Kunzite shook his head. “You really should go.”
“And you should take your hands out of my hair, but I don’t think either of us really want that,” she pointed out, smirking and then sighing as he sunk his fingers even further into the golden mass and tipped her head back, exposing that perfect white neck. He wanted to sink his teeth into that soft flesh, he wanted to hear her moan his name just like before and more, he wanted everything.
“Go on,” she whispered, eyes closed. “Go on, please.”
He stared at her, helpless, exposed, begging him to carry out his fantasies. “Why did you come here?” he asked, amazed that his voice sounded so normal.
She opened her eyes and stared at him. “Only you,” she said, her voice deadpan. “Here I am, telling you to do whatever you want, and you ask me why I’m here.”
“That’s why you love me,” he said, and he meant it to be a joke, but her eyes changed and she looked away and he felt as if she’d winded him. “Minako… I didn’t…”
“I know you didn’t,” she said, straightening and pulling away. “But you’re right, I should go. If you can joke about that, then I really have no business being here. I shouldn’t have come in the first place.”
“No!” He leapt in front of her and she stared up at him, hostile once more, eyes brimming with anger. His mind raced. “You haven’t answered my question,” he said.
“Why did you come here? And don’t say that it was just because Endymion told you. You wouldn’t miss an industry party just to see if it was true, that could have waited.”
She suddenly laughed. “You think I’m going to a party?”
“Why else would you be wearing a dress like… oh.” He felt his whole body heat up with that one realisation. “Oh,” he said again.
Minako smirked. “Yes, ‘oh’,” she said, running a finger down his chest. “I knew you’d get there eventually. You’re a clever boy.” Then she glanced down and up again, and her smirk widened. “Sorry, I should say ‘man’, shouldn’t I? Little boys don’t have this problem.” And she pushed her hips up against his. Kunzite came very near to having her against the wall for a few moments. He breathed in very deeply and heard her laugh in delight.
“Have I answered your question?”
“You chose that dress for me,” he said, focusing on the one tangible fact remaining in his lust-blurred mind.
“I know you like my legs — you did last time. And this dress definitely shows off my legs.” She turned, giving him a full view. “Wouldn’t you agree?”
“Yes,” he said in a whisper.
“But then you like everything about me, don’t you?” she followed in a lower voice, her eyes darkening.
“And you want everything, don’t you?” she whispered, looking up at him.
“Yes,” he sighed, knowing that this was the last thing he should be admitting, but he didn’t care. She looked good enough to eat and he was starving.
“So you want me… and I want you… what’s stopping us?” she asked, tangling her fingers in his hair.
Kunzite attempted to think, because he knew he couldn’t go to pieces every time he was in her company, so he might as well use this as practice. “You have a boyfriend?” he reminded her, and realised that Minako hadn’t mentioned Arashi the whole time she was here. In fact, he’d been the one to mention him, twice now.
Minako laughed. “Oh please. I know you know he’s gay. He hit on you at the New Year’s party, remember?”
“I try not to,” Kunzite retorted, wrapping his arms around her waist, partly because it felt good and partly to suppress that uncomfortable memory. “But his being gay wouldn’t stop you being in love with him, would it?”
She hit him on the shoulder. “Damn you and your inescapable logic,” she muttered. “How come you can still think straight? You should be on your knees by now.”
“Like the others, you mean?”
Minako ignored that question. “Anyway, I’m not in love with him. You know it. You know that I’m just doing him a favour… besides, he has his boyfriend, why shouldn’t I have one, too?”
“Because I refuse to be your bit on the side?”
“Exactly how are you on the side when I don’t have a main course? Unless you want to be the main course,” she added, looking at him as if this had only just occurred to her, which made him feel a bit better about the dress.
“I told you, I want everything,” he whispered.
She blushed and he smiled, bending down and rubbing his cheek against hers. “You know it’s all or nothing.”
“Yes, I know,” she answered, tucking her head under his chin and breathing in the scent of his skin. “And I think it is about time I stopped pretending… with Arashi, at least. I know he thinks he’s going to be the one to end it.” She looked at him, a playful gleam in her eyes. “And that just isn’t going to happen. I’m always the one who ends things.”
“Except with me,” he added, leaning forward and kissing the curve of her neck.
“Except with you,” she agreed, shivering and tipping her head back. “We didn’t really have the chance to end it, did we? We were just… put on hold.”
“And you want to pick up again?” he asked, moving up to her jaw.
“Oh God, yes,” she whispered. “You know I do. You know that’s why I’m here.”
“So… you came to yell at me and hit me… and then pick up where we left off.”
“Yes… although I didn’t realise that when I left.” She laughed but he could hear the tremble in it. “I was so mad… and so hurt… hurt that you wouldn’t tell me.”
“I thought you were happier without me,” he said, kissing her temple.
“I didn’t really have a choice, did I? I had to live without you, so I made the best of it. But I don’t have to do that anymore. Neither do you.” She looked at him, not even trying to hide the emotion on her face. “You can let go. Do you understand? You want everything: well, I’m offering everything, right here, right now. So take the offer. I’m tired, Kunzite. I’m tired of pretending. Pretending to feel something when I don’t feel anything. I feel numb. Do you know how awful that is? To be the senshi of love and feel nothing? And I didn’t even know why until tonight!” She swallowed. “Even if this doesn’t end well, at least it will have been real. At least I’ll feel something again.” She looked away. “I’m tired of being lost without you.”
“We’re all lost, Minako,” he said, cupping her cheek and turning her face back to him. “We’re all grieving. Trying to find the way back home.”
“So come home,” she whispered, resting her hand on top of his.
He knew he shouldn’t. He knew that he had no right to come home; that he was bad for her and that there was no guarantee this would work out; he also knew that she didn’t care. And he knew this was probably the only time she would allow him to see just how much she needed him. Loved him. She loved him. He still couldn’t believe it. He put his hand on her other cheek and kissed her very softly on the lips, feeling her tremble. She looked at him, eyes wide, then her arms slid around his neck and she kissed him back with a sob that rapidly turned into a moan as he slid his hands down and cupped her buttocks, pushing her against him.
“Much as I love this dress, darling,” he whispered, “I think it’s going to have to come off.”
“Well, I was thinking of the bedroom.”
“Good plan,” she sighed, as he set her back on her feet.
After he’d taken the dress off — and the underwear, and the stockings, and suspenders — Kunzite paused on his knees and just looked at her, because he knew that he wouldn’t have the time to do so later and she deserved to be admired. All those curves and me with no brakes, he thought and smiled. Minako smiled back and ran her fingers through his hair. “No scars.”
“Not on the outside,” he agreed, kissing her belly gently, then rising and pulling his T-shirt off.
She reached out and ran her hands up his stomach and chest. He closed his eyes. He would never be muscular like Nephrite, he didn’t bulk up very much, but she wouldn’t find any flab. He was proud of that.
“Very nice,” she whispered. The words were weak but when he opened his eyes, her expression said everything. He put her arms around his neck, picked her up and laid her on the bed. She sat up and curled her fingers over the top of his jeans.
“Let me,” she said, looking up at him. “I want to see you. It’s been so long…”
He nodded and watched as she unbuttoned and unzipped them, careful but quick. She was a little slower with the boxer shorts, like a child with a present, holding her breath as she pulled them down. “Oh,” she sighed, a mixture of delight and greed on her face, “if I wasn’t so desperate…”
Kunzite took one step back, ostensibly to get out of his jeans and boxers, but also because he remembered that look very well. “If you weren’t so desperate, you’d make me beg,” he finished.
Minako gave him a coy look. “I’d have some fun, yes. But that isn’t possible at the moment. At the moment…” She lay back on the bed, arms above her head. “I just want you inside me.”
He’d thought that it was impossible to be more aroused but the combination of those words and that position proved him wrong. He strode forward and grabbed her hips, pulling her forward a little so she rested on the edge of the bed, then spread her legs, thanking heaven that she’d been a gymnast. She watched him from under her eyelashes with a small smile.
“Starving,” he whispered, positioning himself.
Her eyes glittered. “This is going to be good.”
“You don’t know that,” he had to point out.
“Yes, I do. I remember that tone in your voice from last time. You always had it when we hadn’t been able to meet for a while and it always meant the same thing.”
“And what was that?”
Minako pulled his head down and kissed him, deep and intimate. “That we’d make love all night and I’d spend the next day completely satisfied,” she whispered against his mouth. “It was almost worth being away from you so long just to have you like that… like this.”
He let go at those words, at the thought of making love to her all night. And it was as if all the bloodshed and fury and sorrow had never existed, as if they really had just been put on hold. It was just like before. As natural as breathing. They didn’t find a rhythm so much as fall into one, moving slowly but surely towards the same goal. He knew that once wouldn’t be enough, that she’d been right, but he didn’t waste his breath on that. He saved it for whispers in her ear, whispers of encouragement, whispers of love and devotion. She wasn’t quiet, of course, she never had been, but she tried.
“Don’t,” he whispered, finding it harder and harder to focus on the words. “I like it… I like hearing you”
“Don’t hold back… don’t ever hold back with me.” He thrust harder and she cried out in pleasure, digging her fingernails into his shoulders.
“I should warn you… that I scream,” she whispered.
“Yes, I remember.” He bit her neck and she writhed and he grabbed hold of the bedclothes, trying to remain still.
“Very… loudly,” she panted, when she could speak again
“Go ahead; the neighbours should get used to it, after all… I’m not letting you leave tonight.”
She laughed, breathless. “I told you, didn’t I?”
“I will never doubt another word you say,” he promised, falling back into the rhythm once more.
“Good,” she sighed, closing her eyes. “That’s a start.”
She did scream when she came, very loudly, as she’d warned, but he didn’t mind, because she screamed his name and he couldn’t help but feel very satisfied about that. Besides, it wasn’t as if he’d been quiet, either. In the aftermath, he noticed that her skin was glowing slightly, a faint golden light. He could even see the sign of Venus on her forehead, faint but there.
“Mmm?” She opened her eyes slightly, smiling at him.
He reached out and gently traced the sign on her forehead. She shivered and put her hand up. “Oh,” she said, tracing the sign. “That’s never happened before. But I can feel things now. Even if you decide to throw me out, I won’t feel numb anymore.” She grinned. “I’ll hate you and tear down the building but I won’t feel numb.” She pressed her hand above her left breast. “I can feel it. It’s all warm in there. Warm and happy.”
“And you’re glowing.”
“Well, you always made me do that,” she said, snuggling closer.
He wrapped his arms around her. “You’re like an angel, glowing with Heaven’s light,” he whispered.
She looked at him, eyes wide. “That may be the most romantic thing you’ve ever said to me.”
“Well, you are. My light in the dark, shining down on me.” He stroked her hair.
“Still feeling unworthy?” she demanded.
Kunzite paused and then shook his head. “At this moment, all I can feel is…”
“Love,” he finished, and kissed her, feeling her gasp. “Just love.”
Author's Note: The title and cut title come from the song Crossroads by Don McClean. For those interested, here's the rest of the verse:
Can you remember who I was,
Can you still feel it?
Can you find my pain,
Can you heal it?
Then lay your hands upon me now
And cast this darkness from my soul,
You alone can light my way,
You alone can make me whole... once again.
Title: Taking Charge
Theme: "You do not lead by hitting people over the head — that's assault, not leadership." – Dwight D. Eisenhower
Version: Manga (Silver Millennium)
“No, not like that, you do it this way!”
Nephrite thrust his head forward. “And who died and made you king?”
“Kunzite left me in charge —”
“Yeah, that’s turning out to be a real success!”
Jadeite leapt on him and the usual scuffle began as they rolled around on the floor like little boys, punching and kicking, insulting each other’s genitals and mothers with complete abandon. Zoisite sighed and lowered his spear. Endymion sheathed his sword, boiling with frustration.
“They’re not usually this bad, are they?”
“No, because they know Kunzite will smack their heads together.”
Endymion stared at him. “Kunzite wouldn’t do that.”
“It’s a last resort, but I have seen him use it on a few occasions.” Zoisite glanced at his comrades, who were were still punching each other. “Mainly because the only way to separate them when they’re like this is by force.”
Endymion closed his eyes. “I can’t do this,” he said. “I just can’t…”
“Master.” Zoisite looked at him with sympathy but made no move to separate the other two guards. “You are our leader. You can’t rely on Kunzite all the time. That is partly why he went away. You need to be able to handle them.”
Endymion turned away. He felt the criticism, even though Zoisite had put it far more gently than any of the others would have. He often let Kunzite deal with problems among the tennou, even though they were technically all under his command, because he felt that Kunzite had a more commanding presence. He was also aware that he needed to overcome this. So he drew his sword out of its sheath once more, marched over to Nephrite and Jadeite and smacked both of them on the back with the flat of his sword. They both pulled away from each other, protesting angrily.
“ENOUGH!” Endymion yelled and heard his voice ring throughout the room. “I will not have my guards fighting like beggars in the streets! You’re an embarrassment, not just to me, but to yourselves!”
“Nephrite started it…” Jadeite muttered.
“NO,” Endymion snapped, making them both jump. “You’re the one Kunzite left in charge, Jadeite. You’re meant to remain above provocation. But since you can’t manage to do that, I’m taking over. Any objections?” He looked at all three of them. They said nothing. “Good. I don’t want to hear any more about it. We’re here to practise with our weapons, not roll around on the floor. The Jovian delegation will be here in two months. Do you want them to report back to the other planets that we really are no more than barbarians?”
Both Jadeite and Nephrite went red.
“I didn’t think so. Now, let’s start again… and be aware that I will smack your heads together if I have to.”
They both looked shocked but Zoisite turned away to hide a smile. There was no more fighting: a few verbal exchanges, but that was normal for Nephrite and Jadeite, and Endymion found that it was pretty easy to interrupt them if he used the right tone of voice. Nevertheless, he was very glad to see Kunzite when he returned from his diplomatic mission to Venus.
“Nothing happened?” Kunzite asked after the formal welcoming ceremony, when they were able to talk freely.
“Just promise me one thing.”
“Don’t ever stay away that long again. I don’t think I could take it.”
Kunzite smiled, the first real smile Endymion had seen on his face since his return. “Why, did they give you trouble?”
“A little. I managed, I think I can handle them better now… but I’d still feel better with you backing me up.”
“You know you’ll always have my support.” There was something in Kunzite’s voice that made Endymion stop and put a hand on his arm.
“Kunzite, what is it? Did something happen on Venus?”
The older man closed his eyes briefly. “Nearly. But you don’t have to worry.”
“Kunzite…” Endymion felt something cold slither down his spine.
“I’m just tired. I need to rest.”
“Of course…” Endymion let go. “Take as long as you need. Will you… will you tell me?”
“Maybe. Later. At the moment, I’d just like to forget it and enjoy being back home.”
Endymion nodded. “Of course. Go and rest. I’ll see you later.”
Kunzite bowed and left. Endymion watched him walk down the corridor. There was something different, but he couldn’t tell what. He turned and walked the opposite way. The Venusians were notorious for their powers of persuasion, which meant that any diplomat sent there had to be strong-willed and objective. Kunzite fit this profile so perfectly that Endymion hadn’t even bothered to consider a second option when putting the diplomatic team together, but now he wondered if it had been such a wise decision. Although Kunzite had always been the mature one of the group, other people had pointed out that he was still only seventeen, very young to be sent to a planet like Venus. The problem was that there was nobody else who combined Kunzite’s characteristics with his amount of prestige. There were other important men and women who could have gone, but none of them were objective enough; there were people who were strong enough to resist but did not have the credentials to lead such an important mission. In the end, they had all agreed that Kunzite had to be the leader. Now all Endymion could do was hope that whatever invisible injuries Kunzite had sustained on Venus would heal with time.
He walked quicker. He needed to talk to the others.
Title: Straw Men
Version: Manga (Silver Millennium)
The smell of straw was the most comforting smell in the world. Nephrite was convinced of it. No matter how upset he was, he could go into any stable in the world, smell the hay and be reminded him of his home: the flat, rolling prairies of the west, the thick grass that would be cut in the spring and dried in the summer. But in Elysion, the grass was already golden. Only the woods were green. He missed normal grass. He missed normal colours. He missed normality full stop.
He pulled the door back and slipped into the corridor, following his nose, knowing that it wouldn’t be long before the tight pressure in his chest released itself in noisy sobs. There was no way he was letting Jikoku and Zojo know that he was homesick again. They’d laugh at him. Hadn’t he been here the longest? He was already pledged to Endymion, yet he still missed his mummy and daddy. How pathetic.
Nephrite felt the sob swell in his throat and hurriedly pulled back the bolt of the first stable door he found, almost throwing himself inside, seeking the scratchy comfort of the straw.
Someone coughed and he froze. Bishamon, the new boy, rose from where he’d been lying in the darkness, brushing himself down. Nephrite almost burst out crying then and there. The last thing he wanted was this boy knowing that he was a cry-baby.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded, attacking immediately.
Bishamon just looked at him and Nephrite wanted to hit him. Not only was Bishamon the oldest of them all but also the most self-possessed. He’d only been at the palace for three months but he hadn’t cried once. He actually seemed almost happy to be here. And everybody approved of him: the teachers, the guards, even the stupid courtiers. They all said he was going to be the leader when they were tested. Nephrite felt stupid next to him, stupid and reckless and clumsy, and this made him feel even angrier than before.
“Answer my question!” he snapped. “Or are you dumb?”
“I wanted to be alone.”
The answer was so unexpected that Nephrite didn’t know what to say. He could feel the other boy watching him, but there was no malice in his gaze, there was no laughter or even pity, none of the emotions that Nephrite would have expected. He took a deep, shuddering breath. “Well, I’d like to be alone, too. So leave. Please.” He added the last word almost against his will. There was something about Bishamon that demanded respect. Even the courtiers were a little wary around him.
“What do you care?” Nephrite demanded, folding his arms and hoping he looked threatening. Some hope.
Bishamon shrugged. “Maybe I want to be friends.”
“Friends? You and me?” Nephrite laughed. “Why?”
“Why not?” The moonlight coming through the window showed Bishamon’s eyes, silver and unreadable.
“Oh come on, why would you want to be friends with me? You’re the teachers’ pet, the master-at-arms likes you and I know Endymion’s coming around, too, even though he won’t admit it. You’ve got everybody in the palm of your hand. You don’t need me.”
“Everybody needs a friend,” Bishamon said. “Even if what you say is true, it doesn’t exactly make me feel better. It doesn’t make me any less new. It doesn’t stop Jikoku from inventing prank after prank to send me home or Zojo turning every lesson into a competition. You’re the only one who hasn’t tried something.”
Nephrite was silent. He wasn’t used to someone else being truthful. He was usually the one who told the truth. Then Zojo and Jikoku would mock him for being naïve and Endymion would joke about his future as a diplomat.
“It’s not my style,” he said. “And even if I did try something, you wouldn’t get sent home. You’ve been chosen, we all have. We’re stuck here, like it or not. Jikoku and Zojo just haven’t accepted that yet. And they don’t like you being the favourite for leader, either,” he added, thinking that he might as well tell Bishamon the whole truth. At least the other boy seemed to appreciate it.
“But it’s not decided. Nothing’s decided until the trials.”
Nephrite snorted. “So it’s not official yet, big deal. The trials are just a formality. Everyone already knows who’s going to be leader. You hadn’t been here five minutes before you started beating the crap out of all of us. Including Endymion.”
“If I had ‘beaten the crap’ out of Zojo and Jikoku, I wouldn’t be having these problems.”
Nephrite laughed before he realised what he was doing. He choked it down and looked away.
“And you’re pretty clever for someone who pretends to be an idiot.”
This was so unexpected that Nephrite stared at him for a moment. Bishamon actually smiled at him. The movement was faint, but it was definitely a smile. “You can’t tell me all that and then pretend you have no idea what’s going on in lessons. Of course, given the hissy fits that Zojo throws every time I get a higher score than him, I can see why you’d want to keep your head down, but you’re not doing yourself any favours. You can’t go around worrying about what other people will think.”
“I can look after myself,” Nephrite muttered.
“Clearly. That’s why you’re pretending to be the class idiot and you’ve just come here to make sure that they don’t know they made you cry.”
Nephrite lashed out, even though he knew in the back of his mind that this was a stupid idea. Bishamon took out any obvious attack in a matter of seconds, so he wasn’t too surprised to find himself face down in the straw, his arm held behind his back. The grip was firm but not painful. Bishamon never fought dirty.
“You know, you could be a great fighter if you just learned to control that temper of yours,” Bishamon remarked.
Nephrite was so surprised to receive a compliment about his fighting skills that he went limp. Bishamon let go, but instead of leaving, he sat down beside Nephrite in the straw, waiting patiently as the younger boy picked himself up and brushed him down.
“You really think I could be a good fighter?” Nephrite said after some time had passed, more to make sure that he hadn’t imagined those words than for the ego boost.
Bishamon nodded. “Why not? You’ve been chosen. That means you have great potential. We all do. Even if Jikoku and Zojo prefer to waste it at the moment. But they’re young, they’ll learn.” He looked at Nephrite. “Like you said, this is our home now. We’re going to spend the rest of our lives together. We need to be a team, a unit. Otherwise, we won’t be able to do our job properly and we won’t survive all the demands that will be made of us. I’m not saying we have to swear eternal friendship or share blood. I’m just asking for your support.”
Nephrite stared at him for a moment. Then he leaned back in the straw, copying Bishamon’s position, and said, keeping his voice light, “How can you say things like that and then spout crap like ‘nothing’s been decided yet’? Jikoku and Zojo wouldn’t be able to say that. Zojo would start laughing and Jikoku would end up making it into a parody. And I wouldn’t know how to get the words out.”
“My father made sure that I was taught about rhetoric and public speaking.” Bishamon shrugged again. “That’s all it is.”
“Yeah, you just keep believing that if it makes you happy,” Nephrite said, almost punching him in the arm in amusement. He’d heard of modesty but this was ridiculous.
Bishamon sat up. “Just think about what I said.”
“I have thought about it.”
Bishamon looked down at him, that faint amusement in his eyes again. “But I only just said it.”
Nephrite shrugged, smirking. “I’m a fast thinker.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
Nephrite sat up as well. “I think you’re right. What you said makes sense. We all have to work together, so we might as well be friends. So you have my support. For what it’s worth.”
“It’s worth a lot to me.” Bishamon got up again, brushing himself down. “I’ll leave you alone now.”
“Hey!” Nephrite called as he reached the door. Bishamon looked over his shoulder.
“How did you know I was going to come in here?”
Bishamon just smiled at him. “Lucky guess.” Then he stepped into the corridor and shot the bolt home before leaving, so that nobody else could come in without Nephrite knowing.
Sitting there in the straw, Nephrite shivered. For a moment there, Bishamon’s smile had made him look feral, like an animal in a man’s body. He suddenly thought he understood why the courtiers trod carefully around this newcomer. Then he remembered that the newcomer was now his friend and that Jikoku and Zojo would hate it. Nephrite lay back and laughed.
This was going to be fun.
Title: Undercurrents (read after Ashes of Victory and before A Fever High)
Version: Manga (Silver Millennium)
I’ve got a fire in my heart for you,
I’ve got a fire in my heart for you,
I’ve got a fire in my heart, though I’m falling apart,
Still, I’ve got a fire in my heart for you.
— The Super Furry Animals, Fire In My Heart
It was funny: he could take on a stadium of resentful people and seven angry princes, but he couldn’t knock on a door. Hilarious, really.
Jadeite stared at the red wood, as if waiting for it to speak. He could hear the soft murmur of voices inside, but they were too indistinct for him to guess at the conversation. This was ridiculous. He’d arrived ten minutes early and at this rate he’d be ten minutes late before he actually let them know he was here. He shook his head at himself and raised his fist, knocking three times. The voices paused; he heard movement and then the door was opened. It was one of Erinya’s handmaidens. She looked at him coldly.
As if he were nothing more than an errant servant, Jadeite thought, not sure whether to laugh or be insulted. Obviously Erinya’s handmaidens were less than impressed with her escort. He bowed, even though it wasn’t necessary. “I believe the Princess Erinya is expecting me, my lady,” he said.
“I will tell her you are here.” She turned and actually began to close the door in his face.
“Don’t leave him standing in the corridor, Phobos, let him come in!” called Erinya from somewhere inside.
Phobos turned back, her mouth twisted as if she was chewing on something bitter. “Come in,” she said. This time she waited until he was inside the room before shutting the door. “You may wait here,” she said, pointing to a solid wooden chair, and marched through a set of double doors to the left.
Jadeite sat down where she’d indicated. There was no sense in antagonising her, after all. He’d achieved his goal, now he could relax a little. He glanced around. It seemed that Princess Erinya’s quarters were centred around one room, which was filled with scattered chairs and some sort of musical instrument. Jadeite would have liked to investigate, but he could just imagine the look on Phobos’s face if she found him anywhere but the chair. So he sat and admired the decoration. He could hear the conversation better now: even though the words were still lost to him, the tone was very clear. He knew that the handmaidens were warning her against him just by the disapproval and then Erinya laughed, clear and low, and he caught his breath again.
“You act as if he’s some ravening wolf waiting to eat me up. Ridiculous. He’s conducted himself perfectly well so far, I doubt he’ll make any mistakes tonight. Stop fussing.”
The last word became even clearer as the doors opened. Jadeite stood up and bowed, not just out of respect but to prepare himself. He had no idea how he’d react when looking into those eyes a second time.
“Your Highness,” he said, taking her outstretched hand and pressing his lips to her knuckles. She laughed and he wondered if he was imagining the breathless edge, if he’d imagined the slight tremble that had moved through her body when his lips touched her.
“Thank you for being so patient, Lord Jadeite,” she said and he looked up. She was wearing another red dress but this was different: it had a sort of chiffon panel in the front and it was cut much lower than before. He could see the tops of her breasts and the curve of her shoulders and her long, elegant neck. For a moment, his throat went dry, then he swallowed and made himself speak.
“I’ve waited longer for ladies who did not look half so lovely,” he said, straightening. A clumsy compliment but the best he could do at present.
Erinya looked up at him through her eyelashes and he had stop himself swaying forward. “Pretty words, my lord. Are you a courtier as well as a warrior?”
“I am a man of many talents,” he answered.
“Let us see if you include dancing among them. Phobos and Deimos wish me to be back here by midnight. Do you agree?” Her eyes were dancing with laughter but he could tell that this was important.
“Of course, all unmarried ladies have to retire by midnight, we have the same rule on Earth,” he assured her. “I will make sure that she is back here by the last stroke,” he added with a small bow to the handmaidens. They nodded but did not reply.
Erinya kissed them both on one cheek, hugged them, then took his arm. Deimos opened the door to let them out. Jadeite could feel her eyes on his back as they walked silently down the corridor. Only when they had turned the corner did he hear the door close. Erinya let out a sigh.
“For a moment there, I thought they were going to tie me to the bed… or kill you.” She glanced at him, waiting to see his reaction.
Jadeite laughed. “I think the second option is more likely. If you’d kept your back turned long enough, that is.”
A smile spread over her lips and she hugged his arm a little tighter. “I apologise for them. They are very protective of me and they are… unaccustomed to Earthlings.”
“You mean they think I’m a barbarian and as soon as I’ve got you alone, I’ll drag you back to my planet, rape you and marry you,” Jadeite said dryly.
Erinya looked up at him, her eyes wide, and he looked right back at her. “I know what they say about me, your Highness. I know what people think of Earthlings. Ever since the day I entered the Games, I’ve been accused repeatedly of cheating, bribing, even taking drugs or using magic to enhance my performance. All anonymous, of course. I am officially the most unpopular contestant that has ever participated and also the most maligned. It doesn’t matter that the judges have continually proclaimed my innocence. People need to believe that I’m a cheater. I’m an Earthling therefore I have no honour. I’m the scum of the Earth. People like to believe that. They take comfort in it. That’s why stereotypes exist, of course…” He stopped, realising that the last thing he should be doing was discussing philosophy.
Erinya was looking at him. Her gaze was no longer startled but intense. “So you have a brain behind those pretty blue eyes,” she said slowly. “I knew you had to be clever to do what you did with Ares, but I didn’t know you were a thinker. No wonder you did so well. No wonder they’re so scared of you.”
Jadeite was still reeling from the ‘pretty blue eyes’ remark. “I don’t pretend to be stupid just to make people feel better, no,” he said.
“Neither do I,” Erinya replied and she looked full into his face. If there had been a burning in Jadeite’s chest before, that was nothing compared to the fire that now swept through his body, burning away everything but the desire to keep on looking into her eyes, to somehow possess the soul that stared out of them, fierce and free and so different from any he’d known before. He tore his eyes away, feeling a wrench inside as he did so.
“Will your brothers behave themselves when they see us together?” he asked, his voice remarkably calm considering the fever that was currently raging through his heart.
“If they don’t, I’ll make them regret it,” Erinya said, completely sure of herself.
Jadeite nodded. He’d noticed how effective her threat had been. "You are the one with the most powerful magic," he said, thinking out loud.
Erinya looked at him and then she laughed softly. “Yes, I suppose you could put it like that. They may be physically stronger than me but when it comes to fire… they know they should never challenge me on that subject.” Her eyes flashed red and Jadeite knew that she was talking about more than just fire, but he didn’t enquire further.
“Shall we?” he asked and she nodded. They made polite conversation as they walked down to the ballroom, by silent but mutual agreement. It wouldn’t do to seem too involved. It wouldn’t do to seem too friendly.
The King and Queen were waiting for them. Ares nodded as they arrived: he was dressed in red and gold, reminding Jadeite of a phoenix. Bellona was dressed in the same style as Erinya, a red dress with a clear panel in front, but her neckline wasn’t quite as daring. They had the same fair skin, the same purple eyes. They even had their hair up in the same style: a sort of top knot that made it seem as if the hair were a sort of halo around the head. The resemblance between mother and daughter, already noticeable, became striking as she smiled at him.
Jadeite bowed. “Your Majesties.”
“We are just waiting for the princes and the ball may begin,” she told him. “I hope you haven’t had any trouble because of what happened today.”
“Not at all, your Majesty,” he replied, feeling the sudden tension in Erinya’s arm. “Everyone has given me due respect.”
Bellona’s eyes lingered on his face and Jadeite wondered if she’d heard about his little encounter in the corridor. She turned and looked at her daughter and Jadeite saw her face soften. “Are you happy with your escort?”
Erinya turned her head away. “Shouldn’t you be asking Lord Jadeite if he’s happy with his prize?” The pique in her tone combined with the turn of the head reminded Jadeite that she was only sixteen and not as poised as she might seem
“Oh, I can tell he’s happy,” Bellona said with a small smile, unruffled by her daughter’s rudeness. “It’s hard to miss.”
Jadeite had to control the urge to clear his throat. What was hard to miss? He glanced down discreetly, as if checking his boots: no, his trousers were perfectly smooth, no bulge, nothing. Perhaps she’d read something in his eyes: after all, he couldn’t be the first man to be struck by Erinya’s looks and grace. He breathed in and told himself that everything would be fine. All he had to do was keep her company until midnight, not too hard. Erinya spoke, still looking away.
“He survived an encounter with Phobos and Deimos… I think he’s worthy.”
“Thank Mars for that,” Bellona said, a definite hint of irony in her voice now. She glanced beyond them. “And your brothers have arrived.” She touched Ares on the shoulder and he glanced at her for a moment, obviously puzzled. Then his face cleared and he nodded. Jadeite took the opportunity to look at Erinya, who was now staring straight ahead, expressionless. She’d stopped actually holding his arm. Her hand just rested against his elbow like a dead fish. She was obviously upset by the conversation with her mother, though why he did not know.
“My lords, ladies and gentlemen,” Ares boomed. “Once again we have come to the end of our great Games. Let us celebrate the winners and another successful year!”
The crowd applauded politely, too well bred to show what they thought of an Earthling being included among the winners, let alone as the escort of their only princess. Jadeite bowed from the waist, making sure he didn’t move Erinya’s hand. He suspected she’d take it away at the first opportunity.
The orchestra struck up the first dance. The winners and the King and Queen walked onto the floor: the rest of the crowd would only join in on the second measure. Jadeite was glad that this was a slow one, it meant he could look into Erinya’s face and actually try to get an answer out of her. She kept her head slightly turned but he’d expected that.
“Is this all I’m going to get for the rest of the evening?” he asked. “The cold shoulder?”
“What were you expecting?” she asked coolly.
“Preferably someone who was alive.”
The words had the desired reaction: she looked at him, stung, flushing red. “How dare you—!”
“Oh, I’ll dare far more before the night is over,” he whispered, pulling her in close. “Have I suddenly offended you, your Highness? I came to the dance with a living girl and now I have a cipher, a statue, a machine.”
She trembled, he felt it. She trembled all through her body and he felt something inside shudder in sympathy, in longing. “You do not have to dance with me all evening,” he murmured. “I am not going to keep you chained to my arm if there is someone here you have been wanting to see.”
“You are mistaken,” she answered, immediate and forceful, and he felt shamefully glad. “There is no such person, not in the way you imply.”
“Then what is it?” he insisted, resisting the urge to brush his lips against the curve of her ear, so close and so perfect for nibbling.
“My mother,” she said, lowering her eyes, the words almost dragged out of her.
Jadeite nodded. “I noticed that you were annoyed by something she said,” he commented.
“Not something, everything,” Erinya retorted and he felt her grip return as she twirled slowly in his arms. “She thinks she knows me inside out, even though I haven’t actually lived here since I was five years old. She assumes things…” Her blush burned deeper and Jadeite wondered what she was thinking. “She has no right to assume such things,” Erinya continued, looking at him. “Asking me whether I liked my escort… she only did that because she knew it would annoy me.”
“It seemed to me she asked because it was important to her,” Jadeite replied, careful to keep his tone neutral. “The last thing any mother wants is for her daughter to be miserable.”
“Then she shouldn’t have asked me to attend this ball in the first place!” Erinya hissed. “Let alone be someone’s ‘prize’!”
He looked at her and raised both eyebrows. “You are not the prize, your Highness. This night is the prize, this night with you in your… gracious company.” She looked up, her eyes burning at the ironic inflection in his voice. “I’m terribly sorry to have taken up so much of your time when you obviously have better things to do,” Jadeite continued. “After this dance, you may consider yourself free.”
“No!” She grabbed his upper arms, still within the rules of the dance, though most ladies were holding their partners at the elbows. “No, please…” She lowered her eyes and her voice. “Please, don’t do that. I don’t want… she would be so disappointed.”
Yes, she was still very young, Jadeite thought. Young enough to rage against her mother yet desperately long for her approval. For a moment, looking at her down-turned head, he almost felt like a brother to her. Almost. There was that little matter of the ache in his belly.
“Very well,” he said. “But no more ice, understand? Throw as much fire as you want, but don’t try and freeze me out.”
She looked up and a small smile slipped over her lips, just like her mother’s, and for a second he lost his breath again.
“You’re not afraid of anything, are you?” she asked.
“I don’t fear much, no,” he answered. “But I suspect you’re the same way.”
“I hardly expected,” she began, then stopped.
“Yes?” he prompted.
“It doesn’t matter.”
Jadeite began to repeat his question, then stopped. He had the rest of the evening to find out what she hadn’t expected. Right now, they were dancing and he hadn’t even shown her how good he could be when he put his mind to it. He twisted her out and pulled her back in again. Erinya’s eyes widened and she laughed for a moment.
“Are you trying to see how far you can push my brothers?” she asked.
“I want to make sure that you enjoy the rest of this evening,” he answered, then bent forward and whispered in her ear, “taunting your brothers is just an enjoyable consequence of that.”
She really did laugh this time and he knew that people were looking at them, but he didn’t care. He’d done that. He’d made her laugh. He’d put that light in her eyes. The triumph was dizzying and terrifying. He shouldn’t care this much, but it seemed there was no way to stop. All he could do was give in and enjoy the feeling, enjoy the fall. By the end of the dance, he could feel knives in his back again.
“If looks could kill, you would have been dead twenty times over,” Erinya observed as the music stopped and he bowed.
“If only all balls were this much fun,” he responded, watching her blush as she curtsied.
“You’d better not go anywhere alone tonight,” she warned, taking his arm as they walked towards the dais, where the dining table had been set up.
“Does that mean you’ll be accompanying me back to my rooms, then?” He smiled a little. “I don’t think your handmaidens would be pleased about that.”
“They’ll understand,” she said, surprising him. “The Earthling ambassador should not be assaulted on the day of his triumph. Besides… I will never be associated with any man. I’m safe, as far as rumours are concerned.”
That was a strange way to put it, Jadeite thought, as he pulled out her chair. ‘Never be associated’: as if there were something stopping people from putting their names together, some invisible barrier. As if she would never even be friends with a man, let alone anything else. Erinya sat down and he sat beside her, deep in thought. Maybe he had imagined that breathless edge to her laughter or maybe he’d just read too much into it. After all, she was young and she probably wasn’t used to so much attention. Even as the thought came to him, he rejected it. Erinya was a princess, she’d been the centre of attention from birth, and with her looks and carriage, there must be plenty of men in the Silver Millennium who paid court to her. It couldn’t be inexperience.
“What are you thinking about?”
He looked up at the tension in her voice. “You,” he said simply.
She turned her head away slightly, but he saw the blush on her cheek. “You don’t need to pay empty compliments,” she said, the harsh words countered by the whispered tone.
“An empty compliment is impossible where you’re concerned,” he returned in a quiet voice.
“Stop it,” she whispered. “Please.”
“What is it?”
“Enjoying yourself, Lord Jadeite?”
Jadeite turned his head and saw that Bellona was sitting down next to him. He almost kicked the table leg in frustration. “So far, your Majesty,” he answered.
“You must forgive my daughter for any mistakes,” Bellona went on, perfectly aware that she’d interrupted something. “She is not used to such things on the moon, Princess Serenity lives a life of seclusion.”
“On the contrary, Mother,” Erinya said, her voice low but hard. “Serenity often attends social occasions, as well as public ceremonies. She is hardly secluded, and neither am I.”
“So you always say, Erinya, but then you come to a ball like this and I see you make mistake after mistake,” Bellona answered, picking up her wine glass. She looked at her daughter, loving yet somehow merciless. “Perhaps Lord Jadeite will be able to teach you something.”
Jadeite glanced at Erinya. She was cutting up her food with studied intensity. He could feel the undercurrents of the conversation swirling and eddying around him. This was about much more than Erinya’s ‘inexperience’, he could see that immediately, and he was certainly not supposed to teach her about manners. He took a sip of his own wine.
The game’s afoot.