Theme: Ties (December 5th)
Version: Manga (Silver Millennium)
Rating: PG-13 (verging on R)
I’ve got pins and needles for you,
I’ve got pins and needles for you,
You’ve got needles and pins, and the seven deadly sins,
Still, I’ve got a fire in my heart for you.
— The Super Furry Animals, Fire In My Heart
The conversation with her mother had obviously unsettled Erinya and Jadeite didn’t try to find out what was wrong. He was gentle with her. ‘Gentle’ was not one of the qualities any of his friends would have associated with him, but he could be so when the situation required it. He told her about his kingdom on Earth, the steppes which gave way to tropical rainforest, the typhoons that swept the coast. It was a hostile landscape but also beautiful. Each island had its own special appeal. He always had so much to do when he visited home that he often ended up working through the night, despite travel fatigue. Gradually, he saw the shadows vanish from Erinya’s eyes. She started to smile again. He told her about his fellow guards: Nephrite, brash but funny; Zoisite, sly yet sympathetic; and Kunzite, their leader, enigmatic and charismatic at the same time. Erinya laughed at his tales of them as boys and Jadeite told her about Endymion, their prince, their master, working hard to create a united Earth.
“He’s the best of us all,” he said frankly. “I don’t think anybody but him could have managed it.”
“You love him, don’t you?” Erinya said softly.
“I’d die for him,” Jadeite said immediately, yet as he said this, he felt a twinge. Before today, Endymion had been the only person with a claim on his heart but now… everything had changed. Every time he looked at her, he felt like he was on fire. If she asked him to do something, he would do it, no matter what. He knew it. And he knew that he shouldn’t be feeling something like this. His loyalties needed to be whole, not divided.
Erinya was smiling. “I know what you mean,” she said. “I’d do the same for Serenity.”
“What’s she like?” Jadeite asked, curious, envious of this unknown girl who inspired such devotion.
“Serenity? She…” Erinya paused. “She’s difficult to describe. She can be so immature that she makes me want to scream but… but she’s also gentle and so loving. She loves you for who you are. She believes in you, but more than that, she believes the best of you, so you want to be the best you can. And she can charm anybody.” She smiled ruefully. “It’s a good thing she doesn’t know how appealing she is, or she’d be dangerous.”
Jadeite nodded. “It’s interesting to speak to someone who actually knows her,” he said. “Since it’s forbidden for us to contact them and vice versa… There are so many rumours about what goes on up there.”
“Such as?” Erinya asked, her voice sharp.
“That the moon’s plotting to take over the Earth, that everyone who lives there is immortal and never dies, that they can influence the events on Earth whenever they want… I lose track of what people say.”
“Is Earth really so afraid?”
“People fear the unknown,” Jadeite said simply. “Perhaps people wouldn’t be so afraid if they knew a little more. That’s all I’m saying.”
“You’re not afraid,” Erinya said, turning to him. Her eyes flashed that strange red again and he felt his throat dry as she put her hand on his arm. Her voice was low, making him bend towards her. “You fought Ares and never faltered. You faced my seven other brothers without blinking an eye. And you don’t seem to share these fears about the moon.”
“I see the unknown as a challenge,” he answered, feeling himself fall deeper and deeper as he looked into her eyes.
“We’re the same,” she said softly, her thumb tracing the curve of his elbow. “I never expected to find a man who felt like that. I never thought a man could be so fearless.”
“Is that what you weren’t expecting?”
She nodded. “I thought men were… all the same. My brothers are so concerned with their honour, with how they look. They’re so afraid to lose face. And most of the men on the moon are the same. But you… you’re not like that. You don’t care.”
“I believe a man’s honour is something that is defined by his actions, not by what people think of his actions.” God, her lips were so close. If he leaned forward just a few inches, he would actually be touching them. Except he wanted to do a lot more than that, so leaning forward would not be a good idea.
“Why?” she whispered. “Why do you have to be so right?”
Jadeite blinked, not sure what to say. Fortunately, Bellona arrived and saved him from answering. “May I speak to you for a moment, Erinya?” she asked, taking her daughter’s arm. “You will excuse us, Lord Jadeite.” Her eyes flashed red, warning him to agree.
Jadeite bowed in response but he straightened in time to see the look of pleading that Erinya gave him before her mother led her away (a royal request being a command). He counted to ten, then carefully followed them through the ballroom and out into the corridor, keeping to the shadows. Bellona was walking quickly, almost marching, and still holding her daughter’s arm. Erinya was walking slightly behind her mother, head bowed. The sight made Jadeite grit his teeth.
Bellona led her daughter outside onto the terrace which ran around the whole of the ground floor. The two moons of Phobos and Deimos hung full and low in the sky, casting a soft pinkish light over the gardens. Jadeite hid himself behind a pillar and waited. He wished that he could let Erinya know that he was there but there was no way to do that without Bellona realising as well.
Erinya pulled her arm away and lifted her head defiantly. “What is it, Mother?”
“I’m pleased to see that you’re getting on so well with Lord Jadeite,” Bellona said, and she did look pleased. She was smiling lovingly at her daughter and Jadeite could see Erinya trying not to react, trying not to bask in the love.
“You didn’t bring me out here just to congratulate me about that, Mother.”
“No, you’re right.” Bellona gazed out at the gardens for a moment. Erinya hugged herself, waiting.
“You know that your father and I wish to develop closer ties with the Earth,” Bellona stated, still looking at the gardens, so Jadeite couldn’t read her expression.
“Yes. I know. That’s why you invited an Earthling to the Games in the first place and why you asked me to agree to him as my escort,” Erinya replied, folding her arms.
“You say that as if I asked a terrible thing, Erinya,” Bellona said lightly, turning her head and giving her daughter another smile. “Yet, from what I’ve observed, I would say this evening has been anything but terrible for you.”
Erinya went red, Jadeite could see it even in the pinkish light, and he sighed inside. She was doing her best to guard her emotions, but she was only sixteen and this was her mother. Bellona’s smile widened as she saw the reaction but her voice remained quiet.
“Your father has also noticed the friendship developing between you. It pleases both of us.”
“Nothing is going to come of it, Mother,” Erinya said swiftly, her voice equally quiet. “I am going to pledge myself to Serenity. You know this. I thought you had accepted it.”
“One can accept something for the short term and still hope to change the long term. I understand that you have this idea of remaining completely faithful to Serenity for the rest of your life and that to love someone else in any way would be a betrayal of her. It is touching but it is also very naïve, Erinya.” Bellona looked stern now. “You are a princess. You have a duty to your planet and your people. You cannot just shut yourself away out of some childish idea of ‘purity’.”
“It’s not childish!” Erinya cried, her hands clenching into fists. She took a step forward. “Why can’t you understand? This isn’t some whim! I’ve thought about it, long and hard, and I know this is what I want.”
Bellona made a dismissive gesture. “How can you know what you want? You’re only sixteen.” She spoke with the cruelty of age and experience, undeniable, inarguable. “You’ve barely begun to live, Erinya. And how can you say that this is truly what you want?” Her voice became soft. “I have been watching you all evening, my darling. I have seen the way you look at him.”
Jadeite felt his heart begin to hammer so hard that he was sure they would hear it. Erinya turned away. “Don’t, Mother, please.” Her voice was low, weak.
“No, Erinya. If you are going to do this, you need to be completely honest with yourself. I will not let you make that vow without acknowledging exactly what it means. I will not let you throw away a wonderful opportunity.”
“Stop it!” If she’d been younger, Jadeite knew that Erinya would have put her hands over her ears.
“You have been watching him all evening, Erinya. I have seen it. I have never seen you look at any man that way before, ever. And I am willing to bet that you have never looked at any man on the moon that way, either.”
“And what of it?” Erinya snapped. “If I’m looking at him differently, it’s because he’s not like any other man I’ve met, that’s all!”
“Oh?” Bellona raised one eyebrow and Jadeite silently begged Erinya to stop, for her own sake, but she was too agitated.
“He didn’t just take on Ares today, Mother, he took on the whole crowd. Nearly everyone in that stadium was willing him to lose and he didn’t care. I’ve never seen a man so completely indifferent to what other people think. And afterwards, seven of my brothers surrounded him in the corridor and he did not even sweat!”
“Really?” Bellona asked, but Jadeite could tell that she wasn’t surprised, that she had known, just as he’d suspected. She spoke only to encourage her daughter.
“Yes! Seven of them and he spoke just as boldly as if he were facing one!” Erinya’s eyes were shining and Jadeite found that he was holding his breath. “He’s so fearless, Mother, so bold! He isn’t afraid to challenge me, he doesn’t shiver at the prospect of me losing my temper. I think I could scream at him and he wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. He deliberately provoked me this evening, just to get a reaction out of me, and then he told me he could take any amount of fire. Of course I look at him differently!”
“Because he’s your equal.”
“Yes!” Erinya stopped, terrified as she saw the trap. “No! No, it’s not like that!”
Bellona shook her head. “Oh, I think it is, Erinya. You’ve found your match.”
“You just said he’s your equal. Out of your own mouth.”
“No! No, he can’t be…”
“But he is… I thought he might be. As soon as he walked into the arena, your expression changed.”
This was new. Jadeite looked at Erinya, who’d turned her head away. “That has nothing to do with…”
“Then why did you have your binoculars trained on him the whole time?” Bellona asked. “You smoothed your hair and skirt before he came up to receive his medal.”
“Mother, why are you doing this?”
“Because I love you, Erinya. Because I know what that look means. Because he is a match for you. You’ve had princes from Jupiter and Coronis courting you and you never looked at them with any interest, but this Earthling walks into the arena and you can’t sit still. You wore your best dress tonight and I didn’t tell you to do that. And forgive me for bringing this up again, but you have been watching him all evening, and I know that you weren’t thinking about his manners or his conversation, or even the way he danced, were you?”
Erinya shook her head, just once.
“These feelings are not wrong, Erinya,” Bellona said, stepping forward and placing her hands on her daughter’s shoulders, her voice loving. “They are natural. It is no shame to be attracted to a man because he has blue eyes and wide shoulders, it is no shame to think about what it would be like to kiss him, to be courted by him. To be married to him.”
Erinya pulled away. “So that’s your plan.” Her voice was high, too high. “You want to develop closer ties with the Earth and you also want to take me away from Serenity, so you marry me off to an Earthling and kill two birds with one stone!”
“Erinya, royal women have always married to make alliances. You are no different.”
“I am not JUST a royal woman!” Erinya cried. “You know that, Mother! You know I have to stay with Serenity!”
“Stay with her, yes, but you do not have to devote your entire life to her, Erinya. You have this chance to do something for your people. Marriage is not torture, my darling. If you marry a man who understands you, who has similar interests, it can be pleasurable. If he wants you, it can be even better. I want you to know these pleasures, Erinya. I want you to know the joy of having your own children, of having a husband who respects and cares for you.”
“I cannot be a senshi and have those things, Mother, it isn’t possible!”
Jadeite felt the world turn upside down. Senshi. Erinya was a sailor senshi, one of those legendary warriors who had the power of the elements at her fingertips. He closed his eyes, feeling dizzy. He should have known.
“Then tell me you don’t want him, Erinya. Tell me that you look at him and you feel nothing. That you don’t imagine what it would be like if he took you in his arms, that you don’t imagine what it would be like to be his wife, to have his children.”
Jadeite opened his eyes, even though he knew what her answer would be. Erinya opened her mouth but no words came. She put her hands over her face and her voice came out from between her fingers, young and broken. “I can’t. I can’t.”
Bellona put her arms around her daughter and held her, rubbing her back. “You see? It’s not as simple as you think.” She kissed her daughter on the cheek. “If you pledge yourself to Serenity, you give up all chance of ever having children or even companionship. And for what? I’m sure the other girls haven’t made this sort of vow, have they? I’m sure Serenity would understand you making a diplomatic marriage.”
“Mother, please don’t do this,” Erinya whispered, looking up. “I will do anything else you ask of me, anything, but please do not make me marry that man.”
“This is all I want of you,” Bellona answered, cupping her cheek. “This is the only thing I ask. And you will not do it?”
Erinya stepped backwards. She shook her head silently, pale. Jadeite could see that she was on the verge of tears but only on the verge. She would not break. He felt a strange sort of pride in her. Bellona’s face became blank. “Very well,” she said coolly. “I will speak to your father about this. You are not an adult, nor have you taken a vow yet. There is nothing preventing it. And your consent is not absolutely necessary, although it is preferable.”
“And what about my consent?” Jadeite asked, emerging from the pillar. He had the satisfaction of seeing Bellona jump. Erinya looked up, eyes wide.
Bellona recovered quickly. She strode forward, eyes narrowing. “How dare you follow and spy on us? What sort of behaviour is this?”
“Necessary behaviour, given that you seem to have married me off to your daughter without even asking me about it.”
She laughed. “And you’d say ‘no’?” Her smile was knowing. “I saw the look on your face on the balcony, Lord Jadeite. And I’ve seen how devoted you’ve been all evening. You would deny that you wish to marry my daughter? The only Princess of Mars? Beautiful, accomplished, strong…”
“And a senshi,” Jadeite said calmly. “The senshi are not allowed on Earth. It is intergalactic law. She would not even be allowed to set foot on my planet or it would be taken as a sign of aggression from the moon. Develop closer ties with my planet by all means, your Majesty. But do it through me, not through your daughter.” He could feel Erinya staring at him, but he would not look at her. He could not afford to show any tenderness at this moment, it would be seen as a weakness.
“She would not be a senshi as your wife,” Bellona said, her voice colder now. “She would simply be a princess. Your princess.”
“And I already said that I’m not interested.”
“You may call me a liar all you like, but you cannot force me to marry your daughter, your Majesty. I am not one of your subjects. I am independent. A quality which I value at this moment in time.”
Bellona’s right hand clenched. Jadeite held her gaze. He’d called her bluff and they all knew it. There was no way she could force a marriage if he did not agree. For one moment, he thought that she would hit him, but she was too much of a queen to do that. Instead, she turned to her daughter. “It appears that you have a knight in shining armour, Erinya,” she said calmly. “What a pity that you will never be able to reward him for his valour.” Then she walked slowly back inside the palace, back straight, head high. Jadeite watched her until she’d vanished into the shadows.
“You came,” Erinya said and he turned back to her. She was looking at him with warm eyes and he swallowed.
“You told me to stay with you, so I did,” he said. “I could see you didn’t wish to be left alone with her.”
“Did you mean it?”
“What you just said about not being interested.”
“Does it matter?”
Erinya looked down and she blushed again. “Yes,” she whispered.
Jadeite let out a sigh and put his arms around her. It occurred to him that this was the most intimate position they would ever be in. Erinya buried her face in his chest and he felt her shoulders begin to shake. “No,” he said. “It was a lie. You have to know that. I’ve been interested ever since I set eyes on you, your mother was right… but she was labouring under an illusion. I would only marry you if it was your free choice. And what I said was also true: you could never be a senshi on Earth. You could not be a guardian of Princess Serenity and my wife at the same time. And I know that being Serenity’s guardian is very important to you.”
“You heard everything,” she stated.
“Everything,” he confirmed, stroking the nape of her neck.
“Then… then I suppose there’s nothing left to say.”
“Not really. You will go back to the moon and take your vow… and I will return to Earth and take care of Endymion. And we will never see each other again.”
She breathed in sharply and held tighter. “Never is such a long time,” she whispered.
“So is forever and that’s how long your vow is going to last,” he reminded her.
“Why?” she asked. “Why does this have to be difficult? It was all so simple and now… Why did I have to meet you? Why did you have to be so right?” She looked up, her gaze full of desperation. “I want to be her guardian, yes, but… I want you, as well. I want to be with you always, I want to be married, I want… Why?!” Her voice broke. “Why do I want these things all of a sudden? I never wanted them before! I never wanted anyone else before! She was enough! She has to be enough!”
Jadeite sighed. “Nothing is ever easy, Erinya,” he said. “I may not have taken a vow of chastity but Endymion is my master and I should not love any person above him. But now… now I find that I do.”
“Love?” she repeated in a whisper, her eyes widening.
He shrugged. “What’s the point in hiding my feelings if we’re never going to see each other again? Yes, love. I can’t think of anyone but you, I feel like I’m on fire whenever you look at me. It’s not lust. I know what lust feels like, this is more than physical. Even though we only met today, even though we’ve only spent one evening together…”
“You love me.”
He nodded and smiled at her, because just admitting it was a weight off his shoulders. For a moment, Erinya stared at him as if she couldn’t believe what he’d just said. Then she took a deep breath, put a hand on the back of his neck, pulled his head down to hers and kissed him.
The shock of feeling her lips on his made Jadeite freeze for a moment. Then the fever took over and he pulled her against him, kissing her back, drowning in the feeling, going as far as she would let him… which turned out to be farther than he expected. By the time they pulled away from each other, Jadeite had tasted her mouth and explored both her neck and shoulders with his lips and tongue. Erinya was panting, her cheeks pink, her eyes burning red. “We could,” she whispered, gazing up at him.
“We could what?” he asked.
“She is right… much as I hate to admit it… I haven’t made my vow.” She was watching him, waiting. “If we… if you… it’s not wrong. Not yet.”
Jadeite closed his eyes for a moment, trying to breathe. Erinya had not just offered to go to bed with him. He was imagining things. “Don’t make that offer,” he said in a whisper. “Not now. Don’t offer that to me just when I’m resigning myself to giving you up.”
“But you don’t have to,” she said eagerly. “Not yet. We don’t have to say goodbye yet. I want to… I want… I want you!” She stared at him, begging him to understand.
Jadeite nodded. “Yes. I know you want me. And I want you, too. But I have to think about myself, Erinya. I have to think about the future, about the fact that we’re never going to meet again after I leave for Earth. And it will be much easier for me to live with this fire you’ve created if we don’t cross that boundary. It’s going to be painful enough as it is without adding more fuel. And that applies to you, as well. Do you understand?”
She closed her eyes and turned away. “Then there really is nothing left to say,” she said in a flat voice that felt like a slap to his face.
“Nothing except goodbye.”
“No.” He heard the merest tremble in her voice. “I won’t say that yet. Not until I have to.” She turned her head and looked at him, pleading. “Won’t you change your mind?”
“And what happens when your mother finds out about it, Erinya? She seems to know about everything that happens in this place. Do you think she would simply let me take you to my bed without any consequences? You know her better than that: she would seize the opportunity and say that I had raped you, that we had to marry for the sake of your honour in order to avert war between our planets. Yes, look indignant and flash those red eyes at me, you know that is what would happen. And she would be happy to do it, because she would know that it was not a rape at all.” He couldn’t stop his eyes looking over her body at that point, stripping away the thin material to the flesh underneath. He knew how it would be, he could see it all in that instant: her lithe body underneath him, moving in rhythm, her voice softly moaning his name, the joy of being with the woman he loved; the forced marriage, his friends’ shame, the disappointment in Endymion’s eyes; her belly swelling with child, their early love turning to disillusionment and resentment as she was cut off from her friends and her princess… an empty, cold marriage.
She was trembling as he looked up, her longing so intense that he wanted to fall to his knees and take it all back, beg her to marry him right then and there, he would agree to whatever she wanted as long as he could have her. “How can you look at me like that and say ‘no’?” she asked.
“Because I love you,” he said softly and she bit her lip. “Because I know that you would not really be happy if you married me.”
“And I will not be really happy if I go back to the moon!” she flared.
“You will have some chance of forgetting me if you go back to Princess Serenity. You will have no chance of forgetting her if we share a bed tonight and you are forced to come to Earth with me. You do not belong in my world, Erinya. The gap that separates us is too wide. You know this. Your youth and this new feeling have blinded you temporarily but I know that, in time, you will realise that this is the best thing to do.”
She swallowed and closed her eyes for a second. Then she opened them and he saw that she had put it all away, all the love and longing, all the hope and despair. She was her mother’s daughter, after all.
“I think I’m a little tired, Lord Jadeite. I would like to retire,” she said.
Jadeite bowed, ignoring the sharp flare of pain as he did so. “I shall escort you to your chambers, my lady,” he said, but he did not offer his arm and she did not try and take it. They walked back to her chambers together but separate, and Jadeite told himself that it would get better, once he was back home, among his friends, where he didn’t have to look at that pale, perfect face and that lovely body and think of what might have been. He knocked on the door of her chambers and it was opened immediately by Phobos. She seemed pleasantly surprised to see them.
“You are early, your Highness,” she said. “Is something wrong?”
“No, Phobos, I’m just a little tired and Lord Jadeite was kind enough to escort me back here,” Erinya answered, her voice clear. “Please tell Deimos to run a hot bath. I need to relax after being on display all evening.”
Phobos nodded and then bowed a little to Jadeite, surprising him. “Thank you for bringing her back safe and sound, Lord Jadeite,” she said. “We appreciate it.”
Jadeite bowed in kind but did not reply and Phobos left to convey Erinya’s instructions. She turned and looked at him. “Goodnight,” she said, holding out her hand, but Jadeite couldn’t do it. He was only human and he could not give her up quite so easily. He put his hand on the back of her head and kissed her, not caring if she rejected him and scorned him, he just needed to taste her one last time. Then her hands grabbed at his hips and pulled him forwards and he was pressing against her, rubbing, and her hair was coming down so that it filled his hands, soft as smoke. Her mouth was burning hot and he was whispering her name, over and over, almost praying to her. She pushed his head back, but her eyes were wild and her hair fell over her shoulders, so that she looked ready for bed, not dancing.
“Come inside,” she whispered. “Come to my bed now, or go and never speak of this again. Have all of me or nothing, Jadeite. Prove your love.”
The last three words saved him, pulled him back. It would be so easy to go inside and spend the night in her bed, touching her, teaching her, listening to her cry out as he moved in her; it would not be so easy to deal with the consequences.
“You wish me to prove my love, Erinya?” he said. “Watch.” And he turned and walked away, even though his feet felt like lead. He didn’t stop walking until he reached his chambers and stumbled inside. Then he closed the door and sank to his knees, undoing his trousers so that he could have some sort of release.
It was probably the noblest thing Jadeite had ever done and he knew he’d regret it for the rest of his life.
Title: Party Time
Version: Manga (Crystal Tokyo)
There was a soft knock at the door.
The door opened and he peered around the door, familiar cat eyes. “You wanted to see me, Small Lady?”
Usagi spun around on her stool and clapped. “Zoisite! You’re awake!”
“As you see,” he said, stepping into the room with a smile. “You could have woken me.”
“No. Doesn’t matter how advanced technology gets, nothing is going to eliminate jetlag. You needed to sleep. How are you feeling?”
“Well rested,” he assured her, walking forward and perching on the end of her bed. “Now, why did you want to see me?”
“I wanted your advice.”
“Mine?” He looked faintly puzzled. “I will do my best to help you, Small Lady, but why not one of the senshi –?”
“Because I need a man’s opinion,” Usagi answered decisively, getting up and going to her wardrobe. “This is for my 1000th birthday and… and someone special is coming for the celebrations.” She blushed, her cheeks turning the colour of her hair.
Zoisite looked at the floor and smiled to himself. “I see.”
“And you’re the only one who’d take me seriously,” she added, glancing at him over her shoulder. “There’s no way I could ask Jadeite or Nephrite and Kunzite…” She paused. “Well, he’s not here. He’s never here.”
There was a definite touch of resentment there and Zoisite was once again struck by Small Lady’s resemblance to her father. It was the exact same tone that Endymion had used back in Elysion when Kunzite was gone.
“You know that’s not fair, Small Lady,” he said gently. “He has a lot to do.”
“He’s never here,” Usagi insisted, knowing that she sounded childish, but she couldn’t help it. “And even when he is here, he’s with Papa or with Venus…” She stopped. “Not that I mind him spending time with Venus! I mean, it’s good that they’re happy. I’m glad! But…”
“Small Lady, he can’t be everywhere at once.” And it didn’t help that Venus tended to monopolise Kunzite, but he wasn’t going to say that. “Kunzite will be here for your birthday, no matter what. You know that. Now, shall we concentrate on the matter at hand?”
Usagi took a deep breath and nodded. She picked two dresses out of the wardrobe and laid them on the bed. “I can’t decide.”
“I thought you liked pink.”
She rolled her eyes. “I do, but it’s not the only colour in the world and… sometimes I think I’m too pink.” She tugged at a lock of hair to illustrate her point. “I’ve always worn it and I… I don’t want to look like a little girl,” she confessed, sitting down.
“But black?” he murmured, touching the other dress. It was chiffon, whispering seductively against his fingertips. “It’s a lovely style but I wouldn’t have thought…”
“It makes you seem older!” Usagi said, her chin jutting out defiantly. “And that’s what I want.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that…” He knew that he couldn’t explain. She didn’t remember that period of her life, she was lucky. Unlike them, she didn’t have to deal with any memories. And therefore she did not know why wearing black was such a bad idea. He could just imagine the looks on her parents’ and friends faces if she wore this dress and it was not a pleasant vision. “Black is too extreme, Small Lady. And I don’t think it would suit you anyway. It would drain you, make you look too white. No black. If you want to appear a little older, I would mix a little colour in with the pink.”
She looked dubious. “Such as?”
“Well… lavender, perhaps.”
Usagi blinked. “Lavender and pink?”
“Lavender would look lovely on you and it would also be a nice tribute to your father. A nod to your Earth heritage. Most importantly, it goes with pink and it will bring out your eyes.” He nodded. He could just see it: a pink dress with a pattern of lavender sprigs picked out over the bodice and a lavender sash tied up to echo the bow of her senshi uniform.
“Do you really think that would work?” Usagi asked hopefully.
“Yes, I do. It will be a nice surprise for your parents and this… special guest.”
She blushed again, rosy and wholesome. Zoisite resisted the urge to pinch her cheek.
“Anything else?” he asked.
“Did you see Mercury in Paris? She went there for a doctors’ conference, so I thought you might have… I know it’s a big city.” Her eyes were so full of hope that he had to look away.
“We bumped into each other briefly, yes, but she was busy.”
“Oh,” she said, disappointment palpable. She wanted so badly for them to understand each other. “I suppose that’s not surprising. She’s always busy with something…”
Zoisite reached out and gently tugged a strand of hair, bringing her attention back to the present. “Don’t give up pink, totally, Small Lady. We like you being romantic.”
She giggled. “I promise I won’t ever stop being romantic, Zoisite.”
“That’s a relief.” He got up. “Let me know when you’ve had the dress altered.”
“Of course!” She grinned at him. “You’re my official Dress Approver.”
“Now there’s a title with prestige. I can already see the doors of the fashion world opening to me. Make way for the Princess’s Official Dress Approver!”
She was still giggling when he shut the door.
Author's Note: yes, this does take place in the universe of La Petite Mort, but you don't need to read that story to enjoy this one. ;)
Title: Fireproof (read after Cast This Darkness From My Soul)
Version: Manga (Crystal Tokyo)
We’ve walked both sides of every street,
Through all kinds of windy weather,
But that was never our defeat
As long as we could walk together…
— Don McLean, Crossroads
Stay with me and let ’em see,
Let ’em see how much you love me, that you love me,
If it’s true, who cares what they do?
Keep on holdin’ onto me,
They’ll learn in time.
— Nina Simone, I Love You
“Where the hell have you been?!”
It was Rei waiting for her, not Mars: legs planted on the floor, arms akimbo, eyes positively blazing with anger and accusation.
Minako looked back at her without flinching. “Nice to see you, too, Rei-chan.”
“Don’t even try it, you know you’re in the wrong!” Rei shot back. “Endymion tells us the shitennou are back and what do you do?! You DISAPPEAR! Without a single word! Even Artemis didn’t know where you’d gone, do you have any idea how worried he’s been—?!”
“Maybe if you let her get a word in edgeways, she’d tell us, Rei-chan,” said Ami, putting her hands over her face and rubbing at the skin under her eyes. “She’s alive and she seems fine, so there’s no need to worry anymore.”
“If only it were that simple,” Rei muttered.
Minako decided to ignore that comment. “Where’s Mako-chan?” she asked, glancing around and seeing that their other friend was not in the room, either as Jupiter or her civilian self.
“Making brownies in the kitchen. She decided it was better than tearing the stuffing out of all our punching bags,” Ami explained.
Minako nodded. It made sense. “Then I’ll just go and let her know I’m alive. Hope you don’t mind, Rei-chan.”
Rei turned away. Her whole posture radiated disapproval and anger but she couldn’t protest. Minako touched Ami on the shoulder as she walked by and Ami briefly put her own hand on top. It was a small gesture but it reassured Minako all the same. She knew that meant that she could count on Ami when the truth came out. She didn’t intend to hide it: they’d discussed that already. Hiding it had not done them much good last time and she didn’t think she would be able to do it again even if she wanted to. She was skilled at hiding sadness, not happiness: she knew that Makoto would probably sense something was up as soon as they saw each other and then the shit would really hit the fan.
She could smell the baking before she even reached the kitchen corridor. By the time she found the door, her mouth was watering, despite the large breakfast she’d eaten at Kunzite’s place (in bed of course). She pushed open the door without knocking.
“Minako-chan!” Arms grabbed her and hugged her, almost crushing her ribs. “I was beginning to think the worst!”
“I didn’t mean to make any of you worry,” Minako said, patting Makoto’s back. “I was just so angry…” And hurt, she added silently. And let’s not forget the centuries of frustrated lust.
“I know,” Makoto said, hugging her once more for good measure and then letting her go. “Do you think you’re the only one? I mean, I could have punched him! I almost did, but you were gone by then… so I decided to come down here. Nothing like throwing dough to make you feel better. The first batch is done if you’d like some.”
Minako nodded and sat down at the small kitchen table. Makoto placed the tray of brownies before her and Minako took one, sighing in pleasure as the taste of chocolate filled her mouth. She could feel Makoto watching her, looking her over, so she took her time.
“This is so good,” she remarked, apropos of nothing. It was a nervous habit but she couldn’t seem to stop herself.
“I’m not saying that this situation is a good thing, but you should channel your anger into cooking more often, Mako-chan, this is…”
“Minako-chan, why are you wearing that dress?”
“This?” Minako glanced down at herself. She’d almost forgotten what she was wearing. Then she remembered watching Kunzite’s hands slip underneath the hem last night. Her body pulsed with desire and she swallowed hard, trying to disguise the sudden arousal. Unfortunately, this meant that she spent the next five minutes coughing like a chain smoker. Makoto bolted from the table and filled a glass with water. Minako nodded her thanks and drank all of it. Note to self: avoid thinking about Kunzite when eating, if possible. “This dress?” she repeated, her voice slightly croaky. “It was the easiest to put on and I wanted to taunt him.” So far, so truthful.
“Taunt him?” Makoto repeated, frowning. “With what? Your body?”
Minako rolled her eyes. “Obviously.” Then she remembered that their relationship had been a secret and blushed.
Makoto stared at her. “Minako-chan, I knew that there was something going on back then but I didn’t realise…” She rubbed her hands over her face in a gesture similar to Ami’s. “Well, you probably didn’t want me to know and it doesn’t matter now. Did it work? The dress, I mean?”
“Oh yes,” Minako said quietly. “It worked.” She ate the rest of the brownie and stood up. “Look, let’s go back upstairs. If I’m going to tell the truth, I want the others to hear it as well.”
Makoto stood up, rather pale. “Minako-chan, he didn’t… he didn’t try and force you to do anything, did he?”
Minako almost laughed at the irony, because she would have done anything for Kunzite last night if it involved sex, absolutely anything, and she’d made sure he knew that. A lot of men would have taken advantage of such eager submission, and she had wondered if he might be one of them, given some of her memories, but he had stated that he was not in the mood to play games, even sexual ones. More proof that he was still the same honorable man she remembered, even if he didn’t believe it. “No, Mako-chan, he didn’t force me to do anything,” she replied. But you might wish he had after I tell you what happened.
Makoto nodded, looking relieved, and they went back to Rei and Ami. They had obviously been talking because Rei seemed a little calmer. She was still angry, but the fire was now under control. “So? Where were you?”
“I went to see Kunzite,” Minako said, not bothering to lie, or even play for time.
Both Ami and Rei sat bolt upright, as if she’d given them electric shocks.
“You went where?!” Ami cried.
“You went to see him?!” Rei exclaimed at the same time.
“Yes, I went to see Kunzite.” Minako sat down and crossed her legs loosely. She ached from last night but it was just the right side of sore. “He is my opposite, after all. I couldn’t very well ignore him. I needed to find out what was going on and discuss some issues with him.” Principally his feelings for me and if we could continue where we’d left off. Both were satisfactorily resolved, you’ll be unhappy to hear.
“Issues,” Rei repeated, her eyes narrowing. “What sort of issues?”
“Well, the obvious ones, Rei-chan.” Minako rolled her eyes. “Do you really need me to elaborate?”
“Yes,” Rei said, short and unfriendly.
Ami cleared her throat. “I think Rei-chan’s worried that you might be… that your past association might have influenced you.”
“Ami-chan, if we’re going to talk about this, we might as well be straight with each other, ne? Euphemisms aren’t going to work. I didn’t have an ‘association’, I had an affair. Sexual liaisons, if you want me to be more accurate. And I don’t regret any of it.”
Both Ami and Rei went bright red, but for different reasons. Makoto spoke before they could recover. “We’re not asking you to feel ashamed about the past, Minako-chan,” she said. “We’re asking you to try and be objective about what’s happening here. I know that you must have been… that you really cared about Kunzite back then, or you wouldn’t have been so eager to meet with him. But you can’t ignore what happened. He betrayed Endymion, they all did. He’s not the man you knew.”
“But that’s just it, Mako-chan, he’s exactly the man I knew. That’s why I disappeared, because I wasn’t just angry at him or Endymion: I was angry at myself for not realising this sooner. There were things we needed to discuss that I couldn’t discuss with any of you and I’m sorry if I scared you, but it’s done now.”
“You discussed the issues with him?” Ami asked, looking a little more hopeful.
“All night?” Rei’s voice was heavy with sarcasm.
“Basically, yes. Although we didn’t talk about them all the time, of course.”
“Then why didn’t you take the time to at least contact us and let us know that you were safe?” Ami demanded.
“Because I knew that you would come and get me and I didn’t want that,” Minako said honestly, bracing herself. “I just wanted it to be him and me, for one night, just one night. Otherwise I could never have sorted it out.”
“You’re talking about him like… like you’re friends,” Rei said in disgust. “Like you actually wanted to spend time with him.”
“That’s because I did want to spend time with him, Rei-chan.”
“But why?” Ami asked, bewildered. “This is a man with a history of betrayal and violence, a history of being influenced by evil. He betrayed you, he tried to use violence against you and the rest of us. How can you just set that aside?”
Minako swallowed. Here it was. “Because I love him,” she said quietly.
All three of them stared at her and she stared back. She wanted to beg them to understand. She couldn’t help feeling like this. The longing was as powerful and irresistible as ever. If she’d tried to resist, she would have gone mad, she knew it. And it wasn’t in her nature to resist desire, anyway.
“You can’t,” Ami said blankly. “You don’t know him. You’re… you’re just in shock. We all are.”
“I love him,” Minako repeated. “I always have. I can’t help it.”
“I don’t believe you,” Rei said, her voice so calm that Minako automatically braced herself. “You’ve always been a sentimentalist, but this… this is ridiculous. Ami-chan’s right: you don’t love him. You were in love with Kunzite and now that you know this man is his reincarnation, you’ve decided that you’re in love with him, just like you used to declare each new boy was your ‘first love’. You’re just pushing all this sentiment onto him, using him as a prop.”
Minako winced. Rei knew her so well, knew exactly how to hurt her, how to create those doubts in her mind. But Makoto was staring at her.
“My God,” she said in a whisper. “You slept with him, didn’t you? That’s why you disappeared so quickly. That’s why nobody could find you or get in contact with you. You spent the whole night in his bed.”
Minako let out a breath. “Yes,” she said. “Yes, I did. And I loved every second of it.”
For a moment, nobody spoke. It might not have been so bad if she hadn’t added the last sentence, but Minako knew that it had been necessary. They might have clung to some illusion of rape otherwise, and she would not let them do that. They needed to know that she’d gone to him out of her own free will and had a night of pleasure, not pain.
Then Rei stood up, her eyes deadly cold. “We’re going to see Serenity,” she said. “Now.”
Makoto looked at her sharply. “No, Rei-chan, this isn’t –”
“She needs to know we have a traitor in our midst.”
“A traitor?” Ami frowned. “You can’t call Minako-chan a traitor.”
Rei looked at her, her face contemptuous. “She slept with our enemy, what else do you suggest I call her? I doubt he would have paid, even if she remembered to ask.”
Minako didn’t even realised she’d moved until she found herself standing before Rei, arm raised, her palm tingling with the slap she’d just dealt her best friend.
“Take me to Serenity, by all means,” she said. “But don’t insult me or Kunzite by bringing money into this, Rei-chan. It was an equal exchange and I gave myself freely… but I know you can’t understand that.” And she turned away, trying hard to rein in the rage that was filling her body. It wasn’t the insult to herself that she minded, she’d expected that, but the implication that Kunzite would do such a thing. She heard Makoto and Ami confer in low voices but the words were indistinct because of the buzzing in her ears. Then Makoto spoke.
“We’ll take you to see Serenity, Minako-chan.”
Minako nodded. She was grateful that Makoto had taken charge. She knew that Ami would be too upset by what had happened and Rei… Rei wasn’t in a fit state to do much at the moment except insult her.
Serenity was in the letter room, going through official correspondence, when Makoto opened the door. She did not seem surprised that all four of her guards marched into the room and asked for a private audience, nor that Rei was glaring daggers at Minako or that Makoto was holding Minako by the arm, almost like a prisoner. When the officials had left the room, she clasped her hands on the desk and looked at them calmly.
“What is it?”
“Tell her what you’ve done!” Rei spat at Minako.
“Rei-chan, would you please control yourself?” Makoto snapped.
“Me?! You’re telling me to control myself when she’s the one who’s been spreading her legs –!”
“I assume this is about the shitennou?” Serenity asked, silencing them both.
Ami stepped into the breach. “Minako-chan just came back, Serenity. And… and she told us where she’s been.”
Serenity looked at Minako, as if they were the only two people in the room. “I did try and reassure them, Minako-chan,” she said. “But they just wouldn’t believe me.”
Then Minako knew two things: Serenity had guessed about her and Kunzite, and she’d been the only one of the group who wasn’t worried by last night’s disappearance. The relief was so overwhelming that Minako almost fell on her knees. She swallowed hard.
“I had my suspicions,” Serenity replied. “And when Artemis couldn’t find you… I drew my own conclusions.”
Minako closed her eyes. It was so much easier when you didn’t have to explain the background. “I went to Kunzite,” she said. “I spent the night with him.”
“All night?” Serenity questioned. She seemed to be almost smiling. “Was it that bad?”
“Yes,” Minako said honestly. “I couldn’t keep away… I hadn’t been there for half an hour before we…”
“She’s a traitor,” Rei said baldly.
Minako could almost hear Makoto and Ami wince. Serenity just blinked.
“I beg your pardon, Rei-chan?”
“She slept with a man who betrayed his own master and was nearly responsible for destroying the world. And now she’s saying that she loves him.” Minako could feel Rei’s gaze. It was like cold needles in her skin. “She’s betrayed us all, Serenity.”
Serenity sighed. “And you accuse me of being simplistic.”
Rei’s head whipped round. She stared at her queen in complete bewilderment. “What?”
Serenity spread her hands. “Kunzite is not our enemy any more, Rei-chan. He was our enemy, yes. In the past. The past is gone and there is nothing he can do to change it. Minako-chan did not sleep with him while he was our enemy. In fact, she had a great deal to do with his death, as I recall. She has been perfectly loyal to us. Last night, she discovered that the man she loved and lost was back from the dead. Hence my lack of surprise when she disappeared. Of course, I had no proof but I was almost certain that she’d gone to see him. All I could do was hope that she would manage to lay the ghosts of the past in some way. She’s been trying to do that for so long but she didn’t have all the right instruments. And you seem to be forgetting that Minako-chan is the senshi of love. Given the choice between loving someone and hating them, which emotion is she going to choose? She does not thrive on strife like you do, Rei-chan.” Serenity got up and moved around the desk. She framed Minako’s face with both hands. “And how can I condemn her for going to her lover when I did exactly the same thing so many years ago? I went to Mamo-chan, even though I knew he might be an enemy, even though I knew all of you disapproved of our relationship: I went to him because I could not help myself, because in my mind there was no other option. I know what it is like to be ruled by love and desire and I am not going to punish Minako-chan for following her heart. That would make me a hypocrite.”
Minako wanted to weep. She had never been so grateful for Serenity’s iconic qualities of mercy and forgiveness. She had been most worried about Serenity’s reaction and to know that her queen understood… She closed her eyes, trembling. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Thank you, so much.”
“You… you actually believe she’s in love with this man?!” Rei gasped.
“Has she said she loves him?”
“But she doesn’t even know him!” Ami protested.
“She’s the senshi of love,” Serenity said reasonably. “She has a lot of experience in this area. I think we can safely trust her opinion, Ami-chan. If she says it’s love, it’s love.” She smiled fondly at her other friend. “Technically, she knows all she needs to know.”
“That’s all very well,” Makoto said, “but what about him? It’s very romantic that Minako-chan’s found her lost love, but love’s a two-way street. Last night… they were both very emotional. Things can change completely the next morning.”
Minako was very glad that she had her back to the other three women, because she was blushing deep red, and she knew that Serenity knew what that meant. A smile lit the other woman’s blue eyes.
“Oh, Minako-chan,” she said, her voice full of affectionate amusement, “you really did have it bad.”
Minako was trying to fight off the memory of how she’d woken Kunzite up and not having much success. Serenity patted her on the shoulder and then pressed the intercom button on her desk. “Mamo-chan,” she said, her tone perfectly normal, “I’m guessing you have Kunzite in there, am I right?”
“Would you two mind coming in here for a moment? There’s a little matter we need to settle.”
There was a small pause and then Endymion spoke again. “Yes, of course. We’ll be there right away.”
Minako felt her heart start to pound. She was going to see him. Then she realised she hadn’t even changed out of her dress; of course, it wasn’t as if she’d been given much of a chance. Still, she felt a little exposed.
“May I go and change?” she asked Serenity. “I won’t be long, I just need to…”
Serenity nodded, giving her a small smile. “Of course. I understand.“
“I’ll go with you,” Ami said, following her out of the room. Minako didn’t protest. If she had to have someone accompany her, Ami was the best choice at the moment. They walked silently until they reached Minako’s rooms, when Ami cleared her throat and said, “I’ll wait outside.”
Minako nodded. “Ami-chan…”
“You should change.”
"I’m sorry I worried you.”
Ami looked at her for a moment and then looked away. “At least you’re still alive,” she said.
It wasn’t forgiveness but it was better than insults or mockery. Minako wasted no time in changing: trousers for ease of movement, short-sleeved shirt for the same reason. Of course, they flattered her figure as well: she hadn’t forgotten that he’d be in the room when she returned.
The walk back was just as silent. Minako knew that she had to say something but she had no idea what: Ami was locked away from her, hidden inside her shell. In the end, Minako decided that actions spoke louder than words, so she put a hand on Ami’s shoulder and squeezed it briefly before going inside. She felt Ami freeze in shock but there was no time to explain: everyone was waiting. She pushed open the door with a bright smile and said, “Sorry to keep you waiting!”
And there he was, turning towards her, sharp grey slacks and cream wool rollneck outlining his body. Minako drew in a breath. For a moment, the world disappeared and it was just them, looking at each other. Minako felt the morning’s desire sweep over her, pulsing and undeniable. She could never have stayed away. Then he turned away and looked at Serenity, releasing her.
“You wished to speak to me, ma’am?” he asked politely.
“Yes. I’m sorry to interfere in your private life, Kunzite, but the girls need your solemn assurance that you were not just using Minako-chan last night.”
Kunzite raised his eyebrows and looked at the ‘girls’. Even Rei was red at the way Serenity had put the issue. Minako had a terrifying urge to giggle and barely managed to control herself. She heard Endymion clear his throat and guessed he was having the same problem.
“That depends on whether they believe me,” Kunzite pointed out, still watching the senshi.
“They have to,” Minako said, surprising them all. “They won’t have any choice.” She crossed to him and slipped her hand around his arm, looking up at him. “I already told them my part.”
“Ah,” he said, nodding. “That explains the… hostility.” He cleared his throat. “I do not object to stating that I am perfectly serious about Minako-chan.”
“She said that she was in love with you,” Rei stated and Minako wanted to hit her. “We need to know if you feel the same way.”
“He said he’s serious, do you really believe he would go back on his word?” Endymion asked.
Rei laughed, her eyes cold as winter. “He’s done it before. Just because you forgave him doesn’t mean that I have to.”
Minako was gripping Kunzite’s arm tightly so she didn’t fly at Rei. “He never did anything to you. He hurt me and Endymion. And we have both forgiven him. Because we both love him. And we don’t need to hear him say it…”
“Yes,” Kunzite said, starling her into silence. “I feel the same way. Is that enough for you, Mars?”
Rei stared at him for a moment, mouth open, as surprised as Minako. Then she shut it, her eyes narrowing slightly. “I suppose it has to be enough, doesn’t it?” she said, folding her arms. “I can’t exactly accuse you of being a liar in front of these two people.”
“You could, but it wouldn’t do you any good.” Kunzite looked at Ami and Makoto. “Are you two satisfied?”
Makoto shrugged. “There’s not much you can do to prove your words other than stick around, but yeah, I’m satisfied. For the moment.”
“I don’t think Minako-chan would feel this way about you if you weren’t serious about her,” Ami said quietly. “She’s been hurt too many times to risk this much on a man who didn’t care about her. Yes. I believe you.”
Minako let out a breath she hadn’t even realised she’d been holding. She wanted to hug Ami and cry on her shoulder, but she knew that would have to wait. The situation was delicate enough. For now, she could rest and enjoy this small victory they had earned.
“WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?!”
She turned her head. Artemis was standing in the doorway, his fur bristling with anger. Minako sighed.
It was going to be one of those days.
Title: The Lesser Evil
Rufus didn’t know where he was going, but he knew where he’d been, and he also knew that he was never going back. He’d had enough of being blamed for everything that went wrong with the farm, everything that went wrong at market, everything that was wrong with the family. He’d left an apology and some money for his mother, a small note for each of his brothers and sisters, and some feed for the chickens, his final task. He travelled light, just a knapsack and the clothes on his back. He was strong and quick to learn: he knew that he’d find work easy.
He headed for the nearest sky port first. He wanted to get a job on the docks, but there were no openings and they mocked his country accent and dusty clothes. Now here he was, in a tavern, using up the last of his money on a warm drink and trying to decide what he’d do next. He was good with his fists: perhaps he’d become a prize fighter. It was dangerous, but they did earn lots of money. He could even send some back to his family.
He looked up, blinking. There was a slightly older man standing in front of him, dressed in blue, expensive from the tailoring. His eyes were blue as well, piercing and narrowed. Rufus stared back, ready to defend himself if needs be. “What?” he demanded.
“Anyone sitting here?”
Rufus shook his head and gazed into his tankard. The stranger sat down with his own tankard (full) and offered his right hand. “Jay.”
After staring at him for a moment (city people were not friendly as a general rule), Rufus took the hand and shook. “Rufus.”
“What’s your business here, Rufus?”
“Nothing. I don’t have any business. Nobody will even give me the time of day.” Rufus smiled a bit at his own joke and then sighed.
Jay watched him for a moment, then took a gulp of his own drink. “What are your skills?”
“Why d’you want to know?” Rufus stared at him.
“Just answer the question.”
There was a hint of command in Jay’s voice that reminded Rufus of his stepfather, and he bristled. “Why should I?”
Jay shrugged. “I thought you said you wanted a job. You’re going to have to work on your attitude and you’re going to have to learn to sell yourself. What are you good at?”
Rufus thought for a moment. “Working,” he said simply. “I’m strong, I’m healthy. I can lift heavy weights, I learn fast, people like me. I’m willing to do pretty much anything as long as it’s decent pay – I’m not going to sleep on the street.”
Jay was watching him, blue eyes cool and objective. “Anything, huh?” he said. “How would you like to work with me?”
Rufus almost choked on his beer. He put his tankard down quickly and stared at the other man, at his clothes and his clean face and his casual air. “With you?” he repeated. “Why?”
“You said you were willing to do anything and that’s useful in my line of work.” Jay drained his tankard and smacked his lips. “Strength and courage are pretty important, too — and I know you have those, or you wouldn’t have come all the way here on your own to try and make your fortune. And I’m in the business of making fortunes… hell, some people call me a gentleman of fortune.” All the while he said this, Jay was looking at Rufus, watching his face, head slightly cocked, like a hawk watching its prey.
“A gentleman of fortune,” Rufus repeated innocently. “That sounds fine.”
“Oh, it is… it involves bending the rules a little sometimes, but… I don’t think that would bother you, would it?” Jay raised one fair eyebrow.
Rufus considered this proposal. He did have some idea of what Jay was proposing. “As long as my family never hear of it and we don’t run unnecessary risks,” he answered slowly. “I don’t mind bending the rules. Back home, I even broke them.”
Jay grinned. “Excellent. Then we have a deal?”
Rufus nodded. They both spat in their hands and shook. Jay did not wipe the spit off as some men would have done, which mad Rufus feel a little better. It meant that, despite his fine clothes, Jay did not come from high society. He drank the last of his beer and they both stood up.
“My ship’s this way,” Jay said, jerking his thumb to the left once they were out of the tavern. “Have to keep it parked far away from the front… authorities would have trouble turning a blind eye.”
Rufus sniggered, following Jay through the twisting alleys with a light heart. He didn’t care what was going to happen: he didn’t have to go back to the farm, humiliated, and listen to his stepfather pour scorn on him again, that was what mattered. But when they arrived at Jay’s dock, he found himself gaping. He could see what Jay meant about having difficult ignoring the ship. It was big and looked to be in good shape, though obviously he wasn’t an expert. The outer hull was clean and all the gun towers looked to be in working order. On the smooth underside, he could see a large green symbol: a circle with a diagonal arrow attached.
“What’s that?” he asked, pointing.
“Hmm? Oh… it means ‘power’, ‘strength’… Used to be the official symbol of the planet Mars… you know, the Solar System?”
“Doesn’t Mars have a senshi?”
“Mm, but she lives on Earth… guards the Queen… we don’t go near that place, it’s too well guarded,” Jay added. “If we got anywhere near there, we’d get slapped in jail so fast, your head would spin. And your family would hear all about it, believe me.” He lifted an intercom and spoke into it. “Yo, Sandy. Got us a new recruit.”
“New? This, I have to see.”
There was a grinding noise and Rufus started back, his heart beating wildly. He was so shocked that he couldn’t even resent Jay’s obvious amusement. A flap was opening in the bottom of the ship and he could see that there was someone standing on the edge as it touched the dock.
“Come and meet your shipmate,” Jay said, with a trace of irony, clapping him on the back and Rufus moved forward automatically.
Sandy was shorter than him but looked about the same age. He had wide green eyes and a very innocent face, which belied a silver tongue and a talent for thinking up devious schemes, according to Jay.
Sandy smiled pleasantly. “But nobody ever believes it,” he said, holding out his hand. His grip was surprisingly strong, despite his thin arms and narrow shoulders. “Stick around for a while and I might spin a few tales for you.”
“Sandy’s the engineer and general maintenance man,” Jay supplied. “And I’m the captain. Obviously.”
“What does that make me? Cabin boy?” Rufus joked.
“If you like,” Sandy said with a shrug. “But I’m sure Jay’s already got a position lined up for you… probably did since he first saw you. Welcome aboard, Rufus. “ He turned to Jay. “Does this mean we can actually leave this hellhole now?”
“Be my guest,” Jay replied with a sweet smile. Sandy turned and left without another word. Jay rolled his eyes and muttered out of the corner of his mouth, “Thinks he’s too good for us.”
“I heard that!”
“Good!” Jay retorted and grinned at Rufus. “Come on. I’ll show you around.”
“Are you two the only members of the crew?” Rufus asked curiously as Jay began to show him his new ‘office’.
“We were… but now we’re three. The lucky number.” Jay winked at him. “Prepare to get rich.”