Version: Manga (Crystal Tokyo)
The square is spacious
has no walls
Under the roof made
by street lamps
They talk freely now
they feel free
Perhaps it really is
for free men to be
Sequel to Breathing Space
Zoisite met them at the airport with no guard whatsoever. Nephrite was grateful for the lack of formality, as Zoisite could sometimes go overboard on ceremony. There was no press waiting for them, nobody to dodge. It was all so different, so refreshing. Of course, they had to wait so that Jadeite could video Mars and tell her that he’d landed safely. They would have made jokes except… he’d gone through enough to get her and her journey to trust him had been hard enough viewed from the outside, so neither of them said anything. And when they saw the look of relief that she didn’t even attempt to hide, they were glad they’d remained silent.
Zoisite looked up at Nephrite. “You look tired. And don’t tell me it’s jet lag.”
“Fine. I won’t tell you it’s jet lag.”
Zoisite rolled his eyes. Nephrite scowled. For a moment, he wished they’d gone to Dubai instead. Sure, it was much hotter, but Kunzite would have let him be quiet, would have simply let him be.
“Kunzite’s coming for a visit, too,” Zoisite said, and Nephrite glanced at him.
“You reading my mind again?”
“You think loudly,” Zoisite answered, not even bothering to apologise. “And since neither of you have been here before, we thought we’d let you explore together.”
Nephrite was about to ask who was included in the ‘we’ but then he understood. Jadeite and Zoisite had planned this. He tried to be angry, but he couldn’t even raise a spark of indignation. Wow, maybe he was more tired than he thought. He took his sunglasses out of his breast pocket and slipped them on to hide his expression. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” Zoisite smiled. “I like the shades. Very Maverick.”
“I was trying for Ice Man.”
“Oh, come on, you know Kunzite’s Ice Man, there’s no point in any of us even trying to take that spot.”
Nephrite couldn’t help smiling back. “So when’s he arriving?”
“Tomorrow afternoon. He already told him not to meet him, he wants to find us on his own.” Zoisite rolled his eyes again, showing what he thought of their leader’s independent streak.
Jadeite finished his conversation. “Okay. Let’s go, I am ready for the beer!”
The next day, Nephrite stumbled down the stairs of the Domus Balthasar Hotel, outside into the sunshine, which was painfully bright. The beer had been good. Too good. He had decided that he was never going to drink beer again… at least, not for a week. He turned right and headed over the Charles Bridge for the Café Louvre, because one of the few things he remembered about last night was Zoisite talking about the amazing decoration and the delicious food. What Zoisite hadn’t mentioned was that the café was on the first floor. Nephrite stared at the staircase for a moment, his stomach clenching. Then he took a deep breath and hauled himself up by the banister. The staff did not seem surprised to see him in such a state. He was led to a table, sat down and given a menu in English.
“Do you do coffee?” he asked, pinching the bridge between his nose in an effort to make the headache go away. It did not work.
“We do many kinds.” The waitress bent over and indicated, where there was a mindboggling selection of different types of coffee.
“Viennese,” Nephrite said, deciding he’d try something new. “And a Butchery Platter for breakfast.”
“Of course, sir. Would you like anything else?”
“Um… yeah, some goulash.” What the hell, he was here to relax, he might as well have a blow out. He could feel his phone buzzing in his pocket, but didn’t pick up until the waitress had left. It was Jadeite.
“Where the hell are you?”
“Café Louvre,” Nephrite yawned, wishing he’d brought his sunglasses and trying to remember where he’d last seen them.
“Right, you just walked through a strange city half-drunk to a place you’ve never been before.”
“Hey, I have a good sense of direction. And I saved the directions on my phone last night.”
“You bastard, Kunzite’s meant to be the ultra prepared one, remember?”
“Yup.” Nephrite grinned and nodded as the waitress put his coffee down in front of him. It seemed to be a mix of coffee and chocolate, with cinnamon sprinkled on top. “Now I have a very important appointment with my coffee. You wanna join me?”
“Yes, but Zoisite’s already up and he wants to drag me off to see this military museum.” Jadeite sounded aggrieved but Nephrite knew that was only the hangover talking. Jadeite loved military history.
“All right, man, have a good time, see you in the afternoon.”
“You’re not going to come and rescue me?”
“Nope, I’m here to relax.” Nephrite took a sip of the coffee and let out an involuntary noise of pleasure. “Damn, that is good.”
“Shut up,” Jadeite grumbled and hung up.
Nephrite laughed. Maybe this was working. He’d had an amazing time last night, he was about to have a completely unhealthy breakfast and he hadn’t thought about Jupiter in twenty-four hours… damn. He stared at his coffee, thinking it was almost the exact shade of her hair, and then he scrunched his eyes up. He wasn’t here to think about her. He was here to enjoy himself and live in the present, not the past. Why was it so hard?
Fortunately, his goulash arrived at that moment. He grabbed the spoon and began to eat. Food had always been an effective distraction from problems and the goulash was hot, filling and just a little bit spicy. He just about managed to eat the Butchery Platter when it arrived and then decided he’d wander over to the castle. He liked castles, even though most were huge, cold, uncomfortable places with blood-soaked pasts. Maybe he felt a little bit of sympathy for the way they were stranded in the present century, no longer fit for their original purpose but forced to exist.
It took about forty minutes to walk across the bridge and up the hill. Like all medieval fortresses, the castle was more of a complex than a single building, containing four palace buildings, five grand halls and five churches (including an actual cathedral). When he arrived, Nephrite began to understand why Prague was called the City of a Hundred Spires. He thought at least half of them were probably here on the castle. It was all so soothing and familiar – the courtyards, the long corridors, the cold feeling of stone surrounding him. He was reluctant to leave and quietly slipped into St Vitus’s Cathedral for a moment of contemplation.
I can’t go on feeling this way. I need to get her out of my head, Lord, or at least out of my heart. I’m not like Kunzite, I can’t just stand back and be happy for her.
“You’re praying? Things must be really bad.”
Nephrite opened his eyes and glanced upwards. The man standing beside him was tall and spare with deep-set eyes. Nephrite couldn’t help but smile at him. It had been way too long since they’d last met. “A lapsed Catholic is still a Catholic.”
“I wouldn’t know, I’m a Buddhist,” Kunzite replied, almost smiling. “Need a few more minutes?”
“No, I’m good.” Nephrite stood up, crossed himself, and they both left the cathedral. “When did you get here?”
“Couple of hours ago. Dropped off my luggage at the Domus and headed up here.”
“But you didn’t know I was here!”
Kunzite actually did smile then, which caused several women and men to do double takes. “I know you.” He slipped on his sunglasses, causing another ripple of interest.
Nephrite wondered if Kunzite knew how deadly that smile could be and then mentally slapped himself. Of course he knew, this was Kunzite. “Very Ice Man,” he remarked.
Kunzite made a face. “Ice Man was a jerk, I always preferred Goose.”
“But he died a good guy.”
Nephrite didn’t say anything for a moment because his mind was filled with static. He could have kicked himself. He often forgot how the past weighed on Kunzite, because Kunzite was good at making him forget. He wanted the others all to be happy and if that meant carrying this burden alone, he would do so. “You’re a good guy,” he said in the end, wincing at how clumsy and weak he sounded.
Kunzite grabbed his arm, steering him in the direction of the hotel. “Praise indeed,” he said, but then kept hold of Nephrite’s arm for a moment longer. “Thank you, Maverick.”
Once again lost for words, Nephrite bumped his arm against Kunzite’s ribs. “You’re welcome.” He wished Endymion were here. Endymion and Kunzite seemed to have a silent understanding, which he personally didn’t quite understand (and it seemed to irritate Jadeite a lot) but Kunzite always seemed more relaxed around Endymion and Endymion seemed… more secure. Which was odd but true.
The sound of the street seemed to disappear the moment they stepped into the hotel lobby. Nephrite sunk into one of the large armchairs while Kunzite went to the front desk to see if they were any messages. He came back holding two shimmering red tickets and a note. “Zoisite’s booked us a table at the Aphrodite Cabaret. Although Jadeite says he’s going to leave if there’s burlesque, because in his words ‘Being barbecued once was enough’.”
Nephrite snorted. “Right, like he wouldn’t enjoy the grilling. Why does he even bother trying to deny it?”
“You tell me,” Kunzite said, looking straight back at him.
Nephrite felt himself go red. Damn the man, how did he do that? “I wouldn’t know.”
“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Swimming in denial.”
Anger and embarrassment made Nephrite jump up and turn away, his fingers itching to form a fist. “I’m just here to have a good time.”
“Are you having a good time?”
“I was until you brought her up,” Nephrite snarled. He could hear the sudden hush in the lobby and was even angrier at Kunzite for bringing her up here, of all places. “I don’t want to talk about her, all right?! I just want to have some fun!”
“So let’s have some fun.” Kunzite tossed him one of the tickets and Nephrite caught it by pure reflex. “I’m going to have a shower, see you in ten minutes?”
Nephrite nodded. There was a gaming room in the basement, he could work off the anger in there. And then tonight… maybe he could give up beer next week.
The cabaret was down a flight of stone steps, pitted in the middle from the many feet that had passed up and down them. The building which housed the club looked ancient, a mass of stone that felt solid and indifferent. The neon light seemed almost insulting against its grace and age. The doorman nodded to Zoisite and Jadeite without comment, but gazed at Kunzite and Nephrite with curiosity.
“My colleagues,” Zoisite said pleasantly. “Is Aphrodite here yet?”
The doorman nodded and said something in Czech. Zoisite laughed and led the others inside. The club was small and dimly lit, with crimson lamps on the table casting a romantic glow. The stage itself was low and long, so an artist or dancer could step into the crowd if he or she wished. The walls were covered in art nouveau posters but Nephrite could see one frame that was dedicated to a particular woman with long fair hair and delicious curves. “Is that Aphrodite?” he murmured in Zoisite’s ear.
“Yep, that’s her.”
“Aphrodite’s a real person?”
“Depends what you call ‘real’,” said Zoisite with a half smile.
“I mean, she’s not made up?” Nephrite insisted.
“It’s a made up name.” Zoisite turned to Kunzite and Jadeite. “Her voice isn’t spectacular, but that doesn’t matter with her personality and her moves. Very graceful. This place is packed every time she performs.”
“Does she perform often?” asked Kunzite, who seemed to be the only man in the room who wasn’t looking at the stage.
“Only a few times a year.” Zoisite lowered his eyes, smiling into his drink. “This isn’t her main job, it’s therapy.”
“Singing and dancing in front of strangers is therapy for her?” Jadeite said, raising both eyebrows.
Kunzite frowned and began to ask something but suddenly the table lamps went out. Nephrite was about to ask if there was a power cut when a single spotlight fell on the stage and he saw a woman standing there, holding a microphone with her head bowed. She was wearing elbow length black gloves and a short black dress that showed off very long, very shapely legs. Her fair hair fell almost to her waist. She began to sing into the microphone.
“Ya had plenty money 1922, you let other women make a fool of you…”
Nephrite could feel Kunzite stiffen beside him. Jadeite was gaping at the stage and Zoisite was grinning like a Cheshire Cat. The woman lifted her head and gazed straight at them. She was unmistakeable.
Author's Notes: The Domus Balthasar and Café Louvre are real places. The text comes from the poem August 4th Old Town Square by Anthony Blake, written when he visited Prague in 1968 after Czechoslovakia rose up against the Soviet Union.