Sequel to A Hundred Spires. Comes before Power Play.
Then he drank opaline.
Memories and terrors beset him.
The past tore after him like a panther and
through the blackness of the present he saw
the luminous tiger eyes of the things to be…
The past shed its perfume over him,
today held his hand as if it were a little child,
and tomorrow shone like a white star: nothing was changed.
The beer had made everything soft around the edges, dulled the lights. The world was a nicer place. A bottle appeared on the table before him and he blinked. It was the purest green, a similar colour to Jupiter’s uniform. He didn’t want to think about Jupiter.
“What is it?” he asked, squinting.
“Absinthe,” said Jadeite, pushing a glass towards him. The glass was not like a traditional wine glass. It was less rounded, with a rippled stem that squeezed the base of the glass as if to collect the dregs.
Nephrite blinked. He’d heard of the drink somewhere before, but he couldn’t catch the memory now. And it didn’t matter, as long as it helped him forget. He reached for the bottle but Zoisite smacked his hand.
“Not yet,” he said. “There’s a special way to prepare it. Trust me, it’s worth it.” He opened the bottle and poured a shot of liquid into the glass until it filled the first part of the base of the glass. The liquid was a deep emerald. “Watch,” he instructed, placing a spoon over the glass which seemed to have holes in it. Nephrite was about to ask why he needed it when Zoisite placed a sugar cube on the spoon and then started pouring water over the cube.
As Nephrite watched, the liquid changed, the green lightening from emerald to a pale, milky opal, a little lighter than Zoisite’s eyes. Zoisite then stirred the drink and pushed the drink towards him. “Na zdraví,” he said. “It means ‘cheers’ in Czech.”
“Why don’t you just say ‘kampai’, you pretentious wanker,” Nephrite muttered. He lifted the glass, nodded to both of them, and took his first sip.
It didn’t seem to do much at first. He sat back and saw that Venus and Kunzite were dancing. It looked like the tango. Venus’s legs were twisting in and out, their feet meeting and flicking and moving away, but their torsos were pressed tight together and they were cheek-to-cheek, lost to the world. He smiled. That was how it should be. They should be happy. Kunzite should be happy.
She was wearing in a short black dress and he was wearing a well-cut jacket and trousers. Then she was dancing in a long yellow dress and he was wearing uniform. Nephrite wondered why he’d changed. It wasn’t easy to dance in that uniform; he should know, he’d tried. And anyway, they only wore it on state occasions and this definitely wasn’t a state occasion.
“They look cosy.”
He turned his head and saw that Jupiter was sitting beside him. She was wearing a green dress that kept changing from emerald to pale opal. It also demonstrated that she had a magnificent cleavage and didn’t mind showing it off. “What… are you…?”
“You think we could be that cosy?” She stood up and looked at him with a mischievous smile. One hand gestured to the open doorway that had appeared to her left.
Nephrite did not think, he did not stop to wonder where he was or when he was, he just followed her. The doorway led to a garden walk lined with pillars and Jupiter was standing at the end. She beckoned him and he began to run but hands caught him and he fell down. He couldn’t move. He was paralysed. His head was aching and filled with fire but he had to get to her. What was wrong with him? He was turning into stone.
She was walking towards him. Her hair was growing longer, falling down to the floor. It was darkening in colour, the locks twisting and coiling like snakes. Her skin turned from rose to chalk. He froze in fear as she knelt down and smiled at him. It wasn’t Jupiter any more.
“Don’t you know you’re always mine?” said Beryl, reaching out and caressing his face. “I’ll never let you go. Never.” Her face bent towards his and he could smell her breath, the odour of the tomb seeping out between her sharp teeth and smothering him, engulfing his soul
“NO! NO NO NO!” He screamed and struck out but she dissolved into smoke, her laughter echoing in his head and he couldn’t even breathe.
He was petrified and petrifying, losing his humanity. His soul left his body and he grew cold and everything hardened, if his soul was gone, why could he still feel this?
Kunzite, was that Kunzite? But didn’t she get Kunzite, too? He was sobbing and he didn’t even care. Hands touched his face and light blazed in the darkness. He turned his head and saw the two of them standing over him, silver and gold. The King and Queen?
“No, get away, she’ll hurt you, get away!” he said, trying to push them but he didn’t have hands any more, his arms flailed like branches, useless and leaden.
“Nephrite, look at me!”
The silver figure was Kunzite, kneeling down, his hands were warm and human.
The golden figure bent down to him. Venus, her red lips pinched but her blue eyes wide and searching, the softness of the blue reminded him of Serenity and Endymion, true blue and never corrupted, not like him.
“We need to get him outside. Help me.”
Suddenly his body was back, but useless, he couldn’t make his legs move, everything was wobbling, the walls were melting and turning into red, wriggling snakes. He shuddered and tried to pull away, tried to warn them, but they kept walking as if the snakes weren’t even there. They trod on the snakes’ heads, which burst into puddles of black blood and rotting eyeballs, leaving their bodies lashing. Nephrite held on until the fresh air hit him and then he pitched forward and vomited, his stomach heaving until there was nothing left.
He was staring at cold, grey cobbles and they were wonderful. Solid, beautiful, rounded to the touch. There was a warm hand on his back and Venus was sitting beside him, watching his face. She looked so sad.
“Jupiter,” he whispered.
“Kunzite, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t think –!”
Zoisite’s voice was too high, it hurt his ears. Kunzite said nothing, his anger like a solid weight in the air.
Venus reached over and wiped away some sweat with a balled up handkerchief. “What happened with Jupiter, Nephrite?”
“She hates me.”
Her eyes widened. “That’s not true.”
“She said she did. She said she didn’t want to see me… ever. She’s happy with him and I’m spoiling it. I spoiled it before and I’m spoiling it now.” He looked at her, pleading. “I don’t even know what she means.”
Venus looked as if she were about to cry. She leaned over and left a gentle kiss on his forehead. He felt as if he’d been blessed somehow. The pain in his chest seemed to lessen, become easier to bear. In the background, Zoisite and Jadeite carried on pleading and arguing but he ignored them.
“What do I do?” he asked her. “I can’t stop. I can’t make this feeling go away. I’ve tried. Over and over. I can’t… do it any more. I’m so tired.”
She shook her head and put her face in her hands for an instant. When she took them away, she had put a mask on. “We’re going to take you back to the hotel. You’re going to sleep this off and feel better.”
“Nephrite.” Kunzite was kneeling beside him. His voice was warm and steady. “Can you stand?”
He nodded and told his body to get up. He was amazed when it obeyed. The movement made the world sway and recede but he stayed upright. Kunzite put an arm around his shoulders. “Come on. We’re going back.” He looked at Venus. “Where are you staying?”
“The Domus Balthasar.”
Kunzite looked away and Nephrite could sense Zoisite cringing. “Of course. Well, let’s go.” He set an easy pace as they all started to walk back. Nephrite could hear their footsteps echo around the streets and it felt like they were marching in time.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
“You don’t need to apologise.”
“But I’m cock-blocking you.”
Kunzite looked at him, bewildered. “What?”
“You… and her… I’m in the way. I don’t want to be in the way. You should… one of us should have… a good night.” He tried to smile. “And it won’t be… Jadeite or Zoisite.”
“No.” Kunzite’s eyes narrowed. “It’s not their turn.”
“They were only trying to help,” Nephrite said, stumbling over a dip in the road. “Don’t… be too harsh.”
“They should have known better, Nephrite.”
“Only human…” Nephrite tried to look over his shoulder at Jadeite and Zoisite, who were skulking at the back of the group, casting him anxious glances. He wanted to give them a wink or a grin but he didn’t have full control of his body back just yet.
“And you’re not in the way,” Kunzite continued. “Not at all.”
“Yes, I am. I’m always in the way.” He thought of Jupiter, tears in her eyes, telling him that he had messed up everything. He’d only been trying to help her move some things but then he’d touched her hand, and one touch led to another and then he’d been kissing her. But she’d kissed him back.
Nephrite stopped walking. Kunzite nearly fell over as Jadeite and Zoisite walked into them. “What the hell?!” Jadeite demanded.
She’d kissed him back. She’d put her arms around his neck and she’d opened her mouth and he’d been in heaven until that wanker had come into the room and started shouting. He looked at Venus, who was waiting for them.
“She kissed me back,” he said, knowing she’d understand.
Venus stood very still for a moment. Then she walked towards him and took his hand. “I’m going to talk with her, okay? She can’t keep blaming you like this.”
“She’s got every right,” he muttered.
“Not in this case she hasn’t,” Venus said, her voice hard, suddenly sounding a lot like Kunzite.
“Would someone please explain what is going on?” Zoisite demanded.
“You don’t get any explanations, not tonight,” Kunzite snapped. Nephrite could feel both the younger men shrivelling behind them. He smiled, holding onto that one golden realisation.
She’d kissed him back.
Author's Notes: The dance Venus and Kunzite are doing looks something like this.