Theme: Eighteen (second picture)
Version: Manga (Crystal Tokyo)
With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot
Nephrite stumbled as he walked through the grass. Jet lag was pulling at his limbs, turning them heavy and leaden. The feeling brought back bad memories and he pushed himself onwards. There were murmurs, laughter. Steps appeared and he picked his way down them. He could smell the knot garden, lemon balm and camomile giving up their scent in tribute to the pale moon that hung over them. He almost waved at it before reminding himself that
He saw Pallas peering around the corner of a hedge. She spotted him and beckoned, then vanished before he could say anything. He wondered how long he would have to stay before he could go to bed. He did not have the energy to keep up with a pack of teenage girls right now.
“Nephrite.” Now Venus was standing at his shoulder. He could feel her taking hold his elbow, guiding him. “I know you’re tired. Just a little longer.”
He nodded and smiled. They rounded the corner and entered the area of the gardens called the Meadow. This was a long flat area full of wildflowers, shadowed by old trees that had been planted when Crystal Tokyo was founded. Nephrite could see that one of these trees now had beautiful lamps hung from its branches. A trestle table was set out beneath the branches, loaded with food and decorated with ivy and delicate flower arrangements that must have been done by Ceres. The King and Queen were sitting there, Jadeite and Mars had just come out of an
“SURPRISE!” yelled Vesta and Pallas, jumping up from their hiding place behind the table, quickly followed by Ceres and Juno.
“We wanted to welcome you back,” said the Princess, popping up at his side. “You were working so hard before you went away and Venus said that this would help cheer you up now you’re back from holiday.”
“It’s... sweet,” he said, glancing at Venus to see if he’d said the correct thing.
“And you don’t have to worry about the food, Jupiter made most of it,” Vesta added, gesturing.
“Jupiter did?” He sat down at the head of the table, feeling as if he’d missed something, something very important. “Why?”
Ceres shot him a look from under her fair, almost invisible eyelashes. Although she was the leader of the senshi, and therefore technically Venus’s protégée, her powers were plant-based and so she often spent time with Jupiter. “We said we wanted to welcome you back and she volunteered.”
Nephrite stared at the table. It was loaded with his favourite meals, which were a fusion of Japanese and West Coast cuisine. “She must have gone to a lot of trouble...”
“Don’t tell me you’re not hungry,” said Endymion with a small smile.
“You will never hear those words out of me,” Nephrite replied with dignity, pouring himself some sake. “Even on my deathbed, I will still be asking for another piece of pie.”
It seemed that was the cue for everybody to sit down and start eating. The food was utterly delicious and he was so absorbed in eating that he didn’t take any notice of the people around him for a good five minutes. When he looked up, he was amazed to find Saturn sitting at his left hand, daintily picking at a rock shrimp dumpling.
“Good to have you back,” she said with a smile that reached her eyes.
“I wasn’t gone for that long,” he protested.
“I wasn’t talking about Prague,” Saturn responded.
Nephrite ducked his head. He always found it difficult to look at Saturn for too long (her grey eyes held the wisdom of the cosmos, the peace of death) and he sometimes wondered how Kunzite even managed to hold a conversation with her, let alone have a friendship. He liked Saturn, but, to put it frankly, she made him nervous.
“Thanks,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s true, though.”
“You’re out of the shadows,” she answered, gloved fingers alighting on his hand for a startling moment. “Enjoy the sunshine.”
Then she was gone and Endymion was sitting there, his eyes steady and concerned on Nephrite’s face. Nephrite ducked his head again, preferring to avoid the questions in Endymion’s gaze.
“How are you?”
It was the same question Endymion had asked in Prague and Nephrite gave him the same answer.
“You had a hallucination of Beryl, don’t tell me you’re ‘fine’.”
Nephrite banged his glass harder on the table than he meant to. “You’re going to bring this up here? Now?”
“You know a more suitable time and place?” Endymion raised an eyebrow. Sitting in lavender and white, he looked as if he were dissolving around the edges into the evening air, as if he were another hallucination.
“It was just the absinthe, okay? The absinthe and her.” Nephrite didn’t need to explain the ‘her’. Endymion knew. The palace knew. The whole fucking city knew. And he noticed that although she’d cooked all this wonderful food, she wasn’t at the meal. She could make food for him but she couldn’t welcome him home in person.
“She’s still in the kitchen,” Endymion said, his hand reaching out to a piece of sushi from Nephrite’s plate. Nephrite grabbed a fork and stabbed, smirking as Endymion snatched his hand away.
“You don’t steal food from me,” he said, ignoring the sudden silence at the table. “You should know that by now. Kunzite and Jadeite may let you get away with it, but I won’t.”
Endymion shrugged, his eyes warm behind the mask. “It was worth a try.”
“If you’re going to try, you should be less obvious about it,” Jadeite called, and the table relaxed and went back to eating.
“So, she’s in the kitchen?” Nephrite repeated, concentrating hard on his food.
“Of course.” Endymion picked up a sushi spring roll. “She might need some help, though.”
“Better keep an ambulance on standby, then,” Nephrite muttered, standing up. He waved at Venus and Jadeite, both suddenly alert. “Indoor business, okay?” Venus shook her head once, telling him that she wasn’t fooled. Jadeite nodded as if he’d understood.
Nephrite took a deep breath, turned and walked towards the palace. Out of the shadows, Saturn had said. Well, that was fine, as long as the light didn’t kill you. He wondered if he had a death wish, if he was like moths that immolated themselves on candles and electrocuted themselves on lights, trying to get too close.
She made the food, he told himself. That has to count for something.