I know that people have been waiting for this one, and I'm sorry it took so long... *blush* At least it wasn't as long as the wait for part 3, ne? Anyway, I think I'm finally back on the ball with this fic - I kinda lost myself for a while, there. Hopefully I'll be able to get parts out a little faster, now that I'm over the middle hump, so to speak. And since people keep asking: I'm not sure exactly how many parts this is going to be - I will hopefully keep it under ten, I don't want it to be more than that. *nods*
A happy update: I finally broke down and got an account with Geocities to
hold all my fics. In case you'd like to visit, here's the addy:
((Good Lord... If that didn't just date this fic, I don't know what will... O_o;;;)) --Renée-chan, 1/29/06
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me. The chars and anime of Sailor Moon belong to Naoko Takeuchi-sama and all the wonderful people who helped to create it. Please don't sue me for using them. ^_^ And now, what you all came here for... The Fic!
Generals' Hour: Part 5
Malachite slowly rose from the depths of sleep. Not yet ready to open his eyes, he took a moment to think. Darien's question had been a good one - rather unfortunately, he still didn't have an answer for it. Something was going to have to be done about the Princess, but he didn't know what. If only he knew why she had decided to turn on them! Then maybe he could talk to her... Even before he completed the thought, he tossed it out as useless. The Princess wouldn't listen to him, and he knew it. The only one she might listen to would be the Prince, and even that wasn't a certainty.
In the middle of all these tangled thoughts, Malachite became aware of another presence, nearby. A cool hand soothed a stray lock of hair back from his forehead. He heard a voice and strained to hear what it said. "Shh... It's all right. Easy, now..." He quickly identified the voice as Zoisite's. I should tell her I'm awake... Another soothing stroke to his brow made him think twice - her touch was easing the tangled ache in his head. He held his tongue.
He didn't hear anything else from the Healer's direction for quite a few moments. When he finally heard her voice again, Malachite was quite surprised. Was Zoisite - singing?
Zoisite looked tenderly down at the man lying on the bed. His face seemed pulled into constant lines of worry. She stretched a hand out to smooth a lock of hair from his face. The strain seemed to ease somewhat. Encouraged, Zoisite pulled her chair closer and began to lightly brush her hand across Malachite's brow, "Shh... It's all right. Easy, now..." His face seemed to relax even more, so she continued her ministrations.
She fell silent, merely watching the First General. He was so handsome... She began to feel an urge that she hadn't felt in a long time. She closed her eyes and started to hum under her breath, smiling slightly. She opened her eyes and watched Malachite's reaction - he was smiling. Quietly, Zoisite began to sing. It was an old song - a lullaby that her mother used to sing. It seemed to be doing a good job.
Nephlyte began to stir from where he sat in the room's other chair. He had been exhausted, but had refused to leave his brother's side. Zoisite smiled as he blinked a few times then focused on her. She lifted her other hand to her lips and pointed down at Malachite. Nephlyte saw how tenderly she was administering to his brother and settled back to watch her. After a minute or two, he began to laugh. Zoisite tossed him a sour look as she finished her song.
Nephlyte put a hand to his mouth in an attempt to control his laugh, but soon gave it up as useless. He leaned close to Malachite's ear and said, "You aren't fooling me, brother dear. Just how long have you been awake?"
Malachite's eyes flew open so quickly, and the look on his face was so guilty, that Nephlyte knew his guess had been correct. Zoisite snatched her hand away from Malachite's forehead and stood up. She looked rather embarrassed, "Oh! You, you - Men!" She then gathered up her Healer's robe and stormed out of the room.
Malachite glared at Nephlyte, "You are coming seriously close to annoying me, brother dear."
Nephlyte merely smiled as he leaned back into his chair, "What's the matter? Were you enjoying that? Is that it?"
Malachite struggled to sit up, then shook his head, "Of course not. I don't have time for a relationship - especially not now, and especially not with another General. That would be one of the stupidest things I could possibly do."
Nephlyte leaned forward and helped him sit up, "All right, you're not up to being teased right now. I can understand that. I'll be nice. But you have to promise me that you won't do too much, too soon. OK?"
Malachite looked as though he wanted to protest, but in the end, he capitulated. He frowned a bit, "I need to talk to the Prince. I think I have an idea for how to protect the kingdom - what's left of it, anyway." He looked up at Nephlyte, "Help me up? I think I'm going to need help getting into my uniform..."
Chuckling quietly, Nephlyte helped Malachite to get up and walk to the closet. After a few stressful moments, Nephlyte managed to get his brother into his uniform. Malachite looked into the mirror and shook his head, Even I have to admit that I look terrible... Subconsciously, his hand crept up to rest on the site of his worst wound. He winced, Oh yeah, this is going to be fun. He slowly straightened up and pulled his cape into place. Turning to Nephlyte, he shrugged, "I suppose it'll have to do. Come on."
After a few steps, Malachite realized that his normal military walk was not going to get him across Healer Hall - he didn't have the energy. Feeling a hand under his left arm, Malachite relaxed gratefully into Nephlyte's grip, "Thanks."
Nephlyte smiled, "No problem. Just try not to be on your feet too much. You really shouldn't be doing this at all, Malachite."
Malachite nodded, his voice filled with quiet conviction, "Agreed. But this is more important than any one of us. We can't let Serena win. We can't."
Nephlyte smiled, inwardly proud of the quiet conviction in his brother's voice. "She won't win. Not with you around. You're too stubborn to let her..."
Malachite made a face at him, but refused to further take the bait. Upon reaching Darien's new "office", Malachite quietly knocked on the door. An irritated voice wove its way into the hall, "Hang on a minute! I'm in the middle of something!"
When Darien finally called for them to come in, nearly ten minutes later, his face went white, then red. He stuttered, "M-M-Malachite! I'm sorry, sir! Come in, please!"
Malachite gave him a small smile and let Nephlyte drag him inside and settle him in a chair. When Nephlyte continued to hover protectively at his side, he narrowed his eyes, "Is something the matter, brother dear?"
Nephlyte reluctantly sat down on a nearby chair, "He kept you cooling your heels out there for ten minutes! You and I both know that you don't have the strength for that! So, yeah - something sure as hell is the matter!"
Darien watched the two Generals from his seat at the desk. He could tell they were conversing mind-to-mind, and from the angry look on Nephlyte's face and the harassed one on Malachite's, the topic wasn't a good one. He cleared his throat and saw them both jump as they turned to face him. Nephlyte's eyes narrowed when they landed on the Prince, and Darien shrunk back into his seat.
Malachite gave his brother a warning look and began to speak, "Your Highness, I'm sorry I didn't come to you with this sooner, but I believe I have a plan to keep the remaining people safe."
Darien gave the First General his full attention upon hearing those words. He leaned forward, eagerly, "You have? Good! What is it?"
Malachite shifted around in his chair, obviously uncomfortable, "Well, it's not a very well-formed plan, but I think it'll work. It's obvious that we can't protect people that are scattered over several planets - we don't have the manpower. We need to get everyone gathered together were they can help protect themselves. And supplies would be a problem, too."
He watched as Darien frowned, thinking the problem over. Darien looked back up at him, "You're thinking about Earth, aren't you?"
Malachite smiled, "Yes, Your Highness. I think that with the cover the trees provide, it would be fairly easy to hide a settlement from flying patrols. And the Earth has long proven to be the most fertile of all the planets - growing food would be fairly easy. I think moving all the non-combatants down there would be our best move." He waited for Darien's response.
The Prince nodded, already thinking over how to move such a large amount of people. He cleared his throat, "It won't be easy... Maybe if we assigned one division of the Army to finding and moving the civilians and kept the rest here for protection?"
Malachite grinned in satisfaction, "My thoughts, exactly." He turned and raised an eyebrow at Nephlyte, "Under normal conditions, I wouldn't presume to ask this, but I think your division is the one best prepared to handle something like this. You're the closest to full strength, you have experience, and you know most of the planetary terrains. Think you're up to it?"
Nephlyte steepled his fingers together in front of him as he thought about it. Malachite was right - he hated to leave when his brother was so vulnerable, but he didn't see that he had a real choice. He opened his mouth to ask a question, but stopped when he heard his brother's voice in his mind, "Jupiter, of course, may come and go as she pleases. I am not her Commander, nor will I ever be." Nephlyte just caught the smirk before it faded from Malachite's face. He nodded slowly, "I'll pass the word along to Diana - we can probably be ready to leave tomorrow evening. Does that suit?"
Malachite smiled, "It does indeed." He turned back to Darien, "Now, my Prince, we have several problems..." He took a deep breath, "We can not possibly raise the Palace shields again - not without Mercury's help. None of the remaining scientists know enough about the computer code to fix it - and the keyboards were all smashed. We need to find another way of protecting everyone that stays here - the Army may not be much help. Not when the Princess can attack from the sky..."
Darien surged to his feet, interrupting the First General, "Is there a reason that you insist on calling her "the Princess"?? Isn't it enough that she betrayed our kingdom? What right does she have to claim such a title?" His eyes were wild, his mind seething with anger, "I don't ever want to hear you give her such respect again, do you understand, General?"
Both Generals stared at the Prince - his anger was rolling off him in waves. Malachite put his hands to his head, not able to maintain his shields under such a barrage of emotion. Just as abruptly as it had begun, the 'attack' stopped. A cool voice spoke up from behind them, "I think that's quite enough of that, Darien. Please control yourself." Zoisite stepped up to claim the chair on the First General's other side. She crossed her legs and folded her arms across her chest, glaring at the Prince.
Darien sat down reluctantly, returning her glare with one of his own. Zoisite continued, "She is still a Princess - regardless of her current affiliations. If the General sees fit to give her such respect, then it is his choice." She continued, "I heard you discussing your plan - I'd like to request to keep some of my people here on the Moon. You're going to need Healers." She focused on Nephlyte, "And I can spare a few Journeymen to go with your troops, if you'd like."
Nephlyte smiled, "That would be appreciated." Standing, he said, "In light of that, I will take my leave of you - I must prepare my troops." He bowed to Darien and walked swiftly from the office leaving the others to handle the rest of the planning. He went in search of Lita.
Lita was in the Courtyard, practicing with her new sword, when Nephlyte found her. She had set up a few targets around the Courtyard, turning it into a mini-practice arena. He drew his own sword and stepped up behind her, making enough noise that she'd hear him coming. She whirled to face him, swinging her sword. He blocked and she gave him a feral grin before breaking the contact and swinging at him a second time. He relaxed into the sparring match, eager to loosen up some rusty muscles.
The blows flew fast and furious between them as they worked up to a decent speed. As she focused more of herself on the fight, the symbol of Jupiter began to glow through Lita's tiara. A matching glow sprang up from her medallion and sword. Nephlyte frowned as she increased the speed of their workout, wondering what the glowing meant. Lightning crackled along the sides of Lita's sword and Nephlyte lost some precious ground as he was forced to back up to avoid a blow.
He could see that he wasn't going to win this match by sheer force - the Starsword gave Lita a major advantage in that area. He smiled wickedly as an idea came to mind. He stepped closer to Lita, trapping their swords between their bodies. He wrapped his free arm around Lita's waist, then reached out his left foot to hook around her ankle and trip her up. As they began to fall to the ground, Lita did the last thing he expected her to do - let go of her sword. By wrapping both arms around him, she managed to change the angle of their decent. So instead of Nephlyte landing on top of Lita, she landed on top of him. His back hit the ground, knocking the wind out of him. After taking a few moments to catch her breath, Lita's amused voice came from above him, "Do you yield?"
He opened his eyes to find Lita's face inches from his. He smiled and nodded, then took her face in his hands for a kiss. She relaxed into his arms and let him kiss her. When they broke off the kiss, she untangled her limbs from Nephlyte's and stood, brushing off her clothing. She smiled down at her lover, "You gonna stay down there all day?"
He shook his head and stood, reaching for his discarded weapon. He looked over at her, "What happened to 'Never let go of your weapon in a fight'?"
She shrugged, then held out her hand. The Starsword quickly materialized in her open palm. She closed her fingers around it and shrugged, "Doesn't apply to me anymore. No matter what I'm doing, or if I'm transformed or not - if I want the sword in my hand, it appears. I can do some other pretty neat stuff with it, too." She held the sword over her head and her sigil began to glow again. It was quickly answered by the glow from her medallion and sword. Lightning crackled up the sides of the sword until it was so bright that Nephlyte was forced to look away. A mighty roar caught his attention - the lightning had coiled around the sword like a snake. At the tip of the sword, a head rested - but Nephlyte could see that this was no snake. It was a Dragon. The Dragon roared again and launched itself off the sword.
Lita's eyes met his, "This is a Thunder Dragon. He obeys my commands." At a look from Lita, the Dragon swooped towards the hastily set up targets and destroyed them all. Lita called to the Dragon and it flew towards her, circling her with its coils and hissing. She smiled at Nephlyte, "Attack me."
He frowned, "OK..." and lifted his sword. He aimed straight through the Dragon towards Lita - and bounced off the crackling electrical field to land several feet away. He laughed, "That's rather amazing, I must admit."
Lita smiled in response and called the Dragon back to the sword. He roared once in protest, but coiled himself around the blade, then slowly sank into the Jupiter sigil that sat at the hilt of the Starsword. Lita raised a hand to wipe her sweaty brow and sheathed her sword, "Impressed, General?"
Nephlyte stood and sheathed his own sword, then proceeded to give her a round of applause, "I am indeed, Jupiter. Very impressed."
She detransformed and walked over to Nephlyte, wrapping her arms around his waist and settling her head on his shoulder, "And that isn't all it can do, either. That Sword has more secrets than I can count. If I figure out even a quarter of them, I'll be nearly invincible in battle."
Nephlyte wrapped his own arms around her and squeezed, "Then I'll be happy - I'll know that you're safe." He kissed her forehead, then settled his head to rest against hers.
Rather suddenly, Lita pulled away from him, wrinkling her nose, "Nephlyte, with all due respect - you stink."
He frowned, "Well I'm insulted! After that heated a sparring match, you're no bed of roses either, love."
A mischievous sparkle began to shine in Lita's eyes, "Well, I guess we'll have to take a shower." She began walking towards Healer Hall, pausing only to toss him a Come Hither look over her shoulder, "Care to join me?"
Nephlyte laughed, "My pleasure, my Lady! My pleasure..." He scooped her up in his arms and raced into the building to find a shower.
The next evening found Nephlyte, Jupiter, and Diana boarding one of the few intact starships with their quarter of the Army. The Prince and the other three Generals stood by, watching. Nephlyte stepped over to his brother and frowned at the cane in his hand. Malachite shrugged and pointed at Zoisite, "She talked me into it."
Nephlyte accepted that explanation with a hard swallow. He forced back a tear - it hurt to have to leave his brother in such a state. He grabbed Malachite into a fierce hug, which was returned, one-armed. Nephlyte touched his brother's mind, "You make sure you take care of yourself, OK? 'Cuz if I come back here to find you dead, I'm gonna follow you and make your Afterlife a living Hell, brother. Understand me?"
Malachite laughed and squeezed his brother gently, "I understand, Nephlyte. Just remember, that goes double for you." At Nephlyte's bewildered look, Malachite sent him the image of a very angry version of himself accompanied by a very angry Lita and was rewarded by his brother's suddenly pale face, "I see you understand..."
Nephlyte smiled and gave his brother one more thump on the back before releasing him from the embrace. He nodded at the Prince and the other two Generals and turned, marching quickly back to the ship. Jupiter emerged from inside to wrap an arm around Nephlyte's waist. She waved at the assembled people, then tried to tug Nephlyte inside. Nephlyte resisted for a moment to snap his brother a salute. Malachite returned it as well as he could, then waved, "Remember Nephlyte, take care of yourself."
Nephlyte disappeared into the cockpit, "I will, brother, I will..."
The ship's engines gave a mighty roar, then began to lift the ship off the ground. Five minutes later, all that remained of the ship was a star trail into the sky. Malachite sagged, all his weight landing on the cane in his right hand. A small hand came to rest on his shoulder, and he turned to see Zoisite's smiling eyes, "He'll be fine, sir. Your brother's too stubborn to die so young."
Malachite covered her hand with his own, "I know, Zoisite. It's just hard to know that I won't be there to watch his back, this time."
Jadeite stepped up to him, "I'm sure he feels the same way, sir."
Malachite smiled, "You're right. It's just in my nature to worry, I suppose. Come on, let's go in and get some dinner." Jadeite and Zoisite helped him inside, a slightly sullen Darien bringing up the rear.
Darien slowly pushed his fork through the eggs on his plate, not having much of an appetite to speak of. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Zoisite staring at the First General, a wistful expression on her face. He sighed heavily as he returned his gaze to his plate. He remembered a time when he had worn a similar expression. A time when he'd been foolish and full of hope. A time when he'd still believed that Serena loved him...
He cut that train of thought before it had a chance to go any further. It was obvious to his mind that Serena no longer loved him - perhaps she never had. Else how could she have done such terrible things? His thoughts returned to where they had been yesterday afternoon...
When Darien had first met Serena, he had fallen for her on sight. He had been newly come to the kingdom of the Moon, an envoy for his parents to the Queen. He hadn't known anyone, his only friends having stayed behind on Earth. After the Court session had ended, he had stayed around the Great Hall, having no where else to go. He had heard a light, silvery laugh and spun to face the sound...
* * * * * * * * *
"Who goes there?" Darien called, his hand immediately falling to rest on the hilt of his sword. The laugh sounded again, but no one emerged. Finally, he drew his sword and dropped into a fighting crouch, ready for whatever might come.
He squinted his eyes, pearing into the shadows around the great pillars, trying to find the source of the laugh. A voice sounded from the shadows, "You will not need your sword, my Prince. You have nothing to fear from me."
Darien felt his heart skip a beat - like the laugh, this lady's voice was light and silvery. It caressed his ears like a lover's hand. He found himself leaning towards the voice, hoping to hear more of it. Surely it was the voice of an angel. He heard himself speaking, and nearly blushed at his words, "Pray speak again, sweet angel! Your voice - it is music to me."
He waited, heart in his throat for the angel's next words. They were just as sweet as before, "I am no angel, my Prince. Merely a mortal, like yourself."
He waited another moment, hoping for more. He was left wanting. In an effort to draw forth this mortal-shelled angel, he sheathed his sword and stood up, spreading his arms wide. "Please, my angel - would you taunt me like this all eve? Gladly would I stay here, waiting for your next words, but I find myself wanting to see you as well. I have put up my sword. Will you oblige me in this simple request?"
Darien caught a flash of silver out of the corner of his eye and turned to see it fully. The first thing he saw was the silver of the lady's gown. A flowing garment, reaching just to her ankles. It couldn't truly be called a dress for it had slits up the sides like a tunic. A pair of silver pants could be seen underneath the tunic, revealed by the slits up the sides. On her feet, the lady wore a pair of sapphire blue soft boots. The Prince's eyes traveled upwards, taking in the scooped neckline of the tunic and its tight fit around the lady's torso and arms. Around her neck, the lady wore a tear-shaped pendant of sapphire.
Finally, Darien allowed himself to take in the lady's face. He saw a pair of full, coral-pink lips. Her nose was small, not worthy of much note, except that it fit her face so perfectly. Her eyes were a deep cobalt blue, so deep that a person could drown in them. Darien tore his eyes away from those cobalt blue pools and forced them to finish their path upwards. Cascading about her figure in a simple style was the most gloriously long hair the Prince had ever seen. The mass of silken gold was half pulled into a bun at the top of the lady's head, leaving the rest to fall free about her frame down to her ankles. The last thing that he noticed was the Sapphire Blue circlet that encircled the lady's bound portion of hair. The symbol of the Queen's Daughter.
Darien dropped to one knee in front of the Princess.
He heard again that silvery laugh from above him. Serena spoke again, "Are you now satisfied, Prince Darien? I have been eagerly awaiting your visit from Earth, I want so much to learn about your home." He dared a glance into her eyes. Again, they nearly caught him. Serena smiled and held a hand out to help him up, "But you must be exhausted after that long Court session. Come, let's find some refreshments for you, and a quiet place where we can talk."
Darien took the Princess' hand and the surprise was clear on his face when he felt the firm strength in its delicate grip. One corner of the Princess' mouth twitched upwards as if she had expected that reaction. She pulled him to his feet and settled her hand into the crook of his elbow. She smiled at him, and the Prince was dazzled, "Come, my Prince. This way." She tugged him towards one of the many exits of the Great Hall. Somehow, Darien was not surprised to see the sword that hung casually and easily in a sheath at Serena's back. A smile slowly spread across Darien's face, Perhaps this trip won't be so bad after all...
After a pleasant evening of chatting with the Princess, Darien was led back to his room. Serena smiled sweetly at him and blew him a kiss. Darien went to bed feeling light-hearted and happy - and totally in love.
* * * * * * * * *
Darien clenched his fist and cursed his uncooperative thoughts. The last thing that he wanted to think about was how stupidly naive he'd been by falling in love with Serena. She had wasted no time in binding him firmly to each of her causes, making him a firm believer in everything that she believed in. And when she struck, he had been the most stunned of all. Why do I torment myself this way? What good does it do to think about it? It won't change anything that's happened... He had had similar thoughts yesterday afternoon...
* * * * * * * * *
Darien sat at his desk, staring moodily at the wall. There was so much to do, and he hadn't a clue as to where to start. He had been a leader once - and a good one, too. He had known what to say, and how to act. People had followed him without question, he'd had that sort of charisma, that obvious competency. But that was before he came here, to the Moon Kingdom. Now, every thought that he had, every decision he made, was uncertain. Serena had managed to leech his confidence away along with his love. He no longer knew how to command - he'd lost the ability.
His thoughts turned to the First General - there was a man who was also born to lead. He had that same charisma, the sort that draws the people to his side during a crisis. It's as if they know that he always has an answer. And I've become one of those sheep - no longer a leader, but one of the led. Even I flocked to his side in this emergency. How did I fall so low, so fast?
Unerringly, his hand twitched to the handle of the top desk drawer. He'd moved all his belongings here during the rush after the battle. He didn't know why he'd brought this particular item - maybe out of a need to torture himself. He opened the drawer and drew out a rather plain-looking picture frame. He stared down at the picture - a happy couple out for a picnic on the meadows of Earth. They were having fun - enjoying themselves and each other. They both looked so happy, so innocent. Darien clenched his fist, then winced in pain, dropping the photograph of himself and the Princess. He was surprised to find that he'd conjured a rose in his left hand. When he'd clenched his fist, he'd pierced his hand on the thorns. He cursed quietly as he threw the rose in the trash can and tried to clean up a little.
A knocking at the door interrupted his activities, and in a panic not to be discovered in such a ridiculous state, he told them to wait. He hurriedly wrapped his hand in clean bandages and wiped off the desk. With one last glare at the photograph, he tossed it back into the desk drawer and called for his visitors to come in. He nearly turned beet red when he saw who he'd forced to wait outside. And seeing Nephlyte's angry face made him want to shrink into his chair.
The two Generals sat down and began discussing things with him - only half his mind remained on the subject. The rest was busy observing Malachite and everything he did. Even horribly wounded, he's still in command! This just isn't fair... Finally a word caught his ear - Princess. He exploded.
"Is there a reason that you insist on calling her "the Princess"?? Isn't it enough that she betrayed our kingdom? What right does she have to claim such a title?" He could feel his anger rising, nay projecting, to the other two men. He didn't care. "I don't ever want to hear you give her such respect again, do you understand, General?"
He vaguely realized that Malachite and Nephlyte were clamping their hands to their heads and he frowned, having forgotten his tendency to project his emotions when he began to feel them too strongly. Suddenly an all-encompassing shield clamped down over his mind - one that wasn't of his own design. He only vaguely recognized the caster as Zoisite before she walked into the room and proceeded to dress him down like a child or a raw trainee. Inwardly he seethed, though outwardly he took the berating seriously. Sheep - that's all I am, a damned sheep.
* * * * * * * * *
Jadeite picked his eyes up from where they'd been focused on his plate. Zoisite was staring at Malachite like she hadn't anything better to do, and Darien was mangling his eggs with a single-minded intensity that seemed very out of place for such a simple task. Malachite himself was just concentrating on eating - and trying to keep his food down from the looks of it. Gut wounds weren't very kind to the digestive tract...
The youngest general turned his attention back to the Prince. Darien was looking lost and alone - very similar to how Jadeite felt, himself. Jupiter had managed to kick him out of his depression and he had promised her that he'd talk to the other Generals before it got this bad, again. But without her comforting prescence, Jadeite was beginning to feel horribly left out again.
Finally, he laid his fork down on his plate and stood up, walking over to Darien, "Darien..."
The Prince jerked his head up, an angry glare on his face. When he saw that it was Jadeite who'd interrupted his thoughts, his face relaxed into a smile. Jadeite smiled back, "Since neither you nor I seem to be all that hungry, I was wondering if you'd care to go for a walk?"
Darien considered the offer, taking one brief look at his other two table companions and hurriedly agreed, "Sounds like a wonderful idea, Jadeite." He cleared his throat and the other generals turned their way, "There's no need for you to disturb your own meal, I just thought that I'd tell you that Jadeite and I are going for a walk. If you need us, just Mindsend, OK?" Without waiting for a response, the Prince stood up and all but dragged Jadeite out of the dining room.
Jadeite smiled at the Prince, amused at his situation. The Prince dragged him outside, then halted so abruptly that Jadeite crashed into him, sending them both tumbling to the ground. Jadeite turned to yell at Darien, but the sour look on the Prince's face caused him to break out laughing before he could get a word out. Darien growled at him and managed to get out, "It's not funny..." before he too started laughing.
When they'd finally gotten their laughter under control, Darien smiled - a true smile. "Thank you, Jadeite. You have no idea how much I needed that."
Jadeite gripped his shoulder and nodded, "I think I do, Darien. I really think I do." The two fell into a companionable silence, sitting in the courtyard and watching the stars wheel by overhead. Jadeite was the first to break the silence, "They can be a bit intimidating, can't they?"
Darien frowned, "I don't follow..."
Jadeite settled himself down on the ground, hands behind his head, "The other Generals. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we're part of them, but no matter what we do - you and I don't fit in. And it's taken me forever and a day to figure out why..." Darien looked over at Jadeite and frowned. Jadeite turned his head to meet the Prince's eyes, "No matter how much they respect you for your social rank, or me for my military rank, they'll always see us as less than they are. It's not even really their fault. I think it's an inborn fault of the human race to look down on those who are younger."
Darien turned his eyes back to the stars, "You could be right. Funny how the Princess..." his voice trailed off.
Jadeite raised himself up on his elbows, "The Princess what, Darien?"
Darien turned away and hunched his shoulders over, "Nothing. Just... nothing."
Jadeite sat up and put a hand on Darien's shoulder, "I'm not going to force you to tell me anything you don't want to, Darien. This whole situation must have hurt you more than anyone." His voice was open, yet neutral - inviting, in its own way.
Darien shook his head, "I can't. Not yet."
Jadeite patted his shoulder again, then settled back onto the ground, "Then try to relax. Don't say anything - just try to take a break. You have the strength to lead this motley crew if you try, Darien. It's just a matter of remembering how."
Darien turned back to answer the youngest General, only to find his friend already asleep. He smiled, Poor guy. He must be exhausted... He leaned back on his elbows and turned his eyes to the stars. One little star twinkled at him from just above the horizon, maybe not the brightest star, or the biggest - but a comforting prescence just the same. He smiled at the words that came, unbidden, to his lips, "Starlight, starbright, first star I see tonight..." He chuckled softly, How many times do you hear that, little star? Probably too often... "I wish I may, I wish I might, have this wish, I wish tonight..." How often have I said those words? Made some complex wish that no little star could ever grant. Maybe it's time for a new kind of wish...
He considered his words carefully, and was surprised when he figured out what he wished for most, in spite of recent events. "I know this is going to sound ridiculous, little star, so I hope you won't tune me out forever once you hear it. I've been thinking lately - maybe too much. And I think I've figured out what I want most." He took a deep breath, "I want Serena back - now don't turn away, yet! I know that's a little bit much to ask, but maybe if you could try to tell her...? Oh, never mind. It's a stupid wish. Forget I asked..."
Jadeite stirred in his sleep, and Darien closed his mouth. Jadeite turned over onto his side, then drifted back to sleep. Darien felt a single tear slide down his cheek... I love you, Serena. I really do - in spite of what you've done. Please come home...
~...Please come home...~
Rei jerked up out of bed, heart racing and chest heaving. She tore off the blankets and swung her legs over the side of the bed, gasping for air. What the hell was that? What a strange dream... She fumbled for the light switch, finally finding it and flipping it on. Soft lamplight flooded her little room, though it could better described as a cell. A priestess' cell or a prison cell. Rei was no longer quite sure... She snagged her robe from the foot of the bed and wrapped it firmly about herself, seeking to ward out the constant chill of this place.
She stood up and walked over to her small armchair, settling herself into its padded warmth. What did that mean? What the hell did that mean? The dream ran itself through her mind again - the Prince staring up at a star and asking it to send his Princess home. Rei rubbed a hand to her forehead and sighed - who knew what it might mean? And she couldn't consult the Sacred Flames, nor ask for guidance from Mars. Not now...
Rei glanced over at her bedside clock - 2:30 AM. She cursed softly and banged her head back against the chair. There was no way that she'd fall back asleep after a dream like that. The longing in Darien's voice, the pleading in his eyes - it had been almost more than she could bear. How she longed to ease that frown from his face... She shook herself. Darien was not for the likes of her and she knew it. She grabbed her brush from the vanity and started brushing out her raven locks. They were all tangled from her tossing and turning. Much like her tangled thoughts...
The problem was that Rei no longer knew what to think. She was a Sailor Scout, and thus sworn to protect the Princess - but was it not her responsibility to protect the kingdom as well? How could she do both in a situation like this? She put down the brush and stood up, turning to the closet and pulling out her white and red priestess robes. Somehow, her fuku didn't feel as comforting as it used to... Rei quietly pulled open her door and walked out into the hall, her soft slippers making almost no noise on the stone floor. She heard voices and headed towards them, wondering who else could be up at this time of the night.
Finally reaching the Princess' door, Rei pressed her ear to it. The voices were clearer, now - Serena and Mina. She opened her mental ear as well, eager to hear what they were discussing...
Serena leaned back in her chair, delicately holding a wineglass in her left hand and a small dagger in the other. She laughed lightly and was pleased to hear Venus echo her mirth. She smiled at the other girl, then continued her story... "But that wasn't the best part, Venus! You see, Beryl seems to have fallen out of favor with Metallia - and she's looking for new blood to bring into her confidence. I went to go speak with her, today - she and I have similar thoughts on Beryl's incompetence. She still has her uses, so Metallia isn't ready to be rid of her, but she's leaning more favorably on our side every day."
Venus laughed, and Serena shivered as the sound danced down her nerve endings. Halfway between a chuckle and a giggle, that sound was pure malice. Of all the Scouts, her right-hand had fit in best with their new surroundings. Sometimes it frightened her... She shook herself out of her thoughts, eager to hear what Venus had to say.
Venus pulled her legs up onto the couch, settling them underneath her. She tucked one hand under her chin and picked up her wineglass with the other. She took a small sip and smiled in satisfaction, "It's a wonderful change of fortune, Serena. I'll gladly admit to that. We'll need all the support that we can get if we're to win this fight. But I don't trust Beryl not to interfere."
Serena sighed and put down her wineglass. She twirled the dagger so that she could see her reflection in the metal. A pair of cold, cobalt blue eyes stared back at her. She wondered idly how they had looked to her mother when she'd demanded the crystal - had they shown the regret? The compassion? Or had they been this cold, unfeeling cobalt sea that stared back at her from the dagger? Had they threatened to drown her mother in the ocean of hatred and betrayal that surged through her being? She flipped the knife, grateful for the sting as the hilt hit her palm a bit too hard. She sighed, "You're right, of course. We'll still have to be careful. I'd still like to pull this off with as little bloodshed as possible - whether or not Beryl interferes."
Venus nodded, "Naturally, Princess. But are you not going to change our plan of attack to accommodate this new information? I would think that you should..."
Serena shook her head, "No. The best time to strike is still now - I can't wait on Beryl. If she disrupts my plans, then I'll take care of her. Metallia won't appreciate another failure - and she knows who was responsible for the last one. Besides, I have a special plan - one that must be carried out before the First General fully recovers - and Beryl's interference may help me more than it hurts me if I plan it right."
Venus blushed - a surprising expression on one such as her. She bowed her head, "I again apologize for not being able to finish that job..."
Serena smiled, "Not your fault, Venus - you couldn't predict what the gods would do. Only one of us has that ability - and she's too busy hiding behind her Time Staff to be a problem." Serena's laugh was full of bitterness.
Venus looked up, a smile spreading across her face, "Too true. A pity that she didn't stick around for the fight - combined with Jupiter, she might have managed to make this difficult for us. But, tell me - what is this plan?"
Serena flipped her dagger again, letting it fall to the floor and embed itself in the carpet. She lifted her wine glass and eyed the dark red liquid, an evil look in her blue eyes, "I'm going to introduce my dear brother to the hospitality of the Dark Kingdom." She chuckled, "Beryl's no doubt pathetic attempt to horn in on my plans will provide a convenient distraction. We can send the Scouts in to find the dear General and capture him. The other Generals will no doubt think that they've won, until they discover their precious leader missing." The smile that curved her lips failed to light her eyes as she continued, "Oh yes, Venus - I am almost glad that you didn't kill Malachite when you had the chance. My way will be much more satisfying..." She held up her wine glass and clinked it with Venus', then knocked the whole thing back in one gulp.
"Much more satisfying, indeed..."
Rei couldn't hide the gasp of dismay that escaped her lips - so that was what Serena had kept hidden from the rest of them! The First General was her brother! How long had she known? How had it happened? A million questions whirled through Rei's mind, making her feel very light-headed. Does Malachite even know? She heard Mina's voice again from the other side of the door. What was she saying...?
Venus frowned, "Did you hear that?"
Serena retrieved her dagger, "Damn - it might be one of Beryl's spies. I didn't even want the Scouts to know this yet. Shoot. Come on." They both rose and stalked to the door...
Rei didn't wait to hear the rest. She broke and ran - for Serena wouldn't hesitate to kill her to protect that piece of information. She heard the other two Scouts' muttered curses and pushed her feet into a faster run. She cursed her slippers and bulky robes as she desperately tried to get away from the two blondes. Venus threw a Crescent Beam which she only barely avoided. She risked a glance back - they were gaining on her.
Rei's mind was in a panic. She ducked down a side hallway, hoping that might slow the other two down for a moment. It didn't. She kept running, dodging the occasional Crescent Beam as she did. She had no idea where she was going, or what she'd do when she got there. All she knew was that if she stopped, she was dead. "Oh great Mars, HELP ME!!" The call had escaped her mind before she even realized she'd made it. She didn't have the time to take it back, and wasn't sure if she even wanted to. She glanced back at Serena and Mina's advancing figures and made up her mind, "Oh great Mars, guardian of the Sacred Fire and those who choose the path of the Warrior, please forgive your child! I beg of you!"
With that last mental scream, Time rocked to a halt. Rei glanced behind her to find Serena and Mina locked in place - frozen in time. She stumbled and nearly fell to the floor in an attempt to regain her balance. She grabbed out for something to hold onto - and found something tall, thin and solid. Regaining her balance, Rei raised her eyes to meet a pair as red as the bottom half of her robes. She took a step back, eyes flashing from the newcomer to her frozen companions and back. Her voice was a mere whisper when it emerged, "Pluto..."
Setsuna gave her a sad smile and inclined her head, "I regret that I can do so little for you, Mars. The restrictions of the Timeline do not give me much room to maneuver."
Rei's mouth worked for a moment, but no sound emerged. She cleared her throat, and a nervous smile crept onto her face, "I thank you anyway, Pluto. But what now? The minute you unfreeze them, they'll be after me again. I don't want to die..." her voice trailed off.
Pluto nodded, "You have a choice Mars - a second chance of sorts. If you are brave enough to take it. I have the power to take you from this place - and bring you back to the Moon Kingdom. But I warn you, if you turn from Serena's side now, her anger at you will be far greater - as it is with Jupiter."
Rei took in Pluto's words and slowly nodded her head, "I think... I think it's a chance that I'm willing to take. What she's doing is wrong - I can see that now. I don't know exactly what she's become, but she is no longer the friend that I knew in my youth. I will gladly go back to the Moon - if you think they'd still have me."
Pluto held out her hand as the Time Vortex began to swirl behind her, "Let's hope that your powers of persuasion are up to specs, then."
Rei smiled, "Indeed..." and took Pluto's hand. They stepped through the vortex and time came unstuck. Serena and Mina fell to the ground with a loud crash and a series of strong curses. Mina leapt to her feet, searching the hall, but Serena took her time getting up. She stretched out her senses and very quickly detected the residue of Pluto's presence. She called out to Venus, "Stop, my friend. She's gone. And as much a traitor as dear Jupiter. Apparently Pluto isn't hiding as much as we thought. We have to assume that she knows our plans for tomorrow. We'll have to change our arrangements accordingly..."
When Mars came to, she was lying on her back in the middle of the Glacial Forest. She rubbed her head and slowly stood up, bracing her back with her other hand. Pluto was nowhere in sight. She stretched her arms over her head, then smoothed her hair back into a semblance of neatness. It was then that she caught sight of her uniform. It was an exact replica of Lita's new uniform - though she didn't know this at the time. The only difference was that instead of the greens of Jupiter's uniform, her own was in varying shades of red and purple. A medallion with the symbol of Mars hung around her neck, a sword with the symbol of Mars hung in a sheath at her right hip, and her high heels had been replaced with more practical boots.
A voice filled her mind and she welcomed the return of her God, Little Mars! What a pleasure to have you with me again! I've missed you, so...
Sailor Mars smiled, "The pleasure is all mine, Mars - as the fault is mine. I beg your forgiveness for what I've done."
Mars chuckled, There is no need. If I had not already forgiven you, I would not have begged Setsuna to come to your aid. Though it didn't take much convincing... Over the next hour, Mars explained the new powers that came with the sword and uniform. Sailor Mars practiced a few moves, then confident that she understood, she sheathed the sword and thanked her God.
She took one last look around the forest, then turned her eyes to the Palace complex. Inwardly, she cowered, unsure of what Jupiter's reaction would be to seeing her again. She didn't want to see hatred in her friend's eyes - not after what she'd just been through. And the gods know that the Generals have no reason to trust me... Please let them listen! A small twinkle caught her eye - a star that cast its minuscule light just above the horizon. Were you listening, little star? I hope you were, because I could use all the help I can get... She turned her eyes back to the palace and squared her shoulders. Well, here goes nothing... or everything... With one last glance at the little star, Rei headed towards the Palace - towards home.