Generals' Hour: Part 7
Zoisite rested her head quietly on her desk, taking advantage of the momentary lull in her workload to catch a much-needed break. The strain of hiding her precious little secret was beginning to take its toll. She'd ceased even trying to wear her uniform - even wearing pants two sizes too big was doing nothing to hide her bulging midsection.
She looked briefly over at her calendar and whistled, Four months... Damn. Has it been that long? She counted off the days again, then shook her head - four months and still no one had noticed. Guess that's a sign of how good I am at hiding these things... She chuckled mirthlessly. Part of her was almost hoping someone would notice... and maybe even pamper her a little. But there was no time for such things, and she was no soft castle-bred lady who needed them.
As if her restless thoughts had disrupted their dreams, she felt a mild stirring of protest in her middle. She laid a hand over her stomach and patted it soothingly. Her voice was a gentle murmur of comfort, "Easy, little ones... Nothing's the matter. Go back to sleep." After a moment of wordless, sleepy grumbling, the two subsided. She smiled, continuing to rub her distended belly for a few minutes before leaning back in her chair.
Maybe I should tell someone... In another month or so, I'm going to be getting pretty unwieldy - and someone will have to notice then... Malachite wouldn't be the one - she knew him well enough by now to know that if something didn't make her outwardly unhappy, he would never see it. He was a bit dense that way... A tender smile graced her lips as she thought about her lover. Such a dear man...
With a mild shake, she roused herself from her dreams. Perhaps it was time to go check on Jadeite - she'd had him calibrating medical sensors most of this past month and a half. She chuckled - he must surely be getting bored by now... She pushed herself out of her chair with a little groan, "Ye gods... I'm even starting to move like a pregnant woman..."
Forcing her movements back into their normal military grace, Zoisite headed down the hall to the storage closets. Every once in a while she would feel her legs trying to slip into a more comfortable waddle and would pause until she could continue more normally. This was getting harder to do with each passing day...
When she finally reached Jadeite's work area she was more than a little tired. Should examine myself - start taking vitamin supplements or something... She pulled out a chair near where the young General was working and settled herself carefully in it, trying not to startle him. It didn't work.
Jadeite turned to face her, a wary look on his face before he registered who had walked in on him. She offered him a light smirk and a small wave, "And good morning to you, too!"
He chuckled slightly and looked down to close up the medical scanner he had just calibrated - and froze. Zoisite's features pulled into a frown then widened in shock, Oh, I'm an idiot... I'm an idiot. She made a quick lunge for the scanner, but Jadeite pulled it out of her reach. He looked down at her for a moment before turning back to the scanner.
He held the scanner up, then deliberately passed it in front of her. The Healer had to remind herself to keep breathing. She watched in trepidation as one of Jadeite's eyebrows slowly climbed up into his hairline. He pushed a button on the scanner to save its last recording, then turned it to face her, an unreadable expression on his face, "I'll admit that I haven't been dealing with these things as long as you have - but I think that even I know what these kinds of readings mean. Care to have a go at explaining them?"
Zoisite dropped her head into her hands and grumbled to herself, "Be careful what you wish for, Zoe... Be careful what you wish for." She rubbed her hands over her face, then spread them wide in acknowledgement of defeat, "Four months. Twins - a boy and a girl. Dare I hope that that will satisfy your curiosity?"
Jadeite sat heavily down into another chair and closed the scanner, "You're pregnant..." He paused, then pressed on, "Does Malachite kn-- No, of course he doesn't know. He'd never let you keep working as hard as you do if he knew." His eyes narrowed in concern, "Zoisite..."
The Healer smacked him lightly on the arm, "You think I don't understand the risks I'm taking? I assure you that I do, Jadeite. But Malachite needs me - more than even he knows. He needs me in Healer Hall and he needs me on that battlefield - especially with Nephlyte and Lita off gallivanting around the galaxy."
Jadeite fluttered his hands lightly, "I can understand that, Zoisite, but it still isn't right for you to keep this to yourself. You have to tell Malachite, at the very least. He deserves to know... I am, of course, assuming that he's the father...?" He raised an eyebrow.
Zoisite chuckled, "He is. And you're right... I..." She sighed, "I will tell him. I would have had to tell him soon anyway." She patted her stomach, a tender smile on her face, "These two little tykes are getting hard to hide - even in a Healer's robes."
She watched, amused, as Jadeite's eyes narrowed, then widened in comprehension - as if the last piece of a puzzle he'd been working on had suddenly fallen into place. He smiled, "So that's why you stopped wearing your uniform!"
Zoisite flushed slightly, "Couldn't fit into it anymore..."
This prompted a round of laughter from the younger General which Zoisite eventually joined, happy that this encounter had occurred, in spite of all the problems it raised. She could only hope the eventual encounter with her lover would go as well...
As if the thought had brought his attention to them, the First General's voice sounded over the intercom system, "Zoisite, Jadeite, Rei, please report to the main conference room. Thank you."
That report sobered up the both of them. Before she could even speak, Jadeite put in his two cents, "I'll warn you ahead of time - if you don't tell him, I will."
Zoisite nodded slowly, then pushed herself up out of her chair. Jadeite had to force back a laugh at her ungainly movements. She made a face, "Oh laugh it up. One of these days, when you feel like some kind of beached whale, I'll be there to get my revenge - just you wait and see."
Being the proper gentleman, Jadeite's only response was to offer his arm to assist her down the corridor. Zoisite took one look at his beaming blue eyes... and capitulated. It wouldn't hurt to be pampered for a little while... would it?
She sighed. Things were unfolding exactly as they should. For the life of her, the Guardian couldn't tell if that was a good thing or a bad thing. She waved a hand quietly over the Gate to cancel its images before settling down on a nearby rock formation. Sometimes... just sometimes, she wished that things were different. When she'd stepped in to help Mars - that had felt good. Like she was doing her duty to help the Moon Kingdom.
With a growl, the Guardian shook her head, clenching her fists at her sides, "No. That's not your duty. Your duty is to protect the timestream - nothing more, nothing less."
A voice spoke up quietly from the depths of her mind, ~But you haven't done such a terrific job so far... have you?~
She grabbed up her Time Staff and whirled to face the intruder, "Butt out, Pluto. I did what I could and you know it. So just..." She growled, unable to think of a suitable suggestion.
Pluto chuckled as he leaned back against the Gate, ~So temperamental... Do you deny that you have already failed to protect the Timestream once, my Avatar?~
Setsuna slowly lowered her Time Staff, staring at the empty place where the Garnet Orb should have rested. She shook her head numbly, "No... I do not deny it. This present crisis is as much my fault as anyone else's. Perhaps even more so, for I was the only one with enough foreknowledge to prevent it." She sank back to sit on her rock, staring sightlessly at the eddies and swirls within the Time Gate.
Pluto moved to sit beside her on the rock, leaning gently against her, ~At ease. Do not put more blame on yourself than is necessary. You can not be everywhere at once - though you make a very credible attempt at doing so. If anyone can make this new Timeline come out right, it is you.~
Setsuna nodded, sighing quietly, "I sincerely hope your faith in me is justified, Pluto - I sincerely do..."
The god rose, then bent to place a light kiss on Setsuna's forehead. He disappeared without another word. Before Setsuna could do anything else, a dry, young voice slithered its way into her grotto, "Rather friendly with you these days, isn't he?" The next words were added almost as an afterthought, "...my old friend."
The Guardian rose, turning slowly, eyes drawn in suspicion, "He has always been thus... my old friend."
The young-seeming visage across the grotto pulled into a light smirk, "It has been too long, Setsuna."
Setsuna inclined her head as the smaller Scout approached, "Indeed it has, Hotaru. Indeed it has..." She paused, then continued, "You have changed."
The Soldier of Silence smirked again, "Tsk, tsk. Of all people, you should know better. Like you, I never change. The Universe may swirl and move in Chaos about me - but I remain the same. A point of stability. We are opposites of each other, I think. Even more so now than we ever were."
The Guardian bowed lightly at the waist, "True enough. Opposite sides of a neutral coin."
A brief silence filled the air as the two warriors sized each other up. Hotaru was the one to break the quiet, her voice hardly more than a whisper, "You have been watching events?"
Setsuna grimaced as her eyes flashed towards the Gate, "It is what I do best."
Hotaru's eyes took on a flicker of sympathy - the two had more in common than it first appeared. Both possessed worlds of power that none of the other Scouts could even dream of - and both were forbidden to ever use that power. It took its toll on them both, being forever unable to live up to their true potential. As their eyes met, an understanding flashed between them. Hotaru looked away first, "You know then, of the Healer's predicament?"
Setsuna's eyes narrowed in suspicion, "I do."
The Soldier of Silence nodded, "Some would take advantage of such a precarious position."
The Guardian frowned, "A threat?"
Silence answered grimly, "A warning. Do with it what you will." Without a further word, Saturn blurred away, leaving Pluto standing alone - as it was meant to be.
Malachite looked up from the reports he was studying as Zoisite and Jadeite walked in. Darien and Rei paused in their debate to look up as well. A shiver ran down the First General's back as he watched Zoisite's hand resting on the younger man's arm. Something about the way he held onto her... His gut instincts were sending off warnings. It wasn't jealousy. He had full confidence in Zoisite's love for him - and his for her. But there was definitely something wrong about it.
Seeing Malachite's gaze, Zoisite immediately removed her arm from Jadeite's grasp and gave him a wide smile, jade green eyes twinkling. It almost made him forget his concerns - and then she walked towards him. There was definitely something wrong with her. The way she moved... Her normal grace, her proud walk - it seemed forced, somehow. He couldn't put a finger on it...
Darien was the one who broke the moment, "Ah - good. You're here. If you'd please sit down? We have much to discuss..."
Malachite helped Zoisite into her chair - and noticed that she actually took that help. Normally, her hand would rest lightly in his, only putting enough pressure there to reassure him that she appreciated his gallant gesture. This time... this time, she actually leaned her weight on his arm. Unprepared as he was, Malachite almost overbalanced, but caught himself before an embarrassing situation could occur.
Just as he was beginning to worry about it, Zoisite's dancing eyes caught his own and she chuckled under her breath, wrinkling her nose at him mischievously. He shook his head - women. She'd probably done that on purpose... Finally feeling more at ease, Malachite took his seat in between Zoisite and Jadeite. He felt a momentary pang at Nephlyte's absence, but pushed it back. Such a strange look Jadeite was giving to the Healer-General - almost... reproachful? His fears returned, but before he could voice them, the Prince had started to speak.
"All right, everyone, here's the basic consensus: Serena's been quiet for too long. I don't like it and what's more important, I don't trust it. All the remaining people from the eight planets have been evacuated down to Earth. As per Zoisite's earlier suggestion, I think it's time to relocate the Moon's noncombatants, as well. However, I don't wish to leave them unprotected. I'd like one of the Generals to station their troops down there with them." Darien took a deep breath as he met each of their eyes in turn, "I don't want to force anyone to leave. The truth of the matter is, I'd feel far more comfortable up here with everyone to back me up. I don't want to lose another of you right after Nephlyte returns. However, my personal feelings don't change the fact that someone has to go to Earth." He spread his arms wide in apology, "Any suggestions that you have would be appreciated."
Malachite turned his head to meet Zoisite's eyes. He didn't want to be separated from her, not when he'd so recently found her... but he'd be far more comfortable if he knew she were safe on Earth. Well, nowhere was safe with Serena on the rampage, but at least Earth was safer. He opened his mouth to suggest just that, but the warning look in his lover's eyes stopped him short.
Darien sighed, "OK, looks like we're going to play pass-the-buck after all. I know you all want to stay and fight, but I don't want to make this an order."
Rei cleared her throat and they all turned to look at her. She spoke quietly, "If I may make a suggestion. Since Malachite is obviously going to stay, Nephlyte should stay, as well. Their troops have been working in tandem for so long that it has been severely depleting their efficiency to be separated. And since we can use as much of an edge as we can get..." She shrugged, leaving the rest unsaid.
The Prince nodded, "That makes sense."
Malachite mentally winced as his mind supplied a thought that he would rather leave unsaid. However, looking around at the faces of his friends... friends he could lose over the course of the next few months, he had to share his insight - no matter what his heart was urging him to do, "If we're talking about edges, it also makes sense for Zoisite to stay. She's our only Healer-Adept and having her around gives us one more advantage that Serena doesn't have."
The Prince frowned over at Jadeite, "Although I'd like for you to stay, my friend, it looks like you're going to draw the short straw..."
Jadeite shook his head, "I'm afraid I'm going to have to disagree with one small piece of logic, based entirely on information you don't have."
To Malachite's surprise, Zoisite growled in Jadeite's direction, "Jadeite... Don't..."
Jadeite shook his head sadly at the Healer, "I'm sorry. They have to know. If one of us is going to go to Earth, it should definitely be you. If you'd rather tell them..." He raised an eyebrow in her direction.
Zoisite stood, anger written clearly across her face, "I agreed that they have to be told, but this has nothing to do with who goes to Earth--"
Jadeite rose to his feet, matching her angry glare with one of his own, "It has everything to do with it! With this war going on, every new life is just that much more precious. You should be taking fewer risks at this point, not more! Think about what you're doing!"
Before Zoisite could think of another rebuttal, Malachite rose to stand between them and held his hands up for quiet, "Enough! Zoisite, what's going on?" His earlier feelings of unease rose back to the surface. He'd been right - there was something dreadfully wrong with his beloved and she had kept the knowledge from him. He didn't know what was worse - the thought that he might lose her, or the thought that she obviously still didn't trust him completely. Either way, it made a heavy, leaden knot form in the pit of his stomach. He took both of Zoisite's hands in his own and tried to capture her gaze with his pleading silver eyes, "Love... please. Tell me what's wrong..."
Staring into Malachite's earnest eyes, Zoisite didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Well, I did want him to find out... She took a deep breath and sat back down in her chair. Malachite sank to his knees in front of her, still looking up at her with terrified eyes. Say something, damn it... He must be convinced I have some horrible disease by now... She spared one more glance in Jadeite's direction. The imp had the audacity to look smug.
Mentally steeling herself for the screaming fit that she was sure was about to come her way, Zoisite spoke, "I'm pregnant."
Malachite blinked at her. And blinked at her. And blinked at her. His silver eyes went wide with shock and disbelief. If it weren't so damned serious, it might almost be funny. But there was nothing comical about this situation. He opened his mouth to talk, then shut it again. She could almost see the gears working in his head as he fought to figure out how the hell something like this had happened without his knowledge. He finally managed to get a coherent phrase out, "How long?"
She met his shocky silver eyes with her own calm jade ones, "Four months."
"Four months...?" he repeated, eyes still wide and shocky. He stared into her face for a few more moments, then his eyes flickered down to her stomach. He reached out one hand, then looked back up at her, his eyes asking for permission. She nodded, an almost goofy grin crossing her lips as she realized that he wasn't mad. An annoying little voice in her mind added, Yet... The thought sobered her immediately.
Malachite was too busy communing with her stomach to notice the expressions chasing each other across her face. He reached out one hand to lightly touch her robe covered belly, then rested his face lightly against her, as well. She could feel it as the two little sparks inside of her instinctively reached out to this new semi-familiar presence. She smirked lightly as one little fist lashed out, uncertain about the intruder. She felt a flash of pride as she realized that it was the little girl. Malachite's mouth stretched into a rueful grin as he took a moment to rub his ear before replacing it where it had been.
This time... it was different. When he reached out to make contact with the twins again, they were ready for him. Zoisite stretched her gentling presence down into the slowly forming meld and soothed the two minds inside her. They reacted instinctively, once again, drawing closer to her mental warmth. This time, she reached out and brought Malachite in with them, allowing him to co-mingle with the minds of his children for a brief time. She could feel it as they finally accepted that he was "OK", though the concept of a "father" was still a fairly alien one at this young an age. At this point, all they knew was the life-giver, the mother. The presence who fed them, comforted them, and kept them safe as they grew. "Father" was a bit too complicated a concept, but if the life-giver said he was OK, then he was OK. The first stages of a bond began to grow between the four of them, extending beyond the one that Zoisite already had with the twins.
When Malachite finally lifted his head from her stomach, it was to give her a goofy grin that nearly matched her own. He leaned up on his knees to press a gentle, chaste kiss to her lips. She wrapped her arms around his neck and snuggled close, still basking in the afterglow of the family meld.
Someone cleared their throat above them. They both turned to look at Jadeite, who offered them a rakish grin, "Now do you see why it should be Zoisite who goes to Earth?"
Malachite stared at the younger General for a moment, then turned back to Zoisite, the beginnings of a frown on his face, "Yes... I do see."
Before Malachite could say anything else, Zoisite put her fingers on his lips, "If you really think that tactically it is best for myself and my troops to go to Earth, I won't argue with you. If you think that this is the most efficient way to make use of me as a resource, then I won't argue with you. If you think that it is more practical to have all the Healers relocated to Earth - and let me remind you that most of them are attached to my troops - then I won't argue with you." She placed her hands on either side of his face and stared directly into his worried silver eyes before continuing, "However, if you send my troops to Earth for some Gaia-be-damned foolish reason, like a sudden need to coddle me, then I will not only be angry, but I will be very disappointed. Is that clear?"
Rei frowned as she tapped her pen against her lips, "She has a point, Malachite."
Malachite's only response was a growl. She was right and he knew it - but that didn't mean he had to like it. He looked back at her, "You'll be in danger. You'll be putting them in danger." He laid a hand on her stomach for emphasis, "Are you sure you aren't doing this out of a misguided sense of pride?"
Zoisite forced herself to actually think about that one. He had a valid point. She examined her reasons for wanting to stay... and the one that rose most quickly to the forefront was not a need to prove that she could still fight. It had nothing to do with fighting at all. It had to do with Healing. How many of the young men and women in the Moon Kindgom's Army would have died in the past year if she hadn't been there to pull a miracle out of her robes? How many more might still die? She looked down at Malachite and let that certainty fill her voice, "I'm positive. Even if I don't see a battlefield for the next 5 months, you still need me here. You need me as a Healer more than ever. And I know my limits, Malachite. I know when it's time for me to quit and back down. I'm the last person who would risk my children out of stupidity. Every Healer is trained from the get-go to look after themselves first. After all, if we get sick or injured we can't look after everyone else, and then where would everyone be?"
Malachite thought about that for a moment, then slowly nodded. She was right. Again. Damn. Now that he thought about it, Zoisite had severely curtailed her activities in the last four months. She was still out in the battlefield too often for his tastes, but she was more often behind the lines, waiting to rush out and Heal someone, than she was out there wielding a sword. He couldn't fault her reasoning... but again, he didn't have to like it.
Darien was the one who broke the silence, "Well, Jadeite - it looks like you still get the short straw..."
Jadeite nodded, "If you're all certain this is the best course of action, then I won't argue with you either." He rose from the table and bowed at those assembled, "With your permission, I will begin to ready my troops for the move."
Darien rose and clasped Jadeite's hand, "Be careful, my friend. We can't afford to lose you."
Jadeite smiled at the Prince, "I'll watch my back. We're going to have a whole planet full of people depending on us, after all." With one last glance around the room, Jadeite turned and left.
Darien sighed once as he watched his friend leave. Suddenly... he felt so bereft. It wasn't as if the young General was his only friend, so why did it suddenly feel that way? He let his eyes wander the room, taking in each of those remaining. Malachite - he still felt envious of the older man. In spite of the full support that the First General had given his liege-lord, many others still looked to him as the brains behind the operation. That rankled a bit--OK, more than a bit. He'd always been a leader in his own right and had been respected for his own intelligence and skills. That everyone now thought otherwise... it was an almost visible force that he was always fighting against. And it could be damned exhausting at times. But this was one battle that he could win--and he would.
The Prince let his eyes shift to land on Malachite's lover and the soon-to-be mother of his children. That was another one that was hard to believe. He'd known Zoisite for the greater part of his life, and while he'd always known that she was female, sometimes it was hard to think of her that way. She'd always been such a tomboy. But now, with the glow of impending motherhood hanging about her like a cloak, it was hard to picture her as anything else. And it was even harder remembering how he had wanted Serena to be the mother of his children... especially with Zoisite there as a constant reminder. She'd been the link that forged his casual friendship with the Princess into a solid relationship, and it was hard to look at her without remembering those happier, simpler times... times when he'd been full of hope and confidant in his own abilities. Times that were long gone, now.
And then there was Rei. Rei of the raven-black hair and deep green eyes--his firmest support, and at the same time his weakest point. He'd always been attracted to the Priestess' dark beauty. Not a single male in the Silver Court could claim to have met her serene gaze and gone untouched by it. But even while he'd been drawn to the fire, his heart had already belonged to the moonlight... to Serena. Even now, when he could easily see that the affection he felt for the Priestess of Mars was returned, at the very least in equal part, he couldn't bring himself to act on it for one simple reason: He still loved Serena. In spite of all that had happened, in spite of all she had done, and in spite of his continued attempts to harder his heart to her... he still loved her. In truth, he was beginning to think that he always would. And that being the case, it was unfair to lead Rei into thinking that there was a chance for them when his heart still belonged to the Princess. But it was so hard to crush her hopes like that, for he didn't want to hurt her, and in his own way, he loved her, too. Ye gods... what a mess my life has turned out to be... But then, I never did do things by halves, did I? At a murmured comment from Rei about joining Jadeite and helping him plan the final steps of the relocation, Darien allowed himself to be led from the room. And, as he had done more and more often lately, he had to wonder if all of his efforts were futile. For, one way or another, this couldn't end happily. Now, like so many others, he was left just hoping that someday, by some miracle... it would end.