Princess Mercury, sailor senshi to that damnable Heir to the Moon. Here on this luminescent sphere, gathered with the other princesses and their mistress, she carried with her a heaviness that revealed itself in the planes of her shoulders, in the subtle tuck of her chin. Her hands rested on the balustrade of the portico, the hem of her midnight gown ruffling in the faint breeze. She was alone.
The moon was new, made dark by that brief day when it hid its silvered face from both earth and sun. Despite being concealed from that star's radiance, the palace itself glowed under some ancient spell, its faint light giving the gardens and outbuildings an ethereal atmosphere. The princess seemed most at home in her solitude, lost in thought and silence. Kunzite veiled his presence carefully, his gaze caught up in the serene view before him. Leaning against a pillar, he pulled his cape around him, fingering the silk that was the same color as that woman's gown. He wondered if she was cold.
He wondered at her expression were he to enrobe her in its warmth. His warmth.
A playful grin crossed his features. While caught up in her duties, the princess never lacked poise and grace, sometimes even becoming withdrawn in her lack of emotional responsiveness. A quiet word, an explanation, a suggestion, her words carried power when they were heeded. But her voice was often drowned out by the domineering presence of Mars, the deft maneuvering of Venus, and the thunderous objections of Jupiter. The airy nature of the moon heiress herself only further marginalized Mercury's reserved intellect.
Kunzite's smirk faded as he recalled the day's appointments. Once again, the obscenely powerful Princess of the Moon had called the Prince of Earth and his attendants to confer over her ideas for a new kingdom, one that promised peace and wealth to the citizens of Earth, yet removed from them their political freedom and power. Tensions had been growing over the weeklong discussions, that day's meeting rising to an unprecedented level of aggravation. Kunzite, though enraged by the Princess' suggestions, had bitten his tongue. One never showed their fangs before they knew the enemy's true intentions. Nevertheless, Nephrite's anger had flared to the point where he had overturned the Earth Kingdom's conference table, his massive strength sending papers and glasses and magical objects flying across the room. Venus' reprimand had been swift and merciless.
"You dare display such crass and undignified behavior within these walls built upon peace? You disgrace yourself and your Master!"
"I cannot tolerate the suggestions of the Princess! She means to enslave our planet!"
"We plot nothing here, you reckless boy, only discuss a possible future. No threats have been made, no armies or enchantments mobilized. Sit down and reign in your emotions!"
"This is ludicrous, we will never entertain such "
The Prince's voice stilled the trembling atmosphere of the conference hall. So many defense and protection magics had been activated by the rogue Shittenou's rage that the walls thrummed. The riotous stallion, hearing the voice of his master, quieted, his massive frame shrinking visibly. Nephrite's eyes widened and he knelt immediately, head ducking sharply.
"I apologize to the council of the Moon for my actions. I will not quarrel with this peaceful delegation and its mistress in the presence of my Master." When he rose, the boy's brow had been furrowed in shame, his jaw working restlessly. He turned to the Prince, who rose graciously from his seat.
"Let us retire for today. I will consult with my attendants and continue our discussions tomorrow. If we may be excused."
He had left then. Kunzite had risen, bowing to the Princess, following his pupil from the hall. Just before leaving he'd caught a glimpse of Mercury, who had remained silent for the majority of the discussions. Her frame had been rigid with barely veiled alarm.
Her once gentle eyes were full of ice.
Incredible how soft she looked now, gowned in glittering blue, rim light catching on train and faintly tousled hair. It was a welcome change; he thought she looked ridiculous in her senshi uniform. Much better the demure line of her throat as it shifted to shoulders and gentle waist. She was a princess in her own right, though her kingdom had long ago diminished to a single island orbiting far from the point of its origin. Her loneliness surrounded her like a cloud.
Tugging at the clasp of his cloak, Kunzite crossed the spacious portico lightly, sliding the fabric around Mercury's shoulders a mere instant before revealing his presence. Reflexes sharp, the girl spun, whirling skirts carrying her a dozen feet or so from him. He followed easily, expression neutral.
"If I had come to harm you, little Senshi, I could have done so far earlier. Please, allow me to join you." He touched the crest on his forehead with a tiny bow, shifting to nonchalantly lean against the marble railing.
Mercury was flustered, fingering the edge of his cape uneasily. "You have come to discuss the Princess's plans for Earth." Kunzite grinned faintly.
"No, I tire of talks. Our exasperation was aptly demonstrated by Nephrite today, however rudely. I will hear enough about the topics of this conference once my master returns to Earth. I doubt he has intentions of staying much longer. All has been said that should be." The coil of anger that Kunzite had carefully sealed was beginning to unwind in his tone. He made a fist behind his back, then released it. He would leave the emotional displays to Nephrite. Instead, he turned to take in the palace's vast gardens, graceful labyrinths of rose and honeysuckle, the remains of a much older ruin somehow preserved beneath the vines that lay over its walls at its center. "How curious that there are roses here, and white no less."
"I am told that these grounds are sacred, waiting for something to happen. Whether fortune or destruction, those roses have been blooming here for a thousand years. It is a great gift to receive one. At one time the Queen gave them to her most cherished of servants, her dearest of lovers and friends. Someday the Princess might take up that crown and bestow them again."
"No doubt the first would be yours, her most faithful
" Kunzite let his statement trail away. The extent to which he could read this girl despite her demeanor was surprising. There was a very complicated expression in her eyes, which rose to meet his for but a moment, then followed his gaze out to the gardens.
"I would be unworthy of such a gift."
Kunzite leaned away from the railing and took a step behind her, out of her view. Her mood had plunged and her thoughts had turned inward, accompanied by that same heaviness in her frame. Still, it would be some time before he was ever summoned to the moon again, and to his knowledge Mercury never visited Earth. For the most part she lived in her citadel, Mariner's Castle, which lay somewhere beyond the edge of the planetary system, a cold and solitary place. It suited her, it would appear.
"Tell me, Princess, have you ever visited our Earth?"
"I have not. Never have I been inclined, as my castle and this palace here consume most of my attentions. I hear that it is beautiful, and warm."
"As warm as this moon is cold, Princess. The sun blesses our planet in ways the moon cannot match, the rich earth fragrant in its glow. Where I am from, it seems the sun and earth have deemed worthy to figure from the soil the most beautiful landscape in existence."
"And yet you have this
"Yes, winter. In the mountains there is snow, and the lowlands a spacious rain that lasts two and some months. Still, the seasons balance their passions on a grander cycle, not the endless circling of a lesser satellite."
"You would have the Moon become subject to Earth?"
"Do not mistake me, I merely would mention the beauty of the seasons." Kunzite leaned forward. The Earth was there, hovering in a half dark sphere of glittering green and blue and white. There was so much more room, the serenity of its spacious forests and wizened mountains offering one a place to rest his spirit. The Moon Princess's given name might be Serenity, but her kingdom was a dead stone, silent and lifeless as it orbited Earth. The living music of that sphere as it passed through the heavens, that was peace.
And she would take it under her dominion.
Mercury turned to face him, a shadow falling over her face. "General, what will the Prince do? Will he rebel against the Princess? Will he submit his planet to her rule? You are his teacher, but he is as young and impetuous as our princess, though kind. Surely you will advise him in this matter." Kunzite considered her carefully.
"I will answer if you reveal to me your agenda. Your planet has been lifeless for millennia. What stake do you have in this game?" She flinched at his words, hands clenching at her waist.
"I merely serve the princess as her vassal. Long has Mercury silently orbited the Sun, its life and glories lost. Mars, Venus, and Jupiter
we are queens without a kingdom, and the moon shares our fate without its death. We serve her to honor the empires we have lost."
"Nevertheless, you do not love her." He stepped nearer as the girl seemed to shrink, her eyes on the ground. "You have no kingdom, and now she seeks to add a planet full of sea and rain and snow to her dominion, a planet not without the glory yours once possessed. What are her promises to you?"
Mercury's struggle was like a storm caught up in a bottle, a tempest raging along her heart and nerves. "The Princess has made no promises to me concerning Earth, and why should she? My planet perished long ago, and one kingdom cannot replace another. My lady's love should not be lost on one so lowly as myself. I serve her gladly and consider no recompense save the anchor of her kingdom allied to my own. This alone is grace enough." She seemed to steady at her own reassurance, her eyes and voice softening. "I have no stake in this game; I merely serve the moon's princess. But I do not wish for war."
"And yet you are at war yourself." Kunzite sighed softly, raising a hand. "My apologies; my issue is not with you or your stance. I know the moon princess's soldiers serve their mistress faithfully. Those with greedy hearts scheme and bicker over the plans we have been discussing. The Senshi do not involve themselves in these quarrels." Kunzite tipped up Mercury's chin with a finger. "The Shittenou are no different. We are warriors, but the true warrior seeks to avoid conflict. This will be my advice for the Prince, although I am not sure of the way things will proceed should the Princess continue with her plans of dominion over Earth. My guess is that it would not end well." Never mind that their relationship was becoming more and more entangled, that the prince frequently spirited himself to the moon to see the Princess and returned with eyes full of love. He had not yet told Kunzite, but he did not have to. No doubt he worried that their relationship would be forbidden, as it should. The Princess would no doubt use his love for her gain whether she realized it or not. Would that Kunzite could remove him farther from her than the distance between Earth and Moon. It would clear his foolish head.
She barely moved, but Kunzite saw the unease in the senshi's eyes. He withdrew his hand from her face. He could see the hesitation, the war going on inside her. Where others saw a shy, reserved woman, he saw one full of tumultuous fears and ever shifting emotions. The scarceness of her words was no indication of the state of her mind in the least. "I
do not wish to be enemies with the Earth Kingdom. You are right that I see much of my own perished planet in her land, sea and sky."
"You would do well to visit. I am sure the prince would be happy to accommodate you."
"No." Her voice was firm, her gaze darting away. "I will never visit Earth of my own accord. Were my lady to send me, I would go, but I fear there is too much I would stand to lose by doing so of my own will."
Kunzite considered her levelly. "A martyr." Once again, that telling flinch. "You are too cruel to yourself, Princess."
She froze, pulling away. All of that warming vulnerability disappeared as a wall as real as any structure erected itself around her person. She slid his cape from her shoulders and folded it over the balustrade, curtsying politely. "Thank you for your company, General. I hope our kingdoms can find a solution both can agree on. If you will excuse me, I would retire."
Despite the many responses that came to his mind, Kunzite bowed as he watched her leave. As she rounded the corner out of his sight, her presence disappeared completely from his awareness. No doubt he could find her if need be, but he let her go. She was reticent indeed, if not merely naïve. He wondered at her previous statement. What was it she feared losing to Earth? How it must call to her, its oceans and lakes, rivers and streams. Water that coursed and splashed and sprang from the ground in a bellowing array. A princess with the memories of a kingdom on a watery planet such as Mercury no doubt longed for Earth's comforts to the point of pain. Yet she lived in an ice palace that floated in the dark abyss of space, and spend a good amount of her time here on this cold, dark stone with the beautiful planet below in full view. He couldn't understand it. Kunzite could picture her there, basking in the sun, walking along the beaches of the ocean as it roared with the tides, swimming in mountain pools. I will take her there someday, he thought. Perhaps if their kingdoms united
He crushed his fist into a pillar, obliterating the thought and cracking the stone. Never, never must that Princess be allowed to destroy the freedom of Earth and its people! Never would he kneel to pledge his loyalty to her reign. If destiny ruled that it be so, he would not live to bear the shame of that day. He would fight and use whatever means necessary to prevent it. The Prince was the one to whom Kunzite's powers were subject. No one else would rule him, not ever.
He snatched his cloak from the banister, clasping it about his shoulders. Setting off at a brisk pace, he strode through the palace to the quarters lent him by the princess. Her seal was everywhere, and every glimpse of it drove him to the edge. He arrived at the Prince's quarters only to find them empty. No doubt the boy was with her.
Footsteps shook Kunzite from the haze that had settled on his thinking. He turned to see Mercury and Venus rounding the corner, Venus' golden gown sparkling as though made of that same material. Her eyes bore an intolerant expression.
"Is our princess here?" Kunzite said nothing.
Mercury paused a few feet from where he stood, Venus stalking past him down the corridor, shoes clacking audibly on the tiles. The senshi was the first to break the silence that followed.
"I see that you know of our dilemma." He smiled wryly.
"It would appear that Venus does not approve."
"You could say that she has taken it on herself to protect the heart of the princess."
"The goddess of Love spurns love where it grows?" Hesitation wrote itself plainly on Mercury's features.
"Venus worries that the Pr" Kunzite chuckled darkly.
"You would say these things to his protector?" Her brow furrowed innocently, words stymied by his quick reply. "Your concerns are not unshared, little senshi, although I fear they differ in who is the culprit and who remains innocent of blame." The statement gave her pause; hands found one another and held tightly. A defense.
"How many of your men "
"It seems," Kunzite interjected, "that Venus is not the only one who covets the Princess's love." He caught her wrist as she moved to back away.
"Mercury." He watched her features flare in defiance.
"We are not so well acquainted, General. Release me."
"Are you so starved for love that you would grovel after her? She has already found another, and I would think myself correct in that she has already cast you aside for him. You are nothing to her, princess."
"Are you so unkind!" Her eyes moistened, pricking with tears. Kunzite pressed further, widening the gaps in the walls of her resolve.
"I merely see your mistress for what she is. Your love is misplaced."
He had found the reason for her withdrawal. A chasm was breaking open in her soul as he revealed its nature; Kunzite could feel it. He would taste it, an ambrosia sweet and succulent as it sang in her veins and boiled off her tongue. His gaze burned as he drew near, battering at the ramparts behind her eyes. One arm found her waist, the other her jaw. The real Mercury, hidden beneath her duties as a senshi, was a woman full of uncertain love and longing, suffering in her self-imposed silence. That he had been the one to see through her façade, he owned this Mercury. Holding open the gate to what she had locked away with the sheer force of his will, he crushed his lips against hers, drowning her in his kiss.
Her fingers clawed at his tunic; she surged against him like a butterfly desperately trying to escape his hands even as it destroyed itself. Kunzite's arms were stone and flesh and fury, bathing in the roiling tempest that was her spirit. It battled against him as he kissed her, drawing out that otherness which was his alone, sparked by the catalyst of his words, his mouth, his body pressed against hers. Her soul boiled out from within her like a geyser, burning through her like wildfire, like an explosion that ripped out of her from her very core.
Claws suddenly became hands that clutched; she was shaking.
Kunzite held her carefully, his lips softening, grazing her mouth. Her breath came in sharp gasps as years of tension rolled away; he felt it in his hands when the heaviness in her shoulders was released, when her head fell forward onto his chest.
"Magnificent," was the word that came from his lips, like a prayer. This presence that emanated from her, calm waters that went down and down and down, he knew that if he could see her face her eyes would be the same, clear and unpolluted by shyness and shielded misery. Her heart began to slow; his arms moved to cradle her against him like a precious item, a priceless jewel.
"Mercury." He breathed her name, touching her hair with his fingertips. Her head lifted from his chest, the brush of her lashes soft against his shoulder. Kunzite cupped her face in his palm, eyes dewy beneath their delicate fringe as if in a trance. He kissed her brow softly.
"My little senshi."
She glanced up then, blinking once, and again. "General."
Kunzite did not resist as she pulled away, alarm growing on her features. Her lifelong barriers, those protections built to withstand the pain of loneliness were gone. Mercury's eyes darted left and right, the fear of exposure plainly written on her face.
"What have you done to me? What is this, this "
"Freedom?" His voice was mild, echoing from the marble. "Your fears and worries no longer to enslave you?"
"It is not your concern!" Her emotions, free of their barriers and fences, were rocketing across her expression.
"Yet you do not run from me." He stepped towards her. "What do you fear so much in stepping from your icy cage, Mercury? Your spirit is not meant to be locked up within you, within that castle, or on the surface of this frigid stone. Let yourself be freed from these things!"
"I can't! I need " Her barriers were not so easy to be rid of. Veiled by the power of Kunzite's will, it had seemed as though he had destroyed them utterly. Now he released them, flinging them back into place with a force that rocked the already shaken woman. Her spirit, set free by Kunzite's kiss was like a man set free from long years of imprisonment. It cried out in dismay, to be locked back in such a place.
The shock crippled her entirely.
Kunzite caught her the moment her knees began to buckle, lifting her into his arms and setting off toward the wing where her quarters were located. Perhaps it had been cruel of him to prove his point to her so violently. Nevertheless, he had revealed to her what she had not known or had not been willing to face. The moon princess had found another place to spend her love. Starved for that very comfort, Mercury would only be further imprisoned within herself. A martyr, unwilling to speak those selfish words that would save her.
With all his being, Kunzite wished it did not have to be so, but Mercury would not likely waver in her conviction. Her heart was steadfast in service to her mistress. Foolish, but her honor was not unlike that of his own, a dedication that could not easily be shaken.
The senshi's quarters were simple and clean, the curtained bed made neatly. He knelt on its edge and arranged her carefully on the blankets, brushing a stray lock of ice blue curls from her face. Kunzite set the white rose he had plucked from the gardens on the pillow opposite her face. Within its petals he placed a memory of the moon princess's face; she would perhaps think it a gift from her lady. Then he rose and left before he could be discovered.
Zoisite was waiting inside Kunzite's quarters. The pale Shittenou sat delicately in a chair, ghostly in the ethereal light. Kunzite leaned against a slender pillar and waited. Unlike the other Shittenou, Zoisite considered every situation carefully; if he was here in Kunzite's quarters like this, he das discovered something or was concerned over a particular matter. It was not unlikely that Kunzite would have to reassure him
"You cannot have that senshi, Kunzite. She will not help you understand or sway the Master from pursuing the princess. Do not torment the girl. Her suffering will only deepen as your powers overwhelm her."
Kunzite smirked, though he burned that Zoisite had overheard his interaction just then. "I merely suggested that her motives for serving the princess were errant."
"Kunzite," his tone was a warning.
"When do we depart this place?"
The white Shittenou sighed, rising from his chair and gathering his silvery cloak about him. "We leave on the morrow, in the afternoon. The Princess and her attendants will see us off."
Kunzite watched him leave from the corner of his eye, running his fingertips over the polished wood of the chair where he had been seated. Zoisite saw through Kunzite the way that Kunzite saw through his opponents; it irked and amused him that the man often confronted his actions only to retreat in silence without pressing his case. Still, Kunzite was fond of his comrade. He knew when to hold his peace.
He had not brought his sword to the moon, theirs being a peaceful delegation, so Kunzite found a goblet and filled it with wine, grimacing as it sloshed from the decanter. It was cloyingly saccharine. Circling the rim with a finger, he found the image of his senshi still resting. It seemed that her dreams would not be so sweet as this wine. Tipping the goblet into a potted plant, he considered Zoisite's reproof. It had not been his intention to harm Mercury. He would never of his own accord destroy so lovely a flower, so exquisite a spirit as that which he had freed from her. But was it freedom, if only to be lost moments later? Kunzite did not know, though he would never admit it to Zoisite. Hopefully the girl would somehow reclaim it in her own way.
The morning found them on the lawn outside the palace; some minister of some-such was making use of himself in a trite farewell speech. The princess herself was silent, senshi warriors in full regalia at her sides. His glance toward Mercury was fleeting; Zoisite was watching him carefully, concern evident in the delicate twist to his features. The senshi's face was clouded with confusion, and she was barely paying attention to the goings on around her. Kunzite wondered what she had made of the rose.
The minister finished his declamation and the prince bowed, neutral and dignified. The princess was not so composed, her cheeks flushed and she looked as if to speak just as Venus touched her arm in warning. What a ridiculous woman. Kunzite bowed nonetheless, catching Mercury's eye as he rose.
She would see Earth, he vowed. One day, he would make her free of her mistress. It was her destiny. He would write it in the Scroll of Heaven.
Kunzite's hand found the hem of his cloak, fingers tracing in its fibers the marks that would transport him to Earth. There was a white flash as the Prince departed; he snapped the fabric up and about him, setting loose the magic that would remove him from this wretched place. His last glimpse of the gleaming white palace burned into his memory like a cursed mark.
He would free her.