Hello to everyone! At last, after a few crazy months, I am back with a new story. This is an idea that has been in my head for a long time, but I must warn all of you now there isn't much more than this opening written, and the project will probably take me a while to complete. I hope you are all prepared to be patient :)
No stories come from nowhere, and this story in particular has been influenced by two earlier works in the fandom. One is FlorLola's gorgeously angsty "Shattered Hearts" (which I spent an entire day reading at work several months ago when I was supposed to be, um, working) and the other is a much older fic from 1997 called "Living and Dying" by Jackie Chiang. I don't want to say much more; I have very definite ideas on where I am going with this and don't want to spoil the fun.
Enjoy, and I apologise for the brevity.
ALL THE KING'S HORSES
Tokyo, June 16, 1999
In the darkness of the night on the hill, fire erupted from the girl's fingertips like undying hate, searing through the air hot and dry as sin. The soft caresses of the sea-laden breeze could only flee before such a burning, leaving behind an atmosphere stark and dead as that of a poisoned land. It rasped against Neptune's skin with the pain of sandpaper, choked in her lungs like gas, and she sobbed at her own helplessness as she lay prone on the ground, fingers stapled across her chest in an inadequate effort to stop the blood that flowed out between them, the edges of the long, diagonal wound still smoking where she had been cut.
"No," she pleaded, but her voice was lost in the roar of the fire, and all she could do, all she could damn well do as the red stain spread over her body, dripping from skin and clothing to contaminate even the earth around her, was to watch with an unsteady heart as the orange jet of fire headed straight for the Princess. Watch as Uranus, the only one of them still standing, ran with a face set like granite towards that oncoming convergence of death. Long limbs kissed by the starlight, she flew without hesitation or regret to her duty, clasping the Princess to her chest and turning her back to the flames, protecting. Protecting with her own body the fragile hope of the future that resided in their Princess's small frame, her gentle blue eyes, her pure heart free of hatred or malice or jealousy.
Perhaps; perhaps thought Neptune with a wrench of pain, Uranus protected so vehemently because those things were lost to her now, lost in the savage fury of newly broken innocence, and her only desire was to sacrifice her own tainted existence to save one more worthy.
When the jet hit her, Uranus screamed. Burning with the liquid heat at the centre of a far galaxy's sun, there was no human on Earth who could have felt those flames and lived, but Uranus wasn't human, not entirely. In her veins flowed the strength of a cold, lonely planet turning steadily in the far freezing reaches of space, and it gave her the ability to endure, the mark of her destiny beaming out brightly from her forehead as the fire began to burn.
It ravaged her flesh in moments, licking greedily at her back, her arms, her legs, anywhere it could reach, seeking always to find a way to breach her defence and blacken the silver-sheened girl she held in her arms. Uranus didn't let it happen. She fell to her knees, cries becoming hoarse in a throat overcome by agony, but she didn't let go. She was going to burn, burn right away to nothing before Neptune's horrified eyes, and it could have happened, would have happened, had not the stream of flame coming from the girl who was their enemy stopped as suddenly and unexpectedly as a tap being turned off.
The girl, so young, so very young to be causing such destruction, stared at her suddenly powerless hands in horror. "W-what?" she whispered, flexing her fingers as if to recall the fire. "You can't…" As if in supplication, she turned her eyes upwards, begging for mercy from whatever dark power she saw there. "Please! I need more time, another chance. Don't—"
A terrible wet, rending sound ended her words, and where the girl had been, there was now only the dismembered remains of what could have been a body, torn apart as easily as pink paper. And somewhere far above them, a star winked out unnoticed in the sky.
Fire was still dancing gleefully across the skin of the fallen Uranus, and Neptune tried, tried to summon the healing relief of the sea, but her element was deaf to her pleas. Slowly around her, other soldiers were struggling to their feet, or their knees at least if their legs would not support them, and a tear squeezed from one impossibly dry eye as Neptune heard the soft rill of harp strings and saw water cascading down upon the stricken blonde haired senshi, banishing the flames at last. Mercury.
Moon struggled out from beneath Uranus, streaks of soot and moisture alternating over skin and fuku. She was shaken, but unscathed, and for one moment Neptune's treacherous heart wished things could have turned out otherwise.
"Uranus," Moon said, staring down at her crumpled saviour in horror while the others hung back, almost as if afraid to approach. Only Pluto moved, but she went to Neptune's side, kneeling down by her and taking her condition in with grave eyes.
"Pluto," whispered Neptune, too weak to move and nearly too weak to talk. "Take me to her, please."
Pluto hesitated a moment, then nodded. She didn't bother trying to help Neptune to her feet, merely picked her up and carried her the short distance to Uranus's side, depositing her on newly bare earth that smoked like hot tar in the rain where the droplets of Neptune's blood fell.
Taking one flame-blistered hand in her own, Neptune turned her eyes, like a coward, from the devastation that had been her lover's body. She should have forced herself, should have done Uranus the final honour of witnessing the wounds that had saved them all, but she couldn't. She didn't want to look upon red weals and blackened flesh and the inescapable knowledge of what it meant. Instead, she focused on what little she could see of the senshi's unblemished face, one cheek pressed to the earth, hair falling into her eyes. If she looked there, just there and nowhere else, Neptune could almost imagine Uranus was only sleeping; that she would wake, and smile, and lean over to Neptune and kiss her as she'd done on so many mornings in a past that seemed suddenly very long ago.
"Uranus," she whispered, not expecting any response.
Impossibly, two teal eyes struggled open, falling on her with a gaze as cold and unforgiving as steel. "Don't touch me," Uranus said, twitching her hand away, and desolation settled over Neptune's heart like a shroud while above them, the wind screamed in agony and thunderclouds began to gather in the sky.
Vienna, February 28, 2002
It was a flawless performance, as always. The last of the winter season, and Michiru knew that tomorrow the papers would be full of praise for her. They loved her in this city, adored her for her grace and her beauty and the notes that fell forever sweetly from her violin. She was perfection to them; they had placed her on a pedestal in order to worship and created an image of her in their own minds that had little to do reality. They didn't want to know her, not really, at least not anything that would disrupt their idea of her. They didn't want to know about the pain that clawed at her skin even now as she stood smiling beneath these shining lights, about the hollow darkness that never left her heart.
Everything about Michiru's life was a sham these days. Her curling waist-length hair that her admirers liked to say gave her an air of girlish innocence, her supposed romance with the man everyone claimed her to be madly in love with; her music. Worst of all her music. No matter how much the reviewers raved, Michiru would never fool herself into thinking that her music was worthy of commendation any more. Always what she played now was empty, so flat and dull she would have shuddered in shame once to produce such shallow offerings.
But she performed for audiences whose souls were too feeble to know passion from passivity and the sterile wasteland that had supplanted her creativity went unmarked. There was one, Michiru thought, who would have been able to tell the difference, but she had stopped listening a long time ago.
The applause, the accolades; it was all meaningless but Michiru endured it. She smiled, she laughed, she told them all what they wanted to hear because she didn't care enough not to. This was her last night in Vienna; tomorrow she would be gone and she could block this time of nothingness from her memory as if it had never been. Tomorrow, after two and a half years, she was finally returning to Japan and even if she found only cold welcome it would still better than this.
At last, the curtain descended. Michiru kept the smile on her face all the way to her dressing room. She couldn't not, with all those who thought themselves her friends and colleagues congratulating her and wishing her well. It wasn't until she was safely alone that she allowed the mask to fall. Her graceful stride faltered and her body shook with pain and exhaustion; her face was bleak, her eyes dead. Still, out of habit, like one who repeats a prayer long after belief has fled, she went through the old, old ritual of stowing her violin away, lovingly, carefully. Perhaps because it was the only reminder she had of a time when her life wasn't like this.
She closed the case and sat slumped in front of her dressing room mirror, staring unseeingly into her reflection.
There was a knock at the door.
"Come in," Michiru said flatly, knowing who it would be.
He entered smiling. He carried roses. It was worse because he meant it.
Michiru looked at him in the mirror without rising, without turning to greet him. Her eyes blurred and she remembered a glittering night in the city of her home that seemed more than six years ago, heard the echo of another knock, saw the ghost of another charismatic young man flicker through the glass.
The Three Lights were mostly forgotten now, discarded detritus in a world forever seeking novelty, but Michiru remembered them. She remembered how Seiya had entered her room that evening, all suave confidence and smiles. How they'd fenced, the two of them, beneath a flirtatiousness that was neither real nor feigned but fell somewhere in between.
She remembered Haruka's voice later, close to her ear, teasing but slightly hurt, just a hint of uncertainty in her dusky blue eyes. Am I not enough for you anymore?
How she'd said it, watching Michiru in the mirror as she slowly unzipped the dress that was rightfully hers to unzip, thumbnail trailing fire down Michiru's spine.
Whispered, passionate, wanting, had been Michiru's reply, and she'd only just had time to see the sudden surge of desire on Haruka's face before she found herself being turned and lifted to sit on the dressing table, dress on the floor; vases, bottles and containers swept away in a series of fatal crashes that neither of them heeded, the glorious pressure of Haruka's body pressed hard between her legs…
"God Michiru, where are you tonight?"
Michiru jumped as a hand touched her shoulder, so different from the touch she remembered. She forced the weary smile onto her lips once more and rose to face the man that others called her partner.
"Nowhere. I'm just tired. Thank you for these, they're lovely."
Taking the roses from him, she removed the paper and arranged them in a vase, glad of the excuse it gave her to turn away. Her memories had not left her unaffected, and she didn't want him to look into her eyes and see any hint of the desire there that was not for him.
"You deserve it," he said. "Your performance was amazing."
He kissed her then, on the cheek, bringing his body close to hers and placing an arm around her waist. Michiru stiffened a little but did not otherwise resist. Only thought, you don't know amazing. If you'd seen how I played before, you would know better than to honour me for what I do now.
"I'm glad," she murmured indifferently.
Fingers brushed through the wave of her hair. "Are you really flying back to Japan tomorrow?" he asked, voice slightly hoarse with a sadness and longing that couldn't reach her.
"I am." Michiru moved away, making it deliberate, and gave him the same pseudo-rational speech she'd given to everyone else. "I've been offered the position of lead violin with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra and it's a good opportunity, especially since they're about to start a co-production of The Rite of Spring with Tokyo Ballet. You know that's a piece I've always loved."
"A good opportunity?" He laughed ironically. "For the past two years, you've performed in Europe almost exclusively as a soloist. Just being lead violin in some orchestra is a step down from that."
"Perhaps. But when you're a soloist, you never really get to connect with a whole group of musicians the way you do when you play as one of them. I've missed that feeling. And there will be plenty of soloist work when I want it, so I'm hardly going to be damaging my career."
"I wish you didn't feel like you have to lie to me."
"If you already know the truth, why are you asking?" Michiru's tone was unfairly snappish, but she couldn't help it. She was sore and tired and more nervous about the journey before her than she wanted to admit and the last thing she wanted was the appeal that she knew was coming.
There was a pause before he spoke again, carefully. "You've never told me what it was exactly that caused the rift between you and your family back in Japan, but I know you've never recovered from it. Are you sure that going home is the right thing to do? What if they just end up hurting you again?"
"Then I'll let them."
"Why?" The frustration was clear in his voice.
"Because I deserve it."
"How could you possibly deserve—"
"Just leave it, please. It's not something I can explain to you."
He didn't reply to that, only gazed at her with a steady compassion Michiru couldn't endure. She flicked her eyes away from his, suddenly close to tears while the conflicted, almost perverse, need for what he offered blossomed in her chest. Recognising that expression, for he had seen it before, he moved forward and held her once more, wrapping around her from behind. His body felt wrong, the way it always did, all hard angles where there should have been softness, but Michiru didn't have the strength to push him away this time.
"Let me come with you," he whispered into the ocean coloured tresses that fell past the curve of her shoulder. "Just to see you settled."
Despising herself, Michiru wavered. With his arms around her like this, she felt safe. The way a coward did hiding in the darkness of a cellar.
"You know I don't love you," she said, almost pleadingly.
"I know." His voice was satin-silk in its softness. "But I don't care. I still love you."
Michiru winced suddenly in pain as his grip tightened. If she'd believed her life was still worthy of being guided by destiny, she would have said she felt the wheeling of the stars in that moment. Her mind had tried to forget, but her flesh remembered, and the cry of the one who had given this to her came back red as blood and difficult as being born. It reminded her of what she was, and what she had lost, and that there was only one course of action she could take if there was to be any chance of absolution.
"No," she said, and for the first time in two years she thought she heard the echo of another Michiru speaking in her voice; one who was not afraid to fight. One who still had dreams worth fighting for. "I don't want to be with you anymore. I've already told you that."
She shook him off and turned to face him, dropping unconsciously into a soldier's defensive stance. His eyes widened.
"I'm sorry…" he stumbled slightly over the words. "D-does it hurt again tonight?"
"It hurts," Michiru replied grimly. "It always hurts when I play."