"Tanaka-san! Tanaka-san, a moment please."
Tanaka turned around, a tall, sparsely-built man, balding. He had one arm in his suit jacket and one out, while a bento sat patiently awaiting his attention on a nearby desk.
Nakamura, attaché to the American Ambassador to Japan, strode up to him with a firm step. The young man with him hurried to keep up. "Tanaka-san, you heard that the new lawyer was arriving today, correct?"
Tanaka nodded, subjecting the newcomer to a careful gaze. American, clearly. Blond hair, blue eyes. Doubtless full of that American charm. Years of working as a diplomatic liaison to the American Embassy had taught him to read the social signals of their western allies fairly adeptly. This young man appeared to be projecting an aura of good will and personability.
"Tanaka-san, this is Devine-san of the US Attorney's office. Devine-san, this is Tanaka-san, our liaison from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs." Both men bowed politely, and Tanaka's opinion of this Devine-san rose a notch. The other young man bowed well, as if he had practiced, not merely the standard foreigner effort.
"A pleasure," Tanaka said.
"Please allow yourself to depend on me," Devine replied politely.
"Tanaka-san, the Ambassador has heard that you have been having some difficulty receiving the staff access you require. He hopes to remedy this by placing Devine-san at your disposal."
Tanaka studied the other man more closely upon receiving this news. So far his command of the language seemed more than adequate; a step up from many staff members who had an academic grasp of Japanese only and required months of immersion to acquire missing vocabulary. There was both intelligence and humor on the well-cut face. And he was standing politely, arms relaxed at his sides, carefully neutral, allowing Tanaka to make an evaluation. Truly a promising young man. He turned to Nakamura. "Please convey my thanks to the Ambassador for his care of me."
Nakamura inclined his head. "Devine-san, if there is anything else you require of an administrative nature, Suzuki will be able to assist you. You recall her desk sits near the entry." His hand moved politely in the appropriate direction.
Devine bowed again. "Nakamura-san, thank you."
The attaché discreetly withdrew, leaving the two men gazing at each other.
"Well." Tanaka gestured to the two desks pushed against each other, next to a window in the spacious office. One of them was painfully neat, covered with piles of paper stacked together with corners and edges aligned. The other bore signs of more recent habitation, with pencils scattered messily and post-it notes suck to the edges of an outdated monitor. "I have been without an assistant for quite some time, and I am afraid I have fallen into the habit of using the extra space for storage. Perhaps we can begin by making your area workable again."
Jade Devine sat down at his newly cleaned desk and breathed out a relieved sigh. Tanaka's filing system was both arcane and complex, and he had spent the last two hours in constant terror lest he inadvertently cross-reference the wrong papers and earn the undying enmity of his new superior before the day was even out.
Actually, the other man was not nearly as stiff and unbending as Jade had been prepared to find him. As they had cleaned, Tanaka had made conversation, letting drop various useful hints for getting along in his new office community with seeming casualness. He had also drawn Jade out skillfully to talk about his experience prior to joining the diplomatic office, his reasons for requesting Japan as his first posting, his interests, and even a little bit about his bachelor status. This last revelation had led Tanaka into a panegyric on his own brand-new wife, one Mizuki by name, who appeared from Tanaka's description to be the living incarnation of Amida Buddha.
While Tanaka talked on and on about Mizuki, Jade's mind turned inexorably towards his real reason for choosing a posting in Japan. Dark hair, violet eyes, an oval-shaped face he could draw from memory. Regal poise and grace. A personality that could literally set a man on fire. Jade had been looking for her for years, and he thought he was finally getting close. The news reports were a little vague and extremely over-speculated, but he was almost certain that the so-called Sailor Scouts were none other than the senshi and planetary princesses of an ancient kingdom. And that meant that one of them was his Mizuki… if only he could find her.
After the great cleansing was complete, Tanaka settled Jade down with a pile of old briefs and desired him to become acquainted with their contents. This task so absorbed him that he didn't notice as the sunlight slanted lower and lower through the window until it was unexpectedly blotted out by a large shadow in the doorway.
"Tanaka-san!" a genial voice boomed. Jade looked, blinking, to see Tanaka had risen and was bowing towards a new figure in their office. Jade hastily rose and did the same. "And here I see the new lawyer?"
Tanaka hastily performed an introduction. "Senator-san, this is Devine-san from the US Attorney's office. Devine-san, Senator Hino of the Oversight Committee for Foreign Affairs."
"I am honored to you meet you," Jade said automatically. The Senator was not a tall man, but had a certain sense of presence that was enhanced by the obvious expense of his suit and watch. His behavior, too, was calculated to expand to fill a room.
"So good, that additional staff are arriving, is it not, Tanaka-san?" Senator Hino smiled. "The relationship between our nations grows stronger." Both diplomats murmured polite agreement.
"Now that you are here, you must take time to see the beauties of our country. Sometimes, it is hard to get away, yes? But I will insist. A little tradition of mine, in fact, for everyone who joins our organization. You will join me for dinner. You will see what we have to offer, yes?"
Practice kept Jade's expression smooth and his bearing congenial. "Senator, it is too much of an honor. I am overwhelmed…"
"You will oblige me," the other man said seriously. "I insist upon it."
Jade caught Tanaka's quick look from the corner of one eye and bowed low, expressing gratitude and obligation. "Of course I cannot refuse."
"Excellent!" The charm was back. "You will join me, let us see, Friday evening? Yes, I think Friday. An auspicious beginning. Simply remain here after you finish work and I will return. It is agreed? Good!" Hino's smile included Tanaka. "So pleased to see you working together so well. Very good. I will leave you to it!"
The two diplomats bowed again as the Senator withdrew in state. After the door had closed behind him, Jade stared at it in no little surprise, completely at a loss.
"Whew." Tanaka rolled his head around his neck and reached for his jacket. "What a day, huh? Come on, kouhai. Streetlights are on, diplomats are off. I'll show you the official embassy bar."
One round, two bowls of noodles and several office stories later, Jade casually led the conversation around to Senator Hino. Tanaka was relaxed and willing to talk.
"He's always like that. Trying to make sure everyone likes him and he doesn't offend anyone. He's still hoping to be Prime Minister one day."
The other man shrugged. "Maybe, who can say? But he'll need to start making a few bolder moves if he's going to be a serious contender. A policy of being inoffensive only gets you far in diplomacy." The two men shared a smile.
"So what's this about dinner?" Jade slid Tanaka a sideways look.
Tanaka finished his drink and laughed. "Rite of passage around here. At least, if you happen to be young, male, and upwardly mobile."
Jade stared into his drink and sighed. "Let me guess. He has a daughter."
"Yeah." Tanaka leaned back in his chair. "Beautiful, too!" The other man made an eloquent gesture. "But she's one of the ones who'd rather dissect you than marry you." Tanaka shook his head. "I'm lucky to have found Mizuki."
Jade wondered if ordering another round would head off further discourse about Mizuki. Probably not. Tanaka seemed to be a good guy and a better liaison, but he had already talked enough about his wife in one day to last three years. How beautiful she was, how modest, how talented. Jade was sincerely glad for the other man and not the slightest bit jealous. Domestic felicity in such a form would not suit him in the least. He had his eyes on a bigger prize. And he was hoping that he would find it in Japan. If he could survive dinner with Senator Hino's daughter first.
Tanaka was still talking. Jade let his mind drift, trying to solve the problem of how exactly he was going to track down a magical sailor-suited soldier girl.
On his way out to pick up some lunch the next day, Jade found himself unexpectedly hailed by Senator Hino, who was walking swiftly towards a very large, very shiny, very black towncar. "Devine-san! To see you again, how good! And your second day, it is going well?"
Jade bowed in greeting. "Very well, thank you, Senator. I was just going to find some lunch."
"Ah yes. The café down the street is very popular. The young men who work in this complex, they visit it often."
"Thank you, Senator, I will try it."
"I wonder," the other man said idly. "I was just going to visit a nearby shrine. To reaffirm one's commitment to duty in the middle of the day, I find it refreshing. Perhaps you would care to join me?"
Keeping his face pleasantly bland was reflexive for the blond, leaving his mind free to wonder what lay beneath the senator's request. "Your offer is such an honor."
The other man smiled. Very smooth, Jade noted. "I confess, it is not an entirely meditative experience. The shrine I visit has been in the care of my wife's family for generations. My wife is no longer with me, but visiting such a holy place, I feel her spirit close to me."
Ah. Jade's countenance expressed friendly good-will. And I bet daughter dearest happens to work there too.
Actually, that made this an excellent opportunity. By this point in his career, Jade was used to being introduced to the attractive young daughters of powerful men. He had developed a reliable approach to navigating the encounter. It involved a quiet conversation with the girl in question, an agreement to behave properly for Daddy, a nice dinner, and an amicable parting. So far it had worked like a charm. The only problem was that finding time for a quiet chat with the intended object of his nonexistent affections was occasionally impossible, which had resulted in a few uncomfortable encounters and negatively affected his relationship with the father in question. Newly-arrived in Japan, he hadn't even had time to think about hunting up Senator Hino's daughter. Viewed properly, this opportunity was a godsend, even if it did mean missing lunch.
Jade reproduced his earlier polite bow. "I would be pleased to experience this sense of peace."
Hikawa Jinja proved to be a pleasant place buried in the sleepy side streets of Tokyo's tenth district. The shrine was not crowded; there were more famous places for tourists and pilgrims to congregate. This was a place for daily devotions.
Senator Hino spent a few minutes in appropriate prayer, making a small offering to the shrine's kami. Jade maintained a respectful silence and waited for the punch line.
When the Senator turned around again, he was all smiles. "Truly a peaceful place, is it not? As I mentioned earlier, the shrine is cared for by some members of my family. I believe my daughter is here today. Perhaps you would care to meet her?"
Jade inclined his head gravely. "I would be honored."
"Then perhaps you would come inside." Senator Hino led the way into the inner halls of the shrine, to a small, airy tatami room with traditional paper walls. A small fire burned in a golden brazier, placed in a corner of the room like a small household shrine in this larger place of worship. "Please, make yourself comfortable. I will return shortly."
Jade settled himself on the tatami and took the opportunity to look around. The place had a sense of quiet repose that appealed to him. Although he was sure that Senator Hino had manufactured the tradition of coming to pray over lunch for the sake of getting Jade in the same room as his daughter, the younger man could see the benefits of such a practice. He had a quick temper and an energetic personality. Sometimes his mind would run in circles until he was exhausted from the speed of his own thoughts. It usually happened when he thought about his past self, trying to drag another frame out of his stubborn memory or remember more details that might lead him back to either of the two people for whom he searched. Maybe he should try meditation. It might even help him remember; he'd heard things about people recalling things in a trance state that were inaccessible to the waking mind. His memories were so frustratingly vague that anything would be a revelation. And if it didn't help him remember it might at least calm him down.
There was a rustle from the hallway, and the door slid open to reveal Senator Hino, alone, and looking visibly annoyed. Quickly the older man smoothed his expression, presenting Jade with a neutral face. "I'm so sorry," he said in that neutral, politician's voice. It sounded no different from the tone he had been using all day, but something made Jade's skin crawl. "I have forgotten my temple calendar, it appears. My daughter is currently cloistered and may see no one. You'll have to wait a little longer to meet her." He smiled the empty smile that meant nothing.
Jade nodded in an understanding fashion, belying the way his teeth were gritted. Tanaka, I owe you an apology, he thought. But he had no intention of leaving without gaining his point, so… He rose, then allowed himself a slight stretch. "Hino-san, before we go, I'd like to avail myself of the facilities." On went the charming smile.
Hino-san paused in some chagrin. Of course, Jade thought to himself, a barbarian foreigner wouldn't know there were no public facilities at a jinja. And to possibly offend him a second time in as many minutes would be undesirable. The shrine was, after all, closed to the public at the moment. The priests were all at meditation. A short detour… "Down the hall," he said, gesturing in the same direction he'd come a moment ago. "Please be brief, as the monks are at prayer." Hino slid open the door. "I'll be by the car… I need a cigarette." Hino attempted a smile.
"Of course," Jade said respectfully, pacing a few steps down the hallway in the direction indicated. Once he was around the first corner, he wandered a little more freely, trying to remember the layout of a Shinto shrine. He may not be quite the foreign barbarian Hino automatically assumed, but navigating the holy places of foreign religions was still not his forte.
Luck came to his rescue. A glimpse of red-and-white showed briefly behind a door before it slammed shut, and he saw long hair- definitely a female miko. And there weren't many of those, if Hino-san's remarks were anything to judge by. Quickly he crossed the hallway to the door in question and tapped gently on the wooden inlays. "Hino-san?"
There was a distinct silence on the other side of the door, as speaking as any noise, before a voice made itself heard. "I regret. The shrine is not open to the public today."
Jade smirked. "I am not the public. I arrived with Senator Hino to visit his daughter. Are you she?"
Another pause, this one distinctly frostier. "I am not able to see you. This is a time of cloistering and prayer." Behind the door, a violet-eyed shrine maiden was most determinedly resisting the urge to swear. She was going to have to do something serious about these puppies Father kept bringing home if they were to start hunting her down within the walls of the shrine itself. Weren't aspiring politicians supposed to display more respect towards the holy symbols of the nation? He'd never get far in government this way.
"I don't need to see you; I just want to speak with you. And these walls are made of paper."
Now Rei was frowning. Without seeing his face, she was having trouble understanding him properly. There was a roll to his consonants that she couldn't associate with any regional accent she'd heard before. "Who are you?"
Jade resisted the reflex to bow in introduction towards the uncaring door. "Jade Devine. I'm the newest, youngest, least important lawyer attached to the American embassy here, and your father's most recent choice for high-powered son-in-law." The door did not seem to appreciate his charming smile, but perhaps the silhouette it revealed would appreciate his honesty.
Said silhouette was too busy gaping in surprise. The accent was explained if he was a foreigner, though in passing Rei had to admit that his command of the language was excellent. But the idea that her father had gone so far in his schemes as to attempt to marry her off to an American was surprising. Is this a good sign? If he's given up on all the local options and is bringing them in from outside, soon he'll run out of prospective husbands entirely. Then maybe he'll leave me in peace. She paused in her train of thought. Though if all gaijins run wild through the halls of the shrine, I might prefer a return to locally born puppies.
Jade took this extended silence as a sign to speak further. "Look, I know what this is all about. I think I'm going to go far, and apparently your father agrees. This is not the first time I've had some unsuspecting young woman thrown at my head, or vice versa. And I have developed a simple approach to getting out of these situations with grace and dignity."
Thrown at my head? That wasn't an idiom Rei had heard before, but the mental image wasn't pleasant. She'd had things literally thrown at her head before, with malicious intent, and it wasn't an experience she was keen on repeating. Her voice dropped a few degrees. "Please, enlighten me."
Jade winced. He'd gone through this speech many times before, with other powerful men's daughters. Some of them were genuinely interested in marrying to please Daddy. Those were the hardest to deal with, because nothing he could say would convince them to treat the upcoming dinner date as anything other than a potential husband interview. Others were out to marry for more selfish reasons. But the cold-and-indifferent types were nearly as bad. Convincing Daddy that Jade and Daughter had had a pleasant time but just weren't hitting it off was difficult when said Daughter spent the entire evening doing an impression of an ice cube. He rapidly reviewed little what he knew of Hino-san the younger and went for the pointed approach. "I propose we behave like adults."
Silence. But this was a silence Jade knew how to interpret.
"It's very simple." He leaned his back against one of the completely wooden walls, careful of his weight against the fragile support. "We go to dinner. We have, to all appearances, a pleasant time."
A frostier silence; but they were still in a language Jade spoke.
"I don't actually enjoy uncomfortable dinners, and probably neither do you. But the real win is that Hino-san is happy. When Hino-san is happy, he is easier for me to deal with. He looks upon me favorably. This is good for my career. Therefore this makes me happy." He paused here, but not quite long enough for Rei to get her paralyzed vocal cords working again. "I don't know what benefits you might realize from making your father happy, but you can try it and find out."
That particular low blow freed Rei of her momentary paralysis. She opened her mouth, not sure exactly what she was going to say but determined not to let that go unanswered. So she was shocked to find herself laughing (laughing!) at this stranger's summation. Quietly, to be sure, not particularly hard or long, but laughing nonetheless.
On the other side of the door, Jade relaxed. She was going to be reasonable.
"So we have a pleasant time, but not too pleasant. Is that it?" Rei inquired. The lingering traces of laughter warmed her voice amazingly, and Jade found himself briefly caught by its richness and depth.
He shook that feeling off hastily. Pretty voice, fine, so what? He was in search of a woman so far removed from the ordinary that she was, in all actuality, otherworldly. He was not going to be distracted from his quest for her or his liege by the echoes of a shared moment of solidarity. "Exactly," Jade said after a moment of centering calm. "Afterwards, we each exert ourselves to say a few pleasant things about each other. Your father is happy. Eventually, he wants to know when I will be seeing you again. It is at that point that I confide in him that there is someone else out there for me with whom I am very serious. With all luck, the matter ends there."
Rei's voice sounded surprised. "If you are seeing someone else, then why do you not simply tell my father so now?"
Unseen on the other side of the door, Jade's face turned wistful. "I'm not seeing her right now… but I hope… I hope very much I will see her soon." His voice was serious, with an added dimension of maturity that had been absent from his more light-hearted tones before now.
Rei was touched in spite of herself. "I guess it's complicated, huh?" That, at least, was something she could understand quite well.
Jade smiled a little. "Yeah. Complicated."
Rei's own smile turned wistful, thinking of a certain barely-remembered but infinitely precious face.
Jade shook himself. His time was running low; he had to get back to the car and Senator Hino before the latter began to suspect anything. "So. Adults, then?"
There was decision in the voice that came back through the door. "Adults."
Meditation had always been a source of great strength for Rei, and when she rose from the fire the next afternoon her head was clear and her heart was light. The evening's dinner date did nothing to cast a shadow over this clarity; it had ceased to become something to fear. A quiet dinner among adults. Indeed, she even found it rather pleasant in contemplation, as a change from nearly twenty-four hours of solitude. Her father was always on his best behavior during these 'husband interviews', and often found excuses to leave the table. This Devine could apparently be trusted to behave himself as well. She might be able to tell Ojii-san that she had had a pleasant dinner with her father. That would make the old man happy, and that was a goal worth striving for.
A relaxing bath did nothing to dent this attitude. One look at her closet, however, and she began to feel some dismay.
Rei was not a materialistic person. For school, she had one set of uniforms. For work at the shrine, she had another. Since her life did have moments that were spent neither at school or in situations calling for the garb of a miko, she had a third category of clothes, which she thought of as "lounging clothes"- comfortable jeans or pants; comfortable sweaters and t-shirts. Studying-and-hanging-out-with-friends clothes. Nothing really appropriate for going out to dinner with high-powered young executives of marriageable age, or so her father had claimed when he had begun arranging these little 'dates'. To remedy this, he had begun to stock Rei's closet with what she secretly called "category four" clothes- expensive, revealing, and all too focused on sending a message of enticement and availability.
It wasn't exactly that Rei didn't like the clothing. She was still a woman underneath her prickly exterior, and the shimmering fabrics made her look and feel beautiful when she tried them on by the lanterns hanging from her ceiling rafters. And though she would die before she let anyone else find out, she had been known to dress up late at night when everyone else was asleep, and sweep dramatically around her bedroom, imagining the eyes that would widen and hearts that would stop at the mere sight of her beauty. Most men would back away, unable to consider even approaching such an obviously untouchable goddess, but when he saw her…
In the cold light of midafternoon, Rei sighed. She was beginning to wonder if he was even real. It wasn't that she despaired of ever being married- even if her father stopped setting her up with insufferable young puppies, she was a very attractive woman and would have no trouble finding a mate. But she needed more than just 'a mate'. She had a calling that any prospective husband would have to learn about and understand. She had an inheritance he would have to share. She had a future he would have to accept…
She had a small handful of dim memories that she couldn't erase. A smile that flashed out at her like lightning from a storm. Loose, shoulder-length hair spread on a pillow by the light of a single candle that flashed and danced and by some trick of flame made the locks look golden in color. Bright lights twirling; a hand on her waist; music she had never heard before and would never be able to forget. A moment of seriousness, a hand on her cheek- a terrible sinking feeling that all of the best moments in her life had already been and gone. A few other memories, even less distinct.
The memories had come in flashes not long after she had met Usagi and the others again. She had been convinced they were from the Silver Millennium, and that they were a message and a reminder to her that she had someone out there. Someone she needed to find. Someone who would understand the crazy new world she found herself living in and make it all make sense- the magic, the reincarnation, the royalty. Someone who would make the new circle complete.
As time passed, she began to wonder if maybe it wasn't the other way around. The new world grew more comfortable and familiar, even as it continued to change at a frantic pace- new enemies, new senshi, new repatriates from a forgotten kingdom that continued to appear at an astonishing rate. With so many people to find, how could she wonder that the man of her memories continued to elude her? Surely, if they kept searching, he would be found. And then it would be she on whom it would fall to explain Serenity, Endymion, the Silver Millennium. So be it. She was good at explaining things…
But the years had passed, and no one had come. The pace had slowed. Once they had fought new enemies and made new friends weekly. Then monthly. Then yearly. They had bid the Starlights farewell almost five years ago, and they weren't even from the Sol system. Ten senshi, two cats, one prince and princess, and more enemies than Rei cared to remember in her waking moments… and it was starting to look like that was it. If there were others, wouldn't they have found them by now?
Rei found herself in the middle of her floor, breathing fast. She knew without remembering that she had been pacing, whirling at every sight of walls, relying on physical motion to speed her thoughts, feeling like an animal trapped in a cage. Deliberately she closed her eyes, folded her hands, and steadied her breathing.
Usagi, she reminded herself, had waited a thousand years for Mamoru. Certainly, if her memories were of the same vintage- if they were more than just the product of too many secret dreams- she could do the same with calm, grace, and poise.
And she could choose a dress for dinner without feeling as if she were betraying some long-forgotten lover.
Rei returned her eyes to the closet and sighed. Her fingers reached past the front rows of dresses of their own accord, drawn to the back of the closet and the gown that hung there. It was her secret favorite; the one that, when she had tried it on, had brought back such a deluge of memories as had left her shaking and barely able to stand. As a result, she had never worn it in public, never thanked her father, never mentioned it… It was too much like the dresses she remembered wearing in the Silver Millennium on formal occasions: long, sweeping, strapless, red, glittering in a way Rei had thought impossible without magic. How had the couturier managed to evoke the sparkling lights and flashing flames of her Martian heritage? Late at night she drew out her ruby drop with its engraved sigil, and left her hair down to crackle with sparks, and pretended for a few moments that she was dancing in the palace on the moon, in the last days of the Silver Millennium. She kept the dress hidden in the back of her closet, against the day she would have occasion to wear it again.
Now Rei drew it out. In those days, she had felt strong, invincible, before she had learned the truth to her sorrow. She wanted to recapture that feeling tonight. The dress would be her armor. Her mother's rubies, passed to her on her eighteenth birthday, would set off the gown admirably- and far more subtly than the living fire of true Martian jewels. Her father would probably be pleased to see her wearing them. Well, let him be pleased. She was doing this for herself.
Hanging the dress on the edge of the closet door, Rei slipped out of her robe.
The restaurant was quiet, dimly lit, and far too exclusive to be full. Tables were set with a generous space between them, a statement of value in crowded Tokyo more eloquent than the rich wood lacquers or gleaming gold inlays. In spite of himself, Jade was impressed with the restaurant, and impressed with Senator Hino for knowing how to value such a place.
"I asked my daughter to arrive a little later so that we might enjoy a drink together first," Senator Hino said, waving at an unobtrusive young man in an expensively tailored suit. Jade kept his face politely blank and tallied one more point to Tanaka. He thinks he needs to get me buzzed before I meet his daughter? Is she ugly? That was hard to believe when he remembered the honey-smooth voice behind the door, but after all, he hadn't gotten a look at her face.
The drinks arrived rapidly, and without any verbal orders having been given. Clearly Senator Hino had been here many times before. Jade accepted his glass with a murmur of thanks and took a polite sip. He had no intention of actually drinking much, but to refuse entirely would be churlish.
Senator Hino did not seem to notice that Jade was not imbibing particularly quickly, instead engaging his attention in asking delicate questions about Jade's own life. Jade responded politely, willing to discuss his time at law school and college and describe the experience of living in America generally. He deftly parried any attempt to dig more deeply. Senator Hino accepted the first repulsion on each topic with grace, choosing not to press. At length, the conversation turned to Jade's posting in Japan, and Senator Hino painted a glowing picture of life in Tokyo for Jade's benefit. He was just finishing a description of the beauties of Nikkou, only a short train ride to the north, when he paused and seemed to look past the other man.
"Ah." Senator Hino raised a hand and gestured to someone over Jade's shoulder. "Devine-san…" Taking the cue, Jade rose smoothly to his feet. "May I present my daughter, Hino Rei?"
Jade turned to face the door. His best smile was already on his face. It was a very good smile; everyone said so.
With his smile and his charm, his friends had joked that actually knowing the law was secondary in his quest to become a lawyer. During law school and after graduation, before transitioning into the diplomatic service, Jade had spent a few tumultuous summers working for the District Attorney's office. Originally he had planned to become a public prosecutor, crusading for truth and justice and maybe a little common decency once in a while. He could handle the heavy case load and the stunning lack of a personal life. Departmental politics had been no problem. Dealing with traumatized victims and mortician's reports had been doable. But the need to smile, and smile, and keep on smiling while he made deals with scum that should be locked up forever but were going to get off with probation or a few years in minimum security…
Well. He had decided to get out before he snapped one day and beat some thug's face through the wall. The diplomatic service was an acceptable alternative. His brief time in the DA's office had let him build up the necessary history of public service and develop the required connections. It had let him stay in public service, albeit a little less directly; the legal problems were certainly interesting; and smiling in the face of treaty disagreements and trade violations was a breeze compared to smiling at murderers and rapists. Once he started smiling, it would take an apocalypse to shake the expression.
That fact, and that alone, allowed him to survive his first glimpse of Hino Rei with anything like equanimity.
She was stunning. Anyone would see that immediately. Petite and slim (so easy to dismiss her strength, but no one made that mistake twice). Raven hair hanging loose around her face (floating free as he spun her in the dance, sparks crackling between the outflung strands as her passion rose). Regal poise in her formal garb (the red of blood, the red of fire, the colors of the royal house of Mars, and the living flames woven into the fabric itself, only able to be worn by those whom it could not burn). Oh, yes, she was gorgeous.
Jade had wondered, on occasion, if he would recognize her when he finally found her. Memories of a life lived in a magical kingdom were hardly going to translate well into a modern world of salarymen and students. He couldn't count on meeting her again at a formal ball, after all, dressed in the Martian formality he remembered so well. Such a thing was clearly impossible…
He smiled. It seemed someone up there knew what they were doing.
Rei paused outside the door to the restaurant to assess her appearance one final time in the reflective glance of one of the windows. It had been too long since she was a princess of the Silver Alliance, and although she regularly fought evil in high heels, managing heels, dress, shawl and clutch together was a tricky balancing act. Usually, when her father dragged her out for one of these dates, she chose a purse with a strap she could hang off one shoulder and a coat or other wrap that could be trusted to remain more or less where she had settled it. But this dress had demanded the full, unmanageable regalia of femininity. Princess Mars would have worn no less, and Rei had found herself unable to dismiss the need to reproduce every detail to the extent her wardrobe and vanity would permit.
She adjusted the fall of the shawl slightly, then took a deep breath and reached for the handle of the door.
Inside, the lighting was deliberately dim, and faces were blurred and indistinguishable. The wave of her father's arm enabled her to distinguish him from the other men in interchangeable suits, ties and watches. Rei slid gracefully through the room, dropping her lashes over her eyes and affixing a polite smile to her lips as the other figure at her father's table rose and turned to meet her.
The room spun, twice, in lazy circles.
Rei had never been able to clearly recall the face haunting her memories. That had bothered her more than she cared to admit, and many an hour of meditation had been devoted to walking through her thoughts, pausing the replay partway through a spin on the dance floor or a moment of conversation to try and find an angle where the faces were clear. Somehow, he was never in the foreground of her vision. She could have reproduced the carvings on the walls or the moldings on the candelabra perfectly, but the cheekbones her fingers had traced were always indistinct, and the eyes that were always laughing did so in shadow. Rei had driven herself to frustration trying to recall something, anything, that would let her identify him when or if she ever saw him again, and come up blank every time.
Maybe there really was a reason for everything. Staring across a dimly lit room, her eyes still struggling to adjust from the blare of the lights on the street outside, facing the indistinct shadow of a man she'd never met before in this lifetime… he looked exactly as her blurry memories had him.
Their eyes met.
("Is the art of dancing counted among the accomplishments of the royalty of Mars?")
(The lights so bright, buoyed by the crystal flashing at Serenity's breast as her partner handed her in and out of the dance, the colors twirling as the musicians struck up a more boisterous tune)
("I confess, I had not expected such a smooth beginning.")
("Do you always expect the worst?")
(A slim glass in her hand, the crystal punch welcome to cool her fevered skin; they had danced like the fire did, leaping and flickering through the steps, and he had kept pace with her, rising to the call)
("I find that expecting the worst makes each day a pleasant surprise.")
("Let me surprise you, then.")
(The open air of the full-length balcony and the soft cushions of one of the benches that dotted the walkway; the garden below in shadow. So few natural colors on the moon, white and silver and dusk. The courtiers' dresses were colored brightly, an artificial hothouse inside, but they sat outside and talked until the Earth had set over the garden and she could no longer remember what color his eyes really were)
Dimly she became aware that her feet had taken her the remaining steps to the table; that her father was performing introductions; that she was bowing politely. Somehow she was seated across the table from him and saying something polite. Her father was sitting to her left, making three sides of a square.
"…and Devine-san will be handling all of that for the Ambassador," Senator Hino was saying, bestowing a warm look upon the young man in question and a significant one upon his daughter. "Such a responsibility, is it not? A position of great trust!"
Rei made a sound of agreement, wrenching her eyes back to her food.
"Well." Senator Hino startled them both by standing. "I'll just have a word with the staff about our dinner, then." Discreetly he faded away.
Rei found herself staring, momentarily at a loss for words. From the shell-shocked look in Jade's eyes (Devine-san, you have to call him Devine-san) he was having a similar difficulty. Of all the times to be rendering men speechless!
Across the table, Jade was having similar thoughts. Dammit, she's right here in front of you, say something!
They both started talking at the same time, then both broke off and laughed a little. Jade leaned forward, seizing upon the familiarity of her laugh like a lifeline. Does she…? He looked searchingly into her eyes. She was watching him breathlessly. Surely that was recognition he saw! "Please forgive me if I seem forward, but you… don't I… know you?" From a past life? From a kingdom on the moon that can't just be a dream?
Rei's breath left her in a whoosh, and for the first time, she allowed her gaze to meet his directly. Her lips curved up of their own accord. "It is you," she said, remembering to keep her voice down at the last moment. She wanted to jump up, shout to the heavens, dance on the table. Her hands twitched, demurely folded in her lap, wanting to reach out and touch him. "It is! Where have you been?"
His eyes laughed at her from across the table. "In America!"
"Right, right," she muttered, kicking herself for asking such an obvious question. "It's just- why America? I live here, and so does everyone else I know from… then…" he nodded to show he understood. "Why would you be different?"
Jade shrugged. "I don't know; I don't really remember all that much, but maybe it's because I was in a different, er, organization?" He didn't want to actually say Kingdom of Earth out loud, but he hoped she was catching his drift.
Rei considered this. You knew he probably wasn't from Mars or you wouldn't have had to meet him at a fancy dress ball… so he was from one of the other planets, but which? She wished she could ask outright, but that would have to wait for a more private setting. "Maybe…"
Jade brushed considerations of birth outside. He was intent on bigger game. "If you're here… you said there were other people. Have you met-" he waved a hand, frustrated, not wanting to say Endymion out loud either. "Have you found, um…"
Rei processed this request carefully for a moment. "I'm not sure," she answered honestly. "There are quite a few people around…" She didn't want to say senshi or Serenity out loud; they were tabloid fodder enough as it was, but maybe- "If you mean her, then yes, she's here."
Jade blinked. She must mean Serenity. "No, well, I mean, I'm glad to hear that she is okay, but actually-" it was on the tip of his tongue to ask and be damned, but a familiar set of footfalls caused him to quickly change course, laughing a little as if to punctuate some casual remark. "And there you have it."
"Ahh, I'm glad to see you are getting along." Senator Hino reappeared behind Jade's shoulder, smiling paternalistically at the couple. He settled himself back into his seat. "It looks like rain tomorrow," he added inconsequently.
Rei reached hastily for her water and searched for something neutral to say. "Devine-san was just telling me about his job." She thought her voice was steady. "Will you be staying in Japan long, Devine-san?"
"Postings are usually several years in length," he answered. Rei could hear the trembling of forcibly suppressed emotion in his voice and took a hasty sip.
"The present Ambassador has been living here for nearly thirty years," Senator Hino said casually. "Once someone really fits in with a country, of course it makes sense that they'd want to stay. And settling in helps with the job, I'd imagine. Devine-san might find himself staying the rest of his life in Japan, if it suits him." The senator's smile was directed at Rei, this time.
Normally, this was the part of the dinner where the miko reminded herself that throwing her water glass at her father's head was detrimental to the harmony of the universe. Tonight, she barely registered the thinly veiled insinuation, searching instead for a way to keep asking questions that, if spoken plainly, would land her in the loony bin. "So after you, um, started your… er…"
"Clerkship," Jade said, nodding to encourage her. He hoped that she was also subtitling that diplomatic mission to the Silver Alliance.
"Right." Whatever that means. "What happened to, um, end it?"
He cleared his throat. Does she mean the treaty or the war? He took a guess. "There was a little disturbance back home. With, um, my family."
Does he mean his literal family or the people of his planet? Come to think of it, I don't know if he had any family back then. I don't know if I had any family back then! "Oh, I see. That's a shame."
"Yes, everything was going so well, and I was worried that leaving it would be very detrimental to the future. But the, er, judge promised that we could resume it as soon as everything was settled." Jade resolutely shoved the image of Queen Selene in a judge's robes and wielding a gavel to the farthest recesses of his mind.
"And did you?" Do I remember any planet having problems that would cause them to recall their nobility from Selene's court? And isn't it about time father had another cigarette? This half-conversation was driving her crazy. If she could just get him alone for five minutes she was sure they could cover everything.
Thankfully for Jade, dinner arrived at this moment and gave him a few extra minutes to try to figure out how to say No, unfortunately, the other side won the war and we were all dead without mentioning either war or death. "Unfortunately the problem was larger than I'd thought, and, um…" he trailed off, invention giving out.
"Oh," Rei said swiftly, covering for the pause that threatened, "that's too bad."
"Mmm," Jade agreed, not sure how to proceed farther.
For a few moments there was silence as the dining companions addressed their meals. Senator Hino broke it first, starting a somewhat long-winded story about a young man of his acquaintance who had joined the diplomatic corps and been posted to England. Prominently featured in this story was the young English lady of impeccable breeding whom his friend had married, and how happy the two of them were, and what a wonderful thing it was that she had married him and he had stayed in England. Rei had heard a variation on this story at almost every dinner date he'd ever cozened her into. She concentrated on keeping her mouth full as the easiest way to avoid either yelling at her father, asking impolitic questions of Jade, or lunging across the table and kissing him senseless. Across the table, Jade had reaffixed his standard smile and was attempting not to laugh at how transparent Senator Hino was being. Obviously the other man had no idea that Jade was downright eager to pursue a relationship with his daughter, and that if Senator Hino would only shut up and go count cars or something, they'd both be a lot closer to that goal.
He glanced up and found himself held by her gaze.
(cool eyes watching, judging; warm with obvious love for her senshi sisters; burning with her worry as he told her the war was spreading, he was needed at Endymion's side, diplomacy between the Earth and the Moon would be put on hold until a cessation of hostilities that never came)
"…and so when I was in England for a few weeks last year, I looked Suzuki up again, and he said…"
(blue eyes laughing as she challenged him to dance; bleached silver in the moonlight as his lips spoke with one voice and his hands with another; black with intensity in the darkness as he asked her to defy fate with him)
"…and, well, I can't help but hope that someday I'll get to see my little girl that happy." Senator Hino finished. He looked from Jade to Rei and seemed to conclude that the moment was right. "I think I'll just go have a cigarette…"
Jade smiled politely and waited until the older man's footsteps had taken him a sufficient distance away. "I thought he'd never leave," he muttered. A softfooted waiter appeared almost the moment the words were out of his mouth and began removing the plates. He bit back a noise of frustration. When was he supposed to talk to Rei?
Across the table, Rei was having similar thoughts. "Devine-san," she began formally out of deference for the waiter, "I suppose your professional commitments keep you fairly occupied?"
Jade caught her drift at once. "There is always something going on, it seems. Why, I've just started here, and already I have two hours of work scheduled for every hour of the day tomorrow." They shared a congenial smile, and the waiter silently withdrew, laden with plates. Jade dropped his voice anyway. "However, tomorrow evening I am under strict instructions from the Ambassador to take some time away from the office and see the local sights. I was thinking of starting with the National Museum. Would you be interested in joining me?"
Rei's smile was simply brilliant. Jade caught his breath. Somehow, none of his memories from the Silver Millennium contained her smiling like that… like her dreams had all just come true. There had been an edge to all of their smiles back then. And this is how she smiles after you ask her on one date. How will she look when you… Jade shook that thought away. They had just met- again- it was far too soon to be thinking about that.
You only had a few months together on the moon. That was long enough. But the war made everything happen so fast. There's no war now.
"I would love to," Rei answered.
Under the table, their hands reached for each other.
"Ahh, dessert!" Senator Hino announced, returning to the table with a server in tow.
Jade very carefully did not sigh.
"So how'd it go?" Minako chirped.
This seemingly innocent question was asked over the traditional scoop of ice cream, as the two girls met up at a café before a planned day of shopping and girl-bonding. Originally the outing had been planned to give Rei a chance to vent after a night spent gritting her teeth and thinking up imaginative ways to kill her father. After the actual event, Rei had seriously considered calling Minako to cancel, on the grounds that she couldn't keep her mind off of blond hair and blue eyes for more than five consecutive seconds. She had changed her mind after realizing it would make an excellent opportunity to grill the one senshi who had a more complete set of Silver Millennium memories in relative privacy.
That decision made, she had met Minako at the ice cream shoppe as planned, but leading into the topic was being surprisingly hard. Somehow it was difficult to talk about the series of shocks that had been last evening's dinner date. Rei used the excuse of taking another bite of ice cream to drop her eyes and said, "Fine."
Minako looked at Rei and put her spoon down. "Fine? That's… good..."
Rei concentrated on her ice cream, wondering why it was so hard to open her mouth all of a sudden. That was not one of her usual problems.
"Reiii…" Minako drew out the last syllable inquiringly. When it seemed that the other girl was intent on not answering, she pressed farther. "What happened?" Her eyes softened in concern. "Was it your father?"
Rei waved a dismissive hand. "No, no, he was just his usual self. Polite as long as someone else was watching. He told that story again…" She rolled her eyes expressively.
Minako laughed a little in appreciation of this attempt at levity, then let her expression sober up. "So it was the guy, then?"
Rei tried very, very hard to keep the dreamy smile off her face. She succeeded with regard to her lips, but the minute Minako blinked Rei knew she'd failed to control her eyes.
"Oooh, in a good way? Your dad knows a guy who is neither a cardboard cutout nor oily scum?"
It was Rei's turn to laugh, and somehow that made talking about him easier. "Apparently! I wish I'd known sooner!"
Minako propped her chin up on one hand, ice cream forgotten in the new opportunity to discuss Rei's love life. "So tell me more! Tall, short, skinny, muscled…" she rolled the last word under her tongue like a fine liqueur and quirked one eyebrow mischievously. "Politician?"
"Lawyer," Rei answered, taking the questions in reverse order. "I couldn't exactly tell about his musculature, but fairly fit… and a little taller than me. Actually," she took another bite of ice cream, "he's working at the American Embassy…."
"Yeah, not what I would have expected," Rei admitted.
"Yeah…" Minako looked thoughtful. "Well, maybe opposites interact."
"Right!" Minako giggled, sounding for a moment like she was in high school again. "Anyway! You met a guy you actually liked, that's great! You got his number, right? I mean, you are going to see him again?" Rei nodded, and the blonde senshi looked relieved. "Oh good. So. Usually you wait a day or two before you call…"
Rei cleared her throat. "Actually, we had a chance to talk while my father was off, I don't know, counting cars, and we already planned to meet up again."
"Wow." Minako sat back in her chair, clearly impressed. "You must really have liked this guy! When?"
Rei suddenly found her ice cream incredibly engrossing. "Tonight…"
"Tonight?" Minako gasped. "Rei, what's going on? That's not like you!"
"Hey, you date this fast all the time!" she retorted.
"I am a serial dater." Minako flipped her hair. "And let's face it, I haven't exactly had the best track record with men, have I? So maybe you don't want to be following my example-"
"I happen to be the goddess of love, so it's practically my duty to spread romance to all the lonely hot men of the world, but in your case-"
"Minako, it's him."
There was a moment of sudden silence. Internally, Rei winced. She had meant to lead up to that a little more, well, delicately…
Rei raised her head and locked gazes with Minako. "Him." She stressed the word, and nodded significantly, hoping that the other girl would catch her drift.
Luck seemed to be on her side. Minako's eyes widened, then closed for a moment. When they opened again, her gaze was completely serious, all traces of joking gone. She subjected Rei to a searching gaze of her own. "You remember him?"
As much as she was tempted to say yes, I do and hope that Minako spoke carelessly, Rei had already decided she would only eventually mess up and end up worse off than she'd started, so she chose honesty instead. "Some. A little bit. Enough to recognize him when I saw him again."
The other senshi made a "hmm" sound, still regarding Rei with that serious look.
Rei hesitated briefly, but she badly wanted to find out what Minako knew. "I know we were together, back then-" she waved her hand expressively "-and we were, er, fairly serious. I know he fought in the war… I know he was of at least relatively high rank…" Actually, she was basing that last detail on having danced with him at a ball once, but Minako didn't need to know that. "I know he left for the fighting before it got to the Moon, and I know…" She hesitated, because this last part was only speculation, well supported but still a guess. The softening in Minako's eyes convinced her. "I know he didn't come back."
The other girl let out her breath in a long, slow exhale.
Rei leaned forward on the table, taking Minako's hands in hers. "You know more. I know you do! Please, you have to tell me. When it was just some hazy memories of an old boyfriend, I didn't mind not really remembering. But last night, I knew it was him! It was in, in his eyes, in the way he walked… why would I be able to recognize that? And he knew me, too! He wasn't just an old boyfriend, we were serious. We were…" she trailed off and blinked a few times at the word that had almost escaped her lips. Minako's hands were cold as ice, and Rei was suddenly afraid. She swallowed what she had been about to say and finished "…special."
Minako sat quiet and still for a moment. Then she turned her wrists so she and Rei were holding hands. "My memories are more complete in some ways," she said, and her voice was so very nearly steady that Rei would have believed her completely calm if not for the fine tremors she could feel in their twined fingers. "But in other areas they are completely blank. Most of what you want to know is gone. I cannot tell you what fate befell him in the war."
Minako took another deep breath. "I remember that you were seeing him. I remember that you were, indeed, very serious. I remember his rank and duties. I remember how he became involved in the war. But I don't think that I should tell you those things…" Her fingers tightened on Rei's, stilling the other girl's protest "…because I think you might start remembering yourself, now that you've met him. And it would be better if you remembered than if I tell you."
Rei searched Minako's face. Her serious self-control was not what she had expected from this conversation. She had expected teasing, laughter, the usual banter whenever one of Minako's friends fancied herself in love. Possibly some sadness; whatever the details, Rei already knew that the Silver Millennium had ended in fire and blood, so her past relationship could hardly have escaped tragedy. But her optimism and happiness at this apparent second chance were unprepared to encounter Minako's restraint. "Something is wrong. Please, won't you tell me what it is?"
The other girl blinked, withdrawing her hands from Rei's and shaking her head, making her hair tumble over her shoulders, deliberately trying to break the mood. "I don't know that anything's wrong," Minako answered, laying stress on her words. "As I said. I just know that something went wrong."
"Everything went wrong back then," Rei said quietly.
Minako laughed a little. "True."
There was a pause. Rei's ice cream, forgotten, began to drip onto the table.
"You think it was something more than that."
It was Minako's turn to study her melting chocolate chip. "I don't know…"
"You do," Rei insisted.
Minako huffed out her breath, genuinely distressed. "I wish I did! Everything I know, it doesn't… My memories don't add up. This lifetime, last lifetime, there are some things that make no sense, and this is one of them. What happened to him during the war? How did he end up here? Based on what I remember, I would have said there was no way that he could walk into your life again last night. And yet he did. So something in my memories must be wrong, or I'm mistaken, or something else happened that I can't remember that turned everything on its head, again. And until I know what that is, telling you what I remember would be worse than useless." She shook her head, frustration radiating from her in waves.
Rei bit her lip and resisted the urge to tell Minako that it was all right. It was the sort of thing she always hated when people said it to her.
After a moment, the blonde summoned a smile. "I don't know the full story, and what I do know wouldn't help. So for the moment, please understand, I don't want to say anything. Maybe now that you've met him again you'll start to remember yourself. And if you do, let me know, and then we can talk it out and maybe between the two of us it will make some kind of sense! In the meanwhile, just forget about the past, okay? Enjoy your new love life!" The smile became a grin, and just like that, the old love-crazy Minako was back.
Rei shook her head in bemusement. Well, you wanted to find out what Minako knew, she told herself. And you did. Just not how you thought you would. "Okay," she answered. "It's a bargain."
"Great." Minako stood up, gathering up their discarded ice creams and lobbing them towards the burnable trash bin. "Now let's go. I have a serious need to shop."
Rei rose, stretched, and let Minako drag her away. A few steps later she remembered one more question she had wanted to ask. "Ne, Minako-chan… were you seeing anyone back then?"
The blonde flicked one startled look at Rei's face, then darted away. "Look at that dress! Ooh, I have to try it on!" Minako was through the door of the shoppe before Rei could respond.
Rei followed slowly, thinking about the sudden emotion in Minako's eyes, a more eloquent answer than she could yet understand.
They met, by agreement, outside the National Museum, but Jade had no desire to explore it when he was finally with Rei again, able to see her and hear her and touch her. By mutual accord, they turned their steps into Ueno Park, two shapes wandering through the trees and around the lake.
Somehow, neither of them liked to jump right in to the vast pool of memory. The realization that in this life, they were strangers to each other, held them both back. So they started with the present and worked their way backwards in time. Rei told Jade about her father's ambitions and her own plans of continuing to run the shrine when her grandfather went ahead. She skipped over the exploits of the senshi, dwelling instead on old schoolfriends, a brief stint in the drama club, the experience of growing up in a holy place when everyone else she knew had a traditional family. She told him a little bit about her mother.
In return he told her about growing up in New York, which he described as "like Tokyo, only dirtier." He talked about being an only child with two parents who loved work more than life. "That's normal in New York. We say 'latchkey kid' in English. They always made sure I had everything I wanted, we were just never close…"
He found himself telling her stories from his life that he hadn't even known were important to him until her very presence pulled them from his soul. How he had passionately longed to play lacrosse, but his parents thought it was a distraction from his studies. Years of piano lessons he had quit gladly in high school after his mother's nagging had ruined his enjoyment in music. How the desire to play again had returned, but there was no time in his life anymore. How he had become a lawyer. "When you're a smart kid, they go around the room and they ask you, what do you want to be when you grow up? I was halfway around the circle and I saw that there were only two acceptable answers: doctor and lawyer. Well, I knew I didn't want to be a doctor. And I liked arguing with people. So I said 'lawyer'." Rei laughed, as she was meant to.
They finally ended up on a bench near the pond and sat down. Across the pond, behind the sakura trees, the tops of high-rises and the tips of telephone poles stabbed the sky, a constant reminder of the buzzing, high-speed world just outside the artificial bubble of calm and timelessness. The sun had set, but the lights of the city illuminated the world, leeching everything else of color to brighten themselves.
He told her, haltingly, of the dreams that had started to keep him up nights in high school. "At first it was all nightmares. I kept dreaming I had died. I would wake up and be so cold. Then I started dreaming that I was about to die, and that was worse, because when I was dreaming I was glad that I was going to die. I mean I was looking forward to it, hoping it would happen."
"What was happening that would make you feel that way?" Rei sounded horrified.
Jade shook his head. "I was in a terrible place, somewhere that just… sucked everything out of me. Any thought I had, any feeling, anything I knew, it just ripped it all out and left me empty. And then-" he broke off, trying to find a way to explain the bone-deep fear, the feeling of his innermost self being casually flayed. "It was like the emptiness was leaking into me, but it wasn't quite empty anymore, it was full of something cold and slimy that wasn't really there. It would fill me up from my toes to my teeth and as it was choking me, that was when I was hoping I would die, instead of letting it go on doing whatever it was it was doing."
Rei put her hand on top of his and squeezed, comfortingly.
The lights from the streetlamps gilded his face as he tipped it back and stared at the sky. "I thought I was going crazy."
"I don't remember dying," Rei said softly.
"I'm glad," Jade said fiercely.
"I remember readying myself to fight," she said dreamily. "The war was finally coming to the moon. Intellectually we'd known it might, but we all believed that Beryl would be stopped on Earth, that it would never really spread to involve us."
Jade shuddered all over. "Beryl. Is that her name?"
Rei looked at him.
"The evil witch, I called her. The one who started the war, who did all those horrible things?"
She nodded. "Yes, that's her name."
Jade said nothing.
"What evil things do you remember her doing?" Rei asked hesitantly.
"Mostly I remember her torturing me."
He smiled humorlessly. "Eventually I started remembering what happened before the emptiness tried to devour me… In my dreams, I recognized her, but I could never remember how or why when I woke up. Later I started dreaming about a great war fought all over the Earth, and I knew she was responsible for that. I think I fought in the war, and somehow I wound up in her clutches. Do you remember anything like that?"
Rei nodded. "Not the details. But I think you left for the war before it reached the moon. You must have been in one of the regiments Selene sent in the beginning of the war, as a show of support, I think."
Jade was looking at Rei in surprise. "What? No, I wasn't."
"But then how were you in the war before the battle on the moon?"
"I was with the army of Earth!"
Now it was Rei's turn to stare. "You were Terran?"
He nodded. "I know I served the prince of Earth. I remember him pretty well, actually, I must have worked in the palace or something before the war. I feel like I have to find him again, too. I think I'm still supposed to be serving him… Rei?"
She was still staring at him. "You," she tried. "You were Terran." A terrible picture was beginning to take shape in the back of her mind.
"Yes," he agreed.
"But when I remember meeting you, we were at a ball on the moon."
"I remember that. It was when our delegation visited the moon for the first time. Stuffed us until we couldn't walk straight and then the music started playing!" The recollection warmed his eyes.
"It was a special ball," she said slowly, starting to remember. "That's how I knew you had to be nobility, because you were in attendance."
"I could have been serving hors d'orderves," he quipped.
She shook her head violently, unable to be distracted by the jest. "We danced together. And then we talked. We went outside to the balcony and talked all night."
(Laughter, silver in the moonlight as everything was silver; but later, in her rooms, his laughter was red like rubies)
"Okay, so I was nobility," Jade said softly. He reached out and tipped her chin up, bringing her eyes up to look at him. "So you were you. Does it matter? We're both normal people now."
"You were Terran nobility," she insisted. "Jade, I don't know why, but there's something important about that fact. Really important."
He looked at her. "I don't think…"
Rei waved that away with an impatient movement of one hand. "What else do you remember? Please, tell me everything."
He leaned back on the bench, casting his mind back. "Aside from torture and death?" The joke was supposed to lighten the mood, but fell dismally flat. Jade winced and searched for something else to say. "I remember you. Your face. The way you used to look at me. That you prefer white wine but everyone kept handing you red. Your favorite flower. " He smiled at her. "The way you look by moonlight. How much I loved you."
Her return smile was wobbly, but it held.
"I remember a lot of training. I guess that makes more sense if I was some kind of nobility. There was always something to study or practice. A lot of martial training. That's what made me think I was in the army. I remember learning to fight, working on it constantly to stay in top shape. But I also remember learning to talk to people, tell them what they wanted to hear, listen to what they weren't saying. I remember I had a duty to the prince, that all of those talents were in his service.
"I don't remember meeting you, just knowing you, if that makes sense. I knew you were this untouchable princess from this magical kingdom in the sky, and I was never supposed to be able to get close to you, but somehow it happened anyway. It was all so fast. We hadn't known each other long before the war broke out."
"And you went off to fight and never came back," Rei said sadly. "I don't remember being told that. I just remember knowing, as I was getting ready to fight the battle of the moon, that I would never see you again."
She leaned against him on the bench. He wrapped one arm around her shoulders and they sat that way for a moment, savoring the feeling of being together.
"So the Earth armies were defeated?" he asked.
"I guess so," Rei said slowly. "I don't remember the details, I'm sorry… I guess you probably know that the memories get pretty patchy. I remember hearing that Earth had fallen, and that Beryl would be coming for the moon next. I remember getting ready to fight her. And I know we lost."
"Lost?" Jade sat up straighter, looking at her in disbelief. "Then how are we here?"
"Selene poured her life out through the Silver Crystal. She sealed Metallia away for a thousand years, then sent the souls of everyone who had fallen fighting her forward in time, to be reincarnated and ready when the seal on her prison finally broke."
"Is it breaking? Should we be fighting?" Jade looked ready to leap off the park bench and take on the Dark Kingdom single-handedly.
"No. That was nine years ago now. We were able to defeat her for good. She's gone."
"Nine years?" Jade raked one hand distractedly through his hair. "That's right about when the dreams started. Was that why? Was I supposed to be here and help you?"
"That's probably why you started remembering," Rei agreed cautiously. "That's when we started get our memories, the other senshi and I. But we had Artemis and Luna- Selene's old advisors- to explain what was going on to us and help us learn how to use our powers to fight Beryl. I don't see how you could have known what was going on or how to come to our aid all the way from America."
Jade huffed his breath out and leaned back again. "That really gets me, though. I travel 1,000 years through time, finally have an opportunity to get a little vengeance for being tortured to death, and I write the whole thing off as a bad dream and miss my chance!"
Rei had to laugh a little at this characterization of events. "Well, we would have been glad of your help, but I'm glad to report it wasn't necessary. With the power of both crystals, we were able to defeat her."
"And you were hardly the only person who wasn't around to help. We hadn't found any of the outer senshi yet either, so you really shouldn't feel bad about it."
"Wait, hang on, go back. You said both crystals. You had both crystals! You found Endymion?"
"Yes, yes we did. Oh, of course, you're Terran…" Rei shook her head; she knew there was something wrong with that, something desperately important she was forgetting, but it refused to surface. "Yes. He's returned. He and Serenity… well, you remember that they were courting back then?"
"Oh yes." His eyes warmed with the memory. "Goodness, that was going to be a scandal when it got out. I never really got to know her outside formal events, you know, but I was glad they seemed to be falling for each other. There's no better way to seal a treaty than by marriage."
Rei raised her eyebrows. "That's a little cold. What if they didn't end up in love?"
Jade grinned mischievously. "Well, apparently, I was some kind of nobility. I could have married you."
("Promise me you'll come back.")
("I will, if you'll make me a promise in exchange.")
(He took her hands in the lamplight)
Rei stared at him, watching the echoes of the memory ripple over his face.
("When I come back, we'll tell everyone about us. And you'll stay with me forever.")
(Violet eyes turned black in the night, black with love, black with longing)
("I have responsibilities.")
("So do I. We'll navigate them together. Once Earth is a member of the Silver Alliance there will be nothing stopping us.")
Instinctively they reached for each other, holding hands under the stars.
("Once Earth is a member of the Silver Alliance, I will promise.")
(His smile, golden with joy)
"Oh boy," Jade said eloquently.
Rei stared down at their linked hands. "I should have promised."
"No, Rei, don't think like that."
"It might have changed something."
Jade shook his head. "I think we were beyond promises and hope having the power to change anything."
She looked away. "Perhaps you're right."
He cleared his throat. "You were saying. About Endymion and Serenity?"
"Oh…!" Rei brought her gaze back to him. "They're married now."
"Whoa." Jade blinked. "That was fast."
"Not really," Rei disagreed. "They've known each other for almost a decade in this life."
"Well." He seemed surprised. "That's great. I mean, there's not really a Silver Alliance anymore, but still."
Rei smiled a little. "We are all that's left of that time. We're going to build a new Alliance, a better one, right here on Earth. One that includes everyone. We've seen it, a little bit, in the future. Crystal Tokyo. And they will be amazing rulers."
Jade watched the bright dream reflected in her eyes and felt a little bit of her hope infect him. His voice was gentle. "Maybe then we can finally finish what we started."
Her eyes came back into focus and rested on his. "Yes. I hope so."
They smiled at each other.
"Will you take me to meet Endymion?" Jade didn't want to sound too eager, but his soul seemed to be pulling him back towards his liege.
"Of course," Rei said. "You'll want to meet everyone anyway, we may as well start at the top. What time is it?"
Jade checked his watch. "Midnight."
"Too late to go over there tonight. Mamoru-kun's in medical school, he gets up early. We can go over there tomorrow evening… what?" He was looking at her oddly.
She laughed a little, golden in the streetlights. "Chiba Mamoru. That's his name now."
"Chiba Mamoru," Jade repeated, committing the syllables to memory. He smiled. "Tomorrow evening would be great."
"Then it's a date."
He looked at her with an exaggerated expression of dismay. "You mean this hasn't been a date?"
She smiled and stood, turning to extend a hand towards his seated figure. "Walk me home and I'll let you answer that question."
He rose fluidly and took her offered hand. Her smile was secret and silver in the starlight.
Minako's feet were dragging as she walked the streets of Juuban, not wanting to arrive at her destination. Above her head the sun was racing down to meet the horizon. Rei was meeting Devine-san soon. Perhaps they had already met. Perhaps they were strolling through Ueno Park even now. Were the sakura blooming yet? That would be a nice touch of natural irony.
She shook her head. It was too soon for sakura. And she was trying to avoid the issue. Futile; the walls of her own mind were not large enough to escape duty.
("Minako, it's him.")
(Happy voice and bright eyes; excitement; anticipation. The things that so soon would turn to love)
Should I have warned her? Given her some stronger hint of what might be coming?
When do I tell her the truth?
She had hoped never to have to tell her friends the truth. Their memories of the Silver Millennium were so patchy that they seemed to have no recollection of the men they had once loved and lost. It had been better so. They had had no qualms when called upon to murder them in this life. No resulting guilt to darken their steps. No lingering love to cast its shadow over new relationships.
Though none of us have managed to have a serious relationship yet in this life. I thought we were just all young. But perhaps that should have told me something.
Rei, apparently, had remembered after all. Just an old boyfriend, she'd called him. Enough to subtly poison her chances with anyone else? Certainly enough that she'd fallen headlong the moment she'd seen her lover again.
Now Minako's steps were carrying her inexorably towards duty. The once and future royalty of this solar system, whom she had to inform of the possible return of an old enemy. And the far-more-to-be-feared resurrection of an old ghost, never properly laid.
Usagi and Mamoru had gotten married shortly after his return from college abroad and feathered their nest in a cozy apartment on the outskirts of Juuban; not large, but well laid out and comfortable. Living in the city was expensive for a young couple just starting out, especially with Mamoru still pursuing his medical degree, but other considerations had overruled economy. None of the senshi had liked the idea of trying to protect their princess from the distance of the suburbs. Some of them were more mobile than others, it was true. Minako's modeling had made her financially independent at a young age, and she could pretty much live wherever she wanted. Makoto's resources were more limited, but she had no other ties to metropolitan Tokyo. But Ami was still studying medicine too, and though Rei would leave her temple if duty demanded, no one wanted to require that sacrifice from her. Besides, as Usagi expressed it, it was silly to worry about saving money in a currency no one would probably be using in Crystal Tokyo, even if the idea of a King and Queen needing to pay rent wasn't silly enough by itself. So they stayed in the heart of the city, a short walk from Minako's somewhat more spacious dwellings on a less-frequented thoroughfare. When the evenings were nice, she enjoyed the walk. The evening was nice tonight, but she kept thinking she smelled blood on the air. It was not a good sign when her memories began to deceive her senses.
She took a deep breath and climbed the stairs to the Chiba apartment.
Mamoru, she knew, remembered the shitennou from the Silver Millennium. Well, it could hardly be otherwise. He had grown up with them, trained with them, trusted them. He remembered them as the traitors who had handed the Earth to Metallia. And Minako had never told him otherwise. When it became clear that his lost guardians would have to be put down in this life, if only as a mercy, it had seemed better that Mamoru at least have the comfort of reviling their memory instead of the pain of respecting it. Minako had never been quite sure how much Usagi remembered on her own and how much she had just learned from her husband, but it hardly mattered which was which. She had let them think that she, Minako, was as ignorant of her past relationships as the other girls. It was one more pain she could spare them. Now that decision was coming back to bite her.
Steeling her nerves, she knocked on the door.
There was the usual wait, but it wasn't long before she heard footsteps. A moment later the door swung open and she was greeted by Usagi's cheerful face. "Minako-chan! It's good to see you again! Come in. Mamo-chan, Minako is here!"
Minako let herself be led into the apartment and settled onto a couch as the once and future prince of Earth appeared in an interior entryway. "Konban wa, Minako-chan," he said with a smile. "Are you joining us for dinner tonight?"
"We're eating a little late because Mamo-chan just got home from the hospital," Usagi explained, perching on the arm of another chair opposite from Minako. "I cooked! I think it came out pretty well; Makoto wrote everything down and I followed her instructions very carefully. We're just waiting for the rice to finish now."
Minako smiled at Usagi's relentless attempts to improve herself. "I'm sure it came out well, but actually, I came over to give you some news."
"Good news?" Mamoru asked, leaning against the jamb.
"I don't know," Minako answered in some surprise, not having considered it in just those terms before. "Maybe? I don't know enough yet, but it wasn't something that could wait."
"Well, go on!" Usagi chimed.
"Okay. Well, did either of you know Rei's father set her up on another 'date' last night?"
Mamoru laughed a little as his wife rolled her eyes expressively. "No, but that's hardly news."
"Right. Well, I met up with her today for some post-date cheering up, but she didn't need it. Actually, she was pretty happy by herself. She really liked the guy."
"Aww! That's definitely good news!" Usagi chirped. "And now she'll be happy like Mamo-chan and I are, and have adorable babies, and not have to be alone when her grandfather dies, and-"
"Slow down, Usako, they've been on one date so far." Mamoru smiled down at his exultant wife. "It's a little soon to be planning the wedding; we don't even know the guy yet!"
"Actually, you do," Minako cut in, trying to figure out how best to cushion the blow. "Rei told me it was him." She hesitated over actually saying the name.
Two pairs of confused blue eyes exchanged looks. "Him who?" Usagi asked. "Who do we know? It's not Yoichiro, is it? I mean, she could have dated him any time, but she never seemed that interested."
"No, no, it's not…" Minako sighed. So much for the indirect route. "Apparently, it's Jadeite."
She wasn't sure what reaction she was hoping for, but it wasn't the one she got. Mamoru stiffened instantly, all humor vanishing from his face, eyes turning into two chips of ice. Usagi visibly shrank in dismay, hands coming up to cover her mouth in surprise.
"Apparently he's a lawyer," Minako continued. "With a completely normal life, like we have now. Well, had, anyway. I have no idea how that could have happened, and I don't have a lot of details. They just met at dinner last night, and-"
"Good," Mamoru said flatly. "If we move quickly we can take care of this before he tries to approach her again."
"Take care of this?" Usagi twisted in her seat to stare at her soul mate. "What do you mean?"
"Isn't it obvious?" His face seemed set in granite. "We have to kill him."
Minako's eyes widened. Usagi's jaw worked several times, no sound coming out, until she finally managed to squeak "Kill him?"
"And quickly," Mamoru said. "Before whatever he's plotting comes to fruition. We can't risk-"
"What are you talking about?" Usagi's voice was climbing quickly into the upper octaves. "We're not going to kill him! Metallia is defeated, gone! If there's still any taint of evil, I can use the crystal-"
"No, Usako." His voice was flat, completely free of affect, as if in deliberate contrast with hers. "We can't risk a repeat of the end of the Silver Alliance. It's just too dangerous. If we-"
"Dangerous? We're talking about someone's life! We swore to protect life, don't you remember that? And this isn't just any life, either-"
"No, it's one that's an enormous threat to you and everyone else on this planet! That's why we have to act first-"
"Did it ever occur to you that he might not be-"
"No." The way he said it sent chills down Minako's spine in its finality. It was a death sentence, passed by a judge embittered by years of hope.
Something seemed to snap inside the Usagi, as the force of her anger literally pulled the diminutive blonde to her feet. "I don't believe this! Why am I the one defending them? They're your men! You should be going to the wall for them, and all you can do is stand there and-"
"They betrayed me!" Mamoru shouted, the accusation ripping from him like a physical strike, and the other two occupants of the room fell silent from sheer shock. No one had ever dared to voice that exact thought before. They had danced around it, using euphemisms or focusing on details as if that could somehow obliterate the magnitude of the crime. From the look on Endymion's face, even he had managed to hide this truth from himself until Usagi's accusations had finally driven him to the edge.
Mamoru swallowed and went on in a quiet voice that was worse in its sheer, brittle calm. "They worked for Beryl. They gave her information about Earth's defenses that let her destroy my entire kingdom, everything we'd worked for. They led the armies into the Golden Palace. They murdered-" his voice broke, and he turned aside, covering his eyes with one hand.
No one moved or spoke for a long minute.
Huddled in an armchair, Minako straightened her spine with a sheer act of will. She was a leader, and now was not the time to spend cowering in a corner. Now was the time for the truth. She cleared her throat. "No, they didn't." In the heartbeat that followed, she marveled over how steady her voice had managed to sound.
Mamoru did not turn around, unwilling to let anyone else bear witness to the struggle on his face or the moisture in his eyes that would confess he still wept for traitors. But his duty to his former lords drove him to speak. "You will explain that."
She took a moment to compose herself, reaching deep inside of herself for the old senshi who still dwelt within. Venus settled over Minako and gave her the last full measure of strength needed to make this confession.
"Beryl's armies were marching through the Central Kingdom," she said, voice soft. "The people were turning against you, believing you were cursed. For possessing magic, for wielding the Golden Crystal, for reviving the institution of the legendary shitennou. For consorting with the witches of the sky."
"I know this," the prince said steadily.
"The projections were bad," Venus said flatly. "I sat up three days with Kunzite trying to find a scenario that ended acceptably. And let me tell you, our definition of that term would make the bomb in Hiroshima look mild." The man on the far side of the room, more Endymion now than Mamoru, winced visibly. "Our best case projections left upwards of 80% of the Earth's surface uninhabitable, ruined by magical warfare. Casualty estimates were in the billions. Even if we won the war, it was the death of your kingdom."
"We could have healed the planet. We could have enlisted the Silver Alliance's help…"
"There was no 'we'," Minako said as gently as possible. "Any victorious scenario we could devise involved you pouring out your life's blood through the Golden Crystal. I think you know Kunzite found that unacceptable."
Mamoru drew a slow breath, scrubbing at his face with one hand.
"But that's not what happened," Usagi said. "In a strange way, we… won. Beryl was stopped."
Venus nodded. "When we realized that victory through winning was impossible, we began looking into ways to achieve victory through defeat."
"What does that even mean?" Endymion asked bitterly.
"We concluded that a war in which we fought Beryl for control of the Earth only destroyed it. But if Beryl were allowed to take command with minimal resistance, she would have no need to destroy a kingdom she ruled."
"She was still a monster," Usagi objected.
"I didn't say it would be pretty, but it was death either way."
The princess nodded quietly.
"We knew Beryl would never be satisfied with just the Earth. She wanted the entire solar system. She would attack the Silver Alliance. Her preferred tactics, not to mention sheer geography, dictated a strike against the moon. Decapitate the government and the other planets would fall. Winner takes all."
She paused to be sure her audience was still with her. Endymion nodded, so she went on.
"The permanent population of the moon was never very large. There would be enough time to evacuate the noncombatants. The palace on the moon was ancient and steeped in magic that we didn't fully understand even then. The armies of the Silver Alliance were not as large as the armies of Earth, but every warrior was also a mage, with a lifetime of training mortal Terrans could only imagine. And we would have both of the crystals on our side."
"How, both?" Endymion faced Minako, face composed. "I would remain on Earth, organizing a resistance to Beryl. I would not abandon my people!"
"Which is why you were not given a choice." Venus met Endymion's eyes squarely. "Do you remember how you ended up on the moon in the final days?"
After a moment, the prince shook his head.
Minako laughed softly. "Zoicite drugged your food."
His eyes widened.
"Knocked you out and shoved you through the teleporter," she nodded. "Then he destroyed it to deny it to Beryl."
"Trapping themselves on Earth," Usagi said, horrified.
"With Endymion on the moon, we thought the Silver Alliance could defeat Beryl. Return you to your rightful kingdom. Victory achieved. The majority of your people and your land, saved." Minako shook her head. "I would do the same thing in their places."
"You are saying that they… they…" Endymion couldn't finish the sentence.
"Beryl would never believe she had taken Earth with so little bloodshed unless she thought she had defeated you in some other arena," Minako said steadily. "And they hoped to work against her from the inside. So they offered their service to her. They gave her the keys to Earth's defenses. They led her armies into the palace. They did it knowing that in the eyes of the world they would be forsworn, traitors and murderers. Knowing you would believe yourself betrayed. Their names dishonored. Their families ruined. Their memories reviled."
"And after Beryl was defeated? After we retook the Earth? What was supposed to happen to them then?"
Minako blinked away tears. "Kunzite did not believe any of them would survive your return to Earth. Beryl was not a leader who would forgive subordinates for turning on her at the end."
"You knew about this." Minako did not respond. "You knew? And didn't tell me?" Endymion's voice rose on the final words.
"Why didn't I tell you on the moon? There wasn't time. I had to ready the defenses. And I couldn't face you," Minako admitted, starting to shake. "You were so furious and so bitter. Just being around you was unbearable. And I couldn't stop hoping, that after we defeated Beryl, he would be able to tell you himself." She broke off and covered her face in her hands.
Usagi slipped into the armchair next to her, wrapping her arms around the other blonde and rocking her gently, as if she were a child. "Shh-shh," she murmured. "It will be all right." Minako leaned her head against Usagi's shoulder and closed her eyes, trying to pretend she felt no pain.
Endymion was standing in the doorway as if turned to stone. After what seemed like an eternity, he took two steps towards the chair Usagi had vacated and sat down, carefully, as if he might collapse any moment.
"Why," he stopped to clear his throat. "Why," he tried again, "did they fight us in this lifetime?"
"Oh," Usagi breathed. "I think that's our fault…"
Minako said nothing, but started shaking harder.
"Because of course it didn't work out the way everyone planned," the princess continued, talking almost to herself. "We didn't defeat Beryl, we all died instead, so my mother had to pour out her life through the Silver Crystal. She sent us all forward, and she sealed the evil away. She sealed them all in darkness with Metallia for a thousand years."
Finally, an emotion reappeared on Mamoru's face. It was horror.
"Metallia destroys everything that is good," Serenity concluded. "She was able to drain the light out of you." The princess turned her head and met her prince's eyes. "If she could do that to you, the prince of Earth and the wielder of the Golden Crystal himself, in just a few days, what could it have been like for them, trapped there for a thousand years?"
Venus started to cry quietly into Serenity's shoulder. Endymion collapsed back into himself, not quickly, but with agonizing slowness, like a balloon deflating, all of its air escaping through a tiny hole, taking an eternity to die. His eyes stared sightlessly at the ceiling. "And we left them to that fate," he whispered.
"My mother didn't know, did she," Serenity said. It was not a question, but Venus shook her head anyway. The princess was silent for a moment, absently rubbing her friend's back while her mind worked on this new information. "Something doesn't add up," she said eventually. "Actually, several somethings, but the biggest one is this. If the shitennou were trapped with Beryl at the end of the Silver Millennium, and we were cursed to fight them again in this life…" Minako smiled involuntarily at her princess' choice of phrase, decisively moving the entire tangled mess of betrayal and death into the category of 'destiny'. "…then how was Jadeite able to walk back into Mars' life last night, and apparently none the wiser?"
Minako sat up slowly. "That is a very good question," she admitted, rubbing at her eyes with her hands. Usagi tutted gently and handed her a tissue. "Rei said that he recognized her. They had a little bit of time to talk. But Rei's memories are blurry. She just recalls an old boyfriend who died during the war."
"Boyfriend?" Usagi frowned. "That seems like such a small word for how serious they were."
Minako nodded. "She said that she had thought he was just an old boyfriend originally. But after seeing him again, she remembered that they were…" she smiled faintly through her tears "…special."
"But not more than that? Not how it ended?"
Venus shook her head decisively. "She wanted me to tell her what I knew. She remembered almost nothing. Not his rank or his duties… I don't think she even remembers he was Terran. She definitely doesn't remember his role in the war. And I didn't tell her."
"She took no for an answer?" Usagi looked surprised.
Minako felt one corner of her mouth turn up wryly. "I may have somehow given her the impression that I didn't remember most of it."
"A lie?" Usagi looked disapproving.
Her princess shook her head. "And the parts you admitted to remembering?"
"I told Rei that I thought her memories would come back on their own now that she had met him again, and it would be better if it happened naturally. I had to promise to talk to her again if that didn't happen, but I really do think it will. That's why I wanted to talk to you. If she starts remembering, it could get rocky. And you needed to know the truth about what happened back then." Both Usagi and Minako turned to look at Mamoru, still and unmoving on the other chair.
"Baby, you need to focus," Usagi said gently, disentangling herself from Minako and moving over to her husband. "We need to deal with this."
Slowly Mamoru's eyes came back into focus, consciously stepping away from the old prince and clutching one of Usagi's hands in both of his.
"So far we have one general with an indeterminate amount of memories. Is that right?" Usagi asked. Minako nodded. "All right. He may not even remember the end of the moon kingdom. My memories go in and out, and a lot of it is a blur towards the end. I think that may be a self-defense mechanism; remembering your own death is not pleasant." She shuddered.
Venus closed her eyes at the images that rose inexorably before her.
"But the problem we potentially face," Usagi continued, "is that he may remember everything. Or that by talking with Rei they may begin to remember, individually or by putting it all together. And that might lead to… what?"
"A complete mental breakdown?" Minako suggested from personal experience.
"Hopefully not that severe," Usagi said doubtfully. "I mean, you apparently remembered, and you're doing okay."
Minako's laugh was not happy. "Remember when I had mono, all the way back in middle school?"
Usagi blinked at the apparent non sequitur. "Yeah, you missed like three weeks of school."
"I didn't have mono."
The princess blinked a few more times. "Oh."
"Well." Usagi sighed. "We'll have to keep a close eye on Rei for the next little bit."
"And then what?" Minako asked. "What if Jadeite comes all the way back? And what about the others? I can't imagine they would be far behind. In fact, if they are back, I'm surprised it took them this long to reappear. I would have expected their souls to be tied to Mamoru's."
"But they weren't reborn like we were." Usagi's forehead furrowed in thought. "In fact, we still haven't figured out how Jadeite went from being, er, with Beryl, to being apparently normal."
"More questions, no answers," Minako concluded. "There must still be something that none of us have remembered yet."
"Or something only they can remember," Mamoru said. He was still visibly distressed, but his voice was approximating steadiness and he was clearly making an effort to hold it together. "By your account, none of us saw them after they… after." He swallowed. "And there are a thousand years of history unaccounted for. If it's possible that Jadeite remembers anything, we have to ask." There was something raw and painful in his eyes; Minako looked away.
"I'll talk to Rei," Usagi said. "And we'll try to arrange a meeting." She gave her husband a gentle smile. "If Jadeite's recovered any of his memories at all, I'll bet he's eager to see you."
Mamoru attempted a smile in return. It wobbled a little, then held.
That, or he'll be running as fast as he can in the other direction, Minako thought but did not say. If Jadeite remembered anything of the shitennou's last, desperate plan, he wouldn't expect any kind of welcome.
It was time for her to be going. Minako unfolded herself from the armchair and rose to her feet, feeling like she'd been beaten with sticks. "I'll leave you to think about it." Endymion clearly needed some time to process their conversation, and Serenity didn't seem inclined to leave his side.
Her princess thanked her with her eyes. "I'll talk to you again soon," she promised.
"Minako-" Mamoru raised himself partway up as she turned to go. "What's his name? Now, I mean?"
Minako paused. "Devine. I didn't get a given name." She offered them both a quick smile. They both returned it, but Mamoru's didn't reach his eyes.
The door clicked softly shut behind her.
(The earth rumbled beneath his feet as the war machines of their enemies grew closer. From the top towers of the palace, Endymion could see the armies of Metallia massing just over the horizon. The clouds of dust generated by their march hung low in the sky, blocking out the sun.)
Mamoru was dreaming.
("My lord." Kunzite had come up behind him. "With all due respect, the force of your gaze will not weaken their strength. We need to discuss alternatives.")
("What alternatives are there?" Endymion asked steadily. "We can be victorious, or we can be defeated.")
("I agree, sire. But the numbers do not lie. We cannot defeat Metallia on this field of battle.")
(Endymion turned to fix the leader of his guard with a piercing look."I will not abandon my people or my kingdom.")
("Staying will not help them," Kunzite said unflinchingly. "Your death will not help them.")
("I will not retreat!")
("When you cannot win, you must change the odds," Kunzite asserted.)
("Your change is unacceptable," Endymion hissed.)
Mamoru tossed restlessly, unable to lie still.
("Prince Endymion! Prince Endymion, can you hear me?")
(Bright lights stabbing painfully into his eyes. A dim form in a white coat.)
("Your highness, don't try to move. You are in the palace hospital in Luna Prime…")
(He had been eating dinner. Zoicite had eaten with him, until the youngest shitennou had tried to speak to his prince about the value of a strategic withdrawal. Endymion had ordered him out and finished his meal in solitary anger. Why did his men continue to try to get him to abandon his responsibilities?)
("Your highness, we found you unconscious in the city. Can you remember how you got here?")
(No, he could not remember, but he could guess. They had decoyed him away. What they could not accomplish by talking they had achieved through trickery. Endymion could not remember being so furious.)
("I must return to Earth at once." He tried to sit up, but the medic pushed him down with terrifying ease.)
("That won't be possible." There was compassion and regret in her eyes.)
(He waited for the truth.)
("Metallia's armies took the capitol this morning.")
(So quickly? They had been prepared for a siege. Kunzite's most conservative estimates had them holding out for at least a month…)
("I'm sorry… they say your generals opened the gates to her. It was over very quickly. There was no armed resistance.")
(Endymion thought how odd it was. A moment ago he had been furious. Now he felt nothing at all.)
He sat at the small table in his kitchen, hands wrapped around a mug of tea, unable to stop shivering.
(They had all tried to talk to him, one at a time or as a group, over dinner or at weapons practice, catching him during solitary walks in the hallways or drawing him aside at a formal event. He had resented their insistence that he could not protect his own kingdom. He had started to wonder why they didn't believe in him.)
(When he woke up on the moon that day, it was so easy to believe that those conversations had been the beginning of their eventual betrayal. Why else were they so determined to drive him away from his birthright?)
Mamoru tried to drink his tea, but his hands were shaking so badly he put the mug back down before he spilled it. Because they knew that staying was death. Because they knew that sometimes, to protect something, you have to let it go.
How had he been so ready to believe that their motives were evil? Was it the effects of the chaos swirling over Earth in those final weeks of the war? True, he had seen how Metallia's taint affected everyone with whom it came into contact. Sons turned against fathers, husbands against wives. Strife and discord had come before her, the invisible vanguard of the armies of destruction.
For a few minutes, Mamoru tried to convince himself that Metallia's poison was the sole reason.
("My lord, you must face the facts. Our remaining armies are small, and they are exhausted from the months of fighting. Metallia's forces are growing daily as her power awakens and she calls new demons to her side. Even if we struck today, it would be a slaughter!" Nephrite's voice was reasonable, but the brittleness of his calm was evident to someone who knew him well.)
("As defenders, we have the advantage," Endymion had replied stubbornly. "The walls will make each of our men count as ten.")
("Even so they do, it is still not enough!" Jadeite cried. "Metallia could lose a hundred men for each of our lives and still defeat us!")
("They killed my father!" Endymion shouted.)
I was stubborn. Proud. Young. When did seventeen start seeming so young?
Endymion had not thought of himself as young. He had seen himself as a pivotal figure in the grand sweep of history. Was it not to him that the Golden Crystal had been born again, after being lost to Earth for a thousand years? Was it not he who was beloved of the moon princess herself? Was it not his destiny to reforge the squabbling princedoms into an united kingdom and usher Earth into its place in the Silver Alliance? His father had believed that about him, and passed those beliefs to the young prince, infusing him with a sense of his grand destiny. To bend in front of Metallia's armies would have meant more than a military defeat. It would have meant that he had been wrong. Overconfident. Too faithful in the inevitability of his success.
And how did that work out for you?
If his shitennou had not acted to preserve him and his people, they would all have died in the palace halls when Metallia finally broke the capitol city. That fate had befallen the senshi and his beloved Serenity. Or worse, they would not have died; Beryl could have taken them into the dark places of her lair and remade them into monsters. Then he would have sat on his throne forever, a puppet for the dark forces he had thought to defy, ruling a kingdom peopled by the unquiet ghosts of the dead.
He and all his people had been spared that fate. Because of the sacrifice of his brothers. Whom he had damned to a thousand years of darkness by his refusal to listen.
And what if he had listened? Endymion could have warned Selene. She could have prepared for Earth to fall. It might have saved the Silver Alliance. And even at the end, she could have sought out his shitennou's souls with her crystal. Freed them from Beryl's control and sent them speeding forward to meet him in this new future.
A decade of reflexes cannot be broken in a single night. Mamoru had fought them all in this life, thought of them as his enemies and tried to destroy them. He had thought he had succeeded. It will not be easy to go back. It may be madness even to try.
Usagi had pulled him back from Beryl's darkness. Forgiveness came to her as easily as breathing. He had always known he wasn't worthy of her.
If I do not try, I will fail for certain.
When the sun rose, Mamoru was still sitting at his kitchen table, staring into a stone-cold mug of tea that did not contain any answers.
The Crown Arcade had been home to many senshi meetings in its time. Just about every discussion of significance had taken place here in their school days, and every reawakened senshi had crossed its threshold to meet up, hang out, and occasionally, play a few video games. It was as good a place as any, Mamoru felt, to have lunch with an old friend.
Enemy. Brother. Traitor. Guardian. Whatever.
He and Usagi were sitting together in the corner booth. She was halfway through her favorite banana ice cream shake. His chocolate shake was gathering dust in front of him.
"It will be fine," Usagi repeated for the tenth time since they had arrived.
"I don't even know what I'm doing," Mamoru replied. "How can you know how it will turn out?"
Her smile was tender. "You always doubt yourself, but when push comes to shove, you do the right thing. Even if you don't know what it is in advance."
Mamoru opened his mouth to quibble with this rosy view of events, but shut it again when the arcade's main doors slid open with their little jingle of bells. Rei and Jadeite walked through, looking astonishingly comfortable with each other for a couple who had supposedly met only a few days ago. Mamoru watched how Rei turned towards the other man confidingly, the way Jadeite smiled down at her and reached out to brush away a stray strand of hair. They moved in rhythm, the space between them vanishing into the horizon.
They're in love, he realized. Again. Already.
He swallowed, suddenly not sure if he could even make himself sit at this table long enough to try to talk. "Usako, maybe we shouldn't-"
It was too late. His wife was waving enthusiastically, and Rei had already spotted them. She touched Jadeite's shoulder, directing his attention to the couple in the corner. Even at this distance he could see the familiar blue eyes widening in startled recognition, the slender figure twitching against the reflex to kneel.
"There you are," Usagi said warmly as they got into range. "You must be Devine-san?" She rose in greeting.
"Please, call me Jade," he said breathlessly. "I- I guess we go way back." He looked incredibly nervous, and Mamoru felt an unwilling pang of sympathy. It couldn't be easy to be suddenly presented with people who probably knew more about you than you knew about yourself, with long-forgotten reflexes shrieking to life on one side and a lifetime of conditioning on the other.
"It's very good to see you again," Usagi smiled. She had a gift for putting people at ease, and Mamoru wished fervently she could be at his side for the forthcoming conversation. Unfortunately, they had already agreed it would be better if Rei heard the truth from her princess. And he had wanted to talk to Jadeite privately. Usagi was already moving to go. "Come on, Rei, let's see if we can't beat our old score at Sailor V, hmm? Let the boys talk." She looked at Rei significantly.
The senshi of fire seemed to think this was a fine idea, giving Jade a fond smile and allowing Usagi to lead her away. Mamoru felt like an utter jerk. She's so happy. At least I don't have to be the one to tell her.
Jade and Mamoru were left staring at each other in an awkward silence. Mamoru cleared his throat and gestured to the square of booth across from him. "Please, join me." The other man sat in silence. "Ah, you have probably already heard that I'm called Chiba Mamoru now."
Jade nodded. "Jade Devine."
"Right." The silence stretched out for a moment. Nerves humming, Mamoru tried to think of something to say that wasn't why did you betray me? or what on Earth were you thinking? or possibly die traitor die.
"I know you," Jade said suddenly.
Mamoru was unprepared for this opening. "Oh. Well, that's to be expected…"
"Really?" Jade swallowed nervously. "I thought I just, you know, worked for you. The way I kind of work for the President now. I know what he looks like and all, but I've never really met the guy. I mean, we're not buddies."
Mamoru quirked an eyebrow.
"I knew you." It was not a question. "I wasn't some faceless guy, was I?"
The prince shook his head. "No."
"I thought I was in the army or something, since I remember all of this military training." Jade commandeered Usagi's abandoned milkshake and took a nervous drink. "But Rei thinks I was some kind of nobleman. Since I went to the moon with the first delegation."
"You're both right," Mamoru said. "You were in my personal guard. That meant combat, diplomacy, a title, the works."
Jade raked one hand through his hair. "I remember you. You liked swordfighting and hated hand-to-hand. Someone always had to chain you down before you'd study math or science, but keeping you away from history and politics was like pulling teeth."
Mamoru stared at his former guardian in surprise. That was more than he remembered about his own former life.
The other man was still talking. "You hated the formal gardens. I didn't even know there were formal gardens until about ten seconds ago, but I know you hated them. And your father kept holding events there. You complained about the heat or the cold or the mosquitoes or the wind. You-"
"Stop," Mamoru commanded, shaken by the sudden flood of memories each word was evoking. His whole childhood was returning in one great rush. Long days spent at study or training. Impossibly short evenings spent with his guardians, the only brothers he'd ever known, trying to create some semblance of a normal life in between the duties and responsibilities of the future ruler of the Golden Kingdom. Everything he'd lost. No, not lost; deliberately forgotten. Endymion had withheld those memories from Mamoru, keeping them in the limbo between selves where neither would have to deal with the betrayal that had cut so deep.
His mouth was dry. He reached for his milkshake, found that it had devolved into milk with chunks of ice in it, and drank some anyway. He had to end this farce as quickly as possible. "What do you remember about the end of the Silver Millennium?"
Jade's eyes were haunted. "I remember Beryl," he whispered. "I remember the armies marching through the Central Kingdom and knowing we couldn't stop them. I remember her interrogating me… she had that awful emptiness at her command, and when she poured it into you it was like everything you cared about was being destroyed, over and over again, and you just hung there and felt it…"
Mamoru just nodded, unable to speak. He remembered that feeling, too well. And what would come next…
"I remember hoping that she would make a mistake, go too far, and I would finally be able to die. I remember when she did kill me. The emptiness went all the way down, I never knew it was possible to choke on emptiness, but it was and it was worse than anything I could ever have imagined. I realized I was going to die and somehow it wasn't going to change a thing, she would just go on doing that to me forever, and everything I had fought to protect would burn."
Endymion's soul ached. "Jadeite," he whispered helplessly.
The other man's eyes widened, coming back into shocked focus. "What did you call me?"
"It was your name," he said quietly. "Back then. When you were my guardian and my friend."
Jade's head dropped into his hands. "Oh," he said. "Oh no. No. I remember… what we did…"
The prince winced.
"What she did to us," Jadeite whispered. "What we did for her. It was supposed to save lives!" he pleaded. "We were trying to protect you."
"I understand that," Mamoru said, trying to comfort the other man, not sure if his words were the truth or a lie.
There was a long silence.
Eventually, Jadeite spoke in a harsh whisper. "Are you going to kill me now?"
Mamoru jerked backwards, unnerved by the uncanny echo of his own words only the day before. We have to kill him. And quickly, before whatever he's plotting comes to fruition. Guilt and revulsion swept through him. This was the man he had planned to destroy? The one sitting here now watching his world tumble to ruins, awaiting whatever fate his prince chose to mete out? The man whose own nightmares would be far worse than anything Endymion could say or do. His lost guardian and forgotten brother, believing he deserved a traitor's death, watching his past overtake him.
"I was hoping," Endymion replied, voice soft, "that you would stick around for a little while longer, if it's all the same to you. I've got an empire to rebuild, and I could really use the help."
Something suspiciously like a sob came from the man across the table. Mamoru discreetly turned aside and studied the video games with great interest.
"Why?" The word was a strangled moan. "I remember what I did. You should destroy me."
For one final moment, he considered it. He remembered the last days on the moon, watching helplessly from above as Beryl's armies overran the Earth and claimed his kingdom for her own. He recalled the hopelessness as he contemplated a lifetime of trying to reverse the damage she did every day she sat on his throne. He relived the despair of betrayal, cursing and reviling the names of those he believed to be responsible.
And then Beryl had come to the moon, and all of his yesterdays had ended in dust.
How did I go on believing that we could have defeated Beryl on Earth if only we had stayed and fought? After seeing how she destroyed the Silver Alliance so easily, what chance could I have possibly thought we had? I should have realized years ago that it would have made no difference either way. And I should have trusted you all when you tried to convince me to leave and retreat from Earth, to save as many people as I could. All my stubbornness achieved was to force you to act on your own, and condemn us all to two lifetimes of strife.
"I should have listened," he heard himself say, and knew that this confession was the least of what he owed the man across the table. "You tried to tell me we could not defeat Beryl on Earth. That if we stayed and fought, it would only doom my kingdom. I refused to listen. My pride and stubbornness would have been the death of us all, if you had not acted."
Jadeite looked up, face wet with tears. Endymion reached across the table and gripped his shoulder.
"You did the only thing you could do to save me, and my people. We are sitting here today, in the midst of a thriving civilization, because of your actions. I can never repay the sacrifice you made for me, but I will spend the rest of eternity trying. Your place is by my side, if you will have it."
Jadeite's right hand rose to rest over Endymion's. "I am yours, my king."
He looked into his general's eyes and nodded firmly once, finally letting the past go where it belonged.
Rei sat on the bench behind the arcade with her head in her hands, struggling to absorb what Usagi had just told her.
"Jade… is Jadeite?" she said out loud, trying to make the statement more real. Then she laughed abruptly. "Well. When you say it like that, it sounds kind of obvious, doesn't it?"
"It's not his real name, you know," Rei said irrelevantly. "It's a nickname. I don't know why." She was silent. "I guess that doesn't help."
"It's an interesting coincidence," Usagi mused. "Or maybe not. Maybe the nickname stuck because it was familiar to him. But that's not really significant."
Rei stared off into space. "Why didn't I recognize him as Jadeite?"
"Because of the same magic that protects your identity when you're Sailor Mars," Usagi said. "When we were fighting him, we only ever saw him transformed. He probably didn't detransform even back in the Dark Kingdom. I wouldn't leave myself vulnerable like that, if I worked for Beryl."
"No. I wouldn't either." Rei sighed. "He tried to destroy the shrine, you know. In this life. I should be angry about that."
"But you're not?"
"I don't really feel anything about it," Rei answered. "Maybe that's just shock. But I'm sitting here thinking wow, he tried to blow up my shrine, I should be really mad. And then I try to make myself feel mad, but it's not working. You know what I keep thinking of instead?"
"His eyes." Usagi giggled, and Rei had to smile. "Yeah, yeah. But that's not what I mean. The man who attacked my shrine, his eyes were empty. Everything about him was so empty. It set my teeth on edge. That was how I could use the sacred fire to track the movement of Beryl's minions, because they were so devoid of life and light that they stood out from regular people."
"His eyes don't seem particularly empty now," Usagi said thoughtfully.
"No." Rei's smile softened. "Even though you tell me they're the same… being? I don't even want to say person. The monster who worked for Beryl, who attacked my shrine and threatened you, that wasn't a person. And it's completely unlike the Jadeite I remember, or the Jade I know now."
"I agree with you," the princess said. "We haven't been able to come up with an explanation for how the shitennou were reborn even while being trapped in Metallia's darkness, but it seems clear that mentally, at least, the man and the monster are two separate entities."
Rei looked at her speculatively. "You're very calm about this. You've known for a while, haven't you?"
"Not all of it," Serenity said calmly. "Until very recently, we believed the shitennou had betrayed us at the end of the Silver Millennium."
Rei choked. "That's awful!" She shook her head. "I don't think I would have dealt with believing Jadeite was a traitor very well."
"Minako apparently didn't," Usagi said sadly. "She's the only one who knew."
"Why didn't she tell anyone?"
Usagi sighed. "She didn't want to hurt us. I can understand that; I didn't want to tell any of you even the little bit I remembered. It came back to me while we were fighting Beryl, and I just didn't want to lay that on you while we were actively fighting them."
"After…" her voice grew distant. "I thought they would come back. I wished for all of you back with the crystal, and I expected to see them around every corner."
"But you thought they'd betrayed us then! You still made that wish?"
"Mamoru was seduced by Beryl," Serenity pointed out. "Even though Metallia wanted to destroy everything he loved, take over the Earth, murder me. He had no possible reason for even wanting to work for her, but it only took her three days to completely corrupt his soul with darkness. If she could do that to him, well, I wasn't willing to believe that the shitennou were beyond redemption."
"You never want to give up on anyone," Rei said, looking at her princess with gratitude.
"Yeah, but it didn't seem like it had worked," Usagi admitted. "We never found them again. And I thought if they were never going to come back, it would be better for you to just forget. Minako said the same thing. That if our story ended with their deaths, it was better for Mamoru to at least be able to hate their memory."
"I guess you and Mamoru had each other to talk to about it."
"Oh, but Rei, he scared me," Usagi said softly. "He was so full of bitterness and anger! We hardly ever did talk about it, because I just couldn't understand how he was so willing to revile them."
"He didn't understand, I guess." Rei was quiet for a moment. "What do you think they're talking about?"
"Hopefully? A little long-overdue forgiveness on both sides."
The sun was low on the horizon when two men emerged from the Crown Arcade. They hadn't entered together, but anyone watching them would have recognized that they were a unit. The blond walked slightly ahead, ready to encounter whatever might come at them first. The dark-haired man stayed close, ready to watch the other one's back. It was an old, old reflex.
Together they moved around the corner, down the alley next to the arcade and the shady avenue that ran behind it. Two girls were sitting on a bench under one of the spreading trees.
Jade stopped a few steps away and swallowed nervously. By now Serenity had told Rei the truth about the end of the Silver Millennium. She would know everything he had done. She would know it was he who had opened the gates to Metallia. He who, in this life, had apparently attacked her home and her friends. Even knowing his prince forgave him these sins would not be enough if she hated him now.
Rei stood at their approach. When Jade stopped, she read the fear and uncertainty in his face and saw he was waiting for her to make the first move, to give him some kind of indication of her feelings. Better make sure he can't misunderstand me, then. She took the last few steps that separated them, wrapped her arms around him, and tilted her lips up to meet his.
Usagi grinned to herself and stepped around them to come up next to Mamoru. "I see you found the right thing to do, love," she teased gently.
Mamoru smiled down at her. "I have an excellent guide who always leads me right."
They watched as Rei, suddenly flustered by the realization that she was kissing a gaijin on a semipublic street, pulled away abruptly and turned rather red. Jade seemed to understand this for embarrassment and not regret, letting her step back and attempt to regain some semblance of poise with a soft smile none of the others had seen him wear before.
"I take it the two of you had a good talk?" Mamoru asked Usagi.
"Very good," Usagi answered, smiling. "And you?"
Jade turned around. "Princess, please let me-"
"Shush," Serenity interrupted. "No apologies, please. Leave the past where it belongs. We've beaten it to death enough for one day."
"You should be getting back to work," Mamoru reminded him.
"Right." He looked at Rei again. "Right." He paused, then threw propriety to the wind and kissed her again.
Usagi laughed comfortably. "Come over for dinner tonight. You know where we live?"
"I told him," Mamoru said.
"Good. In fact, come over every night. We have a lot to catch up on."
"Okay," Jade said, not taking his eyes off of Rei.
The fire maiden shot Usagi a pleading look. "Oh, you too Rei, of course."
"Good." Jade cleared his throat. "Well. Um. Good." He smiled suddenly. "I'll see you all tonight."
Usagi waved farewell. Rei tried to control her breathing. Mamoru watched Jade's figure disappear around a corner.
"How do you feel?" Usagi asked her husband.
Mamoru drew a deep breath. "I feel… good," he answered. A smile spread over his face. "Like a weight I didn't even know I was carrying has been lifted."
Usagi snuggled against him. "I knew you'd do the right thing."
"And you?" Mamoru asked, looking at Rei. "Are you okay?"
"Better than that." Rei looked peaceful. "I've finally found what I've been looking for."
"Ahhh," Usagi sighed. "It's so romantic! One down, three to go." Mamoru and Rei blinked at each other. "What?" The princess smiled winningly up at her prince. "Surely you realize that if Jadeite's back, the other shitennou must be around here somewhere. We just have to find them!"
"One thing at a time, Usako," Mamoru said. But he was smiling.
"I'm just not looking forward to this next part," Usagi said admitted. "Telling Rei about all of this was hard enough after Jadeite was already here. I'm not sure how I'm going to manage telling Ami and Makoto!"
"That's not going to be the worst part," Rei said in a melancholy tone.
Rei fuffed some hair away and made a face. "I'm going to have to call my father. I can't believe it, but one of his stupid dinner dates finally succeeded!"
Usagi burst out laughing. Rei tried to keep her face annoyed, but she couldn't hold it. The expression cracked into a wide smile, and her laugher mingled with Usagi's, spreading over the city in all the colors of the rainbow.
Rushing back to his desk after a quick stop for bento, Jade slopped coffee over his hands and cursed. That was what he got for rushing off without even putting the little plastic lid on the cup. In the best tradition of Senator Hino, he had devoted his mealtimes to praying at a convenient local shrine. After all, it was a good idea. Such a good idea that even the coffee drying stickily on his hands couldn't dent his wide smile.
Across the desk from him, watching as Jade hastily slid back into his seat, Tanaka looked like a bird dog on point. The other man's tone was deceptively mild. "Welcome back, Devine-san. How was lunch?"
"Fine, fine," Jade said hastily. "How's that brief coming?"
"I finished that this morning, remember?"
"Right." Jade started hunting around for a wet-nap.
"You've been distracted all week," Tanaka said idly.
"Just thinking," Jade said mildly, finding one in the corner of a drawer. Remembering. Reliving.
"Not really," Jade lied. Unless you count finding my past love, discovering I once betrayed my prince with the best of motives, and reconciling with him. He scrubbed at his hands with the moist towelette. Or trying to figure out how to find three mysteriously missing shitennou. Because there is no way I am working quadruple shifts for the rest of eternity!
"Okay," Tanaka said calmly. If Jade had been on his game, he would have recognized the warning signs; Tanaka had never, before now, let anything go this easily unless he was hunting bigger game. "So. I ran into Senator Hino earlier today."
"Oh?" That caught Jade's attention.
"He's in a very good mood," the other man smiled. "Seems like he's very pleased with something."
"Ah," Jade said distractedly. Has Rei talked to him yet? It was a measure of his distraction that he had never even considered what they would tell Rei's formidable father about the eventual success of his attempt to marry off his only daughter.
Tanaka waited until Jade was thoroughly absorbed with the wet-nap before leaning across their desks. "So," he asked, looking like the cat who caught the canary. "How was dinner?"