"Are you sure you don't want to just go to the bar?" Zen asked for what had to be the hundredth time since they had left work. "I don't like the idea of going someplace new right now."
The skin around Kanji's lips tightened briefly, and the younger man knew he was holding onto his patience with both hands. Most of the time, Zen was a quiet, hyperfocused engineer who had to be reminded that there was life outside his work and that it was easier to navigate it when one opened one's mouth. Every now and then, though, when the moon was full and he had spent too much time in his lab and his supply of energy drinks had mysteriously emptied itself, all the words he never spoke rushed out of him like water pouring through a crack in the ice. He didn't know what was causing the stars to align themselves today; he had slept six full hours, worked fewer than twelve, and eaten two real meals. Well. One and a half real meals. Bento counted, right?
"It's not new," Kanji tried to calm the other man down. "I've been here before. And I need something to eat. Fukuda-san was having a crisis and I skipped lunch."
"Fukuda-san is always having a crisis," Zen grumbled, looking nervously around himself.
"True, but he gets more work done between crises than any two of my other subchiefs, so he's worth it."
Zen shrugged, unwilling to enter in a fuller discussion of Kanji's working habits. That wasn't the point. The point was that he was inexplicably nervous and twitchy, and despite having spend the last three days cajoling his friend/companion/leader into a night of alcohol and forgetfulness, he was having a hard time not calling the whole thing off right now and running back to the lab for some overtime. After all, those tests weren't going to run themselves…
("The tests have all come back positive. The system should be operational within the week.")
(Endymion's smile was wide and pleased. King Eltosian was more reserved, but he nodded, a rare sign of approval.)
("Excellent news. Once we are able to travel between the Earth and the Moon without the use of mages, we can establish a permanent diplomatic presence in Luna Prime.")
("The Silver Alliance has agreed to this?" Zoicite heard surprise and wonder in his own voice.)
("Some planets more reluctantly than others, but yes, they have agreed. They are beginning to see that Terra is no longer a younger sibling to be coddled, but an adult ready to take our place on the wider stage.")
("The negotiations are going more smoothly than I would have expected, then.")
("Jadeite is doing an excellent job," Endymion said with pride.)
Zen stumbled over a crack in the sidewalk and nearly fell. It had been a long time since memories had clocked him out of left field like that. He had thought he was past that stage of random recollections, triggered by the slightest related word or scent.
"Zen?" Kanji asked, sounding very far away. He didn't answer immediately. "Are you okay?"
(The floor was colder and harder than any substance he had ever studied, and contact with it made his skin crawl. He tried reflexively to jerk away, but away from the floor meant a standing position, and Zoicite was too weak to manage standing unaided. He ended up slamming one shoulder hard against the wall of his prison, and a whimper escaped him despite his best efforts. The uniform fabric covering his body was no longer in the best condition, and slimy coldness seeped into his shoulder through the tears in his sleeve.)
(He heard a rustling sound from the darkness just beyond the bars and tried to brace himself for the pain to begin again. Instead of the expected forms of Beryl's best torturers, though, he caught a flash of familiar silver hair and heard a voice he knew. It was terrible to wish his current situation on anyone, least of all his brothers, but the sound of Kunzite's gruff tones in the darkness was the only lifeline he had.)
("Are you okay?")
"Fine," Zen muttered distractedly.
("You're lying. How long has she had you on the table?")
(Zoicite wanted to laugh at his commander's choice of euphemism, but the strength for that had been spent hours ago on not screaming, not struggling, not doing anything but keeping his mind empty and blank, thinking of warm beaches hot sun shady trees everything but what she wanted to know)
("A couple of hours. I think.")
("She'll wait for a while before pulling you out again." Kunzite sounded sure. Zoicite wondered how long he had been here to know that.)
(Kunzite had always had a knack for answering the unspoken questions. "She got me down here first," he admitted, and Zoicite heard the tightness of pain buried underneath the usual roughness of his voice. That, more than anything yet, frightened the young shitennou. He had never heard his commander reveal weakness like that, not even during the assassination attempt in Cairo. "She never bought any of it.")
(Zoicite sank back down to the floor, weary with hopelessness. "Oh no.")
("You're actually the last to join us. She's working Jadeite over now.")
(Silence. Then a quiet rumble. "He hasn't been brought back yet.")
(Time lost all meaning. Very soon he ran out of the strength needed to not scream, but he buried his soul as deeply as possible, destroying his own memories to keep them from her hand, murdering his dreams and slaughtering his accomplishments)
(When the emptiness came for him at the end, he had nothing left to throw against it)
"Zen!" Kanji's hand on his arm yanked him bodily out of the memory. He realized he was breathing hard and swaying on his feet. "You don't look good. What was that?"
"A memory," he admitted breathlessly.
"Come on," Kanji's voice said encouragingly, that same deep, rumbling voice that had he had followed trustingly into the darkness. "Almost there. Let's get you something to drink."
Zen felt himself bring propelled along and let it happen, focusing on trying to keep his head above the wave of the next memory he could feel rising against him. His own death was not something he cared to relive.
He heard the jingle of doors opening and was assaulted by an unexpectedly high volume of noise. Where was Kanji taking him, anyway? But then he was sitting blessedly down and the tide was receding, leaving Zen numb. He registered a glass of water in front of him, which had better be a placeholder for something harder to come, but he drank half of it anyway to wash the taste of blood and grit out of his mouth.
There was a soft thud in the seat across from him. Zen rested his head in his hands, covering his face to block out the too-bright light that was jumping and strobing oddly, and spoke without looking, words pouring out of him without preamble, an unfiltered continuation of his internal monologue. "It's just that sometimes it all becomes too much, you know? You're standing on the street minding your own business and then wham, you're flat on your back and Beryl is standing over you. She's got the poker in her hand and you know what's going to come next but you can't do anything to stop it, just try not to tell her what she wants, which is surprisingly easy at first because you can't form words while you scream. But then you feel her in your mind, just sitting there, leafing through your memories while you're a prisoner in your own soul. You rip up all of your yesterdays like paper snapshots, but you're also throwing away the only things that are letting you resist her. She takes everything, she takes your loves and your loyalties and even your name, I tried to remember her smile just so there was something I could hold on to but Beryl made it her smile and then-" Zen choked, shaking with the force of his own revulsion at what his memories told him happened next.
The figure across the table was very, very still.
"I can't remember her at all anymore," Zoicite whispered, bleeding in around the edges of a young man who had always known himself helpless in the face of evil. "I reach out at snatches of memory but there's a hole where she used to be. I erased her so thoroughly that Beryl never knew to use her against me, but now I don't have anything left of her, not her smile, not her eyes, not even her voice. Sometimes I'd give anything to see her again. I'd let Endymion kill me, I'd walk down to Rainbow Bridge and throw myself off it if I could just hear her voice before I hit the bottom."
Warm fingers were tugging at his hands now, trying to pull him back out of the past. He didn't notice that they were too small and slender to be Kanji's.
"I keep waking up in the middle of the night and reaching out, but she isn't there. I hear something funny at work, and think, I'll remember this to tell her, but I've never met her. Sometimes I come home at the end of the day and call out to her, but no one answers, and I can't even remember her face."
The fingers were more insistent now, moving with a force that overcame Zen easily, too easily, like they were stronger than fingers were ever supposed to be. The light around him filtered back in slowly, bringing water to his eyes, still adjusted for darkness. Those same gentle fingers reached up to wipe the tears away and cupped his face gently, raising it. "Then look up," a voice whispered, sweet and beloved and familiar like a memory from the earliest days of childhood, indistinct but inexpressibly comforting.
(Racking his brain for a new challenge, inventing a problem just to watch her solve it, blue head bent intently over the table, the sweep of her neck, the gentle curve of her fingers)
(Leading her outside, watching her face as she saw the gardens, that look of childlike wonder at a whole new world to be explored)
(Feeling her lips against his, hearing his heart beat loudly against his ears, then pulling back, so slowly, hoping not to see alarm or dismay or indifference on her face)
(A shy smile, eyes cast anxiously downwards, but a smile nonetheless)
Her eyes were blue, that was the first thing he saw, and they were swimming with anguish and trepidation and something he wonderingly realized was love.
(Problems invented to lure her to his side becoming challenges to be overcome together, even as the challenges faced by their peoples grew faster than trees in the formal garden at midnight)
(Her breath hot against his neck, her face lovely in the candlelight)
(Eyes fluttering closed as she forsook her analytical mind to just feel)
Her hair was also blue, and that caught him by surprise for a moment, the rarest color of all, but she was a uniquity beyond value, and he had always been astounded by her.
(Watching her face as she watched the sky from the shelter of one of the palace balconies, listening to rain drum on the marble roof and cobblestone pathways)
("Does it do this often?")
("Yes, fairly. Weather is something we tend to avoid, because we have so much of it here.")
("I can't imagine ever taking something so beautiful for granted.")
Her skin was pale, too pale; she hadn't been taking care of herself. He would take care of her now, make sure she ate and slept and saw the sun, all of those things he was so bad at doing himself, that made him understand what she needed and neglected. Beneath her hair and eyes her lips were trembling, the lower caught between her teeth, and it came to him unbelievingly that she was nervous. Zoicite had taken a fierce pride in being the first one to see into the heart Mercury kept locked away behind her head, and he saw that she was afraid, waiting for him to speak or act or move and tell her how their reunion would go.
(Running out into the rain together, letting her sweep him along to see the patterns water could make when it fell from the sky onto trees, fountains, anything and everything, she wanted to see it all. They ran faster as the sky began to lighten, and when Zoicite slowed down to see the first rainbow come bursting from behind the clouds, Mercury reached out and took his hand, leading him onwards and upwards)
"Smile for me, please," he whispered longingly.
She did. It was like watching the sun come up on the first morning in Elysian.
Zen had never gotten that drink, but he didn't care anymore. He far preferred what he had gotten instead. Friendship. Love. Forgiveness.
Everyone else had come in. Together they had taken over a corner booth and talked long into the night. One by one, as the evening wore on, the others had left in ones and twos, until only Zen and Ami were left, still holding hands underneath the table and not bothering to remember there was a world outside of the two of them.
He lost himself for a few moments in her eyes, remembering rain on cobblestones and the wonder of a new world.
"How did Beryl get it?"
Zen blinked the images of the past away. "What?"
Ami looked away from him. "The key."
He shook his head. "I don't know for sure. I tried to destroy it, but…"
"It couldn't be destroyed," Ami said, shaking her head. "Not with anything short of one of the crystals."
"So I hid it instead." Zen swallowed. "Not well enough, obviously."
"Did she make you tell her what it was?" Ami wasn't looking at him, but her hands were shaking in his.
"No. She just gloated. She knew what it was already." He closed his eyes on the memory of Beryl's triumph and his own despair.
"And the teleporter?" She hated to keep pressing, feeling the pain of his memories as if it was her own. But she had to know.
Zen sighed. "I think it took her a couple of days to repair it. I don't know for sure. She told me she had done it, but I'm not sure when… Keeping track of time was pretty hard, by then."
Ami shook her head slowly. "I wish you could have escaped with Endymion." Her eyes unfocused, and Zen knew she was thinking of a thousand years of darkness, a new life alone, and battles against a monster who wore his face.
Somehow, even though it was dark now outside and cold, the memories didn't rise up and swallow him. It wasn't that he'd managed to forget them; he would never be able to do that. Everything he had done while under Beryl's command would follow him and haunt him for the rest of his days. But now he felt like he might yet be able to do something of value, in spite of or perhaps because of that time in the darkness. Something good that he could set against the bad to balance the scales of his lives.
Zen reached out and brushed a lock of hair from Ami's face. "I'm here now."
"And that's… enough?" Wondering. Hoping.
He smiled, suddenly sure.
"If you want it to be."
If you made it this far, thanks for reading. Each and every review has been much appreciated.
Some of you were kind enough to inquire after a third installment with Makoto and Nephrite. Yes, one is in the works. However, the two characters are being extremely difficult, and I wouldn't suggest expecting anything for a couple of weeks.
Glad you could join me, and please review.