Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon is the property of Takeuchi Naoko, Toei Animation, and Kodansha Comics.
Invincible and Fearless Warriors
By Gita Toronjil-Lee
The unmistakable sad lament of a steel guitar whined quietly from a neon-green-and-pink jukebox; a fan, white paint flaking off the blades, turned listlessly above the heads of the patrons. Long fluorescent lights hung in two parallel lines and ran a bright, never-ending race across the ceiling's perimeter, giving the tavern a feel that seemed far too garish to belong in this supposed kingdom of dark, though its location was undeniably there.
A lone man sat at the bar, knees tucked wearily under the ledge, broad shoulders slouched over his drink. He raised his shot glass to eye level, inspected it with an already bloodshot sapphire eye, and downed its golden contents in a single swallow. The strength of the liquor made him sputter, but when the coughing fit ended, he sighed contentedly and with a shaky over-carefulness placed the vessel upside down at the end of a line of four others. He reached up and ran his fingers through his curly auburn bangs.
"You're going to be terribly hung over in the morning, Nephrite," observed the blonde man, currently the only other occupant of the room save the barkeep, sprawled in the torn, gaudily red overstuffed armchair in the corner. He shifted his booted feet restlessly, propped up them up on the low table in front of him, then returned his attention to the thick novel he held in his hands.
"And if we're all terribly dead by evening," Nephrite muttered to the shiny brown countertop, his words muffled by their direction but still clearly audible, "what's the harm?" He signaled for another drink. For most patrons, the barkeep would have suggested a stop by now, but it knew better than to argue the wishes of this one, and so provided another shot.
"Well, maybe our chances against that would be significantly higher if our commander-directly-under-Kunzite-under-Beryl-under Metallia-who-really-doesn't-count-anyway isn't suffering a splitting headache because he spent the night before getting plastered. It's obvious that you're afraid of battle," the other retorted without looking up from his book. "I never knew you were such a pessimist."
"I'm not. I'm a realist."
"A realist astronomer? Isn't that an oxymoron?" He lazily turned the page and continued reading.
"Go back to your paperback romance and leave me alone, Jadeite."
"I'll have you know it's a mystery."
"I don't care."
The stillness that followed did not suit this officer's bar, usually frequented only by rowdy lower-ranked youma captains and unused to clientele of importance; tonight's appearance of such had scared off the regulars, who had gone off to diligently prepare for the next day's important work in fear of being reprimanded by their superior lords.
And what the underlings didn't know about the motivation for said superior lords' presence would not hurt them.
Breaking the lull, the whiny song on the jukebox ended, and in its place came yet another slow, haunting melody, this time a flute solo that consisted of notes lingering in the eerie lower register of the instrument's range.
The door set into the wall opposite the bar's vaulted outside entrance opened, its hinges emitting a tired creak, and heavy black-booted feet emerged to walk their owner across the scuffed wooden floor over to the counter. The newcomer straddled the barstool and wordlessly gestured for a drink. The youma bartender scurried to supply the highest king with the order while the new customer watched the scramble dispassionately.
"Always thought you were a teetotaler, Kunzite," Nephrite commented after the other's drink had been delivered, his voice slurring remarkably little considering the number of empty once-full glasses within his arm's reach.
Kunzite shot the other a quick, sharp look that tossed his silky white hair violently, the chair between then not subtracting anything from the glare's potency. As further unspoken response, he tossed back half his drink, then clinked the glass back to the counter.
"I merely believe in moderation and discretion," he decided gravely after a long time, putting his expression in words, "and deem tonight enough to break that."
Nephrite nodded silently, sagely, and turned back to his own business.
A few moments later, a startling heavy, rustling thump came from the corner, an off-beat to the music in the background. Neither man at the bar turned as the seated man furiously got to his feet and approached them.
Jadeite had clearly had enough.
"I don't understand either of you," he said, pointing an accusing finger at his higher-ranked comrades. "We're not going to die tomorrow! Don't you have any confidence in yourselves?" He stalked over to stand between the others, then paused and looked at them both. "Aren't we Shitennou supposed to be unbeatable? Aren't we supposed to be strong and sure?"
The sad flute played through several bars without interruption.
"There is still a side to each of us that is human," Kunzite murmured finally to the bar. "It's not that I'm planning on anything but absolute victory; what kind of leader would I be otherwise? Tomorrow rest assured I will stand proud, tall, and sure, as will we all. But… but tell me, Jadeite, for the right now, if you're so confident, do you not feel that hollow, deep inside you, churning and bubbling, heavy with anxiety and anticipation? Are you going to sleep well tonight?"
"And if you are, then why in hell are you wasting your time here?" Nephrite reached across the counter, grabbed some peanuts out of the nearby black bowl, deftly shelled them, and shoved the whole handful into his mouth.
"And if you are feeling calm and confident, then what is causing this uncharacteristic anger?" the white-haired man finished his train of thought. "Have a seat, Jadeite."
Jadeite sighed and said nothing, but he reluctantly sat himself on the empty stool between the two, right in front of the snack jar, and pulled out a peanut of his own. Popping it between his lips, shell and all, and sucking off the salt before eating it, he turned to his right, and changed the subject over a mouthful.
The white-haired man sighed, slowly shook his head, and cast a glance over his shoulder at the door from where he'd entered. Both of the others followed his gaze, and gave their superior similar quizzical looks when they realized where he was looking.
"In the bathroom," Kunzite said as explanation. "He thinks he's going to throw up, but I couldn't keep him company in there any longer."
The blonde chewed the salty substance a bit longer, meditatively, and tried to deny the queasy feeling attempting to make itself known deep inside him.
The jukebox changed melodies yet again to a mournful woman's humming. Before she could begin her song, however, the restroom door creaked open and a pale, wide-eyed specter ghosted his way out, golden ponytail following tired shoulders.
With nary a glance at the others, he wearily walked to the source of the music and knelt down. His arm reached out, then jerked back, bringing the machine's plug with it. The neon lights went out abruptly; the tune lingered in echo till a second later.
Zoisite turned and faced the others. His countenance still was sickly, but without the neon cast the look in his eyes was slightly less dazed. He smiled vacantly, without humor.
"I hate music," he said distantly, and wandered to the bar without seeming to notice his direction.
Kunzite held out an arm to stop him as he passed, and gently pushed him to sit beside him on the empty stool. "Are you feeling better?"
Eyes still vaguely unfocused, the smallest of the four nodded faintly, reached out to the bar, grabbed Kunzite's half-empty drink, and gulped the rest of it down. The hit of alcohol made him shudder violently, and the white-haired king again had to hold out an arm, this time to keep the other from falling off the stool.
"I’m awake, I'm awake," Zoisite groaned when he stopped shaking. He shrugged off the arm supporting him and almost casually dropped the tumbler. It missed the bar and fell to the ground, clinking against the floor, each tinkle echoing painfully in the now-musicless room.
All four watched it fall as if it were the most interesting event they'd ever witnessed in their lives. When it stopped moving, the room was again filled with uncomfortable silence.
"If you're going to drink like that," Nephrite finally advised, "you'd better eat something. If you just tossed your groceries like Kunzite said you thought you were going to, booze is going to hit you like a sledgehammer." He didn't look at Zoisite, or at anyone else, for that matter; it was apparent in his rapidly blinking eyes, struggling to stay alert, that finally his time at the bar was catching up with him.
"Thank you, Nephrite; if anyone would know about that, it would be you. And thank you, Kunzite-sama; everyone needed to know that I can't take the heat," Zoisite sighed, and leaned forward, unbalanced on his stool, breaking his fall with Kunzite's torso. A split second later Kunzite's arms caught him firmly and held him there, pressing his head close and quietly stroking his hair.
Another long spate of nothingness ensued, and this time, due to the cessation of the music, the only sound in the room came from the clunky rotation of the ceiling fan. No one paid any heed to the actions of another.
At length, as a belated response and as if he'd just remembered that someone had said something, one spoke up. "It's all right, Zoisite," said Jadeite, "I think I… I know how you feel."
And he ordered a drink of his own.
After a moment of pulling himself together, Zoisite straightened up and ordered a sandwich, dry turkey, and that plus the inevitable refilling of glasses and peanut jar were the only movements for a long time that came from the four at the bar who sat wordlessly under the humming fluorescent lights.
Some time -- altogether too much, it seemed -- passed.
Eventually, as they all knew would happen, they left.
Kunzite was first to seek leave from the gloomy scene. He leaned over and murmured something, slowly but almost-inaudibly, in Zoisite's ear, who nodded sleepily though his eyes were anything but, interested and hesitant and sad at the same time.
"For good luck?" the smallest replied quietly to his lover's suggestion. "Or a last chance?"
The shrug offered as explanation did not answer anything, but nevertheless they both stood up and made their exit, Kunzite carefully leading Zoisite by the hand so to avoid any collisions with the objects that the smaller seemed unconsciously hell-bent on striking, including each stool, the bar itself, the low tables, and the doorframe. The looks on their faces were not excited or eager as one would expect of lovers seeking privacy, but were instead akin to the expressions commonly worn by funeral-goers.
Jadeite and Nephrite did not avert their eyes as they were prone to do any time the often-professionally-concealed but very much known about more-than-business relationship between the other two was put in a position that was not ignorable; at this time neither one even seemed to notice his comrades' departure. The blonde stood up a few minutes after, wordlessly collecting his novel, sighing at his placement of the ace of spades that acted as a bookmark. It was only halfway through the many pages.
He walked toward the exit, then stopped suddenly. Nephrite was in a state of semi-consciousness, and did not react to his surroundings except to stare at the buzzing lights overhead with too much interest to be anything but a drunken fascination. Jadeite looked at the book he held in his hand, cast a fleeting glance around the room, turned to the last page, and read it as quickly as he could.
When he'd finished, he closed the cover, nodded, and walked out.
The first to be seated at the bar became the last as well, but even he left in the end. Not nearly as intoxicated as he'd been trying to appear, he spent the rest of the night honing and polishing his star sword, though in the morning, having seen too many falling stars break the infinite darkness in the night, he'd forgo his favorite blade for a longer spear-like weapon.
In retrospect, so many years later, all four would separately agree that the last night before the fateful battle in the Silver Millennium would pass all too quickly, giving way to morning in the blink of an eye.
At the time it seemed to last an eternity.