Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon is the property of Takeuchi Naoko, Toei Animation, and Kodansha Comics.
The Price To Pay
Part III: The Payment
By Gita Toronjil-Lee
Nephrite blinked as consciousness returned.
"I…" he began, expecting his voice to be thick with dust, or worse, his own blood, but when he heard himself sound as clear as he'd ever been, he cut himself off, his planned statement of observation completely forgotten.
It was Kunzite, then, who spoke.
His voice, too, was clear, but the strong inflections were riddled by confusion.
"What the hell just happened?"
No one answered this comment at first; they were too busy picking themselves off the ground. All four had fallen back, and they could not see one another, but the sounds of their distinctive gasping for breath, which had depth according to lung capacity, told each that his companions were still respiring.
"I think," said Jadeite, rolling over onto his stomach, flat on the dirt, "that we're okay." He pressed his palms against the ground and heaved himself up to a standing position. His white gloves were now brown with soil, and so despite his efforts to brush the layer of earth which coated his chest, he remained filthy. "Muddy, but okay."
"Speak for yourself," Zoisite groaned. He looked at his gloves, which were not muddy but streaked with green. For the briefest second he nearly went into hysterics over this, but his first tremble made his entire surroundings shake with him, and that made him stop and get a grip on where he was. No, the green on his hands was not, as his exhausted and therefore susceptible mind had first suggested, any sort of manifestation of Nephrite's blood, physical or psychological. He was, stupidly, stuck in a low branch of a tree, pine needles poking at his hair.
Fortunately for his easily-injured pride, from his vantage point he could see that his companions were in a similar sorry state. There was a streak down the forest floor which was clear of loose dirt, rocks, and other debris, the reason for which was that the shortest-haired king was wearing it all down his front and back, having picked it up as he was thrown and dragged across the ground by the blast. Nephrite had what looked like a bird's nest in his thick auburn hair, and the bush behind him had a dent in it that was shaped startlingly like his upper half; he was brushing the twigs away from his scalp as a pair of shrub-dwelling blackbirds twittered angrily at him. Kunzite…
Well, they all had heard him before, so Zoisite was relatively unpanicked when he realized that even from up above he could not see where his lover had ended up.
A pause, as the three other men stilled to hear their superior's reply. None of them could see him, but they could hear the deepest, heaviest breathing.
Then the breathing slowed, and an irritated basso voice spoke up. "I'm here, I’m here. Not only am I here, but I am here, bitter, and confused. Does any one of you have the slightest idea as to what just occurred?"
Jadeite grinned, peeled off his gloves, and ran his fingers through his hair while shaking his head to clear it as best he could of small rocks. "Not a clue. Hey, d'you suppose that thing freed me from being Confined just so it could kill me for real?"
All motion paused again as the others considered this.
"Well," Nephrite said, still fending off the blackbirds, "I could -- hey! Dammit, birds, you didn't have any eggs in here; back off! Anyway, what I was saying was that as soon as we can get out of the denser part of the forest, I could ask the stars…" He ducked and covered as another chirping onslaught came at him.
"This is distinctly surreal," Zoisite muttered. "Kunzite-sama, I know you're here, but where are you?"
The rustling of cloth as he stood up preceded Kunzite's response. "I'm behind the tree you're in. I can see your legs. In fact…" He reached around the tree trunk and wrapped his fingers briefly around his lover's left calf. "I'm so close I can touch you."
"Well," Zoisite snapped, kicking his leg free, "come out from behind there, then!"
The white-haired king chuckled. "Give me just a second."
When he did make himself seen, the lord Kunzite was capeless. "I was thrown into some thorns," he said as explanation, "and I don't think it's possible to free my cape from the mess it's in. That's why I was stuck."
He surveyed the clearing around him, and frowned. "Let's go back to the house, shall we?"
Without waiting for a response, he turned and walked in the direction of the mansion. Jadeite was quick to follow; Nephrite had to stop, bend over, and pick up some stones from the rocky ground. He lobbed them into the air, then, with the avian assault distracted, took off running, easily overtaking the other two, sprinting to arrive first at the building.
Zoisite frowned at them, worriedly looked at the ground, took a deep breath, then jumped down from the tree, landing heavily but squarely on his boots. "Wait!"
It rematerialized in its own realm of nothingness, gasping through a mouth it didn't have.
~"My… job…"~ it panted, desperate to report, ~"is done."~
It was not expecting a reply, and certainly not one from…
~"Master?"~ It flattened its immaterial form against the pseudo-ground, unspokenly suppliant for any sort of mercy attainable in its state.
^"They still live."^
~"Impossible."~ it gasped in disbelief, before it could consider its actions. ~"They could not have possibly…"~ The air shifted slightly, and it quickly cut itself off from that line of thought. ~"I will rectify my error, Master, please, if only I could…"~
The air shifted again, and it could sense a strange kind of resignation that it had never even imagined could come from its deity.
^"They have been pardoned."^
It took all the nearly-divine strength it could muster to keep its words to itself here, but it managed to hold back any outbursts. It lay prone -- tensed, but quiet.
~"The debt,"~ it said finally, when no words from the other penetrated its mind to clarify, ~"has been filled?"~
^"Their benefactor has convinced me that they have proven themselves strong enough to be worthy of their continued existences."^
The words, unusual in amount from the almost-always taciturn supernatural being, stopped here, but it knew they would continue even more. It waited still, dreading its fate.
^"Do not make this mistake again."^
Apologies to Death mean nothing. ~"I will not,"~ it said simply
But in the depths of its mind -- where it knew its master could still view -- it was praying for forgiveness.
Though it never would know whether or not these prayers were acknowledged or did anything to change its master's decision, the only reply to this was, ^"Rise, servant. You have another mission."^
And then the superior presence was gone from the air. It rose, breathed a sigh of relief -- the last breath that it would take for a very long time -- and gratefully dissipated into nothingness once more. It had a new task to carry out. The work of an almost-godly being is never done, and the most important thing is to keep moving forward.
It couldn't help but give one final thought to the Shitennou matter, however.
No hard feelings…I was just doing my job.
"The Stars know everything."
Four heads craned to look at the sky just outside the mansion.
"Nephrite," Zoisite ventured, "Don't you usually do this type of thing inside the mansion? In the room with the stained-glass window?"
The second king shrugged. "I've found, of late, due to that I haven't had that room to access, that it's preferable to consult the actual stars rather than to manipulate their images. After all," he gestured to the sky, "I can get a much broader view here than I can in a building. Now please, give me a moment."
They waited, though no one but Nephrite was getting anything out of it. The king who could understand was ignoring the rest, and at first the other three watched his lips intently as they shaped words without speaking, but after several minutes of this, they began to get bored.
"I'm already dirty," Jadeite muttered, and sat down on the ground, legs crossed Indian-style. He picked up a twig and began to trace figures in the dirt.
Zoisite leaned on Kunzite, who, though he had had his eyes closed smiled faintly and took his hand.
"Jadeite," the shortest king accused after a moment, "what exactly are you drawing?"
"Can't you tell?" the other responded, then he laughed quietly. "Maybe you can't."
Kunzite opened his eyes and looked at Jadeite's makeshift canvas. He had to clap the hand that wasn't holding Zoisite's over his mouth to keep from guffawing and disturbing Nephrite when he realized the subject.
"It's a woman, Zoisite," Jadeite grinned. "And…"
Rather than waiting for the end of the statement (after all, he wasn't blind!), the copper-haired man broke free from his love's grasp and moved to stamp out the offending image.
"Hey!" the artist protested, and stood up, arms spread, to protect his work.
Before they could enact this mock-battle, however, Nephrite shook his twig-filled auburn waves and broke his concentration. "I see…" he murmured.
That stopped each of the others dead in his tracks.
"I don't think we're going to have to worry about being revisited by a vengeful specter," he said. "I think we're free."
"What do you mean?" Kunzite finally asked, when Nephrite did not seem inclined to explain any further.
Nephrite turned his back on the others, and shrugged for the second time within half an hour. "Don't worry about it. Hey. That reminds me. You two can hang onto my house for as long as you like; I've gotten myself a new home since I've been back. And I think now I feel safe enough to settle in."
He walked a few steps forward, away from them. "I'll catch you all later, okay? I have some things to take care of. Maybe I'll explain later, too. Jadeite, you might want to look for a place of your own, now; your crystal isn't equipped to support a living person."
The blonde king grinned triumphantly, and cracked his knuckles. "I have been feeling rather sane recently," he said. "Are you sure I'm okay?"
Cocking his head to the side, Nephrite thought about it. "As okay as you'll ever be, I suppose, as soon as you get cleaned up. Right now, I'm going for a drive."
He vanished completely.
Zoisite frowned. "How'd he do that with no distortion? That scared me…"
Jadeite, still grinning, said, "I think all it takes is practice. What do you think, Kunzite?"
The eldest nodded. "I always thought it useless, though… but I guess Nephrite had nothing better to do. I never showed you how, Zoisite, because I always had something better."
Blushing, the smallest murmured a soft, embarrassed "Oh."
"I think that's my cue to leave," Jadeite mused. "Or, at least, to go into that mansion and get cleaned off. If you don't mind?"
The other two nodded, and he disappeared as well.
Kunzite looked at Zoisite.
"Shall we go in, too?" he asked.
The shorter considered this, then looked away briefly. "Kunzite-sama?"
He unexpectedly, impulsively threw himself into the taller's arms. After a moment to recover, Kunzite returned the embrace. Zoisite murmured something briefly that Kunzite couldn't hear.
"What did you say?" he questioned softly.
The next time the ponytailed king spoke, it was loud enough to hear.
"We're so lucky, aren't we?"
End Chapter 11
End Part Three: The Payment