The Wars of Light and Shadow II: All Darkness Met

Chapter 1

© 1998 by E. Liddell


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Amber

I saw him first in the hallway outside my apartment. It was only a glimpse from behind as he walked toward the elevator, but it stuck in my mind for the rest of the day.

I've always been a bit of a sucker for good-looking men, and this guy was, well, something else. Short blonde hair, muscles, and (from what I could see from that angle) a face that was just too good to be true. And I couldn't remember when he'd moved in. That's what really made me notice him. I thought I would have remembered someone like that.

"I'd stay away from that one, if I were you."

I shook my head, realizing that I'd been looking off into space, staring at the point where I had last seen the stranger long after he had turned the corner and vanished. "Mrs. Wilson," I greeted flatly. The obsessive old gossip was my next-door neighbor, and I had never liked her.

"His name's Jay Tsumeta," she continued, blithely oblivious. "He moved here about a month ago, from Japan. I have a feeling that he's trouble. Lots of money, doesn't work to pay the rent, and he's out until all hours of the night, every night. I'd bet he deals drugs."

I snorted. "More likely he's just a night watchman somewhere. Look, I really have to go," I lied. "I need to get Jasper's supper started before he gets home from soccer practice."

Jadeite

I first saw her in the hallway outside my apartment. Even now, I'm not quite sure what it was about her that made me look twice. As far as I could tell at the time, she was just another miserable human, and beneath my notice. But I found myself staring.

She had blonde hair of a shade a little lighter than Zoisite's, but cut unflatteringly short. Not especially tall -- the top of her head would have been a little below my eye level if I had been standing nearer to her. Not too terribly well-dressed. Pretty enough, I suppose, in a washed-out sort of way. Her eyes were grey. Not the intense silver of Malachite's, just... grey. And they refused to lock with mine. In fact, from the way her gaze was darting around the hallway, it looked like she was trying very hard to avoid meeting my eyes. But I still couldn't look away. Why was my subconscious so interested in this washed-out little mouse of a woman?

She unlocked the door across the hall from mine and stepped inside, still studiously ignoring me. After a moment, I realized I was still staring at the closed door and the blank wall to either side. Shaking my head angrily, I fished through my pockets for my own key.

The apartment I was calling home was nothing to brag about. It had just been the first furnished place I could find that would accept Nephrite's money. And I liked the view. Views are very good from fifteen stories up, and until I learned the city a little better and located a few promising rooftops, the view from my living room window was the only one I was likely to have. Actually, even then. The energy discharge associated with a teleport might be enough for Malachite and the others to figure out where to find me, and I hadn't fled halfway around the world just to let that happen. I would have to get accustomed to living like a human, without using my powers. The prospect wasn't an attractive one. I cursed and struck the nearest wall with my hand. Why can't I ever find peace? All I want is to be left alone! Without the memories!

The picture of the five of us together, me leaning on Alexandrite, stared up from the coffee table and called me a liar.

I spent the next several days feeling very sorry for myself and going out every evening to try to get drunk. I had even less luck with that than I had been having back in Japan, since Canada has licensing hours. Somehow, the thought of just buying several bottles of liquor and drinking them alone at home never attracted me. I thought about it one afternoon, as a means of occupying the time between recovering from my hangover and going out to drink again, and finally decided that I was going out as much for entertainment as for alcohol. My special magical skill, the one for which I had been chosen to join Malachite's Weave, was assessing people and their motivations. My time in the Negaverse had stripped me of a great deal of that, but the instinct still remained, even though I now found human motives beneath contempt.

I met the woman again in the hallway very early one morning, on my way home from a drinking binge. Home! What a joke that was! That little closet adjacent to Beryl's quarters that I had lived in during my early days in the Negaverse had been more of a home to me than my current apartment.

But the woman... I found her presence as disturbing the second time as I had the first. This time, possibly due to loss of judgment caused by exhaustion, she actually tried to make small talk with me.

Amber

It was two o'clock in the morning and I had just gotten home from the evening shift at the hospital. The last thing I had expected to see in the hallway outside my door was an irritated Jay Tsumeta, fumbling through his pockets and speaking softly but incisively to himself in what I assume was Japanese. Even in that mood, he looked as good from the front as he had from the back or the side.

I would never have guessed where he was from if Mrs. Wilson hadn't told me. Not only was he blonde, but his eyes were intense, very dark blue, almost black. They were smoldering in anger now. He was casually dressed, in jeans and a sweater, clothes that looked somehow wrong on him. It was the way he held himself, I guess. The only people I knew who made a point of standing that straight were all in the military.

"Problems?" I asked him softly.

"I can't find my -- " he added another foreign word at this point -- "keys. If I left them at the bar, there's going to be hell to pay." Up closer, he smelled of alcohol, although he didn't seem to be having any problems with either his speech or his coordination.

"You don't have a spare?" Stupid question.

"The landlord neglected to give me one." His groping hands had finally come up with a key. "Excuse me, please."

Jadeite

"The landlord neglected to give me one. Excuse me, please." I meant it as a brush-off. She refused to take it that way. In fact, she reached out and put her hand on my arm. I contemplated breaking that hand for her, but something stopped me. Perhaps it was the look in her eyes. Is she actually attracted to me? If so, she must have even worse emotional problems than I do. Either that or she's as clueless as Sailor Moon.

"I haven't seen you around here before. Have you been living here long?"

Liar, I thought. "Six weeks now."

"Uh, why don't you drop by some time?" She actually *is* attracted to me. Wonderful. Just what I need, some human mooning over me.

"I don't think that would be a good idea." I gave her my coldest look, the one I had copied from Malachite. "I'm not usually very good company."

"That's okay."

I thought about breaking her neck. Then her proximity and obvious femininity began to lead my thoughts down other paths. There hadn't been a woman in my life since Beryl, and I had definitely had the short end of the stick there. "What's your name?" If she was going to bother me, at least I could find out who I was being bothered by.

"Amber Jones."

Well, now, isn't that an interesting coincidence. The knowledge of English that I had stolen from an unfortunate passer-by at the airport told me that 'amber' was a type of gemstone. No spirit crystal that I can see, though. It *is* just a coincidence. "Jay Tsumeta." I forced a smile as I introduced myself by my assumed name here. It occurred to me that I had been behaving very oddly for a human, so I added, "Perhaps I'll see you tomorrow."

"I live right here, in 1504," she said, indicating the door to her right. "Feel free to drop by any time." I wonder if it's common for humans to have so little in the way of a sense of self-preservation. I'm a total stranger and far more dangerous than she can possibly know. Or is there someone else living with her that she hopes to turn to for protection?

In fact, there wasn't. Covert observation over the next couple of days told me that she lived alone with her eight-year-old son. And spying on her at least gave me something more to do than stare vacantly out the window.

Amber

I sighed as I watched him walk away down the hall, presumably in the direction of his own apartment. Another pretty face. Won't I ever learn? With my luck, he'll turn out to be another right royal bastard like Tom or Joe. His performance tonight wasn't exactly encouraging, either. I should go out and get to know some normal guys.

He didn't turn up on my doorstep that day, or the next. It was a full three days before I saw him again, once more in the wee hours of the morning, and once more smelling of alcohol. Chances were I wouldn't even have seen him then if the building had had more than one elevator.

"Long night?" I asked the moment the doors closed and I realized that he was there. The only response I got was a grunt.

"Why are you doing this to yourself?" The question slipped out, impulsively. Immediately, I wanted to take it back.

"Doing what?" At least he was talking now.

"Drinking like this. It really isn't good for you."

His eyes went distant and cold again. "I'm trying to drown a memory. Several of them, actually, but one in particular." Oh, yes, I know that feeling. I might have done much the same, after Tom, if it hadn't been for Jasper.

He shook his head ruefully. "Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be working very well. Mal -- They warned me, I guess. It's just --" The headshake was angry this time. "Never mind."

Not exactly a model of coherence. I wondered who "Mal -- They" was or were. "It sounds like you need a distraction."

A flash of anger flickered across his face, to be quickly replaced by absolute neutrality. "Perhaps I do. What do you suggest? I don't know the city very well yet."

"Well, then, why don't I come by tomorrow afternoon and show you around?" Uh, reality check here. Do I really want to go anywhere with this guy? I don't know much about him except his name.

There it was again, that odd expression that seemed to be inquiring whether the entire situation were a hallucination. "I... Why not? Say, around one-thirty?"

I mumbled something acquiescent as the doors opened and we went our separate ways. At least it would give me a chance to get to know him better, and figure out whether I wanted to get any closer to him.

Jadeite

I arrived at her door at precisely the time we had agreed upon the next day. She invited me in and asked me to wait in the living room while she finished some outstanding chore of hers. I had little choice but to accept. In any case, waiting there was no worse than waiting back in my own apartment, and at least here there was some new scenery.

I picked a book up off the coffee table and scrutinized it idly for a moment, then glanced over at the photographs that decorated one wall. Most were of Amber or her son, but one, half-hidden behind a curtain, seemed to show three people. I brushed the window covering aside to take a better look. Then I stopped. Stared. This could not possibly be real.

I lifted the picture down so that I could take a better look. The child in the center could have been Amber. The woman on her left I didn't recognize at all. But the man on her right... His hands were clasped behind his back, so it was impossible to be absolutely certain, but who else could he be? Far fewer men wore their hair that long in these days than had done so during the Silver Millennium, and the grey-streaked dark mane of the man in the photo fell almost to his waist. His face, although not so wasted as it had been when I had last seen it, was thinned by long-standing pain. He was trying to smile in the picture, but the expression didn't fit in with the lines that bracketed the corners of his mouth.

"Is something wrong?"

I whirled. No one should have been able to come up behind me without my noticing. The fact that Amber had done so indicated that I was losing my self-preservation instinct. "Who is this?" I managed, pointing at the picture of Onyx and throttling back my automatic urge to kill her for witnessing my weakness.

"This? It's my parents and I. I was about five when it was taken."

"Then the man is your father." I let her take the frame from me, feeling oddly numb. Amber. Not a coincidence after all. But I have no feeling of power coming from her. After Beryl, was he too afraid to make her one of us?

"Well, yes. Did you know him?" Apparently, the expression on my face wasn't nearly so inscrutable as I would have liked. "He disappeared when I was a little girl. I... used to dream of finding him again, when I was a kid, but when I hit twenty I decided that it was probably never going to be."

Perhaps a human would have told her a so-called 'white lie', but I failed to see the point in the exercise. Not caring how it would affect her, I said, "If it's the same man -- did he have a prosthetic right hand? -- then he died in Tokyo a few months ago."

She collapsed bonelessly onto the couch, apparently feeling just a little shocked.

"He died saving a good friend of mine," some odd impulse prompted me to add. "He placed himself in danger and took an injury that was meant for someone else, knowing that he had only a few days to live regardless. It was... an extremely unselfish action. You should be proud."

"I don't know what to think," she said. "Or to feel. He left so long ago that I should be used to him being gone, but..."

"I understand. You have no idea how well I understand." Alexandrite... "I thought it was a coincidence, your being named Amber. For your sake, I wish that it was." I was looking for any way to change the subject a little, anything that would drag my mind away from my brother again.

"He said it was a tradition in his family." She covered her face with her hands. Afraid she was going to cry, and not certain what my reaction to that would be in my present state of mind, I sat down beside her and put my arm around her, trying to offer comfort where I doubted I had any to give.

"Now we both need a distraction," I said.

"You're right. Let's go." She scrubbed her hands across her face and looked up at me with blurred eyes. I used the arm still wrapped around her shoulders to urge her to her feet and toward the door. Fortunately, she had recovered somewhat by the time we reached her car. I couldn't have driven it. Barring a few lessons from Nephrite (who, or so Almandite claims, drives like a maniac) I had never been behind the wheel. Why learn to drive when you can teleport anywhere you want to go with only a moment's concentration? But I don't dare do that anymore. Perhaps I should look into taking driving lessons. But where would I get a car? My sole means of support was a bank account containing just shy of a million local dollars which I had effectively stolen from Nephrite. And I had to make it last for the rest of my life, unless I wanted to get a job. Well, perhaps a very used car.

We drove around for an hour or two, seeing the sights and generally acting like tourists. I'll have to remember this if I ever go back into the energy-collecting business, I thought, watching people exert a surprising amount of energy while wandering around a local museum. Negaverse Tours, Inc. Well, I could dream, couldn't I?

Amber excused herself from me for a few moments at one of our stops, and I took the opportunity to fade back into the shadows and observe -- which was not nearly so easy to accomplish when dressed in a bright blue sweater which I couldn't use my powers to obscure as it had been when my wardrobe still consisted entirely of grey uniforms, but I managed. Yes, a surprising amount of energy here...

"Seems a shame, a pretty lady like you being out here alone."

I glanced idly toward the source of the voice. A big, dark-skinned man was speaking to a woman -- Amber? Evidently, she wanted nothing to do with him (which was only reasonable, since she was with me, and I was far better-looking), but he was being insistent. I sighed and detached myself from the wall against which I had been leaning, preparing to come to the rescue of a damsel in distress in the best approved human style.

"I told you, I'm with someone." Amber shook off the hand that had suddenly appeared on her arm and glared at the stranger. So maybe there is a little steel hidden under the mousy exterior. I found the thought oddly pleasant.

"Is there some problem?" I stepped up on her other side and put my hand on her shoulder. The big man backed off immediately.

"Thanks," Amber said to me once he was gone.

"I'm sure you could have handled it without my help," I said.

"Well... Maybe." She sounded oddly pleased. Was it so unusual for anyone to credit her with the least amount of courage?

Amber

Jasper was in the living room, watching TV, when I got home. Seeing me, he immediately turned the set off.

"What's with the picture?" he asked, indicating the inverted photograph on the coffee table.

"I don't want to talk about it right now." Of course, my son would assume that that meant it would be all right to talk about it later. Perhaps the next day I would feel up to discussing the matter with an inquisitive eight-year-old.

"Who was that guy you were with, Mom? Is he your new boyfriend?" Jasper winced a little as he said that. I didn't blame him. Neither of us had ever had very good luck with my boyfriends.

"He's just a friend, Jasper. Now, have you cleaned your room like I told you to?"

"Aw, Mom!"

Some things about parenting never change. I could remember saying exactly the same thing, in exactly the same tone, to my mother, for exactly the same reasons.

Jasper

I didn't know what to think about him. I'd seen a lot of guys pass through my mother's life -- and mine -- but this one seemed different somehow. Strange. As if he wasn't quite connected to reality. I wasn't sure whether I liked the idea or not. What I was sure of was that I never wanted to see him mad.

Did I want him to stay around? I wasn't sure of that, either. I didn't know if I wanted a father (well, a step-father). Other kids had fathers, but every time my mother tried to find one for me, something went wrong. Some of the guys she picked were even worse than my real dad. I'd met him exactly once, when I was about four, and I never wanted to see him again. But I still hoped that Mom would have better luck with Jay Tsumeta -- for her sake, if not mine.

Jadeite

That night, long after we had parted ways again, I found myself having oddly disturbing dreams about her. Dreams of precisely the sort one would expect from a man who had been solitary for far too long. Between dreams, I tossed and turned, getting very little sleep at all, which might explain why I was still in bed when I heard the knock on my door two days later.

Amber

"Nani?" came the sleepy voice from inside. "Give me a moment," it added before I could say anything.

I waited for a few minutes, and had just about decided to give the whole thing up as a bad idea when the door opened. "Amber?" His hair was tousled, and he wasn't wearing anything except a loose robe. Evidently he couldn't find the belt, because he was holding it together with one hand in front. A crystal the color of my namesake gemstone hung on a thin chain around his neck. "I didn't really expect you so early."

"Who did you think I was, then?" Damn, I'm always asking him questions without thinking about them first.

Sure enough, Jay's eyes had gone cold again. "No one you ever want to meet. Look, why don't you come inside? I already have a bad enough reputation around here without letting everybody see me dressed like this."

Or undressed, I reflected as I stepped past him into the apartment. Hmmph. This place doesn't reflect much of a personality. Come to think of it, his clothes don't, either. It's as though he's deliberately trying to keep people from noticing him.

The living room in which we now stood contained only the furnishings which would have come with the apartment. There was no TV set, no books, not even a radio. What did he do in here all day?

Jay excused himself to go get dressed. I perched on the edge of the sofa, feeling the threadbare upholstery under my hands and waiting for him. Hey, what's that? There was one spot of color in the Spartan room after all -- a photograph, lying face up on an otherwise empty shelf. Curious, I crossed the grey-brown carpet to pick it up.

It was cracked and bore rusty stains -- blood? -- and some evidence of mildew, but there was still enough of it left that I could see five young men grinning back at me. Or was the one just left of center a man? He looked almost too delicate to be real, if so. Jay was the second from the right. His smile was happier than any expression I had yet seen on him. Beside him, a dark-haired younger man with a similar facial structure. Brothers? The center man, with his arm around the delicate boy to his left... His image was more damaged than the rest, but I could just make out pale hair and a light tan. And on the far left, a face framed by auburn hair that somehow seemed vaguely familiar. My God, I think that's what's his name, the Japanese millionaire who was in the news a few months back... Stanton, that's it. Maxfield Stanton. Odd name for a Japanese. He looks as though he ought to be from more westerly parts.

"Please. Put that down."

I dropped it as though my hand had been scalded. Jay was standing in the doorway to the bedroom, dressed, as usual, in a non-descript sweater and a pair of jeans. And he was glaring at me, his expression at odds with his (relatively) polite words.

"I didn't mean to pry," I said.

The tension flowed out of him slowly. "My fault. I shouldn't have left it there." He picked up the photograph and returned to the bedroom for a moment. When he came back, his hands were empty.

"If it makes you so uncomfortable, why do you keep it?" Okay, I give up. I'm never going to be able to keep my tongue under control with this guy.

"It's all I have left of my brother."

I didn't know what to say. His brother. My father. I suppose that's what he meant when he said he understood what I felt. We're both the survivors. Walking wounded. I wonder how long ago it was. The picture didn't look like it could be more than a few years old.

"I'm sorry." I knew the words weren't enough. On impulse, I hugged him, regretting it immediately as I felt him go stiff in my arms. But I didn't stop, and once again, he slowly relaxed. Then he gently, oh-so-gently, broke my grip. When I looked up at him, feeling a little wounded, I discovered that his face was only inches from my own, staring at me with that bemused look in his eyes. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to close the gap.

"No," he breathed as our lips parted. And, "No!" more firmly as I reached up to touch his face. "Amber, you've been... good to me. You deserve someone who's more than half a man." The dangerous look was back in his eyes. I flinched and shrank back. He sighed. "You see? It's probably best if you leave now."

He almost pushed me out the door. To this day, I can't help but wonder what would have happened if I had stayed.

Jadeite

"I'm sorry." Unexpectedly, she put her arms around me. I stiffened, trying to control my mixed reactions. How *dare* this human touch me? warred with, she is beautiful, inside my head. Gradually, as I forced both reactions down, I began to relax a little. She didn't know. She couldn't know. This was only the action of a concerned friend.

As gently as I could, I pulled away from her, but I couldn't help leaning down a bit, staring into her eyes and trying to see her reaction. It was more than a bit of a shock when she stretched upward to press her lips against mine. I found myself kissing her back, passionately.

"No," I breathed as our lips parted. And, "No!" more firmly as she reached up to touch my face. "Amber, you've been... good to me. You deserve someone who's more than half a man." I wondered where had I acquired this damnable honest streak while I fought again with the emotions she had awakened. I deliberately stiffened my spine, aimed at her the glare which had always terrified the youma who worked under me. Evidently it worked on humans, too. She flinched and shrank back.

I sighed. "You see? It's probably best if you leave now." And I steered her gently toward the door.

Afterwards, I stared at the closed portal for quite a while. What's happening to me? I don't understand. She's so far beneath me that there's no comparison, and yet... For a moment, a brief moment, I had wanted her. And not as a one-night fling. As a life-partner. I'm getting to be as bad as Nephrite. Drooling over humans. Disgusting.

And yet... And yet. I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if she had convinced me to let her stay.

The End of Chapter 1 - Goto Chapter 2


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