Fire Rekindled

Chapter Three

© 2006 by EnsignZoi


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He'd lost Zoisite again. Damn Serenity!

Kunzite allowed himself a violent curse, but no more than that. With practiced ease, he reined in his emotions, letting them simmer within him while he sat motionless at the kitchen table, holding his head in his hands. If he had been anyone else, he would have been pacing the confines of his small Tokyo apartment, flinging books and chairs and anything within his range across the room.

On second thought, not just anybody else would do that. That was something only Zoisite, with his near-complete disregard for consequences, was prone to do.

An all too familiar mixture of feelings assailed him as thoughts of his former lover drowned in memories.

Kunzite remembered Zoisite's impulsiveness, his impetuousness (a stolen kiss when they had been working), his constant presence (a thousand years and it had still seemed too short), his temper (angry tears falling while Kunzite stroked his hair), his beauty (exquisite), his ambition, his sharp mind, his ability, his charm, his laughter, his loyalty, his possessiveness.

Kunzite remembered Zoisite's love, confessed ("Oshitaishite orimashita, Kunzaito-sama." I respected you, idolized you, loved you, Kunzaito-sama). He hadn't answered in turn. His mouth wouldn't form the words to express the emotion that he finally dared recognize in his head.

Kunzite remembered Zoisite's death (holding Zoisite as the life escaped from him, Zoisite's single tear streaking down his cheek, Zoisite's voice, soft and dying but beautiful even then; Zoisite's hand, catching a stray sakura petal only to have it escape as his arm fell lifeless to his side. "Forgive me, Zoisaito").

Zoisite belonged at his side. For it to be otherwise was...

Painful, his mind supplied tentatively, and the gnawing emptiness in his heart agreed.

He hadn't thought the senshi would act so quickly and decisively. Kunzite had thought that he could bide his time, rebuild his connection with Zoisite through the boy's subconscious, but now he couldn't even do that. Serenity had wielded her ginzuishou and Zoisite was wiped blank, of power, of magic, of darkness, and as far as Kunzite could surmise, of memories.

It was likely that Zoisite had forgotten him completely.

It could be worse, Kunzite reminded himself. It wasn't like his former lover was dead. That had been living death, in the last days of the Dark Kingdom, after Zoisite had died and he was left alone serving Queen Beryl-sama—no, not Queen Beryl-sama. Just Beryl. And he served no one now.

No, this time was different. Zoisite was enclosed within the walls of the Crystal Palace under the watch of Serenity and her sailor senshi, but there would be an opportunity, and when it came, Kunzite would take it. He didn't know why he had been reborn in this era of Serenity's golden glory, why Zoisite had been reborn, what his purpose in this life was, what or why anything.

He didn't understand, but he took it as a blessing from the gods.

* * *

"Where did he get that power from? I thought you said his powers were weak and undeveloped," Haruka said.

"That's what I gathered from the orphanage director," Michiru said. "And neither of us sensed that he would be capable of attempting what he did. I apologize, Serenity-sama, Endymion-sama."

"There's no need to apologize," Serenity answered as her husband waved off the apology. The royal couple was sitting across from Haruka and Michiru in a small conference room.

"Michiru," Haruka said, turning to her partner as she remembered something, "You said that you found Zoisite near a strong concentration of dark energy yesterday, didn't you?"

Michiru affirmed this, immediately catching on to what had occurred to the wind senshi. "So it's likely then..." she pondered aloud, "there are others."

Haruka flashed her a grin. "My thoughts exactly."

Serenity looked lost. "I can't read your minds," she complained.

"And what's this about dark energy?" Endymion asked.

Michiru proceeded to relate in detail how Zoisite had run away when he heard that she wanted to adopt him, and how she had tracked him down to an area saturated with the residue of heavy dark magic, suggesting recent magical activity.

"And so if there was magical activity recently, then there must have been someone capable of such there."

"It wasn't Zoisite?"

"We don't think so. His ability hasn't been developed to that degree; if it had, we would have sensed it."

"So..." Serenity thought hard. Her three companions waited expectantly. "So...I forget what you said before, Michiru-san..."

Endymion shook his head and sighed loudly, though he hid a grin behind his hand. Some things just didn't change. The two Outer Senshi laughed.

"Koneko-chan," Haruka said affectionately and patiently, reverting back to her pet name for her none-too-brilliant sovereign, "who else besides Zoisite is capable of channeling powerful dark power?"

"Well..." Serenity said slowly, deliberating, "lots of people."

"And...?"

"I don't know! Isn't everyone we've fought in the past, well, dead? It could be someone completely new, right?"

"That's true, but..."

"I mean, if Zoisite's come back, then what's stopping everyone else from doing the same? Besides being dead, of course. I just don't understand how he's been reborn at all!" Serenity burst out. She had gotten used to carrying herself with the dignity of a queen in public, but when it was just her and her friends and loved ones, and everyone except her had figured something out, it was easy to let her frustration show.

"Usako, we don't know either, but he is back. Just think it through carefully," Endymion said, placing a hand on his wife's shoulder. "For what it's worth, I would guess that if Zoisite's back, and if he had met someone who was powerful, then it would probably be someone else from the Dark Kingdom. One of the other Shitennou or Beryl, perhaps."

Serenity stared at Endymion, breaking out into a huge smile after she had taken a few moments to sort out what he had said. "That makes sense!" she declared, and then rewarded him with a kiss.

"Does it really?" her husband-king asked, amused.

"Well, I guess," she admitted and giggled.

Michiru was prepared to wait politely in silence, but Haruka coughed, bringing Serenity's attention back to her. "I figured it out before Endymion-sama," she pointed out. "Do I get a kiss from you too, Koneko-chan?"

Serenity stuck out her tongue. "You tried to make me guess it. Mamo-chan told me the answer. See the difference?"

"But that doesn't change the fact that Michiru and I both thought of it before he did."

"Michiru can give you a kiss then, because Mamo-chan gets all my kisses!" Serenity answered, giggling and clinging playfully to her husband's arm. If not for her golden tiara and her stately gown, an onlooker from afar might have mistaken her for the carefree young schoolgirl she had been long ago.

An indiscreet cough from behind them, followed by, "Serenity-sama, Endymion-sama."

Meiou Setsuna, alias Sailorpluto, had arrived.

"Setsuna-san!" the queen greeted enthusiastically.

The guardian of time lowered her ruby eyes. "I have some news, actually, my queen," she said, a note of apology in her voice. She looked over at her fellow Outer Senshi somberly, then returned her attention to Serenity. Within those few seconds, the moment of gaiety had fled.

"What is it?" asked Endymion, his tone wary but gentle at the same time.

Setsuna raised her tired eyes. "I don't think Zoisite is supposed to be alive," she said. "I don't know how it happened, but the Timestream isn't flowing as it should be."

"What do you mean?"

"He wasn't destined to be reborn. None of them were, but they have been."

"They?"

"Jadeite and Nephrite and Kunzite?"

"Beryl?"

Setsuna shook her head. "I can't say for sure yet."

"What could have altered the Timestream?" Michiru asked. "Is it a new enemy?"

"That's the question of the day," Setsuna answered wearily. "The way the Timestream has changed, altered but not specifically tampered with, giving people permanently left behind in the flow of time another chance...Only a god has that power."

* * *

An opportunity to save Zoisite would surely come, but he had to look for it.

Kunzite considered his options. He could rush straight into the heart of the Crystal Palace itself and attempt to wrest Zoisite from the senshi, most probably getting caught himself in the process—an impulsive, foolhardy plan of action that could hardly be considered a plan at all—or he could sit here and think of what other options he had, taking into consideration, of course, that he had absolutely no way of contacting Zoisite or otherwise reaching him now that the younger boy had been taken in by the senshi and mind-wiped by the ginzuishou. Until he had more information, there really wasn't anything he could do.

Needless to say, Kunzite felt frustrated, among other things.

A door slammed, and a minute later, a tall, auburn-haired boy of about fifteen strode into the kitchen and, ignoring Kunzite, began searching the refrigerator. He emerged after a few seconds of rummaging with last night's leftover fried chicken.

"Want any?" he offered as he sat down across from Kunzite with his prize.

Kunzite shook his head and watched his companion devour a chicken leg in ten seconds. For all his pretenses of elegance and class, Nephrite always did have a lackadaisical, messy side that came through from time to time. Kunzite found it most distasteful.

"It's cold," he observed critically of the chicken.

Nephrite paused mid-bite on his second drumstick. "So what if it is?" He spared Kunzite a disdainful look before returning his attention to his breakfast, eating, if possible, more voraciously and loudly than before.

Kunzite wished for the umpteenth time that things had turned out differently. While he was grateful to the powers above that he and the other Shitennou had been reborn, that he should end up sharing an apartment with Nephrite while Zoisite remained out of his reach was nothing short of a cruel prank by fate.

Oh, he respected Nephrite. Nephrite could be capable on occasion, and Nephrite was an accomplished diviner of the stars, an accomplished warrior, and an accomplished manipulator of humans. But Nephrite was also an accomplished womanizer, an accomplished hedonist, and an accomplished slacker.

If he had had a choice, Kunzite wouldn't be living with the Nephrite.

"I see you failed to get a hold of Zoisite after all," the object of Kunzite's not-quite-contempt remarked in an offhanded manner. He tossed the chicken bones into the trash and, sweeping over the room for a tissue or towel and finding none within easy reach, he wiped his greasy fingers on his pants. "Lucky for me."

"And you have failed to find Jadeite."

"When he does turn up, he will come here," Nephrite said confidently. "It's not like I know where he is and I'm just sitting around staring at the wall and being depressed." He smirked at Kunzite. "Take as long as you want with Zoisite. Better yet, why don't you just go join him with his senshi friends? I don't even know why I'm sharing my apartment with you in the first place."

"You'll want to reconsider your attitude when I do reclaim Zoisite," Kunzite said frostily. Gray eyes flashed in warning, reminding the other boy exactly why he had agreed to let Kunzite stay in the first place.

But Nephrite snorted, not intimidated. "Yeah, maybe you can get your annoying pet to apologize for killing me, and I can try to forget that he ever did such a thing...He's not staying here, thank you very much. This is my apartment, after all. I don't see you paying rent."

Nephrite could be hard to talk to. In the past, when his lover had repeatedly complained about how obstinate and irritating and thickheaded Nephrite was, Kunzite had always thought that the fault lay mostly with Zoisite's personal dislike for Nephrite. He knew Nephrite to be a man of ability, after all.

Lately, however, he was starting to agree with Zoisite's views. Able as he could be, Nephrite was hardly the most reasonable man in the world at times.

"Be as that may be," Kunzite answered, his anger cool and in check, "if you value this alliance between us, I, not you, will be the one to decide what will become of Zoisite once he returns to—" me. Kunzite just managed to pull back his last word, making a rather ineloquent pause before he worked out from his mouth, "here."

Nephrite cocked an eyebrow, but otherwise showed nothing. Instead he rose from his chair and stretched. "If he comes back, we shall see," he said.

Kunzite decided that the first thing he needed to do was to start ignoring Nephrite. It wouldn't do him much good to end up killing his only ally at this point.

* * *

Zoisite awoke sweating. Outside the window of the room the proud lights of the city shone stubbornly through the moonless night, driving away the lingering vestiges of the nightmare he had awoken from. He pulled the blankets more securely around himself when he thought of the darkness, the all-pervading emptiness he had dreamed of.

Turning his head to the side, Zoisite saw that Shiitake was asleep in bed beside him. The clock on the nightstand read 2:36. If it was night now, and he had met with Serenity-sama soon after breakfast...He had to have been out cold for most of the day, at least, he realized. No wonder he felt so stiff. His short mushroom-headed brother had probably worried himself sick.

Zoisite couldn't believe that he'd done that in front of Serenity-sama. Neo-Queen Serenity-sama. Fainted, flat out fainted, for crying out loud, like some pansy rich weak-blooded middle-aged woman. Even if the queen overlooked it, the senshi probably wouldn't let it rest for weeks.

He closed his eyes again, clearing his mind and trying to recapture the warmth of sleep. All that returned to him though, was the hollow, grasping, groping feeling of loss and horror that he had awoken with. He was missing something terribly important...

Brooding on it for even a second turned out to be a mistake. The feeling immediately doubled in intensity and clawed a ribbon-shredded hole into his soul, deeper and deeper and deeper. If he were a paper doll, he would have crumpled up into an indistinguishable ball to fill the void within him right then and there.

He turned away from Shiitake and curled up in a fetal position as tears leaked from his still-closed eyes. He didn't know what he had lost that felt so important, but now he felt that he was a shell of what he had once been. Even the slightest prod, the most minor nudge the wrong way could break him. Recognition of his hollow fragility shook him, and the knowledge that he didn't understand it, couldn't understand it, frightened him.

He opened his eyes to stare at the opposite wall, seeing only shadows in the darkness. The tears wouldn't stop falling. The Something Missing pulled at him, gnawed at him, tore into his very soul, and all he could do was cry. It hurt so much...And he didn't even know why, much less how to stop it.

He barely noticed when his silent tears turned into hiccupping, near-hysterical sobs, but he felt a small, warm hand on his arm. "Zoisaito-oniisama..." Zoisite ignored the boy, wanting to retreat into the privacy of his mental anguish. Shiitake's words, "You've been asleep for two whole days," drifted barely comprehended through his mind.

Even while the tears never ceased, he froze for a second when the smaller boy reached his arms around his middle and hugged him. "Don't cry, oniisama," Shiitake said.

Zoisite shifted, turned, and stared plaintively at his adoptive brother with tear-swollen eyes. "It hurts," he whispered between hiccupping sobs, feeling inescapably pathetic but insides aching too much to actually care. He held a clenched hand to his chest. "I hurt."

"Don't cry, oniisama," Shiitake repeated, tears filling his wavering voice. "I'm sorry..."

It didn't make sense to Zoisite that his brother was apologizing to him. Nothing really made much sense. But Shiitake was there, at least. And somehow, it hurt in a different, more definable way when he saw his younger brother cry. Zoisite hugged the boy to him, as though he were a three-year old latching tightly onto a stuffed toy, afraid to let go lest it disappear from his grasp. He cried on him, and Shiitake cried with him, though the younger boy's tears were more subdued.

"You don't understand," Zoisite cried, even while holding him. "You're just a five-year old child. You don't know anything. Stupid idiot!"

It was as if Shiitake hadn't even heard him. If he had, he didn't let on. He said, "I love you, oniisama. Forever and more than anyone else in the whole world."

Zoisite cried harder. Shiitake couldn't fill the hole, but he could make it hurt a lot less.

Goto Chapter Four


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