Fire Rekindled

Chapter Four

© 2006 by EnsignZoi


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Shiitake passed through the following day with no little amazement as he watched his much-idolized brother make amends with everyone. It wasn't even that Zoisite was apologizing so much as he was acting as though he hadn't done anything wrong. As if he had never been opposed to their adoption, as if he had never been mean and snippy and outright rude to Haruka-papa and Michiru-mama, as if he had never gone berserk and attacked Serenity-sama.

People didn't just forget things like that, Shiitake knew. And yet, here was Zoisaito-oniisama acting as though he had forgotten, and Haruka-papa and Michiru-mama and everyone else acting as though none of it had ever happened. And even though he had been warned, it still left Shiitake wondering if he should doubt his own memory or not.

"Zoisite's going to be…a little different when he wakes up," Michiru-mama had told him at some point during the blur of days Zoisite had been unconscious.

Shiitake, fighting back tears as he sat by Zoisite's bedside, had turned to her, new alarm bringing him to the verge of hysterics. "Why? What did Serenity-sama do to him? I don't want oniisama to be different!"

His new mother had stroked his hair and smiled reassuringly at him. "I don't mean that he will be very different. He just won't remember some of the things that have happened recently."

The young boy's uncomprehending scared-face persisted. Michiru patted Shiitake's head and said, "He probably won't remember what happened when he met Serenity-sama, for one thing. It's for the best. I promise."

"But how—"

"Will you trust me?" the senshi asked, forestalling the boy's questions and protests.

Shiitake nodded.

"Good." Michiru smiled. "Also, try not to mention any of these things that he can't remember. They would only hurt him."

Shiitake had nodded again, having little choice but to agree. It wasn't for a child of five to question adults who knew so much more, especially when the adults in question were genuinely nice and caring, he decided. Then Michiru had hugged him and kissed his forehead and told him he was a good boy, confirming his judgment of her, and their conversation quickly receded to the back of his mind.

Zoisite didn't remember what had happened in the last few days, and Shiitake was supposed to go along with everyone else and pretend nothing bad thing had ever happened.

Zoisite had taken after Shiitake in addressing their senshi parents as "Haruka-papa" and "Michiru-mama." He had been introduced to Serenity-sama again, and he had apologized profusely for fainting upon their first meeting. Serenity had accepted his apology gracefully, as any regal monarch would have, and Zoisite had been well-behaved, awed, and impressed with her goodness and benevolence, as any common person would have been.

There was no reason he should know that only days before, he had hated Haruka and Michiru and tried to kill the queen.

Watching Zoisite laugh freely at something Haruka said as their new family sat together for dinner that night, Shiitake thought he could do it. It was dishonest, but if Zoisite could be like this all the time, so happy and untroubled, then Shiitake could keep quiet.

* * *

It was towards the end of the Dark Kingdom, when the count of remaining Tennou had fallen to one, and the youma forces had been vastly depleted after repeated defeats at the hands of the Sailorsenshi, that Kunzite had come across a discovery. Perhaps it was more of a long-forgotten, rarely practiced method than a true discovery, but it was a useful find, at any rate. He had discovered that new youma could be created simply by infusing your run-of-the-mill, magically-inept humans with a certain amount of dark energy.

Of course, youma bred and born in the Dark Kingdom were generally stronger and more skilled at fighting, but these makeshift youma had served his half-hearted efforts to fulfill the mission issued to him by Beryl, and he hadn't particularly cared that none of them had actually been very effective. In the end, perhaps his discovery could be judged as useless and futile, for in the end, it hadn't made a difference. He had died without taking a single Sailorsenshi down with him, and the Dark Kingdom had fallen. End of story.

Now, Nephrite found himself continuing a sequel. Whether it was a test of his powers or an outlet for his profound dissatisfaction with his circumstances or something else altogether, he hardly bothered to analyze the cause of his actions. Perhaps he was just bored, living in close quarters with Kunzite and training every day to restore his powers to their peak condition. He just wanted to do something new, anything at all, and to think about the consequences later.

On this particular autumn evening, Nephrite had ventured out into a club three blocks from his apartment (even without a fake I.D., he had been suave enough to convince the bouncer that he was not underage) and met a young lady with hair dyed a deep red that reminded him of a certain redheaded girl he had died protecting. But this woman wasn't the innocent girl of his memories, for that girl had grown up long ago, married, and started a family while he had been dead, according to the city records, and so he had no scruples knocking this particular redhead out once he had lured her into a deserted alley.

He carefully monitored the level of dark energy he was transferring into her. There…that was probably about enough.

He removed his hand from her forehead, cutting off the flow of energy, and waited.

The transformation was quick and grotesque. Smooth, pale skin turned scaly and light blue, a ponytail of long dark wavy reds bleached into a shade of golden yellow, and stylishly long, painted nails stretched into razor-edged, far-reaching claws. Nephrite imagined a set of fangs growing under the woman's slightly uplifted lips. The magic now circulated within her in a steady, unbroken and unfaltering rhythm.

He had created a perfect monster. It had been a perfect first experiment. Ironic, as Nephrite had always considered himself to be more of the divining astrologer type, possessing the farthest thing from the experiment-thirsting heart of a scientist.

The auburn-haired teenager scooped his experiment up in his arms and teleported back to his apartment to inform Kunzite of his success.

Whether or not the youma would actually be of any practical use was another matter.

* * *

"What in Darkness's name do you think you're doing?" Kunzite wasn't shouting, but it was easy enough to discern his anger, going by the sudden tension stiffening his frame, the knife-sharp gaze from his narrowed eyes, and the displaced chair that he had abruptly stood up from upon Nephrite's return. "What do we have to gain by creating a youma from the humans?"

Nephrite laid the unconscious youma on the hardwood floor and straightened so he could look Kunzite in the eye before he answered. Kunzite stood at the kitchen table, while Nephrite was about ten feet away in the adjoining living room, but the distance did little to dilute the intensity between them.

"Nothing. Or perhaps, everything," Nephrite replied. Damned if he was going to be the one backing down every time.

"Don't be cryptic," said Kunzite. "How can we benefit from the services of a single youma? Besides that, a weak youma, as I suspect your specimen is, will only be a liability. And even if we had the energy reserves to create a legion of them, the Sailorsenshi are bound to notice the correlation between the rise in missing persons and the rise of a concentration of dark energy. Do tell me what you intended for this pathetic creature, Nefuraito."

"Then you tell me, Kunzaito, how you intend to live this second life of yours. Are you going to spend it cooped up in my apartment moping after your former bedwarmer day in and day out? It's quite a fall for the highest of the Shitennou, wouldn't you agree?" Kunzite's clenched fists told Nephrite he had struck a nerve, but he forged ahead with renewed determination, a sudden flash of inspiration illuminating his thoughts.

"There must be a reason we're alive again, with our memories and our powers and our freedom. I may have fallen once, but I'm still a divine heavenly king. I'm a Tennou, and I'll be damned if I'm going to continue this cursed mundane life I've been living for the past fifteen years any longer. As you can see from this youma, my powers are adequate now to—"

"To what?" Kunzite cut in, a sharp edge of sarcasm in his words. "To take over the world? To rise to a position of widely recognized power and authority? To make everyone recognize and revere your divine existence?

"Haven't you noticed yet," Kunzite continued, "our former teenage schoolgirl adversary, Sailormoon, has become Neo-Queen Serenity? Haven't you noticed her power has matured and far surpasses ours now, to say nothing of her full court of Sailorsenshi? What illusionary stars of blind hope have you fixed your sights on, you imbecile?" Kunzite fixed a cold grey gaze on Nephrite as he waited for his response.

"Don't take me for a stargazing fool," the auburn-haired Tennou retorted. "But I hardly think it's wrong when the humans say, ‘only those who dream can achieve greatness.' Have you heard that before, Kunzaito? You keep yourself so secluded from the outside world, I'm not surprised if you haven't.

"Of course we can't build a base here," he continued, very conscious of his word choice, "we." There would be no plan if Kunzite didn't consent to help him, after all. He proposed, "We will have to leave the country, escape Serenity's immediate gaze. We would be inconspicuous and careful. Then we could build a base, accumulate power and energy reserves, create legions of youma, perhaps form some alliances or force cooperation from other countries."

"And you think Serenity would refrain from sending her senshi to crush us while all this was taking place?"

"She won't know until we've made friends in high places. Alliances with other countries," Nephrite explained.

"You do realize that no matter how many countries we befriend, Serenity is the sovereign of the whole earth," Kunzite pointed out. "There is technically nothing to stop her from ordering other countries to isolate us so she can send her senshi to annihilate us."

Nephrite smirked. "You never have taken the time to understand the flaws of human nature. Just leave the ‘winning friends and influence' part to me."

Despite the fact that he still thought that Nephrite was speaking like an unrealistic dreamer, Kunzite couldn't help but be intrigued. "So you're proposing we usurp the leadership in an existing country, or else form our own country?"

"That's right. Are you in on it?"

One final point bothered Kunzite. "Serenity has Zoisite, as you know. If she uses him against us…"

"If it comes to that, I'll be more than happy to kill him," Nephrite answered brazenly. He reconsidered as Kunzite radiated an intention to kill him on the spot. He amended, "Of course, if you could bring him to our side before then, I suppose we could make use of him, somehow.

"And Jadeite. We should find Jadeite too," he added as an afterthought.

Kunzite nodded, having the distinct feeling he was jumping into a black pit of unknown depths. "Very well. Then I suggest the Dark Kingdom as the place we begin our efforts." It was a logical destination—even though it had been destroyed by Sailormoon and the ginzuishou, Kunzite guessed that there would still be some residual magic there that would be friendly towards their powers while providing a natural cover for the dark energies that would build up as they became stronger.

"Take the youma," Kunzite ordered. "Let's go."

Too pleased that finally, something seemed to be happening, Nephrite did as Kunzite bid without complaint, and the two of them plus the youma teleported to the freezing reaches of the Arctic, where the main entrance to the once-thriving Dark Kingdom was located.

Whether or not Kunzite had tossed his fortune into a foolhardy lot, he felt almost grateful to Nephrite for reviving his ambition and giving him something to put his mind to, something to distract him from heartache of having Zoisite so near but so unreachable.

And who knew, if they actually succeeded, he could bring Zoisite back and give him a proper homecoming welcome.

* * *

Zoisite was like any other child when he declared to his history tutor on the first day of lessons, "I want to learn about the Sailorsenshi. I know who they are and their role in the Dark Moon War, but I want to know what happened before all that. Haven't they been around for quite a long time?"

Unfortunately for him, his round, grey-haired instructor had strict instructions not to accommodate him as though he were any other child. Tomoe Hotaru sat unobtrusively in the corner of the small private classroom to make sure the old man said only what was safe.

"I want to learn about them too," Shiitake ventured in support when he saw that their teacher didn't seem inclined to give in. Although they shared the same classroom and the same teachers, their lessons were to differ to accommodate for their difference in age and Zoisite's prior education at the orphanage. As it happened, Shiitake's history lesson was scheduled after Zoisite's, so at present, he was idle.

The tutor shook his head, saying sternly, "It's all good and well that you're both inquisitive about the makings of contemporary history, but without understanding what went before it all and formed the foundation for civilizations, you won't understand a thing about what history is. I will begin my lecture today on the fertile soils of Mesopotamia."

Zoisite didn't know what Mesopotamia was, nor did he care. "What's the good of learning something we're not interested in? It's just a waste of time. Tell us something relevant to today. Tell us what we want to know."

The old man reddened slightly, but it wasn't his first time dealing with apathetic or rebellious students. "This is the curriculum approved by Neo-Queen Serenity-sama herself, child. If you don't like it, take it up with her in your spare time. Besides, I believe you're in constant contact with the Sailorsenshi themselves—" Here he inevitably glanced at Hotaru at the back of the room, unintentionally bringing her unsought-for attention. "You can ask them their history directly outside the classroom."

The last part of the old teacher's words were lost on Zoisite. "Hotaru-san," he immediately appealed, turning to her and applying all his charms in what he subconsciously calculated to be a most irresistible manner.

Taken by surprise, for the Zoisite that had come into the Crystal Palace had been unpleasant, sour, and ill-natured, the senshi of silence and revolution found herself speechless as she stared at his lovely pouting child-face, the dark golden brows above his deep forest green eyes furrowed in hurt as his single, simple request was brashly rejected by the insensitive old tutor.

"Zoisaito…" she said with some struggle, suddenly aware of how much she suddenly wanted to tell him, this adorable, charming child, everything despite the lack of wisdom in doing so. His history was intertwined with that of the senshi's, after all, and to open her mouth to him on a subject all but declared taboo by Serenity was most unwise.

"Tell me about how the Sailorsenshi began," he pleaded, and if the old tutor had not become vexed at the uncalled-for digression before his lesson had even properly begun, Hotaru was not sure that she could have resisted Zoisite's request any longer.

"Listen here," the old man said in the most authoritative voice he could summon—it was enough to break the spell, and Hotaru sank back in her seat with relief when Zoisite turned away from her. She didn't notice Shiitake watching her curiously.

"We will begin with Mesopotamia, as I said. If you have issues, resolve them after lessons," the tutor said.

Zoisite grumbled a little under his breath—Hotaru caught "inflexible rotten used-toilet paper-face"—but he took up his pen and notebook and started to take notes as the old man launched into his lecture.

* * *

After their first day of lessons—they had had history, mathematics, Japanese language, literature, science, art, music, and physical education—Zoisite and Shiitake were rather spent. However, they already had loads of homework to do, so they lugged an assortment of books, notebooks, folders, and loose-leaf papers to the library, an impressive ten-story subsection of the Crystal Palace housing millions of books and multimedia materials, and commenced on their homework.

After about an hour of working in silence, Zoisite got up and stretched. "I'm going to find a bathroom," he told the younger boy, then headed off in a randomly chosen direction. After a minute of wandering around, he found not a restroom, but a set of stairs. He set off down the staircase. If there wasn't a bathroom on the main floor, there ought to be one at least on the floor below, he figured.

Down the stairs, and then a right turn. He spotted a sign indicating a restroom straight down at the end of the room and to the right. Zoisite was hardly paying attention to the innumerable books on the endless shelves as he headed toward his destination, but suddenly he thought he saw his name flash out at him from somewhere amidst the sea of colors and words formed by the tightly-shelved books. He stopped abruptly, taking a step toward to the shelves to take a closer look.

A hand touched his shoulder, and he jumped and whipped around. A brown-haired shrewish librarian, the very image of the stereotype, conservatively dressed with mean eyes peering out from behind out-of-fashion spectacles, had stopped him. "Excuse me, young man, but this section is restricted."

"It doesn't say so," Zoisite pointed out defensively, positive that he had done nothing wrong.

"No, but I'm afraid that it is. You need clearance from Neo-Queen Serenity-sama or one of the royal family before you can enter this section."

"Oh…And how far does this restricted section go?" he asked.

"It's this entire floor, actually," the librarian said. "Someone should have told you before you set foot here." She frowned, and gave Zoisite a small push on his back, directing him at a rapid walk back to the staircase.

"I'm looking for a restroom," Zoisite said.

"There's one on the main floor," she said. "I'll show you to it."

Despite Zoisite's desperate efforts to scan the titles of books on the restricted floor as he returned to the stairs, the librarian had Zoisite walking too fast for him to catch any distinct words. He had only caught one title on that floor right before the librarian had confronted him, and it was A New Interpretive History of the Dark Kingdom.

Zoisite wondered what the Dark Kingdom was.

* * *

When Zoisite returned to the table where Shiitake was working, the younger boy threw down his pencil and leaned forward.

"Oniisama," he said.

"Apparently the floor below this one is restricted," Zoisite told him before Shiitake could say what he intended. "We need permission from the royal family before we're allowed there. They didn't even put up a sign though," he complained. "How unfair is that?"

"Why, what's on that floor?" Shiitake asked, all attention while his imagination fired to life. "It's not a monster, is it, oniisama?"

"No, just some more books," Zoisite said. "Although I thought I saw my name on one of them, I don't know. And one was a history book about some place called the Dark Kingdom." He whispered all of this confidentially.

"Wow…that sounds…weird," Shiitake whispered back. "Maybe you can ask Serenity-sama to give you permission sometime."

"Yeah…" Zoisite nodded in agreement. "I'll ask Michiru-mama and Haruka-papa about it."

Zoisite had settled his attention on his homework again when Shiitake called to him in a whisper.

"What?" Zoisite asked, not unhappy at being called away from his introductory algebra problem set.

"You know today at the beginning of history when you asked Hotaru-san to tell you about the Sailorsenshi?"

"Yeah? What about it?"

"I think she was going to tell you," Shiitake confided.

"Well of course she was," Zoisite said with something resembling smug confidence. "It was all that stupid tutor's fault for interrupting that she didn't."

"I thought so too," Shiitake said. "I could see that she didn't want to tell you, and she wasn't meaning to, but I think she would have told you."

"Is that so?" Zoisite had thought much the same, but it surprised him that the five-year-old had caught it too.

"And…I think she won't be surprised by you a second time," Shiitake continued. "It's something she isn't supposed tell you, I think, and she'll be prepared if you ask her again."

Zoisite thought about this a moment, and found that he couldn't find any flaw with this judgment. "You're a perceptive brat," he allowed, and earned a pleased grin from the younger boy. "We'll just have to ask someone else."

"Say, oniisama…will you teach me to make that face?"

"What face?"

"The one you made to Hotaru-san this morning when you asked her."

Zoisite smirked. "We'll see."

* * *

"Haruka-papa, Michiru-mama" Shiitake said that night when their adoptive parents had come to ask about their day and wish them goodnight, "won't you tell us a bedtime story?"

Haruka smiled gamely. "All right, chibi. What would you like to hear?"

"Tell us about the beginning of the Sailorsenshi," Zoisite said, and Shiitake nodded.

The two senshi exchanged a quick look. "Very well," said Haruka. "Why don't you two get ready for bed while I decide where I should start," she suggested.

Already in pajamas with teeth brushed, Zoisite and his brother made themselves comfortable in bed within a few seconds. They looked up expectantly.

Haruka and Michiru seated themselves on the unoccupied edge of the large bed. Picking up on the most miniscule of details in her partner's behavior that spoke volumes of Haruka's discomfort, Michiru took her partner's hand and suggested, "Why don't we start from the very beginning?"

"The very very beginning?" Haruka asked.

"The very very beginning," Michiru confirmed with a nod.

"But is it really okay?" Haruka asked dubiously, all too aware of the delicacy of the subject matter and its relation to half their audience.

"Of course," Michiru said. "The beginning is the most suitable place to begin, and besides, they're bound to find out sometime. Better from expert storytellers like us than someone who can't tell it right." Though her words were disguised in lighthearted jibes and capped by a jest, Haruka understood exactly what Michiru meant.

So she said, "Very well." And Michiru began her story.

"The Sailorsenshi have been around since time immemorial. Long ago, with the darkness of people's hearts, Chaos was born; Chaos, who encourages destruction and hatred and madness. To uphold virtues such as love and justice and to protect the people, the Sailorsenshi were born. They are the avatars of planetary power. Sometimes they have thought themselves cursed, for with the powers and responsibilities of their position, they cannot assume normal lives. However, more than a curse, being a Sailorsenshi is a gift, an ability to protect those you love."

She took a gauge of her audience. While both boys were avidly listening, Zoisite gave off signs of restlessness. Like most boys his age, he just wanted to get to the action.

Noting this, Michiru smiled and continued, "In many galaxies, the Sailorsenshi of a particular solar system are bound to a queen or princess. As you know, it is this way with our system, for our lives and loyalty are bound to the royalty of the old Moon Kingdom."

"Why aren't there any guy-senshi?" Shiitake asked. "Are there any in other solar systems?"

"I've never met any," Haruka said. "Some say they can't handle the magic, but I think it's just something the planets decided for themselves."

"But how come there's no Sailorearth?" Shiitake persisted.

"You ask tough questions, chibi. Just listen to Michiru's story and maybe you'll find out."

"Almost all records of the ancient past were wiped out about 2000 years ago," Michiru said, taking up the story again. "For a thousand years up to that point, all the planets had lived in harmony and prosperity. This era was called the Silver Millennium, and it is here the story truly begins.

"Shiitake asked about the absence of a Sailorsenshi of Earth. For whatever reason, contrary to all other known planets, Earth had chosen to manifest its powers in the male line of royalty. The wielder of Earth's magic at the point our story begins was named Endymion."

"The same—?"

"Hush, mushroom head," Haruka murmured.

"The princess of the Moon Kingdom, Serenity, had fallen in love with the prince from Earth. This was taboo, a forbidden relationship, for the queen of the moon had but one child, and the king of the Earth had but one as well. If they were to be married, think of the consequences. Would their children have both the powers of the moon and the Earth?

"The other planets feared the advantages the Earth and Moon Kingdom would reap from such an alliance. Trade would become unequal, perhaps favoritism would affect the moon's treatment of the Earth, and the Earth's treatment of the moon. People are afraid of many things, you see, and they became distrustful when neither the Moon Kingdom nor the Earth did anything to prevent the courtship of these star-crossed lovers. "The other planets were loyal to the moon—with their Sailorsenshi bound to the Moon Kingdom's line of princesses, things could hardly be otherwise. But the people were unhappy. They couldn't approve of the union between Serenity and Endymion, and so they threatened to cut ties with both the moon and the Earth.

"Perhaps the sensible thing would have been for Queen Serenity to tell her daughter to stop seeking the prince, and likewise, for King Endymion to forbid his son from laying eyes on the moon princess ever again. King Endymion told his son exactly that, but Prince Endymion couldn't find the strength to obey. He was too much in love.

"As for Queen Serenity, she loved her daughter more than anything else in the world. She didn't want to discourage her daughter's first love or stand in the way of her happiness, even if it brought about the end of the world. And so, when Prince Endymion secretly fled from his planet to the moon, Queen Serenity did nothing to discourage him."

"It was after this that the other planets sent their Sailorsenshi to the Moon Kingdom. Having washed their hands of their unbreakable obligation to the moon, they then ended their alliances with it."

"It was thanks to this that the Sailorsenshi of Uranus was able to meet the Sailorsenshi of Neptune," Haruka inserted, a wide grin spread across her face.

"Haruka! I'm trying to tell a story here, and it's not about those two senshi," Michiru protested, though she was smiling.

Zoisite turned Haruka's words through his mind. It was almost as if the blond-haired woman was suggesting that she and Michiru were the Sailorsenshi of 2000 years ago. It was as though this was the story of the current Serenity-sama and Endymion-sama. And perhaps it was, he allowed, though truthfully, he couldn't possibly see how they were the same people. Even including the magic of longevity in the equation, it was still difficult for a boy of a mere ten years to imagine people's lives spanning as long as 2000 years. In any case, he kept his mouth shut and listened.

"The Outer Senshi—Uranus, Neptune, Saturn, and Pluto—after convening on the moon, were sent back to their planets, for their responsibility as Queen Serenity saw it was to protect the solar system from outside invaders. The Inner Senshi—Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus—remained on the moon with their princess.

"The people of the moon were blessed with remarkable longevity. It was standard for them to live to around 200 to 300 years of age, due to the lighter gravity bringing less strain to the body, and the living magic that flowed so strongly through the Moon Kingdom.

"Unsurprisingly, the people of Earth were envious of the fact. They had always been so, but now that the rest of the planets had forsaken them, they were alone in this envy. It poisoned their thinking, and with their prince seeking out the moon princess, they did not see why they should not be allowed to live on the moon as well.

"It was not long before the brimming evil reared its head in the form of Beryl, a sorceress of Earth who desperately wanted Endymion for her own."

Zoisite blinked questioningly at Michiru when she did not continue her narrative. It seemed like it was just getting to the good part. "What happens next?" he asked.

"It's gotten quite late," she answered apologetically. "We'll have to continue next time."

Shiitake was almost asleep, though he had been listening all the way until the end. "Continue…tomorrow?" he asked, a large yawn punctuating his question.

"Of course," Michiru answered. She understood from the way Haruka squeezed her hand that her partner was giving her a warning, but having come this far, she doubted Zoisite, if not Shiitake too, would let the rest of the story go untold. "Sleep tonight," she said, and kissed each boy on the forehead. It was still too early for her to think of them as her sons, especially when she had never planned to have children in the first place.

Haruka gave each one a kiss too, and after an exchange of goodnights on either side, the senshi-parents were about to leave the room when Zoisite remembered.

"Wait," he said, sitting up and throwing up the covers with his motion. Shiitake was drawn back to the waking world. "What's the Dark Kingdom?"

It was fortunate that both women had their backs turned toward him, otherwise he would have caught a pair of identical expressions resembling what many refer to as the "deer-caught-in-headlights" look.

"Why do you ask?" Haruka replied after a long silence that in reality, only stretched a few seconds.

"It was a book in the restricted section of the library I saw today," Zoisite said.

Although Zoisite's attention was on Haruka, whose body showed nothing but tension, Shiitake caught the slightest drooping of shoulders in Michiru's frame.

"It's something you'll learn about one day," Michiru answered, filling in for Haruka's evident loss for words. She turned her head back towards them and gave them the most motherly smile she could manage.

Zoisite was not to be swayed. "Can you ask Serenity-sama to give us permission to go on the restricted floor?" he asked. In truth, he didn't care so much about the restricted material itself so much as the fulfillment of his desire to open doors that were closed to him.

However, Michiru shook her head. "It's not something for children to read," she said. "We'll ask her for permission when you're older."

"What's wrong with now though?" Zoisite questioned, his stubborn contrary streak awakening.

"There's a time and place for everything, Zoisaito," Michiru chastened. "When you're young you should concentrate on your lessons and obey your parents and elders. That library floor is restricted for a good reason, and you have to trust us to know what's best for you. Understand?" Her tone didn't allow for refusal.

"Yeah," Zoisite grumbled.

"Then you will wait until the time we see fit before venturing onto the restricted floor?"

"Fine…if it's not too long a wait."

"Zoisaito." Zoisite looked up. Shiitake wondered that he didn't quail at Michiru's stern no-nonsense expression. "You will wait until we tell you otherwise?" the senshi of the sea asked.

"Fine!" Zoisite exploded. He fumed and crossed his arms, looking away.

A deeper voice asked lightheartedly, "Promise?" An outstretched hand in front of him drew Zoisite's eyes upwards to Haruka standing over him, an infectious smile on her face that was somehow able to dissipate Zoisite's mood as quickly as it had fallen.

Zoisite's lips quirked upward against his will and he shook the proffered hand. "Yeah, fine."

"Lovely," Haruka declared. "Now, goodnight to both of you. Tell me if Shiitake wets the bed, Zoisaito." She waved her hand as she put an arm around Michiru's shoulders and led her out the door, ignoring Shiitake's outraged cries that he didn't wet the bed anymore.

Back in their own room, Haruka flopped on their bed, face turned upwards as she let an uneasy sense of relief spread through her tense limbs. She said, "You did a good job, Michiru. Thanks."

Michiru lay down next to Haruka, tired. "Don't flatter me. I almost let him get out of hand."

"But you didn't. You kept a handle on the situation, and you made him listen to you." When Michiru remained quiet, Haruka went on, "Besides, I was also referring to your storytelling. That was top-notch."

Michiru's spirits revived. "I'm glad it went well. You'll help me tell it tomorrow, won't you?"

"Of course." Haruka turned onto her side so she could fix her gaze on Michiru's blue-green eyes. No one else in the world, not even Serenity, had eyes so beautiful, she thought. "We can't go into so much detail tomorrow though. No unnecessary names, besides Beryl, which you've already given them."

"Naturally," Michiru replied, her tone teasingly miffed. "As though I would be foolish enough to do anything otherwise." Her searching hand found Haruka's own even as she kept her vision focused only on her lover's face.

"We're all foolish sometimes," Haruka responded.

"We certainly are," Michiru agreed. "We'll have to tell Serenity-sama of this tomorrow while the boys are at lessons."

"Of…this?" Haruka closed the distance between them and savored the taste of her lover's lips, her lover's mouth.

When they parted for air, Michiru broke out giggling. "You're silly, Haruka. Usagi-chan would be scandalized if we told her about that."

"It's nothing she hasn't done with Mamoru already," Haruka said, shrugging playfully.

"True, but given her partner, I fear she's not done the things we're about to do next," Michiru objected.

"And what might that be?"

"Hush." And Michiru proceeded to show her exactly what Serenity and Endymion were missing out on.

* * *

Sailormoon had indeed destroyed the Dark Kingdom, was Kunzite's first thought when he and Nephrite appeared just outside the Kingdom's ice-covered main entrance. Although, as Kunzite had guessed, the area did retain a low hum of residual dark energy despite the intervening years since its downfall, the amount of active energy was practically null. If anything were alive in there, it would have to have either extremely low magic levels or be buried deep down farther than Kunzite was able to sense from the outside.

"Let's go," he said, and Nephrite, with the unconscious youma hoisted over his shoulder, nodded. The white-haired Tennou blasted the long-sealed entrance opened with a shot of raw power, and they entered the dark tunnel.

Kunzite illuminated the tunnel with a ball of light, and the two followed the chilly trail in silence until they saw that the area where it should have opened up into three different trails had been blocked by a solid mound of rock and rubble.

"Well…" Nephrite said, and kicked the pile. Some small stones rolled down it, but the assault failed to have any other effect. "This is going to be a pain to clear away."

Hardly had a truer statement ever been made. Nephrite laid the youma to the side and the two former kings began the arduous task of moving large boulders (physically as well as telekinetically) and digging through the wall of collapsed stone while forming supportive shields to serve as scaffolding to make sure that the tunnel itself didn't suddenly collapse. Kunzite wondered how far they would have to dig before they could re-enter the central part of the kingdom, and whether it even remained. He wouldn't be surprised if the entire kingdom had caved in on itself.

* * *

"So to sum it up, yesterday he almost convinced Hotaru to tell him everything he wanted to know with a simple puppy-dog look—I know, Hotaru, you would have kept the parts that concerned him out, but that didn't lessen the danger—and then he wandered onto the floor that the librarians were too lax about taping off and properly watching—" here Haruka sighed and looked annoyed at before ticking off on a third finger, "and so he comes asking Michiru and me for a bedtime story about the emergence of the Sailorsenshi, after which he asks us about the Dark Kingdom, which luckily, he doesn't have a clue about."

The senshi of the wind concluded her tirade-summary of the previous day's events and looked around the room at the full assemblage of senshi and royalty. It hadn't really been necessary to have all of them present for this particular turn of events, but a meeting for all the senshi to openly discuss the arrival of Zoisite had been planned from the day he had been brought into the Crystal Palace.

The group consisted of the eight planetary senshi, the feline advisors Luna and Artemis and their daughter Diana, King Endymion, golden-haired Queen Serenity, and her pink-haired daughter Princess Serenity who was in her late-teens. They sat around a long table, while the three cats were perched on the tabletop.

"But he's behaving well otherwise?" Hino Rei, alias Sailormars, asked with evident skepticism. She remembered him to be a most vexing enemy who had, among his other unforgivable offenses, attacked her grandfather and turned him into a youma.

"Oh, he's a good boy," Michiru asserted. "Once Serenity-sama had cleansed him with the ginzuishou, it's as though he's become a different person."

"And you're sure he won't…just somehow mysteriously remember us from the past if we meet him, will he?" Aino Minako, also known as Sailorvenus, looked nervous. Perhaps she was thinking of the final conflict with Zoisite; to Minako, it didn't seem an absurd stretch of the imagination to think that if Sailormoon could recover her memory as the Moon Princess at that critical battle, a sudden memory-recovery on Zoisite's part now was not impossible.

"Don't be silly, Minako," Artemis chided, jumping from the meeting table into her lap. He remembered and respected Zoisite's former strength as their adversary, but he believed that as a boy cleansed by the ginzuishou, Zoisite was nothing to worry too much about.

"This is just weird…weird…" Kino Makoto, or Sailorjupiter, muttered. "And he's only a kid this time..." She shook her head, remembering landing a punch on his face in their first meeting. He had been too overconfident that time, but he proved to be a fierce, dirty fighter after that.

"Did you find out any more about how he was reborn, Setsuna-san?" Mizuno Ami, also Sailormercury, asked. She remembered facing him alone in a park, taking on her schoolmate who had been transformed into a youma. She had been afraid of her own weakness and afraid of the Tennou's strength that night, but ultimately, the conflict had forced her to summon an inner strength she didn't know she had.

The Guardian of Time shook her head. "Only that it's completely incomprehensible. If we were dealing with anything other than the flow of time, I would say it was a fluke, but there are no chance alterations to the timestream."

"How about any others? Did others from the Dark Kingdom revive too?" This was from Endymion.

"I still don't know." Setsuna shook her head.

"I've been scouting the Tokyo area this past week," volunteered the younger Serenity, who also served as Sailormoon (no longer Chibimoon, for not only was she no longer so chibi, but also her mother had passed on the position to her so the older Serenity could serve as a full-time queen), "and I haven't noticed any dark energy or strange magic, other than the usual small-scale spurts you'll find from the occasional sorcerer-wannabes."

Draped comfortably on the girl's shoulder, Diana suddenly perked her head up. "But Chibiusa, what about that alley yesterday?"

"Huh?" The pink haired girl looked momentarily confused until she recalled the event. "Oh yes, there seemed to be some stronger sort of negative energies in farther out in the city yesterday, in this back alley behind a club. By the time I got there though, no one was there, so I'm not really sure if it was a random fluke or what."

"I'll go investigate it with you, Chibiusa-chan," Hotaru volunteered, earning herself an eager smile from her friend.

Luna nodded in approval. "Ask around and see if anything strange has been going on. If people as skilled and powerful as the other Shitennou are on the loose, this could be the one lead we have to catch them. It's not surprising that they should be keeping a low profile." Luna remembered Zoisite with perhaps the most uneasy trepidation—the copper-haired young man had slapped her, chased her, shouted at and insulted her, and through it all, given no recognition of her as anything more than an dumb animal nuisance.

"Suppose we use Zoisite as bait?" Ami suggested. "Surely if the others are around, they'll want to take him back, right?"

"I wouldn't count on that," Rei answered. "Even if they were comrades, who's to say that they don't hate each other? Wasn't Zoisite the one who killed Nephrite? And how often did we ever see the Shitennou working together, anyway?"

"But Zoisite seemed to work fine with Kunzite," Ami pointed out.

"Why do we want to find them in the first place?" Chibiusa asked.

"Because if they are revived, then it's better and safer to find them cleanse them with the ginzuishou. Plus, by bringing them into the Crystal Palace, we can keep a constant watch on them and make sure they're not going to turn evil again," Makoto said.

"And it's the right thing to do," added Minako. "We took Zoisite out of an orphanage, after all. The Shitennou used to be part of Endymion's court, back in the Silver Millennium, you know, Chibiusa. Maybe it's destiny, but it just doesn't seem right to leave them to chomping at the bit of some mundane existence."

"Well, I think we can use Zoisite as bait, like Ami says," Endymion said. "We won't lose anything if they don't come for him, and if they do, then we may be able to catch them."

Ami nodded. "There's no need to do anything overtly drastic at this point, since we're not even completely sure that the others have been reincarnated. It's likely that none of the Shitennou would come near the Crystal Palace itself, for obvious reasons. So I would just suggest taking him out regularly on trips and being ready in case anything happens."

The plan was met with general approval, and Haruka took the opportunity to introduce the thing that had been bothering her most. "I don't like all this secrecy," she said. "How long can we possibly hide the fact that we're hiding something from him? Zoisite's sharp enough to notice sooner or later, and I wouldn't put it past him to figure everything out on his own."

"But it's necessary," Rei replied. "We don't know how he'll react if he find out he was a big bad evil-doer once upon a time."

"But maybe he'll be fine," Haruka argued.

Rei stared at her in disbelief. "Are you kidding? You tell a ten-year old kid, or anyone, for that matter, that in their past life they served a demon and tried to destroy all that is good and beautiful, and you think that won't affect them at all? Even if he doesn't suddenly recover his memory then, he's most certainly not going to be fine. The kid has got you completely hoodwinked, Haruka-san," she said, shaking her head.

"Rei-chan," Serenity murmured, perceiving and disliking the stirrings of an argument. The senshi of fire backed down, having said all she had meant to anyway.

"Haruka-san," said the queen, "I don't like being dishonest, but I have to agree with Rei-chan on this one. I think it'd be nice to give him a chance at a normal life without having to carry this burden, even it's only for a few years. If you think about it, first he served as one of Endymion's guardians, and then he joined the Dark Kingdom. If I were him, I think I could definitely use a break and just live a normal, quiet life for a while. Isn't it the best gift we can give him?"

"But Serenity-sama, I can't help but think it may be worse to tell him later," Hotaru's quiet voice ventured. "I know it's painful for a child to know that he or she has caused others so much pain, but if it were me—" and here everybody knew that what she meant was, "when it had been me," referring to her time as Mistress 9, "—if I couldn't remember what I had done, I'd rather know sooner than later.

"Maybe it feels better not knowing at all, but it's something I would need to know to truly be at peace with myself. I'm not sure it would be a kindness to tell me about my evil past only long after the fact."

"But it already is long after the fact," Michiru pointed out. "I understand what you're saying, why put off the inevitable, but I agree with Serenity-sama."

"Michiru?" murmured Haruka in surprise.

"I think it will be a challenge to keep this from him for a long time," Michiru said. She spoke for everyone to hear, but her eyes were trained on Haruka's across the table. Better than anyone, she knew how much Haruka had taken to Zoisite in the few days he had been with them, and how much she would rather be completely truthful with their adopted child, for Michiru felt the same way. And yet, those same feelings grounded Michiru's determination that Zoisite would not know, and would not find out his past until he was ready.

She said, "Of course he probably will suspect we're hiding something. But I think it's more important at this point to give him a stable, supportive environment. He will know about all of this one day, and it will shake him. But when that day comes, I'd rather that he have a wealth of memories of us, his new family, that he can draw on for comfort and support. I'd rather have him feel accepted and at home, and have strong relationships with all of us so he knows he can rely on us and trust us when he becomes troubled. If he regains his memories, I want him to know that the Sailorsenshi are not his enemies. If we tell him now, he won't have that foundation, our love, to lean on."

Haruka rubbed her forehead and sighed. "I see your point. We'll do as Serenity says. Hotaru?"

The younger senshi nodded. "I won't tell him anything," she promised.

"And what about the chibi?" Haruka asked.

"The chibi?" A few pairs of eyes inevitably turned towards the younger Serenity. "Chibi-Usa?"

"No, no, I meant, Shiitake. He's a good kid, but he might be able to put a few things together over time, especially as he's seen Serenity cleanse Zoisite with the ginzuishou."

"As long as we don't give him any more information than we give Zoisite, I don't think there's any real problem," Luna said.

"So…when can we meet him?" Makoto asked.

* * *

"No one knows for sure what Beryl's true origins are. Some say she was a plain serving girl, others, that she was of the lesser nobility. Whatever the case, she had an aptitude for magic. The bitterness and jealousy in her heart drew a powerful demon to her, and she sold her soul to it in exchange for its help in taking revenge against the moon and winning Endymion over.

"With Earth's champion, Prince Endymion, on the moon, and a population already ill-disposed towards the moon, Beryl had few problems recruiting millions of people to her cause. The demon gave Beryl and her followers great strength."

Zoisite cut in, "No offense to our King Endymion, but this prince guy seems pretty irresponsible. Not the type of leader I'd follow, if he just abandons his people for a pretty face."

"Oniisama!" Shiitake cried, vexed that he had interrupted the mesmerizing flow of Michiru's story to make such a comment.

Zoisite shrugged. "It's just what I think."

"Well, others probably thought the same way as you," Haruka said. "Among Beryl's recruits were four of the men considered closest to Endymion. They were said to have served as his guardians, his advisors, his friends, but they were also natural leaders. They had remarkable magical powers, on par with the senshi, even."

"How come these four were as powerful as the senshi, if the Sailorsenshi are so legendary?" Zoisite asked.

"Well…these four weren't exactly average," Haruka said.

"But why? What made them special?"

The blond-haired woman shrugged her shoulders. "Look, the Sailorsenshi are legendary, and they are planetary avatars. But sometimes other people who aren't senshi are still gifted with magical abilities, and it just happened that this was the case for these four men."

"But who were they?"

Haruka considered, and decided this, at least, was safe. "They were called the Shitennou, the four heavenly kings. Anything more than that, I can't tell you." I won't tell you, she amended in her mind.

"Oh. Okay. Go on then."

Haruka couldn't help being surprised. She had been expecting a more thorough interrogation from Zoisite on this subject.

"Go on, Haruka," prodded Michiru, eyes twinkling.

"Right." Haruka recovered herself. "Well, when they threw in their lot with Beryl, Earth's defenses fell, and Beryl fashioned herself the queen of a new Earth. She intended to annihilate the Moon Kingdom and make Prince Endymion her king. Had Endymion's four guardians not turned against him and provided extraordinary power and very capable leadership for Beryl's armies, it's possible that the tragedy that followed could have been avoided."

"What a poor judge of character," Zoisite said. "Endymion was a fool for relying on backstabbing scum."

Haruka arched an eyebrow. "That's harsh. Criticism of Endymion and the Shitennou in one breath. I'll have you know though, Endymion was no fool. He had been on the best of terms with these four when he left for the moon."

"Then how could they betray him? I mean, sure, I said Endymion wasn't much of a prince, since he did abandon his people. But these four must have been scumbags, if they couldn't even stand by their friend, never mind the Earth."

"You really think that?" Michiru asked carefully, all too aware of the sensitivities she had to cultivate in Zoisite on this matter. It wasn't right for him to condone what he himself had once done, but it wouldn't bode well for him either if he was bitter and hateful of his former self.

"Of course." Zoisite folded his arms across his chest.

"But even so…you can't hate them for it," she said.

Zoisite frowned. "Why not?"

"It was all so long ago—"

"But they were wrong!" cried Zoisite, who, until five seconds ago, had no intention of hating the four traitors. Five seconds ago was then Michiru had told him not to hate them. Both Zoisite and Michiru failed to appreciate the psychological complexities inherent in even the healthiest parent-child relationships.

"Perhaps they were," Michiru allowed. "But we don't know their true motives at the time, or if they had just somehow been brainwashed. What's happened has happened. The past is the past, and we should bear these four soldiers no grudge. Learn to look ahead, Zoisaito."

"I don't need a lecture from you," the boy grumbled. "I'm forward-looking, I'm looking forward all the time, okay? I'll hate who I want, thank you very much."

Haruka hastened to fill the silence before it could become uncomfortable. "So Beryl and her army launched an attack on the Moon Kingdom. And it was a terrible, bloody battle for both sides. Beryl's army had monsters, youma, in addition to humans, and one of them could sometimes take down as many as 20 humans before it fell.

"Both forces were strong, but the critical point came when Beryl finally found Princess Serenity and her prince. She tried to persuade the prince to her cause, offered him a kingship by her side, but naturally, he refused. So she killed him and the princess."

"That was easy," Zoisite couldn't help remarking, drawing a pained look from Michiru.

"It wasn't quite over though," Haruka said, more or less ignoring Zoisite's sarcasm. "When Queen Serenity saw what had befallen her daughter and the prince, she was devastated. Furthermore, everything on the moon had been ravaged and destroyed. There was no reason for her to live but her daughter, and now even she was gone. That's why the queen used one of the ultimate powers of the ginzuishou and gave her life to protect the souls of her daughter and her friends. She used all her strength to send them forward into the future to a better time where they could have a second chance at happiness and peace."

"So they are the same senshi and the same Endymion and Serenity as today?" Zoisite asked.

"Yes."

"Well…so how did they reawaken? I'm positive they were around in the 20th century, long before the Earth froze over and the Dark Moon War."

"Well, that…" Haruka trailed off.

"That will have to wait for another day," Michiru finished.

"Tomorrow?" asked Zoisite.

"Tomorrow!" Shiitake seconded.

"Another day," Michiru said firmly. In actuality, she had no intention of telling this next part of the story. It was a story for Serenity and the Inner Senshi to tell in their own time, and no amount of pleading on Zoisite's part would ever make Michiru yield on this point.

* * *

After the first month of adjustment, during which it seemed as though he met senshi after senshi (naturally they would be curious about their fellow senshi's adopted children), Zoisite was content. His life had settled down, he could run all over the Crystal Palace without getting lost, and he had discovered several quiet gardens to retreat to if he needed to be alone. He'd quickly taken to the ways of fine living, and in his ten-year old mind, he thought he'd grow up to be either a highly-respected leader of some droll and killingly boring bureaucratic department or die a young death leading Serenity's army against some new evil alien threat. Personally, he preferred the latter.

Although Zoisite could honestly say he was happy with his new life, there were times when he felt like he was skating on a world of thin ice. One of the cracks that had threatened to collapse his world happened when he discovered that he had lost his magic.

He had been in the small garden on the right side of the palace grounds about two weeks after his adoption. Lost in thought as he gazed through a sakura tree that was in the process of shedding its leaves before the onset of winter, the whimsical desire to see a sakura tree shedding both blossoms and leaves—completely incongruous and seasonally impossible—struck him, and he raised a hand to conjure the flowers.

Nothing came. He wondered distantly why this should be, how it could be. His magic, however small-scale and weak it was, had never failed him before.

He tried again, and again with growing desperation.

An hour later, Shiitake found the older boy asleep beneath the sakura tree. When he looked closer, he saw the telltale swollenness around his brother's eyes that spoke of sorrow, loss, and mourning.

If Shiitake had been more knowledgeable about the ginzuishou's effects, he could have told Zoisite that it was Serenity's ginzuishou that had robbed him of his cherished magic. However, the specific workings of the silver crystal were beyond the younger brother's understanding at this point, and so Zoisite chose to believe that it was an unlucky turn, and that one day, his magic would return to him as abruptly and inexplicably as it had left. If he didn't believe that, his world may well have crumbled.

* * *

Shiitake dreaded nights the most. Oh, five nights out of seven, nothing happened, and he could sleep undisturbed through the long ticking hours until the mechanical beeping of the alarm clock woke him up just in time to dress and rush to lessons with Zoisite.

Two nights out of seven, however, long after the Crystal Palace had fallen into its peaceful slumber, Shiitake would find himself opening his eyes to the pitch darkness and the sound of shattered silence. Tonight was one of those nights.

The first sob had awakened Shiitake, and he wearily opened his eyes and turned on his side to regard his much-loved brother. Zoisite had buried his face in his pillow, but it was a poor effort to stifle his cries. His light frame shook violently, and he was practically hyperventilating between his sobs as he struggled to get enough air to keep his body functioning.

"Oniisama," Shiitake said, finding the strength to maintain a steady voice, and reached an arm out towards the older boy. Sometimes Zoisite would ignore his touch, but tonight Zoisite turned to him and wrapped his arms around the younger boy, the intensity of his tears and sobs lessening ever so slightly.

Shiitake might have offered platitudes such as, "Don't cry," and "Everything will be all right," but on top of them being rather meaningless, he'd found that Zoisite didn't care for them. So on nights such as these, no matter how uncomfortable or scared he might have been, he would let Zoisite hold him tightly and cry on him, because that was the only comfort he could offer him that meant anything at all.

On this night, when Zoisite's tumultuous sobs had receded into a quiet flow of tears, Shiitake ventured to ask, "Do you want me to get Michiru-mama and Haruka-papa?"

Zoisite failed to answer verbally, but he shook his head fiercely.

A little while later, when the source of tears had more or less dried up and Zoisite's hold on him had loosened into something that could no longer be described as painfully tight, Shiitake asked, "Why do you cry, oniisama?"

"It hurts," Zoisite whispered.

"Where?"

Zoisite thought a moment, and though remembering his pain brought new tears trickling from his eyes, he answered, "My heart. My soul."

Realization suddenly dawned on Shiitake as the pieces fell into place in his mind. His conscious mind couldn't follow what irrational, inexplicable, and illogical twists and leaps of deduction had been made, but he knew that his conclusion was, if nothing else, correct.

"Oniisama…"

Shiitake wanted nothing more than to tell Zoisite that he had figured everything out, that things had started going wrong from the time they began their new life with the senshi.

More specifically, things had started to go wrong when Serenity had wielded her ginzuishou on Zoisite. Before that, Zoisite had never woken up in the middle of the night crying. Before that, Zoisite had had his magic. Before that, Zoisite had been the pillar of strength Shiitake had clung to.

Things couldn't go on like this. It frightened the younger boy to see the object of his idolization and adoration so broken. It was wrong.

Michiru's warnings not to tell Zoisite anything of his encounter with the ginzuishou flew out of Shiitake's shaken mind. Deep down inside, his oniisama was not happy, despite his cheerful, carefree daytime demeanor. And if he wasn't happy, then keeping this secret from him was clearly not helping. How telling him would make things better had not occurred to Shiitake. His only thought was that things couldn't get any worse, and that perhaps unloading his burden of truth could be a magical cure-all.

"Oniisama?"

"Mm?" Zoisite had been falling back asleep.

"The second day we were here, we met Serenity-sama, right?"

"Unn," Zoisite grunted in agreement.

"You said you fainted when you met her."

Zoisite roused himself. "You saw me yourself. I don't want to talk about it."

"But you didn't really faint though, oniisama. At least, that's not everything that happened."

"What are you talking about?"

"Serenity used the ginzuishou on you." Shiitake suddenly found himself talking quickly, nervously, wanting to get this over with. "You had been upset, and you attacked her. You used really strong magic, they said, and Michiru-mama and Haruka-papa had to stop you. Endymion-sama saved the queen. Then Serenity-sama used the ginzuishou on you, and I think it took away your magic and stopped making you angry at all the senshi. And it changed your memories about all of that."

Shiitake waited apprehensively when he finished. He hoped his brother wouldn't get angry at the senshi and everyone for keeping this from him, but more than anything, he hoped that knowing this now would somehow help Zoisite heal. Zoisite's laugh took him off guard.

"Oniisama? What's so funny?"

The older boy let a few more chuckles escape before he was able to repress them. When he spoke, his voice was full of mirth and amusement. "Why in Serenity's name would I attack Serenity-sama? Do tell me that. And there's no way I could have used a strong magical attack on her. The only magic I've ever been able to do has been conjuring a few flower petals. And finally, it's a great way to explain away everything, the maboroshi no ginzuishou, but Serenity-sama using it on me? That's absurd! For your information, the ginzuishou is used primarily for destroying evil villains and healing them, if they're heal-able. I hope you're not saying that I was an evil villain." Here Shiitake shook his head no.

"Besides," the older boy added, "supposing Serenity-sama did use the ginzuishou on me. If the ginzuishou has good magic that makes things better, it doesn't make sense that it should make me feel like this, hurt like this."

Shiitake's eyes filled with tears. "But oniisama! That's really what happened!"

Zoisite laughed more gently this time. "I'm sorry, but I can't believe it."

"I wouldn't lie to you, oniisama." Shiitake found tears escaping down his cheeks and dripping onto Zoisite's shirt. He hastened to wipe them away when one of the arms around him moved upward to ruffle his hair.

"I know you wouldn't," Zoisite murmured affectionately. "I'll find out who gave you these ideas and give them a whipping they won't forget. Now stop having such silly thoughts and go back to sleep."

Nothing more was said between them, and the silence became more comfortable only when Zoisite's breathing took on the deep, regular pattern of a sleeper. Shiitake was finally drifting back to sleep himself when he heard his brother mumble almost inaudibly, "Kunzaito-sama."

He would have doubted his ears had he been farther away, but laying in Zoisite's arms, he knew precisely what he had heard. When he looked up at his brother's face, he saw a tear glinting with the captured light of the moon slide out the corner of his right eye and disappear into the fabric of the pillow.

"Oniisama?" Shiitake wanted to know who "Kunzaito-sama" was.

But Zoisite was asleep.

- To Be Continued -


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