Honor and Doubt

Part 3

© 1999 by Mizuchiko

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These characters aren't mine, they never were, and I could never afford to make them so. Enjoy.

Honor and Doubt - Part 3

© 1999 by Mizuchiko

"He did what?" Guardian Kunzite thundered when Nephrite told him of the encounter between Prince Endymion and Zoisite. The Eldest Guardian gripped the sides of his massive desk, his superior strength causing the wood to splinter in his grasp. Nephrite seated himself in a leather chair a good distance from the desk, where Kunzite's rage might not affect him.

"I'm not sure what happened after that, Kunzite," he said, leaning his elbows on the chair and making peaks out of his fingers. "Zoisite vanished in a fit of rage after threatening the Prince with a job well done. Endymion was most irate."

"I should imagine so," Kunzite grumbled, finally sitting back down, "Zoisite all but committed treason. Endymion doesn't like anyone to question his authority. He does enough of that on his own."

"Indeed," Nephrite said, "but Zoisite should have known better than to challenge the Prince like that. He may be gifted in the fighting arts, but he certainly has no affinity for tact."

"That is one thing I never could teach him," Kunzite pondered. After a moment, he leaned forward toward Nephrite. "He said that his position with me came before his duty to the Prince? That little rat, I've told him time and time again that his first place is to help protect the Prince. He refuses to hear of it."

"The dramatic gesture, as usual," Nephrite observed dryly. "It would seem that you have misplaced your confidence, or at least your affection, Kunzite. I think you put too much faith and too little responsibility on your pupil."

Kunzite narrowed his platinum eyes and said evenly, "I am vary particular where I place my confidence, if ever. I've done it very few times in my life, and I am still convinced that in this case I was right. There is a great deal we don't understand about our young fellow Guardian."

"True, true," Nephrite arched one eyebrow and began to drum his fingers on the arm of the chair. "Haven't you anything to drink in here, Kunzite? I'm as dry as dust."

"There's wine in the locked cabinet in the next room," Kunzite waved Nephrite in the right direction as there came a knock at the door. Kunzite stood and bid his visitor enter, hoping that it was Zoisite.

It wasn't. Jadeite appeared in a spiral of energy, out of breath, his short blonde hair tousled. "Sorry for the intrusion, Kunzite, but I've just come with word from the northern outpost. Zoisite went through there less than an hour ago in a foul mood. He destroyed a good bit of equipment in his path. They said he was headed toward Eclipse territory."

"In the state he's in I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he attacked Beryl outright. But then if he did, Metallia would surely kill him," Kunzite said, beginning to pace behind his desk.

"More's the pity," Nephrite said, coming back into the room bearing a large bottle of red wine. He uncorked it, took a deep whiff of its odor, and tipped it back. "I suppose he's going to turn on us now. I never liked the man. You were insane to make him so powerful."

"Enough of this!" Kunzite bellowed. Jadeite jumped at the thunderous retort, but Nephrite remained more or less unaffected. "If you were half the Guardians you should be, you'd keep your rattlings and your opinions to yourselves and not let such vicious accusations fly from your lips! He may be as temperamental and inexperienced as a young boy, but he is not a traitor!"

"Of course not," said Jadeite, in an attempt to calm the livid Guardian. "He's your friend."

"Your friend indeed. It was he who lured you away from your duty to our Prince," Nephrite pointed out acidly. "He claims his first and sole duty is to protect you, Guardian Kunzite. Why is that, do you suppose? Are you something more than friends with him? Or is it that you have designs on taking the throne?" The auburn-haired Guardian stood and placed a hand cautiously on the hilt of his sword. Kunzite curled his lip and growled, furious.

"First you accuse my friend and pupil, and your fellow Guardian at that, of high treason. Now you accuse me? The Eldest Guardian of our Prince Endymion? How dare you!" he slammed his fists down on the desk, making two large dents in its surface. His eyes fairly glowed with anger. Jadeite stood and placed an arm in front of Nephrite, throwing a warning glance to Kunzite. The Eldest Guardian's scowl deepened. "You and your eternal backbiting, your constant bickering, yet you manage to get along well enough to slander your peers? I despise you! If times were not as they are, I would challenge you both and be done with you!" The three of them stood ready to fight, should any of them make any sudden attack. Their conflict was interrupted by a messenger who barged into Kunzite's office without knocking.

"See here, what is the meaning of this?" Nephrite called, disgusted at the page's manners. The page hurriedly knelt at Kunzite's feet.

"Forgive me, Guardian Kunzite, but I have just come from the northern outpost. I have a package for my Lord form Guardian Zoisite." Kunzite took the cloth-wrapped package from the page's hands and stared at it. Slowly he untied the string and folded back the cloth. His face hardened.

"You have carried out your mission. Go." The page scurried out. Kunzite turned as if in a daze and collapsed back into his chair. "The sash," he mused, "why has he sent me back his pupil's sash?" Jadeite and Nephrite exchanged knowing glances.

"Perhaps it is because he is no longer your pupil, Kunzite," Jadeite said quietly, "perhaps it is because he has learned all you had to teach him and has learned something even more, from a new teacher."

"Get out! Get out, both of you! I am alone!" Kunzite said, this time wearily and without raising his voice. Jadeite seemed reluctant to go, but Nephrite ushered him out the door. It slammed behind them, jarring Kunzite's head. He reeled there behind his desk a moment, as if stunned by a blow. Then he looked back down at the blue sash, rubbing it between his fingers.

"You've sent me back your sash, little rat," he said quietly to himself, "I hate it that these creatures can make me doubt you. But once the seed is planted, there is no uprooting it. I would have gone against Endymion or even Metallia herself to defend you, Zoisite, but now...I suppose neither one of us can really defend a man in whom we don't completely believe. Except you reveled in your dislike for the Prince and I...I wish it were different, any other way but this. That's the difference." He folded the sash and stuffed it inside his shirt. "I may not want it, but thanks all the same for this last gift as you desert me. I shall learn to be alone."

* * *

Two youma guards led Zoisite into the torchlit cold of Lady Beryl's chambers and dropped him at her feet. They had him shackled at hand and foot, and one carried his sword. Zoisite appeared to be in sad shape. His shirt was torn, his boots scuffed, and his cape ragged at the edges. There was a cut over one of his fierce green eyes, which watched Beryl and the youma with quick suspicion.

"Well, friends, is it fine over by the northern border?" Beryl asked politely, pouring two goblets of wine without looking up.

"There was a slight disturbance, my Lady, but I believe we've tamed it," one of the youma said, yanking on Zoisite's chains. The young man stared straight ahead and made no response.

"And how has this young man been behaving? Has he given you much trouble?"

"A proper fighter, my Lady. They said he hewed and cut his way here, and I wouldn't have believed it had I not been attacked by him myself. He took out several of us before we could shackle him and get his weapon from him. By my sword, though, it had no effect. The stubborn little wretch is just the same, all defiance and insults."

"I'll bet I could cure him of that," the other youma spat, kicking Zoisite hard in the side. The young Guardian grimaced, but made no sound.

"Enough. You are dismissed. I will keep the Guardian here with me," Beryl said with a vague gesture. The youma bowed and exited, leaving Beryl alone with Zoisite. She regarded him a moment, sipping her wine slowly. He glowered back at her, saying nothing. After a while Beryl held out the other goblet and said, "Here. My young Guardian must be thirsty after causing so much of a commotion." Zoisite looked at the glass for a minute, then hit it away. Beryl laughed. "Touchy, aren't we?"

"I am here as an ambassador from his Highness Prince Endymion." Zoisite seemed to be disgusted by his own words.

"Oh, I think not. Or haven't you heard, little Guardian? You've been declared a traitor to the throne." She smiled slightly at Zoisite's scowl. "You don't appear too astonished to learn of this. But perhaps the news that your fellow Guardians have agreed with it? Even your own Guardian Kunzite is said to be helping Endymion's men track you down." Zoisite's face fell and his shoulders slumped visibly. Even Kunzite?

Beryl lifted a finger and Zoisite's chains fell to the ground. He still did not move, however. "So stunned that your beloved mentor could collaborate with such lazy scum as Prince Endymion? So am I, my young Guardian."

"I cannot believe my Lord would do such a thing," Zoisite said quietly in disbelief. He stared at the floor.

"Well, he certainly has. And after all you did for him, too. Has he no appreciation for your loyalty, for your love? It would seem that though they declare you the traitor, it is in fact you who have been betrayed." Zoisite shuddered visibly at this remark. Beryl smiled coldly and continued, "But I say this without proof. We don't know if it is true what my spies tell me, though in the past they have been most accurate. Alas, it matters little whether we have proof or not. Once the seed of doubt is planted, there is no uprooting it. Don't you agree, little Guardian?"

Zoisite looked up at Beryl, his doubt reflected plainly in his boyish green eyes. Beryl held out another glass to him, and this time he stood and took it. And so began Zoisite's brainwashing.

* * *

"Has there been any news of his return yet? Surely he got the message we sent him?" Jadeite asked, watching from the windows. There was no sign of an approaching visitor.

"No man in his right mind would try and travel through this mess," Nephrite muttered darkly, referring to the now full-blown war between the Eclipsians and those still loyal to Endymion. It had been six weeks since Zoisite's disappearance. There had been reports of royal soldiers seeing Zoisite fighting on the side of the Eclipsians, but none of them were confirmed. The Guardians had finally persuaded the Prince to sign a document that would allow for Zoisite's full pardon if he turned himself over to their custody and relinquished all rights and powers as a Guardian. Jadeite was optimistic about Zoisite's reaction, but Kunzite thought otherwise.

The Eldest Guardian leaned in the corner, head bowed, watching the other two Guardians suspiciously from under silvery hair. A smile had not crossed his face since Zoisite's departure. The doubt that had begun to creep into his consciousness was slowly but surely manifesting itself in his brain, eating away at his fond memories of his pupil. But no matter how much his brain tried to tell him otherwise, his heart kept the blue sash folded close within his pale azure shirt.

"Wait," Jadeite said, sitting up suddenly and squinting out the window, "I think I see someone. It might be him!" Nephrite scrambled to look out Jadeite's window, but Kunzite strode slowly to the next one over.

"If it's Zoisite, he's not wearing the Guardian uniform any longer," Nephrite observed. The two of them seemed to lose interest in the approaching figure, but Kunzite took in a sudden breath.

"No, it's him alright. I'd know that hair anywhere!" Nephrite and Jadeite pressed their faces to the glass and saw that the man was indeed copper-haired. They ran for the door. "Where do you think you are going?" Kunzite demanded, whirling on them.

"His Majesty must know of this," Nephrite stated matter-of-factly. "The traitor has returned."

Kunzite was on him in a flash. He lifted Nephrite bodily off the ground and pressed him against the wall, gripping him by the neck. "I've signed your document. I've agreed with you in public that I have my doubts concerning Guardian Zoisite's loyalty to the throne. But upon my honor the thought that he might be a traitor never entered my head by its own accord; rather it entered by yours. I may doubt him, but I still love him! Don't ever speak ill of him to me again!" With that Kunzite dropped his prey. Nephrite summoned as much dignity as he possibly could and tugged at his collar.

"Prince Endymion needn't know that Zoisite is here right away," Jadeite said, attempting to mediate between the quarreling Guardians. The two threw each other challenging looks, but nodded in agreement. With that they teleported to the courtyard.

Goto Part 4

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