:: Chapter Twenty-Eight ::

The Storm Approaches

Malachite stood at one of the tall, floor-to-ceiling windows that covered the east wall of the suite he'd been given, staring out at the glittering silver spires and crystalline structures of the city below without really seeing them. He didn't turn when he heard someone approach, but smiled slightly a moment later when he felt two slender arms snake around his middle from behind. And then something was nuzzling into the center of his back with a soft, peaceful sigh.

"You're worried if you've made the right decision," Mina murmured softly after a long moment, where-in she continued to cuddle contentedly while he continued to brood silently on the horizon. It wasn't a question so much as a matter-of-fact statement, and it wasn't terribly far off the mark either. Not wanting to worry her, though—he was increasingly cautious as to Mina's stress level the more days that passed and she came ever closer to the birth of their son—Malachite merely snorted softly and shook his head.

"The vote was cast," he murmured, his deep voice a soft and steady rumble, "for good or ill, there's nothing to be done about that now." A pause, then, "I was actually more worried about whether or not we'll have a home left to return to once everything's said and done," he pronounced, tone light and dry. "You do realize that we left your mother and my uncle alone, to their own devices." His tiny wife snorted at that, then dissolved into helpless giggles. Still facing away from her, Malachite found himself grinning slightly at the infectious sound. "We'll be very lucky if they're even still alive by the time we get back."

"Oh, I don't know about that." Malachite turned to her finally, eyebrow lifted in question. Mina just grinned. "Chances are we might just come home to find them naked in bed together, which is right where the two stubborn old fools belong, if you ask me."

Malachite blinked. "Naked . . . in bed . . . ?" he flustered. "We are still talking about the same people, aren't we? Namely the fact that Psyche and Alexandrite can't sit in the same room together for more than five minutes without dissolving into a five-year-old shouting match?"

"Repressed sexual tension," Mina assured loftily, however. "They're both crazy about each other but won't let themselves give into it, for whatever strange reason. So they fight and bicker instead." She sighed, absently fiddling with the clasps down the front of his vest. "Everyone would be so much better off—especially them, and my own nerves—if they'd just go to bed already and get it over with."

Malachite found his concentration quickly derailing away from his uncle and mother-in-law—and even the troubles he was wrestling with concerning Nemesis' sudden reappearance—by the feel of her slender fingers dancing down his chest.

All was still not completely settled between the two of them—there were still words to be said and emotions to be explored, things that Malachite still kept firmly locked away inside of himself and unable to fully face just yet. And there were many times he would catch Mina staring after him in a sad and wistful sort of way, with a look in her sky-blue eyes that made him feel powerful and yet sick all at the same time.

But for the most part, he and his pretty wife had settled into a very easy and comfortable routine, ever since that fateful day she'd lost her temper with him and took him to task for not performing his 'husbandly duties' as often as she would have liked. Malachite reached for her now, his hands curling possessively around the widened curve of her hips, fingers caressing her skin through the diaphanous yellow gown she wore. Smirking knowingly when her breath caught, and an immediate flush of pink bloomed to life in her cheeks—a reaction he'd become quite familiar with.

"So sex is a cure-all for everything?" he questioned softly, deep and rough. His male pride was immediately bolstered by the way Mina suddenly trembled in his grasp and how the color of her blue eyes deepened with answering need.

"Well," she retorted after a moment, apparently trying to ignore the fact that his hands were slowly sliding upward, and pretending that her own voice hadn't become a breathy squeak. "It's certainly worked wonders on you, now hasn't it?"

"Hm-m," was all he responded to that, having completely lost interest in the conversation if truth be told. Irony being what it was, Malachite was much more interested in proving her right at the moment, than disputing it. Mina didn't protest when he bent to her, either, nuzzling into the curve of her neck, kissing and gently biting a hot, wet path downward. Her arms curled tight around his neck instead, letting out a soft and needy moan in the form of his name.

Malachite swept her up off her feet a moment later, not bothered at all by the size of her middle or the extra weight—indeed she still felt as light as a proverbial feather to him, even heavy with his child as she was. Instead he turned and quickly strode in the direction of the bedroom, all the while doing his damndest to ignore the way the little minx was nibbling at his earlobe and failing quite miserably. The King of Venus kicked the already opened door wider with an impatient disregard that was quite unlike his normal behavior, and one he just didn't give a damn about at present. The lusty former General was forced to draw up short at the foot of the large bed, however. Instead of carefully settling Mina in the center of the feather-down mattress and loving her into a contented stupor, he stiffened up and glared down furiously instead.

Because his bed was apparently already being occupied.

"I swear to all the Stars in Heaven, Zaire, get out of the gods' damned bed!"

The great white cat just blinked up at him from where he'd curled his massive girth right across the middle of the mattress, his long tail lazily flicking up and down in the sheets, utterly unimpressed with his master's ire. Meanwhile Mina was now laughing so hard she had tears streaming down her flushed cheeks. Malachite sighed heavily then, gently putting his very humored wife back on her feet.

"Well so much for that idea," he muttered testily, which only made her laugh more. After a moment she sighed, though, shaking her head.

"It's just as well," Mina admitted. "I promised to meet the girls in a few minutes anyway." She caught the front of his vest then and gave a half-hearted tug. Malachite humored her, obediently bending down to her reach so she could kiss him. One he returned readily enough, though sighing in disappointment when she managed to pry herself away from the increasingly passionate embrace some moments later. "I'll be back soon," she assured him, breathless again, then spun on her heel and glided away toward the door.

Zaire immediately perked up at that, and then heaved himself to his feet before bending down into a great, yawning stretch. Clearly in preparation to follow her. Malachite glared. "Oh, now you want to get up."

The tiger huffed at him in response, loping closer and shamelessly butting his great head into Malachite's middle. He took a hold of the cat with two fist-fulls of fur at either side of his muzzle, then gave him a playful shake. "I ought to skin you," he grumbled in mock anger. Zaire just gave another huffing grunt, completely unconcerned, nuzzling him hard and letting out that growling purr of his that had gotten him out of trouble since he was a cub. Malachite chuckled ruefully, then sighed and affectionately thumped the great beast along his powerful flank.

"Go on, then," he murmured. "Keep her safe." Zaire turned and immediately leapt off the bed—deceptively agile—then loped off out of the bedroom on silent feet, trailing after Mina.

Nephrite was suddenly and forcefully pulled out of his own thoughts when Lita dropped down beside him on the deeply cushioned couch without preamble, set in the commons area of the suite they'd been given while here in Lunara. He smiled somewhat bemusedly while his wife shamelessly shoved, positioned and maneuvered him until he was to her own satisfaction; lounging back against one armrest so that she could curl up half on top of him, her legs lazily entwined with his. Lita rested her chin on her arms, which she'd crossed over his chest, her dew-green eyes staring up at him questioningly. It seemed Lita wasn't going to allow him sink into another one of his 'broody moods,' as she'd come to call them.

"How long do you think before Jorowyn has the transporters keyed to Nemesis?"

Nephrite sighed at that, reaching out to absently tug at and play with a curl of her auburn hair. "Hard to say," he murmured, "but probably not long. A few hours more, at the most." She considered him steadily while he watched his own antics, her own expression solemn.

"You think we voted wrong?" He shook his head.

"No, it's not that." He frowned at the curl that had entwined around his fingers. "When the Alliance made the decision to refuse Earth aid when the war began, the shockwave was . . . catastrophic. The worst a warrior can suffer in a battle is the utter loss of hope," he revealed softly. "I couldn't cast a vote now that would make me no better than those who condemned my own people to die. And yet . . . ."

Lita waited patiently for him to continue, not trying to herd him in either direction. She had become an unexpected—but quickly treasured—boon these past few weeks. He found it easier and easier to talk to her, to share the burdens of his dark visions, his greatest fears. More so even than with his former fellow Generals and closest friends. And with every morsel shared, a weight that he hadn't even realized he'd borne was slowly but surely being lifted from his very soul.

"And yet," he continued after a heavy moment, his hand moving from her hair to begin trailing an absent caress up and down the length of Lita's spine, "Jorowyn is a man who knows what he's about, no matter his flaws otherwise. If he says that these people from Nemesis are a threat, then they probably are."

"You think they might have something to do with your visions?" she questioned.

"Maybe," he conceded slowly. "Though how, or why, I couldn't even begin to explain. And the Time Priestess' predictions from before? How does that play into all of this now? Are the two things connected, or are they completely and utterly unrelated to each other?" He sighed bitterly, glaring up at the ceiling. "It's enough to drive a sane man mad, trying to figure it all out."

"Then stop it."

Nephrite blinked in surprise at that, looking back down at her. Her stare was as forthright as ever, stubborn even, and totally unapologetic about it.

"Either Nemesis is sincere in their bid for aid, or they aren't. But sitting here driving yourself scatterbrained trying to figure it all out before it happens isn't going to help anybody, least of all yourself." She poked him in the ribs then, a crooked grin forming when he yelped in pained protest. "So stop thinking so much."

Nephrite narrowed his eyes at her, but that was all the warning she got before Lita found their positions on the couch suddenly switched. She laughed, though, as Nephrite settled himself on top of her with a sigh.

"Well then, wife," he murmured, his tone deceptively calm and placid, in direct contrast to the heat building in his pale eyes. "What do you suggest I do to take my mind off things, then?"

"Hm-m," Lita purred speculatively, pretending to think the matter over while she purposefully wriggled her lower half deeper into the cushions and effortlessly drove him wild. "Well, I'm thinking that you've already thought of a pretty entertaining past-time, yourself," she played along. Nephrite gave a wicked smile at that and then bent, trailing kisses across her jaw, down her neck, across the line of her delicate collarbone left bare in the wine-colored gown she currently wore. "And we could continue it, if that's what you really want," she assured somewhat breathlessly, her fingers tangling into his long hair as he neared the plunging neckline of her dress. "Or," she suddenly stressed, "you could be my taste-tester for the new batch of hralla berry pastries I just finished baking."

Nephrite froze. He lifted up to find Lita grinning at him, green eyes dancing. She continued to comb her fingers through his hair, eyebrow lifting in question.

"You baked?" he almost whined, and she grinned wider.

"Mm-hm," she confirmed. "The girls and I made plans to meet with each other after the Council, and I wanted to bring something special to share with them. But if you want," Lita murmured, tracing a path down the front of his jerkin, "I'll let you taste them first."

Here Nephrite hesitated, clearly torn. Sex . . . or a taste of Lita's baking. She really expected him to choose between one or the other? He swallowed with severe difficulty, then, expression pained. "Is this a trick question?"

"You're angry with me, aren't you."

Ami turned slightly from where she'd been considering her own reflection, looking at Zoisite from over her shoulder, who stood somewhere behind her. She blinked at him, and to her credit she seemed genuinely surprised by the statement.

"Angry with you?" she parroted, bemused, before turning back to the mirror and brushing her bangs out of her eyes. "Why would I be angry with you, Z?"

He frowned, fists clenched at his sides. "You wanted me to support the Nemesis vote." Ami nodded to that, though she continued to fuss with her appearance, seemingly unperturbed with the entire conversation.

"I shared Sere's views on the matter, yes. No matter what's been done in the past, if there are people suffering we have a moral obligation to give whatever help we can to them." Then she shrugged one shoulder and sighed somewhat dismissively. "But what's done is done."

Zoisite watched his tiny wife for a moment longer, more than a little confused. "You're sure you're not upset with me for overruling you?" Ami laughed then, and finally turned away from the mirror to face him completely.

"You're really worried about this aren't you," she murmured somewhat teasingly and he frowned, feeling an uncomfortable heat crawling up his neck and jaw. Ami sighed then, her blue eyes dancing with mirth but having schooled her expression into a properly sympathetic moue. She closed the distance between them and then reached out to smooth a few wrinkles out of the front of his jacket. A simple gesture but one that was incredibly wifely, and one that warmed him to the core. "We're not always going to see eye to eye on everything, Zoisite," she murmured, watching herself work before tilting back to meet his gaze, suddenly solemn with sincerity. "You didn't reject my opinion out of hand. And while I might disagree with them, you had your own reasons for voting the way that you did, arguably valid reasons. That's enough for me."

His relief was immediate. Zoisite returned her soft smile, reaching up to catch one of her slender hands in his and give it an affectionate squeeze. "And then, there is the fact that I was ultimately overruled," he teased then, causing her to chuckle.

"Well yes, there is that," she agreed playfully. "Trust me, Z. If I'm ever truly angry, you won't have to ask. You'll know it," Ami assured. Zoisite laughed.

"Thanks for the warning, I'll keep it in mind."

A moment later and Ami had left their suite of rooms, off to go and meet with the other wives of his friends, of whom she'd become quite close since their group marriage all those months ago. Though not before Zoisite had managed to kiss her into an adorably blushing, stammering mess before he'd let her go.

The Mercurian King paced the room for an hour or more after she'd left, at a loss for something of his own to occupy his time. Finally he found himself exiting the room as well, and turning his steps toward the transporter hall. He passed by Serenity's Mauian handmaid along the way, Diana he thought her name was. He didn't really put a second thought to her presence in that part of the palace, having no real idea himself what all of her duties entailed or where they might bring her in doing them. Though Zoisite did have to wonder—if absently—at the way she hurried along the corridor away from him and back toward the palace proper, and at the glimmer of what looked to be deeply wounded tears in her eyes as she did so. Soon enough she was past, though, and he forgot about her mysterious troubles in favor of more pressing and dangerous problems of his own.

He stepped into the main transporter room and found his cousin where he expected Jorowyn to be; hunched over the main terminal and otherwise completely alone. No doubt the surly Phaetonian and chased away all of the Lunaran technicians with one method or other, since he preferred solitude, especially when he was working. Zoisite neared him with a sigh, arms crossed, watching idly while his cousin continued to move at a somewhat feverish pace resetting code and even rewiring the very terminal itself, it seemed. Neither spoke for a long moment, though Zoisite knew Jorowyn was well aware of his presence.

Finally it was he who broke the stalemate. "Do you think we're being paranoid?"

Jorowyn still didn't look at him, but he scoffed at that, expression wry. "Sure, Z. I mean, nothing's really impossible in this 'verse, I guess. Maybe they're right. Maybe the ruler of Nemesis really has become a peace-and-equality-loving ball of fluff who really just wants to be everyone's bestest friend." Here he paused, finally, and shot him a look over his shoulder. "Or they're wrong, and the bastard is just as twisted and manipulative as his father was, and we're about to invite the proverbial wolves to the lamb-covered supper table."

"If his intentions are circumspect," Zoisite argued as Jorowyn returned to his work, "then why announce himself so openly? Diamond has to know that we'd be overly cautious toward betrayal. Why set himself up for that kind of scrutiny? It doesn't make any sort of sense."

"I know it doesn't," Jorowyn agreed in a frustrated growl. "That's what has me so damned worried. Because it doesn't make sense, at all. And that makes them even more dangerous than any of you could possibly realize." His cousin lifted away from the terminal then, which had suddenly come back to life with a soft, mechanical hum. He sighed heavily, pointing at the readouts. "The coordinates for Nemesis have been reset, and the blocks lifted. You'll just need to input the official codes to unlock things on their end to open the gateway."

"I'll need to?" Zoisite repeated, brows lifted with shock, even while Jorowyn brought up another screen and hurriedly typed in a new, separate destination. He blinked, confused. "Going somewhere, Jory?"

"Pluto," he heaved, finishing with controls and activating the teleporter. The space within the ring swirled into a chaotic blur before settling again, revealing the dark landscape of the planet in question. Jorowyn started forward, jaw set, leaving Zoisite gaping after him. "Just got a new job and all, thought I might as well get started on it."

Zoisite scowled. "Since when are you responsible?" he demanded, just before Jorowyn stepped through the magical distortion.

"Since now!" was his cousin's snotty reply, an instant before he was gone completely.

Jadeite turned from the communicator in his room with a somewhat heavy sigh.

Jorowyn has the teleporter reconfigured, he told Raye, via their own personal telepathic wavelength. Looks like you girls are going to have to cut things short for now, sweeting.

The teleporter chambers? came her response a heartbeat later. Jadeite grabbed the dagger he'd set aside, rebuckling it to his hip.

I'm headed there now. So are the others.

Alright, we'll meet you there.

Jadeite stepped out of the rooms he'd been given and hurried toward the chamber in question. He ran across some of the other royals along the way, as well as several different regiments of Lunaran troops all spilling out and converging from separate hallways into one single destination. By the time he entered into the large hall, it was filled by at least a hundred soldiers all surrounding the teleporter in a wide ring and fully armed. It seemed Endymion was definitely taking no chances with this, though Jadeite couldn't blame him, he supposed.

Jadeite stepped forward with the other royalty who had come to welcome these new ambassadors. A moment later and he felt Raye approach. He reached for her without really looking in that direction, curling an arm around her shoulders and gently pulling her close. And he was inwardly relieved when the fiery female settled against his side without any kind of a fuss.

Did you have a good visit? he questioned silently as the stood with the others, waiting while Zoisite and another technician began the process. Raye's fingers curled into the material of his tunic at the small of his back.

Mina is very pregnant, Ami is still the calm voice of reason, Lita bakes extraordinarily well it would seem and it is a small wonder that Serenity isn't as big around as a Dune Beast with as much as she eats. Jadeite smirked a little at her terse reply.

You had a good visit.

He felt the mental equivalent of her laughter in his head, and then a caress of something else entirely. Yes, Jade, Raye admitted then. I had a good visit. A pause, and then in a slightly more dry and terse tone she continued with, now that that's settled, do you think we should maybe concentrate on what's going on in front of us?

As you wish, sweeting, he agreed readily enough, and it was all he could do not to flinch outwardly when she jabbed him in the back with her nails.

Jadeite's attention was finally caught by the proceedings when the teleporter finally activated with a flourish. He, along with everyone else in the clearing, gazed on in curiosity as the chaotic storm of color finally stilled and revealed a darkened and somewhat somber landscape of hunched buildings crouched in the depths of shadowy moors. A moment later and several individuals began stepping across the threshold.

At the forefront was the man from the communications earlier, the supposed King of this planet, Diamond. He looked much the same as he had in the hologram image, dressed all in white, tooled in silver. A heavy cape was held across his shoulders with a fat silver rope that spanned his chest, capped in silver furs and lined with the same. The man moved forward easily, confidently, not seeming to be at all threatened by the amount of armed soldiers surrounding him.

Next out was a tall woman dressed in black, also with a fur-lined cape that dragged the ground, and a pair of deadly boots whose very long high-heels appeared to be metal and probably doubled as a weapon in their own right. This one had a full head of pale green hair, thick and curly, the ends falling well to the back of her knees.

And then another man came after that, slightly shorter than the first but heavier with muscle. Dressed in dark brown leather trimmed in red, he had a wild plume of scarlet hair and narrowed eyes to match. It also appeared that this one's weapon of choice was a whip, of all things, at least if the wicked-looking metal-jointed contraption curled up and buckled to his hip was any sort of indication.

Six others stepped through after that, though they seemed to be merely low-ranking soldiers from Jadeite's practiced eye. After that, the teleporter powered down once more and went inert.

"Greetings, friends," Diamond suddenly called, slowly moving forward and off the platform. He turned toward Endymion and bowed. "You humble me with your showing of compassion and goodwill."

If Endymion's welcoming smile was this side of strained, only his closest friends would be able to tell.

"King Diamond, others of Nemesis. On behalf of the Silver Alliance I'd like to welcome you all to Lunara."

"I have introduced myself," Diamond returned, "but allow me to introduce you to my most trusted friends and advisors. My First Chancellor, Emerald," he indicated the green-haired beauty to his left. "And my Highest General, Rubeus."

At the sound of that name, Raye suddenly stiffened at his side. Jadeite turned to look at her, and immediately tensed at the somewhat pale and stricken look on her face.

What is it? Raye blinked at that, and seemed to put forth a visible effort to regaining control of herself.

It . . . it's nothing.

He scowled. Are we seriously going to go through this again? At that she scowled, her violet eyes sparking a familiar fire of warning.

I said it's nothing, she reiterated stubbornly. And now's not the time.

Jadeite was forced to turn back to the proceedings as Endymion began introducing them, though he promised himself he'd question Raye more about this later.

"And finally," Endymion finished several moments later, turning slightly to indicate Serenity, who stood at his side. "This is my wife Serenity, Queen of Lunara and of Earth."

Diamond smiled down at her, and gave a faintly flustered Serenity a deep and sweeping bow. "How fitting that you should save the best for last," he murmured, practically oozing charm. "It is a delight to finally see such a rare gem in person, my lady. The rumors of your beauty do you no credit."

Damn, he sure is laying it on thick, he thought to himself, though Raye—who was ever merged with him—snorted at his side in snide agreement.

Meanwhile Serenity just blinked at him, somewhat taken aback, though the pink in her cheeks said that she wasn't entirely immune from the handsome King's charms either. "Ah, th-thank you," she managed after a moment's pause.

"I'm afraid that no official occasion could be arranged to celebrate your arrival on such short notice," Endymion cut in smoothly, firmly integrating himself in between Serenity and Diamond and somehow not being entirely obvious about it. "However I do believe a rather epic feast has been prepared in your honor. And afterward, perhaps you could enlighten us further as to the details of your terrible plight."

The King of Nemesis just smiled, bowing again in acquiescence. "Certainly, my lord. As you wish."