"King Endymion, are you sure you wish to do this?"
Chiba Mamoru sighed. He hated it when they called him that. King Endymion was the face he showed to the world; an image of strength and stability needed to maintain the dream that was Crystal Tokyo. To his friends and beloved wife, he remained Chiba Mamoru. He wished his oldest friends would follow that example. He turned to face the kneeling apparitions; spirits bound to the four pieces of jade in his hand.
"Haven't we discussed this at length Kunzite?"
"Indeed we have sire, and it has done nothing to sway your mind from this rash course of action."
Nephrite spoke next. "Please understand, my liege. We are very grateful that you would consider restoring us to our bodies. We would all feel better if we could do more to protect you that simply offer you council."
"Then why do you still resist?"
"Because there is too much still uncertain about the manner of our return!" protested Zoisite. "We were already given a chance to return to you by no less than Queen Selenity herself! And still Beryl found us before we could find you!"
"We were able to defeat Beryl."
"But Chaos still remains," countered Jadeite.
"I won't let Chaos take you this time," said Mamoru firmly.
"You musn't put yourself in danger for our sakes sire," said Kunzite. "You are far too important. The city needs you."
"The city needs Usagi. Usagi needs me. And I need you."
To this, none of the four had an answer. Mamoru considered their pensive countenances. He decided to try a different tactic.
"Tell me what you fear about becoming flesh again."
Their shocked faces told Mamoru he had indeed hit a sore spot. His former guardians shifted uncomfortably, finally dropping their gazes to the floor. None seemed eager to answer. Kunzite finally took it upon himself to speak for the group and raised his head.
"In our previous life, we gave our flesh over to Beryl. It became hers. No matter how many times we would be reborn, it would always be hers… as would we."
Mamoru arched an eyebrow. "And, you gave your flesh over willingly, did you?"
"Yes, we did," answered Kunzite heavily.
"So, Beryl asked you for your bodies, and you gave them to her?"
Kunzite looked away, unwilling to meet his liege's gaze any longer. "Yes."
"She merely asked? There was no… coercion, no deceit?" The men seemed to shudder under each of these pronouncements. "No torture?"
"Please don't bring this up sire!" begged Jadeite in a quiet whisper.
"Is any of this untrue?"
"It doesn't matter," barked Nephrite. "We were your guardians, sworn to die for you. Our betrayal is unforgivable!"
"And our resurrection would risk making us traitors to you again," added Zoisite. "We are still not free."
"How was it that Beryl was able to capture you?"
Their eyes remained averted. "We… were careless," said Kunzite.
"She kidnapped you from the palace, did she?"
A collective, reluctant sigh went up from the men.
"I'm just as much to blame, you know."
"How can you say that sire?" asked Jadeite, raising his head in disbelief.
"We are the ones who betrayed the Silver Millenium, not you!" said Zoisite in an equally incredulous tone as he too raised his head.
Mamoru raised his hand to interrupt them, "I knew Beryl was dangerous. I could have ordered the army in to arrest her, and then executed her for treason."
"Sire, you musn't think that way!" protested Nephrite.
"Indeed my liege," added Kunzite. "Such an action, while perhaps wise, would have been unjust. The Golden Kingdom was built upon a moral foundation. To have executed Beryl without proof would have been dishonorable."
"Which is why I sent you to infiltrate her ranks," said Mamoru. "It was perhaps more honorable and more just than simply executing her because she frightened me. But I put you at risk rather than taking more direct action. A good ruler acts swiftly, decisively and fairly. I could have confronted her."
"But sire, with Metallia's influence, Beryl would have been to powerful for you to confront! You would have been killed!" said Zoisite vehemently.
"Better for me to have died in honorable combat than to have allowed you four to have been taken so that my honor might have been preserved."
"Sire, such an action would not have saved the Silver Millenium," argued Kunzite.
"To sacrifice the four of you because I was too afraid to face what Beryl might have been was a mistake."
"We are expendable sire," said Nephrite quietly.
"Not to me you aren't!" said Mamoru with every bit of authority he possessed. "I knew the danger I was sending you into. It should have been me to take the risk. But I allowed fear to cloud my judgment. And I took your strength for granted, ordering you into the path of peril I myself was too fearful to face. Beryl deceived you, twisted your loyalty, and played upon your sense of honor to bind you to her service. When you were reborn, she played upon your guilt and your incomplete memories to bind her to you again. She says you are hers for all eternity. It is a lie. I am your sovereign and your brother, and I hold the power to set your free."
As he spoke those words, he began to unconsciously draw upon the power of the kinzuishou. He glowed with a faint aura that did not go unnoticed by his guardians.
"You can not undo what you have done, but you can chose what to do with your lives from this moment forward."
The power of the crystal washed over the spirits, helping to alleviate some of the burden they had borne for a millennium. Once again, they felt a pang of hope that they might some day be free and allowed to atone for their sins.
The four kneeling apparitions rose to their feet, hands over their hearts. A new light was in their eyes as they dared to hope.
"It is true, you betrayed your oath to me. I have forgiven this treachery. Now I seek your forgiveness for my betrayal to you. And I seek your help. Crystal Tokyo survived its most recent threat. If it is to endure, it must have every honorable man at its disposal. Will you serve me as you once did?"
Kunzite stepped forward. "Sire, our lives are ever at your service. We are humbled that you would seek forgiveness from us. You need not ask it. Gladly did we serve you, and we were fully aware of the risks. Should you command it, we will once again place our power at your disposal. However… there are… other concerns."
Mamoru allowed himself a knowing smile. He had a feeling he knew what Kunzite was hesitant to voice. "And what other 'concerns' might override your duty to me?"
Kunzite's jaw set, a familiar sign to Mamoru that his old friend was struggling with something. Ultimately, it was Jadeite who spoke.
"We did not betray only you sire." His voice was quiet and laden with guilt. Mamoru found himself moved by the pain in his voice.
"Indeed, you betrayed many. But you will find no forgiveness locked away in a stone. You may believe you deserve this shell of a life, but you also deserve the chance to find forgiveness. I will not have you suffer for all eternity because you fell in performing your duty to me."
Mamoru stepped towards Kunzite. Almost automatically, he reached out his arms to his shoulders, stopping short when he realized he couldn't touch him. He dropped his arms in a defeated manner.
"Besides which, I told you, I need you." He turned away from them, lest he break down before them. "I nearly lost her," he said so quietly they wondered if he had spoken at all.
When he composed himself, he turned to face them again. If they knew anything of the inner turmoil he was going through, they hid it. "Your service is required by your sovereign. Will you answer his call?"
As one, the Shitennou knelt, fists over their heart. Kunzite's commanding voice spoke for them. "We are yours to command sire."
"Then return to me."
Mamoru called upon the power of his Kinzuishou. A warm, golden light filled the room. Very slowly, the four stones began to fade as the apparitions became more solid. Finally, the transformation was complete. Once again, Mamoru was reunited with his oldest friends.
As they rose to their feet, Mamoru stepped forward to clasp hands with Kunzite. In sheer joy, he pulled his stoic general into an embrace, which was hesitantly returned.
Impulsively, the younger generals joined in this embrace. Having been separated for a thousand years, the contact once again rooted them to a world they had all but given up on. For the moment, a millennium of guilt and despair left them as they all gave themselves over to the joy of reunion.