So warm... feels so safe here. That smell... what is that? Feels so familiar. Like something lost out of childhood. Something lost...
"Hey, can you hear me? Just hang in there."
Mamoru dazedly opened his eyes, only to find his vision filled with a shimmering white blur. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it, but all he received for his efforts was a sudden wave of nausea and a throbbing headache. He slumped forward, probably would have planted himself face-first on the merciless ground, had strong hands not caught him and propped him gently against the cold wall behind him.
"Easy, now. Better stay still for a while."
A hand came up around his throat, rough fingers gently feeling for a pulse. He was vaguely aware of how vulnerable he was like this, his head tilted back and a hand that was easily large enough to crush his windpipe wrapped halfway around it. But the fingers were nothing but gentle, their intent only on helping him, and he was too weak right now to care whether he was in any danger or not. He closed his eyes against the formless spinning shapes around him, giving himself up to whoever it was that knelt nearby.
"Here. This should help."
The hand disappeared from around his neck, only to emerge again from the senseless darkness with a brush against his own hand. It was taken up, resting limply between two palms, fingers intertwined with one another. And then it was like a rush of cold winter air beneath his skin, as though someone had suddenly thrust a window open on a stuffy bedroom in the midst of a January snowstorm. His senses tingled themselves awake, and he jolted upright with a choked gasp.
One of the hands moved to his shoulder, gently pushing him back again. "Not yet. You'd better just sit here for a few minutes. It'll still take a while for the aftereffects to wear off."
Mamoru stared around him, eyes adjusting to their gradually clearing sight. He should not have been surprised to see the white-haired man kneeling in front of him, but only a few minutes ago he was certain that he had left him behind for good. Now he was here, looking down at him with those even, concern-filled silver eyes, and somehow, after the recent turmoil he had just come out of, the man was a welcome sight.
The man smiled weakly, brushing a stray silver bang out of his face. "You gave me a scare, running off like that. You're lucky I found you before she could get to you."
Something suddenly occurred to Mamoru. Something that was as good as the sudden cold spell for all the power it had in jarring him awake. He was no longer wearing the tuxedo. He was dressed in his normal clothes, and yet this man was still right in front of him. "You know me," he said dumbly, hoping that it was just the so-called aftereffects that could be blamed for his current lack of eloquence.
"Yeah, I do," the man stated simply, as though the black-haired prince had just pointed out that he had long hair. "Are you alright? She didn't hurt you, did she?"
Mamoru began to shake his head, then stopped when it caused his vision to go dark for a few seconds. Head shaking, it seemed, was still not a very good idea.
Fortunately, the man was still doing a stunning job of holding him up. "No more than the obvious, I suppose." The hand on his shoulder squeezed gently, almost reassuring in nature. "Might as well relax. It'll be a few minutes before we can go anywhere, anyway. I can't bring you back until it's safe."
"Can't you, you know, appear wherever you need to be?" Oh, he was going to win awards for his speaking abilities tonight, Mamoru could see that.
"It's not quite that simple. Teleportation can be tracked like any trail by those who know how. It causes an abnormal burst of energy just before the person disappears, which can attract the attention of a lot of unwanted people. It would be like waving around a big colorful banner right in front of your enemies. A teleportation route is untraceable after only a few minutes, but right now she's close enough that she'd be right on our tails the moment we try to go anywhere."
She...? "What was that thing?" He spoke slowly, trying his best to keep the slur out of his voice. If Mamoru was sounding more than a little drunk to his own ears, what must he really sound like to anyone else?
"Just a youma."
Just a youma? "If that was a youma, it wasn't like any that I've run into before."
"That one serves Beryl directly. She's a little more powerful than most of them, but I'm sure that if she hadn't taken you by surprise, she wouldn't have caught you so easily. She's the sort who's only sent out on special missions like this one."
The white-haired man's look softened imperceptibly. Almost sympathetically. "Capturing you."
"Oh." It felt like he should say more than that, but there really was not much to say. Mamoru glanced absentmindedly around their new location, his mind contemplating. They seemed to be in some sort of underground car lot, judging by the dingy cement interior and the decrepit little Toyota hunched several meters away. He did not have a clue how he managed to end up here after his recent location in the subway station, but the silver-eyed man must have had a hand in it. A broad slab of concrete serving as a pillar towered behind him, apparently the thing that held him propped up. Mamoru felt himself fortunate that it was against this that he was leaning, as the walls looked quite damp and the ground beneath them less than clean. There was some attempt at lighting above them, but it was meager at best, and the whole place was like a dank, underground cave.
He suddenly noticed that he had been clinging to the man's arm all this time in an effort to steady himself, though whether the man minded, it was difficult to say. He self-consciously retracted his hand.
Something stirred in his memory. These humans weren't there by their own will; not really. Beryl took them, took their memories from them and brainwashed them, so that they were forced to obey her will. Beryl. The next one down from the demonic head boss. If the leader of the Dark Kingdom herself was after him... "Why are they trying to capture me?"
The man regarded him with those silent silver eyes, and Mamoru noticed how they seemed to shine imperceptibly, as though they really were bits of polished silver. But they were not flat like silver; they were deep as pools of mercury, the reflective surfaces hiding the dark, secret things beneath. They were a little unsettling to look at, those globes of liquid mercury, and he had to finally turn away.
"Prince, how much of your past life do you remember?"
Mamoru was silent for a while, trying to figure out how to put into words the snatches of memory that sometimes emerged in his mind. They were like drops of water, fluid in his hand, running out between his fingers before he could capture them completely. All he had were impressions, feelings, half-faded images that seemed vivid one moment and insubstantial the next. "I... not very much. I remember Serenity..." hair like threads of snow white silk, eyes like diamonds, laughing by his ear, kisses soft against his neck, warm in his arms. "I remember a place that had... trees, or... a lot of greenery." Green for miles, green everywhere, the smell of flowers, the thick, sweet smell of flowers, warmth of the sun, grass tickling bare feet, splatter of rain on leaves, whisper of wind. "And a... I think it was a castle." Vivid tapestries of every color, chandeliers that shimmered in the moonlight, haunting otherworldy music, footsteps in a hollow place, soft, sweet-smelling cushions, warm fireplaces and frost on windowpanes. "And..." He tried to grasp at more, but could not. People hovered somewhere in the darkness of his mind, forgotten names, forgotten faces, things that seemed important but had been lost forever. His face fell. For a moment, it had felt like he might remember more. "That's about it. I can't seem to remember anything concrete. To be honest, if you had not been calling me Endymion until now, I would have thought that I imagined that part." Why was he confessing so much to this man? He was a stranger, and a potential enemy, at that. Maybe his defenseless state was having an effect on him. Or maybe he had just never been able to talk about this to anyone--even an enemy.
The man nodded silently. For a moment he seemed almost... disappointed. But the look faded quickly, hidden once again behind the pools of quicksilver.
"I'm sure you remember your relationship with the Princess, but what you may not remember was that it made a few people jealous. Actually," he added with a faint smile, "a great many people." Mamoru had a rather difficult time believing that, but then, he supposed it had something to do with his status as Prince. If he was as important as he apparently had been, then there must have been plenty of people eager to get close to him.
The idea that anyone would be attracted to him for any other reason never really crossed his mind.
"One person in particular was rather vehement about your love of the Princess. It was her own feelings of greed, jealousy, hatred, that drove her to obey the will of a monster from outside our planet's borders, and plot her revenge on the Silver Millennium. That person's name was Beryl."
Mamoru was pretty sure that his stomach had just dropped to his toes. He gaped at the man for a full ten seconds, though it felt what must have been an eternity. "You mean that this woman, Beryl, was..."
"In love with you, yes. Well..." he added after a moment's thought, "I'm not sure whether those are quite the right words for it. Her love for you was not the same as, say, your love for the Princess. There was nothing... pure about it. It was closer to infatuation. Obsession. And her lust for you somehow became synonymous with her lust for the power you could offer her. Beryl, you see, has always been particularly greedy when it came to power of any sort, and the promise of becoming future queen was enough to drive her. Oh, I'm sure her intents were pure in the beginning, but she was dangerously ambitious, and could not settle for anything less than the throne itself and you by her side. People like that are dangerous; they will give up anything for the sake of their goal. Beryl was willing to trade in her life, her soul, her planet, to the promise of a demoness whose only thoughts were on the destruction of our world. That is why Metallia was able to come into power, with Beryl's help."
The black-haired Prince stared at the ground, unable to believe his ears. Metallia... the Dark Kingdom... it had all happened because of him. And he had probably never even realized it was happening. How could he see it, when he was so focused on his Moon Princess? In a way, it was all his fault.
"Hey," the man pulled him out of his reverie, "don't look so downcast." Mamoru looked back up at him, only to see him smiling gently. "If it had not been you, it would have been someone or something else that she obsessed about. And if it had not been Beryl, it would have been some other weak-minded ambitious person. You can't blame yourself for--" whatever the man had been about to say was lost behind a silent curse. Before Mamoru could say a word, he had pushed him flat against the concrete slab, pressing his own body close like a human shield. "Don't move," the man whispered next to his ear, and suddenly Mamoru felt that same cold rush around him, except that it was not blasting through his skin, but wrapping around them, folding them in a sort of chilling cocoon. The room around them appeared no different, but he thought he could detect a sort of shift in the air around them, as though it had thickened to water and moved like a gel to surround them in a small frozen whirlpool.
And then they were both silent, the only sound being the rasp of their breaths in each other's ears. Mamoru was pressed in between the cold concrete and the strangely colder man in front of him, the man's hands planted on the wall on either side of him, legs straddling his own. Their faces were pressed against one another, and the man's breaths tickled warmly along his neck. It was like some parody of an affectionate embrace.
He was so surprised at first that he did not feel that same sickening presence that had hailed the so-called youma's entrance the first time around, but he was soon cured of that. It was lurking somewhere around here, searching for them--he could feel it. He swallowed, silently praying that whatever protection this man had used would be enough to hide both of them from her. Enemy or not, if his apparent companion left him now, then he would be completely defenseless. Maybe he could fight her on a normal basis, but right now he was still reeling from her earlier attempts, and it did not help that he was still weak from his injuries.
Mamoru's eyes drifted closed in an effort to steady his own breathing, strands of silver hair wisped across his face, and again he detected a faint, familiar smell. Something stirred in his memory, something important. What is that? I feel like I should know it. Something... it reminds me of something...
"I think she's gone," the man muttered, sitting back again. The smell disappeared, and with it, that familiar sensation. He fought to keep the memory, to grab hold of it, but it was gone before he could glean even a hint of what it meant.
His silver eyes landed lightly on the black-haired man. "We're safe for now. Though she's being extremely persistent."
Mamoru nodded silently. Things were so confusing now; he just could not understand much of anything anymore. There was this whole life that he did not remember, consequences to actions that he could not recall making, people who knew things about him that he did not know about himself. It was quite disconcerting, not knowing everything. It made him feel so helpless.
"How do you know all of this? About me?"
"I know a lot of things," the man replied distractedly, glancing around the dark area as if his eyes could do a better job than his other senses at spotting the youma.
"Such as the fact that you slept with a stuffed horse until you were twelve." He gave Mamoru an amused look. "But I don't intend to spread that one around."
The black-haired Prince did not have a clue whether the man was joking or not, and nothing in his look was giving him away. He hoped that he was.
"And where do you come into all this? A human who served Beryl against his will?"
Something about the question visibly bothered the man. He was still glancing around for danger, but there was a certain edge to it now, as though it was no longer casual, but intended to cover up some other emotion, and Mamoru could not help but feel that he was avoiding his eyes.
"I'm no one special," he answered shortly.
"Much as I'd like to believe that, I rather doubt it. I've seen what you're capable of; I highly doubt Beryl bestows her powers upon every ordinary human being she comes across."
The man went silent, no longer bothering to cover up his unease with his fruitless search for their nemesis. Soft waves of silver hair tumbled into his eyes. He was just... watching Mamoru, his look entirely unreadable, silver eyes shining like impenetrable shields that protected whatever soul may lay beyond.
The black-haired man growled in frustration. "So, looks like we've gone back to not talking. How refreshing."
His complaints were met with more silence. Somewhere above them, the city sounds of traffic echoed dully into the hollow place. Moths swarmed dizzily around the dull lights above them, throwing odd shadows onto the floor and walls. Still the man watched him, gaze as steady as a drowsy cat, all hints of emotion suddenly gathered up behind silver armor. Why was he so impossible to read sometimes? Not just in the way he looked, but in everything. Mamoru could not even feel what his emotions were; not the way that he did with everyone else. Even the most outwardly aloof person gave off an emotional aura that he could pick up on like radar, but around this man his senses seemed to close up on him. When his defenses were up, nothing could tell Mamoru what this man was thinking. Absolutely nothing. It was maddening.
Throwing all caution to the wind, he reached out suddenly and grabbed the white-haired man by his broad shoulders. "I'm sick of dancing around this subject! Give me an answer!" Any other person would have been easily shaken by his forceful grip, but not him. He was solid as a mountain, a big wall of ice and steel that did not give even an inch. But nevertheless he flinched visibly at Mamoru's actions, and the Prince felt just a bit of satisfaction at having forced a reaction. He fixed his own sharp blue gaze on the man, forcing his will against those damned shields that he could never see beyond. "Who are you?"
"No one special," came the flat answer again.
"Bullshit," he spat, though he was not one to throw the word around lightly. "You're hiding something. As pleasant as it would be to believe that you're just some nice guy who decided to turn traitor and rescue me due to an overdeveloped guilt trip, I don't think that's the whole story. Something doesn't add up. Now tell me the truth."
The man was silent for a long time, no different save the hands that were clamped down on either one of his shoulders. Then, softly, "Listen, if you really want to know everything..." he trailed off, because Mamoru was no longer listening. His eyes, once focused directly on the face in front of him, shifted suddenly to the hideous thing that stood just beyond it. He could not describe the being that was lurching, oozing, stinking directly across from him--it could surely be no living creature. The shape was roughly human, but twisted and distorted in all the wrong ways. Some slimy, sludgy substance rolled down its sides, puddling on the ground. Even from this distance--which was far too close for comfort--he could see things crawling across its putrid surface. Most horrifying, though, was the lack of any distinguishable face on the bubbling, festering head. As an aspiring doctor, Mamoru felt he could handle many levels of disgusting that most human beings had difficulty even thinking about. But even he could feel bile rising in his throat at the sight, the smell, the ifeel/i of that creature near him.
The man had noticed immediately the shift in Mamoru's attention, and the Prince could see now by the way that his muscles tightened like a wildcat ready to pounce that he was equally aware of the apparent youma's presence. There was a long, tense moment; the white-haired man kneeling on the ground, every miniscule part of his body poised to strike, the youma reeking behind him, some dripping appendage that must have been an arm outstretched towards him.
And then the man whipped around suddenly, and the next thing that Mamoru was aware of was a flash of blinding light and a violent crash that set the ground trembling.
Last chapter I erroneously complained that there are few fics that use Mamoru's roses for unique purposes, forgetting all about one of my greatest sources of inspiration, Sophia Prester's Empire of the Sun. I highly recommend it, and I bow down to her greatness.
So yeah, we're chugging along here. Thank you again to everybody who takes the time to leave feedback!