Author's Note: This fic is a series of oneshots written for the sm_monthly LiveJournal community's January 2009 Challenge. The Theme was Senshi/Shitennou, and unless otherwise noted, the chapter titles correspond to the daily prompt.
He could do without the fireworks.
They served no purpose to him other than to dim the stars, parading about the sky like a girl dressed in her mother's clothes and makeup trying to achieve a beauty that was years away.
He needed to see the stars at this moment.
He needed someone who could understand him.
Even though the newly created Crystal Tokyo was teeming with people, Nephrite felt all alone. He should have been thankful to be alive at all. A man who had faced death twice should value the gift of life. He should have felt proud that it was his return, and that of his brother Shitennou, that turned the tide of battle and allowed Neo-Queen Serenity to banish the darkness and raise Crystal Tokyo. He should have felt relieved that his liege still valued him enough to make him part of the Royal Court. He should have felt blessed that his beloved had not lost faith in him and had waited for his return.
The problem was that Nephrite felt very little.
Endymion was wounded in the final battle, and Sailor Moon had nearly lost hope. With a last bit of desperate strength, Endymion called back the spirits of his guardians to allow the Senshi to rally and ultimately win the day.
But the calling was incomplete. The four men returned in body and spirit, powers intact.
Something else had remained behind.
They men knew logically that they were sworn to protect Endymion. They knew that they had been close with the Senshi.
But they could not feel their devotion. Nephrite felt as though he was a shadow of himself, going through the motions of a life he should have had a thousand years ago had he not turned traitor. Perhaps it was punishment. He and his comrades had destroyed paradise, and they would now be tortured for all eternity watching others enjoy it while they could only watch.
But if they were truly being punished, he knew that the Senshi should not have to suffer. Makoto should not be punished for his crimes. His beloved Makoto: the girl who was so strong, and yet so delicate, the girl with the big heart who had no family to fill it with. When he returned, hope had shone in her eyes that perhaps she would not be so alone. But he had nothing to give to her. His heart was still so far away.
He could not feel love, but he did feel the guilt. Cruelly, something inside of him still cared for this girl, and he felt as though he should be able to make her happy, but he did not know what that was.
The subject was painful. His brother's shared his pain. But that was little comfort. This was not something that they could draw strength from. On the contrary, it was a weakness.
Few people marked the change in Kunzite. Everyone assumed he was always this stoic. They didn't miss the absence of his dry, keen wit, and his usual confidence. Minako did. And everyone was easily able to note the absence of her usual cheeriness. Few knew to link the two conditions.
Zoicite always had a keen, analytical mind. It was easy to forget that he was also a very expressive person. That had all but vanished behind a mask of logic and reason that would have made robots envious. He was a match for Ami in their discussions, and everyone assumed they would find common ground. They didn't know that the pair were actually both creatures of passion, and they only threw themselves into their studies because they cared. Everyone was simply left to wonder what had happened to two such brilliant minds.
A clicking of heels on the marble floor caught Nephrite's attention. The pace of the steps, and a slight scent of jasmine in the air told him that he was to be joined by Hino Rei. He recalled how she had entered the ballroom, a vision in her elegant red gown. Most of the guests were so taken with her beauty that they failed to notice there was no life in her usually bright amethyst eyes. It was simply assumed that her mysterious and spiritual nature was the reason she had been so reserved. Odd that people would forget that she was also the Senshi of Fire, and her flame had been somewhat dulled.
Of all the Senshi, Nephrite understood Rei the most. She too was touched with a gift that often frightened others. She knew that there was much more to the world than that which could be seen. It was difficult to share that with others, and it kept her apart. Nephrite understood that isolation. At the moment, it brought him no comfort.
Rei came and stood next to him on the balcony. Neither turned their heads from the fireworks.
They were content to watch for a few moments, neither was bothered by the silence, even though there were still many lingering questions. Ultimately, it was Nephrite who ventured the first question.
"Not enjoying the party?"
Rei took a sip of her champagne. "I find it a bit silly to celebrate the passage of time measured in a calendar I don't use."
A lifetime ago, Neprhite would have enjoyed the humor in that statement. But where the laughter should have been, there was only a hollow ache.
"Still, today is important to the Queen."
"She got to kiss her Mamo-chan at midnight. That was what was important to her."
Kisses were pleasurable. It was odd that the mere mention of one could hurt so much now.
"I envy her."
"I do too."
The conversation was treading on dangerous ground now. Nephrite felt it important to change the direction.
"Well, our relationship to the stars is important. So today is worth noting I suppose."
"So you do care then?" she asked with the barest hint of irony.
"I want to," he said, suddenly realizing he had been more honest than he meant to.
Rei finally turned to look at him. He was no longer looking at the fireworks. Instead, his gaze had traveled down to the courtyard. It appeared as though he was watching the couples reveling in the party, but a closer look showed he was staring just pass them to a corner under one of the oak trees that sheltered the courtyard. She could make out the silhouette of a woman. Although it was dark, she knew the dress to be of a deep emerald green, and the hair piled in a complicated style to actually be an unruly mass of auburn curls. She could make out the hands too, one held flat against the trunk of the tree, perhaps for support, perhaps for comfort. The other was clutched just above her heart. The moonlight reflected off a pair of earrings, and Rei thought she might also just be able to make out a single tear, shining brighter than any star, trailing down her cheek.
Rei looked up and was shocked to see a matching tear on Nephrite's cheek.
"Is that your resolution?"
"Yes," he whispered hoarsely. "I want to care. I know what happens when you don't care enough. I know the price you pay. And I don't want to live like that anymore."
Nephrite reached out with a hand, as though it might cover the distance between him and the girl under the tree. He knows it can't make it there and has to settle for resting it on the railing.
"I want to be whole again. I want to care."
He turns to face Rei. For the first time since he returned, Rei sees something other than emptiness in his eyes.
"This is my resolution."