The Silver Age
Author Note: Thanks very much for the thoughtful reviews. I really appreciate them!
The ballroom swung around her as if she were on a carousel. It was dizzying and wild, and she didn't know how to dance.
Not that she'd ever admit that.
"You're doing very well," he said, looking down at her with a distant smile.
"Thank you," she managed to grind out. The man wore a black mask, plain velvet, but his frock coat was a deep blue with gold embroidery and he wore golden breeches with polished black boots.
"Which one are you again?" she asked, trying to keep her balance as they swung around again. On Mars the dancing was very different. It was more formal, with intricate patterns, and couples didn't touch or hold each other in the scandalous manner in which she was now being held.
"Zoicite or J-"
"You don't recognize me?"
He almost seemed disappointed for a moment. Mars felt an odd twinge of guilt.
"Ah - well," she began, "I -"
He smiled and her sense of guilt quickly evaporated as she realized he was playing with her.
"Since you can't tell me apart from my comrades, princess," he said, liltingly, "Let's leave it a mystery."
Which one of them had the green eyes, and which the blue? She could never remember, and there wasn't much of a difference between green and blue anyway! If she had been able to see how long his hair was, she could have figured it out, but the hat masked that.
"Fair enough," she sighed.
"Thank you for inviting us to this grand occasion. I didn't realize there was such a large ceremony involved."
His smile grew at her terse reply.
"According to the invitations, it is to celebrate the day that you were chosen to be the princess' guardians."
She wondered how much longer she'd have to dance with him. She glanced around the room at all the other couples. Few dignitaries were dancing, it was mostly the vice ministers, Lunarians, kings, queens, and officials who'd been present the day they'd all been chosen. She had spoken with her grandfather earlier in the evening. She could tell that he was both displeased and proud that she'd clearly left her duties to pursue the martial arts of a senshi. Some of the princesses had had happy reunions with their parents. Jupiter had flung herself into her mother's arms, crying and laughing, her little sisters gathered around her. Mercury's mother had embraced her and pulled her aside for a long chat. Mars knew her grandfather was happy to see her, no matter what his gruff greeting might have said to the contrary.
Venus' parents hadn't come. Venus stood beside a pillar, smiling, being her usual charming self. There was a tall man in a salmon-colored frock coat who stood not far off watching her with an unreadable expression, made more unreadable by his mask. Mars wondered who it might be, but another dancer blocked her view and she could only hear Venus' laughter.
Mars reflected that Venus didn't seem to mind that her parents weren't attending. Perhaps they had been ill, Mars thought, but her intuition and brief memory of the flighty Queen of Venus, the stolid King, made her doubt that. In all likelihood, the King had been too busy, and the Queen couldn't deal with the stress of the evening.
Mars felt sorry for her rival. It was true that their relationship was closer to a truce between opposing sides, but she secretly had a great deal of respect and affection for Venus.
"Will you introduce me to your grandfather?"
Mars' attention snapped back to her dance partner.
"He'll know who you are," she replied.
Blonde eyebrows rose.
"He has powers of perception beyond average mortals. Most of our royal line do."
"Does that include you, princess?"
He seemed to be waiting for a longer reply.
Mars sighed. Really, what did it matter?
"The lineage of Mars comes with certain...gifts. Beyond those of the Senshi. I can sense spiritual presences and determine, usually, their intent - for good or evil. I can banish them as well. And sometimes I can see into the future."
The blue eyes were very wide now. Mars got caught up looking into their depths, trying to see who it was beyond that mask.
"Jadeite," she said, suddenly.
He snapped to attention as if she'd slapped him then gave her what almost amounted to a sheepish grin.
"You can actually...see into the future?"
His tone held incredulity, wonder, and a bit of fear.
"Only sometimes. And not always clearly. Usually I only catch snatches of images, sounds. It's difficult to interpret them."
"That is a rare gift. No wonder Mars is greatly feared."
"We're not frightening," she replied, stiffly.
"I didn't mean any offense. It was a compliment."
They didn't say anything for a little while as the dance came to an end and the orchestra retired for a break.
"I'd still like to meet your grandfather."
She looked at him in surprise.
"I told you -"
"I know," he said, again with a slight smile, "But I'd like to meet him anyway."
Mars looked at him for a long moment. Was he crazy, brave, or a moron?
"Are you falling in love with me, princess?" he asked, with a roguish twinkle.
It was so unexpected that Mars felt her cheeks flame up in spite of her, which made her exceedingly put out.
"As if!" she snapped, realizing that he wouldn't recognize the slang, and not caring.
"I'll take you to him," she continued, turning sharply on her heel.
He meekly muttered thanks and followed her across the vast ballroom.
Selenity was stealing a few precious moments with the Earth prince. He had led her to the balcony on the pretense of seeking cooler air, though the climate, as always, was perfect.
Selenity didn't mind. She knew he had something important to tell her, and she treasured every moment with him, although she now felt quite shy.
"How have you been? Did you have a difficult journey?" she asked.
He gazed at her from the balcony, his black frock coat and breeches nearly blending into the shadows except for the faint hint of silver embroidery. She had her back to the light and noise of the ballroom, her face and gown lit by moonlight behind him. He had to take in a breath at how beautiful she was.
"No," he replied, "It was quite comfortable. How have you been? It seems like it's been..."
"Such a long time," she agreed, a faltering smile playing across her lips. She looked down.
"Yes," he said, finding himself smiling.
"I've been busy," she said, after a moment, "Planning and everything."
"You planned all of this?"
"Oh, well, most of it. Venus and Mercury handled a lot of it too."
"It's a magnificent ball. Is this how balls are always done on the moon?"
Her smile faded a bit.
"Uh, to be honest, we haven't really had one in a long time. We had to do a lot of research to recreate it. But everyone says they're enjoying it!" she added, hastily.
He smiled again and shrugged.
"I suppose we are a bit out of fashion on the Earth."
"Oh, I like your fashions," she said, softly.
There was a brief silence between them as they gazed at each other.
"Selenity -" Endymion began.
A masked figure in a salmon coat and champagne waist coat and breeches entered the balcony.
"What is it, Kunzite?"
The other man bowed to Selenity.
"I'm afraid we'll have to leave shortly."
Endymion's eyes held a question which Kunzite's seemed to answer.
"I'm sorry, princess," Endymion said, turning to her and bowing.
"Oh, it's alright...I - I mean, it's not like you were here for - for fun or anything -"
Endymion took her hand and bowed very low again, this time laying a gentle and respectful kiss on the back of her hand.
"Princess, I have never enjoyed myself so much as I did tonight," he said, "I look forward to your visit. I hope we can prepare a celebration worthy of you."
Selenity openly ogled him, blushing.
"R-really?" she squeaked. He tried not to laugh.
"Absolutely. Until next time."
He and Kunzite bowed and made their way toward the end of the long hall.
Selenity remained on the balcony, holding her hand to her breast.
"Am I really doing a good job?"
Mercury let a bubble of laughter escape at this praise.
She was dancing with Zoicite, who had sought her out almost immediately. He was resplendent in a sage-green coat, golden embroidery covering the cuffs and breast, with a cream waistcoat, and cream satin breeches. His strawberry hair was pulled back by a green ribbon at the neck and he wore a dark brown and gold mask beneath which his eyes danced happily as they rested on her face.
Mercury was greatly enjoying herself. Surprisingly, despite his usually haphazard attitude, Zoicite had proved to be an excellent dancer.
He smiled down at her and she felt that odd syncopation in her chest cavity.
Involuntarily, she gave a sigh.
He quirked an eyebrow at her.
"Oh, no. It's only that I was finding myself wishing that we could do this on a regular basis and, given the circumstances, that isn't likely to happen, is it?" she ended, ruefully.
Zoicite gazed down at her for a few moments.
"I suppose...not," he said, finally.
"And yet," he added, "I find myself wishing the same thing."
"Most decidedly. What should we do about that, I wonder?" he asked.
Mercury looked at him, thoughtfully. He continued to watch her face, a mixture of amusement and perplexity on his face.
"I'm not sure."
She realized that they had stopped dancing. They were beside a curtained enclosure of the long room, barely hidden by a large marble column.
Slowly, Zoicite reached out to smooth a stray lock of her hair under the blue ribbon. He took a step toward her and, very slowly, bent down so that his face was just above hers. He hesitated for a moment and then kissed her.
It was a hesitant kiss, and he drew back after only a few moments, staring down at her with an air of wonder and discovery. She stared up at him with the same expression; beneath the mask, her eyes glittered.
Then suddenly they both smiled.
"I," Zoicite began, " My dear, I -"
The clock in the hall sounded in an unearthly tintinnabulation. His gaze jerked toward it, and then to three familiar figures in black, blue, and salmon, making their way toward him.
Mercury followed his gaze, then turned back to him.
"You have to go," she said.
"Mercury, I -" he began, but the men were already at their side. Kunzite gave Zoicite a glance of curiosity, but if he thought finding them together behind a column was unusual, he didn't say anything.
"It's time," Jadeite said, bowing to Mercury. She curtseyed back.
"Yes, but -" Zoicite began.
"We've got to hurry, I'm afraid," Endymion put in, "Someone offended the head of the Martian leadership." His pointed glare at Jadeite was not lost on anyone else.
"But I -," Zoicite paused again.
He sighed and turned to Mercury.
"I'm sorry," he said, then bowed very low. The others were already turning to go. He straightened and hurried after them, with a quick glance back at her.
Nephrite found himself beside one of the planetary princesses, the tall one with beautiful legs and curves. Now that he didn't have to worry about her electrocuting him, he had time to admire her beauty. He gave her the searching glance of the connoisseur, noting the sheerness of her gown, her loose limbs, her way of standing with one hand on her hip, a willful tilt to her strong chin. He also noted the muscle of her bare arms. Like the other princesses, she showed clear signs of training in more than embroidery.
He decided it would interesting to flirt with her, albeit mildly. Besides, he had nothing else to do since he was on duty to watch the door, which meant no dancing.
So he closed the distance between them.
"Don't you dance, princess?"
"Only with the best-looking guys," Jupiter replied, with a little grin on her face.
Nephrite choked a bit on his sip of wine.
"Excuse me," he coughed, clearing his throat.
"That one, for instance," she said, pointing at one of the senior captains of the Lunar guard who was possibly fifty.
Nephrite's eyes widened.
"How old are you!?" he exclaimed.
Jupiter broke into chuckles and Nephrite found himself frowning at her.
"I'm sixteen. My birthday was two weeks ago," she answered,"How old are you?"
"I'm twenty two."
Jupiter eyed him up and down.
"I thought so," she replied.
He nearly choked again, this time with laughter. Her tone was so absurdly knowing. Her green eyes glittered in fun behind her mask.
"Am I to take it that being two and twenty is a virtue?"
Jupiter wrinkled her nose and took another sip of her own wine.
"Not really. I just thought that you looked...uh...old."
One elegant brown eyebrow raised above the small piece of black velvet that was his own mask, he looked down his nose at her.
"Old?" he repeated, "Hardly. I am only six years older than you, princess."
"I suppose that makes me seem like an old man," he went on, suggestively.
Hardly, Jupiter thought. She was secretly a bit astounded at her own audacity. She'd noticed him watching her from before. She had been looking him over too, when he wasn't glancing her way. She very much wanted him to flirt with her, but didn't at the same time. Which made things confusing...and exciting.
"You have a kind of a...worldly air," she replied, sipping her wine again.
Nephrite frowned down at his glass.
"A worldly air?" he mused, "Now how am I to take that? I think I'll count it as a compliment. It's not difficult to acquire a worldly air when you've seen much of the what the world has to offer."
His lips were set rather hard. Jupiter felt genuinely intrigued in spite of her self.
"How...how much have you seen?"
Nephrite stared at his glass a bit longer, then looked up at her.
"More than you at any rate, I'm sure. For example, I doubt you realize that one of your ribbons is untied."
Jupiter colored and raised her hand to her back.
"Shall I?" he asked, his voice dipping with the barest suggestiveness.
"N-no, that's alright!" Jupiter replied, lightly, "I can get it."
Nephrite sighed, absurdly amused by her strange combination of sensuality and innocence.
"You won't reach it that way."
She ignored him and kept trying to wrench her arm around her back.
He yanked the loose ribbon into a quick knot before she could dislocate her shoulder.
"Don't you ever get tired of being right?" Jupiter asked, half-joking, half-acerbically, as she patted the knot.
Her tall companion gave a low chuckle.
"Do you know, princess, I never do."
Jupiter rolled her eyes.
He glanced down at her, noting her delicate yet strong mouth and her lively eyes.
"Would you like to dance?" he found himself asking, even though he knew he wasn't supposed to be dancing. Or chatting up pretty women. Especially when the woman in question was a princess from another planet and six years younger than himself.
The sheer enthusiasm in her eyes decided him. Throwing caution to the wind, he offered her his arm, adding maliciously:
"That is, if you aren't too tipsy."
He threw a doubtful glance at her nearly empty glass.
She almost glared at him and he had to struggle not to laugh.
Jupiter took his hand and twirled gracefully into his polite embrace.
They stepped through the first movement of the dance. Jupiter prided herself on her ability to dance well and with a partner who matched her so well, and who was himself an expert, she felt like she was dancing on air.
"You're remarkably good," Nephrite grudgingly admitted.
"Thanks. You're pretty good too."
They marked a few more steps together, completing a tricky pass.
"Was that your family you were speaking with earlier?" he asked, suddenly.
"Oh, yeah! They're all here. I have kind of a big family."
"What a pleasure."
"Not always." She grimaced.
"I have five sisters," she continued.
Nephrite twirled her out and back.
She shook her head.
"I guess you could say I'm the son of the family."
He smiled at that and caught her in a spin, dipping her unexpectedly.
She gasped and blinked up at him and his smile deepened.
He pulled her back up a bit sharply and she caught herself against his chest.
She was breathing hard, her hair a bit tumbled.
For a moment, as they stared at each other, Nephrite felt the tiniest spark of something.
There was the sudden sound of clapping and they both quickly stepped apart. The other dances were gathered around them, clapping softly in appreciation.
Nephrite was instantly on alert. He had drawn attention to himself in an unforgivable way. He quickly looked around the room to gauge the damage, but no one seemed to look as if they suspected he was not from one of their respective planets.
He turned back to her and bowed over her hand.
She stood very still.
"Thanks," she murmured.
"My pleasure," he replied.
"If you'll excuse me."
He turned on his heel and headed for where he'd last seen Kunzite disappear.
Jupiter adjusted her mask and took a deep breath, but it didn't help steady her pulse.
"Who was that, dear?"
She turned to find her mother regarding her with a great deal of curiosity, little sisters gathered behind her, giggling and exclaiming over the marvels of the dance floor, the couples, the costumes they wore.
"Just...," Jupiter swallowed, her throat suddenly a bit dry, "Just a minor dignitary's son."
"Ah." Her mother's eyes narrowed, but all she said was:
"Well, you two danced beautifully together."
"Ha," Jupiter struggled to laugh, "Thanks, mom."
But her eyes strayed to the tall figure in the maroon-velvet frock coat, and her mother's face grew worried again.