Part 3. We Are Grey
The first time he visited Mercury after the end of the world, he didn't know what to say, so he said nothing. Things were garbled for the time immediately afterwards, a mess of the world righting itself, of people being reborn, of sorting out memories and of certain reincarnated royals returning to Earth and finding their companions .
She was otherwise occupied with such things. There would be a better time.
So he waited.
The second time he visited Mercury after the end of the world, she was shopping. For books. Books had never really been much his thing. Zoisite had some. Somewhere. Probably about music.
"What is all this?" He pulled a book of the shelf, squinted at it, tried to open it, and found it was wrapped in plastic. That was frustrating.
She looked up, started, blinked in surprise. She knew perfectly well what he looked like as a human, so he didn't see why she looked so taken aback. "Nephrite?"
He shoved the book back onto the shelf. "Hi." She didn't smile. Just looked startled. Her cheeks were turning pink. He supposed it was a bit sudden for him to just pop out of nowhere at her, but he didn't know what else to do. Appearing at her home would be an intrusion, and he didn't want to go back to the karaoke parlor and listen to the turtle-idiot blathering. He frowned. "Long time no see."
"Eh." She nodded and seemed to collect herself. "How are you?"
He shrugged. She looked around, awkwardly. He realized he should have planned this better. She was occupied, and probably wouldn't appreciate being randomly dragged off to sit around and not do anything. He had found a nice rooftop, though. They'd be able to see the big bridge and the bay.
She shuffled the load of books in her arms. Books on medicine, he noticed. And a couple on America. "What is all this?" he repeated, glancing at the shelves.
That got much more of a response. She beamed at him, excited. "I've been accepted into a program in America. For future doctors. My mother knew someone related to it, and he helped me get in. I'll be able to study overseas." She looked at the books, eyes flickering across the titles. "I'm ahead in my English class, but if I'm going to be studying at such a high level, I need some books on academic and medicinal English, so I can talk to my professors and the other students. I really have to study the rest of the school year, before I leave."
She picked another book off the shelf, cradling the stack of books in her arm with the familiarity of someone used to the position, balancing them easily against her hip.
He never really thought of her that way before, but he realized, "You're smart."
She looked up at him, wide eyed. Then she laughed. "What?" he demanded. She shook her head and waved her free hand.
"You're funny, Nephrite."
He sniffed, folded his arms, and glared at the books. She was leaving Japan. That wasn't a problem. He could go anywhere, whenever he felt like it. It was good to have powers again.
She was going to be a doctor.
She wasn't a Senshi anymore. He watched her browsing the books, reading the backs of them, finally selecting a couple that she deemed acceptable.
She was moving on.
Somehow, he didn't like it.
The third time he visited Mercury after the end of the world, he did not approach her or her friends. Three of the other four Senshi were there, as was the Prince, the turtle-idiot, and a woman he supposed must be her mother.
She didn't see him. He preferred it that way.
When the Prince looked up and saw him, he moved back and blended himself into the stream of tourists and baggage moving through the airport's check-in lanes.
She left the Senshi, passed through security with a wave, and was gone.
He looked away, and disappeared.
The fourth time he visited Mercury after the end of the world, he felt compelled to do it. She'd seen him at the wedding, came over and said hello. She hadn't changed much. She was a little happier, he thought. A little more mature.
She was even a Senshi again, even if it was only for a moment. Four years since the end of the world. Four years of alternating between wandering aimlessly by himself, and of listening to the other Shitennou gripe, blather, bicker, joke, compose, snark and talk.
It wasn't a bad four years. But she had moved on with her life. Why open up contact again? He wondered at it. It annoyed him. She was smiling as she invited him. It annoyed him more, knowing he would go.
She told him she was moving back to Japan. Too far from her mother and friends. She hadn't liked being so far away when there was an emergency. She missed everyone. Wanted to be there for Jupiter next year. Would complete her residency at her mother's hospital. Come visit. She was better at using an oven now, after living in America.
He left as early as he did just to get away from Jadeite, who apparently thought this was hilarious. He reminded himself to put something nasty in Jadeite's coffee.
Mercury's apartment was small, and there were still boxes everywhere, marked with American shipping labels. Clothes were folded and stacked in piles, books were sitting in opened boxes, and there was an assortment of American snacks and candies on her table, gifts for co-workers and friends.
"Try the Starbursts," she told him. "They're like Hai-chu's, but with different flavors."
He had no idea what Hai-chu's or Starbursts were, but he ate one anyway. Something sweet, tart, chewy. She emerged from the kitchen a minute later, with a tray of cookies in hand. "Sorry it's not very much, but I'm still unpacking. I didn't think you'd show up this quickly."
He'd given her a month since the wedding. He hadn't quite realized that for a human, moving between countries would take time.
She brushed open the curtains leading out to her balcony. It was just large enough to hold a small table, a pair of chairs, and a couple potted plants. He had to duck under the clothesline.
The view caught him. It was just past sunset. The west lay out before them, creating a claret, wine-colored light that spilled out into the darkness above. Below, the city was glittering into the oncoming night. He looked from the sky to Mercury. It was different from the abyss. The light that flowed into the darkness had been cold and unnatural. This time, there was something distinctly vital and alive about it. Warm and ordinary and full of life. The city hummed.
It was as though she had found a bright mirror to the Dark Kingdom.
"I could have afforded something a little bigger, but I thought it would be nice to come outside sometimes." She held out the tray. "They're not so burnt this time. I got the recipe from one of the nurses back in America. And a lecture on how to set the timer." She grinned, her nose wrinkling a little. He took a cookie. They were chocolate chip. He knew chocolate chip cookies.
It wasn't the same as the first time. These were soft, still a little warm from baking. He wanted to continue being annoyed with her. He didn't understand why he was so angry at her for moving on. The other Senshi had done the same. So had the Shitennou, in their own ways.
The cookie was different. It still filled him with the same indescribable sweetness.
"It's good." He tried to resist another, but he reached for the tray again. "Better."
She smiled at him, set down the tray, took one herself and nibbled on it while she spoke. She talked of things in America. Of hospitals and universities, of culture and science and medicine. She talked of learning how to use a scalpel, of learning to make neat little sutures, of learning to talk to distressed family members. She talked about learning that jalapenos are spicy, and driving on the other side of the road is disconcerting, and that McDonald's is a strange oasis of familiarity in an unfamiliar place.
And he listened, and ate cookies, and started to wonder if the sweetness was really from the cookies.
The fifth time he visited Mercury after the end of the world, she was tired. Sitting at her kitchen table, looking worn out. She yawned when she saw him, tried to smother it, failed.
"Long surgery today," she said. "I didn't have time to prepare anything."
He looked at her, elbows on the table, quietly massaging her temples. Around her neck was a thin chain. A familiar looking ring was dangling from it, halfway out from under her blouse.
She had moved forward.
She had not moved on.
"You've done enough today. Wait here," he said, coming back half an hour later with hot noodles from Thailand.
She was delighted.
He liked pleasing her.
The sixth time he visited Mercury after the end of the world, he brought tamales from Mexico. He talked to her of wandering, half from boredom, half from curiosity at what humanity had created. Of rock concerts in parks and flamenco dancing during festivals. Of pad thai made on street corners and of busy markets selling spices and bright birds. He taught her to swear in five languages, and promised to teach her more later. He talked of coming back to the house the Shitennou had taken over as a home, and how Jadeite had sprayed kimchi-spiked coffee all over Kunzite that morning, and how Zoisite was writing a symphony and was very touchy about Kunzite trying to kill Jadeite. Apparently murdering each other in his earshot was disruptive.
She laughed a lot that day.
He realized it wasn't the cookies that were filling him.
The seventh time he visited Mercury after the end of the world, he had done a lot of preparation. He usually watched crime-dramas and action movies when he was at the house, which were not really the best source of advice on how to kiss a girl. He watched several hours of the ridiculous daytime romance-dramas that he sometimes caught Kunzite watching secretly, to get a better idea.
He imitated the heroes as best he could, making a dramatic grab for her waist.
It didn't go quite according to plan. By pulling her closer, he ended up yanking the tray of cookies in her hands straight into his stomach, and banged his head into hers.
She flushed, set down the tray and took his hand. "More like this, I think."
Sometime later, he managed to say, "Oh. Like that."
The eighth time he visited Mercury after the end of the world, they moved the chairs on the balcony next to each other. She brought sushi from a restaurant near the hospital. He brought white wine from Champagne.
They ate, and talked, and watched the sunlight fade out of the sky and the lights of the city brighten the night.
They eventually found other things to do to occupy their mouths.
The last time he visited Mercury after the end of the world, they did not quite make it to the balcony.
He decided beds are much more comfortable with two people than with one.
She told him he didn't need to visit after that.
Hello again. Hope you enjoyed. A couple cultural notes out of this chapter – first, Ami's bringing snacks back for friends and coworkers is typical in Japan. It's called 'omiyage' and is usually some sort of snack food. American Starbursts are a lot like Japanese Hai-chu's. If you can ever find the cherry ones, get them, they're super rare and awesome. They are also not to be confused with Chu-hai's, which are alcoholic.
Also, Ami refers to getting better at using ovens after living in America. I figured this would be likely since ovens are a luxury item in most Japanese apartments, and pretty rare. For Reasons Of Plot, Ami has one. Most cooking is done on the stove. So I figured Ami wasn't really a bad cook, she just needed a little practice.
Kimchi is a spicy Korean food, usually found with cabbage. But you can also find kimchi in chocolate, and with various other foods. I figured it would be bad in coffee.
Reviews are always welcome, and thanks for reading. :)