Disclaimer: I don't own these characters.
Note: Part of the feel of her name universe. This is more like a prequel or perlude to it than anything else.
Beneath the Lunar Willow
Mars loved Lord Jadeite's hands.
She had caught him in the garden alcove one late afternoon, beneath the ancient Lunar Willow - a lush, white-barked tree with deep red leaves. She did not sneak up on him, suspected it to be an impossible task at that, and speculated that he knew she was approaching before she stepped away from the pillar. He had not cared to put away his tools as she walked up to him. He might not have deemed her presence threatening. It was a good sign for the negotiations proceeding in the Great Hall of Ancients, but Jupiter had not taken it well that they had been called "decoration" by the bluntly candid Lord Nephrite. The meetings for trade negotiations had been postponed temporarily due to troubling security problems they had been experiencing, and for a few hours, they were allowed to leave the enclosure of the halls. She found him, on her wanderings to locate Venus, but surprised herself for the curiosity he inspired.
He had found the willow, quite on his own. It was a rather deserted area of the palace. His hands were bare. The white gloves she had seen him always wear were laid carefully beside him. In his hands was a long piece of pale wood that he carefully worked on, shaping with skilled knife strokes. She thought perhaps it was because it had reminded her of home, of bone carvings and red sand that made her go to him that day. She saw the ease with which he worked and knew those hands was calloused not just from weapons training but from day-to-day wear.
The ornamental swords the Kings of Earth wore did not belie the fact that they walked like men who fought. She had been raised by warriors, and though the Moon and the Alliance had long cast off the ancient rituals of war, Mars had not forgotten that once her people were infamously known as the People of War. Their Gods were no longer sated by only blood and fire, but it still rang through their veins, that not unfamiliar pang and admiration for champions and heroes that were only spoken of or sung about from poets in ancient ballads.
"What is it you are making there, my Lord?" Mars asked, hoping her voice did not sound to him so curious and childish as it did to her own ears. He had not risen at her approach, so she did not feel the need to greet him as court customarily dictated all beginnings.
Lord Jadeite paused only for a small moment before answering. "I do not know yet," he answered. His voice was gentle, as if he was talking to a child and for a brief moment she resented him.
"Do not know yet?" Mars inquired again when he did not elaborate and her impatience got the best of her. She sighed at the sharpness of her tone and looked away to gather her composure. Her eyes came upon the tree looming over them and when she was sure she was in control of herself again, she looked back to his bent head. "If you don't mind me asking, what do you mean by that, my Lord?"
His hands stopped again momentarily, causing her to frown. She suspected he was thinking he did mind but was too polite to say it. "Martians," he said instead. "Your minds are strange."
She tilted her head at him, sure that he had not meant to give himself away like that. "Were you trying to read my mind?" she asked, this time she did not try to hide her curiosity. She had been briefed already on the main abilities of their Earthian ambassadors, though she was sure there were still much they did not know.
He did stop this time, and it was because of surprise. She could tell, because though Mars could not read minds she had long learned to read people, and she always had a good instinct about these things. "What do you mean?" he asked her instead of answering. She felt he had chosen his words very carefully, as if he was about to startle a scared animal or as if a secret was close to being spilt unexpectedly.
"You have the gift," she answered. Word games were not her strong point. Mars only knew to be honest or to stay absolutely silent, which sometimes was more telling. This at least was what Venus told her often about the art of deception and her lack of skill in deceiving anyone who knew her well. It was a good thing not many did then, she had retorted, but Venus had only laughed at her gaily for saying so. "I don't mind," she told Lord Jadeite with a smile on her lips. She met his eyes when he looked up at her and his expression was blank and seemed chiseled from the yellowing bones of dragons. He did not answer her implicit question but Venus never lied to her either, no matter how good her friend was at it, and silence was sometimes more telling then words. Even if his face was blank she was not afraid to look into it or afraid of what he could see on her own face. She didn't feel a need to explain herself, but his impassive features made her speak because he seemed to need to hear her say it. "Martians are prophets," she said softly and stopped, hesitating on how much she was allowed to tell him and was sad that there were still such secrets lying in wait. "May I sit beside you?" she asked him. "It's perhaps going to become a long story," she explained, though she did not need to.
"Please, Lady Mars," he finally said and rose, indicating the empty space on the other side of him. His manners were no better than hers, she mused and sensed he was a bit amused with her in turn.
"Thank you," she bowed only slightly. When she was comfortable, she set a hand on the Lunar Willow. It was once her father's favorite tree, even though they would not grow in the harsh environments of Mars without the aid of a lot magick and care. "My father's favorite," she told him before she could stop herself. Then she thought it rather strange she was checking herself around someone who could hear her thoughts, even if it only came to him in scraps. "Sometimes you won't hear me think," she said as she looked to him, knowing that he was possibly thinking that himself. He did not hide his surprise this time. "It's only true for some Martians, not all," she told him. "You must have noticed that you can't read Venus at all but that the others are... easy to hear." She smiled at him, "Venus learned it on her own, she learned many things on her own. Mine, it is a gift of our Gods. My father often told me that it's to show I have lived more than one interesting life, but the priests tell me that it is the sign of the Gods in my blood."
"You must be wise then," Jadeite said, speaking in the same gentleness as one did to frightened animals in her silence. She was not irritated this time with him for treating her so delicately. That was, at least, what she told herself.
"No," she answered. "I think, if what he said is true, then I only had the chance to live many opportunities. I don't remember them, but maybe there are gifts I have yet to learn I possess because of them. It is more believable, you must think, then having blood from the Gods."
"You are not afraid of the pieces of your thoughts that I do read?" He asked instead when she was silent for a long time again. It was the question that must have been there since he first found her thoughts so broken to his mind's ears. Since he first discovered she knew he could listen even if she did not want him to hear.
"You think I will be afraid, that I will give myself away somehow in ways I do not wish you to know? You think that I should be afraid, that you could easily use what you learn from me against me some day?" She half asked and half stated, elaborating on what he did not wish to say. "I am a subject of her Lady, Queen Selenity, I would be a fool not to worry about it. But, I cannot be angry at you for something you are born with or fear you because of the thoughts I think to myself." She gathered her legs to her and looked at him with her cheek pillowed against her knees. She wondered why she felt so comfortable with him there, maybe it was the tree or the garden or how easy it was for her to read him with such clarity at times that he did not feel like the stranger that he was. She didn't know why, but she caught herself in the midst of acting like she was only spending time with an old friend and not an ambassador of Earth. Maybe that was also another of his powers or from one of the lives she never remembers living before this one, and despite hating how he spoke so kindly and so softly to her, as if she were fragile and easy to scare, in its own way it was irritatingly charming. "I do not fear my thoughts. I do not fear what you glean from them either. Your Lord Nephrite was not wrong to call us... decorations. He meant us... figure-heads, wasn't it his meaning?" she stumbled a bit on their Earthian language. Tutors and Mercury could only make a language less foreign by degrees. It was still too recent that she had the chance to use it for the first time with natives of the planet. "We are what we are, symbols of peace. At times, when it was needed, we were also symbols of strength, of wars that could be won in the name of the Light. Is that not what you are also searching for, Lord Jadeite? Peace."
He had returned to carving his little figurine. He did not answer her right away, as if he was giving her question some thought. "We are searching not just for one thing," he finally answered. "All answers cannot be found on the Moon." Mars smiled at this. "Now you are thinking I have passed a test," he told her without emotion in his voice.
"You have passed one," she replied with a serious nod. "I am not wrong though, in saying you are also looking for peace," she added with a small smile. It might have started as a question but it changed into a statement. She sensed him change beside her too, an imperceptible change.
"We won't succeed, as the prophecy foretells," he finally said. "Lord Nephrite," he said this with some degree of mockery in his voice. "He says the stars are ominous about this whole attempt and our people are restless. It is never good when all of us come to the Moon and leave our armies without leaders."
"I have seen it, too," she agreed. "To have the blood of the Gods is to be able to see what is to come," she explained, even though he had not asked. She thought of her visions then but they were no less gruesome than her dreams. Despite all that she had been taught about the truth and about the future, she could not help but shudder a little and turn from the memories. She wasn't always brave enough. Sometimes she thought the Gods asked too much from her, that they gave her too much and that she would break from bearing all the expectations put upon her.
"You are thinking that I am a... murderer," he said at last, a little hesitant at the end.
She blinked, surprised. Then, relief washed over her at what thoughts he had heard, reassuring her that it was not what she thought he had heard at all. "I am thinking you are a warrior," she answered. Martians did not disdain or fear death, and perhaps that was what made them cruel sometimes in the eyes of races more gentle than their own. "Perhaps in your language it is easiest to translate it into murderer?" she stumbled a little at this particular word that she was not all that familiar with but knew vaguely the meaning to be more criminal than what she was thinking. "Warriors kill people, yes? In peace times, we sometimes call them other names because we do not need to kill anymore and they do not always know how to live in such a world."
"Earth, it is not a part of that us or a part of the we when it comes to peace or the Alliance," he said. She did not reply to that, he was not wrong. She felt her jaw clench but forced herself to relax.
"Not yet," she answered softly. She watched him work when he did not reply to her murmurred words. Despite the discomfort, she was easily distracted by his long fingers and the sureness of his movements. She knew those hands could make the weapons sing, and it was something she had admired in all the Kings and Princes of Earth, the thing that she feared and admired were one and the same. War sat comfortably upon the shoulders of these foreign men, like cloaks thrown carelessly over their shoulders, and she knew it well even if she had never experienced one herself. The people of Mars, no matter how tame they are now, had once lived and died by that hunger for power and the glory that came with it on the battle-field. "On Mars," she began again, the story she knew he wanted to hear from her lips since the start. "We use bones. It does not decide what it wants to be, we decide for it what it will become. Men, women, children, animals, weapons, and all manner of things, we force it to be what we want it to be. The dragons, it is their gift to us in their passing. We would dishonor them not to know what we make of their remains. Yet, you say that you do not know what you shape with your hands from the limbs of something that once lived?"
"On Earth," Jadeite answered her. "We do not ask it to be anything more or less than what it was born to become. You cannot ask wood to become metal or a bear to become a lion, they are different but it does not make them weaker or stronger."
"You think peace is a weakness, don't you?" she asked him, a slight proud tilt in her chin. "Even though you desire it, do you think that's how it will turn out? There are those who do not fear to trail after the threads of fate only to find the path cut off."
"Even the people of Mars, your people, have forgotten the ways of war. You have seen it, haven't you? What Lord Nephrite sees in the stars, you must have seen it too," Jadeite spoke. He said it with such certainty, even in his questions, even in her broken thoughts, that she knew he too could read people and not just minds. They were both, rather stubborn. She thought of the blackness that was impenetrable, the part of her mind he could not access even if she asked him in. She thought of how dangerous this man was, not just on the battle-field, but at court and before ambassadors.
It was a disquieting thought, but she was more than intrigued. Here was a hero. She could sense it off of his skin. Men like him were men her ancestors were, and what she had long strived to become since she had been a child weaned on tales and histories. Here was the type of man who ancient ballads sung about. She was a Senshi, but what ran in her blood has become no more than a symbol, a memory of power. Yet, Earth has not forgotten that power, and perhaps that was the danger they were in. Perhaps it was the eternal struggle between forgetfulness and remembering that brought tragedies about.
This man, she thought sadly then, he would one day be an enemy if they, the Moon and the Earth, could not meet in the middle.
"On Mars," she told him instead. "Our world is very red. My tutors, my father and my mother, they tell me stories. The bards, they have travelled to our doorsteps to sing of our land, when it had been lush and green, blue and brown, like your world is now. We only have dragons there now. Have you heard of them for more than the tales of terror I hear of when they talk of Earth's stories? We have magick and priests that can read the past and priestesses that can see the future. At home, I am not so special."
"Except that you are also a Sailor Senshi," Jadeite pointed out, though without a hint of mockery in his voice.
"We are only symbols, your Lord Nephrite did not need to so blatantly point out what we have known since we took our posts," she said with a wistful smile. "As a woman of Mars, I have always wanted to be a hero. Martians are born with the desire to save the world and be bigger than what we were born to be. The people of Earth are not so different from us, are they, my Lord? Even if you do not wish to change the elements you were born as, do you not also desire to change into a greatness that a title alone cannot offer?"
"No," he said grimly. "We are not so different." He paused to study the small figurine in his hand before turning it over to continue. His work was a steady progress towards an unknown destination. She wondered why he was so afraid to look at her, but dismissed such thoughts of vanity when she was started at the realization of having them at all.
Still, even as she watched him work, she could smell the fires in the approaching distance. She could almost faintly hear the cold clashing of swords and the dreams of the ancients crumbling. She could see the ashes on the winds and feel it in her lungs and in her hair, the pieces of the dead and dying clung to her with their phantom fingers. She did not know whether to dread it or to be exhilarated by what was to come, like a hawk hovering at the open door of the cage it had known all its life, she was unsure how to proceed.
She was also a warrior, with the blood of ancient warriors in her veins. Yet, she could not help but wonder, was a tamed hunter still a hunter in the wild? Or will it become like the hunted, as all the weak are to those who are stronger? She felt a sudden, inexplicable fear and held back the questions that seemed to scald her mouth.
Mars watched and Jadeite worked in the silence that came upon them. Beneath the great and ancient tree her father loved, in a garden that seemed in another world. She wondered in the muteness, beneath the shadows of the crimson leaves, at the desire she had of telling this man her name.