Title: The Red and the White
Description: A game of wills between two kingdoms.
A/N: Written for Day 8 of Shitennou_Ai's 2013 Sailor Moon Halloween Extravaganza (written to image prompt)
Warnings: If your answer to the question "Are you old enough and not averse to reading material depicting graphic violence/character death?" is no, you should STOP HERE.
The Red and the White
She steps out onto the balcony and takes a deep breath. The air is cold but invigorating, bringing a becoming flush to her cheeks that matches the red of her dress and the red of her hair. It will be a good day, she can tell.
Finally, she looks down at the army that has congregated outside the walls of her castle. Their number does not concern her. She is interested only in one of the five mounted soldiers riding at the head of the army.
He removes his helmet to reveal a face that has haunted her dreams and nightmares alike. His eyes are the same sapphire blue as the gold-bordered pennons whipping in the air. Too often, he has looked on her with indifference. Today, though, the tables have turned. She has at last managed to procure something that he wants. His longing is so palpable she can nearly taste it on the tip of her tongue.
"You know why we're here, Beryl."
She smiles down at him teasingly. "Finders, keepers, Endymion."
The muscle in his cheek jumps, and out of the corner of her eye, she sees a white mare shake her head restlessly, responding to her rider's disquiet.
"So you won't release him?"
Beryl raises her eyebrows. Not a single person here believes that she is going to let him go, but the formalities have to be observed. "Have you brought what I asked for?"
She already knows the answer. There is no frail little queen riding in their company with her long fair hair and her soft blue eyes. But of course, she didn't expect her to come. Not really. But it would have been nice.
"I will not give her to you."
"Then we seem to be at an impasse, Endymion. I have something you want, but you don't seem to be willing to trade anything for him. Aren't you even going to ask me if he's still alive?" Her lips curve cruelly. "Better yet, you should be asking me when he started begging for death."
Endymion draws in a sharp breath, and the others' fists clench harder on their weapons.
"Stop talking to her and burn that bitch's castle down to the ground," Rei hisses to her king from her seat on the white horse. Her fire-starting hands are curled tightly around the reins, her fingernails starting to draw blood where they cut into her skin.
Nephrite lays a steadying hand on her horse's neck and uses the other to loosen her grip before the mare bolts. "While it's a sight I would surely love to see, it would mean the death of him if we couldn't get him out in time."
"You shouldn't have come, Rei," Endymion tells her wearily, glancing at the broad-shouldered man to his left.
Kunzite looks back, and the fury that lights his eyes is as strong as the day he heard that one of his men had been taken. "I wasn't going to be the one to tie her down. Were you?"
The king looks away, then back up at the queen gloating down at them. "We've had a word with your trading partners, Beryl. It seems that they've decided to take their business…elsewhere."
The skin around her eyes tightens. They will pay, and dearly, when she gets her hands on them. But first things first.
"My people and I, however, will stay here," Endymion tells her, "and we will make sure nothing goes into the castle."
Beryl sneers down at him. "Has it come to this, Endymion? You're laying siege to my castle? Starving innocent people?"
"They don't have to suffer, if you let him go now. The choice is yours."
But they both know what choice she will make.
She holds out for seven months. The season turns swiftly from fall to winter, and battering sleet and snow and hail rain down mercilessly on the army outside her walls, but they do not yield.
Even as hunger preys among her people, Beryl walks her halls, gleaming with satisfaction. Every day, she looks out her window, and every day, she can see him outside her walls. She has managed to keep him from his precious queen for seven months.
When every last morsel of food and drink has been consumed, every sack of grain and barrel emptied, skeletal fingers chasing every last morsel from their depths, she gives up her prize.
She watches closely as the wasted man is carried across the moat, beyond the first wall, and then beyond the second, where he is received by his brothers-in-arms and his lover.
Endymion's voice is dark, grating, more vicious than she has ever heard it before, and she knows she will hear it this way in her dreams for months to come, and it will give her untold pleasure.
"You'll pay for this, Beryl."
Her gown hangs loosely on her body in the aftermath of the siege, but the smile on her lips is lush and full as she turns away. She doesn't need to watch them go, for she will see him again. She is sure of it.
Rei's greatest regret is that she didn't burn the witch's castle to the last, smoldering embers and spit on the ashes before they rode away. But getting Jadeite back to a place of warmth and safety is of the highest priority, and nothing burns well in winter. Except her hatred.
It grows daily as she nurses Jadeite back to health. He is perilously thin, delirious with fever and pain the entire journey back to the Golden Kingdom. She can't even weep when he finally recognizes her, three weeks later, because all her tears have been spent.
A full month passes before he can lie on his back to sleep, another before he begins adding weight again to his gaunt frame. His muscles have atrophied, and it is a slow and difficult process for him to start to regain his former strength.
Still, his body recovers faster than his mind, scarred by his time as Beryl's prisoner. He refuses to speak about what happened and flinches at the sight of chains. Endymion has the iron bars ripped out of the dungeon cells, and Jadeite does not walk past the entrance to that place. Ever.
He is quieter than before, but he tells Endymion that they did the right thing. If Beryl had gotten her hands on Serenity, she would never have given her up.
"But I came back to you," he says, and he turns to Rei with his old lopsided smile, the one she'd feared she would never see again. "Guess you're stuck with me after all."
She clings to him and the others leave the room, smiling to see them happy again.
Half the kingdom wants to go to war with Beryl, not to mention his brothers and sisters. If Rei had been willing to leave his side, she would have raised the armies herself.
Endymion and Serenity want to see if they can try another way, one that doesn't involve all the lives that are broken and lost in war. Beryl is a threat, but perhaps they can keep her contained by turning more of her allies against her and beggaring her kingdom.
"But the decision rests with you, Jadeite," Endymion tells him, his eyes still clouded with guilt. "If you think we should pursue the course of war, I will wage it."
They are gathered in the gardens, an odd place to talk of war and death and retribution, but Jadeite spends as much of his time outside as he can these days. He tracks the sun as eagerly as little boys do sweets.
Jadeite shakes his head, a peaceful look on his face. "No, Endymion. Let's not go to war again. It's good to be home," he says, looking around him at the gardens in springtime. "I don't ever want to leave again."
Everywhere he looks, the roses are blooming in masses of deep red and pure white, perfuming the air with their soft scents, and the others pretend not to see the tears of gladness running down his cheeks.
Every day he seems to be more like his former self. He even manages to provoke Rei into fighting with him, but he catches her before she storms away and kisses her senseless.
But then an unwelcome fear begins to creep into her heart. As his spirit grows stronger, his body seems to weaken again. She pushes it from her mind until she catches Ami watching him as well.
Jadeite grows quieter still, but they don't speak of it. Not until the day his arm grows too weak to hold his sword, and he walks slowly from the practice courts for the last time.
Zoisite throws his own blade across the court, the metal ringing and shrieking as it scrapes across stone. But he picks up Jadeite's sword carefully and hangs it in the place of greatest honor before the blue-and-gold banner in the throne room.
He catches Ami outside of Jadeite's room, pulling her to him too tightly. "There has to be something you can do."
He already knows the answer even before he sees her face.
"There's nothing. His body is failing. It won't be long now. She poisoned him before she released him. And then she gave him back to us, for just a little while." Her whisper is as bitter as the salt of the tears they are both crying.
Not long after that, armies begin to amass in both kingdoms. But neither begins to march, and the air is heavy with waiting.
One night, the clouds hang low and gray over the land, blotting out the moon and the stars. A rider watches from the woods as, in unison, twenty white flags are raised at half-mast from the castle. They signal death and sorrow, the passing of someone dearly beloved to the kingdom.
He turns his horse and rides with all speed to his mistress. Before daybreak, Beryl has her own banners flying over her castle. But these banners are red, redder than roses, redder than blood. They are the red of vengeance and victory.