The girl stood elevated on the tips of her bare, dirty little toes, her right arm dangling uselessly by her side and jolting painfully every time she jumped or cheered. Despite her predicament, her eyes were alight with gaiety, and when the brittle Martian language flowed from her thin and bloodied lips it was as though with each cry her whole heart had gone flying to the one that was fighting for her in the pit.
"Want a boost?"
The child did not turn to look at her. She had begun to grimace suddenly – typical Martian, to be disgusted at the notion of weakness – but when she had had enough of her inability to view her friend's standings she grunted a little grunt and moved her little head a little. Wordlessly, she mounted the strange, golden-haired foreigner's back, and let her broken appendage fall over her shoulder.
"You understand Lunarian, kid?"
Minako turned to the fight, and the girl grumbled.
The "pit", as she had heard it called many times by locals, wasn't really a pit at all. There was no dip in the ground, no real, marked ring, or any sort of organised format that might have implied that the event taking place there was anything but barbaric. There was a vague, circular outline of dust, but the violently shuffling audience were what caused it, and they marked the ground available for unarmed, barefooted, brawlers to fight. Minako felt the limb resting on her shoulder jerk up and down again, and noted gingerly that there was no age limit to this violence. Blood was what painted the walls – was the metallic taste that these people craved – and there were no rules.
In the small, ever-moving pit were two entirely different figures. The first, and clearly the offensive, was the shorter of the two – a clumsy, bearded mass of muscle that seemed to know his strengths and think them godlike – and his face closely resembled an aged, scarred version of the boy who had just broken the arm of the girl that presently had a single-handed, vice-like grip around Minako's neck.
His opponent, however, was absolutely surprising.
The taller, raven-haired girl may not have been what her people would have called attractive, but Minako (who honestly couldn't help herself in spite of the irony) thought her the vision of loveliness. Just as her opponent and several others, the Martian girl adorned black shorts and a plain white shirt that would later become testimony to the blood she had spilt. The blonde revelled in it – her short sleeves and short shorts allowed a wonderful view of the sinew – which was not too much and certainly not too little – in the girl's arms and legs, which flexed in an entrancing way with every punch or kick she threw.
"What's her name?"
The child, of course, knew exactly who the foreigner was talking about, and Minako could feel her puff her little chest as best as she could against her back.
"Rei!" she boomed proudly.
Rei took a blow to the ribs, and Minako winced. Dirt seeped up between the warrior's toes as she planted her feet into the ground, trying to cushion the hit and keep herself standing. Though she stood strong, Minako knew those ribs were broken – taking into account the ungodly size of her opponent's fist, they had to be.
"You can call me Aya," the little girl announced, with an air of thinking herself absolutely magnanimous. "Who're you?"
The blonde only half-listened as she watched an elbow smash into Rei's pretty face. The Martian's teeth were red as she grimaced, and her nose was bloodied and leaning a little further to the right than it had been before. Broken, again – but somehow Minako knew it had been several times before.
"Minako," she offered.
"Mee-naaaah-ko," the child sounded out curiously. "That's a funny name."
Aya's giggles reverberated through Minako's entire body, and the girl made some blunt, underhanded comment about Venusians being sissies who sat in hot tubs, had ten lovers, and no sense of loyalty or honour. Minako tuned her out.
After much being pushed and pushing others to get a better view of the brawl, Minako suddenly began to realise how entirely ridiculous her interest was. What would her parents say if she off-handedly made some remark about how she had "seen this Martian" who had been "rather attractive"? Martians were barbarians, and what she was witnessing now only served as evidence. There was nothing alluring about those dark, calculating eyes; nothing refined or princess-like in the height of those cheekbones; nothing endearing about that crooked nose. Nothing at all.
"She got him!"
Minako was quick to snap out of her reverie, and sure enough, Rei was standing over the form of what was now just a body, skull cracked, lifeless eyes rolled back. The crowd erupted in a torrent of gruff cheers and several people moved to congratulate her, but the Martian girl only faintly acknowledged them as she turned to lean awkwardly over her handiwork. She reached down and wiped the blood from the dead man's head onto the palm of her hand, which she then rubbed across her shirt, careful to avoid her broken bones as she did so. Another chorus sounded from her fellow war-mongerers, and suddenly the blonde began to register that she was approaching her.
The scream that shot out from beside Minako's ear was so forceful and so unrelenting that it broke halfway, and resounded, painfully sharp and out of tune. As the Martian girl's features drew closer and more vivid, the Venusian found a layer of sweat begin to form around her brow – but it was just the heat of this stifling little nowhere, she reasoned, and plastered a friendly smile over her mouth.
She was not responded to in kind. While Minako's eyes caressed Rei's every inch, the dark-haired girl only allowed their gazes to meet briefly, and turned to the child on her back as though she were of higher rank and race. That was exceptionally rude, Minako flared internally – no one had ever been able to pass her over so lightly, not even another Martian. But what did she care what the goddamn savage thought of her anyway? The people of this dusty hellhole of a planet wouldn't know true beauty if it punched them in the face.
Minako was distracted from her internal tantrum by the monotonous voice of an angel. Hino Rei didn't extend her hand in greeting – she was still slouched over harshly and clinging to her sides with repressed interjections of pain on her lips. She only inclined her head shakily.
"Aino Minako," Minako returned, her anger forgotten.
Rei refused her arm, but did not refuse her company. Minako silently helped the two wounded Martians home.
"I'm not sure I feel entirely comfortable with you doing this."
Minako's fingers were on the hem of Rei's shirt, and quickly, the Martian's own digits had reacted by holding them – with a touch that was surprisingly gentle – in place. Her face was largely hidden by blood and dirt, but Minako could sense her discomfort and found it irresistible.
"Is there someone else you can ask?"
The warrior fell silent, and Minako grinned. Tentatively, Rei's fingers dropped, and the blonde immediately felt this loss, but ignored it.
She waited for the Martian's final signal of approval, a nod, and began to pull Rei's shirt over her head and ease her down, by her shoulders, onto the sheets. She ran her thumbs gently across the line of her ribs, under her bound chest, so as to feel the damage that had been done, and she watched as Rei choked back whatever pained sounds she longed to make. The area was extremely tender, swollen, and blue, and there was the appearance of blood under her skin. Minako was no Mercurian doctor, but she knew full well that this confirmed her predictions, and she moved to clasp a bottle of some strange Martian ointment that she poured into her suddenly wavering hands.
Minako could swear she had never found it so difficult not to care about the way someone's skin had felt under hers before. Perhaps it was just because the Martian was different – because she wasn't just skin and bones like most of her Venusian lovers but toned and battle-worn – because she smoldered gently and smelt intoxicatingly (and not disgustingly?) of blood and incense. But Rei had relaxed underneath her, and the job was getting done in a silence that was not uncomfortable, so Minako decided that it didn't matter.
"So what exactly is a Venusian doing on Mars?" her patient attempted to converse, her voice strained. "Not here for pleasurable reasons, surely, else you would have stayed on your own planet."
Minako laughed. That wasn't a sense of humour, it was bluntness that just happened to be amusing, but she already found herself being drawn in – not only by Rei's looks, now, but by her intriguing personality also. That was ridiculous, she scolded herself – Martians were all the same. They were...
Rei was beginning to sport a small, lopsided smile, and Minako looked away from her lips.
"Exactly right," she returned, trying to seem vital, "I'm here on business."
The dark-haired girl pried no more. Minako assisted her in shifting back to sit, so that she might apply bandages, and Rei began to wipe her bloodied face with a towel that had been sitting across the sheets from her just prior.
"Thank you, Aino," she grumbled after a while, "for everything."
The Venusian's expression softened as she considered that Martians were not the gentlest of people, and the warmth that Rei emanated suddenly seemed to flow into her fingertips and bathe her insides. She smiled, and it was genuine, and her reply was the most truthful thing she had ever said.
"The pleasure's all mine."
The dark, cloudy eyes that had begun to clear a little in her presence – that had warmed up to her and begun to acknowledge her as trustworthy – were now haunted and desolate, and brimming with distrust. Minako had put off being veracious for so many days and weeks because she knew she would be received exactly as such, but now she was beginning to wonder if she shouldn't have started with the truth, rather than building a trust just to break it.
"My duty is first and foremost to my people," Rei told her evenly, the caution from the very first time they had met protruding her tone again. "You can tell Queen Serenity that I am honoured, but that I must stay where I am needed – with my own people."
The word "own" had been iterated with enough force to be a growl. Minako felt her heart fall, but her little shoulders stood tall for her, and when she spoke, she spoke as Venus.
"Your people are people of the Empire, and the Empire needs you," she reasoned, her voice overcome with unarrogant authority, the muscles in her back bunched up tensely and with an attempted firmness of purpose. Rei's eyes widened so slightly it was almost unnoticeable, and something in the stillness of her expression, however blank, seemed as though struck. "As long as Mars still has a king, your duty, princess, is in Silver Millennium."
Violet eyes narrowed at Venus' own rigid cerulean ones.
"The child in the other room has no parents. What of her?"
For a time, the senshi was silent. Her features hardened considerably – not in contempt, but in deep thought – and then softened again, but to fall rather than to present a solution. She scolded herself for never considering these possibilities before – that Rei might not want to dedicate herself to the moon princess, that she might become attached to Rei. The usually stifling heat of the room evanesced through a prison-like window of bars, and Minako felt the cold, and knew it was because of the mistakes that her infatuation was leading her to make.
"You can drop her off at the Royal Camp before we leave," Venus finally suggested with a frigidness that she didn't feel, "Surely someone there will take her in."
"Assuming I go with you."
"You will come with me," she returned, "for you will do more good to your people from on the moon than here on Mars."
The dark-haired girl didn't seem to consider, but to know. Venus' blue eyes lit up with curiosity, and she noted that the depth of Rei's eyes didn't just reflect the knowledge of what she had just been told, gained before she had been told it, but far more than that – perhaps the knowledge of what was still to come, before its time.
"I suppose I don't really have a choice in the matter, then."
Rei smiled, brokenly. The Venusian smiled back.
"No, you don't."
She hadn't, either.
A/N: Experimenting with placing my author's notes at the end of a fiction/chapter. Awaiting results.
This here is a Silver Millennium-based fic, just in case you've not quite gotten sick of those yet, and it's not going to be spectacularly long or structured, but rather a multi-chaptered drabble-esque series that will outline less the events of the past life and more the characters of Venus and Mars and the angsty, turbulent relationship that they share.
I hate to start off this way, but I'm posting this right before leaving for three weeks, during which I'll be completely unable to work on coming chapters at all. However, when I return I shall be diligent, and hopefully I can begin to promise regular updates, if sufficiently motivated.
In the meantime, enjoy this little intro, and please review!