2014-08-09 - Withstand

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Title: Withstand

So! Because Zoisite visited Mamoru who was pretending to be dead, and Mamoru, despite assurances to the contrary, knows it could be any time that the tide of Zoisite's fancy and/or subterfuge turns against him and he gets thrown under the bus, Mamoru tags Makoto to see if he can stay at her place.

You with me? Good. Okay. So Mako, being the awesome person she is, agrees to this in a heartbeat. She comes and picks him up that very night! It is so important that Nephrite not know he survived--

What neither of them knew is that Nephrite, in his guise as Masato Sanjouin, gave the crush-prone and apologetic Makoto his business card-- well Makoto knew that part, but-- it was full of trackable Dark Energy! Without losing time, the General went to go pay Mako a visit... THAT VERY NIGHT.

It's important to note here that the only two people in this scene who know each others' secret identities are Sailor Jupiter and Tuxedo Mask.

Things get terrifying.


Makoto Kino, Mamoru Chiba, Nephrite; guest texts from Mai Tokiha and Eri Shimanouchi


Makoto's Apartment!

OOC - IC Date:

23 February 2014 - 8/9/2014

Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: i have a tremendous favor to ask
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: how can i help??
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: may i stay at your place for a little while until i can get another apartment or something? it's a huge imposition, i know, but
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: zoisite just dropped by
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: and i'd feel a little safer if he couldn't just look in the phonebook and visit me
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: i promise i won't be a bother
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: i'll even be really sneaky coming and going
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: D: D: D:
Makoto Kino (Mako) pages: | TXT: of course you can!
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: really?? omg
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: makoto-san you are the very best
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: you're ok, right?
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: what did he do?
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: i'm fine
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: just a bit shaken
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: uh
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: he gave me a slice of chocolate torte from linden baum
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: ...?
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: --nvm
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: stuff is complicated. i'd be more than happy to explain.
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: just not on a phone keyboard
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: later's fine
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: lemme know when you want to come over
Long distance to Mai Tokiha: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: i have new temporary living space sorted out, jsyk
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: staying at usagi-chan's right now
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: but just a few days
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: oh good, okay, she needs someone there, i think
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: <backspacing>
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: <silence>
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: yeah
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: anyway
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: anyway yes, would it be all right if i were there while you're staying at usagi-chan's?
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: i don't mind!
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: i'll water your plants!
Eri Shimanouchi (Eri) pages: TXT to Mamoru: If you're going to be around Mai-chan soon, make sure she doesn't immolate Kinzo-kun.
Long distance to Eri Shimanouchi: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: i'll try. maybe if i remind her he saved my life.
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: after i'm back, too
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: if you need
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: i'll be your bodyguard! d(^-^)
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: thank you so much. i don't know how to thank you. i--
Eri Shimanouchi (Eri) pages: |TXT: That might work.
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: <rueful emoji>
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: more than likely u.u sorry
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: it's fine!
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: no 'sorry'!
Eri Shimanouchi (Eri) pages: |TXT: Are you feeling better, by the way?
Long distance to Eri Shimanouchi: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: some yeah. mostly just wiped.
Eri Shimanouchi (Eri) pages: | TXT: Good. I may have to explore options I'm really going to hate to have to do soon to solve the territory issue.
From afar, Mai Tokiha (Mai) | TXT: So, what alley am I redirecting your mail to?
Eri Shimanouchi (Eri) pages: |TXT: Also you should sleep more.
Long distance to Mai Tokiha: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: my mail can stack up, none of it's bills, i do that electronically
Eri Shimanouchi (Eri) pages: | TXT: Fighting evil by moonlight has gotta wreak havoc on your sleeping patterns.
Long distance to Eri Shimanouchi: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: i've been doing almost nothing but sleeping lately
Eri Shimanouchi (Eri) pages: | TXT: Then you must have needed it.
Long distance to Eri Shimanouchi: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: i got hit by a tsunami into the tiles at the bottom of an empty pool, i needed it after healing -that- shit up
Long distance to Eri Shimanouchi: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: still too tired to henshin
Long distance to Eri Shimanouchi: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: i'm staying with another friend of s.m.'s until i'm back on my feet
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: can i come over after school tomorrow? that way you don't have to leave or anything
Long distance to Mai Tokiha: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: i'm gonna stay with one of s.m.'s friends for a bit
From afar, Mai Tokiha (Mai) | TXT: So you actually have a roof overhead? That's a relief. Let me know if you need anything. Or if a certain someone needs anything.
Eri Shimanouchi (Eri) pages: | TXT: Okay! I've met a few of them. Sailor Mercury and Jupiter are really nice.
Long distance to Mai Tokiha: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: i will, ty
Long distance to Eri Shimanouchi: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: oh right-- remember what happened to rune? i think something like that is going on with mercury, so if you run ito her, avoid her please
Eri Shimanouchi (Eri) pages: | TXT: Oh I..
Eri Shimanouchi (Eri) pages: | TXT: Really?
Long distance to Eri Shimanouchi: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: not the same thing, just something like it.
Eri Shimanouchi (Eri) pages: | TXT: Uhhhh. Well that's an issue then because uhm.
Long distance to Eri Shimanouchi: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: oh well if you have and she was fine, good
Long distance to Eri Shimanouchi: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: just don't let her get to you if she suddenly goes off on you
Eri Shimanouchi (Eri) pages: | TXT: I've never seen her as Sailor Mercury, I just know she is.
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: that's fine but
Long distance to Eri Shimanouchi: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: oh you do? okay, that makes things a little simpler. just-- be careful.
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: tomorrow's soon enough? are you ok for tonight?
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: i don't think he'll be back tonight, and i am pretty sure he hasn't told the others, even though luna would probably say i'm being stupid reckless, but i don't want to drag you out of usagi-chan's house in the middle of the night
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: ok... if you think it'll be all right
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: <uncertainty practically audible>
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: odds are in my favor
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: actually nevermind, he also saw the shape i'm in, and if anyone watched him, i'm a sitting duck
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: tonight would be better. i'm so sorry.
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: no, it's ok
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: i can be there in just a bit
Long distance to Makoto Kino: Mamoru Chiba | TXT: ...thank you so much.
From afar, Makoto Kino (Mako) | TXT: you're welcome n_n

 <Pose Tracker> Mamoru Chiba [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

So the idiot boy who's done nothing but stupid things for the past few months, as he sees it, in trying to make himself less of a burden to the girl who's already doing him an immense favor, sits in the lobby of his apartment building with a backpack, a school bag, and a small planter of roses.

There's a cab waiting by the curb that Makoto'll undoubtedly pass on her way in, before being greeted by the faintly absurd and fairly pathetic picture of Mamoru curled up in a lobby chair with his stuff next to him, dozed off. Apparently he made it down with his things by the power of sheer determined grit.

Hopefully he remembered to clean out the fridge. He must have: he remembered to wear clothes he hadn't been sleeping in.

 <Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

She's not exactly the best of houseguests, ducking out of the Tsukinos' house so suddenly on her first night staying over there, but Makoto resolutely does not allow herself to feel very bad about it right now. Someone from the Dark Kingdom showing up at Mamoru's apartment is no small problem, especially when he's not anywhere near a hundred percent.

She'll take care of her friend first, and smooth things over at Usagi's afterward if need be.

So all told it doesn't take Mako too long to get to Mamoru's building. When she finds him napping in the lobby, she pauses to regard him with a rueful smile, feeling entirely glad that she didn't let him talk her into waiting until tomorrow.

She hefts her backpack on over her shoulders, picks up his bag, and only then does Mako lean over the chair he's passed out in to gently touch Mamoru's shoulder. "Mamoru-san." She'd almost rather let him rest, but it wouldn't accomplish much right now, here in the lobby like this. "Mamoru-san, wake up."

 <Pose Tracker> Mamoru Chiba [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Light sleeper: he doesn't quite startle, but the gentle touch is enough to make him flinch awake, and the confusion of dreams still clouds his blue eyes as they work to focus on Makoto. He's still grey with tired, but not as much as he was for the abbreviated study session the previous day; he gives Mako a sheepish look when he finally manages to parse what's going on.

"Sorry," he says reflexively as he unfolds, then notices she's already got his bags, and looks -- briefly -- more sheepish still. "Thanks. I mean, more. Again. I got a cab," he adds hastily, trying to gloss past his own awkwardness as he bends to pick up the pot of roses before actually standing up from his chair. "I hope this is okay. I mean, really okay, not just-- okay because of-- things."

 <Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

As soon as she sees he's waking up, Makoto steps back to give Mamoru some space to come around. "It's really okay," she promises, although frankly she'd probably still say so even if it wasn't - as though she'd leave him to his own devices in this kind of situation. Still, as naturally sincere as Mako is, the lie would probably show on her face. They usually do.

There are any number of questions she wants to ask him all swimming around in her thoughts, which *also* no doubt shows on her face, but it can wait a while. She hitches the shoulder strap of the backpack a little more comfortably into place, and once he's securely on his feet, she looks up at him to ask, "Ready to go?"

 <Pose Tracker> Mamoru Chiba [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Just a nod from the boy carrying the rosebush.

The cab ride is one that's full of silence that's not really awkward, per se, since it's clear that unasked questions will be answered once privacy's established, and small talk while fighting sleep is more awkward than almost any lack of conversation. The whole way, Mamoru's cradling the potted plant in his lap like it's something precious.

Once they've arrived and Mamoru's paid the driver, he leans against the wall to the side of the door while Makoto unlocks it. "I don't think he's going to tell them. That I'm still alive. I was trying to get my friends at Ohtori to spread rumors about what happened to me to put him off thinking I'd survived, but he wasn't having it... but I don't think he'll tell. I just-- I don't want him knowing where I am. Especially if he changes his mind."

 <Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

She's listening, but Makoto doesn't say anything right away. She gets the door unlocked first, steps into the entryway to turn on the lights and take off her shoes. She carries his things into the living room, sets the school bag down on the floor beside the sofa, shrugs the backpack off her shoulders and places it on the sofa at the same end where she left his bag. Then she moves to a window, shifts things around to make some room among her own plants for his potted rose.

All the while she's thinking hard.

It's only once Mamoru's inside and off his feet and the front door's closed behind him that Makoto finally asks: "Why wouldn't he tell them?" It's a question born of honest confusion. Intellectually she knows the Dark Kingdom doesn't operate the way that the senshi do - how could they, and still be the bad guys they obviously are? But even knowing it, she can't wrap her brain around the idea that they'd work at such cross-purposes, not just pursuing separate paths to the same ultimate goal but actively working against one another this way. Nephrite very clearly wanted Tuxedo Mask dead, after all.

 <Pose Tracker> Mamoru Chiba [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Off his feet indeed: Mamoru's melted into Makoto's couch like ice cream in the sun, but much less sticky. His gangly limbs are taking up as little space as possible, folded up; he looks like a pile of inanimate scarecrow, kind of. Very different from the self-assured upperclassman or the valiant and dashing Tuxedo Kamen.

"They're not a team. They're competitors. And apparently Nephrite already went to their queen and bragged that he'd killed Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask, and Zoisite wants to see the look on his face when it turns out it's not true," he answers from behind the hand over his face, which eventually drags down and drops to rest on his chest. "Ultimately, I'm not important enough to their end goal one way or another, so I doubt it's costing Zoisite anything to keep the knowledge to himself."

 <Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

When the hand comes off from over Mamoru's eyes, he's treated to the sight of the face Makoto is making, which looks a lot like she's just tasted something odd and isn't at all sure that she likes it. She's remembering her own words to Usagi about wanting to see the smug look wiped off of Nephrite's face, and she really doesn't know how to feel about hearing that she's shared any kind of a sentiment with Zoisite, of all people.

"...I still don't really get it," she admits, "but if you really think so..." Her voice trails off there, and Makoto looks around herself awkwardly, trying to find a way to ask how it is that Zoisite knows Tuxedo Mask's true identity in the first place, and not sure whether or not she should.

In the midst of her fidgeting her eyes fall on something over in the kitchen, and as though reminded of something she suddenly walks off in that direction.

 <Pose Tracker> Mamoru Chiba [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

"I promised to explain, and here I am rambling on about the middle of the story," Mamoru says with an apologetic laugh and a sigh, seeing Makoto's perplexity writ large on her pretty face. As she veers kitchenwards, he crosses his arms and sinks further into the couch, fishing for where the beginning might be.

"I met an Ohtori student around finals, last semester, who was playing something on the piano, all alone, that sounded really familiar. I went into the music room to see who it was and ask what the piece was, and it was this French exchange student, Zoe Palissandre. She was rude and arrogant, and so was I. She said it was an impromptu piece, but I said it couldn't be, because I knew it from somewhere, and I demanded she finish playing it."

It sounds like a completely unrelated story. But Mamoru's dutifully telling it like it's not. His eyes drift closed as he continues to speak.

"She did. And she ended it at the right place, whatever it was. And then she ran away, and we were both crying, and I don't know why. She'd left her bag, so I tried to track her down, but didn't find her until we were all in Hokkaido. Then at the Christmas party, Usagi-chan bumped into her and her drink got spilled everywhere, and Palissandre-san started tearing into her, and I shut her down and she let me, and I had such a feeling of deja-vu--"

Long sigh. "At any rate, there were a lot of various clues here and there. But I didn't figure it out until Zoisite came to the park where I was talking with Usagi-chan and stole the box of pastries I'd gotten her, and started lecturing me for not having any idea of the effect I have on people, that the final pieces of the puzzle came through-- that Zoe Palissandre's just a cover for Zoisite. I told Luna, and Luna told me to stay away from him, but wouldn't tell me anything else.

"Couple of weeks later, the guy I think has something to do with what's happened to Ami, the one I mentioned to you that I want to try and track down? Came after me, and of all people, Palissandre-san came over and challenged him, judo-flipped him, and then took a hit for me. And even though Luna'd told me to stay away, I just-- I couldn't run. I had to know. I'd been talking to a couple of the Perfume Warriors about memories and past lives, and-- and the sensations that, that /god damned Zoisite/ of all people awakens in me, I feel like I knew him once upon a time. So, we talked a little. And he knew I'm Tuxedo Mask, I guess. And remember I said Zoe was crying, with the piano? And every time since then, he's acted in-- in different ways. With me around. So I said, we're not on the same side, but why don't we stop trying to kill each other until we have this sorted out? That I'd try to find out why I feel like I know him, who he was in a past life, and he'd try to find the same out about me, and if we figured anything out, we'd text the other. I told my friend with the dragon about it, because I was afraid you and the other senshi would stop me, and she said she'd tell you guys about it if everything went pear-shaped and bring her dragon-- and that was good, but then I-- I couldn't keep it from Luna. I told her because-- I guess I hoped-- I don't know what I hoped. But she said that if I thought finding out about my memories was more important than the fate of the world, then she didn't think I should have anything more to do with any of you.

"So I hadn't talked to him since. But I-- I can't help hoping that-- maybe there really is something in him that's good, that needs to be fished out of the hole that he's in, that's as lonely and afraid and hopeless as anyone else. And when he showed up tonight, when he saw how I looked-- he really was shocked. And worried. And when he left, he said he wouldn't tell anyone as long as I focused on getting better. He said I owed him the look on Nephrite's face. I know he's petty, and vindictive, and terrifyingly intelligent, and clever, and a liar, and the Dark Kingdom's spymaster, and I know he'd throw me under the bus the second it was to his advantage, but-- I can't help thinking there's more to it than that. That maybe he wasn't always like this. That maybe he wasn't like this in the past that none of us can remember. That maybe we were friends, in that past life. And friends are so precious, real friends so rare-- if he was my friend, how can I abandon that? I have to hope. But-- I don't have to be completely stupid about hoping."

 <Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

As Mamoru is talking, in the kitchen the refrigerator opens and closes, and somewhere partway through this whole speech Makoto comes back carrying a glass of milk and the plate of leftover eclairs that she'd intended to take with her to Usagi's house and, with everything else that's been on her mind, had completely forgotten about until she came back here tonight. Never mind that she hasn't asked him if he wants anything, and he mentioned torte in one of his texts earlier so for all she knows he's done on sweets for today - Mako feeds people, it's just what she does, she can't help it. Plate and glass are set down on the coffee table within Mamoru's easy reach, and then she goes and sits down in the overstuffed armchair that stands cati-corner to the sofa, puts her hands in her lap, and listens intently, without interrupting, while he tells the whole story.

When he's done, she sits in silence for a while longer, and he gets to watch the play of conflicting emotions in her face as she thinks about everything he's said and what it all means and what she thinks about it herself. The Dark Kingdom is dangerous, and Makoto would be lying if she claimed they didn't scare her... but there's so much in what Mamoru says that speaks to her as well. She imagines for a moment what it would be like to meet Usagi and the other girls somewhere, and not know them, except in some deep place in her heart that recognized them where nothing else in her did - to be somehow opposing one another, apart, and yet still have that feeling somewhere and not know what to do with it.

She thinks about Ami, and closes her eyes for a moment.

"...okay," Makoto says at last, opening her eyes again. She's not sure if it's right, but - how can she say no to that hope? And besides, he came here, so it's not like she won't be able to keep an eye out for him in case Zoisite does try something. "I think I understand, a little."

 <Pose Tracker> Mamoru Chiba [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

When he falls silent and there's no immediate answer, Mamoru opens his eyes in dread, expecting to see a vengeful and protective Sailor Jupiter about to haul him off the couch and make him one with her living room floor--

--and instead sees milk and eclaires and Makoto sitting across from him, her face a kaleidoscope of reaction and emotion.

He decides that tonight, a lack of restraint is the better part of valor, and pushes himself to sitting upright so he can take the glass and a couple of pastries before she makes up her mind to Lightning Fist him in the face. No, Mamoru is not done with sweets for the day.

When she closes her eyes, he eats one of the eclaires as fast as he can so at least he'll be able to die with a good taste in his mouth.

When she opens them and says 'okay', and then finishes with that, his heart stops thundering and Mamoru lets out a breath, sagging with surprised relief. It's probably similar to the expression he pointed at his phone when Makoto told him sure, he could stay at her place for a while. And he sets the milk down, and his face is slowly going from 'what, really? omg really yes?' to something quietly grateful and more than a little sorrowful, because her last play of emotions finally registers with him.

"It's not enough just to say it."

His hand makes an abortive little gesture, like he's going to reach across to touch her hand, but he doesn't. Instead, he says quietly, "I wouldn't trade the safety and secrets of the Senshi for all the memories in the world. And if I'm important enough to the Senshi to make the Dark Kingdom think it's worthwhile to go after me, then I owe it to you to be more careful, and to ask for help when I need it. This problem is my own fault, but-- thank you for--" He can't say not judging, she might be judging him. "--not throwing me out."

 <Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

A little breath of a laugh hitches out of Makoto, and with a lopsided, wry smile - because this might well be a very bad idea on both of their parts, after all, even if it doesn't feel wrong - she shakes her head.

"As if I'd do that," she says. "You've helped all of us out plenty of times up until now. I trust you, Mamoru-san. And anyway, it'd be more dangerous for everyone if I didn't help, right?"

Whether or not she believes that there's good in Zoisite, or that he can truly be saved - well, that's a different matter, and one for another time. Regardless, Makoto knows for sure, she can't sit here and tell Mamoru not to believe, not to want to try. "Like I said," she pronounces, firmly decided on at least this one point, "I'll be your bodyguard. So don't worry."

<Pose Tracker> Mamoru Chiba [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

All of a sudden Mamoru's turning kind of red-- it didn't show when they were texting, how he did the same thing when she said the same thing then, but the embarrassment is also the same, and he glances down and away and kind of laughs a little, one hand coming up to rub the back of his neck as he shifts uncomfortably on the couch. "Yeah, sorry," he says, then laughs more. "You told me not to apologize. But-- really-- I'll be tip-top in a couple of days, and none of them has any reason to come here, in the meantime... so I don't think you'll need to. I hope not, anyway."

<Pose Tracker> Nephrite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

He could not afford to wait. Not when his plans were in this nascent, vulnerable state. Not when every second risked his mark finding out the truth of Masato Sanjouin.

Nephrite thanked whatever god there was that he had had the foresight to give Kino that business card -- it had proved invaluable, now that she's revealed herself to be an asset. And a loose end. Should she really be a magical girl, there was a very good chance that she already suspected his dark nature. Getting all her information, then draining her dry would not only cover his tracks, it would indebt Labyrinth to him for eliminating a set of prying eyes. Two goals accomplished with one deft stroke.

He'd cancelled his remaining appointments for the day, choosing to return to his mansion home and meditate where he could best hear the stars. Unfortunately, the tracking device was just that: for tracking, not for spying. He could only watch as it slowly made its way to different parts of town, unable to see or hear the actions behind it. The stars were reticent, at first, not sharing their insight for several hours, until--


/Now. Go./

There's a flicker in the shadow of the foyer, a figure materializing from nowhere. Only his unnaturally blue eyes cut through the darkness and fixate on the girl, hardly even noticing the young man a few feet away.

"You will have exactly one chance to peacefully answer my questions. I suggest you take it."

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

One moment, Makoto is sitting in her armchair in the familiar comfort of her cozy little apartment, dipping her head towards Mamoru in a little nod of acknowledgement.

The next moment, Nephrite is in the room and every sense she has is screaming alarm.

Makoto's body reacts faster than her thoughts can begin to; before Nephrite has finished speaking she's leaped from the chair she was sitting in and has interposed herself between his shadowy figure and Mamoru in a defensive stance, fierce-eyed and all but bristling with indignation. "What do you want?" she demands, biting off the words.

Inwardly, her mind is racing. Did Zoisite share what he knew after all--?

<Pose Tracker> Mamoru Chiba [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

In that moment that Makoto's sitting there dipping her head at Mamoru's tempting of fate, Mamoru is tempting fate--

--and the next moment's a blur as fate takes the bait and Makoto's on her feet, challenging and bodyguarding all at once. His first reaction is to stare uncomprehendingly. His second, even as Makoto's angry response slices demand through the air, is nearly the same thought as hers:

Zoisite must have told.

His second? Nephrite must have seen, and followed.

Except-- the brown-haired Dark General's focus is on Makoto, not himself, and as far as he knows, her cover's not blown to any of them. So he takes a gamble, and gets unsteadily to his feet behind her, reaching out a hand to lightly touch her shoulder. He looks like he has mono, frankly. "Take care," he says softly, pitched at just the right volume to be overheard, but quiet enough to pass for trying to remain unheard, "he might be armed, imouto-san."

<Pose Tracker> Nephrite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

What a farce.

Nephrite tsks as the girl jumps to her feet and interposes herself between him and the young man that he's just now seeing. How noble of her, to try and protect him, but she is quite mistaken. He did not come here for the boy -- in truth, he hadn't expected his target to have company, seeing how late it was. But it does not matter. From his unsteadiness on his feet, he will not be a problem.

"I believe I just told you what I want, Makoto Kino," he all but growls, stepping properly into the light and closing the gap between himself and the two teenagers. "I want you to answer my questions. And if you cooperate, you will leave unharmed. As will your friend. If you do not..."

He grins, almost like Masato for a split second, but with a veneer of cruelty that he never betrays in his mortal guise. In his right hand, the Dark Crystal appears, and with a flash of light a set of chains springs up from the ground to immobilize the girl. He does not conjure a set for the young man, whom he recognizes from a brief meeting before the poetry slam. He appears to be in terrible condition anyway, and he knows there is nothing more demoralizing than seeing a friend hurt and being unable to do anything because of your own weakness.

"These are only a precaution for now. But you will find the Chains of Andromeda do not tolerate disobedience. And neither do I."

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

Makoto was braced and ready, prepared for a direct attack. She wasn't prepared for the chains that whip up from underneath her very feet, and she's snared before she can more than begin to react, a startled yelp escaping her as the chains pull tight.

She struggles, of course, thrashing against the restraints in a valiant effort to fight free or at least gain some purchase - but it doesn't take Mako long at all to realize that it's going to take more strength than she has to get out of this by force. She can't even get her hand to her transformation pen. Not that it would help if she could; if she transforms, it won't just be her identity blown, and that's a risk she can't take.

With these thoughts, Makoto goes still, not in defeat but with her teeth gritted in resolution. She has no intention of giving Nephrite what he wants... but as long as he's focused on her, he's not targeting Mamoru.

Her goal changes: not to fight, but to withstand.

"...I'm okay, Mamoru-san." Her voice is a little unsteady, breathless with adrenaline, but she does her best not to sound afraid as she stares Nephrite down.

<Pose Tracker> Mamoru Chiba [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

There's too much at stake in too many ways to fight unless there's absolutely no other way. Both teenagers know this. And Nephrite's perfectly correct in one way: there's very little worse, especially for someone who's inherently a protector, than to watch a friend get hurt when there's absolutely nothing they can do to help.

He was perfectly correct in another way, too, when he was boasting to Beryl-- Tuxedo Mask *is* the Senshi's support, moral and otherwise. Even if he can't do anything else, Mamoru can help Makoto withstand this.

When the chains come up to bind her, the tall boy's hand on her shoulder tightens. It's a wordless message, but it's a powerful one. There's the sense of the strength of absent friends, there's the sense of every bit of determination Mamoru's got to see this through with Mako, there's warmth and friendship and encouragement, there's the sense of not being alone.

Never alone.

It's almost as if that touch is a connection with more than just the boy behind her.

"Do your best," he says softly.

<Pose Tracker> Nephrite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

He'd been content to leave the boy alone, but he is overstepping his bounds with that hand on her shoulder, with the softly spoken moral support. He's not stupid. He knows that, in interrogation, morale is just as important to break as the body -- if not more so. It would be unacceptable to leave him as he is, quietly lending his strength to the girl who is, more likely than not, about to receive the shock of her life.

"That will be enough from you," Nephrite says dryly, emitting a pulse of dark energy from his crystal. It is not meant to cause damage in itself, only to knock the young man backwards a bit, to put some distance between him and his target. "Approach her again and you will only make it worse for her."

"In fact, I will give you a taste of what you will face if you prove...difficult."

The Dark Crystal glows briefly, and after a spark of ignition at their base, two bolts of black lightning shoot through the chains and into the girl they hold. He does not dial the pain back, not in the slightest; but the exposure is but a split second long, only enough to make her aware of the consequences she stood to suffer. In that, he had kept his word.

Lies were Zoisite's weapons, after all. Not his.

"Now, you will answer me truly. Where and how did you learn the name 'Mobius'?"

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

She can't see behind her, is the worst part, can't twist herself around enough to see how hard that pulse of energy hit Mamoru or whether the blow was worse than it seemed like it might be. Makoto can only glare furiously at Nephrite, and it takes every bit of effort she has, drawing on all of the reassurance that Mamoru just offered her--

(that sense of connection and a deep, mysterious calm, like the luminous glow of moonlight and the soft voice of wind through trees)

--to hold onto her self-control.

"It's okay, Mamoru-san," Mako says, as steadily as she can manage. "Just--"

She doesn't get the chance to say more before the black lightning arcs through her. It's only for a split second but it hits like a physical blow, an impact to the chest that drives the breath out of her in a sharp, shuddering gasp. How dare he, is all Makoto can think for a moment; how dare he use lightning on her.

...When the question finally comes, however, for just half a heartbeat Makoto's face goes blank with surprise and incomprehension. Whatever she thought that Nephrite might want from her, that was very clearly not it.

In the next instant it's gone, and Makoto's face pulls taut with anger, eyes ablaze with it... and not just at Nephrite. That's the question he wants answered, is it? Fine. "They hurt my friend," she says, the words forced out through gritted teeth.

<Pose Tracker> Mamoru Chiba [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Smacked back with a punch of kinetic dark energy to the chest, Mamoru tries to backpedal as he goes, just barely manages to stay upright with a stagger. He braces himself against the arm of the sofa, but instead of looking afraid, or helpless or full of angst for not being able to help Makoto, he just catches his breath--

--and it's stuck in his throat for a half second as Nephrite electrifies her. For that half second, he's wracked with equal parts sympathetic pain, guilt, and incredulity. Lightning. Oh Jupiter. Oh good. Oh good she's angry and angrier.

Thereafter-- thereafter he makes himself focus on being as useful as he possibly can under the circumstances. He watches. He watches every single move Nephrite makes, the way he says things, the way he shifts his weight, what his face does, what's behind his eyes. He listens to tone, to words, to confidence and arrogance. And the whole while, his face is calm and set and certain.

His eyes are ice.

<Pose Tracker> Nephrite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

"They hurt your friend," Nephrite repeats, then gives a dry chuckle. "A good start, but not quite the answer I was looking for." He closes his eyes in a smug smile, then commands the Crystal to electrocute her once again, this time for a second longer. Still not at their full power, mind; he's not entirely displeased with her answer, he just needs her to...extrapolate a bit. Think of it less like a punishment and more like encouragement. "Tell me more about this 'friend', if you would be so kind. Who is she? /What/ is she?" He can't be entirely certain that this anonymous friend of hers is a girl, but given her likely association with some brand of magical girl, he's willing to hedge his bets. "For that matter -- what are /you/?"

Magical girls are not identities. They are pests. Annoying *things* to be destroyed. They are a 'what', not a 'who.'

As he waits for his answer (or lack thereof), the General glances over Makoto's shoulder at the young man, who had impressively withstood his blast. He looks weak. Certainly powerless before him, a servant of the Dark Kingdom. And yet those eyes. Eyes of defiance, of anger -- of hatred? Perhaps. His expression is hard to read in depth, but it is not one he would expect from a mere mortal, especially in his current state.

(Has he seen those eyes before?)

"You would do well to stand down, human. I have no quarrel with you," Nephrite advises, meeting his icy gaze with one of his own. "You could not best me in combat. Neither of you could."

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

A stifled sound escapes Makoto as the dark electricity burns through her again, a cry of pain that she refuses to let out even as her body jerks against the chains that hold her immobile. It's okay, she tells herself as she gasps for breath in the aftermath. She's okay. She can stand this much - no matter what, she absolutely won't give him anything about Ami.

"...even if I told you, you wouldn't understand." There's a trace of strain in Mako's voice now, but she answers gamely all the same. "She's my friend. I'm her friend. That's all that's important."

When Nephrite's attention leaves her to settle on Mamoru behind her, and he delivers that warning, Makoto's eyes narrow. She tries the chains again, not struggling in earnest this time, just trying to bring his focus back onto her. "...Let me go," she says, in answer to his claim, "and we'll find out."

<Pose Tracker> Mamoru Chiba [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

'Withstood' his blast-- Mamoru's braced against the edge of the couch, barely upright; he hasn't said a word or made any motion toward Makoto, not since Nephrite shocked her as a warning to him to stay out of it. If Nephrite sees defiance and hatred in the boy's frosty gaze, he's putting them there: certainly there's anger, but there's room for nothing else in the coldly analytical gaze.

He sways a little where he stands, all remaining expression leaving his face when Nephrite challenges him. Should he speak? Which would make Nephrite angrier? Speaking or keeping his peace? Makoto's so very brave.

She's so very, very brave.

They can fall apart when this is over, when they've gotten through this.

As Mako rattles her chains and dares Nephrite, inspiration hits him. He shuts his eyes tightly, bringing his hand up to press against his chest, as if trying to make his lungs stop constricting through sheer force of wanting it. "STOP IT! Stop it, I'll tell-- it's me, stop hurting her, it's me she's trying to protect-- this guy with really pale blue hair, he's, he's built like a refrigerator-- he ripped through my calculus homework in the park and he said something about Mobius-sama wanting me to be miserable and worked me over, and I asked Mako-chan to ask around, because I didn't get the guy's name, and I thought if we could find out then we could tell the cops-- please stop hurting her!"

<Pose Tracker> Nephrite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

"I wouldn't understand?" Nephrite says, then smirks, his hand hovering over the Crystal threateningly. "I think you underestimate me. I am Nephrite, a general of the Dark Kingdom's Shitennou. There is very little I do not understand." He considers shocking her again -- and for a second, it looks like he will -- but he decides against it at the last second. The anticipation of pain, the fear of it, is almost as good a motivator as the pain itself. Better to keep her on edge. "Though it appears *you* do not understand the gravity of the situation you're in. If you do not divulge the information I want, you will die. And I will need more than your simple assurance that she is your 'friend.'"

He's lying about that. He could kill her, of course; it would only take a flick of his wrist. But he won't, not today. Her energy has not yet reached its peak, and her fondness for Masato could prove quite useful, if he played his cards right. But, as the victims of the Dark Kingdom often learn, there are worse things than death.

Surprisingly, the young man by the chair speaks up, each word seeming labored. Nephrite temporarily averts his gaze from the Kino girl, looking over to him as he confesses. He's clearly making it up -- although he recalls a member of Labyrinth with pale blue hair, he knows members of Dark Fall don't deal in things as petty as tearing apart homework. No, the boy is simply desperate to stop the interrogation of his friend, nothing more.

"Do you think I'm stupid?" he says, glaring coolly at Chiba. "Lying to me will not spare your friend. The world she has stumbled into is much bigger than /homework assignments/, and you would be well-advised to avoid the same fate." Besides, the girl mentioned her friend was a 'she.' Even if the story he spun had some grain of truth in it, it is very likely not the answer he is looking for.

He's about the shock her again when she issues her challenge, and he just /laughs./ No dry chuckle, no smirk. It is simply that laughable that the girl thinks she stands a chance against him. She may have bested Masato Sanjouin, but as Nephrite, he can crush her without even breaking a sweat.

In fact, he will. If she wants to challenge him, fine. He will show her just how generous he was with the Chains of Andromeda.

"Very well," he says after composing himself. A light briefly shines from the Dark Crystal, and the chains disappear. "Let us see just how strong you are, Makoto Kino."

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

When Mamoru first starts talking Makoto has no idea what he's doing; she only knows that he's pulling Nephrite's attention back toward him, where it doesn't need to be, and without thinking she cries out. "Mamoru-san, don't--!"

Her voice breaks off when she realizes what he's trying to do and she closes her mouth tightly, but it doesn't matter anyhow. Nephrite is clearly not taking the bait. As he glares at Mamoru, as he scornfully dismisses the attempt as a lie, Makoto breathes. As he laughs at the thought of her taking him on, she steadies herself. She knows that, without being able to transform, she's outmatched here, way out of her weight class. She'll only have one shot at this if she gets one at all.

Gotta make it count.

The chains vanish; released from their restraint Makoto drops, catching herself in a crouch with one palm on the floor. No time to think about it, no chance for second-guessing - in the next instant she springs into motion, driving at Nephrite with her body held low and her arm up before her, leading with shoulder and elbow.

<Pose Tracker> Nephrite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

She has courage, he'll give her that.

To be fair, Nephrite does not underestimate her strength; after all, he *did* lose to her in his mortal form, and before that, he saw her soundly defeat several other challengers in the dojo. Compared to other humans, she is a prodigy. But he is not human.

His mouth twitches upward as he watches her shoot towards him, elbow-first, and he leisurely steps to the side, letting her hit whatever object that's behind him instead. Sufficiently unbalanced, his gloved hand darts out like a viper, grabbing her arm and all but throwing her back in front of him. It's not even a minor display of his real strength, and he didn't intend it to hurt so much as demoralize.

"Try again."

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

It's to Makoto's credit that she doesn't simply go flying past Nephrite on her own momentum and crash into the wall of her own apartment. She catches herself, begins to turn, but she's not quite quick enough - his hand closes on her arm and drags her back, almost pulling her off her feet.

Even before he speaks she can tell that he's toying with her.

She recovers her footing in a heartbeat, using the force of the yank on her arm to whip around before the words are all the way out of his mouth, snapping out a backhand strike that he deflects only too easily--

(--long ago, in another life--

--She shakes off his grip on her arm in a jerk of motion, swinging around and snapping out a backhand strike that he deflects only too easily; she's reckless with anger and confusion and can't quite bring herself to care. There's a storm wind roiling in Jupiter's heart, fierce enough to darken the sky. Her eyes are alight with it, stinging with tears of fury and heartbreak.

Everything is wrong and she doesn't understand why.

"How can you do this?" she demands, as though they weren't already past words - there is no answer that will make it make sense to her and she doesn't wait for one before she lashes out again with her fists.)

<Pose Tracker> Nephrite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

Her spirit is indeed remarkable. No sooner had he pulled her back in front of him had she spun out of his grip, slicing through the air with a backhand that he deflects with a raised palm. It's like slamming one's hand into iron -- he doesn't even have to hit her back to cause her pain.

(He didn't have to back then either.

"Jupiter! Stop this nonsense and /listen/ to me!" the armored man says, harmlessly redirecting her impassioned strike. He doesn't want to hurt her. Out of everyone in the damned universe, she is the one he least wants to see suffer. But he has a duty to fulfill, a loyalty to uphold. There is no turning back now.

"Have you not seen the state of Earth, Princess? Have you not seen, with your own eyes, how my people starve? How our forests are dying, how our soil erodes into nothing but clay and dust? The rulers of the Silver Millennium haven't seen, haven't even dared to look. But I know you have. You aren't like them, Jupiter." He pleads with her before the second round of blows lands. The King of North America has never been one to fight hand-to-hand, and while he can hold his own against some, he is no match for the Princess of Jupiter. He doesn't want to be.

A single blow hits him squarely across the jaw, and Nephrite reels, knocked off balance both by the pain and the shock of this sudden outburst.

"I want you by my side, Jupiter. I can't fight you.")

Nephrite laughs at the mortal girl's attempts to hit him, all met with blocks or sidesteps. Pathetic. Truly pathetic. Even the most skilled mortal could not stand against him -- something that Kino-san is about to learn quite well.

"This is the best you have? You're even weaker than I imagined," he snarls, then lashes out with a strike of his own: a slap, aimed toward her face. It doesn't have his full power behind it, even now. Toying with her is too amusing; he doesn't want to do anything to kill her. Yet.

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

Makoto's breath hisses through her teeth, the only sound she makes. She can't waste breath on words, not now, not when it's taking every ounce of effort she has to try to find an opening. Just one slip is all she needs, but whatever she tries - a punch, a knee strike, a jab with the heel of her hand - it's like he already knows where the blow will fall, and even though she pushes herself to the utmost she can't seem to get through.

That contemptuous slap to the face catches only air; seeing his hand snap out, Makoto ducks out of the way, falling back several quick steps to put some space between them. She's breathing hard now, flushed with exertion and burning with frustration at just how easily he's able to block her - she knew she was outmatched from the start, but is this really the best that she can do?

("But you can turn your back on your prince, and throw away all of your oaths?" Fist stinging from the impact with his jaw, Jupiter backs away a few short steps, putting space between them, but there's no hint of surrender in her guarded stance. Gone is the warm-hearted princess who so loves flowers, who listens to the voice of the wind. This is Jupiter the guardian, the ferocious protector, towering in defense of that which she has sworn to watch over. "You can ask me to abandon my princess?"

Her shoulders shake with emotion, and the tears that have been stinging her eyes begin to slip down her face in spite of her best effort to hold them back. "Please don't do this, Nephrite!" The words are half plea, half demand. She doesn't want to hurt him either... but if he continues down this path he's chosen, she won't have a choice. "Whatever's wrong, this can't be the way to put it right. It's not too late to stop."

But it is.)

<Pose Tracker> Nephrite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

He is truly surprised that the girl managed to avoid his own strike -- that is far, far beyond what he imagined her to be capable of. His eyes widen in surprise, because for a split-second, they're on even footing: he not quite sure what his next move should be, she exhausted from the effort of trying to land a blow.

("Do you think I've done this on a whim?!" Nephrite half-yells, anger finally starting to show in his eyes. "Do you think I haven't agonized every night for months -- years! -- as I watched Earth deteriorate under the Moon's tyrannical rule? I pledged myself to the crown prince, but that was long ago. My ultimate loyalty is to the Earth, not to him." He assumes his full height once more, standing several inches above Jupiter, even with her own impressive stature. "You can't stop this, Princess. The time for negotiations has long since passed. This empire will be reborn in fire, and we will all be equal in its ashes."

He extends his hand in peace, not yet raising it in violence. Something inside him cries out at the idea of hurting her, even if she has already hurt him. "I beg you, one final time. Stand with me. If you open your eyes, you'll see what the Millennium has become. Why we must do this terrible deed -- for the good of everyone.")

Nephrite takes a second to look into Makoto's fiery eyes, a lull in the fighting washing over the both of them. She is all but at his mercy, a human girl fighting against a being of darkness. Should he choose, he could snuff out her life with barely a thought.

(So why doesn't he?)

(Where has he seen those eyes before?)

A wave of fury at his indecision washes over him, and his expression hardens once again. Not saying a word -- they are beyond words now -- Nephrite shoots forward with a punch, aimed straight for her gut. He is holding back only in that the blow is not intended to kill; this pitiful fight has gone on long enough.

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

He's too fast, the movement far too sudden. Makoto held her own, barely, for as long as he was only toying with her - the moment that Nephrite abandons the game and strikes in earnest, there's no way that she can possibly match him.

(His words hit Jupiter like a fist to the gut, an impact that rocks through her as surely as if he'd struck her. Worse, because she could have withstood it if he'd struck her.

She has no defense against this.

"Tyrannical..." she echoes, an incredulous murmur. She knew how so many of the people of Earth saw the Moon Kingdom, but to hear it from him, too-- "Listen to yourself, Nephrite! You tell me to open my eyes, but you've walked amidst the people of the Moon, you know it isn't like that!" Or at least, she'd thought that he did. She'd thought so many things, about him, about the both of them... but that's all gone now.

For a moment, Jupiter's anger is lost in bewilderment. She looks at him, at the hand he extends to her, as though looking at a stranger who she'd only thought that she knew. "The Moon Kingdom isn't to blame for the suffering of the Earth, so why...?" The question trails off, choked with grief. As tears slide unrestrained down her face, she closes her eyes.

When she opens them again, her face is set with grim determination that hides all but the faintest trace of despair. Her hand snaps out, slapping his away. "If you've declared war on the Moon Kingdom, Nephrite..." Her voice is low and quiet as she takes up a combat stance once more, hands closing into fists held at the ready. "...I promise you, I will stop you.")

It's too late for Makoto to react - Nephrite's fist hits her dead-center, and she folds, wide-eyed, with barely a sound but the tiny choked noise of the air being driven from her lungs.

<Pose Tracker> Mamoru Chiba [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

He'd wanted to yell out in defiance that it wasn't a lie -- and it wasn't, entirely -- but Mamoru's not very good at dishonesty. He never has been. He also knows that any protest would sound exactly like the desperation it is.

He can't even decide whether showing Nephrite fear would make this stop, or whether he's too focused on Makoto, or whether fear is like blood in the water and would only send the Dark General into a gleeful frenzy.

So Mamoru Chiba stands and watches, heart torn with fury and indignation, with worry for the valiant Sailor Soldier between himself and the darkness, with the faint horrified knowledge in the back of his mind that there's something so familiar about this--

(The sounds of fighting draw him; he'd been looking for Nephrite, had heard terrible rumors. Rumors that couldn't be true. But the people were agitating, and he knew it was because of Beryl--

--she'd been his friend, and if one friend could turn on him--

--but he also knew that his princess was the scapegoat. He knew all of this. But his advisors, his guards, his best friends... surely the rumors hadn't a grain of truth to them.

So, only armored lightly, the colors of his clothes deep and rich and the power of his planet cloaking him more richly still, the golden Crown Prince of Earth rides through the forest toward the voices, toward the fighting, toward the ragged emotion that screams through the warm breeze.

He'll find Nephrite and sort this out after he stops whatever's disturbing the peace of Elysion's grounds.)

A flash of greenery, the scent of summer air in midwinter, and Mamoru tears his gaze briefly from the furious fighting. His blue eyes, stark and wide with emotion and running hot and cold all at once, light on the planter he brought with him to Makoto's apartment: the sly gift that Eri crafted for him, magically reconstructing one of his impossible roses into something living and real, a strain that hasn't been seen on this Earth since before the memory of myth.

He hasn't the strength to transform, he barely has the strength to stand. But there's still strength in his heart, and the determination to protect the protector of the Princess, whoever she may really be. His earlier attempt at cleverness ended poorly, but--

--it wasn't based on heartfelt honesty, it wasn't based on love, on the need to connect with people.

"I'm a big sister now!" said the tiny girl, beaming. And she gave him a rose.

Another wave of exhaustion sweeps over him, and Mamoru falls back against the wall, framed by the overflowing foliage of Makoto's indoor garden. "Stop," he whispers, eyes too bright, and he reaches with something inside him for the feeling of the life and vivid splendour of the green leaves and brilliant blossoms, for the distant moon and the still more distant sun, and that something grasps a well of strength.

(The sound of hooves and crashing underbrush disrupts the day around the combatants.

Endymion holds the reins of his charger tightly, his face frozen in shock at the sight of Jupiter and Nephrite.

For a half second, he can't move; his heart's in his throat and his twilight blue eyes are uncomprehending in his dusky face-- and then they go dark with rage.


The command rings through the air, echoing through the earth beneath their feet and roiling with black fury and the beginnings of the endless ocean of hurt that marks the worst betrayals. He glances at Jupiter for a second before the weight of that presence is turned once more on one of his oldest friends-- the full weight of the attention of the Guardian of Earth, seen so rarely, and never toward Nephrite, never toward any of his Shitennou.

"We'll talk at the palace," he tells the Heavenly King, words clipped and emotions firmly checked, gaze shuttered with frigid polar ice. It's a dismissal, but it's also a chance. There might be an explanation. There might still be an explanation.

Then his eyes flicker once more toward the girl, the princess and warrior, loving and fierce and protective, who would stand between anything and the girl they both love-- whose eyes are lost and whose heart is broken. He slides off his horse and goes toward her, offering his hand and the healing that comes with it. "Let's get you to Serenity," he tells her, making himself even out, making himself calm down.)


The shout is too loud in the confines of the apartment, and it rings with command, an authority that no weak seventeen-year-old human child should possess, something ancient and regal and as solid as granite.

Mamoru pushes himself off the wall and puts every ounce of strength into not faltering as he steps toward Makoto, then drops to his knees beside her, reaching to gather her close. He looks up at Nephrite--

--twilight blue eyes understanding all too well, and black fury roiling behind them like volcanic ash gathering in the sky--

--and he says firmly, voice clipped and brooking no argument, "This is her home. Whatever your purpose, you came into her home and you hurt her, and this has gone far enough. If you think you can have a quarrel with her and not with me, you're very much mistaken. So: if you're going to kill us, get it over with. It won't take much."

The boy, pale and drawn, the shadow of something else, finishes very, very quietly. His tone doesn't waver, and there's no fear or desperation in it, not anymore. It's like he's someone else. There's nothing dangerous about him-- there can't be, physically; he's trembling with effort. It wouldn't take much to kill them both. But his eyes are unflinching--

"If not, get out."

<Pose Tracker> Nephrite [Infinity Institute (S)] has posed.

(Nephrite is a man of deeply-rooted emotion -- but he is also a man of control, of strict self-discipline. He has long since learned that passions cloud the mind and lead one to make irrational, short-sighted decisions. And yet he cannot forsake them. Every time he tries to dam up his heart with quiet meditation, a new wellspring of emotion bursts through, flooding him and leading him astray. He had been doing so well. Even as he worked in secret towards this terrible betrayal, the General found himself free for the first time in what felt like years. No indecision. No conflict. Only blissful clarity and assuredness. He felt more certain of himself under Beryl than he ever had as a Shitennou of Prince Endymion.

But now the woman he loves is standing before him in the moonlight, fists bared, wiping away every trace of possible allegiance. And the weight of his decision comes crashing down on him in a wave of sorrow and guilt, the like of which he has never experienced. He could fall to his knees -- would, if he was alone. But he is not, and these feelings do not change anything. Everything is in motion already; the oncoming doom of the Moon Kingdom cannot be stopped.

So Nephrite hangs his head, not daring to look at Jupiter.

"Then it shall be war between us," he whispers, a hand floating over the hilt of his sword. "I only wish to spare you pain."

Endymion's shout nearly knocks him off his feet, and thankfully, washes away the idea that had been forming in his mind a moment before. The man turns towards the prince, eyes burning with anger at the interruption. How had they been found? Did the prince know nothing of privacy?

That wonderful clarity replaces the guilt that had threatened to extinguish his soul, and the usual composed demeanor of the man returns. "Yes. We shall," he says, as much a threat as a promise. He shoots one last glance towards Princess Jupiter, holds it for what seems like an eternity...then turns away, his cloak blowing behind him in the wind.)

A part of Nephrite's soul remembers this, but it is locked away, all but amputated from his consciousness. Only the echoes of that great sorrow -- as well as Prince Endymion's command -- reach his twisted excuse for a heart, no more audible than the wingbeat of a dove.

But, combined with the sight of the girl laying prone before him, as well as the boy's impassioned words, it does reach him.

Again, he takes a long moment to look down upon the two of them, trying to place the foreign stirring inside himself. He does not need to kill them; to do so would be imprudent. A waste of possible information and energy. It has nothing to do with what he said, it is merely a better strategic decision to halt the interrogation now and resume it later.

("I only wish to spare you pain.")

"...this is not over, girl," the Dark General all but spits at her, looking at her and her friend with disgust. "I advise you to be ready, for I will not hold back next time."

And with a shifting of a shadow, he is gone, leaving no trace behind except the pain in Makoto's body and the tiniest whisper of a memory.

<Pose Tracker> Makoto Kino [Juuban Public School (8)] has posed.

And so quiet descends in Makoto's little apartment; the darkness has receded from this cozy little space for now, although perhaps it's left its mark. Makoto is left crumpled to the floor, curled in on herself within Mamoru's protective grip.

His words, and Nephrite's, came to her as though through water while she struggled to make her body remember how to draw in air, and though she's managed to start breathing again, she stays where she is for a little while longer, aching all through her body and in no hurry to move.

She's crying, and she doesn't know why.