Earth feels heavy. It’s the only thing Serenity can register for a long moment when they arrive.
“We are too exposed,” Venus murmurs, her gloved hand clasped tightly around Serenity’s wrist. Her peasant dress, dark and stark, is the most casual Serenity has ever seen her. Casual, but not relaxed in the slightest.
Serenity tucks her cloak around her, looking around. They’ve appeared in a field; they are ankle-deep in snow, or what she believes is snow. It’s cold and wet and melts into the hem of her simple dress, dampening it to a darker blue. Her hair falls against her cheeks as she looks around, the edges curling at her throat.
It is so short, now. She feels as if she’s been stripped of a defense.
“There,” she says at last, her free hand curling into the heavy skirts. “Trees.”
“He’s late,” Venus murmurs as she leads Serenity towards the tree line. “Of course he’s late. Why be on time for something important like this?”
Every breath is nearly too sweet and full, saturating her lungs. Serenity steps through the snow, admiring the gleam and shine of it against the sky. This is winter; seasons happen here, she thinks.
“Please let me say, again, how much of a bad idea I think this is,” she murmurs.
“Duly noted,” Venus says easily, without looking back. “Your mother, however, thinks it’s the best we can do for you.”
“I can take care of myself, you know,” Serenity retorts.
Venus looks back at her, only slightly exasperated around the eyes. She tugs her along, shaking her head. “Of course you can. I’ve made sure of that. But it’s still too much of a danger. You know this.”
Serenity’s mouth curls and she looks down at the ground, at the solid snow and ice. Her limbs are weighty. She wonders if she will get used to this. “Being in his court is going to be just as dangerous. He has his reputation,” she says as they stop, safe under the arches of the pine trees. The scent fills her nose, her lungs; it’s sweet and sharp with dirt. She breathes and leans against the nearest tree trunk, to give her bones a rest from the weight of her skin.
“If you keep your powers suppressed, you will be fine. And you won’t be in his court, really,” Venus murmurs, fingers plucking and tucking at her hair.
“Am I going to hide in the dungeons and pray no one finds me?” Serenity asks dryly.
“As if we could keep you down there,” comes an amused male voice from behind, familiar.
Serenity turns and smiles, soft, even as Venus tenses. The energies shift and settle against each other and she holds a laugh; they’re idiots, the two of them. “Kunzite,” she says, holding her hand out.
Smiling, Kunzite takes the tips of her fingers in his and barely touches his mouth to her hand. “Princess.”
“You are late,” Venus says sharply.
“Evading my master is not as easy as you may think, Lady Venus,” he replies easily.
“You could put a pretty lady in his bed. I hear that distracts him well enough,” Serenity says, all too amused.
The two of them, leaders and guardians and warriors, stare at her, mouths agape. She smiles, and hides a laugh into the hood of her cloak. They really are idiots, she thinks again as their energies shift and shimmer between them.
“Or so I’ve heard,” she says, eyes lowered contritely.
Venus touches a hand to her forehead, shutting her eyes. “This is a bad idea,” she murmurs.
“No, no. That’s just the attitude the Princess will need,” Kunzite murmurs, amused. “It will keep the Prince entertained but wary. He doesn’t fare well with ladies who know how to speak.”
“But he likes when they use their mouths,” Serenity says, unable to control her tongue. It is so rare when she is outside of the constraints of the court and her mother’s kind but restrained hand; it feels good to let her tongue loose.
“Please don’t say things like that,” Venus says, pale, as Kunzite laughs out loud.
“She’ll be just fine, my lady,” he says, turning his attentions to Venus. Serenity watches quietly. He bows his head to Venus’s, his fingers light on her gloved wrist. It’s terribly intimate and heart-rending; Serenity sets her gaze on the snowy gown, suddenly cold.
“She had better be,” Venus replies tartly.
“She is standing right here,” Serenity murmurs.
Venus walks over and kisses her cheek, gloved hands warm and tight over Serenity’s. “You will be fine,” she says near Serenity’s ear.
For a moment, Serenity holds onto her guardian’s hand, lower lip trembling faintly. She will be alone now, in a foreign land full of those who would have her, keep her, try to take her power without understanding it; briefly she lets herself feel it, the fear.
“We will be watching,” Venus murmurs.
Then, she is gone, and it is just Serenity alone in the woods and snow, the lead general of the Earth Prince at her side.
Serenity takes a deep breath, her fingers closing around air.
“I won’t be in the court?” she asks at last, blinking back tears. She will not cry. She has told herself this for days, since the plan was revealed to her.
“No, Princess. You would be too far out of our sights for that,” Kunzite says, voice gentle. He has always been her favorite of the few outsiders she’s been allowed to meet over time.
She turns to him, curling her toes in her damp shoes. “Then what?”
He smiles, pushing his hair back from his shoulders; it is the same color as the snow at their feet, pale against his black cloak. “How are your skills with a blade, Princess?”
An attempt on Serenity’s life is what drove them to this kind of desperate plan.
There is a darkness mobilizing between the planets, seething and stirring. Serenity, who has been kept alone and secluded for so long, was in the process of preparing for a coming-out, a revealing of her as princess and heir to her mother. But word reached her guardians of a plot against her life, and then –
It had been the middle of the night. A gentleman, seemingly possessed, usurped the position of a valet in the palace. He came to her room, a knife secreted in his belt – and found Venus waiting for him in Serenity’s place, a sword in her hand and energy licking her palms. He was foiled, but it was enough to scare them all.
So here she is, smuggled onto a planet wary of her kind, put into the hands of men whose first loyalties are to a prince she’s never met and heard much of (and not all of it good). It makes Serenity uneasy, but she is determined to persevere.
She will be stronger than she looks, for all of them.
“Will he allow a woman to guard him?”
Kunzite covers her hand on his elbow with his own. Their steps are hollow in the empty stone corridor. Everything is grey, and heavy; the Moon Palace is nothing but light and air, the dark skies stretching out above her like home and space. Earth is solid, weighty; gravity seeps into their buildings, their voices. It would be fascinating if she wasn’t thrumming with nerves.
“He’ll do as I suggest,” he says at last.
Serenity shakes her head, teeth edging at her bottom lip. “That’s not what I’ve heard of him.”
“The lady Venus has filled your head with rumors to keep you cautious, and rightfully so. But the Prince is not so stubborn and foolhardy as she would have you think,” he says as they pick their way through the corridors. The castle air is thickly cold; shivers vibrate over her skin. It’s also very quiet. The court is in the main capital with the King, and the Prince until tomorrow. Kunzite and Venus are nothing but thorough in their plans. “He is a good man.”
“I never said I thought otherwise,” she says, amused. “But his reputation is interesting.”
Kunzite glances at her. “He has not seduced every woman in the court.”
“But some, I imagine,” she says lightly.
They stop at the base of a stone staircase. His grey eyes are heavy on hers. “It is imperative he not find out who you truly are, princess,” he says quietly. “You and I are the only ones who will know anything of this.”
“You think he would betray me?” she asks after a moment, wetting her lips nervously.
Kunzite’s face doesn’t change, or twitch. “I think he would do all in his power to protect you. The kingdom isn’t in a position for that at this time,” he says somberly.
She feels the flush on her throat, curling up towards her cheeks. “How chivalrous,” she murmurs. “But I doubt he would be so heroic to a girl he barely knows.”
“Princess, you are just the kind of lady he would fall in love with,” he says flatly. It catches her completely off-guard. She knows she is warm with color now. “That cannot happen, not now.”
Tilting her chin up, she smiles slightly. “Don’t worry yourself, sir. I entertain no thoughts of finding love here. This is a business arrangement, nothing more,” she says evenly.
Kunzite watches her silently for a long moment. It is an appraising moment; she doesn’t breathe, doesn’t twitch. She is used to the performance of judgment.
Finally, he smiles, small and tight. “Then let us get you settled, Princess.”
He doesn’t believe her; she can feel it in the tension in his arm and the shudder of his energy in the air. Serenity swallows hard and follows him up the stairs. Every step is a resolution; she will prove herself to be more than a coddled little girl.
A Queen must be more, after all.
Kunzite doesn’t ease her into anything. The next morning, he shuttles her into a private receiving room, his mouth close to her ear.
“Usagi. Your name is Usagi.”
Her nose wrinkles. “What does that mean?”
“Rabbit,” he hisses, his hand warm on her elbow.
“Oh, of course,” she mutters. That pet name will never die, it seems.
“Remember –“ is all he can get out before the door at the other end of the bright sunny chamber opens, and in strides – well, more men than she’s ever been alone in a room with before in her entire life. She wets her lips and straightens, an alien sort of nervousness taking root in her belly.
The Prince, she knows him right away. She has seen portraits and images, after all. He looks true to life, almost too good to be real, she thinks. His gaze, dark blue and sharp, fixes on her immediately, even as his generals talk and laugh at his sides.
The smile that curves his mouth is predatory. She feels the flush on her collarbones, and takes a deep breath.
“So this is why you left us early, Kunzite?” the Prince says, amused. He settles into a chair near the roaring hearth. His eyes roam her, taking in the loose tunic, the breeches, the sword at her hip. “Admirable.”
Her mouth twitches. She presses her teeth into the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing.
“It isn’t like that at all, my lord,” Kunzite says, all charm and ease.
The Prince arches an eyebrow, as his generals settle into chairs as well. Kunzite pushes her forward with a gentle grip on her elbow. “Then is she for me?”
She can’t help it; the laugh slips through her clenched jaw, a soft sound in the warm air. Kunzite’s hand tightens around her elbow as the four other men stare at her.
“In a sense. She is to be a part of your protective guard,” Kunzite says, filling the awkward silence.
Now, the Prince’s gaze darkens and shifts. “A woman? Absolutely not.”
“You have women in your armies, as do other worlds, sire,” she says before Kunzite says another word.
His gaze settles on her once again. “Chatty, aren’t you?”
She tugs her elbow from Kunzite’s grip and steps forward, chin tilted high. Her knees sink into an easy curtsey, a hand at the hilt of her sword. “When necessary, sire.”
“I don’t need a woman to protect me,” he says, rather dismissively.
“I believe it’s not entirely up to you, my lord. As General Kunzite is the head of your guard, he decides how you are protected,” she says, amused.
The blonde general of middle height laughs then, sitting closest to the fireplace. “She has you there, sir.”
Serenity keeps the Prince’s gaze. Her heart is fast and hard against her ribs, but she does not waver. She thinks her guardians would be proud, if they could see her. “I will be an asset, sir. A reliable ear and arm in a sea of those who would only take and take from you,” she says steadily.
He watches her, his mouth settled and straight. “What is your name?”
“Usagi,” she says without skipping a beat. Strangely, it doesn’t feel like a lie on her lips.
“She is my kinswoman,” Kunzite adds from behind her. “And is as talented with a blade as any of us.”
The Prince sits back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest. He is without his formal armor this morning, and it looks very strange; she has only ever seen the official images of him in it. This morning he looks young, relaxed; again, she thinks of how strange this planet is.
“Why don’t you just install her as a lady of the court?” he asks at last, the wariness clear in his voice.
This time, it is the dark-haired general with his hair loose and wavy across his shoulders who laughs, not unkindly. “And have you chasing after her? Kunzite is smarter than that.”
“I do not charm easily,” she says dryly.
“Is that a challenge, Usagi?” the Prince says with a sharp smile.
“A promise, my lord,” she says evenly.
The four generals are quiet. She feels the weight of their gazes, but the heaviest eyes are the Prince’s, dark and unreadable. She longs to reach out and feel the press and give of his energy against hers; it is the only true tool she has to read him at her disposal. But it would give too much away; she must survive on merit alone, now.
Finally, he sits up and smiles the plastered polite smile of royalty. She knows it well. “A challenge I accept, then. As long as you serve me well.”
“I will, within reason,” she retorts immediately.
His smile changes as the generals breathe and laugh; it is something simpler, more intimate. The breath catches in her chest. “We shall do well together, Usagi.”
“As you say, sir,” she says politely, taking a step back.
“Call me Endymion,” he says, the old court gallantry affecting his tone.
She shakes her head. “Never, my lord.”
He laughs, and waves a hand for her to sit. Behind her, Kunzite is relieved; she can feel it in the air. It is a test passed.
Sitting, she breathes, and shuts her eyes against the memory of his gaze on hers.
Slowly, Serenity settles into this new place, this new rhythm.
Earth is loud and boisterous in a way the Moon never has been for her. The women of the court are beautiful in a solid sort of way, beyond the otherworldly beauty she knows from her mother and her guardians. She can see the appeal, as she watches each feast and dance from afar; the Prince is right to have the reputation he does.
The other generals take to her easily, in a way that reminds her too much of her own guardians. It makes her homesick, but also helps comfort her when news trickles in from across the skies and space. Jadeite is the blond of middle height who is easy to laugh and joke and tease, but he is deadly enough with a weapon; she has sparred with him enough to know his strengths.
Zoicite is all ease and friendliness, interested in learning and theory and excelling in hand-to-hand combat. He is the warmest of them all as she settles into the strange place made for her in the Prince’s circle, and is always quick with positive reinforcement. Nephrite is the quiet one of the group, serious and steady and sparse with his words; but he is a steadying force for them all, and has an impressive strength in battle.
All of them are slow to want to spar with her, to test her; she wears them down eventually by taking Kunzite down in the sparring arena under their watchful eyes. Even the Prince is there; he claps, looking unabashedly amused by her. She could care less, as long as he trusts her with his life. After that day, the other generals are quick to practice with her; it is the most she’s felt at home since the start of this strange arrangement.
Interestingly, her true problems do not come from the other generals, as she had first thought they would, or from the Prince himself, who seems more interested in flirting with her than getting to truly know her. In truth, as the weeks pass, her troubles stem from the court itself.
“Lady Usagi, is it?”
Serenity glances over her shoulder, taking her eyes from the banquet hall at large for a moment. The hall is noisy, loud with music and laughter; she lingers at the edges, her sword at her hip, watching. The Prince has a pretty blonde at his elbow, his hand on her knee under the table.
She doesn’t care. Really, she doesn’t.
“Yes?” she says at last, glancing over the tall auburn-haired lady. She recognizes her from court, but cannot place her name. She remembers her just from the low cuts of her gowns, the way she stalks and watches the prince with her eyes. She reads dangerously.
The woman bows her head slightly, a rude sort of greeting. “Forgive a lady’s curiosity. The court knows so little of you,” she says coolly.
Wetting her lips, Serenity drops into a low curtsey, keeping her eyes on the other woman. “There is very little to know. I’m sorry, your name?”
Red lips curl into a sharp smile; there is nothing friendly in it. “Lady Beryl.”
A chill settles through Serenity. She slides a hand over to the hilt of her sword, a casual motion. Beryl’s gaze follows it. Good, she thinks.
“A pleasure,” Serenity says evenly.
“And why are you here, Lady Usagi?”
“I am here only for the protection of the prince,” Serenity says, leaning against the stone pillar. The music rises over her voice, the laughter of the Prince and his current lady weaving between the notes. “As the rest of the guard.”
Beryl steps in, eyes sharpening. “Good. Keep it that way. The Prince is meant for better things than a sword-wielding wench,” she hisses.
Eyebrows arching, Serenity pulls herself up to her full height. “You should take care, lady,” she says quietly. “I do not scare easily.”
Mouth curling once more, Beryl dips her head forward and slinks away into the darkness. Serenity watches her go, jaw tightening. She can feel the flare of power in her middle, a chaotic sort of warning.
Serenity turns to find Kunzite at her side. His mouth is tightly drawn, eyes dark. “You can call me by my name, Kunzite,” she reproaches gently.
His hand fixes around her elbow. “Come. I’ve had a message from Mars,” he murmurs.
Tears edge Serenity’s eyes, hot and bothersome.
“Hurt? How?” she breathes, alone with Kunzite in the Prince’s private reception chamber. The sounds of the feast echo dully through the cool stone.
Kunzite is pale as he paces back and forth in front of the hearth. Through the windows, she can see the flutter of snow in the dark sky. “The lady Venus is impersonating you at the moment, when it is necessary for you to be seen by your people. An Earth-born man took a moment when she was out in the public court to try and – “
“Stop,” she breathes, pressing her hands to her eyes. She can hear the reedy vibrations of her own voice and she hates herself for it. “Stop – I understand.”
He waits as she breathes, passes her hands over her eyes. Her fingers tremble against her skin.
“Is she all right?” she asks at last.
“Yes,” he says quietly. She can hear the crack in his voice, feel the shape and weight of his worry surrounding him. “She’s going to be fine. But it’s complicating matters between the Earth and your kingdom. You must remain vigilant and take care not to reveal too much of yourself.”
His words ring hollowly long after she has begged time alone. Reluctantly he leaves her be; his attention is endearing, but still, she needs time to herself and her thoughts.
She hides in the sparring area. The roof is open to the sky, snowflakes melting against her skin as she moves through the old routines learned from her guardians – her family. They are her family. She has never been away from any of them for this long, and it wears. She misses the companionship, the trust. These men are good, and solid, and she trusts them with her physical body; but there is a lack of conversation, of emotion. She needs it; she can feel herself waning and changing in their continued presence.
And the Prince –
“It’s snowing, you know.”
She stops, drags the tip of her sword through the dirt. The Prince’s eyes are heavy on her back, as she faces away from the entrance. Strands of hair fall loose from her braid, sticking to her damp throat. “My lord, you should be inside,” she says at last, looking over her shoulder.
He leans against the open stone arch that serves as the entrance, arms crossed over his chest. In the nighttime dimness she can’t measure his gaze, but she feels it, a reverberation in her bones. Her tongue is thick in her mouth with nerves.
“You’re going to catch a cold,” he says instead.
“Go inside, my lord. They will miss you at the feast,” she says wearily. There have been too many attacks on her in any way shape or form today; she doesn’t have the patience to fight off his parody of flirting.
“I don’t care about the feast,” he says sharply, pushing off the stone and moving out into the open space, the dirt giving under his boots. “You are out here for a reason, and I would have it.”
She takes a step back from him, pushing her hair off of her throat. “You can’t.”
His mouth curls at the corners. Snow catches in his dark hair. “You expect me to put my life in your hands, and yet I can know nothing of you? That tastes of hypocrisy, Usagi.”
“I am not one of your silly ladies you can court with pretty phrases and dances,” she snaps, her patience fraying. “You haven’t earned anything from me except for my sword, which I give you willingly. What more do you want?”
He stares at her, eyes wide. Color rises on her face and she ducks her gaze, shaking her head. Her throat is hot with shame. The flare of power in her veins is sharp, too furious; she takes a deep breath, sinking into a curtsey.
“I spoke out of turn, my lord. I’m sorry,” she says quietly, the ridges of the hilt of her sword imprinting on her palm.
Abruptly, he is directly in front of her, his hands warm on her shoulders through her tunic sleeves. She looks up, startled.
“You’re right,” he says quietly, gaze dark and serious. “I have given you no reason to trust me with anything of yours. That will change.”
She blinks, mouth falling open in surprise. “I don’t understand what that means,” she says at last.
He smiles then, small and sincere. It changes his face, makes him less than a prince and more of a man. “I would be your friend, my lady.”
A laugh catches in her throat, and she swallows hard. “My lord, I am in no mood to be charmed,” she says, pulling back from him.
“What can I do to prove my sincerity to you?” he asks, suddenly earnest. She would almost believe him, if the image of the blonde girl in the deep green gown wasn’t stuck in her mind’s eye.
“Sire, please go inside and leave me to my sword,” she says tiredly. “I will improve upon the morning.”
He lets her go; she can feel the pulling back of his energy as he moves away, and it leaves a little ache in her middle. “I will prove it, lady. I will not be defeated,” he says, bowing slightly before he stalks back inside of the castle.
Serenity stays outside long after he leaves her, snow wetting her hair and her breeches. For a long time, she cannot catch her breath, even when standing still.
“Did you say something to him?” Jadeite asks a few weeks later, riding beside her. The sun is finally warming through the winter chill, promising spring. Seasons still perplex her, but she smiles all the same.
“What are you talking about?” Serenity asks, reins loose in her fingers. Ahead of them, the Prince rides through the city, on his way to a hunt, with the three other generals flanking him.
Jadeite raises a brow, eyes vibrantly green in the weak sunlight. “Surely you’ve noticed.”
“Noticed what?” she presses.
“Our young Prince has been rather tame of late,” he says with a grin.
She rolls her eyes and tucks her cloak around her carefully. Her horse neighs softly, and she smoothes a hand over his neck, soft under her gloved fingers. “He is just as much of a charmer as he always has been.”
“Certainly. But there have been no visitors to his bedchamber. It seems like a certain kind of reform, doesn’t it?” he teases.
A flush rises on the back of her neck. “It doesn’t to me,” she mutters, biting at the inside of her lip.
The words taste like a lie, and from the shake of his head, she knows he knows it to be one. The truth is, the Prince has begun shifting his attentions from the pretty ladies of his court and more towards the politics of the universe he will be a part of as a governing entity. As news of the strange occurrences on the Moon and in the outer-lying pockets of his own planet trickle into the castle, he takes note, corresponds with his father the King on issues, and has even pushed forth the idea of a meeting on the Moon with the Queen.
In these weeks, Serenity has begun to see the man Kunzite described in action; conscientious, attentive, intelligent. There is more to him than pretty ladies and swords and good looks, she has to admit. Of course, the Prince never misses an opportunity to demonstrate for her directly that he is all of these things, and that’s more than slightly irritating.
She’s withholding judgment, of course. But to put forth all this effort for a girl? She’s not sure whether to be flattered or annoyed.
“Perhaps it’s merely a phase,” she says at last as they leave the city limits, moving across the melting fields and into the woods. Ahead of her, Zoicite says something that makes the Prince laugh, loud and sharp and full of amusement. It’s a rare sound, she knows this much. She likes it. “He’ll be back to his ladies in no time.”
Jadeite shrugs, brushing dark blond hair from his eyes. “Perhaps. But the court isn’t blind, and the ladies are upset. They’re going to direct that frustration somewhere,” he drawls, glancing her over.
She reaches out and smacks his arm as he laughs. “This is not because of me.”
“What isn’t because of you?” Kunzite calls from ahead.
“You two are rather friendly, aren’t you?” Zoicite teases.
Serenity catches the Prince’s gaze as he looks back for a moment. His jaw is tight, eyes narrow. She bites back a smile. “I think it appropriate to be friendly with all of you, seeing as how we are constantly in close quarters,” she says easily.
Zoicite chuckles, as Nephrite nods, a serious smile curling his mouth. “Quite the diplomatic answer. You would fit in well in the Prince’s meetings, Usagi,” he says quietly.
She shares a look with Kunzite, biting her lip lightly. “No, no. I think I’ve just been around you all so much, that’s all,” she murmurs.
A flurry of hooves and snow from ahead startles her. She looks up, watching curiously as the Prince gallops ahead of them all, his bow stretched out across his shoulders.
“Oh my,” Jadeite murmurs. “I think he’s unsettled.”
“It isn’t because of me,” she says stubbornly, a flush high on her cheeks.
“As you say, lady,” Jadeite says with a laugh. He, Zoicite, and Nephrite gallop ahead, giving the Prince chase. Only Kunzite lingers with her, eyes soft and light on her face.
“It isn’t,” she repeats quietly.
Kunzite bows his head. “I told you, Princess.”
“And I told you, as well,” she bites back, suddenly tired. “I’m in no place for games with silly men.”
“He is not a silly man, Princess. And now, he is loathe to give up,” Kunzite says before he turns his horse and clicks to it, urging it onwards.
Serenity sits still, her horse stepping under her in place. The sun is heavy on her shoulders, her braided hair; everything is weighted here, a sign of gravity’s pull. It makes her weary. As she pulls at the reins and whispers to her ride to move ahead into the woods, she misses home more than ever.
The hunt is unproductive, and leaves everyone in low spirits.
The last large snowstorm of the season (or so the soothsayers have predicted) comes and settles them all in the castle. The members of the court roam the halls and the guardians pace and stir. The Prince keeps to his library and study except to dine, and sometimes to dance with a pretty girl or two; he may be somewhat leaning towards reform, as Jadeite teases, but he is still a handsome prince with a court of lovely ladies.
Serenity keeps to herself, mostly. She knows Kunzite grows anxious over the strange behavior of the Prince towards her, but she can’t help that. There are the eyes of the court on her, still trying to reckon out the strange way she arrived and how she came to her position; but Kunzite has covered his tracks well, and she is silent and cautious. The men call her painfully shy; the women call her coy.
The Prince, he calls her something else all together.
“Stubborn,” he says at dinner one night.
She sits at his left, picking at her food. It has been nearly three months, and no news from home since the message from Mars all those weeks ago. The snow is slow to melt, lingering and making travel difficult for anyone, including messengers. “I’m sorry, my lord?”
He smiles a little, fingers loose around his goblet of wine. “Endymion.”
“My lord,” she counters.
“You could do with a stubborn lady or two, my lord,” she says evenly, eyes flitting around the large hall. The musicians play near the hearth, with a few ladies and lords dancing to the light tune. It truly is informal, and joyful; it brings forth no memories of home, and yet she is homesick.
A warm hand steals over her knee under the table. “Just one stubborn lady intrigues me.”
She shifts away from him, sighing. This is an old game, and she is too used to it to be offended any longer. “Sir, you know that is not the way to impress me,” she says.
He leans in, resting an arm on the rough-hewn wooden table. “Then what is?” he asks, all earnest and boyish curiosity.
Her hands rise to her braid, playing with the loose curling ends at her shoulder. It’s a nervous habit she thought she had broken after years of training and education; now, here, it has returned. “Why is it important to you?” she asks instead.
Shrugging, he settles back in his chair. “I suppose because you seem to be a good judge of people, of character. I would have you think well of me, Usagi,” he says. The music lingers and weaves between his words.
A flush settles on her cheeks. The air of the room thickens and warms. “It would be better to make certain your people and the other planets think well of you, sire. Don’t you believe so?” she asks quietly.
Eyes dark on hers, he nods. “I do. I’m trying. Perhaps not well enough, but I am,” he says. “I am determined to do well, to keep peace with all kingdoms and peoples.”
“That is impressive, sir,” she says with a soft smile.
“I mean it,” he says. “I know how important it is – and with the Moon Princess forced into seclusion – it’s wrong,” he adds sharply, hand forming into a fist against the table. His knuckles whiten. “There’s no need for the worlds to distrust each other so much.”
His sincere tone strikes her; here, in the middle of this great hall with the affections of the court to please him at a whim, it feels like the most honest conversation they have ever had.
Wetting her lips, she rises. “I’m sorry, my lord. I have to step away –“
He rises, and the hall settles into a low hum, nearly quiet. “Are you unwell?” he asks, a hand on her elbow.
The flush is too obvious and hard on her cheeks. She steps back, feeling every eye on her. “I’m fine, sire. Just tired. Please, sit,” she murmurs, keeping her gaze low as she ducks into a quick curtsey and then moves to the side doors.
Behind her, the music rises once more. She steals into the cool corridor and doesn’t stop walking until she reaches the wing of his private rooms, and the rooms of his guardians, including her own. Her hands tremble as she curls them around themselves, leaning back hard against the stone wall. The memory of his voice, his eyes, they stay with her; she can’t calm the blush on her skin, as she sinks to a seat in the hall. Her skirts billow around her, a dark pool of fabric.
“No,” she murmurs, pressing the heels of her hands against her eyes. “No, Serenity. No.”
She lifts her face from her hands, eyes wide. The Prince walks down the hall towards her, alone and unarmed. In the shadows of the torchlight his face is crinkled, mouth twisted with concern.
No, she thinks. She can feel someone else close, a dark energy that settles and fights against hers. She rises and pulls her sword, shaking her head. “Go back, sir,” she calls, hurrying towards him.
He rolls his eyes. “I understand you want to be brave, but there’s something wrong, and I would know –“
“Get down!” she exclaims, as a shadow breaks away from the wall of the corridor behind him. She pushes off her heels and leaps forward, blade outstretched. Her free hand shoves at the Prince’s shoulder, pushing him behind her.
Her sword presses and clatters against the assailant, a tall man clothed all in black. There is a strange redness to his eyes, the features slack in his face. But he has strength, horrible strength behind his arms and she feels her elbow buckle under the weight. Behind her, the Prince shouts; she can hear the music curl and slide away from her ears. The generals’ energy shift and sharpen; they are coming, she thinks between blows and parries. She has to stall.
She ducks and kicks her leg out at his ankles, catching him off guard. His aura swallows her, sharp and dark; she breathes out and rolls to the ground, digging her knees into his belly and pushing the point of her sword against the rise of his throat.
Then, it’s over; Jadeite is at her side as Zoicite and Nephrite pull at the attacker. She feels Kunzite there at the Prince’s side, as she leans on Jadeite for a moment, regaining the steadiness to her feet. The adrenaline is still surging through her, too hard for her to swallow against.
“Look at you,” Jadeite murmurs, a warm hand at her waist. “You did well.”
“Take him to the dungeons for confinement. We’ll question him later,” Kunzite says sharply.
Serenity lifts her eyes to the Prince’s. He is watching her strangely; his energy is cautious, reaching out for hers –
She swallows and pulls herself back, sliding her sword back into its sheath. “I need – “ she starts, as Zoicite and Nephrite take the attacker away.
“A glass of wine, to calm yourself,” Kunzite says quickly. “Jadeite, take her to her rooms. I’ll take care of Endymion.”
Jadeite takes her away, down the corridor. She can’t look away from Endymion, even as he is pulled in the opposite direction.
The flush lingers on her skin.
The next morning, Serenity wakes up from dreams of blood-red eyes and sharp talons and danger to find Endymion sitting at her bedside, asleep in a small wooden chair.
She blinks, the sun snow-sharp in her eyes. She sits up and pushes her hair from her eyes with shaking fingers. Her mouth is dry, the sour taste of adrenaline lingering at the back of her throat. The previous night is a mess of images, of Jadeite forcing wine down her throat before she sent him away, falling into bed still clothed. Her skirt tangles at her knees in the bed linens.
Her fingers tremble as she tucks them into her lap, watching him sleep. He is relaxed here in a way she would have never thought or guessed of him, brow smooth. His energy, as she reaches out and slips along the edges of it, is quiet and steady, tinged with concern. A strange pull takes residence in her heart, tugging and aching. She can’t place it, except for it is because of him, for him.
It frightens her. She pulls her knees up to her chest, longing for home again. Her cheek presses against the top of her knees, the blanket rough against her skin. Still, her eyes stray to his sleeping form.
“He stayed there all night.”
She glances at Kunzite as he hovers quietly in the doorway connecting her bedchamber with his. It’s a conceit of their kinship, but also a precaution he takes for her safety.
A flush curls up her throat, warm and heavy. “Why?”
“He was worried,” Kunzite murmurs, gaze sharply gray.
“I wasn’t hurt,” she says softly.
The Prince stirs, a low sound of sleep murmuring from his throat. She shifts back against the headboard of her bed, fingers twisting in the linens and blankets.
“Be careful,” is all Kunzite says before he leaves, the door closing with a hollow thud behind him.
It’s enough of a sound to wake the Prince fully, his eyes opening. He leans forward in his chair, mouth twisting. His gaze settles and focuses on hers as she watches him, tucking her knees closer to her chest.
“Are you all right?” he asks at last, voice low.
“I should ask you that, my lord,” she says quietly.
He shrugs, rubbing a broad palm across the nape of his neck. “You shouldn’t have taken him on like that,” he says, eyes hooded. His gaze on her is strange, appraising; it is less judgment, more curiosity. She feels as if he’s trying to peel her away and see inside.
She passes a hand through her thick hair, curling at the edges at her shoulder. She will need to cut it again, soon. “It’s what I am here to do, my lord,” she says firmly. “Is it because I am a woman? Or would you be so upset if it had been one of the generals?”
“Yes, I would,” he retorts. His earnestness catches her off-guard. “I would.”
Her fingers linger at her temples, a sigh rippling through her. She cannot help but think of her own guardians, how easily they place themselves in danger for her. The words are heavy on her tongue, the reassurance – she understands, better than he knows.
Instead, she swallows hard and smoothes her hands over her blankets. “You are kind to check after me, sire,” she says softly, lowering her gaze. “Thank you.”
A broad warm hand rests over hers on the bedcovers. She looks up, startled.
He leans in, thumb sliding over her knuckles. “There is something different about you,” he says quietly. “It’s – your aura. I can’t place it.”
“I don’t know what you could mean,” she says quickly, nerves setting alight in her fingertips.
Looking at her for a long moment, he shakes his head at last. His fingers curl against hers before he pulls back again. “I’m sorry. I don’t – I don’t know what I was saying,” he says quietly, rising from the chair.
She moves to slide out of bed, but his hand on her shoulder keeps her there against the pillows. “I’ll have someone bring you breakfast here. Join us when you’re ready,” he says quietly.
“Thank you, my lord,” she says at last, unable to look away from him.
His fingers curl at the fall of her hair across her shoulders for a moment. “I like it down,” he says after a moment.
The room warms around her, the air thick. She can feel the blood pulsing at her temples. “What?”
“Your hair,” he says, fingers shifting through it as he pulls his hand back. “I like it down, too.”
He leaves her sitting in bed. The door shuts hollowly behind him, echoing in the corridor. Serenity presses her hands to her cheeks and pushes at the flush there. Her eyes squeeze shut.
Be careful rings in her ears.
Tensions in the court rise and bleed into every moment, after the attempt on the Endymion’s life. There are murmurings, as the snow melts and messengers come every other day from the King for the him, that the malcontent brewing has its beginnings on Earth; the Moon is stable again, but there are talks of diplomatic conferences, supposed treaties and contracts and perhaps marriage between the Prince and the Moon Princess.
Endymion laughs it off in public, keeping to his cheerful charming self for the lord and ladies looking to him for guidance. It’s responsible, she thinks; to appear unchanged is to keep the status quo for as long as possible, which he needs. In private, with councilors and his guardians, he is worried, always sketching out plans and contingencies for his people and his planet.
Serenity listens to all of this in a state of complete anxiety. Kunzite counsels patience, but all she wants to do is speak up, to counter the strange rumors spreading around the court about the Moon and its princess – it is I, she wants to shout, to show them that they are all the same in character and humanity, just in different planes of space.
She wants Endymion to know, too. The secret weighs on her with every kind moment they share; they are more often than not, since the attempt on his life. Every time he calls her Usagi, she has to bite her tongue on a correction. He leaves her confused, flustered, confident, anxious, and smiling even when she is annoyed; she wonders if this is love, if it’s this kind of arresting sort of emotional spiral. She can’t ask any of the generals, and she doesn’t have her guardians here to help her.
This time, she is on her own.
It's in the middle of the night, the sky inky-black outside the windows. The noise of Earth fills her ears always; it keeps her awake at night, always stimulated. When she cannot sleep, she walks the corridors of the castle, her dagger at her hip and her hair loose, past her shoulders now. It's growing too fast; they are beginning to notice.
Her hair is the least of her worries tonight. Endymion has been pacing and stony all day, withdrawn from them all, even Kunzite. There have been messages from the King his father today, as well as agitations in the court, and the usual worries on his life, but she knows that's not what keeps him up at night, stabbing and swiping into a cloth dummy with the vengeance of the wronged.
There's something else.
Unsurprisingly, she finds him in the sparring area.
"My lord, you are out of your bed," she calls after long moments of watching him from the periphery.
He stops, crouched low with his sword digging into the dirt. The air is cool and heavy on her skin, sweet with the coming spring. In the faint torchlight she can see the sheen of sweat along the nape of his neck.
"I have told you to call me Endymion how many times now?" he says at last, voice brittle and light. He keeps his back to her.
She tucks her skirts into her hand and moves down into the sparring area, toes bare against the dirt. "Is something troubling you, my lord? I'm sure we can find something warm to distract you," she says.
"Is that all you think of me, Usagi? After all this time? I'm quite wounded," he murmurs as he rises. He is courting her once more, she knows. The chase must be tiring after all this time.
Her mouth curls slightly. "You are determined, my lord," she murmurs.
"And so are you," he retorts, gaze set on hers.
A flush rises on her throat. She is grateful for the dim light now. "Your day is quite full tomorrow, my lord. You should rest."
"I have no need to rest," he says curtly.
"You are very difficult," she mutters under her breath.
He laughs, the sound husky and caught in his throat. “You are bold, lady.”
Wetting her lips, she drags her toes into lines in the dust. Her eyes settle on the floor briefly. “I only think of you, sir.”
The silence is palpable between them, thick and tense. His energy is shifting under her fingertips, too hard to read. When she meets his gaze, he is no longer smiling. His mouth draws down at the corners, hair falling dark and loose over his brow and into his eyes.
“That is decidedly untrue, I think,” he says at last, very quiet.
“Have I not done my best to protect you?” she asks, astonished.
Endymion’s shoulders settle out of a shrug, the line of his body taut. “I would much rather you think of me as more than just a duty to complete and finish,” he says tightly.
She presses the tip of her tongue to her teeth, stilling the words hard-pressed to escape. He resonates too swiftly against her and in her, and she cannot remain still, or she will do something rash. Quickly, she moves to the line of practice swords resting at the edges of the sparring area. She drops her cloak to the dirt floor as she slides her grip around the wooden hilt, testing the weight.
“What are you doing?” he asks after a moment.
Content with her choice, she turns back to him. Her lips slide and curl against her teeth. “You and I have never sparred, sir.”
“I do not fight women,” he says; it sounds reflexive, as if he can’t control the words.
“But you will let them fight for you. Interesting,” she says flatly. She approaches him, her heels digging into the cool dirt. “I would have you fight.”
“I insist,” she presses, nerves licking at her insides. The blood is hot under her skin. Every reaction feels stronger here, on his planet and with him in the room. She can’t explain it, and she doesn’t want to. “Please.”
Her eyes fix on the grip of his hand over the hilt of his sword. In the dim light, she watches the shift and grip of his fingers.
Finally, he breathes out. His left heel slides back, a ready position. “Yes,” he says.
Her flush rises on her throat. She smiles slightly, and leans back into the weight of his planet’s gravity, letting it press and push on her bones. “Good.”
Then, she moves. The flat blades of their swords meet over their heads. She is suddenly very close to him, his mouth near her brow.
He smiles, eyes dark. “I feel that,” he murmurs.
Her elbow shakes under the pressure of his sword, his weight. She does not yield. “Not yet,” she drawls before cutting her leg around the bend of his knees. He buckles, his weight relieved from her sword. She paces back, her heel settled back against the dirt. A smirk curls his mouth as he straightens and recovers, sword stretched out. She returns the smile.
Now, they are off.
She has him on his back, in the dirt. The breath comes sharply to her, her blood pounding hard against her throat, her wrists.
Endymion chuckles, breathless. He drops his sword.
“You yield, my lord?” she asks, the tip of her practice sword digging into the soft spot under his ribs. She looms over him, and it feels like a victory. Her skirt is torn, slit up the side. Torchlight is faint, soft dark shadows lingering across the dusty floor and his face.
His face is very serious. He reaches out, his hands curling at her ankles. The flush settles and sticks at her skin, her neck damp with sweat. “I have yielded to you long ago, lady.”
Her teeth press into the inside of her cheek. “Don’t tease, sir,” she says quietly.
“I’m not,” he says, and it is the most earnest she’s ever seen him. She can feel the unfurling of warmth in her belly, the curl of her fingers against the hilt of her sword. “I am not teasing you. I am completely serious.”
It is instinct that has her kneel over him. There’s little shyness left in her after months here with these men and in this court and on this planet. Her knees press into the dirt at either side of his hips, her weight leaning back against his thighs.
“You would make me one of your many,” she says softly, as his hands rise and fall to her knees. Her dress shifts and tears with every shift and move.
He shakes his head, eyes very dark. “There is no many. Just you.”
“I’m not anyone’s idea of a lady for you, my lord,” she murmurs, and it’s true, in another way.
Endymion remains still, just watching her from his spot on his back. His hair falls across his brow, his eyes dark and heavy. “You are my idea,” he says at last. “That’s all that matters to me.”
“Typical,” she murmurs, but she does not move. “How long have you been waiting to use that line?”
“Sometimes, I believe you enjoy belittling me,” he retorts.
She sits back, heavy on his thighs. The color lingers on her bare throat. “I did not come here for this. I do not want to be a conquest, a goal achieved,” she says darkly.
His mouth shifts and opens for a moment before he shuts it once more, shaking his head. “Do you truly believe I think that of you? I am not that small-minded.”
She takes a deep breath, touching her fingers to her hair, loose at her cheeks. “No, I – I – you’re confusing me,” she murmurs.
His hands move away from her as he sits up, shifting their center of gravity. She feels the effects of his planet in this moment, heavy on her skin, a burn behind her eyes. His hands reach out and cup her face, his fingers light at her temple. There is nothing forced in it; it is all affection, and she knows, she knows that she’s lost now.
“It has always been your move,” he says, voice low in his throat. “I could hope, but – I waited. I’ve waited. Should I wait longer?”
Wetting her lips, she sets her sword aside. His hands are warm against her cheeks. She thinks of her guardians, her mother, the vast loneliness of her youth, the seclusion; it’s in sharp contrast to the vivid warmth and roughness and harshness of this planet, this world. It feels like living; she doesn’t want to leave, and it frightens her.
“No,” she says after a long silence.
His fingers twitch and curl against her skin, her hair. “What?”
“No,” she repeats. It feels as if her heart is near her throat. “You shouldn’t wait any longer.”
Gaze narrowing, he shifts back just an inch. “I don’t understand –“ he says, but she leans in and kisses him, quieting his mouth.
The kiss is clumsy and strange. She is unused to this, the physical expressions of affection. There is only so much books and observations can teach a princess. She can feel the trembling of her fingertips as she rests her hands on his chest. Stop, she thinks irrationally, a strange sort of burning behind her eyes. She wants to do well, to impress; it’s ingrained in her, and in him.
She understands him better than he knows.
“Oh,” he says after a moment, his mouth very close to hers.
A blush warms her face. “I don’t believe that’s the right response,” she says, pushing at his chest.
“Stop,” he says immediately, voice very low. He doesn’t let go of her, doesn’t let her face slip from his grasp.
She can’t look at him. Her heart feels as if it’s going to press right out of her chest.
“Stop hiding,” he says. She can feel the reverberation of his voice against her skin, his mouth near her jaw.
Her bangs lay heavily across her warm brow. “I’m not, sir,” she says stubbornly.
He tilts her face to his, his eyes dark and intent on her. “Endymion,” he murmurs.
Taking a deep breath, she wets her lips nervously. “Endymion,” she repeats, voice soft.
A smile curls his mouth, easy and kind. She thinks she’s never seen this one before. It’s special. “I like it when you say it.”
Her teeth dig into the inside of her lip. “So do I. Like it,” she stumbles.
His grin is boyish, too pleased. “Now was that so hard?” he teases.
“Stop it,” she mutters, so red she can feel it, smacking at his chest.
Instead it’s him that leans in and kisses her, his fingers soft in her hair. Her lips press and move against his, a warm sigh between them. His hands tighten on her hair, against her cheeks, and he leans in closer. She shuts her eyes on instinct. The weight of his mouth on hers is too heavy, too heady. A flush climbs up her throat, her skin warming under his hands.
He shifts her, twists her, and suddenly her back presses to the dirt, and he looms over her. In the shadowy light he is all darkness and a white smile, his hands sliding through her hair and over her throat as he bends over her. “Do you yield, lady?”
She shifts back as he hovers over her, his mouth close to hers. His hands slide over her wrists, a loose grip. “How long have you been waiting with that one?” she asks, slightly breathless. There are nerves setting alight through her, too sharp to ignore.
He grins, and he is young again, beyond the mantle of royalty she knows so well. “Long enough,” he says with a laugh, leaning down.
The kiss is different, the third time. Her mouth opens and he is there, wet and warm with the slide of his tongue across her lip. She tips her head up and sighs, eyes falling shut.
“Usagi,” he breathes against her mouth, his fingers sliding and twining into hers at her sides.
The name cuts through her like ice. She squeezes her eyes tightly shut, an odd burn harsh behind her lids. She wonders if he will ever say her true name.
For now, she lets the weight of him press her back into the hard ground, the smell of him heady in her nose. She’s letting go and running her thumbs over his knuckles, listening and feeling the catch of his breath against her.
It’s almost enough, despite the complications.
The next morning, she realizes that Endymion has a terrible face for lies.
She walks into his private dining room late, thick braid swept to the side over her shoulder. The other generals are already there, snipping at each other over bread and eggs. Quickly and efficiently, she sits between Kunzite and Jadeite, as she always does. Her eyes don’t stray to the prince, or anywhere else. It is like any other morning for the last three months.
“Good morning, Usagi,” Zoicite says from across the small table. Spring sunlight gleams against his sandy hair.
“Good morning,” she says pleasantly, reaching for the tea.
There’s a clatter from the head of the table. They all look up, watching as Endymion curses and mops at the hot tea spilled over his lap, his face pale. She swallows hard and glares at him. If this is his idea of acting naturally, he is terrible at it.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Jadeite asks after a moment, arm stretched across the back of his chair.
Endymion, flushed at the cheeks and glaring, flits his gaze between the five of them. His eyes linger on her and she clenches her hands into fists at her plate. “Nothing,” he says at last. “I didn’t sleep well.”
“If you weren’t up all night with other activities, perhaps you would,” Nephrite drawls.
She rolls her eyes and picks apart her bread, biting at the inside of her lip.
“I was sparring,” Endymion sputters after a moment. She’s never seen him quite so out of sorts. It would be amusing if it wasn’t completely the opposite of what they had discussed the night before.
“I’m certain you were,” Jadeite grins. She sighs, quelling the urge to roll her eyes.
“You’re quiet,” Kunzite murmurs to her.
“Am I? Perhaps I’m still half-asleep. I slept just that well,” she says brightly, glancing at Endymion out of the corner of her eye.
His mouth twitches, eyes wide. “A peaceful night for you, Usagi?”
“Quite,” she bites out.
Kunzite’s gaze is heavy and searching between the two of them. She swallows and picks at her toast, willing her face and flush not to betray her.
Later, after breakfast and alone in his private reception room, Serenity smacks Endymion directly in the chest, her hand curled into a fist.
“What is the matter with you?” she hisses.
Endymion laughs, grabbing her wrist. “Subterfuge has never been my strongest suit.”
She rolls her eyes as he pulls her close, his arm around her waist. The generals have split and spread throughout the castle, preparing the horses for the daily ride, and it is just the two of them for a time. It’s dangerous, but she can’t help the tilt of her mouth, the curl of her body towards his.
“They can’t know,” she repeats again. “You have to collect yourself appropriately.”
The hand on her wrist slides down to her palm, curling his fingers into hers. It’s soft and gentle and dichotomous with what she knows of him and his women. A flush rises on her throat.
“I do not keep secrets from them often,” he says quietly, bowing his head towards hers. His brow rests against hers. “I’m apparently a terrible liar.”
“You are. There is no apparently about it,” she mutters.
“Why should they not know?” he asks. The morning sunlight casts a strange glow against the dark of his hair, shadows across his mouth. The air thickens and warms between them, heavy on her skin. “They have known of every other woman.”
Serenity sighs, leaning back from him. “Is that truly what you think is going to work on me? Reminding me of the many?” she asks sharply.
His brow crinkles, mouth twisting. “You are obstinate.”
“They can’t know. It’s – it’s a – I’m supposed to protect you, and I don’t want them to think I won’t be able to if things are this way between us,” she protests.
He turns his fingers against hers, thumb sliding over her knuckles. The palm of his other hand is warm through the loose shift of her tunic at the small of her back. “You’re underestimating them.”
She tilts her head back to look at him fully, eyebrows arched. “You know that’s not true.”
There’s a flush lingering on the tops of his cheeks. He looks down for just a moment. His energy swallows her, heavy with the pull and press of his power. It’s heady and nearly too much for her; she can feel her knees give just a bit.
“All right. For now, then. I won’t tell them,” he says at last, meeting her eyes again.
“Thank you,” she says quietly. Her hand trapped between their chests rises and settles over his sternum.
“Shy again, my lady Usagi?” he teases.
“Not in the least,” she counters.
Abruptly he leans in and kisses her. It’s different in the walls of his chambers; she feels different, more like the princess she has tried to shed. His lips shift over hers, his tongue a soft press at her bottom lip. The warmth rises to her skin, but she shuts her eyes and sighs into it.
“I will want to do this all the time now,” he murmurs against her mouth, fingers tightening their clasp around hers.
“You will have to learn to restrain yourself,” she retorts, a smile breaking against his lips.
His hand shifts and opens over her back. “I’ve never had to think about that before.”
She leans up on her toes and kisses him again, mouth opening over his. Her teeth graze against his bottom lip. She has always been a quick study. “Growth is important for a prince such as yourself,” she murmurs softly.
A low rough sound curls out of his throat. They do not speak again for long moments.
Serenity measures her time on Earth through a series of shifts in the status quo.
There is her arrival, her first meeting with Endymion; the first alone moment in the sparring area, the attempt on his life; the conversation at her bedside, and then, the kiss. Again, her equilibrium shifts so that his hand on the small of her back is a normalcy, hiding it as they are. The lies are easy to her now; what kind of princess is she now, she wonders.
She thinks – she thinks they have kept it from the generals well enough. Endymion is his usual self, and she keeps herself collected and controlled. Kunzite still glances between them still worries, still reminds her in alone moments to be careful and cautious, and she is; but there’s little she can do against the instinctual pull she has towards Endymion, towards every part of him. It is beyond a pretty face and a handsome figure – she finds herself invested in his successes and his failures, wanting to help him in whatever fashion she can.
It’s strange, but it also feels right, in a way nothing else has in a very long time. She knows it can’t remain this way, that the dominoes are still falling; but for now, she’ll enjoy the slide of his mouth over hers, his hands warm on her throat, in her hair.
She can’t be begrudged a moment or two of love, she thinks.
The dark hours edging either side of midnight are theirs.
She steals into his chamber, or, less often, he creeps into hers. They are quiet together, sometimes in words, sometimes because their mouths are too busy with other things. Tonight, he has come to her, as Kunzite is away for the night in the capitol city, and there is less chance of discovery. They sit together on her bed, she leaning against her headboard, he sitting facing her with his knees bent. Her legs stretch out in front of her, into his lap.
“Tell me something of yourself,” he asks, his hands light on her bare ankles.
She raises a brow, teeth pressing hard into the inside of her cheek. “There isn’t really all that much to tell.”
Endymion shakes his head, fingers drumming lightly on her skin. “I just feel like you know so much of me, and really, you remain a mystery.”
“Perhaps that’s what interests you,” she says easily. “If I give everything away at once, you’ll become bored.”
“Never with you,” he retorts. “I will never be bored with you.”
Her mouth twitches into a smile. “That’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever said,” she teases.
He scowls, and she can’t help the laugh that escapes her, amused and pure. “I mean it,” he says, tugging at her ankles lightly.
She keeps to her lean against the headboard, sliding her fingers through the damp waves of her hair. “I wouldn’t know what to say,” she says at last, looking past him to the low-burning hearth. The nights are still cool, even as the days turn warmer.
“I was very lonely when I was young. Much of my life was spent in lessons of all kinds. I very rarely was allowed out, to roam free. It was boring, really,” she finishes, pressing her tongue to the roof of her mouth. You have said too much, she thinks, wrinkling her brow even as he laughs.
“No siblings? First loves? Best friends?” he teases.
Smiling slightly, she leans her head back against the hearty wood headboard. “I have best friends,” she murmurs. “Four. It’s complicated, but I miss them.”
“You can bring them to court, you know. If it would make you happy,” he says quietly, his fingers sliding up and under the hem of her skirts to her bare legs, her knees.
Biting her lip, she shakes her head. “No, they’re – they’re needed where they are,” she says softly. “I can’t be selfish.”
“I doubt you’ve ever been selfish a day in your life,” he says quite seriously, his hands resting still on her knees.
Serenity looks at him then, the flush still warm on her face. He is earnest and serious, eyes dark in the flickering firelight. “I have, sir,” she says at last, pressing a hand to the strange constriction in her chest. “I certainly have.”
Endymion tilts his head, mouth curling upwards. “I don’t believe it.”
Her smile is sad then, the ache in her middle settling and spreading throughout her. “You think too well of me, sir.”
“Endymion,” he corrects immediately, face settling into serious lines.
“Endymion,” she repeats, voice soft.
They look at each other for a long moment, the air thickening between them. She can feel the press of his energy against her, trying to read her. Hers she keeps close, constrained, in case he reads too much.
When he pulls at her ankles this time, she lets him, lets her back slide across the bed until she is lying flat and he hovers above her, kneeling between her legs. It’s the closest they’ve been like this; usually everything is a hurried embrace against the stone wall, or just hours of talking at separate ends of the bed. Now, everything is shifting; she’s on unsteady ground with nothing but him to guide her.
He leans in, mouth hovering over hers. “I will not do more than you want, Usagi,” he says quietly. His hands rest at her waist, warm through her thin dress.
Wetting her lips, she rests her hands near his neck, curling her fingers into the collar of his loose shirt. “I haven’t said stop yet,” she says softly, leaning up to press her mouth to his.
His weight settles over her, pressing her into the bed as their mouth slide and part for each other. His tongue is wet and warm across the line of her lip. She shuts her eyes and lets the headiness settle in her bones, acclimating and breathing it in. It feels like her first touches with gravity months ago, the pull of her body to hers. Again, she wonders if this is love; she cannot compare it to anything else, and she cannot ask him either. She is adrift as his hands move over her hips, pulling at the soft of her skirts.
Instinct settles and moves her, then. She parts her thighs as his mouth slides over her jaw, his teeth a press there. His fingers trail up the smooth length of her thigh as he cups her face with his other hand, his fingertips on her cheek. Teeth sinking into her bottom lip, she shivers with it, with the warmth unfurling in her belly and sinking into her skin.
“Do you – do you want to stop?” he breathes against her cheek. His hair brushes against her brow, her eyes.
She breathes and opens her eyes, finding him watching her. Shadows cross his face, hiding the flush on her skin that she can feel from this close.
“No,” she says softly, thinking of earlier. This is her being selfish, she knows. “But – I – I don’t know –“
He shakes his head and kisses her again, soft and easy. “Trust me. Okay?” he murmurs against her mouth, as his fingers slide between her thighs.
A gasp chokes her throat, as she feels the press of his fingers against wet flesh, his fingertips at her clit. She can’t help but push her hips into his hand, shallow breaths echoing between them. His mouth catches hers, her name low as he murmurs against her skin. She can feel an unraveling inside her, a loosening of control; her fingertips warm with the latent power there, energy licking at her veins. She knows the mechanics of it, can catalogue the physiological reactions of her body to his, but it’s still so different, so very separate from books and words.
This, his mouth on her throat and his thumb at her clit, she will never forget.
Later, she touches his damp fingers, sliding her tongue over the tips. It is a curiosity for her, but it startles him. He flushes, which amuses her.
“Interesting,” she murmurs as she pushes his weight and presses him back into the bed, straddling his thighs easily. “You’re blushing.”
“You’re out of your mind,” he mutters.
She laughs, limbs loose and hair soft and wavy as it falls over her shoulders. The sleeves of her dress are loose, her shoulders bare and her skirt up at her thighs. She drops his hand and presses the flat of her palm between his thighs, where she can feel him hard in his trousers. A low groan slips out of his mouth as his hands rise to her waist.
“I’m a fast learner,” she says softly, skin flushed and warm as she leans over him. Her mouth slides over his as her fingers slip under the waist of his trousers to touch. He is a sticky hard weight in her hand, her fingers twisting and sliding over his length.
It’s almost enough, and no more. She still wishes he would say her real name, low in her ear as his hands tangle and weave into her hair. But that is a selfish step too far.
“We are going to the Moon.”
Serenity pushes her bangs from her eyes, a hand loose on the hilt of her practice sword. The day is sunny and pleasantly warm, the scent of budding leaves and plants heavy in her nose. Spring is just as overwhelming a season for her as winter was, but she feels a little steadier now; the roses in the gardens remind her of home.
She looks at Kunzite carefully, dragging her heel back behind her through the dirt. Jadeite and Zoicite are sparring a little ways to her right; Nephrite is with Endymion in the far left corner, fist to fist.
“The Moon?” she repeats softly, pushing her braid over her shoulder.
Kunzite nods, setting his practice sword aside. Everything about him is tense, his gaze somber. “There is going to be a diplomatic conference between the planets, to take place on the Moon. To deal with the malcontents. The Prince has asked to be Earth’s representative, and the King has agreed.”
Wetting her lips, she swipes her sweaty palms over the thighs of her breeches. “Have you talked to any of the girls?” she asks softly.
“They believe the immediate danger on your life has passed. You will rejoin them when we arrive and assume your rightful identity at the beginning of the conference,” he says quietly. “We leave in two weeks.”
“I see,” she murmurs, moving to the rack of swords to replace hers. Her body feels different, changing over her bones, with the constant physical activity and movement and exercise. She is not quite the same princess that left the Moon all those months ago. “Thank you for warning me.”
Kunzite follows her, his hand light on her elbow. “We will have to decide how to deal with the Prince,” he says low in her ear.
She looks up at him with a small smile, shrugging. “I’ll tell him the truth. I’ve wanted – “
“He’s in love with you,” he interjects, eyes dark. “And you with him.”
A flush rises on her cheeks. “No, Kunzite –“
“We’re not idiots, Princess,” he murmurs, voice softening. “We know something has changed.”
She passes a hand over her face, sighing. “I want to tell him the truth,” she says at last, eyes straying to Endymion as he works with Nephrite. The determination on his face is singular, inspired. “I hate lying to everyone like this.”
“I would wait until we are closer to departing. This will be a blow, my lady,” Kunzite says. His gaze also moves to the Prince. She is impressed, again, with the level of dedication and loyalty these men show to their master; it reminds her how lucky she is, to call them friends and to have guardians just like them of her own.
“I am going to tell him, though,” she says firmly, fingers passing through her braid quickly. She can see the silver glinting in her hair in the blonde; the glamour is fading.
Kunzite bows his head, pale hair sliding over his shoulders. “As you will, Princess.”
Then, Zoicite calls for him, and he leaves her alone in the corner of the sparring ring. A breeze curls around her, lifting the sweat-damp strands of hair from her throat. She looks up into the pale blue sky, a color she had never seen before these days here, and inhales.
Endymion’s gaze finds her after a while. She does not meet it; the weight of her lies is too heavy.
All her planning for the conversation and the reveal is ruined, of course.
Serenity waits in the dark archway between the sparring ring and the corridor into the castle, fingers knotting into her skirt nervously. Night is thick on the castle; she can hear the feast still going on, the last big celebration before Endymion and his entourage leave for the Moon. Their departure is just days away, and she has yet to say anything to Endymion concerning her true identity. Kunzite reminds her daily, and she wants to tell him, and yet –
She’s scared, she knows. She’s scared of his response, or lack thereof. It’s something she’s ashamed of, to be scared of just a man.
Tonight, she gives herself no other option. She will tell him here, and let him make his decisions as he will.
Behind her, there’s an echo of steps in the corridor. She straightens from her lean against the archway, peering into the darkness. He should be here any moment; he had said he would follow her as soon as he could.
Abruptly, the air shifts, cools too rapidly for a simple spring breeze. Goosebumps rise over her skin, and her hand moves to the hilt of her sword – too late. A hand reaches out from the darkness and wraps around her throat, shoving her back into the empty dark sparring ring. She trips on her skirts and falls to the ground with a hard rattle, biting into her lip with the shock of it. She can hear her sword clatter to the ground, away from her.
“Did you truly believe we wouldn’t find you out?”
Serenity digs her fingertips into the dirt, spitting blood from her bitten lip onto the ground. She shoves herself back into a crouch, blinking the dirt and spots from her eyes.
The lady Beryl stands over her, a dagger in her fist. Her eyes are too red in the darkness, her mouth sharp and predatory. There is a strange aura emanating from her, a strange swallowing sort of darkness.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Serenity coughs out at last, inching backwards in the dirt. She can feel the ache and strain in her ribs and shoulders already.
Beryl pushes her curls over her shoulder, starkly auburn against her dark gown. She bares her teeth as she presses her advantage, towering over Serenity. “You did your best, Princess. But we were always going to find you,” she says, slow and cruel.
“Who are you?” Serenity asks, pushing herself to her feet and backing up into the center of the ring. She has to get her hands on a weapon, anything –
“We are tired of your rule,” Beryl sneers, lunging forward. Serenity raises her forearms to block; the dagger catches across the wide pale swath of her skin, a sharp thin bloom of ocher-red. “We will defeat the Moon, and be independent once more –“
Adrenaline swells in her, a sharp bite at the back of her throat; it drowns out the rest of Beryl’s words. All Serenity can focus on is moving, outmaneuvering her, getting to a weapon – she takes a cut to her thigh, to her shoulder, as she stumbles towards the rack of swords. The dark energy licks at her, fighting her; it wants her to unravel and release her powers into the air, to be felt and challenged by all, but she won’t, she can’t –
Beryl’s dagger sinks in at her stomach just as she wraps a hand around the hilt of a blade. The breath leaves her; Serenity inhales as the blade slides out, stumbling to her knees. There’s a chaos building inside of her, the latent power she always carries pressing at the seams she built for herself. Her hands fall and press to her stomach, dirt cold under her skinned knees. But the blood – the blood is warm.
“You will no longer have the Prince under your thrall,” Beryl whispers near her, breath stirring her hair. “We shall all be free again.”
Her fingertips are sticky, slick. She hunches over at the waist, pushing her palms at her stomach. The power is there, waiting, silver and soft and warm in her mind’s eye. Her ears are roaring with the pulse of her blood, the smell of it sharp in the air. Time is ticking away, and she is alone.
Then, she hears him.
Her loose reins on her aura, her power slip away from her at the sound of his voice. It spirals away from her and reaches out to him, a calling, the suppression released. Beryl has vanished, the dark haunting presence behind her gone as well. She swallows and feels the pulse and glow of her power at her fingertips; it sinks into her bleeding torn skin, a hum of healing. Every part of her is warm; her hair is lengthening once more, as the magic seeps into every part of her.
Then his arms are around her, his hand at her face. “What the – what happened?” Endymion asks, face ashen and drawn. His eyes draw along the length of her to the stab wound, the glow of silver there.
“Oh – what –“ he breathes, hands tightening their grip on her.
“I wanted to tell you,” she breathes out, vision spotting. She needs to sleep, to rest; it’s the only way the healing will complete itself. Her hand rises, sticky with blood, to rest on his wrist. “I wanted to tell you,” she repeats as he turns his wide gaze back to hers.
Her eyes fall shut, and she lets herself go into the darkness. She can still feel the curl and shape of his arms around her, even in the middle of nothing.
Serenity wakes up to her hand clasped between his.
She opens her eyes, and knows she is not in her chamber. It is too ornate, too decorous; this is Endymion’s chamber, she thinks as she blinks the spots from her vision. It’s dark but for the small fire in the hearth, casting long shadows across the stone walls. She shuts her eyes again and sweeps her free hand across her belly; fully healed, and well. The repression on her aura is fully released; it settles and curls against his, like they’ve found a home together.
Heart pressed hard against her ribs, she raises her eyes to Endymion’s. He sits beside the bed, face drawn, eyes shadowed by dark circles.
He doesn’t speak again; his gaze fixes on her, but he remains silent, watching her. She shifts her weight, moving into an uneasy sit against the headboard. Her hand remains tight between his.
“Serenity,” she says at last. “Please call me Serenity.”
It is a strange reversal of their first meeting, of the semantics that dogged them for weeks. She knows it, and so does he. He smiles slightly, shaking his head.
“I’m so sorry,” she continues after a moment, curling her fingertips against his palm. “I wanted to tell you – do you –“
“Kunzite told me everything,” he says quietly, gaze very dark. “But I – I suspected.”
“The night they tried to kill you,” she says softly. “I was suppressing my – well – it doesn’t matter. I’m sorry I lied. I wanted to –“
Endymion leans in and kisses her, lifting one hand to cup her cheek. She shuts her eyes and sighs into it. His mouth is soft and easy on hers, a gentle press and slide. Her fingers slide through her hair – her hair is back to its normal length, pooling around her waist, she realizes as she curls her fingers into his.
“You’re alive,” he says after a moment, their mouths still close together. “You’re alive. That’s all that matters to me.”
She shakes her head, blinking back a harsh wet burn from her eyes. “Endymion, I wanted to tell you,” she breathes, but he just kisses her again, his palm warm against her cheek.
“You’re alive,” he murmurs again. “You’re alive, and I love you.”
Her mouth falls open in surprise. She can feel his smile against her lips. “What?”
He smoothes a hand through her hair, turning more silver than blonde now. There’s a slight smile curving his mouth, sincere and quiet. “I love you, Serenity,” he repeats.
A flush swallows over her throat and cheeks. The sound of her true name on his lips makes her fingers tremble. “Say it again.”
“Three times? Don’t you believe me?” he teases.
She shakes her head, wetting her lips. “No. My name,” she says.
Endymion leans in and presses his mouth to her jaw, the thin skin near her ear. “Serenity,” he says at last, voice low.
Her fingers tighten in his, and she can’t help but press her face to his throat and hold onto him. His arm fits at the small of her back, his cheek pressed to her hair. Eventually, he moves over to the bed and they sit curled against each other, his mouth light on her brow. His lips pass the gold sigil that marks her, and she shivers each time.
He says her name again, and she can’t help the smile that breaks across her face.
Quickly, it’s decided that it’s too risky for her to stay and wait until the rest of the Earth entourage leaves for the Moon. The generals had wanted to take her back immediately, but Serenity intervened, beginning for more recovery time. They gave her two days, of which she was kept entirely in Endymion’s chambers, out of sight from all the castle residents and members of the court.
Her last night on Earth, Serenity sits at the windows with them thrown wide open to let in the breeze. The spring darkness sits thickly on the trees, the stars sparkling and bright in the inky sky. Kunzite will slip her away and return her to Venus and her guardians tomorrow morning, very early; she wants to appreciate every moment here until then.
The door opens, and closes softly. “Aren’t you cold?” Endymion asks as he comes to her directly. His hand slides over her shoulder to rest at the nape of her neck. She has been wearing her hair up in its habitual style since it returned to its natural length; she misses the easy weight of it in a braid.
“I like it,” she says softly, resting her forearms on the wide edge of the window seat. “The weather isn’t anything like this at home.”
Endymion settles in the open space next to her, sliding his hand over her arm to take her hand. “You like it here, then?” he asks, eyes dark.
She smiles, tilting her head as she looks at him. “I think you know I do.”
“Good,” he murmurs. A strange flush colors his face. “Because I hope you’ll be back.”
“As long as my mother doesn’t find out I almost died, I should be able to make another visit. A bookend to your diplomatic journey, perhaps,” she says lightly.
His fingers tighten against hers. “No.”
He ducks his head, hair falling low across his brow. It will be so strange to see him in his full armor, she thinks as she takes him in, the loose linen tunic, the trousers, the boots. “I mean to say that I would have you come back on a semi-permanent basis. As my wife.”
She blushes immediately as his words sink in. She can feel the hesitancy in his aura, the shy edging of it away from hers. “My mother is going to find that kind of proposal rather unexpected,” she says after a moment, wetting her lips nervously.
“Then I will have to court you and convince you while I am there for the next month, won’t I?” he says, meeting her eyes.
“You don’t have to convince me,” she murmurs, turning her hand palm up so she can twine her fingers into his. “I would – I would – “
“Well, I love you,” she blurts out quickly, tongue tripping over the words. It is the first time she has said it back to him, and she’s acutely aware of how badly she’s doing it. She blames Venus, she decides as she watches the smile shift and turn on his mouth. “I love you. So I would say yes.”
“You would say yes? Or is this you saying yes?” he teases.
She rolls her eyes, pushing a long length of silver hair over her shoulder. “Was that you asking me?”
A wide, boyish smile breaks out across his face. Slowly, he pulls her across the window seat towards him. She bites her lip as she shifts her weight, settling herself into a straddle across his thighs. The spring air is cool on her overwarm skin, sweet and scented with spring roses and leaves.
“Marry me,” he says at last, cupping a hand to her cheek.
She tilts her head into his touch, smiling slightly. “Yes,” she says softly.
He leans in and kisses her, mouth opening under hers. His teeth press in, his tongue soft and wet against hers. She curls her free hand into the loose fabric of his tunic, digging the wrinkles into it. She wants to leave a mark on him for him to remember when she is gone. Her eyes squeeze shut as she bites at his mouth, fingers tightening around his as their joined hands rest on the window seat.
“I would have you, then,” she whispers against his mouth.
Stilling under her, his hand slides over her cheek to her throat. She opens her eyes, meeting his heavy gaze. “Have me?”
“I would be married to you tonight,” she says firmly, face flushed. She remains steady, though; she refuses to be shy with him, not any more.
His hand tightens in hers. “Serenity, do you know –“
“Yes, I know what I’m saying,” she says, a little impatiently. “I want – I want this. Before I leave you, I want this.”
He remains quiet, watching her carefully. She settles her weight back on his thighs, sliding her hands from him and his grip. “It will be different when we’re on the Moon. They are not so informal, so casual, and we won’t have any time for just us,” she says swiftly, her hands reaching behind her to the laces of her dress. “And you don’t know how this conference will go, anymore than I do. I will come see you no matter what, but now – right now, I want this.”
Reaching around, he wraps his hands around hers at the laces. His mouth hovers over hers, eyes very dark. “You don’t need to do this for me,” he says quietly.
“I’m not,” she says evenly, leaning her forehead to his. “I’m doing this for me.”
She doesn’t say please; she doesn’t ask again. It is his choice, she decides as she pulls away from him, slides to her feet and backs away towards the middle of the room. Her fingers remain on the laces, pulling them loose. She can feel the gown give, slipping from her shoulders. It doesn’t reveal anything but her collarbones, the curve of her shoulder.
Endymion rises and walks to her. His hands settle on her back, fingers sliding at the laces. She lifts her hands to his chest, looking at him as he loosens the rest of them. The air is cool on her bare skin; goosebumps rise over her limbs as the dress falls from her body, pooling at her ankles.
“Yes,” he says before he kisses her, his hands wide and spanning her waist. In a moment, he lifts her up and carries her to the bed.
She thinks she ought to feel shy, or strange. Certainly she is nervous, with his hands on every part of her and so exposed to him; but she can feel his nerves as well. The air is thick with it, with the portent of this moment. Soon there is nothing between them but sweat and air, the linens kicked down to the foot of the bed. He has her leaning against the headboard, his mouth slick at her stomach, tracing the scar that lingers from just days ago.
“This is not how I recall it looking in books,” she breathes as he slides two fingers in and out of her, soft and slow and slick. Sweat slides down her neck; she arches up, lifting her hands to the headboard as his thumb curls around her clit. Her lips are soft and swollen from his, the taste of him heavy on her tongue.
He grins and laughs against her skin, tongue soft as he moves down the line of her hip. “What kind of books do they have up there, Princess?” he teases.
“Apparently ones that are not well-updated,” she says, swallowing a moan as he bites at the inside of her thigh.
Shifting her thigh over his shoulder, he pauses. “Include this in the next edition, then,” he says with a smile before he leans in. She feels the press of his tongue against slick flesh and a sharp wave of warmth shudders through her. Her nails curl and dig into the oak headboard as a long low moan slides out of her throat.
He is murmuring against her, his tongue easy on her clit. Three fingers slide in, curling inside her gently. She presses her heel against his ribs, arching into his mouth instinctively. His name spills from her mouth in a low groan, the breath catching sharply in her lungs. She can feel the warmth unfurling, her fingertips heavy with her. The shape of her nails presses into the wood and she sighs, sweat beading on her brow. Shivering, she comes with his name breathless on her lips. Her hands fall from the headboard and fall over his shoulders, pulling him up towards her.
Their mouths collide, the taste of her slick over his mouth. She swallows his moan and his tongue, her teeth pressing into his lip. She pushes him into the bed, straddling his thighs and leaning over him. His hands slide over her spine, the curve of her ribs, over her stomach.
“You’re beautiful,” he murmurs against her mouth.
She flushes, sliding a hand between his thighs to grasp him, hot and sticky and hard. “Not as much as I could be,” she murmurs, fingers twisting and sliding over him.
He tilts his head back, throat a sharp long line under her mouth. “Stop it,” he murmurs thickly, his hands cupping her breasts.
With a slow, uneasy motion, she guides him into her; there’s the stretch, eased and slick, but she can feel it, a low sort of burn. His hands cup her face, damp palms against her cheeks. “Are you all right?” he murmurs, his mouth near hers.
She nods, pressing her forehead to his. They remain still for a moment, as she breathes and shifts and adjusts to the press of him inside her. Her fingers slide over his shoulders, digging into the muscle gently. Slowly, slowly, she begins to move, and he with her.
He kisses her then, his tongue soft and wet on her bottom lip. Her hair, loose from its style thanks to his eager hands, spills and pools around them, a thick silver-blonde curtain.
“I love you,” he says against her mouth, skin flushed and breath catching under her fingertips. “Serenity –“
She slides her mouth over hers, shutting her eyes. The sweat slides down the line of her spine as she leans over him, kissing him until she can’t breathe. She will remember the feel of his mouth, the sound of her name on his lips; it’s the small moments she wants, and this is the best of them all.
Later, he tucks himself around her, his chest pressed to her back. The windows are still wide open, cool sweet air sliding over her sweat-damp limbs. She piles her hair on top of her head, sliding her hands over his as they rest on her waist.
“You will have to pretend not to know me, you know,” she says after a while.
He hums, mouth lingering near her temple. “I’ll be fine.”
“You are a terrible actor, Endymion,” she says with a laugh.
“Yes. But for you, I’ll do anything,” he murmurs.
She can’t help but shiver, remembering Beryl, her dark eyes, her words. “Not anything,” she says softly.
His mouth opens at her throat into a kiss. “Anything,” he repeats. “You are my wife, in everything but name. I would do anything for you.”
Shutting her eyes, she tucks herself closer into the circle of his arms. What waits for them beyond tonight, she cannot know. But this, the stability of his arms and the surety of his words, she will count on this, as well as herself, and her own powers.
She is not afraid of tomorrow.