There are two reasons why Rei holds her sessions with Jadeite in the temple. They're both familiar with it - he once worked there, after all, and everything is carefully constructed as it was when he did - and she feels most in her element as Mars here. It seems natural.
There is another reason to bring him here (to this particular place and time, which is hers and not his), because he has a duty to perform. He knows this too; by now, he knows what's expected of him, and he doesn't seem to mind - much.
Still, he's laughing as she rakes the coals back to life. "Is this going to be another one of your dances again?" he asks.
"No," she says. Well, it might, but not yet. "For your information, it's more complicated than just a dance! The dances we do for people are more... ritualised these days. They're real, sure, but they're also for show." Hopefully he doesn't ask why there are never any people around, why her temple is always deserted, no matter what time of day, no matter what time of year, when modern folk are just as superstitious as he remembers when he stole energy for Beryl.
Hopefully he doesn't put it together. That as much as it looks like the modern world she lives in, this isn't it.
She places another log onto the coals and waits, watching as the bark smokes, catches, and curls.
"Gotta love a real show," he says.
"I can hear you rolling your eyes," she says.
"That's impossible! You know," he says, matter-of-fact, "when I was here a little while ago, for - for, uh, for other purposes -" He coughs. He doesn't elaborate in any more detail than that, but that's fine. Anything is something, talking about it is healthy. "I found out that a lot of others are just doing it for -"
"- Cash? Oh, sure." She climbs the table to reach the box stored on the top shelf. Plain wood, her sigil drawn on it hastily in soot with the butt of a burnt stick. "Hey, a priestess has to eat. A girl needs a part-time job, I can't fault her. You shouldn't either, Mister Non-believer."
"You don't think that cheapens it at all?" The box tumbles to the table with a loud tinny crash. "Hey, watch it, there," Jadeite says. His warning tone is devoid of its former mockery. So he does care!
"I'm fine," she insists. "So money changes hands, that's not what this is about."
"A-ha, then it is a business," Jadeite crows. "At last, she finally admits it!"
"It's not that either, and you know it." Inside the box are two pieces of a gold wand. She twists the top of the wand, the part that holds the bells, into the bottom part, then jingles it back and forth. She points to him with it, a peal of authority. "C'mon," she says, "go sit down. No, no, over there. By the fire."
Jadeite slouches. "Are you going to make me stare into the flames again?"
"Just give me a little bit of credit!" she says. "Trust me."
"As you like, Miss Mars," he says, mock-dutifully.
She does make him stare into the flames. It's for his own good! Every so often she flicks her wrist and the stick of bells she holds jingles. Every time she does this he flinches. She waits, watching him carefully: flick - ring - the flames flickering in his eyes as he winces - until he doesn't move a muscle anymore. This takes about five minutes. A few more jingles. She lets the tintinnabulation fully permeate the empty shrine and die away before she does the next one.
Finally, she asks, "So, what do you wanna talk about today?"
At the sound of her voice, Jadeite tears his gaze away to look at her - he gives good eye contact, this is something she likes about him, because as guarded as he can be, he is full and open with her, daring and bold to give her such an easy window to his mind like that. He blinks and squints. "Ah! It's dark," he mutters. "When'd it get so dark? It's the afternoon... is it supposed to rain?"
"It's the brightness of the flames," she explains. "Back into the fire you go. Just listen to my voice, and the bells."
"Aw, Mars -"
"You know the drill!"
Once more Jadeite faces the fire. Another ten minutes pass. His blond hair has darkened in the fading, glimmering light. He really is pretty like this. She likes studying him when he can't study back.
"So?" she asks.
"Nothing to talk about," he says, monotone and entranced, but still stubborn. "I feel fine."
"You don't," she says. If he did, she'd know, they'd all know. "It's obvious."
"Yeah, well. I don't wanna talk about it," he says. "Not really."
"Go on, I'm a good listener! I promise."
"Hah. I know that," he says.
"We have all the time in the world for this," she adds.
"You're gonna wait 'til I crack? That'll be awhile," he says. "Stones don't crack."
"They do under pressure," she says with a grin.
It's about fifteen minutes before he speaks again. Jadeite is competitive and that works for him, with most other people. But the bells have gotten under his skin and the primality of the flames has relaxed him and he has no defence against Mars.
"He's just such a jerk sometimes," Jadeite says softly, sadly, his broad shoulders slumped.
"You say that a lot," she replies. "What else is new."
"We got in a fight, that's what's new," he replies.
A fight. So a fight is what broke them up, way back when? "When'd this happen?"
"Oh, last night," he says. "We were just talking peacefully over dinner and he has to go and ruin things. So I blew up at him and said some things I'm not proud of - he didn't take it well, we started fighting, someone pulled me off him and then I stormed out."
Last night. Over dinner. As though the altercation happened a finite time ago that he perceives as the night before, as though they really eat. Maybe Jadeite's more psychically perceptive than she gives him credit, for his mind to construct this elaborate and clear a scenario. "You talk to him often?" she asks.
"All the time," Jadeite says. "What, don't you talk to the other senshi?"
"Sure." But she's surprised they do too. What is this? How can they talk to each other being what they are? "Well, what'd he do?"
Another ring of the bells. Jadeite sighs. "Treats me like a kid," he says. "I'm a year younger, not five. I hate it. I know what I'm doing! I'm not an idiot. And there he is telling me how to lift weights, what protein to eat to gain muscle, how to prepare food."
"He might know a thing or two about food, given how close he's become with Jupiter," she replies, stalling, trying to fish more out of him.
"It's not about food," he grumbles.
"You're right, it isn't," she agrees.
"He thinks he's better just because he wasn't as loyal. As though we weren't all brainwashed nevertheless. Thinks he's so good."
Then they are talking. "Jadeite -"
"No, it's always been like this! Nephrite always has to one-up me."
"He's not trying to compete with you. He's your brother -"
"Yeah, and that's another thing! We're not brothers! Did he tell you that? Did he tell Jupiter and she told you? We're not even related! Why does everybody keep saying that?"
"You don't have to be brothers to be close like brothers," she says.
But Jadeite is shaking his head, his eyes unwavering on the fire. "Who wants to be close like brothers anyway. Always bossed me around, like I'm his underling -"
"Because you need the advice -"
"Mars, I don't need advice! I don't need anyone's help, and certainly not his."
Oh really, she thinks. "You need mine," Mars says, firm and confident.
Jadeite crumbles, like he always does. "Well. That's different," he mutters.
"It isn't!" she argues. "It's just a different facet of the same jewel."
He pouts - there's no other word for how childish it is. "It shouldn't be," he says. "I thought, you and I... I thought we're supposed to be more than that."
"But then I can barely get you to hold my hand when we're out in a crowd," he finishes.
They've never really been out in a crowd. "How many times have we met like this? You know where my heart lies," she says. "Don't question that."
Another few minutes pass. She rings the bell twice, once on an inhale, once after an exhale. "Jadeite," she says, "This is what broke you the first time around. Don't you remember? You four didn't have the cohesion we had. Even when we weren't so powerful. Even when we were just silly little girls pretending at being senshi! You could've destroyed us but you never managed it. You should know by now better than anybody that if you don't have friends -"
"Oh, sure, the power of friendship," says Jadeite sarcastically. "So important!"
"Hey, it is important!" she says. "And don't talk to me like that."
"Sorry, Mars," he mutters. "You know I'm just angry. But not at you."
Jadeite's hot-headedness notwithstanding - which hasn't changed in any of his incarnations - he consistently bites off more than he can chew and doesn't like help, thinks he can do it all himself. He can't. None of them can do any of this all themselves. Not even with all the strength of Mars could she go it alone, not even with her more otherworldly talents.
This is how Chaos gets you. It waits until you are alone in your darkness. Then it offers you things you're too upset to refuse. And Jadeite makes an easy target. If it happened once, it can happen again. But he has to want to change!
"If I can't convince you with my words," she says, "maybe I can convince you like this." She gets to her feet. At the sound of the movement of her robes he fidgets - "No," she warns, "don't move."
"Are you dancing again?"
"Keep your focus! Just let me do what I'm good at."
She rings the bell, and then taps the wood of her sandal against the floor of the shrine. Ring - tap. Ring - tap. She varies the rhythm and slowly waves the hand with the bells around in large circles, her muscles taut and precise. Now and again, her slim wrist flicks the noise around the room, her slender calf thuds wood against wood.
These movements as a whole both are and are not precise in such a way - you have to feel it to do it, and she's been training a long time. She concentrates on Jadeite as she walks, so that even though she is walking away from him, she has rarely been more mindful of him, her proprioception attuned to his muscles, knowing exactly where he is in space and time, feeling every flinch. She uses the pealing and tapping echoes to keep track of his body, to tell whether he is still relaxed. This is how she glides across the room to the box on the table, where she draws a single prayer inscribed on a slip of paper.
Slowly, she makes her way back to Jadeite with only the kneeling silhouette at the fire to guide her visually - he's not wrong, it really has grown dark out there, it might storm soon - and drops it from a height. It lands between his shoulderblades, sticks briefly there, and then disappears.
This time she puts the handle of the wand of bells between her flattened palms, and rolls it slowly back and forth. The sound draws out, a prolonged version of her earlier bell ringing. One second begins to feel like many. Seconds pass for her, minutes for Jadeite. Reality shifts. Finally, she stops the bells. The reverberation is all that remains. Reality shifts back.
"What I want," confesses Jadeite, "is his respect. I want to feel like he respects me. I mean, for whatever else I could say about Zoisite and Kunzite, maybe they don't like me as much, they're still standoffish, but at least they respect me! Nephrite doesn't."
"Sure he does!" she insists.
"Yeah? Then he has a funny way of showing it," he replies, sullen.
"Maybe. Maybe you're not looking hard enough. Or in the right place." She thinks. "You don't seem concerned that he doesn't like you, though."
"I know he likes me, alright," Jadeite explains. "He's ... supportive, I guess. Kind in a way the other two aren't. They just leave me alone. But Nephrite gets under my skin. He seems determined to forge some dumb connection."
You do have a connection, she wants to say. There is a connection there. You just have to open your mind! Maybe Jadeite's not ready for that.
"And what do you think about him?" she asks instead.
"Pfft, like I haven't been talking enough about him?" he scoffs. "Rather talk about you."
"You talk a lot about what you don't like about him. Tell me what there is to like."
Because Nephrite has done much work on himself. A lot of introspection went into that. And he's stalled until the other three can catch up. Maybe that's why he's trying so hard on the other three and Jadeite's just the easiest. Or maybe the hardest. Or maybe he remembers something Jadeite doesn't. It's not clear.
"He's..." Jadeite thinks. "He's smart, alright. So, hey, if he's listening in, you can go and tell him that. I'm sure he'll be delighted."
"He's not listening." That's not how this works.
"I wish he didn't have to be so smart. It's like he's rubbing it in my face all the damn time!"
There's a longer silence, interspersed only by the crackling of the flames. "No," Jadeite says eventually, "no, he probably just wants to share the right answer. Sharing what he knows. All his little discoveries about who we are, how bad we were played." He deflates. "It's me, I know. I'm angry I didn't get there on my own. And the only reason I'm not more upset with Kunzite or Zoisite is because they aren't out-pacing me. I'm sure they will soon, though. Ah, Mars, what's it say about me that I like people I can be better than?"
"Don't be like that! You've been doing well."
"I'm miles away from where Endymion wants me," he says. "I know it. You know it."
"Hey, do you really think Nephrite did this all on his own? Crystal Tokyo won't get built in a day, you know -"
"Mars," Jadeite interrupts.
She looks down. For the moment she pauses on the ringing of the bells. All noise stops except for the flames, and even that seems to die down in favour of a silence, the kind that makes the ears feel like they're throbbing and packed with cotton. Jadeite has straightened, his posture stiff.
"Yeah?" she asks. "Everything okay?"
"There's something else here," he says.
She readies herself. "What is it," she asks slowly. The mindfulness concentration it takes to keep her tone of voice even helps her nerves. "Can you describe it to me?"
Jadeite performs no such mindfulness himself. He sounds disturbed. "Shapes - forms," he says. "I'm seeing things."
Okay. Breathe, Mars, just a vision. A vision she can deal with. "What are you seeing?"
"It's - I know that building - oh my god, that's the temple!"
He swallows. "The temple of humility, her Most Serene Highness' temple, that's the one she founded back on Earth, back in the -" Jadeite swallows hard. "This is back in the Silver Millennium."
He grows choked up. "Mars, it's beautiful," he says, his voice thick. "It's beautiful and we helped to destroy it. With the power of the Silver Crystal, it could have been preserved like this forever. It's timeless. It's immortal. We destroyed it..." He shakes his head, but his eyes remain on the flames. "You know what, maybe we do deserve this."
"You don't! Not forever," she says.
"D-do you get to see this every time you look into the fire? Is that why you do it so much?"
"No," she replies. "It's more complicated than that. What else do you see? Who's there?"
"It's Nephrite, again," Jadeite sniffs. "'Course it is, he can't even leave me alone in my damn visions." He blinks his tears away, and two roll down his cheeks, but he doesn't move and his gaze remains in the flames. "He- he's super mad. About something. I don't know what. But he's screaming at me... Hah, so we were like this then too, I guess. Somehow I knew it."
"Anything else?" She needs details.
"Well, looks like it's casual Friday, none of us are in gear or anything -"
"Nobody's in uniform all the time," she says.
"Yeah, maybe," he says. "He's grabbed me by the shoulders, I can't make it out - there's no sound but the fire and the echoes of the bells."
He's still hearing them? But Mars stopped ringing them minutes ago! She wouldn't have thought Jadeite perceptive enough to have obtained a vision this clear, or to pick up on the dying soundwaves. This is really impressive, for a guy like him. This is astounding progress. She'll tell him afterwards, maybe it'll make him happy to hear it. Or maybe it'll just make him squabble with Nephrite again.
Suddenly she realises. The squabble 'last night'. Didn't happen. That happened a thousand years ago. Jadeite's mind has simply placed it 'last night'. For him, it exists twice in time, like light bouncing off of two facets of the same jewel.
This modern-day experience that he's constructed, with the others - dinner with Nephrite, the observation that Kunzite and Zoisite are more standoffish, the observation that Nephrite is more "recently" trying to forge a personal friendship between them). All of that is from a thousand years ago, isn't it? These memories filtering through.
Because all the while, the consciousness that calls itself Jadeite is really trapped in a stone, the one Rei holds in her hand.
She needs details! "Can you read his lips?" she asks. "What's he saying?"
"You're there too," he says. He smiles. "I'd recognise that face anywhere."
"Am I saying anything?"
"No. You and Jupiter. You're just watching us. Disappointed. Shocked, scared." He squints, thinking and judging. "Well, maybe not scared," he adds. "I can't imagine you ever being scared."
"Happens more often than you'd think," she says.
"He's scared too," Jadeite whispers. "He's saying, You could have died. You idiot. Next time don't go off on your own and play hero. Next time listen to my orders. I don't just give them out for nothing." Jadeite falls silent again. "I'm replying to him now. I'm saying I'm sick and tired of being under his shadow, he only outranks me because of a dumb glitch in our training - I don't know what that's about - Oh." He grimaces. "That's ugly."
"Mars, it's really mean."
Jadeite looks ill. "I'm telling him dumb Westerners shouldn't be so high-ranked anyway. They're just brawn, just meat for the slaughter, a thin green line. That's all people like him are good for."
"What's happening now?"
"He punched me." Jadeite shrugs. "Eh, that's fair. I deserve it. I need to watch my words. Shouldn't throw them out like they're weapons."
"You meant them to hurt," she says. "They did what you meant them to do. That's what a weapon does. Are we intervening?"
"No, you're just watching us beat the crap out of each other. Hope we're entertaini- ooh," he interrupts himself. "Now Jupiter's separated us, she's grabbed my arm - you've got Nephrite by the hair - that's... actually pretty funny - and now I'm saying something again."
Mars waits impatiently while he watches and parses it through. Jadeite says nothing but his lips tighten together. "Well?"
"I stormed off," he says.
"And what was it you said to him?"
"Doesn't matter," he replies furtively. "Hey, are we done here?"
Not 'til the flames are out. "Tell me, Jadeite. We're not done here until you do. Don't make me pluck it out of you!"
Jadeite scowls. "I told him Beryl was right about him, she was right about everything. And that he'll see what true power looks like. That you'll all see. And then I storm off. There, are you happy now?"
The flames extinguish immediately and the temple is engulfed in darkness.
Jadeite reels, blinking furiously and shaking his head. His weight disbalances him and he tumbles out of his kneeling position to his side, supported by his hand.
"I think that's enough for now," says Mars gently.
"I hate this," he complains. "I just - I want it out of my head. I want to burn it out of me. Why can't the flames do that instead of give me dumb visions of something I can't change?"
But you can change it, she wants to say. The fact that you dream it up as happening 'last night' tells me you want to change.
But if she says that, she has to explain that she's here as Mars. That she's here with him by her construction. That this is all an illusion. That it isn't real.
"It takes time," she says instead. "You're unlearning serious brainwashing. Harm was done to you! You can't just magic that away."
"This is how they got us, isn't it," he says. "This is how they collected us, one by one. It was stuff like that. I imagine I was a sitting duck for them. An easy in to Endymion's guards for the emissaries of Chaos." He snarls, "I was so easy."
"Don't get so down! We all make mistakes. Now, it's true, my mistakes have never brought down a regime and ushered in an era of darkness -"
"Yeah, you're great at this reassuring business," Jadeite says acidly.
"Look, you did well here today! You should be proud."
"Really?" he perks up. "How proud? Are you proud?"
I'm incredibly proud. "Ehh. I guess so," she says.
"Proud enough that I get a kiss?" She wallops him in the shoulder, but it's playful and he's cackling. "Oh, come on. I missed your dance and all I got was a lousy vision about what a jerk I was a thousand years ago."
"I wasn't dancing for you, anyway!"
"Could've fooled me," he says, wearing his shit-eating grin. He wears it a lot. "Oh well, maybe I don't mind missing it."
"Why not? It's an important part," she insists.
"It's kind of ..." Jadeite waves his hands evasively. "You know."
She's giving him her most withering glare. "No, I don't know, maybe you better use your words!" But of course he has no smart words to add. "I don't care if you don't believe," she says primly. "I believe enough for the both of us."
"Pretty sure it doesn't work like that," Jadeite says.
"Pretty sure I didn't ask you!" She folds her arms over her chest. "And it did work, didn't it?"
Jadeite doesn't answer that question, which means that he does acknowledge that it worked and is embarrassed about it.
"Knew it!" she says. "I love being right."
"Yeah, well, I'd only tolerate it with you." He reaches out for her shoulder, to touch her.
She slaps him away again. "Quit it. You know I don't like that."
"I know you don't like it when other people are looking, because you're shy."
"I'm not shy," she says. "I just don't think PDA is cool like you do."
"I don't think it's cool either! But there's nobody around." He reaches out and pinches her waist, tickling her. Now he's just being a pill. That's pretty much his default setting.
"It's a shrine. Can you stop!" she says, but she is laughing anyway. "You're terrible."
"Then can we go back to my place already?"
"In a minute, I want to put this stuff away." Nephrite's right about him, he can be impatient.
A clap of thunder groans overhead. "Sounds like rain," he warns. "We should get going."
"Two more minutes," she says. As she puts the bells away and puts the box back in its place, she can hear the rain begin - it starts in on pounding, ramming the roof. "Just let me get changed."
"Why bother, we're going to get soaked," he says.
"Does that matter? Are you made of sugar?"
"Of course not! But you might get cold," he argues.
"You can warm me up," she teases. His mood lifts almost comically.
They leave the temple …
... and Rei Hino leaves her trance.
The flames still burn in front of her, and in them there's an aftershock image which she can't blink away. This essence, this spirit that dances and glimmers in the glow of the fire, is part of Jadeite. It looks cleaner than it was. She clutches the stone in her fist, warmed from its usual cool by the heat of her body, but otherwise immobile and - nearly - inanimate.
Rei puts the slab of jadeite back in its box - nestled up close next to its nephrite brother - safe once again from Chaos, though it presses in at the edges, waiting.
Nobody is watching. Nobody sees her finger it fondly.
And then another image flashes before her eyes: Jadeite's lips read, yeah, I forgive you too, you jerk, and Nephrite's read, aw, c'mere, jackass and he pulls Jadeite into an embrace. Something that should have happened a thousand years ago and didn't. Better late than never. Rei smiles.
Mamoru is outside the temple. He's the one who keeps the box. "And?"
"Progress," she replies, feeling victorious.
"How much?" asks Mamoru.
Given everything she's come to know... "Actually," Rei says. "I think this was the last one. You can let him out."