I wanted to give myself to him: not for advantage, but for desire.
-The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory
He had laughed at her look of fury, once, seizing her hand as it stretched toward a hive of angry bees.
The sparks at the tips of her swollen and stung fingers died a quick death at the sound of his voice – low and warm, caught between amusement and surprise. His teeth shone white in his sun-darkened and lined face.
Venus had never seen him look so young.
“The hardest thing for you and I, I think,” and it seemed she was about to hear just how close he could come to confessing a flaw of character.
He brought her hand up to his mouth. Under his breath, pain blossomed. “To be gentle with those who turn against us.”
The agony in her fingertips was exquisite.
“I am never gentle,” she promised, and saw Kunzite’s eyes darken.
How quickly this restless Earth changed, she thought.
The shower of stars accompanying her wafted lazily toward the ground, allowing her eyes to adjust to the comparative darkness and take in her alien surroundings.
Venus rose slowly to her feet.
How quickly it could turn against her. It was not the first time she had found herself a stranger to a place she thought she had committed to memory. The blue world was like that. She had learned to accept the violence of its geography and its seasons.
But this...this was different.
Venus pivoted slowly on her heel, trying to get her bearings. She remembered the landscape differently. The last time she was here, there had been trees, taller than anything she had seen grow on the Moon. The spaces between them had been shadowed and tinted darkly, impossibly green, mist breathing wetly over the moss.
The air had smelled like water.
Now, there were no trees; their stumps thrust upward like broken limbs in the few places that were bare of human leavings – stinking latrines and stamped-out hearths. The ground had been paved; the wheel ruts on either side of her were not deep enough to be more than weeks old. A thousand fires colored the sky like an aging bruise. The sun hung sickly in the yellowed haze, streaked with oily smoke.
And in all directions and as far out as the horizon, there were men.
They loitered in front of their tents, laughing and boasting; they sat on their haunches and repaired bits of armor; they lined up in front of an old woman selling steaming packets of – what? she could not say – and tore in with their teeth; they led temperamental horses and slaughtered protesting chickens; they yanked squealing children up as they ran past and kissed their fat cheeks; they lingered in corners where the torches were dim and murmured nonsense, heads bent over their wives, their camp women.
It was pandemonium everywhere she looked, leaking from the myriad tents lined up on what appeared, on a careful second glance, to be a well-organized grid.
This, Venus realized, having completed a single circle on her heel – this was an army.
She drew her veil up around her mouth just as two men – veterans, by their swagger – crossed the path directly in front of her, intent on the latrine to her left.
The shorter of the two glanced carelessly at the shrouded form standing in the middle of the path, just as she affixed the fabric to her ear, and promptly did a double take.
“Hey,” he yanked on his comrade’s arm, eyes still on her. The other man slowed, looking back.
“And where is your tent, lady?” the short one grinned at her, stepping closer. “I feel certain I haven’t visited it before. I’d remember. I’m sure you’d remember, too.”
The tall soldier guffawed. “Ain’t he modest.”
Venus said nothing. Her hand was already tense around the grip of her sword. She let it part the shapeless, flowing fabric of her disguise, a warning. It had not been her plan to draw attention, particularly not so early and not of this kind.
The tall one saw the glint at her thigh first. “Ooh-whee, she’s got a sword!”
The short man didn’t hesitate, drawing his own curving saber out with a flourish. His grin widened as he feinted in a wide arc. It was a mockery, made to startle her.
“It’s not our first time sleeping three in a small bed, sweetheart,” he assured her, stepping – at last – into her sphere of motion. Up close, Venus could smell his desire.
She swung low, cutting his legs out from under him. It was a shallow slash, meant to hurt and not maim, but he fell on his knees, cursing as the red liquid coursing down his shins made mud of the path. “You – !”
“It’s not my first time, either,” she told him.
Somewhere, a woman screamed. The tall soldier charged her, his expression falling into grim lines.
She was a blur. He jabbed at the place she had crouched a mere moment before, oblivious to her stone blade, pale as diamond, arcing down toward his neck.
A familiar voice sounded, cold with command, and Venus’ sword clanged against the flat of another. Before her, the tall soldier immediately knelt, his face blotching.
“General,” he snuffled, trying to simultaneously stay still and edge out from under the two blades crossing above the furry base of his skull.
Kunzite lifted the flat of his sword, by necessity pushing hers up with it. She sheathed it, trying to stop shaking. It hardly mattered. He wasn’t looking at her.
“The penalty for assault is discharge,” he said.
“General, please – ”
“But the punishment for rape is death,” he finished without inflection, and the tall soldier fell silent. Behind him and to the right, his short friend began to openly weep.
“It appears that you have a woman’s skill with a blade to thank for your lives,” Kunzite continued, not raising his voice above conversational volume. There were ill-concealed titters at this statement, but by and large, the onlookers – there were quite a few – struggled to hear him speak. He turned away, dismissing them all.
The tall soldier gaped, confused.
“Pack your belongings. If you are not gone by sundown, you will be garroted,” his words were measured to carry as far as was needed, and no farther. The two men scrambled to their feet, though the short one needed his comrade’s assistance to walk.
The onlookers were still there. Still heavily veiled and cloaked, she could nonetheless feel – and hear their attention shift to her, baleful and curious both.
Venus stared after Kunzite’s retreating back, wondering how much longer he meant to deliberately ignore her. Certainly he knew she’d make him pay for every minute.
“You,” he finally said, not slowing his pace. “Come with me.”
She would not have picked this tent out as his at first glance, or even second. It was not a decorated pavilion fit for the highest ranking man in the camp, let alone the highest ranking man left on Earth. No brightly colored standard at its half-open entrance, no guards standing beside. It was only a few hands taller than every other structure surrounding it, and she suspected even that was a grudging concession by Kunzite to his unusual height.
She ducked in a few steps behind him, blinking in the low light of the braziers, and saw immediately that he had been in the middle of something just before he had left his tent. The table against the wall was piled high with dried fruit and bore a heavy decanter, filled to the three-quarter mark with good wine, and a half-drunk goblet of the same near it. The chamber was uncomfortably warm, even for a man born to the scorch of the desert. She soon saw the reason for that as well.
“You’ve returned, General?” came a sleepy voice from the cot shoved against the corner opposite the table. She saw a head of tousled baby-pale curls lift.
Venus couldn’t help herself. “Not alone.”
A man – a boy, really, she amended – jerked up from the mattress. Even across the dimness of the chamber, she could see from the high-flying bones of his cheeks, the soft droop of his lashes – he was Venus-born.
And naked as Venus made him, she noted, as he gathered the bedclothes up around his body, nearly tripping in his haste. Two red spots were visible on either side of his face. He muttered his apologies as he brushed past her. She watched him nearly dive out the exit, trying not to laugh at his graceless haste. Something of his fine features struck her as familiar...but Venus couldn’t think why. In any case, he was irrelevant.
She put the incident from her mind as she turned to face Kunzite.
He stood by a set of drawers at the third wall, his arms folded over his chest. She would not have guessed her visit had interrupted him at his leisure; his uniform with its gold braid was buttoned fully up to the throat, and his cape draped cleanly from his epauletted shoulders, brushing the tops of his boots. He dominated the limited space available to them, shrinking their surroundings by comparison.
There was nothing in Kunzite’s expression to indicate either pleasure or dismay at her presence. His mirrored eyes reflected her most minute movements and revealed nothing. Belatedly, she realized that she was still trembling. She had never before come so close to killing someone. She thought that he probably knew as much.
“Venus,” he said. “Why are you here?”
She reached behind her ear for the hook of the veil, deliberately recollecting what she had seen and heard outside the walls of this tent, as they had made their way through the camp. Halves of excited conversations had reached her ear, here and there. They promised each other palaces constructed of nothing but pearl. They nudged each other, whispering of women twice or thrice as lovely as their wives, with skins that would never sag or wrinkle. A few soldiers wondered, idly, how many of them it would take to bring down one of the legendary Senshi.
Venus finally pulled the fabric free, judging the pause to have lasted long enough. “To see if what I heard is true.”
His gaze sharpened. “Heard from who? You have no spies left on Earth.”
She looked at him steadily. “No spy of mine, Kunzite.”
He did not react, not visibly, but he gave himself away nonetheless. “Endymion,” he said softly.
The ensuing silence was confirmation enough. Around them, the braziers crackled. His chest moved evenly, up and down. Venus could not tell what he was thinking. It was warm enough now that moisture sluiced between her breasts, under her arms, and down her thighs, but she spoke without moving, without conceding discomfort.
“So. You plan to storm the Moon.”
Kunzite was looking at the floor, his face in shadow. When he spoke again, after a moment’s pause, he sounded weary.
“Nothing was planned. There was talk. There has been talk for as long as I have been alive.” He looked up. “But nothing was certain until Endymion was lost to us.”
“Kunzite.” She had to make him see reason. “You have no hope of winning. We will turn your army, large as it is – ” Venus gestured outside “ – to dust. And you and your guard will be taken prisoner. Have you considered that the four of you are leaving Earth leaderless?”
“You have left us with no choice.” His back straightened as he stepped away from the wall, arms falling to his sides. “Either return him, Venus, or I come for him.”
She shook her head. “I cannot return him.”
“You – ” Venus started, then stopped. “Something is wrong. You must have had reports, even if you can’t see as clearly as we can from the Moon.” She lifted her hands for emphasis. “The ocean is burning and the mountains are sinking underground. There is magic at work here, and – ” she hesitated. His face was closed. Fair enough. She would’ve borne a lecture from him on crises of the Moon with equal grace. “For all we know, the blue world is failing. We cannot risk his safety.”
“Your newfound concern for his safety is difficult to credit.”
“Were the decision mine, Kunzite, believe me, I’d have personally delivered your prince into the capable hands of the Shitennou,” Venus retorted, taking care to emphasize the adjective, and had the satisfaction of seeing one shadow chase another across the wall of his face. She remembered all too well the poorly disguised derision that showed in the Shitennou, every time Serenity escaped the Senshi’s watch, and took pleasure in letting the same derision finally curl her lip. “But the last thing the Moon wants is the blood of Earth’s heir on its hands. So.”
“What proof can you give that you haven’t already spilled his blood?”
Venus started, sure that she had misheard his question. “What?”
“You must have interrogated him, Venus. You would not have known we were massing forces otherwise.” He spread out his hands in the air, studying them for – what? she wondered. “So what proof can you give that when we come to the Moon tomorrow, we find our prince well and whole in your Queen’s prison?”
Her jaw fell. He was not joking. She could see as much in the tense line of his brow.
The anger that rose in her, a blood-tide – it rendered her momentarily speechless. And then, with equal speed, it receded, leaving her so clearheaded, she was dizzy.
She asked, lightly: “Am I to understand you have no interest in his corpse?”
Even in the languor after lovemaking, and certainly now, in a dangerous state of agitation, he held in abeyance the potential for rapid motion. In three steps and fewer seconds, Kunzite had crossed the span of the chamber, yanked her hair’s length into his palm, and looped it around. Her body dangled from his grip, deadweight but for the support of his other hand, resting lightly just below her hip.
“This is not a laughing matter, Venus.”
“I am not laughing,” she managed, though she was, silently, and he could see it. His lips peeled back from his teeth. She felt his knuckles dig into her nape with a soft, but audible pop. Up close, he smelled as he always did, of hide and iron.
“What proof could I give you? Is there a safeword that you and your prince use? Ah, but then, anything he told me, I could have forced from him. I am not nearly so adept as some of your men when it comes to inflicting pain, but with practice – ”
He rammed the back of her skull into the table in one smooth motion, shocking fresh tears to her eyes. Venus was only distantly aware of the fruits rolling away, thudding onto the ground – of wine? blood? wetting the crown of her head – but she was excruciatingly conscious of his palm, hot on the sensitized skin of her thigh.
She could have broken both of his arms and all of his fingers in a second, merely by willing it, by pushing the humming power, the deadly sparks from her fingertips.
She remembered her hand, stretching toward the beehive.
“I will kill you,” he said. “You are the strongest asset the Queen has. And I am storming the Moon tomorrow. I will probably die trying. I have nothing to lose.”
She smiled at him. Her teeth were chattering; she bit the insides of her cheeks to make them stop and felt the blood rush over her tongue, tasting like old coins.
“Endymion is not a prisoner of the Queen. He came to the Moon of his own accord. To warn us. About you and your guard. To tell us your plans. And to fight you.”
He gave no indication that he had heard her.
“When I said we wouldn’t send him back – I meant we wouldn’t do so against his will. He is under our protection.” Venus paused, then delivered the blow. “What information he gave was given freely. No one has laid a hand on your prince.”
He simply looked at her. His face was uncomprehending.
Venus swallowed. Her arms and legs pricked with a chill even in the heat; the edges of her vision were igniting. Still, she tried to reach for him. He neither retreated from nor gravitated to her caress, the backs of her fluttering fingers on his jaw. “I’m sorry.”
At that, he released her.
He was already turning away, his one hand ghosting through the loose strands of her hair and the other slipping from her thigh as if it had never been. She missed it immediately. Her fingers scrabbled at the edge of the slippery table for support.
His back was to her, but she saw him pass a hand over his eyes, and become still.
“Kunzite,” she said, with a compassion that surprised her.
His voice was cold. “Leave me.”
Her fingers groped at the hook of her cloak, and finding no purchase, snapped it. The coarse material sank around her feet, leaving her in the wrinkled, slightly sweat-dampened gown she wore underneath. It trailed on the ground, absorbing the wine that had spilled there. The white, frayed edge swiftly reddened as she toed off her boots.
Venus stepped forward. Her ears were ringing.
He did not retreat from her approach, but she saw the tension building up in his muscles, stiffening his spine under the fine material of his shirt. His motionlessness was so complete as to be unnatural.
She came around him and took his face between her hands, though it was impossible to curve them around all the steep angles. When her mouth touched his, he did not react. His arms remained at his sides. She could only guess at his expression. Her lashes were lowered, a rare kindness to him.
Their love games were rarely kind.
She didn’t stop until she felt his hands spasm upward, bruising her bare shoulders, pushing her away. Her eyes flew open. The muscles in her arms flexed, resisting.
“You were right,” Venus told him, refusing to let go. He shoved harder, and she dug her nails into his scalp. “You were right,” she repeated. “It is the hardest thing.”
His eyes were wide, but she couldn’t be sure he saw her.
“Endymion,” he said. “Endymion. Endymion – I had hoped – ”
Such hopes he had for him, Kunzite had told her once, unguarded. Her hands slid from his head to his neck, and around to his throat. His hands fell nerveless to his sides. She undid a button. “I know.”
She kept her eyes on his as she undressed him. His face was lean as a hawk’s. Venus had always thought it beautiful for its austerity. How different he looked, from the pillow-lipped lovers she had taken before. How violent he could be in his desires. How much he had taught her, of all people, about passion. It had never occurred to her to feel possessive of him. She could not love him like he loved his prince; she could not be laid so low by a betrayal. She could not be so helpless.
In truth, Venus was grateful that she could never love anyone so.
“To be gentle with those who turn against us, isn’t that what you said?” she asked, pushing his jacket over his shoulders. It puddled with his blue cape on the floor. His chest was crossed with silver hairs, silver scars that Venus had followed with her nails many times before. “He’s not here. I am. And you needn’t be gentle with me.”
His palms rose, almost of their own volition, to curve loosely round her shoulders, then trailed downward, with thoughtful delay, until they reached her hips. The fabric of her sheath suddenly bunched in his large hands. Venus breathed out, and looked at him.
Though she would never say so, what she saw in his expression moved her to pity.
But now was not the time for that. She let her hair and her breath brush against him but deliberately kept her body away. There were a thousand ways to shape ardor and Venus was experienced enough to have learned and forgotten them all. With Kunzite, the key was simply to sit under his gaze long enough, and wait. She suspected the Venusian boy, whoever he was, would have done much the same, if he were observant. Kunzite denied himself almost out of habit, and had done so for years. But he was no monk.
He had desire to spare.
“Nothing has changed,” he said quietly. “I am still coming for him in the morning.”
The thing was done. He had given in.
She nodded mutely, and allowed herself to be lifted in his arms.
His booted feet crushed the plums and apricots littering the floor. They mixed with the spilled wine, the heady fragrance of the resulting pulp rising to her nostrils. Her head hit the table, her back slid along its length, and her gown was yanked up above her narrow hips. His callused fingers raised goosebumps on her legs as he dipped his head between her thighs to taste her. There was not enough air to breathe.
Venus yanked hard at his hair, urging him on with whimpers. Her calves slicked his shoulders with sweat, but he gave no quarter. She thought she felt a graze of teeth.
She bit into the fleshy heel of her hand to muffle her scream as she came.
He stood, wiping the back of his mouth with one hand and undoing the catch of his trousers with the other. Venus heard a distant crunching of glass – he must have stepped on the decanter. She pulled at him, tugging him down by the neck.
She shuddered when he palmed the weight of her breasts. His tongue tasted mostly of her, and a little of the fruit that had previously graced the table. Remembering the welt at the back of her head, she bit down and split his lip with her canines.
Kunzite reared back with a sharp exhalation that sounded like a curse.
This was why he wanted her, she thought, watching him touch his mouth with soft, blurred eyes. She roused something in him that was equal parts dismay and desire.
She was his release.
His index finger and thumb came away from his chin, streaked red.
Her mind went blank as he bottomed out in one thrust. A hoarse cry worked itself out of her throat. She reached blindly upward for him – for anything – he seized her wrists and pinned them to the table. She interlaced her fingers tightly with his.
His face loomed above hers, perspiring into her hair. She could see all of him so very clearly – his pleasure, his resignation, his exhaustion. Above all, his anguish. She wanted to touch him, to smooth out the lines in his brow and around his lips, but he would not let her. She watched his eyes darken at the sight of her mouth, swollen and parting soundlessly as she came again, legs collapsing around his hips.
She let him set the pace after that, closing her eyes and feeling him open her flesh.
The hard, jarring angles of his body made her skin raw and her bones ache.
On this last night, she would give him everything he asked of her.
Other lovers she had had buried their damp foreheads in her neck, breathed harshly against her pulse as they found their own release. Not him. He held himself taut above her, his muscles stiffening. The fullness of him inside her was making her slick and wet again.
There were so many hours until morning, she thought. There were not enough.
He watched her under half-lidded eyes as she moved quietly around the chamber, picking her barefooted way around the broken glass. It had been milled almost to powder by his boots, and was impossible to see in the fading light of the braziers.
In the half-state between wakefulness and sleep, his face was soft and thoughtful. Perhaps that was why he even asked it of her at all, without embarrassment.
“Did he know you were coming here?”
Venus arranged her cloak loosely over her shoulders. “Yes.”
“Did he give you any message to convey?”
“Does it make any difference if he did?” she asked.
Venus threw back her head and laughed, high and clear, like she might never laugh again. “After all this time, have I finally made a politician of you? Tell me it isn’t so.”
“Venus.” He took her wrist, mindful of the bruises spanning the joint, and laid his palm against the slim line of her jaw. She studied the defenselessness of his face.
She told him.
He closed his eyes.
“I see,” he said simply, and then was quiet. He sounded so very tired.
She sat there, at the edge of his cot, covering his hand with her own. Her pulse leaped eagerly under his palm. She forced it to silence, and focused instead on the warmth of his palm, the roughened texture of his skin, the length of his fingers.
At some point, Kunzite’s hand fell from hers, limply to his side.
He slept on, untroubled by the loss of her touch. There were other worries furrowing the tanned skin of his brow, drawing downward the slash of his mouth. Even in repose, she couldn’t imagine what his face looked like at peace.
Venus left his chamber as silently as she had entered, too many times before.
He had sought her out alone, away from the Princess. She could not say she was entirely surprised.
“Is it true? Are you going to – to Earth?”
It was still difficult for him, she observed, to not call it home. She cocked her head to the side. “Yes. Why?”
He looked away. “Are you going to him?”
Venus looked at him levelly. His head was turned, but his cheek reddened nonetheless. His eyes were downcast, and his lashes, she noted, were long and dark as a girl’s. For a reason she could not identify, this softened her scorn. “What message do you carry for him?”
She watched Endymion's Adam’s apple bob up and down.
“Tell him – ” she had never heard him speak so haltingly before, this young and brash upstart who could barely rule his own guard, let alone the blue world that was his birthright. “Tell him I am afraid for him.” He swallowed. “Tell him he knows what is in my heart.”
He looked at her then, and she saw plainly what he could not say.
“I will tell him,” Venus said simply, and vanished in a shower of stars.
A/N: My entry for the 2013 Shitennou Forums Ficathon. I wanted to present a slightly different take on the final days before the end of the Silver Millennium, and in particular, how those closest to Endymion might react to his abandoning the Earth for the Moon. I also wanted to explore the relationship between Kunzite, Venus, and Endymion, and the push and pull between the three of them. ￼￼￼It's rough around the edges, but I hope you enjoyed this sketch!