Stitch in Time - part I

At the beginning of the universe...

...there is a girl. Although powerful, although eternal, she is still a girl, and even Time was once young. And the young do foolish things, because despite all evidence to the contrary, they assume that they cannot possibly be wrong.

So. There are two, standing at the gates of time. Even in the endless, timeless moment that exists there, it is obvious that one is old, very old, and the other is equally young. The old one stands with the infinite patience of one who has seen everything, and is in no hurry to see it again; the young one shifts impatiently from foot to foot, toying with strands of dark green hair. Her face is defiant.

"But those are the rules, Pluto," says the old one.

"Stupid," she replies with spirit. "Father, if I can do it, why shouldn't I? If we can affect things within the time streams, why shouldn't we? Why are we always sitting by this stupid door? We never do anything fun! What's the use of having powers if we can't use them?"

"All things have a purpose, child," the old one says. "All things have a specific destiny. We gain nothing by meddling. Why are you so restless? You've seen many worlds, many times, and you can see them again. All I ask is for you not to change anything."

"Not even to make things better? I don't agree, Father," she says obstinately. "We have such powers, such abilities - and all we do is sit by these gates, forever watching the timestream! There have got to be better things to do!"

"But this is our purpose, dear child," the old one says gently.

"Your purpose, perhaps," she retorts. "But not mine! I've my own life to live!" In a fit of rebellion, she snatches up the Garnet Rod, whirls, and leaps through the gates of the Time Portal. Her slim, dark body disappears into the black, starry void beyond with hardly a ripple.

The Time God shakes his head sadly, and sits back to wait. She will come back eventually. In the meantime, he will be patient. Chronos, father of Pluto, is very good at being patient.

Pluto skims along the surface of the Time River like a well-thrown skipping stone, her fingers tasting each timeflow briefly before moving on. Flickering and sliding along glowing ribbons, she inspects the timestreams with practiced skill. Finally, she alights on a gleaming white current, her fingers caressing its surface. "This one," she says aloud. "This one will be my world." She wills herself to enter it, and sinks inside. She feels the transition from the endless "now" to the unforgiving "later" and shudders... shuddered... at the lessening of her immortality... but she recovered, and passed on through the surface.

With a thought, she summoned the retinues that were her right as the Princess Pluto, powerful senshi of time. She strode boldly up to the Earth Palace and announced herself.

Queen Terra of Earth was astonished, but pleased. "Princess Pluto! Of course you are welcome. Pray tell, what is the occasion for this visit?"

Pluto smiled wryly. "You see, I had some free time..."

Terra laughed at this almost-pun, her green eyes sparkling. "It's been ages since you've graced us with your presence. Welcome! Oh, and have you met my son?"

"Not since he was wetting his diapers," Pluto said wryly. "What year is it now?"

Terra smiled serenely. "I keep forgetting that time moves differently for you," she said. "You must meet Endymion."

At these words, a tall youth unfolded himself from a chair beside the Queen. Pluto stared. He had the Queen's thick black hair, but his eyes were as blue as the deep oceans of Earth. His body was slender, yet strong, and his face was almost impossible in its perfection.

He bowed and kissed her hand lightly. "It is truly a pleasure to meet you, Princess Pluto." His deep, male voice sent a quiver up her spine.

Pluto's spirit was fairly humming with newfound freedom. She eyed the youth with pleasure, and more than a little interest.

"You've grown," she smiled at him. "You've changed greatly since last I saw you."

He gave her an engaging sideways grin. "I'll stake even odds that you haven't changed a hair in so many years," he replied. "And yet you look my age."

"Why don't you two get acquainted?" Terra asked. "I've got petitioners and ministers scheduled to come in today, and I'll be a little busy. Endymion, do keep our guest occupied. Pluto, you can join us for dinner tonight?"

"Of course!"

"Very well then; I'll see you there." With an apologetic smile, Terra turned to a man who was approaching the throne.

"Mother's very busy," Endymion said, seating Pluto near the side of the hall. "If it's all right with you, I've sent your retainers to put things right in your suite."

"That's very thoughtful," Pluto smiled. "You're a real credit to your mother, Endymion."

He ducked his head, with a shy, lopsided grin. "I wish you wouldn't say things like that," he said. "You make me feel so very young..." He smiled wistfully at her. "You must have seen many things, living so long."

"It's not as good as it sounds," Pluto said quietly. "I miss out on a lot, too. Sometimes I just want to be a normal person, live a normal life..." She looked down. "I envy you, Endymion. My life is very lonely sometimes."

He reached across the table and took her hand. "Why then, my lady," he smiled, "I must try to make it more bearable for you!" He swung her up into his strong arms. "Do you dance?"

She realized that the musicians were playing a waltz. "Of course," she replied, gazing into his deep blue eyes.

They moved out onto the dance floor, clasped loosely in one another's arms. Endymion moved with confident, smooth grace, expertly supporting Pluto through the steps of the dance. The musicians segued into a faster dance, and the pair adjusted their pace. Soon they were spinning and twirling, picking up their feet briskly. The speed increased until, laughing, most of the other couples dropped out of the dance. Only Endymion and Pluto were left, giggling as they tried to manage the fancy footwork that the dance required. Finally, the musicians brought the dance to its conclusion. The watchers clapped appreciatively as Pluto collapsed breathlessly into Endymion's arms. The prince held her as he caught his breath, stroking her dark green hair.

They retreated to a curtained alcove. Pluto sank into a chair, garnet eyes snapping with glee. "Endymion, that was wonderful! I've never done anything like that before."

He settled himself opposite her, grinning happily. "I don't get to do that very often myself, either."

"Why not?" she wondered.

"A prince doesn't have time to," he answered, sobering. "If I'm not taking lessons, I'm practicing diplomacy and governing. Mother never lets up on me. My generals don't let me do anything, and they all say that I have to be patient." His voice was bitter. "I know my responsibilities. But Pluto, I know it's never going to end. After all this is over, I'll be King someday, and then I'll never be free..."

Impulsively, she took his hand. "I understand how you feel."

"How can you?" he asked.

"Father says that I must keep the Time Stream guarded. Forever. I don't see why. He trains me so relentlessly that I sometimes just want to toss the Garnet Orb away!" She shook her head. "I never asked for this, Endymion; all I want is to be my own person..."

"Exactly," Endymion said eagerly, sitting forward. "Exactly! They keep telling you, this is what you have to do, this is what you were born to do, and all you want is to be left alone... to do what you want, not what everyone tells you to..." His eyes sparkled with rebellion.

"To be free..." Pluto agreed sympathetically. "But of course, you don't truly want that, do you? I mean, I don't want the job my father has - but I love surfing the time streams. I would die if anyone took that away from me..."

He smiled slowly. "I never thought that someone else would feel the same," he said. "It's true I fight the kingship, but I can't imagine doing anything else in the world. And I do enjoy it. It's just that I don't like being forced to it. So sometimes I rebel against everything."

"Really?" Pluto leaned back. "Tell me, Endymion. What is the most rebellious thing you've ever done?"

Endymion relaxed into the cushions. "Promise you won't tell?"

"Swear on the Garnet Orb," Pluto answered, letting it glimmer briefly in her hand.

"Fine, then." A misty smile curved his lips. "When I was only fifteen, there was an uprising in the American continent. My generals and all the troops were called in, and I disguised myself as a soldier and sneaked into the ranks. No one noticed."

"Oh..." Pluto was wide-eyed.

"I fought pretty well, too," Endymion continued. "My battalion was in the thick of it, and I did my share of fighting. Pluto, it was amazing. And frightening. There's nothing quite like fighting for your life, with your own sword, where people aren't holding back. This was real." He smiled wryly. "I wasn't half as good as I thought I was, either... but I fought well enough. I loved every minute of it, too."

"When did your generals find out?" Pluto asked. "Your mother must have been furious..."

Endymion shrugged gaily. "She thought I was with them, and they thought I was with her. No one ever found out. It was so much fun! After the battle, I celebrated with the troops, and ..." he trailed off, blushing.

Pluto nodded, grinning. She'd seen battles before, too. "You went drinking, I imagine. And wenching?"

Endymion nodded, flushing red to the tips of his ears.

"And you but fifteen," Pluto teased. "Your first time, hmmm?"

"And my last," Endymion said, sounding rather bitter. "It was the only time I've been able to get away long enough. And I had gone drinking, too, so my memory's kind of hazed..."

"Poor Endymion," Pluto laughed. "It must have been wonderful."

"It was," he agreed. "What I wouldn't give to have it again... just some time alone, just for me..." His eyes were far away. "Some time where no one's telling me to do anything... and where I don't have to be anybody but myself..."

Pluto sat forward. "I can help you get some time away," she said earnestly.

He blinked at her. "What?"

She held out her hand, Garnet Orb appearing suddenly. She drew a deep breath, calling to the powers of time. "Pluto Power..." The energies that were her birthright crackled around her as she held the Orb high; her voice rose commandingly. "Time, stop!"

There was a sudden, unnatural stillness around the two of them. Endymion stared at her, while she grounded the energies, breathing deeply from the effort. She could feel the currents of time storming around her, and she calmed them, gentled them.

"This is your time," she told Endymion. "You won't age, and no time will pass. And when you're done, I'll start time again, and no one will have noticed."

He blinked at her. "I could kiss you."

She grinned, filled with camaraderie, and pecked him on the cheek. "I wouldn't mind."

For a moment longer, they gazed at each other. Then Endymion shouted with laughter, pulled her close to him, and impetuously kissed her on the mouth. He'd meant it to be brotherly, casually friendly, but felt a sudden surge of passion, as did she. Their arms wound tightly around each other, and mouths opened as tongues plunged deep, eagerly exploring...

Endymion broke the kiss abruptly and pulled away, cheeks flaming scarlet. "This goes too far," he stammered. "I never meant..."

Pluto smiled tremulously. "I really didn't mind," she told him. "I didn't mind at all..."

"It's just that - I usually don't ..." Endymion looked very uncomfortable. "I mean - I don't want you to think..."

"Is there a problem?" Pluto interrupted. "Honestly, Endymion, I really enjoy being with you. And I truly wouldn't mind if you kissed me again. Does that clarify things?" She wished that she felt as confident as she sounded. She wouldn't be able to bear it if he turned her down.

His blue eyes wide with wonder, he took her in his arms again, and kissed her long and deeply. Then he pulled back. At Pluto's quiet murmur of protest, he explained, "Much as I like this, my lady, this is definitely not the place for this kind of thing..."

Pluto giggled and had to agree. "Where would you suggest, then? I'm in no hurry to stop..."

Filled with a glorious, giddy sense of young rebellion, they walked unseen and unnoticed from the Great Hall, through the frozen forms of the people of Earth's court. Hand in hand, they walked to his suite in mingled mischief and excitement, and no small amount of lust.

There, they made love rather clumsily, for though it was not the first time for either of them, neither were by any means skilled. So there was cause for shared, sweet laughter, and the tenderness afterwards was greater because of it.

And when they tried it again, it was much better.

"Marriage?" Queen Terra asked, as if she were not sure of what she had heard.

"That's right," Endymion said stoutly. "I'm very much in love with her, Mother."

"I don't see anything wrong with the match, and Pluto is indeed a very powerful senshi," Terra nodded. "If you truly are in love, you have my blessing." She turned to Pluto. "Are you also fully behind this, my dear?"

"Of course I am," Pluto said, and her voice was confident and strong.

"I have no doubt of your love for one another," Terra assured them. "But, Pluto - you are sure that you want this? Remember, you are immortal. It is likely that you will outlive Endymion, that you will remain young as he ages; you may come to regret this decision."

"I know what I'm doing," the young woman replied.

So they were married, and happily. Though (like all marriages) there were sometimes disagreements, overall they were quite content, and events boded well for the two future rulers of Earth.

Until the young Princess Serenity made a visit to the Earth Court, and Endymion saw her for the first time since childhood.

"The Princess Serenity of the Moon, and the Inner Planet senshi-princesses!" the herald cried, striking his staff upon the floor.

Inside stepped five young women, each incredibly beautiful. But it was the one in the center that caught everyone's eye.

"Princess Serenity of the Moon, here to represent her mother the Queen Serenity," the herald intoned. The woman in the center stepped forward.

She was an ethereal vision of grace and beauty dressed in long, flowing white. Her white-blond hair trailed out behind her, and her blue eyes were cast demurely down; the crescent sign of the Moon glimmered golden and shining at the center of her forehead. She walked gracefully up to the triple thrones, made a more-than-perfect curtsy, and murmured, "It is an honor to meet the Queen and the Heir to the Earth, and the princess of Time." Her voice was, of course, beautiful as well.

Then she looked up. Her eyes greeted Pluto, and they exchanged warm smiles. She nodded slightly in respect as her gaze met Queen Terra's. And then she saw Endymion.

Their gazes locked, blue to blue, and for a moment, neither of them moved. They simply froze - stopped blinking, stopped breathing, merely stared steadily at one another.

It was Serenity who recovered first. She dropped her gaze demurely to the floor. "It is a great pleasure to meet you, my cousin," she said softly. Her words were a perfectly normal greeting between rulers - but Pluto could sense a rippling undercurrent underneath the girl's words that said that she was more than merely pleased to have met Endymion.

He rose from his throne, bowed, and kissed the back of her hand. "The honor is mine, my lady." Again, perfectly normal words - but he held her hand for a lingering moment too long, and his tone conveyed that he, also, was quite happy to see her.

Terra frowned slightly, exchanging a worried glance with Pluto.

Serenity backed away, and the senshi-princesses came up and introduced themselves one by one: gentle, soft-spoken Mercury; fierce Mars with her imperial bearing; strong-willed, kind-hearted Jupiter; and elegant, laughing Venus. Although Endymion greeted them each with equal courtesy, nothing came close to his reaction to Serenity.

After the princesses had introduced themselves and had begun to mingle with the Earth court, Pluto drew Endymion aside.

"What was that?" she asked bluntly. Her usual tact had been overcome by a sudden, irrational attack of jealousy.

"What?" Endymion asked reasonably.

"The way you acted with Princess Serenity," Pluto said. "I don't wish to sound jealous, but it looked almost as if you were flirting with her."

Endymion sighed. "I don't know," he said. "When I saw her, I - Pluto, it was as if something just squeezed my soul tight. It was as if I had always known her, and that she had always been a part of me... I don't understand..."

Pluto felt a sudden, painful jerk to her heart. It must have shown in her face, for her husband took her hand quickly. "I love you, Pluto," he assured her earnestly. "I love you with all my heart. I'm not sure what happened back there, but I promise you, you're the only one for me. We'll work this out."

Pluto held those words close to her heart over the next few days. Despite what he said, Endymion seemed drawn to Serenity like a moth to a flame. He hovered ever-near her, a dark shadow to her white glow, and she seemed equally drawn to him.

Pluto took to watching them morosely, sitting in a corner of the Great Hall, while they danced and talked. She didn't want to interfere; the Moon was a powerful political force and it was a good thing that the Earth was developing strong relations with the young princess Serenity - but Pluto was definitely not happy about the situation.

One day, as she sat and brooded, Terra came up to her. "This isn't healthy, Pluto," she said. Her warm voice was concerned.

"I know it isn't. But look at them!" Pluto sighed and dropped her head into her hands. "They look like teenagers in love. Your Majesty, it isn't fair. I know he has to dance attendance on her, just because she's the Moon Princess. But I don't have to like it!"

Terra put a consoling hand on her shoulder. "I'm glad you understand, Pluto."

A soft voice spoke behind them. "If I may intrude?"

Terra looked around. "Of course, Princess Mars! Have a seat."

"No, but thank you," replied the fiery-eyed senshi. "If I may, your Highnesses... Princess Serenity has ever been a child, always accustomed to receiving all that she asks for. She has not yet learned that sometimes there are things which she cannot have for her own. Please excuse her actions." Mars curtsied, a lithe and graceful movement. "The treaties have been renewed, the alliance between our planets strengthened. We can depart tomorrow, if you don't mind."

"It was a pleasure having all of you here, Mars," Terra said tactfully. "Please tell the princess that she may feel free to visit us at any time."

Pluto remained wisely silent about her wishes on that matter.

The following night, Pluto faced Endymion in their chambers. "Remember what you told me? That I was the only one for you? That we'd work this out? I think that now is a good time to talk, Endymion."

Endymion rubbed at his forehead. "I don't know what to say, Pluto... I love you, I really do... Serenity... she's just different, that's all."

"That's all?" repeated Pluto. "Different how?" Her eyes narrowed. "Endymion, do you love her?"

"No! That is... I don't know!" He covered his face with his hands, and sank onto the bed.

"You love her!" Pluto accused. "How could you? You married me! You told me that you loved me!"

"I do!" he shot back. "I don’t lie, Pluto!"

"Then what about Serenity?" she demanded. "What is this you feel for her? You married me, Endymion. You promised to stay with me, until death do us part – remember?"

"I keep my word," he whispered. "I’ll always keep my word. I do love you, Pluto."

Pluto sighed. Endymion never lied. She sat down beside him on the bed. "What about Serenity?" she asked quietly.

"I don’t know," he replied, frustrated. "I've never met anyone like her before! Pluto, I'm trying to be honest with you. I love you, all right? I love you with all my heart, and with all that I know how, but you have to let me get this straight between us. Pluto, you matter to me."

Pluto looked into his deep blue eyes, and read truthfulness.

"I don't even know who she is, really," Endymion went on. "All I know is that she likes to dance, and that she wants to be like her mother. But she's not like you, Pluto. I'd trust you to take care of the kingdom for me, to be a partner and work alongside me. Compared to you, Princess Serenity is just a child. I don't think she could even run a household, much less a kingdom. Pluto, she simply doesn't compare to you."

"But..." Pluto whispered. "You said... that you felt that she'd always been a part of you..."

"I think it might be because the Earth and the Moon are so tightly bound, more so than any of the other planets," Endymion said. "In some measure, our powers are linked. But it's no more than that. Pluto, please, don't let it hurt you." He took her hand. "You are my wife, and it's going to stay that way."

"If you say so," Pluto answered. "But Endymion... promise me that you'll stay away from her, from now on."

"The treaties are renewed," Endymion answered obliquely. "I have no reason to have any further contact with the Moon."

But as he gathered her into his arms and sought her mouth, he would not meet her gaze. Needing his closeness after long lonely nights, Pluto decided to continue the conversation later.

Endymion lay on their bed and stared at the ceiling. Pluto curled up against him, sleeping quietly. He distanced himself from the past few weeks and looked them over.

The depth of his attraction towards the pale Moon Princess had surprised and shocked him. He considered himself a happily married man, and the sudden intrusion of another woman into his life had briefly turned his world upside-down.

Pluto sighed and stirred slightly in the curve of his arm. Endymion tilted his head to regard her, and a fond smile curved his lips. Pluto was an ideal wife - level-headed, able to hold her own in an argument, and mostly in agreement with him on the important issues. Serenity, on the other hand, was flighty, easily distracted, and knew nothing at all about governing. It was obvious that Pluto was the better wife of the two.

Besides, Endymion was not the sort of man to break up a marriage. He believed firmly that any promise made should be kept, and he'd sworn to be a good husband to Pluto. He had no right to even consider being with a woman outside his marriage, much less a young slip of a girl-child from the Moon.

Having reached this decision, he set about dismantling his love with logic. He'd talk to Pluto about it later, he decided. When the time was right. He'd set her straight, and promise never to put her in a situation like this one again.

Days became weeks, and months became years. Endymion and Pluto grew closer and closer, ruling like two halves of a well-made machine. The Earth prospered, and the people spoke proudly of their fair-minded Prince and his beautiful wife. But never in those years did Endymion and Pluto speak to one another of the Moon Princess Serenity.

The peace, like all good things, did not last. One morning, a distant cousin of Endymion's came to call. She arrived with much fanfare, and all but demanded to be honored by a royal banquet and much attention.

"Who does she think she is?" Pluto muttered to Endymion. "She comes waltzing in, acting like the queen of the world..."

"Beryl's the family embarrassment," Endymion grinned. "The little bratling was bound and determined to marry me when she was eight, and she started getting really insistent about it when we turned thirteen. Mother finally bribed her to leave by giving her dominion over a sizeable chunk of Earth."

"What?!" Pluto stared at him. "That doesn't sound like Queen Terra. Those poor people! Wouldn't they have been unhappy, that Beryl was set to rule over them?"

Endymion cocked an eyebrow at her. "The polar bears didn't seem to care."

Pluto blinked, and then grinned in comprehension. "Queen Terra gave her the North Pole," she surmised.

"The Arctic Circle, actually," Endymion nodded. "It was supposed to be a stopgap measure - just to get Beryl off our backs for a couple of months - but she's been surprisingly quiet. She's been up there for years - haven't heard a peep out of her."

"I wonder what she's been doing?" Pluto mused.

Whatever she had been doing, Beryl was now having the time of her life. Clad in skintight black silk and draped in sparkling gems, the redheaded girl with the hard purple eyes drew everyone's gaze. Smiling smugly at all the attention being lavished on her, she sauntered up to where Endymion and Pluto stood.

"It's wonderful to see you again, cousin," Endymion said, bowing over her hand. "What brings you here?"

"Oh, I felt an urge to see the Palace again, and the Court was calling me," Beryl smiled. "I missed you, Endymion - I simply had to see you again!"

"How delightful for you," he murmured blandly.

"And I wanted to meet your lovely wife. What do you think of her, Endymion?" She turned to Pluto, but continued to speak as if the other woman was not part of the conversation. "She's so pretty, Endymion - and so tall! Isn't she a little dark-skinned, though? Was she in an accident, or was she born with the flaw? Frankly, Endy dearest, I'm surprised that you'd marry a total stranger - it's not as if you'd grown up with her or anything. She doesn't know anything about the Earth - I expect you've had to teach her a lot."

Pluto was taken aback by Beryl's rudeness, but Endymion saved her. "Beryl, please meet my wife Pluto, the senshi-princess of time... and the only woman my heart desires."

"Oh, really?" Beryl's full lips curved in a smile that did not reach her eyes. "It's lovely to meet you, Princess Pluto. We've simply got to talk sometime." With that, she turned on her heel and left abruptly.

Pluto raised an eyebrow at her husband. "I see what you mean," she murmured. "I'd throw her all the way to Pluto if I could."

Endymion grinned ruefully. "You're not alone - but she's family, so we have to suffer through her little whims."

"Little whims," Pluto snorted. "She's always been like that? I'm surprised that no one's knifed her in her sleep!"

"Be nice," Endymion murmured.

As the guest of honor, Beryl claimed Endymion for the first after-dinner dance. She snuggled uncomfortably close to him as they moved with the music. Endymion tried several fruitless attempts to disengage her, but she managed to evade or counter them all. Finally he gave up, gazing helplessly at Pluto over Beryl's shoulder. Pluto rolled her eyes and smiled tolerantly, and Endymion had to grin.

Beryl gazed at him from under long lashes, searching his face. "Haven't you missed me?" she asked coyly.

"Your absence was indeed felt," Endymion dodged. "How did you find the Arctic Circle?"

"I found more there than you could ever dream," Beryl purred. Startled, Endymion tried to meet her gaze, but Beryl pirouetted in his arms before clasping him close once more.

"Why didn't you want me?" she asked in innocent tones. "I would have made a good Queen."

"I'm not particularly in love with you, cousin dear," he answered lightly. "And of course, there's no benefit to the Earth if I marry inside Earth's nobility, now is there? This marriage, on the other hand, is quite politically convenient. We now have an unbreakable alliance."

"With planet Pluto?" she spat. "Nobody lives there, Endymion. Planet Pluto is as nothing in the socio-political solar system, and you have made an entirely useless marriage."

"I would have," Endymion acknowledged, "except that Sailorpluto is a powerful senshi. She controls time, after all. Don't cross me, Beryl. And I wouldn't advise crossing my wife, either." He deliberately emphasized the word wife and had the satisfaction of seeing Beryl's eyes narrow to slits.

The dance drew to a close, and Beryl gave him a chilly curtsy before abruptly offering her arm to Jadeite. The blond general threw Endymion a glance of pure desperation, but Endymion shook his head minutely. Be nice, he mouthed, and returned to Pluto's side.

"The dance looked fun," she murmured.

"Gods." Endymion repressed a shudder. "I don't know where she got her personality. My family's usually pretty nice. She's an exception," he assured Pluto.

"One would hope," she smiled. "Endymion, my love, there's not a single mean bone in your body - or in Queen Terra's. There's not a scrap of physical resemblance between Beryl and the rest of your family, now that I think of it."

Endymion smothered a chuckle, blue eyes sparkling with laughter. "That's all I need," he murmured. "For my status-conscious cousin to be illegitimate. Let's not go there, shall we?"

Pluto smiled. "Ever the gentleman. Look - here comes Jadeite, and he's walking a bit quickly."

Jadeite walked up to them, a fixed smile on his face and his blue eyes a little wild. "My lord - my lady - you must help me."

"What's the problem?" Endymion asked.

"Beryl's propositioning me," he whispered in panicked tones. "What do I do? I don't want to make her angry, but I definitely don't want to sleep with her!"

"Are you sure that you’re not mistaking her intentions?" Endymion asked.

Jadeite gritted his teeth. "Endymion, the woman is as obvious as a sledgehammer."

Pluto choked back laughter. "Poor Jadeite," she teased. "You never had to say no to a woman before, have you?"

"I've never wanted to before," he pointed out. "But this lady's poison, Pluto. She scares me deeply, and if this is her way of being nice, I never want to see her angry at me. Help me out a little, huh? Please?"

"Tell her that we require your presence at a conference this evening," Endymion suggested. "Tell her that you can't weasel out of it, that it's important, confidential, and will probably last all night."

Jadeite grinned pure gratitude. "I'll do that."

Beryl pouted as Jadeite gave his excuse. "You can't get away, even for just a little bit?" she pleaded.

"I'm sorry, pretty one," Jadeite smiled, "but duty calls..."

"Will you sit and talk with me then, until you're needed?" she asked, gazing appealingly up at him.

"Of course I can," Jadeite agreed, forcing himself not to run screaming. "It's the least I can do." As Beryl drew him towards one of the semi-private booths that lined the hall, the grown man fought down an insane urge to whimper.

They sat, and Beryl drew the curtain closed. Jadeite sighed. Why me? he asked silently, and waited for the woman to kiss him or do something equally unappetizing.

Instead, Beryl held her hands about a foot apart, palms facing each other. "There's something I want you to see," she murmured. "Look here, General Jadeite - look what I found in the Arctic Circle..."

Jadeite stared narrowly at the space between her hands. There seemed to be light-colored smoke swirling between her palms. It collected into a ball, solidifying; a shape seemed to form within it.

"Do you see it?" Beryl asked softly. Jadeite leaned closer, concentrating. The image inside seemed to be calling towards him; abandoning all caution, and let the vision draw him in. The experience was oddly hypnotic; Jadeite felt himself falling into a trance as he tried harder and harder to make out the compelling picture inside the smoke... his mind became a little drowsy, and voices seemed to murmur nonsense in his ears. He tried to look away, and found that he could not.

Beryl smiled triumphantly. "You're mine now," she whispered. "Give me your loyalty, General Jadeite of the Far East. Swear that you will follow none before me. Swear that you are mine."

Some tiny part of Jadeite realized what was happening, and started shrieking for his attention - but it was too little, too late. His body was no longer his to control. He found himself drawing breath to speak, found his lips shaping words he denied with all his being.

"I so pledge," he whispered. "I am yours."

"Put your hand in the smoke," she directed.

The tiny part of Jadeite that was free screamed impotently at the body which was no longer his own. His eyes tracked the unwilling movement of his hand. The tips of his long fingers sank into cool, swirling smoke.

And what remained of Jadeite's will was locked away.

Jadeite looked up at Beryl's face, meeting her gloating purple eyes. "What is your wish, my Queen?"

"Bring me Nephrite, then Zoicite and Kunzite," she decided. "My power is strong tonight, and I want all four of you loyal to me before Terra or Endymion notices anything different."

Jadeite nodded curtly and left. Beryl looked into the ball of smoke in her hands. "Soon, Endymion, my dearest..." she whispered. "Very soon..."

On to Part 2

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