* * * * * * * *
"Molly! Molly, wake up! It's all right, love, you're only dreaming."
Molly opened her eyes. Masato was shaking her. She stared at him for a moment, tears streaming down her face, before realizing she was awake. "Oh, Masato," she sobbed, "I dreamed that you died." Suddenly she raised her hand to his right shoulder. The scars were there again, on his shoulder and chest, five of them, each over an inch long, thick and knotted. Not the sort of thing that could have been overlooked in the months that the two of them had been together. "Masato, where did these scars come from?"
He looked down, his eyes widening in shock as he saw the scars that had appeared there. "I have no idea," he said hoarsely.
She stared at the scars a moment longer, then pulled him down to her and clung tightly to him. "Love me, please, Masato, I need you so badly."
He was silent, then gently pulled himself away from her. "That isn't an answer, Molly."
She lay stunned. He had never turned away from her before. She blinked away more tears, then sat up, took her clothes from where they lay folded on the foot of the bed, and put them on. She went over to the glass door that led out to the balcony and stood there, leaning against the doorway, looking out into the city night. Her life was falling apart, her sanity was crumbling, her marriage was seriously stressed. What was going on here? "Mama, what happened to me?" she whispered.
After a little while, Masato came up behind her. He hugged her from behind and rested his cheek against the top of her head. She reached back to feel at his hair, sending a few wavy lengths falling over her shoulder. She wound them around her hand and pressed the hand to her face, Masato's hair against her face like a security blanket.
"I love you with all my heart, Molly," he said, his deep voice barely a whisper. "I will always love you, and no matter what happens I want to be with you. But -- if you decide --" His voice choked off briefly. "If you decide you're better off without me, I love you enough to let you go."
He sighed, then gently untangled his hair from her hand and moved away. He had already dressed; he sat down on the bed to put his shoes on. Molly sat on the floor to buckle on her sandals. "Where are we going?"
"To the park," he said. "You can't go on like this. We've got to figure out what happened."
"I'm not sure I want to, anymore," Molly said in a small voice.
"I don't want to either. But this can't go on. Just, no matter what we find out, remember that I love you."
She looked at the pleading, almost desperate look on his face, and stood up to put her arms around him. "Oh, Masato."
He held her tightly for a long time, then finally released her. "Let's go."
* * * * * * * *
They drove to the park and stood at the gate, hand in hand. After a moment Masato shook his head. "No. This isn't where it begins. This way."
A little way up the street, they came to a dilapidated building. The entrance was below street level; the sign over the door was too worn and faded to be legible. They went down the steps; the door was boarded up. Masato stepped back a bit, and kicked the door open, splintering it.
A curved staircase wound down into the room, which was dimly lit by moonlight. Masato started down the stairs, testing each one carefully before putting his full weight on it. Molly followed, a finger hooked through the belt loop on the back of Masato's jeans. The room smelled of rotted wood, mildew, and rats. To the left was a bar that had partly collapsed, to the right a pool table that sagged where a section of the base had caved in. There was a large splintered hole in the wall next to the staircase. Masato stared at the hole, eyes narrowed, eyebrows furrowed together.
Across the room from the bottom step was a board, perhaps the top of a broken table, leaning against the wall. A length of rope dangled from one corner. Masato gently unhooked Molly from his jeans and walked over to the board. He took the rope in his hand, fingering it. Suddenly he growled, an angry, animal noise that Molly would never have imagined coming from her gentle husband, and tore the rope free from the board. He held it out to Molly and looked at her intently, silently asking her to take hold of the rope. She met his eyes, and touched the rope --
* * * * * * * *
The fight was over, the monsters subdued. She looked up at him from where she sat on the floor, bound to the board by ropes around her wrists, and he met her eyes. They held each other's gaze for a long moment, then, softly, he walked over to her and crouched on the floor beside her. Carefully, he began to work the point of his sword into the knot of one of the ropes, cutting it without also cutting her.
"Traitor!" one of the monsters spat at him. He snarled wordlessly at it. All three of the monsters took a step back, then disappeared. He returned his attention to cutting the knots in the ropes.
Finally her arms were free. She hugged herself, rubbing her aching shoulders. He took her hands, cursing softly as he gently brushed his fingers over the rope burns on her wrists. Then he made his sword disappear. Carefully, so carefully, as though he were handling a priceless, fragile treasure, he gathered her into his arms, then stood, lifting her, and carried her out into the night....
* * * * * * * *
"You came to me," Molly whispered. She and Masato were still looking into each other's eyes, still holding the piece of rope. "I needed you, and you came to me, although I didn't know if you would."
Masato also spoke softly. "How could I not come to you? I have always loved you." He took the piece of rope from her hand and carefully coiled it up. After laying the coil of rope on the broken pool table, he took her hand and they left the bar.
They walked down the street to the park, to the gate where Molly had stood screaming the day before. Molly hesitated, dreading going in. Masato hugged her for a moment. "I don't want to go in, either. But we have to." He kept an arm firmly around her shoulders and guided her through the gate.
Nothing happened. They stood there, just inside the gate, and looked around. "Over here," Masato said quietly, and they walked a short distance into the park, towards one of the larger trees. He stood close to the tree, facing it, and rested a hand against the trunk. "Here," he said. Molly suddenly pulled away from him and turned to run away, but he grabbed her hand and pulled her against him. "Molly," he whispered, a harsh note entering his voice, "I don't want to know. I think I must have done something terrible to you here. But we have to go through with this, so you will know and then you can get on with your life."
She couldn't meet his eyes, but she nodded. He kissed her, long and tenderly, then sat on the ground, his knees apart. He pulled her down to sit between his knees and enfolded her in his arms, cuddled close against his chest. She closed her eyes and rested against him, hearing his heart beat....
* * * * * * * *
She didn't know if she was dreaming or remembering, but it was so detailed and vivid it seemed like the events that unfolded were really happening.
"Ever since we met, I've wanted to have one of those chocolate parfaits with you. It's just a little dream I've had. But I guess it'll never happen, huh?"
A pause, while he looked at her, then straight ahead. "Why not? Let's do it."
Joy like she could never have imagined burst in her heart. He studied her face, looking puzzled. "Do you think I'm lying?"
"No, I'm just happy."
He seemed to think about that, a perplexed look on his face.
Then she thought of something important. "Do you get any holidays in your evil society?"
His eyes opened wide in surprise, then his face gentled into a tender look she had never seen there before. He laughed. She wasn't sure why; she hadn't intended the question to be funny, and it didn't sound like he was making fun of her. His deep chuckle was infectious, though, and she quickly found herself laughing too. It felt like her heart would break with joy, and with other emotions that she couldn't identify. She started crying, though she wasn't sad.... It was very confusing.
Things happened so fast that she didn't know what was happening. He pushed her away from him and gave a harsh cry that was quickly bitten off. She saw gigantic sharp thorns impaling his shoulder and chest, emerging out his back. His shirt and hair were wet with something that must have been his blood although it was green. The monster from the bar laughed and told him the thorns would kill him. He yelled at her to run away, but she couldn't, she couldn't leave him to die alone, she couldn't let him die.
She ran to him and began trying to pull out two of the thorns. They were rough, and tore her hands, and there was something like a powerful electrical current flowing along them. It was his life-energy leaking out through the thorns, she realized. She pulled, screaming in pain, refusing to stop even when he begged her to stop and run away, save herself. She couldn't let him die; she would die first, before she gave up on him.
The monster taunted her, then, against all hope, the thorns began to slide out. He looked at his shoulder, surprise and hope showing in his eyes. Another monster cursed, he yelled, grabbed her, dove aside with her. A powerful, explosive force drove them towards the ground. He covered her body with his, absorbing the explosion for her. The smoke cleared, he held her till she stopped shaking. He asked if she was all right, groaned in pain, and collapsed. The thorns had been jammed even more firmly into his shoulder, and his life continued to drain out through them.
The monsters' master appeared, taunting and threatening. The thorn-monster raised an arm to attack again. Three young women in bizarre sailor dresses appeared and destroyed the monsters, but they were too late.
He was dying. She held him in her arms, trying to deny his impending death, trying to convince him, and herself, that he would be all right. He touched her face tenderly, asking her forgiveness. Tears swam in his blue eyes, and ran down her cheeks. She pressed his hand to her cheek, not caring that the hand was coated with his blood. "Don't forget me... You're in my heart," he said faintly. Then his lifeless hand slipped from her cheek.
She tried to deny it, she tried to hold on to him, she tried to keep him from going, but he slipped from her arms, dissolving into sparkling dust, so beautiful with all its colors, floating up towards the starlit sky. Then her arms were empty, but her heart was full of a pain that she could never have imagined. "Noooo!" she screamed. The sky, the stars, the trees, the grass -- none of them cared. She sobbed, then screamed again, "NoooOOOOoo!"
She wept, her small body filled with more sorrow and pain than it could possibly hold, her grief would shatter her because she couldn't cry hard enough to let it out, she cried and cried and cried until her whole body ached from the force of her sobs. She wept, and screamed "No!" to the sky where he had disappeared in a cloud of sparkling colored lights, all that was left of her beloved, and then even that was gone.
Still she cried, all the sorrow that had been dammed up and forgotten about forcing its way to the surface, a bottomless well of grief that kept flowing....
Gradually she realized that she was not crying alone, bent over on the cold grass beneath the uncaring sky, but within the circle of a pair of strong arms, her face pressed against a broad chest that was also shaking with sobs. His head was bent over hers, his long, wavy, dark red hair spilling down over her face and shoulder.
She looked up, into that beautiful, familiar, beloved face, that she had once thought she would never see again. Gently, she brushed his tear-wet cheek with her hand. "How is it possible?" she asked, her voice still shaky from crying. "How were you able to come back to me?"
He held her even closer, stroking her hair. "I don't know. I don't want to question it. I only want to be grateful that we got another chance."
They held each other in silence for a while, until their minds were better able to absorb what they had learned. "It was Zeb," she said after a while. "He killed you, or sent his monsters to do it. I don't know if I'll ever be able to look at him again."
"I don't know, either." After holding her a while longer, he pulled away from her enough to look into her face. "Let's go home, Naru-chan," he whispered.
She lowered her eyes shyly and smiled. "I have my name back," she said.
He stood up and helped her to her feet. With their arms around each other, they left the park, and drove home.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 8
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury