by Moon Momma
* * * * * * * *
The day after she was released from the hospital, Naru's mother threw a welcome home party for her, with lots of friends, food, and music. Naru let the party swirl around her, and pretended she was having a wonderful time. It was obvious that her mother was trying to distract her from thinking about Nephrite, but she couldn't think about anything but him. He was still so sick, he could still die. She just wanted to be with him every moment, making sure nothing bad happened to him.
Usagi must have sensed Naru's mood. At one point during the evening, when Naru was standing off by herself near a window, Usagi came over to her and whispered, "Come on, Naru-chan, try to have fun. This is a great party!"
"I just want to be with Nephrite," Naru whispered back. She was glad that at least she could speak Nephrite's real name to her best friend.
Usagi's shoulders sagged a little. "Naru-chan, I'm glad we were able to save him and everything, and I know you really care about him, but, well... You don't seriously think that you guys have a chance in the world of making it work, do you? Even if he does stop being evil. You're just going to get hurt, Naru. I don't want that to happen."
"I love him, Usagi-chan. I wish you would try to understand that." She looked at Usagi's sweet, pretty, innocent face, and felt a hundred years older than her friend. Usagi would never understand.
Naru endured the rest of the party, putting up with Umino's hovering attention only because it barely registered with her. She felt like she was from a different world from all the other kids. She felt old and lonely.
At last everyone left. While Mrs. Osaka started cleaning up, Naru wrapped a slice of cake in some plastic and took several balloons from the centerpiece on the table. She found her purse and shoes and said, "I'm going out for a while, Mama."
Mrs. Osaka turned and looked at her. "Oh, Naru."
"I'll be back in a few hours."
"Naru, it's way past visiting hours."
"Dr. Kimura said I could visit any time. He said it's good for Masato."
"Oh, he said that, did he?" But Mrs. Osaka smiled slightly, as Naru had noticed she always did when Dr. Kimura was mentioned. "Well, all right. I still wish you wouldn't go, but at least let me drive you. You shouldn't be taking the bus by yourself this late at night."
* * * * * * * *
Mrs. Osaka dropped Naru off at the main entrance of the hospital. "Call me when you're ready to come home. I'll wait up."
"Thanks, Mama." Naru kissed her mother's cheek, then ran inside the hospital and found her way to the ICU. Nephrite had been moved to a new room after the old room was damaged. As Dr. Kimura had promised, Naru's name was listed on the notice board outside the room as someone who was allowed to visit any time, day or night. The room was dimly lit and silent except for the beeping of monitors and the hiss of the ventilator forcing air in and out of Nephrite's protesting lungs. "Hi, Nephrite," she whispered, and kissed his forehead. His skin still felt so hot.
She tied the balloons to his bedrail, then sat cross-legged on the armchair next to his bed. As always, while he was being kept unconscious, she didn't know if he could hear her, but she spoke to him as though he could. "My mother had a big party for me tonight, but it wasn't much fun because you weren't there. I wish you could have been there." She put the plastic-wrapped piece of cake on the shelf next to his bed. "I know you can't eat anything, but I brought you a piece of cake anyway. Maybe the nurses will save it for you."
She moved to sit on the side of the bed, and rested one bandaged hand on his chest amidst the monitor leads. "I wish they would let you wake up," she said. "But they can't, because you fight them. You have to let them take care of you and help you get better."
Nephrite moved, just a little but enough to startle her. She looked at his face; between his matted hair and the mask and tubes, she saw his cerulean eyes open and staring at her. For the first time since the attack, she looked into his eyes, and became lost in his intense gaze. It seemed as if he were trying to tell her something by looking at her, which was all he could do. "You have to be good," she said softly, "and let them take care of you, so they can take the tube out and you can tell me what you're trying to tell me right now."
She couldn't look away from him; the gaze of his blue eyes burned deep into her mind. Slowly he raised his left hand, dragging the tangle of IV lines as though they were a great weight. Gently, briefly, his fingers touched her lips. Then his hand fell heavily back to the bed. She leaned forward to kiss his forehead again, and then his unshaven cheek, as close to his mouth as she could get. "I think I know," she whispered.
* * * * * * * *
She came to him every day after school. Though he was still very ill, the doctors had let him wake up. This time, he didn't struggle. Naru was right; he had to quit fighting the doctors and let them make him well again. He still couldn't talk; he was still too weak and sick to breathe on his own so the tube had to stay in. But at least he was awake, and could see her and hear her.
She would perch on a chair between the window and his bed and chatter away about all the things that made up her life--school, friends, shopping--while the sunlight made her hair shine copper and gold. And he lay in bed, listening to her, feeling a sweetness grow in his soul where there had only been darkness and evil for so long. He wished the doctors would take out the breathing tube so he could tell her what she meant to him.
* * * * * * * *
Five days after her release, Naru arrived in Nephrite's hospital room to find Dr. Kimura there, smiling as he checked Nephrite's charts. He turned his smile to Naru. "Good, you're here. It's a big day; we're taking the tube out. Sanjouin insisted we wait till you got here."
Naru went to Nephrite's side and rested her hands, finally freed from their bandages, on his head and shoulder. He looked up at her, and she smiled at him. "He's really well enough?"
"Well, he's still got a long way to go before he walks out of here, but he's definitely on the mend. Now, Masato," he said to Nephrite, "this won't be very pleasant. It'll help if you cough when I tell you to."
Slowly, with Nephrite obediently coughing when told, Dr. Kimura pulled the long plastic tube out of Nephrite's throat and mouth. Nephrite tried to say something, but his voice was gone, with only the gravel left. "You'll get your voice back in a few days," the doctor said.
Nephrite's eyes met Naru's with the same intense gaze they had had the night of her birthday. He raised his left hand to the back of her head and brought her face down to his. The kiss was gentle, but when Naru tried to draw away, she found she couldn't. He held her head more firmly, and deepened the kiss. It was as if he were trying to express everything he hadn't been able to say before.
"Ahem," Dr. Kimura said after a few moments. "Are you two going to come up for air any time soon, or should I just go get a cup of coffee and come back later?"
Nephrite finally let Naru go. "Don't overdo it the first day," Dr. Kimura said. "Tomorrow morning, Masato, I think we'll move you up to the regular ward, then we'll let you take a shower and get cleaned up. How does that sound?"
Nephrite nodded stiffly, while Naru beamed.
* * * * * * * *
The next morning, Naru got up before dawn, put on jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers, took her backpack and her gym bag, and wheeled her blue bike out of the storage room behind the store. She was pretty sure she had figured out where Nephrite's house was, on the edge of the city, but she was allowing herself plenty of time to find it. She would be in big trouble later, when her mother found out she was cutting school, but Naru wanted Nephrite to have something to put on after his shower besides those stupid hospital gowns.
She pedaled across the city in the cool sunrise, reveling in the beautiful autumn day. Nephrite was alive and he had kissed her. He must love her, to kiss her the way he had, surely he must. She smiled, feeling the air moving against her face and through her hair, and stood up on the pedals to make the bike go faster.
Outside the city, she followed two dirt roads to dead ends, then, at the end of the third road, she found the mansion. She leaned her bike against a front corner of the house, then walked around, trying to decide how to get in. With a house this size, there was almost bound to be a window or door unlocked somewhere, or a key hidden under a rock or something. On impulse, just to get the obvious choice out of the way, she walked up to the front door and tried it. It opened.
The main room of the house was three stories high, with an arched ceiling and a massive stained glass window, perhaps built as a grand reception hall for a very wealthy European family. The room was unfurnished except for a large table near a dark, empty fireplace, piled high with books and papers, and a chair. Naru walked over for a closer look. The papers were reams of notes and diagrams, written in an alphabet she had never seen before. There were also several fountain pens, a glass, and a nearly-full whiskey bottle. Naru recognized the pens and the whiskey from ads in the expensive lifestyle magazine her mother subscribed to. A small leather-bound book sat near the whiskey bottle. Naru picked it up and flipped through the pages; about half of them were covered closely in the same writing that was on the papers. It appeared to be a journal; she put it and one of the fountain pens in the backpack, in case this was something Nephrite wanted during the rest of his hospital stay.
A bit of a pen sketch on a piece of paper caught her eye, and she pulled the paper out from the pile it was in. It was a drawing of her. She was peeking shyly sideways from beneath her bangs, one hand held up to partially conceal her smile. The drawing extended to show bare shoulders and collarbones. Beneath the sketch was some more writing in the unfamiliar language, and a large question mark that had been traced over and over.
Two other papers had slid out from the pile with the page she held. They also had sketches of her on them, among the notes and diagrams. She smiled, feeling only slightly ashamed of having snooped among Nephrite's papers. She liked thinking about him sitting here alone, sipping at a glass of whiskey, drawing pictures of her when he was supposed to be working.
Two doors opened off the large front room. Behind one Naru found a huge, beautifully outfitted kitchen. The only signs that it was ever actually used were two glasses and an empty frozen pizza box near the sink. Naru noted that the box was from one of the more expensive brands of frozen pizza. She peeked into the refrigerator, a vast Sub-Zero, concerned about its contents after so long; it held only a few bottles of expensive bottled water.
The other door led to a room which was empty except for a weight machine in the middle of the room and a large sword hanging on the far wall. She walked over to the sword, and recognized it as the one he had used to rescue her from those monsters. Next to the weight machine was a pile of used towels and a half-full bottle of water. Naru thought about clearing away the towels, but realized she had no idea what to do with them. Maybe he had a cleaning service that would come in sometime and tidy up.
Naru climbed the staircase that curved up to the second floor. The walls of the rooms up here had all been torn out, so that the whole area was like a huge loft overlooking the front room. To her left, separated from the rest of the loft by tall bookcases stuffed with books, videos, and CD's, was a "living room." It was furnished with a computer desk in one corner, a huge, cushiony, leather-upholstered sofa, and a coffee table, on which sat another whiskey bottle and glass and a newspaper folded open to the stock market pages. There were red pencil markings all over the financial pages, and more notes in the strange writing. Against the wall across from the sofa was the biggest TV Naru had ever seen. She picked up the remote and turned the TV on, curious about what Nephrite watched. The TV was tuned to a 24-hour financial news channel. She pushed the "previous channel" button and found a 24-hour sports news channel. Naru turned the TV off and replaced the remote on the table, next to the smallest cell phone she had ever seen.
She glanced at the collection of videos and CDs on her way out of the living room. The videos were mostly science fiction, film biographies, and black and white detective movies. The CDs covered everything from Gregorian chant to African drums to jazz to the complete works of Bach to punk rock.
In the central section of the loft was a dresser and mirror, a tall wardrobe, and a huge bed with mahogany head and foot boards, made up with rumpled tan and dark green striped sheets. The bed was positioned in the middle of the area, beneath an enormous skylight. The right end of the loft was occupied by a luxurious bathroom.
Naru looked through the dresser drawers. She didn't find anything resembling pajamas, but she took several pairs of silk boxer shorts, some thick socks, and a pair of jeans. In the wardrobe were button-front, collarless shirts made of fine, soft cotton; she took several of these and a pair of leather sandals with straps that looked more like a maze than part of a shoe. She put the clothes and sandals into her gym bag.
In the bathroom she found shampoo, cream rinse, and shaving cream, all very expensive brands, along with a razor, spare blades, and an assortment of combs. It must take him an hour to comb out his hair after washing it, even with the rinse, she thought. She put all these things into a side pocket of the gym bag.
Finally, she noted a pile of books on the floor next to the bed. There were spy thrillers, a couple of Ernest Hemingway novels, medieval European poetry, a book combining philosophy and physics, and a Sailor V comic book with notes written in the margins. She smiled at that and put it, along with a selection of the other books, in her backpack. Being in the hospital was boring; he would appreciate having something to read.
Time to leave. Naru wished she had a key to lock the front door; it surprised her that with all the expensive, luxurious things he had, Nephrite would leave his front door unlocked. Maybe he figured that no one would come out this far from the city to rob him, or maybe there was no thievery in the Dark Kingdom--people there probably did really nasty things to anyone who dared to steal from them--and it hadn't occurred to him that it would exist in this world. Or maybe, that night, he hadn't bothered locking the door because he hadn't thought he would be gone very long.
* * * * * * * *
Naru arrived at the hospital about mid-morning. Nephrite was just being settled into his new room, amidst a bustling group of nurses and doctors, and a male orderly was waiting to help him get cleaned up. Naru handed the backpack and gym bag to the orderly and went out into the hall to wait.
After a while, the orderly came out and said, "He's ready, Miss." Naru went into the room and found Nephrite sitting up in bed, working the tangles out of the ends of his long, thick hair. He wasn't having much success, because he could only use his left arm. He was wearing some of the clothes she had brought him -- boxer shorts, a pair of socks, and a pale green shirt unbuttoned halfway, with the sleeves rolled midway up his forearms.
He looked at her sideways through the curtain of his wet hair. "Hi, Naru-chan." His voice was almost all gravel, from the breathing tube being in for so long.
"Hi." She walked over to him, then stopped, suddenly feeling shy. He put down the comb, reached his left hand up to the back of her head, pulled her to him, and kissed her. After a few moments he let her go and went back to trying to work the comb through his hair. "Thanks for bringing these things, Naru-chan. But how did you get into my house?"
"I just opened the front door and walked in," she said. "Actually, I was surprised that you hadn't locked it."
Nephrite put the comb down. "Okay, listen to me carefully, Naru-chan. I don't use regular locks. I don't have to. I use magical wards to guard things. Every window and door of my house is warded. My wards are coded to get stronger if I don't reset them every other day. After this long, if someone who isn't coded for entry tries to get through... well, they'll be picking pieces of them out of the trees for a week."
"But I'm all right, Nephrite. Really. I didn't even feel anything. Maybe these... wards aren't there anymore."
"No, they are. I can feel them right now."
Naru took the comb and began working on his hair, from the ends up, a few centimeters at a time. "It doesn't matter now. I'm fine. I just wanted to surprise you."
"I don't generally like surprises. I certainly wouldn't have liked going home to find that you had run afoul of my wards. I do appreciate you bringing me these things, but don't go out there again without telling me."
"Okay." Naru moved on to another small section of hair, and worked in silence for a while. There were so many things she wanted to ask him, about his house, about him, but she didn't want to sound nosy. She remembered the financial pages; that seemed like a safe place to start. "So, what kind of business is Sanjouin Masato in? Or is that just a cover story?"
"No, Sanjouin International is a real business. I import luxury goods and art objects. It's a welcome change from the usual Dark Kingdom scheming and plotting. And the money is better."
Naru laughed a little at that. "I like your house. Is that a nice change from the Dark Kingdom, too?"
"Yes. It's too damn dark there, and everything is made of stone. I can't see the stars from there."
It took nearly an hour to get the tangles combed out of Nephrite's hair. At one point, Naru noticed a tiny nick on his jawline, and she touched her finger to it. "It's kind of red. Where you cut yourself."
"I know. Either my blood is changing back to how it used to be, before I joined the Dark Kingdom, or it's all that human blood they gave me."
"It doesn't matter to me what color your blood is."
He smiled at that. "I know."
Naru finally smoothed out the last of the tangles, and combed Nephrite's bangs back away from his face. She fingered them, thinking they would need to be trimmed soon. As for the rest... "Nephrite, do me a favor,"
He lay back on the bed, eyes closed, looking thin and tired. "What is it, Naru-chan?"
"Never cut your hair short."
He smiled again. "I wasn't planning on it."
"Good." She picked up her backpack from the floor near the bed. "I brought you a few other things. Here's some books it looked like you were reading, and I guessed this might be your journal. I thought you might want it."
With a curse, Nephrite sat up and took the leather-bound book from her. "You touched this? Of course. You had no idea how strongly I've got this warded."
"Would it also--" Naru made a kind of exploding noise.
"Oh." Naru stared at the journal, then smiled. "Nephrite, nothing you do can hurt me."
"I hope not," he whispered.
* * * * * * * *
It was nearly noon, and school was a lost cause by then, so Naru spent the rest of the afternoon at the hospital with him. She sat near the window and chattered away to him about her normal teenage world of friends and school and shopping malls. Nephrite was exhausted after all the morning's activity, and found himself dozing off while Naru talked.
He started awake, realizing she had asked him a question that he hadn't heard. "What was that?" he asked.
Her face fell. "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm tiring you out. I should go."
"It's okay, Naru-chan. Don't go."
"I should. I'm bothering you."
"Naru-chan, come here." He shifted over a little and patted the space on the bed next to his left side. She hesitated. "Come on. I want to tell you something."
She came over and perched on the edge of the bed. Awkwardly, because he had almost no use of his right arm, he pulled her down beside him so that her head rested on his chest. She stiffened, then relaxed against him. It felt so right, holding her like this. "For a thousand years, Naru-chan, evil and darkness were all I knew; it was all that existed for me. Not even the slightest bit of light could get in to relieve the darkness in my heart." He paused. Emotions were so difficult to acknowledge to himself, much less express to someone else. "I don't know how you did it, Naru-chan," he continued, his voice threatening to disappear altogether, "but, somehow, you found a crack in my heart and worked your way in and filled me with light."
She was silent, but her shoulders were shaking. He touched her face and found the wetness of tears. Why should she be crying? Had he said something wrong? But now that the words were finally coming, he had to continue. "I love you, Naru-chan. You are light and life and everything good to me."
She raised her face to look into his eyes. To his surprise she was smiling, despite her tears. "Oh, Nephrite, I love you so much!" She kissed him, and he thought how right, how perfect this felt, and nothing else mattered, not the pain in his shoulder, not the fact that this society considered her too young for him, not his unfinished business with the Dark Kingdom. All that mattered right now was Naru in his arms.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 4
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury