* * * * * * * *
"Do you get Sundays off in the Dark Kingdom?" Naru asked, looking up at Nephrite where he sat beside her, leaning against the tree.
"Huh?" Nephrite looked at her, his face dappled by starlight and the shadows of leaves. Then he started to laugh, quietly at first, almost as though he had forgotten how or had never tried it before.
Naru hadn't meant her question to be funny, she really wanted to know if he could find a day when he wasn't occupied with plots and plans and schemes, when he could take her for a chocolate parfait and just pay attention to her. But his laughter was contagious, and soon she found herself laughing along with him.
"It's funny. I'm laughing and crying at the same time." She wiped tears from her eyes. She felt so much more than her laughter or tears could express. She wanted to remember this night forever. She wanted to remember that he had said she had taught him what love was. She wanted to remember that he had come to rescue her. She wanted to remember the look on his face after he defeated the plant women, and how it had felt when he was carrying her in his arms.
A sudden movement from off to the left broke the quiet of the cool early autumn night. Nephrite pushed Naru aside. "Look out!" His shout ended with a horrible grunting sound. Long, sharp sticks burst out of his back near his right shoulder, and something that looked like blood, except it was green, splattered and spread all over his shirt.
"No!" Naru cried. She scrambled over to him on her hands and knees and grabbed hold of the sticks. They were rough, with sharp barbs all along their length. A powerful current flowed through them, shocking and stinging her arms. But she instinctively knew that if the sticks stayed in him, he would die. She pulled with all her strength in spite of the pain in her hands and arms. The three plant women who had kidnapped her stood nearby, laughing.
"Let go!" Nephrite gasped. "Run, save yourself!"
"I can't! I won't let you die!"
"It's all right. You've done all you can."
The thorns slipped. "Huh?" Nephrite looked at his shoulder, surprise and hope in his face.
One of the youma shouted, "No!" A glowing ball exploded next to Nephrite and Naru, knocking them down and showering them with dirt. Nephrite groaned; the impact had pushed the thorns more deeply into his shoulder.
It wasn't fair; she had come so close to pulling them loose. She couldn't let him die. "Go away!" Naru screamed at the monstrous women. Something flared up inside of her -- anger, fear, a need to lash out. She grabbed a dirt clod and hurled it at them. "Leave us alone!"
Instead of a clod of dirt and grass, a ball of fire hit the youma in the red and green bodysuit. She screamed as she went up in flames. The purple one with the long, sharp thorns at the end of one arm sent that arm thrusting towards Nephrite and Naru again. Naru flung her hand towards the vine-arm, and it burst into flames. The green plant-woman tried to dodge yet another fireball, but something seemed to have taken possession of Naru's body, and her aim was perfect.
With a final cry, the three youma quickly turned to ash. Still driven by the power that had arisen inside of her, Naru grabbed the thorns that pierced Nephrite's shoulder and back. Another surge of power burst out of her, and Nephrite screamed as fire blazed along the thorns, burning them to ash and cauterizing the wounds.
Drained, Naru dropped to her hands and knees, gasping for breath. Nephrite got to his feet and hauled her up. He seemed weak and shaky, his movements powered by fear rather than strength. Most of his shirt had burned away, and there were five charred-looking wounds in the right side of his chest near his shoulder. The sword that he had used earlier that evening to rescue her from the plant-women had reappeared in his hand. It glinted sharply in the moonlight. "Be ready," he whispered to Naru. With a thought, Naru made another fireball appear in her hand. "There might be more," he said. "I don't know how many youma --" He cut off his words and turned sharply to the right. Naru heard a rustling noise among the trees, but by the time she looked there was nothing there. "Zoisite," Nephrite hissed. "If he saw you, and tells Beryl --" He grabbed Naru and pulled her close to him.
"Nephrite!" Sailor Moon's voice rang out across the park. "What are you doing with Naru? Let her go!"
"She's in more danger than you know, Sailor Moon!" he shouted.
Sailor Moon, Sailor Mercury and Sailor Mars came into view in a flare of light among the trees. "What do you mean?" Sailor Moon demanded.
Nephrite didn't answer. Everything suddenly went dark and cold. The only thing Naru could feel was Nephrite's arms firmly around her.
* * * * * * * *
A white-robed woman murmured a few words as she tapped her fingertips lightly on a crystal ball. In the ball, the image of a young girl with red hair appeared. The woman watched as the girl made a ball of sunfire appear in her hands and flung it at the youma who were attacking her and the Dark Kingdom general. The woman had already watched the same scenes several times over. "It must be her," she murmured.
One of her companions, another woman in a white robe, the hood pulled up to conceal her face, nodded. "At long last, we have found her. It took so long for her to be reborn, I had nearly given up hope."
A third robed and hooded woman also stood nearby. "But why would she ally herself with one of them?" she asked. "Or with the Senshi?" For it had appeared that the Moon Princess was trying to help the girl.
"I think she has not yet been awakened," the woman who was controlling the crystal ball said. "She appears to be acting purely on instinct, without knowing what she is doing."
"And now he has taken her," the third woman said angrily. "How dare he!"
"Now that we have found her once, she will be easy to find again," the first woman said. "And we will teach her who she is and what she must do."
* * * * * * * *
Naru's feet jarred when they suddenly met solid floor again. Her knees buckled beneath her and she would have fallen if not for Nephrite's tight grip around her shoulders. Her stomach still seemed to be lurching about through nothingness. She swallowed, fighting back nausea.
"It's normal to be sick the first time," Nephrite said. He lowered her to the dusty wooden floor, and she crouched there, shivering, miserably willing her stomach to settle down.
"I think I'll be okay," she finally said.
"Then you're better adapted to teleporting than I would have expected any human to be." He squatted in front of her, and lifted her chin with his hand, forcing her to look into his face. "Now, Osaka Naru, why don't you tell me who you really are?" His blue eyes met hers in a hard, steady gaze.
His question frightened her. Would the wrong answer turn them into enemies? It didn't matter, because she didn't have an answer. "I -- I don't know," she said. "I'm just Naru."
"You're not one of the Sailor Senshi?"
"If I was, do you think I would have been letting myself get attacked by monsters all this time? When I could have been protecting myself and everyone around me? I didn't know I could do what I did tonight!" She realized she was shouting, and took a deep breath to calm herself down. "I'm glad I was able to help you tonight. But I don't know anything about what I did or how I did it. It just happened."
He studied her face in silence for a long moment. "All right," he finally said. "I believe you." He let go of her chin and stood up, then helped her up.
Naru looked at her stinging hands. The bleeding from the barbs on the thorns had stopped, but her palms were red and blistered. At least the dizziness and nausea had gone away. For the first time she was able to look at her surroundings. She was in a vast room, at least two stories high, with a peaked ceiling and a huge circular window made of hundreds of leaded panes of glass at one end. The room was empty except for a large, cluttered work table at the opposite end from the window. It was cold, and smelled dusty, and the only light was the moon- and starlight that came in through the elaborate window. "Where are we?" she asked.
"My house," Nephrite said. "We can't stay here, though. That damned rat Zoisite knows how to get in."
That name again. "Who's Zoisite? Is he also part of the Dark Kingdom? Why do you hate him so much if you're on the same side?"
Nephrite glanced down at her. "Zoisite is the one who sent the Plant Sisters after us. He and Kunzite, one of the other generals, are lovers, and he sees me as Kunzite's rival for power and influence in the Dark Kingdom. Kunzite and I have never agreed on the best way to achieve the Dark Kingdom's aims, and Queen Beryl alternates between favoring Kunzite's ideas and mine. But that's all beside the point now. After my actions the last few nights, I've effectively deserted from the Dark Kingdom. If they find me they'll kill me. As for you --"
"Will they kill me too?"
"They would, if they saw you only as the reason I defected. But if they know about your power, they'll brainwash you or turn you into a youma, whatever it would take to force you to work for them."
"They'd make me into one of those monsters?" The thought was too horrifying to grasp.
"If they caught you. I won't let them catch you."
"Could the Senshi help me?"
"If you were with the Senshi, you would very likely be captured and enslaved within a few battles. The Dark Kingdom has resources the Senshi haven't dreamed of. They wouldn't be able to protect you."
"Oh." Naru looked down at her bare feet, stained with grass and dirt. "What am I going to do, then?"
"I'm going to make a safer hiding place, that Zoisite can't find, and take you there. Then I'm going to teach you how to use your powers so you'll be strong enough to keep from being controlled by anyone else."
He was going to take her away somewhere. Naru was suddenly aware of her torn pajama top and Nephrite's bare chest. Everything suddenly seemed uncertain, as though her life could go in any of a hundred different directions. A shiver that wasn't fear went up her back. Keeping her eyes averted from Nephrite, she said, "But my mom will be worried about me."
"I'll let her know you're safe. And also -- Did you know that your friend Tsukino Usagi is Sailor Moon?"
"What?" Naru wasn't sure she'd heard him right. Usagi was the brave and powerful Sailor Moon? But, there was the hair. Naru wondered why she had never seen the similarity before. Plus there was the fact that even though they were best friends and spent a lot of time together, Usagi was never around when Naru was being rescued by Sailor Moon. "But she never told me..."
"It would have been too dangerous to you and to her if she had told you. But I'll let her know you're safe. At least that way she won't come after me for kidnapping you. First, though, I've got you to a safer place. I don't know how long we have until Zoisite comes after us again."
He went to the work table, and Naru sat down on the floor to wait. He shuffled through loose papers, picked up things that looked like rulers and compasses and protractors and other things that Naru couldn't guess at, and quickly wrote things on other pieces of paper. After some time, he walked to the center of the huge room and stood facing the great window. "Stand at my back," he told Naru. "Hold on to me, and don't move or let go no matter what happens."
Naru obeyed, hiding her face against the long hair that flowed over his back and wrapping her arms around his waist. His skin felt a little too warm, as though he were running a fever. He smelled good, though, like cinnamon and musk, and his body was firm and muscular. More pleasant shivers went up and down Naru's spine, and she wondered what she was getting herself into.
Nephrite fell very still. Then he spread his arms wide open. "I call upon the power of the stars," he said in a low voice. Then he raised his head and his body went rigid. He spoke in a language Naru didn't recognize, except for what sounded like two or three names of stars that she had learned in science class. His arms moved in broad gestures, and a wind picked up, swirling around them. The air tingled as it brushed across her body. Streaks of blue electricity wrapped around the two of them in a loose cocoon. Naru closed her eyes and tightened her grip. The rush of wind and crackling of electricity increased to a constant roar and Naru felt as though she were being lifted off her feet. Nephrite shouted one final word.
The world seemed to turn inside out. Sensations of hot, cold, light, dark, solidity, and nothingness hit her all at the same time. She couldn't tell if she was upside down or right side up, whether she was moving at infinite speed or staying still while everything else moved around her. She tried to breathe and found that she couldn't; she tried to focus on the feel of Nephrite in her arms but the sensation of him was shifting too quickly for her to grasp. For a frantic moment she wondered if she had let go of him after all. Then a floor slammed into her feet, and she fell on top of Nephrite. She rolled off just in time to be wretchedly, violently, humiliatingly sick.
* * * * * * * *
His graceless landing was proof of his exhaustion, if he needed more proof. The exertions of the night, the fights, the loss of blood, were catching up with him. Not to mention the assault of unfamiliar emotions. In some strange way, this was as exhausting as anything else that had happened. And his work wasn't done yet. He needed to contact the Sailor Senshi, to let them know that Naru was in no danger from him and to find out if they knew anything about her powers. And Mrs. Osaka was likely to be in danger if the Dark Kingdom went looking for Naru. She needed to be warned, and deserved an explanation. She would also need to be protected; he could probably persuade the Senshi to keep an eye on her.
Nephrite hauled himself to his feet and surveyed his new hideout. It looked considerably more comfortable than the one in Tokyo. That one had been built solely for work purposes, not for comfort. This hideout was also more secure, he hoped. He had hidden it not only in a pocket of space but also in time. Placing the hideout in a time pocket would make it at least three or four times more difficult for anyone to find, even a weasel as skilled as Zoisite. Theoretically, he could exit from this place into any place or any point in time he chose, but under the present circumstances there was no reason to go anywhere but the anchoring point in the Tokyo that Naru had come from.
The living room where they were right now was well-lit and comfortably furnished. There would also be a kitchen stocked with food in the hideout, and two bedrooms. The single bedroom in his other hideout would have presented too much temptation. If they had to sleep in the same room, he didn't know how long he would have been able to resist the need for warmth and pleasure, which were notably lacking in the Dark Kingdom. Despite her physical maturity, Naru was far too young for him to seek such things from her, at least in the time and place she was from. In another time and place, where boys and girls didn't have the luxury of an extended childhood as they adjusted to adulthood, things would have been different.
Something tugged at his memory, but disappeared as soon as he turned his attention to it. This seemed to happen more and more often lately. He suspected these were lost memories from the time before he joined the Dark Kingdom. Such a time must have existed; he and the other shitennou must have come from somewhere. The Dark Kingdom could not generate new life, it could only twist and corrupt and kill. Maybe sometime he would have the leisure to explore these fleeting suggestions of life before the Dark Kingdom, but for now he still had work to do.
Naru was curled miserably on the floor next to the place where she had been sick. With a wave of his hand Nephrite made the mess disappear and gave her a hand up. "You'll find your bedroom and bathroom that way." He pointed to a door opening off to the right of the main room. "Everything you need should be in there. The kitchen is that way." He indicated the door at the far end of the main room. "I need to change and then go take care of some business. I'll be back later. Don't leave this place, no matter what." There was no way for her to leave by herself, but if someone found the hideout and tried to take her, he didn't want her to think it was safe to go with them.
"What about my mom?" Naru asked.
"I'll go talk to her. I'll tell her you're safe, and I'll ask the Senshi to protect her in case anyone from the Dark Kingdom comes around looking for you."
"She might be in danger? Can't she come here too?"
"I'm afraid not. I made this place just for the two of us; if anyone else comes in, the imbalance would break the bindings and guard-spells I've put around it." Which was true, as far as it went. He could adjust the spells to allow a third specified person to come and go, but that would weaken the security. Besides, he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to get to know this girl and the emotions she inspired. Company would be unwelcome. An oddly uncomfortable feeling at his hidden ulterior motive nudged at him. He ignored it. "Also, your disappearance is easy to cover up. You're ill, or you've gone to visit relatives. But your mother's absence would be harder to hide or explain. How would she explain a long absence from her successful jewelry shop?"
Naru chewed her lower lip. "I guess you're right."
In his room, Nephrite washed and changed. In the closet he found a fresh uniform similar to the gray one he had worn as a Dark Kingdom general, but this one was dark blue. Why that color? he wondered as he dressed. Did it mean that he truly no longer considered himself affiliated with the Dark Kingdom? Had he worn this color in that earlier, lost, life? The odd thing about creations such as his hideouts was that they took a lot of their form from the subconscious, sometimes revealing odd, interesting, or uncomfortable things about their creator.
When he returned to the living room, Naru was still there. "Tell my mom I'm okay and I don't want her to worry," she said. "And that I'll come home as soon as I can."
"I will." He looked at her anxious, tired, dirty face, her big eyes that gazed up at him so trustingly. Somehow it didn't seem right to leave without any kind of gesture. He took her chin in his freshly white-gloved hand and quickly kissed her cheek. "I'll be back soon." Then he fixed his first destination in his mind and teleported.
* * * * * * * *
For a few minutes after Nephrite left, Naru looked around the house. She knew better than to doubt what he had said about her being in danger. If nothing else, she didn't want to risk running into any more monsters like the ones who had kidnapped her and attacked the two of them. She had no idea what lay ahead of her, but for now, the hideout seemed safe enough.
The bedroom he had directed her to seemed to be modeled on her room at home, but much more expensively furnished and decorated. The bed was puffed high with pink satin coverlets and deep, poofy-looking pillows. There was an elegant white wicker desk and chair, a matching vanity and stool with a gold-framed mirror, and dresser and bookcase painted white with gold trim. White lace curtains with pink satin liners covered the windows. No light came through; she wondered if it was night where they were, and what she would see if she looked outside. She had a sneaking suspicion they weren't in Tokyo any more.
Naru went to the large dresser and opened one of the drawers. It held lace and satin undergarments, far sexier than anything her mother ever let her have. Her face burning, she slammed the drawer shut. When she opened it and peeked in again, the contents had changed to far more demure lace-trimmed white cotton. Another drawer held cotton pajamas in the same style she was wearing, in a variety of colors and patterns. An inspection of the other drawers and the closet revealed that the rest of the clothing was suitably modest. She wondered if the sexy underwear had been some sort of accident.
The bathroom was well-appointed and supplied with floral-scented soaps, lotions, and shampoos. The pink towels were thick and luxurious. Naru showered, then, with a twinge of regret for the vanished lace and satin, put on underclothes and a white blouse and full, knee-length blue skirt similar to her school uniform. Her blistered, reddened hands were painful and clumsy, but, luckily, the buttons and buttonholes on the clothes were large and easy to manage. On the bookcase she found a selection of the latest shoujo manga; she picked a volume she hadn't read yet and settled down to read until Nephrite returned.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 2
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury