* * * * * * * *
After what must have only been a few moments though it seemed longer, the heat storm passed. Finally, Naru dared to raise her head and look around.
Everything was gone except for bare ground and the shimmering wall around the interdimensional pocket. Sailor Moon and Nephrite were also on the ground, hunched over to protect themselves from the outflow of energy produced by the destruction of the Star Swallower. Sailor Moon stared at her with huge eyes. "Wow, Naru-chan, how long have you been able to do that?" she asked.
"I just learned it," Naru said. "That was only the second time I tried it."
"That was an interesting reaction," Nephrite said. "Intensely concentrated Sun Power against the spell that was intended to turn the sun against itself. I'll want to do some research and see if I can understand it better."
"Good luck with that," Naru said. "I don't know if I can do that again, and there's definitely no more Star Swallower."
Nephrite stood and walked over to her, and gave her a hand up. He stroked her tangled, sweat-dampened hair away from her face. "That's all right. I can just work on the theoretical calculations. That should keep me out of trouble for some time, at least." He smiled at her, and Naru returned the smile.
"Princess Solaris," Sifabi said.
Naru tore her gaze away from Nephrite. The three priestesses stepped through the portal into the ruined training yard and walked over to stand in front of her. "What do you want?" she asked, not really caring if she sounded rather rude.
"You did well, Princess," Sifabi said. "You have destroyed the Star Swallower and fulfilled the final task of our people."
"No thanks to you," Naru said. "Not after what you did, taking my friend Sailor Moon hostage when I needed her help. You nearly got me and Nephrite killed, doing that."
"We feared that once you had freed the souls taken by the Star Swallower, you would no longer have the will to fight. Or that Sailor Moon would convince you to join her and leave the Star Swallower to destroy us," Sifabi said.
"I told you I would do my best to destroy it," Naru said. "You should have trusted me."
After a moment Sifabi bowed her head in acceptance, followed by Issoril and Serare. "You did indeed keep your word, Princess." She looked up again. "And now it is time to go, so we can resume your education." The priestess gestured towards the portal.
Nephrite and Sailor Moon took a quick step forward to put themselves between the priestesses and Naru. Naru stood firm. "I'm not going. That isn't where I belong."
"How can you think of giving up your position? To us, you are a Princess. In your world, you are a mere schoolgirl."
"I don't want to be trapped by things that happened hundreds of years before I was born. I want to go back to my real life." Then Naru looked at them, three very old women, the last of their people. Everyone and everything they had ever known was long gone. A sense of loneliness swept through Naru like a cold wind. "But you can visit me sometimes. Or, if you get tired of always moving around in that tent, I'll help you find a place to live in my neighborhood."
It was a long moment before Sifabi spoke again. "We may consider your offer sometime."
Naru nodded to the priestesses. The three of them bowed slightly to her, then stepped back through the portal. It closed, and Naru, Nephrite, and Sailor Moon were left alone in the ruined hideout. Naru sighed. "I'm glad that's over with. I feel kind of sorry for them, though."
"You were right," Sailor Moon said. "You have to make your own choices, you can't let yourself be controlled by what other people say you should be."
"But what about you, Usagi-chan? You didn't get much of a choice about being Sailor Moon, did you?"
"Not at first. But when I did have to choose, I decided to keep being Sailor Moon. Who would fight against the enemies that I fight and protect people from them if I don't do it? It's hard, and a lot of the time I don't like it, but I decided I couldn't walk away from it."
"But you don't think I should have stayed with them to be their Princess?"
"What for? To keep them from being lonely? If they're lonely, they know where to find you. And you can find ways to help a lot more people if you come back to school and study hard. Besides," she said with a wink, "after everything you and Nephrite went through together, you don't want to just leave him now, do you?"
"I hope not," Nephrite said.
"No." Naru smiled widely up at him. "I don't."
"Good," he said. "Let's go home now. Hold on to me."
They each wrapped their arms around his waist, and he teleported from the hideout to his mansion. Sailor Moon looked around the room and stared up at the giant leaded glass window. "Wow," she said. "So this is where you came up with all your evil plans?"
A corner of Nephrite's mouth twitched in a smile. "Yes, it is. Although those days are over. Where would you like to go from here?"
"I can find my way home from here. Thanks, Nephrite. I knew you weren't so bad after all. I'll see you at school, Naru-chan." She disappeared in a flash of light.
Nephrite looked at Naru after Sailor Moon was gone. "Ready to go home?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. "You know, Nephrite, you really ought to put some nice furniture in here. This room would be amazing if you fixed it up."
"I think maybe I'll do that sometime. Come on, now." He pulled her close to him, and they teleported.
* * * * * * * *
The apartment was quiet, and the lights were turned off. "Mama, I'm home!" Naru called. There was no answer. She looked at the clock; she had no idea what time it was, or even what day. Right now it was only a little before nine in the evening, too early for her mother to be asleep.
Naru felt a little deflated. It would have been fun to surprise her mother with her sudden reappearance. Then a key turned in the lock on the front door. Outside, her mother spoke to someone. "Would you like to come in for a few minutes, Mr. Katayama?"
A masculine voice answered, "I'd be delighted, Mrs. Osaka."
Naru couldn't believe her ears; her mother, out on a date? Then Kimiko stepped into the room, followed by a tall, handsome man dressed in rather rumpled khaki pants and a tweed jacket. Her mother was wearing the stylish red suit that she usually wore to important jewelry business events. "Naru!" she exclaimed. She hurried over to Naru and hugged her. "Are you home to stay?"
"Yes, Mama. It's over, and I'm home to stay."
Kimiko let go of her. "Ne -- Mr. Sanjouin! How nice to see you."
"Hello, Mrs. Osaka," Nehprite said. Naru saw him glance at the man who had come in with her mother.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I've forgotten my manners," Kimiko said. "This is Police Detective Katayama. Mr. Katayama, this is my daughter Naru and, of course, Sanjouin Masato. Detective Katayama was assigned to investigate your 'disappearance.' I told him everything was all right."
"It's nice to finally meet you," the detective said. He bowed slightly, then he and Nephrite shook hands. "In the course of my investigation, I learned that you have some very... interesting enemies. And allies," Mr. Katayama said. "If you don't mind, Mr. Sanjouin, if we could compare notes sometime, that would help the police be better prepared to deal with future problems of that nature."
Nephrite glanced at Naru's mother. She nodded as though to say that Detective Katayama knew the truth and she trusted him. "I think I can help you," he said. "I'll call you to set up a meeting soon."
The detective turned back to Naru's mom, and smiled. "I'm sure you'd like to spend some time with your daughter, Mrs. Osaka. Lunch tomorrow, then?"
"Certainly." Mrs. Osaka smiled up at the man, and they clasped hands in a gesture that was more than a simple handshake. He left, then Nephrite said, "I'll be on my way now too. Naru has been through quite an ordeal and I'm sure she's very tired. Good night," he said to both of them, then looked at Naru. "I'll see you again very soon." He smiled, then disappeared in his trademark swirl of red and white light.
Mrs. Osaka led Naru to the sofa and made her sit down, then went to the kitchen for juice and cookies. When she returned, she set the snack down on the table and Naru helped herself. She was starving after the long training session that had culminated with the battle against the Star Swallower. "Please tell me where you've been and what you've been doing," Kimiko said. "I've tried my best not to worry, because Nephrite assured me he would keep you safe, but it's been more than three months."
"It's a long story," Naru said. "Why don't you tell me about Detective Katayama?"
"That's a long story, too. Probably not as long as yours, though. Oh well, we'll have plenty of time to talk. I'm just glad to have you back. You go to bed now." They stood, and Naru's mother embraced her. "I missed you. I'm glad you're safe at home now."
Naru walked down the hallway to the bedroom she hadn't been in since the night the monster women had carried her away. The night Nephrite had come to her. She never could have imagined everything that had happened since then. Tomorrow would it all seem like it had just been a dream? She didn't want to forget, didn't want to start to think it wasn't real. She looked at her hand and concentrated. A tiny ball of flaming light appeared, dancing on her palm. As long as she could do that, she would know it was real.
* * * * * * * *
Naru left school the next day looking glumly at her new study schedule. She was trailed by an equally-glum Usagi.
"I'll never get caught up," Naru said. "I'll have to spend the rest of my life at Juuban Junior High."
"We won't have time for any fun," Usagi said. "But maybe at least we can study together."
Naru thought about this. Study sessions with Usagi-chan usually devolved into gossip and manga-fests or shopping trips. "Yeah," she said, "but you have to promise we'd really spend the time studying."
"If you need some tutoring, I'd be happy to assist."
Naru jumped at the sound of Nephrite's voice, and turned to look at him. "Ne -- Mr. Sanjouin!" She glanced at the other pedestrians walking past. Other than a few quick, curious looks, no one seemed to be paying attention to them. "That would be great. I'd really appreciate it!" Anything that would let them spend some time together. He'd be a lot of help with math and that science unit on astronomy, at least.
"What about me?" Usagi asked. "I need as much help as Naru-chan does."
"Certainly," Nephrite said. "Let's arrange a schedule soon. In the meantime, Naru-chan, I believe I still owe you a chocolate parfait."
He remembered! Naru beamed up at him. Then she remembered Usagi. "Um, Usagi-chan? You can --"
"Oh, wow, Naru-chan, it's late, I'd better hurry home or my mom will get mad at me. I'll see you tomorrow! Thanks for the offer to tutor us, Mr. Sanjouin." Long ponytails flying behind her, Usagi ran down the sidewalk towards home. Naru smiled. Usagi-chan really was a good friend, turning down an offer of ice cream so that she and Nephrite could be alone together.
"Shall we?" Nephrite said, offering Naru his arm.
"Sure!" Naru wrapped her hands around his arm, and they started walking towards the cafe.
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite stood in the main room of his mansion, looking at the leaded glass window. It was time to keep the promise he had made to his fallen comrades. He had managed to touch the minds of Jadeite, Zoisite, and Kunzite a few nights ago; they were waiting in a gray place between life and death, and hadn't passed beyond the final veil. Sailor Moon stood behind him, ready to keep her promise to help him. Sailor Mars and Sailor Jupiter were with her, just in case their former enemies were unaware that the situation had changed, or were unwilling to let bygones be bygones.
Nephrite stared at his focal point on the window, focusing his concentration on the powers and forces that lay beyond physical sensation. "The stars know everything," he said in invocation. Light and knowledge filled him, and he found the path to where Jadeite, Zoisite, and Kunzite were trapped between life and afterlife. He used what he had learned about building portals to connect that place to his workroom. "Now, Sailor Moon."
Sailor Moon raised the crystal-topped wand in both hands over her head. The sailor fuku she usually wore transformed into the long, flowing white gown of Princess Serenity. Silvery light flowed out from the crystal and, it seemed, from Sailor Moon. Sailor Mars and Sailor Jupiter stood behind her, alert for any problems. Sailor Moon closed her eyes, her face drawn together in deep concentration. Finally she opened her eyes and called out, "Moon Crystal Healing Power Regeneration! Jadeite, Zoisite, Kunzite!"
There was a blinding flash of light, broken into prisms like light shining through crystal. When it cleared, Jadeite, Zoisite, and Kunzite sat slumped on the floor. Slowly they straightened up, feeling hands and arms and faces as though to reassure themselves that they really were alive again. Their gray Dark Kingdom uniforms were in various states of disrepair, reflecting the damage that had been done at or just before their deaths.
"Nephrite," Kunzite said. "You brought us back."
"It's about time" Jadeite said. Nephrite smiled; temporary death hadn't changed his personality. "We couldn't go forward, but we also couldn't get back on our own."
"I can't take all the credit," Nephrite said. "It was Sailor Moon who brought you back."
The three Shitennou looked at her and the other Senshi. "It figures. I suppose we're going to have to be grateful to Sailor Moon," Zoisite said. "Oh well, at least I'm alive again, so I can't complain."
"Thank you," Jadeite said. "Sailor Moon. Thank you. There's no reason why you should have helped us."
"Nephrite saved Naru, so I owed him a favor," Sailor Moon said. "Besides, you guys used to be Mamoru -- I mean, Endymion's guardians. He might need you again sometime."
"Whatever the reason for your assistance, we thank you, Princess." Kunzite got to his feet and bowed formally, followed by the other two.
"Nephrite, I'm sorry for what I did to you and the girl," Zoisite said.
"Well, we both managed to live through it," Nephrite said, "so I suppose I can leave the past in the past."
"You know, Sailor Moon, Sailor Mars," Sailor Jupiter said, "I don't think they're a threat to us anymore. I think we can leave now." The other two Senshi agreed with her, and the three of them teleported away in multicolored swirls of light.
Nephrite surveyed his tattered, tired comrades. "We need to find you a place to sleep - I should be able to arrange a hotel suite without any trouble - and then a change of clothes. And jobs."
"Jobs?" Zoisite asked, dismayed.
"Yes. Jobs. The court of Earth no longer exists, and I'm not going to support all three of you myself. I might have one or two openings for a file clerk or a janitor at the Sanjouin International warehouses..." He grinned at the appalled looks on their faces. Close comrades, brothers-in-arms they might be, but it was still fun to torment them a little. And even if he did start them as janitors or file clerks, they wouldn't stay in those positions long. He could see Jadeite and Kunzite as managers in his luxury-goods import business; Zoisite, with his exquisite taste, would make an excellent buyer.
And they would wait and see what fate held in store for them.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Epilogue
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury