Book 1 Chapter 2
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After Nephrite returned to his mansion and changed into his Sanjouin Masato clothes, he kept an eye on Naru while she walked to school. He wasn't convinced that Zoisite still wouldn't try something with her. Naru glowed as she talked to her friend Usagi. She nearly danced down the sidewalk, telling Usagi about her love, and spun in a joyful circle as she said his name. If he could never do anything else for her, Nephrite thought, at least he had given her this one morning of happiness.
He overheard Usagi's revelation of her identity, and was surprised at his lack of surprise. Of course, he thought after a moment. It only made sense. Naru and Usagi were close friends and were frequently together. But Usagi was never around on the many occasions when Naru was being saved from a Dark Kingdom plot by Sailor Moon. Besides, there was the hairstyle. Nephrite smiled as he watched the girls leave the park from his hiding place. Naru would be safe with her friend.
He spent the rest of the day holed up in his mansion, with the strongest Guards he knew cast around him to keep Zoisite away, trying to decide what to do. His life, his whole world, had changed overnight. Nephrite considered everything very thoroughly, searched his thoughts and feelings, to see if he had any regrets. There were none. He would do nothing differently, if he had that night to live over again. He loved Naru, and he was determined that somehow, some way, they would be together.
The question now was, what was he to do now that he had deserted from the Dark Kingdom? It was foolish to expect that Beryl would leave him in peace if he stayed in Tokyo and tried to live a normal human life. He didn't want to endanger Naru, and he didn't particularly want to die himself, now that he had found something to live for. So the choices were, should he stay and help the Sailor Senshi fight Beryl, or should he go elsewhere?
He put the question to the stars. His mind filled with the familiar warmth, centered on the middle of his forehead, that had been part of his life for - how long? As long as he could remember, which was back to just before the battle for the Moon Kingdom. And even then, it had been familiar, though he remembered nothing of his life before Beryl. Had there been a life before Beryl? As he had countless times in the chill dimness of his chambers in the Dark Kingdom, Nephrite wondered where he had come from, and whether he had always been on the side of darkness, and, if not, what sort of person he had been.
The stars' answer came to him. This was not his fight. Any attempts he made to help the Senshi would only lead to disaster for himself and for them, and probably for Naru too. The further away he went, it seemed, the better it would be for everyone.
Nephrite thought about this, and realized there were other good reasons for him to leave Tokyo for the time being, though he didn't want to. If he wasn't around to draw attention to Naru, the guard spell he had put on her would keep the other servants of the Dark Kingdom from noticing her. Also, he had been evil for so long, he didn't know if he knew how to be any other way. He didn't even know if he knew what good was. All he knew of good was Naru standing by him even when she saw him attack the Sailor Senshi, and risking her own life to save him. He wanted to go somewhere where he could learn what she knew.
He watched the twenty-four-hour news channel on his big-screen TV, trying to decide where to go. The news was dominated by films and reports from a faraway country that was torn by war. This war was no question of invaders and defenders; the different groups of people who had historically shared the land had turned on each other. Neighbors turned against neighbors, friends against friends, simply because of the different blood that ran in their veins. It wasn't soldiers getting killed in this war. This war wasn't being fought by professionals. Those fighting were civilians, egged on by propaganda about the necessity of ridding their homeland of half its population. Those dying were men, women, and children, the old and weak as well as the young and strong. Babies were torn from their mothers' arms and slaughtered. Those who weren't killed in the actual fighting were starving to death. Most of the country's food supplies had been destroyed in the war, and no additional supplies could get in, despite the best efforts of various relief agencies. And now, even most of the relief agencies, discouraged by failure and by the dangers their volunteers faced every day, were pulling out. Watching the news, Nephrite thought that the humans didn't need the Dark Kingdom to destroy them. They were perfectly capable of doing the job themselves.
If he could go into the midst of this evil, Nephrite thought, and do some good, that might be a sign that he really had changed. Then, if the Sailor Senshi defeated Beryl, he could come back to Naru and be worthy to offer himself to her. Nephrite phoned the travel agent who handled Sanjouin Masato's travel, and requested a ticket on the next flight to the city closest to the conflict that it was still possible to fly in and out of. He could teleport the rest of the way in. With all the dark energy being generated by the war, Beryl would never notice the traces of his use of magic.
He left the Black Crystal sitting in plain view on his work table in his planetarium. Zoisite could have it, though Nephrite doubted his rival would want the Black Crystal now that it was evident that Nephrite himself didn't want it anymore. Let the treacherous little weasel have it, Nephrite thought as he headed out the door for the airport, and much good might it do him.
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite stared back at the fortyish man who studied him suspiciously from across the rickety table in the relief agency tent. "My offer is sincere," Nephrite said. "You seem to have trouble believing that."
The short, dark-haired man, who had introduced himself as Gary, sighed. "Frankly, Mr. -"
"Stanton. Just call me Max."
"Max. Frankly, you don't seem like the type who would be interested in this sort of thing. It's extremely dangerous and uncomfortable, not to mention that my government doesn't quite approve of my presence here. Why are you volunteering to help us?"
"I've decided it's time I did some earthly good with my mercenary instincts." Gary kept a flat, skeptical stare on Nephrite's face, though he had to look up to do it. Nephrite decided that the truth, or a version of it, was the only thing that would work with him. "All right. I've got some dangerous rivals who are after me, and doing humanitarian work in a hellhole like this is the last place they would think of to look for me."
"I'll buy that," Gary said. He stuck out his hand and Nephrite shook it. "We need all the help we can get. Two of our workers were killed last week when their truck drove over a landmine. Come on, Max. I'll show you the ropes. First of all..." He knelt beside a metal trunk against one canvas wall and unlocked the three padlocks that held it shut. Inside the trunk were about half a dozen wicked-looking guns. Gary lifted one out and held it up to Nephrite, who took it carefully. "Our friend, the AK-47," Gary said as he re-locked the trunk and stood. "We're not supposed to have them, but none of us would last two hours without having one of these to wave around. We try not to shoot them - we're supposed to be neutral, after all - but if the choice is between an angry mob and us with our truck full of rice for hungry kids, well, we shoot first and worry about the consequences later. Monique can show you how to use that thing. Meanwhile, I'll brief you on the different routes and the villages we've been trying to get into...."
Nephrite stood beside Gary, looking at the maps the smaller man unfolded on the rickety table, cradling the instrument of death in his arms. It could wreak destruction as easily and powerfully, he knew, as his own starlight and energy attacks. Was it possible, he wondered, for an evil man armed with a devastatingly destructive weapon to do some good?
* * * * * * * *
Three days later, early in the afternoon, Nephrite was sitting on the dusty ground in the sparse shade of one of the native trees. After only three days in this hot, dry place, he felt like his clothes, his skin, were permanently crusted with dust and sweat. Washing and shaving were low on the priority list, given the shortage of water here. He had taken to wearing his long hair in a ponytail, just to get it away from his face and off his neck. Monique, his trainer, had suggested he cut it, had offered to cut it herself, explaining that very long hair and warfare were not compatible, but he had refused. He couldn't imagine being without his hair, and anyway, if he returned to Tokyo with short hair, Naru might not recognize him. For all he knew, it was the long auburn hair that had attracted her to him in the first place. Nonsense, he thought, in one of those moments of complete honesty with himself that were becoming less rare. You want to keep the hair because you know it looks good and you're a vain fool.
He was gnawing on a sandwich made of stale bread and baloney that had started to go a bit slimy, and washing it down with water that had been boiled and now tasted warm and flat. Food that Sanjouin Masato wouldn't have touched with ten-foot chopsticks, but Nephrite found that he was a lot less picky than he had been before. Maybe it was the hard training he was being put through, learning to use the weapon he'd been given and to drive and maintain the trucks, along with the constant vigilance against guerilla attacks on the relief agency camp. Or maybe it was being faced with the reality of people starving to death. In any case, he was hungry and this was what was available. He chewed his sandwich and stared at nothing, wondering what Naru was doing right now.
There was a hand on his thigh, he realized. Very high up on his thigh. He looked to his left and saw Monique squatting beside him. Without waiting for him to swallow his bite of sandwich, she leaned toward him and kissed him. Her hand crept a little higher and more towards the inside of his leg. After a moment she pulled away. "It's shadier in my tent," she said. Her voice was husky, with a thick accent, French or something like that.
Nephrite swallowed the bread and baloney, and looked at her. It was tempting. She was very attractive, tall and slim, with dusty blond hair cut in a shaggy chin-length style, wide cheekbones, and brown eyes. And they had gotten along very well while she was teaching him to use the AK-47.
But she wasn't Naru. He smiled a little. "I'm very flattered by your interest, but -"
"You're gay," she said, not moving her hand.
Nephrite laughed a bit at that idea. "No."
"It's worse. You're married."
"No, I'm not married. But I do have someone waiting for me."
"And you're being faithful."
"Yes." He reached into the back pocket of his jeans, for the picture of Naru he had there. Before leaving Tokyo, he had looked at the newspaper archives on the Internet and found a picture taken at a recent tennis tournament, showing Naru with her friend Saionji Rui, the rising young tennis champion. He had enlarged the photo to show Naru's face more clearly, printed it out, cut away the extra, and had it laminated at a copy shop on his way to the airport. It wasn't a very good picture, but it was better than nothing. He showed the picture to Monique, who still had her hand on his thigh. "That's her. She has red hair."
"She's cute." Monique studied the picture a moment. "She's very young, isn't she, Max?"
"Yes, but I'm willing to wait for her."
"She must be very special."
"She is." Suddenly it felt like something thick was stuck in his throat, and it was hard to get the words out. "She's - I have not been a good man. I've treated her, and some people she cares about, very badly. But she's always loved me and forgiven me and stood by me, and now, all I want is to be good enough for her." He looked at Naru's smiling face in the black-and-white newspaper photo, and wished that the uncomfortable stinging in his eyes would go away. "That's a big part of why I'm here. To learn to do good, for her."
Monique removed her hand from Nephrite's leg. "She's a very lucky girl," she said gently. "What's her name?"
"Naru. And I'm the one who's lucky."
Monique kissed his cheek, very lightly. "Well, just let me know if you change your mind. The offer still stands."
Nephrite gave her hand a little squeeze. "If I didn't love Naru, I would probably take you up on your offer. But as it is, I doubt I'll change my mind."
Monique stood, brushing the dust from her dirt-embedded khakis, and gave him a lopsided smile. "Why aren't there more men like you in the world?"
Nephrite chuckled a little, turning his attention back to the remains of his sandwich. "Believe me, it's a good thing there aren't more like me."
Monique walked away, leaving Nephrite staring at his sandwich. During the conversation with her, he had taken it for granted that he was sexually experienced, in fact he knew he was, but he couldn't bring to a mind a single specific memory of being with a woman. Or a man, for that matter. No, on reflection he knew that, just as he had had experience of women, being with a man was not something that held any appeal for him. Who was he, before Beryl? he wondered yet again. Who had he loved? Had he loved someone? What had happened to her? He would give almost anything for the answers to these questions. Almost anything. He wouldn't give up Naru.
* * * * * * * *
"Nephrite hasn't spoken to you at all?" Naru asked Usagi one morning on the way to school. "Not about helping you against the Dark Kingdom, or anything?"
"No," Usagi answered. "I haven't seen anything of him since the night he tried to blast me with his Starlight attacks."
"Be fair," Naru said. "He also saved me from that youma." She really shouldn't feel disappointed that she hadn't heard anything from Nephrite in the last week. He hadn't given her any reason to believe that he could keep in contact with her for the time being. Still, though, she longed to see him, to hear him say, "I love you" again. She wished she could go on a date with him, like other girls did with their boyfriends. She wanted the whole world to know that he loved her, and that she loved him. "I wonder where he could be."
"I don't know, and I don't care. The longer he stays away, the happier I am, and the better off you are, Naru-chan."
"But, Usagi, he said he loves me! Why would he stay away, or not even let me hear from him?"
Usagi stopped walking and grabbed Naru's arm so that she had to stop walking too. "Naru-chan, listen to me. He's a liar, and he's evil. If he said he loves you, he was just lying to you for some evil reason. I'm sorry, but that's how it is."
"You're wrong, Usagi." Naru felt like she was going to cry. She fought to maintain some dignity. "I know he used to be evil, and I don't expect he would go from completely evil to completely good in just a few hours overnight. But I know he wasn't lying when he said he loved me."
Usagi looked at Naru and sighed, shaking her head. "I'm worried about you, Naru-chan. I wish you would get interested in Umino or someone." She started walking again. Naru followed, thinking, Where are you, my Nephrite-sama?
* * * * * * * *
"We've got to get in there today." Gary, Nephrite, Monique, and two or three other relief workers stared at a hand-drawn map of the local roads and trails, along with several aerial photographs of the area. "The situation's got to be getting desperate, with all the refugees coming in from the smaller villages. But all the roads are blocked, and I just don't see any other way..."
"Why not just go right through one of the roadblocks?" Nephrite asked.
The others stared at him in silence. "You're nuts," Gary finally said.
"Perhaps," Nephrite replied, "but listen. Where is the biggest roadblock?" Gary pointed to the road on the map. "They won't expect us to actually try to get through there, will they? We'll take them by surprise."
"You're crazy," Gary said.
"No. I know it'll work. And no one else seems to have any better ideas."
"It's suicide. Who do you suggest we send in the truck?"
"Me, of course. A good commander..." Something, some sensation of déjà vu, washed over Nephrite briefly. How did he know this? he wondered. "A good commander never suggests sending someone else to do something he wouldn't do himself."
Gary raised one dark eyebrow. "Commander?"
Nephrite gave a small, lopsided grin. "Sorry. One of my past lives rearing its head." The others laughed at that. "Seriously. I'll get the truck through that roadblock. Who's with me?"
The others looked at each other. "I am," Monique said. No one else volunteered.
"Well, then," Nephrite said. "Let's get that food to that refugee camp." He shouldered his AK-47 and left the tent, followed by Monique with her gun. "You two are freaking crazy!" Gary yelled behind them. Nephrite laughed. The stars had told him this would work.
* * * * * * * *
There were about twenty of them standing spread across the road, men with machine guns and rag-tag uniforms, men who only a few months ago had been tending fields and herds alongside the neighbors whom they were now killing. Nephrite stopped the truck, then put it in reverse and slowly backed away. The guerillas laughed and waved their weapons, shouting taunts at the cowardly foreigners.
"You aren't giving up so easily, are you?" Monique asked.
Nephrite shook his head. "Just giving myself some room." He stopped the truck again, put it into forward gear, and pushed down on the gas.
The ancient wreck of a truck lumbered forward, then went faster and faster as Nephrite kept the gas pedal pushed all the way down. They drew nearer to the roadblock. Some of the soldiers tried to scatter, but two other men shouted and waved their guns at them. The line of soldiers stood firm after this.
"You're going to run over them all!" Monique said.
Nephrite laughed. They were in range now. He put his hand out the window, and concentrated to draw power from the stars, which were always present though their light might be concealed by the sunlight. The stars answered eagerly.
Half a dozen glowing, gaseous energy balls shot out from Nephrite's left hand at the soldiers blocking the road. The men dove away from the explosions, but not all of them made it. The energy blasts left craters and body parts scattered across the road. Not bad for a left-handed attack, Nephrite thought. Still pushing the gas all the way down, he aimed the truck between the craters, and sped past what remained of the blockade.
When they were safely past and out of range of the surviving soldiers' guns, he glanced at Monique. She seemed frozen solid, her eyes wide open, her skin bloodlessly pale. "What the hell was that?" she finally gasped.
Nephrite grinned at her. "I told you it's a good thing there aren't more men in the world like me."
Monique muttered something under her breath that was probably obscene. "Remind me not to get on your bad side," she said.
A few miles farther along, a tent city alongside the road came into view. A crowd began to gather in the road, then swarmed around the truck as it stopped in the middle of the refugee settlement. While shouting, crying people jostled against the sides of the truck, Nephrite and Monique climbed into the back and began opening the huge plastic buckets of raw rice and super-nutritional protein glop that would save the refugees from starvation. Nephrite moved to the open tailgate to begin distributing the food.
Hundreds of people, it must have been, crowded towards him. Older boys, men, and a few women pushed their way past those who were smaller and held out their pots and baskets, demanding food. Nephrite's instructions were to give a proportional ration to each person, since, unfortunately, hoarding often took place if larger portions were given out and even family men couldn't be trusted to share their rations with their children. And the rations had to be measured out carefully, to ensure that there would be enough to go around.
Those who were strong enough to take, had the right to whatever it was they took.... That was the law in the Dark Kingdom. Nephrite considered the creed he had lived by for so long, then thought about its opposite. He brought his AK-47 into firing position, and spoke without shouting but with as much authority as he could muster. "Little ones first." The local language, which he had been pretending to learn for the past week, though he had already absorbed it from the mind of one of the local people, was awkward on his tongue, but still the crowd shrank back a little. Nephrite prepared his weapon to fire. "Little ones first," he repeated. "And their mothers."
Under his hard stare, and the threat of the AK-47, the men who had been pushing forward drew back. Hesitantly at first, then with more confidence, the younger children, closely followed by women with babies on their backs or in their arms, approached the truck, holding out their baskets and pots and whatever other containers they had been able to find.
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite drove the truck back to the relief agency camp through the hot, dry dusk. The food distribution had gone smoothly, and there had been plenty for everyone. At the site of the broken blockade, the craters remained but the bodies had been cleared away. A few soldiers stood at the side of the road. Two or three of them raised their rifles as the relief truck rumbled past, but no one made any real move to stop it.
Monique looked back over her shoulder at the soldiers who stood and stared at them, then turned towards Nephrite. "You're good at this," she said.
"Thanks," Nephrite said absently. He stared at the dirt road ahead of them and thought of Naru. I did something good today, Naru. I learned something about being good instead of evil. I wonder if you'd be proud of me. He imagined her looking up at him, smiling at him, imagined bending down to press his mouth against her soft lips....
"Hey, spaceman." Monique smacked his thigh gently. "We're here."
Nephrite shook himself out of his daydream and pulled the truck into the fenced camp. Gary and the other volunteers came running out of the mess tent. "Did you make it?" Gary shouted.
Nephrite climbed stiffly down from the cab and stretched. "We made it through, and gave away all the food. I don't think we'll have any more problems with that road being barricaded."
"But how?" someone else asked.
Nephrite was too tired to answer, and wasn't sure what to say anyway. He didn't want to lie, but he wasn't sure how to explain what he had done. Monique answered for him. "He's got a talent for intimidating large groups of armed people. And a few tricks up his sleeve."
Nephrite was starving - no, not starving, nothing short of what he had seen at the refugee camp, the stick-thin children with their swollen bellies, the adults with their haunted, desperate eyes, could be considered starving. But he was certainly very hungry. He headed towards the mess tent, followed by the rest of the volunteers, who were peppering Monique with questions which she was managing to answer with great, sharp wit without actually telling them anything about what Nephrite had really done. Nephrite smiled to himself; she was something else.
He untied his ponytail, shook out his dusty hair, and retied it. He was stiff, and filthy, and probably smelled bad, but then they all did so it didn't matter. First thing when I get back to Tokyo, he told himself, even before I see Naru, a long bath. It was pleasant to think about.
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Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 1 Chapter 3
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury