Book 1 Chapter 4
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"Hey, don't move. You bumped your head pretty badly, falling off the truck."
It was Monique's voice. Nephrite stopped himself from trying to sit up and relaxed back on his cot. His head hurt like hell, but there was a peculiar lightness in his chest, as though a great weight that had always been there was gone. He was free, he realized. Free of Beryl and Metallia, free of the Dark Kingdom. He had his life back. "It's over," he whispered.
"Hmm?" Monique asked, wringing out the washcloth she'd been using to wash his head.
"The problems... the trouble that I had to get away from. It's over. I can go home."
"Well, maybe it's better if you did go home, if you're still sick enough to pass out like that." Monique dabbed at a spot near the back of his head, and Nephrite saw her take the cloth away with red stains on it. Nephrite touched the back of his head, looked at the sticky red blood on his fingers. Red blood... He really was free. "We talked about that," she continued. "We really hope you'll stay until we find out if those phone calls you made the other day have any results. But it's up to you. No one can force you to stay here."
All Nephrite had told the others about his errand to try to get help was that he had made a few phone calls, pulling some strings and calling in a few favors. He had no idea whether his offer was going to have any results. He thought of Naru and wondered how he would tell her that he had left the others here to manage as best they could, short-handed and with no guarantee of any other help. "I'll stay till we find out if anyone else will come in." Naru-chan, he thought longingly, trying to convince himself that it wouldn't be much longer. Two million dollars was a lot of money. Someone had to take the offer.
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"You don't look sick, Usagi-chan," Naru said. She was sitting cross-legged on the foot of her best friend's bed. Usagi lay under the covers in her bunny-print pajamas. "So why weren't you in school today?"
"I was just really tired," Usagi answered.
"And your mother's letting you get away with this?" Naru couldn't believe it.
"I fainted when I got up this morning. She made me go back to bed. I think I'm going to have to go to school tomorrow, though."
"Does this have anything to do with your fight against the Dark Kingdom?" Naru asked.
Usagi gave her a hard, slightly squint-eyed look. "What in the world are you talking about, Naru-chan?"
"You know, the Dark Kingdom. Those monsters, and Sailor Moon, and Nephrite-sama, and the message I gave you from him."
"You're not making any sense at all, Naru-chan. I think you were eating too much pizza with Umino last night."
"I was not eating pizza with Umino last night!"
"Was not! Why would I be eating a pizza with another boy when I'm waiting for Nephrite-sama to come home?"
"Neph-who? Naru-chan, you've been having weird dreams, or something. You're making my head hurt." Usagi got out of bed, left the room, and stomped downstairs calling, "Mama, I'm hungry!"
This was weird. Naru tried to figure out what could be wrong with Usagi. Maybe she'd taken a blow to the head, fighting against a youma or something.... Luna, Usagi's little black cat, jumped up onto the bed and sat in front of Naru. Naru absently reached out a hand to scratch the cat's head.
"I can explain, Naru-chan."
Naru jumped about a foot into the air, and stared at the cat. "You can talk!"
"Of course I can talk," the cat said with exaggerated patience. "I am Sailor Moon's guardian, mentor, and advisor. A thankless task, I can tell you. Last night, Sailor Moon and her Senshi defeated Queen Beryl and the Dark Kingdom. The Crystal hid their memories of that whole affair from them, so that they can be normal girls for a while. Eventually they'll have to remember, and resume their duties as the Sailor Senshi, but for now they are free of the memories. Of course, the memories of anyone who had anything to do with the battle against the Dark Kingdom were also veiled. But Lord Nephrite has put some sort of protective spell on you, so that no other magic, whether good or evil, can affect you."
That was why the monsters had stopped attacking her, Naru thought. Nephrite was protecting her even though he wasn't with her. "So I'm the only one who remembers what happened?"
"For now, yes."
Usagi came back in, carrying a plate of cookies. Naru scratched Luna's head and Luna curled up, purring. Usagi plopped herself back down on the bed. "Here," she said through a mouthful of cookie. "You can have some."
Naru took a cookie. "You're right, Usagi," she said. "I did have a really strange dream. You were a super-heroine like Sailor V, only much cooler, and you were fighting all these awful monsters. And I had this handsome, mysterious lover who was one of the bad guys before he fell in love with me."
"Since when is Umino handsome and mysterious?" Usagi demanded.
"Not Umino, silly. One of the bad guys. I told you, this was a dream." This was bad, Naru thought. If Usagi was convinced that Naru was going with Umino... Could Umino be thinking the same thing? Naru sincerely hoped not. Umino was sweet and everything, but she didn't want to have a problem with him over Nephrite. "And you were in love with a hero called Tuxedo Mask, only he was really Chiba Mamoru." Naru smiled to herself, remembering Usagi's wildly swinging emotions when she told Naru about this discovery.
Usagi splurted cookie crumbs onto the bedspread. "Chiba Mamoru? That stuck-up jerk who hangs around with Motoki? That wasn't a dream you were having, it was a nightmare!"
Naru laughed. This could be fun... As long as Umino didn't think he was really going with her.
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Three nights after Beryl's defeat, Nephrite and the other nine remaining volunteers were gathered in the main tent after supper, playing cards, cleaning their rifles, and listening to the international news on the radio. The reception was poor, but one phrase caught everyone's attention, and all conversation stopped. "The Samaritan Project will resume hunger-relief efforts among refugees from the ethnic struggles. A spokesman for the agency said that the two million dollars offered by Tokyo tycoon Sanjouin Masato, on condition that the Samaritan Project return to the area, was too much money to turn down. Three other relief agencies are said to be considering similar offers. The Samaritan Project plans to have workers in place within the week."
Nephrite was aware of everyone else's eyes on him, though he kept his attention glued to the AK-47 he was reassembling. Finished with the gun, he set it on the floor next to the others. "That's good," he said, then left the tent, still without looking at anyone. He leaned against the truck he'd been driving the past few months, and thought of Naru. Another week; he should stay just long enough to make sure the Samaritan Project workers really came, then he could go home.
He wondered how Naru was doing. Usagi's disappearance must be hard on her; he was convinced that the Princess had collapsed in death after finally overcoming Beryl and Metallia. Naru would know what had happened, that Usagi had died fighting against evil; he wondered if this knowledge would compensate for the loss of her best friend. Human emotions were so difficult to figure out....
Nephrite turned his head to look at Monique as she walked towards him.
"Or should I say, Sanjouin?"
He looked away again, back at the stars just above the northern horizon. Stars that Naru would see more clearly than he could. "Masato, actually. It's last name first, in Japan."
Monique arrived at his side. "You don't look Japanese."
"I'm not from there originally."
"Where are you from, originally?"
Nephrite let one corner of his mouth quirk up in a small smile. "Nowhere you've ever heard of."
"Ah," Monique said. "That question is off-limits."
"Mm-hmm," Nephrite agreed.
"What about those explosions you can make come out of your hand?"
"Also off-limits. You wouldn't believe me, anyway."
"What about your little red-haired girl? Are those questions off-limits to her?" Monique sounded slightly bitter.
"Nothing about me is off-limits to her. She knows almost as much about me as I know myself."
"And you don't scare the hell out of her?"
Nephrite smiled, thinking of Naru's courage as she defended him against the Senshi. "Nothing scares her."
Monique was silent a moment. When she spoke again, her voice was tight with tears. "Max - Masato, I'm jealous of this little girl that you have no secrets from. What makes her so special to you that I can never hope to compete with her?"
Nephrite thought. Maybe there was no point in explaining, but he owed it to Monique, for her friendship and guidance, to try. "She knows the truth about me. She's seen me at my worst. She saw me try to destroy people she loves. And still, somehow, she saw something inside me besides that evil man, and believed in it."
"I could love you that much."
"What about Erik?"
Monique shrugged, and rubbed tears away from her cheek. "He isn't you."
"You should be glad of that. Believe me."
He hated to do it, it was probably wrong, but the situation called for desperate measures. Forgive me, Naru, he thought, and took Monique's chin in his hand and kissed her. She gasped, and threw her arms around his neck. I call upon the power of the stars, Nephrite thought. Give Erik my place in her feelings. A slight exertion of power, and the change was made. Or he hoped it was. Things could get very awkward if this hadn't worked.
Monique finally pulled away. "Thank you, Max," she said quietly. "That was very kind of you. But I see now that Erik... is the right man for me. I hope you understand."
He smiled. "I do understand."
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Eight days later, Nephrite sat on a plane headed for Tokyo. At the request of the remaining members of Gary's Group, as they had named themselves, he had stayed long enough to meet with the first Samaritan Project workers and brief them.
He was tense from his eagerness to get home. Breathing deeply, he tried to make himself relax and think about his agenda when he got back. He longed to see Naru right away, but he was not in any kind of presentable condition. The sparse, lukewarm shower he had taken at his hotel the night before his flight had done little to remove three months' worth of dust, sweat, and grime. He was still wearing his tangled, dirty hair in a ponytail; there was nothing else to be done with it.
He closed his eyes and thought of the giant whirlpool bath he'd had installed in his Tokyo mansion at a great deal of inconvenience and expense. Such material comforts were virtually unknown in the Dark Kingdom, so he had indulged himself in a very few of them in his Earth home. He thought of jets of hot water, soft towels, herbal soap, John Coltrane on the sound system, a glass of really expensive whiskey, Naru in the water with him....
Nephrite shook himself out of the half-dream he had fallen into. That last part was going to have to wait. He'd go home, get himself properly showered and shaved, and go see Naru right away. He reached into the pocket of his brown suede bomber jacket and fingered the present he'd bought for her, a necklace made of small wooden beads hand-carved into tiny animals. He hoped she would like it; he couldn't remember ever actually giving anyone a present before, except for when he had given Naru his gloves. He liked thinking of how her face would look as she exclaimed over the tiny, beautifully carved beads.
The plane landed around midnight. Nephrite had only his carry-on bag, so he was able to get through customs quickly and out to the traffic lanes that went past the terminal. He briefly thought about just teleporting home, then decided he was too tired. He hailed a taxi, and gave the driver directions to his mansion on the outskirts of the city, but as the taxi pulled out and headed towards the western suburbs, Nephrite couldn't get over the feeling that they were going in the wrong direction. It was only for a little while, he told himself. Just long enough for him to make himself presentable, and then he could see Naru. He'd been away from her for three months; another hour wouldn't hurt anything. But the farther the taxi went, the more restless Nephrite felt.
Finally he couldn't stop himself. "I'm sorry," he said to the driver. "I've changed my mind. I want to go to the Juuban district."
The driver shrugged, then turned the taxi around and started driving the other direction across the vast city. Nephrite sat back, feeling like the world was right now. He drummed his fingers on his leg in excitement. I'm on my way, Naru, he thought.
In front of the OSA*P jewelry shop, Nephrite got out and paid the driver, giving him an extra tip. He waited until the taxi disappeared around the corner, then took a deep breath and teleported into Naru's room.
She was asleep. Nephrite quietly set down his bag and walked close to the bed to look at her. She hadn't changed at all. He stood there, drinking in the sight of her. With a trembling hand, he caressed her cheek and hair.
"Mmm?" She stirred, opened her eyes, saw him, and quickly sat up. "Nephrite-sama!" she cried out quietly, and flung her arms around him.
Nephrite held her tightly, feeling the soft, warm curves of her body through the pink flannel nightgown, breathing in the fragrance of her hair. He didn't want to say anything, he just wanted to fill himself with the sight and feel of her. This is what it's like to come home, he thought.
Naru's shoulders were shaking, and she drew in a long, unsteady breath. Nephrite drew back from her a little and saw tears on her face. Why would she be crying? He brushed her tears away with his fingers. "Naru-chan? Is something wrong?"
Smiling, she shook her head. "I'm just so glad you're back. I missed you so much."
"Oh, Naru love." He gathered her close to him again. "I missed you too." He tilted her face back with his hand and kissed her, a long deep kiss to make up for three months of no kisses at all. Finally he pulled away, and cradled her head against his chest. He laughed a little. "I'm afraid I'm not very clean. There wasn't much water, where I was, and I was going to go home and get cleaned up before I came to see you, but I couldn't wait."
Naru rested her forehead against his and looked into his eyes. "I don't mind. I'm just glad you're here."
He kissed her again, briefly, then sat on the bed and settled her into his lap. She was so warm, and her body seemed to melt, to snuggle perfectly against his. "Tell me how you've been, Naru-chan."
"Oh, I've been fine. I've been very lonely, of course, without you, but Usagi -"
"Usagi? Is she all right? From what I saw of the final battle against the Dark Kingdom, I thought Usagi had - had not survived. I was worried about you, missing your best friend."
Naru laughed, a light, musical sound. "Usagi's fine. And so are the other girls, the other Senshi. The only thing is, they've lost their memories of the whole thing. I said something about it to Usagi, the day after they won, and she had no idea what I was talking about. They don't even remember that they know each other, except for Usagi and Ami, because they go to the same school so they made friends again."
"Really," Nephrite said. His mind was working on the implications of this. "So if Usagi were to see me, she wouldn't remember me as an enemy?"
"She'd have no idea who you were, except she's probably heard the name Sanjouin Masato."
"So she wouldn't try that Moon Tiara trick on me."
"No. She doesn't even remember that she has a Tiara."
A nagging worry that Nephrite hadn't even realized was there melted away. He squeezed Naru tight against him, then loosened his grip. "That's good, Naru-chan. Because I don't want us to have to hide how we feel about each other. I need to be a little careful, because you're so young, but I want us to be able to go out together without worrying about a Sailor Senshi sneaking up behind us."
Naru made a happy little sound. "Oh, Nephrite-sama, will you take me out? Soon? There's a café downtown, that serves the best chocolate parfaits, and I've always wanted to have one with you. Can we, please?"
Nephrite laughed and buried his face in her hair. He had never felt anything like this, at least not in all his thousand years as a Lord of the Dark Kingdom. "Of course we can, darling Naru. Tomorrow after school, you and Sanjouin Masato will have a very happy reunion right in front of Usagi, and then he will take you for the best chocolate parfait you've ever had. Okay?"
"Okay!" Naru replied, her eyes shining.
Nephrite held her another moment. "I should go," he said. "I shouldn't be keeping you awake so late, when you have school in the morning." Naru nodded, but her embrace tightened. "Oh, I almost forgot." Nephrite reached into his pocket and took out the necklace of wooden beads. "A present. For you."
"Oh!" Naru gasped in delight. She took the necklace and fingered the tiny carved beads. "Oh, it's cute! This came from where you were? In Africa?" She pulled the necklace over her head, and arranged it across the front of her nightgown.
"I bought it from a street vendor outside the airport."
"You were there helping the refugees from that war. I heard about your - Sanjouin Masato's - offer to the other agencies, to get them to come help."
Nephrite shrugged. "Something had to be done."
"I knew there was good in you, Nephrite-sama."
He wasn't quite as comfortable with her admiration as he would have liked to be. "I suppose I did something good, but I'm not sure I did it for the right reasons."
"Why did you do it, then?"
"Well, I needed to get away from here. The stars told me that if I tried to help the Senshi it would lead to disaster, and I wanted to go where no one from the Dark Kingdom could find me. I didn't want to die, now that I've found something to live for." He held Naru closer, and she wound her hand through his ponytail. "Also, I wanted to learn about good and evil, since the only thing I can remember ever knowing is evil, and doing good in the middle of an evil situation seemed like a good way to do that. And... I wanted to try to be worthy of you. I wanted you to be proud of me. So you see, my reasons were selfish."
"But the important thing is, you helped people, no matter why you did it. You still helped them."
Nephrite remembered his conversation with Monique on the same subject. For some reason, it was more convincing when Naru said that his motivations didn't matter than it was when he said it.
"Besides," Naru continued, "you didn't come home as soon as the war with the Dark Kingdom was over. You stayed until you knew more help was coming, right?"
"Well, yes, but that was just because I couldn't have faced you if I had just left the others without any more help."
"Because you knew that would have been wrong." Naru faced him, laid a hand gently against his cheek, then kissed him. "There is good in you, Nephrite-sama."
"There's something else I need to tell you." Nephrite cuddled her more closely against him. "Among the relief workers, there was a woman named Monique, that I was usually partnered with. We were friends, but she... liked me more than that. I told her I was already in love with someone else. Nothing happened between us, but I didn't want to feel as though I were hiding something from you."
Naru looked at him again. "It would be silly of me to not expect any other women to fall in love with you. But I know you love me, and that you're a good man. I'm not worried."
Nephrite kissed her, then brought his mouth to her ear. "Thank you, Naru." He paused, sighed. "I really have to go now." Or I'll want to stay all night, and who knows what would happen then? "I'll see you tomorrow afternoon, love, okay?"
"Okay. Oh, wait - your gloves." She took them out from under her pillow and held them out to him. "Remember, I promised I'd keep them safe for you until you came back."
Nephrite looked at the gloves, then folded Naru's slender fingers around them again. "I don't need them any more. You can keep them if you want."
Naru held the gloves against her cheek. "Maybe it's silly, but I would like to keep them. To remember when you first said you loved me."
Nephrite laughed a little. "To remember, then. Goodnight, my Naru." One more kiss, one more tight hug, then he stood, picked up his carry-on bag, and teleported back to the street outside. He looked up at Naru's window; she stood there, watching him. He waved at her, then walked off to try to find a taxi at this hour of the night. Now he was ready and eager for that bath.
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Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 1 Chapter 5
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury