Book 1 Chapter 5
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"What are you so happy about this afternoon?" Usagi asked as she and Naru walked home from school the next day. It was a windy, cloudy winter day and the two girls were bundled in heavy coats and scarves.
Naru smiled at her friend. Usagi was always in a bad mood, ever since her memories of the Dark Kingdom had been erased. She couldn't get over the feeling that something was wrong. Though she knew she shouldn't, Naru enjoyed teasing Usagi about things she didn't remember. "I had another wonderful dream last night, about my handsome, mysterious lover."
"You and your dreams," Usagi said. "I still haven't forgiven you for dreaming that I was in love with Chiba Mamoru. So what does this guy look like, that you keep dreaming about?"
"Oh, he's gorgeous." Naru felt her cheeks flame. "He's tall, and very hunky, and has the most beautiful blue eyes and gorgeous face and long wavy hair that's kind of this dark brownish-red color."
"Hmm. Sounds nice, but I like guys with blond or black hair better."
"Like Motoki or Mamoru?"
"You --!" Usagi raised her satchel to swing it at Naru's head.
Naru laughed and started to run away. From behind her, she heard a familiar deep voice call, "Naru-chan! Osaka Naru!" Her heart thudded. She turned and saw Nephrite. He wore dark pants and shirt with a hand-knit sweater, and a gray overcoat with a wine-colored scarf draped under the collar. His hair flowed loose over his shoulders and back. Naru caught her breath at the sight of him. Usagi stared, her mouth hanging open.
"Naru-chan," Nephrite said again.
"Sanjouin-sama!" Naru cried, and ran to him. He opened his arms to her and caught her up as she flung her arms around him.
"Naru-chan," he whispered into her ear, his voice husky and breathless. Then he kissed her. Naru didn't even think about what it must look like, Nephrite kissing her on the mouth right there in the middle of the sidewalk. She didn't care if people were scandalized.
Finally he set her down, and she turned to face Usagi. Her friend was definitely scandalized. She hadn't moved; she was still staring at the pair with her mouth and eyes wide open. Naru took Nephrite's arm and led him over to Usagi. "Sanjouin-sama, you remember my best friend, Usagi, don't you? Usagi, you must remember Sanjouin Masato-san. He's just come home from a long trip out of the country."
Nephrite smiled as he picked up on Naru's game. "Of course I remember. It's very nice to see you again, Usagi."
Usagi bowed slightly, chewing her lip, scowling in confusion. "I've heard of you, Sanjouin-san. I know you offered a lot of money for people to go in and help the people in that war, but..."
"Don't worry if you don't remember me," Nephrite said. "After all, we've only met once or twice."
Usagi sighed and nodded. "Forgive me. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering people." She caught Naru's eye and mouthed, That's the guy from your dream!
Naru winked at her, then turned to Nephrite. "Now, Sanjouin Masato-sama, can we have that chocolate parfait you promised me?"
Nephrite put his arm around her shoulders. "Of course, Naru. Would you care to join us, Usagi?"
Naru glimpsed a streak of black. Luna, Usagi's small black cat had appeared. She clawed at Usagi's sock. "I'd better not," Usagi said reluctantly. "I'm too far behind on my homework. It's very nice to meet you, Sanjouin-san." She bowed slightly again, then turned away to walk home, glancing back over her shoulder at Naru and Nephrite every several steps.
They stood watching until Usagi turned a corner and was out of sight. Nephrite laughed, a deep, infectious chuckle, and Naru giggled. "It's wicked of me to tease her so, but I can't help it," Naru said. "One of these days she'll remember - Luna, her guardian, told me so - and she'll be so mad at me. But it's worth it. Especially telling her she's in love with Chiba Mamoru," Naru continued as Nephrite led her to his car, which was parked the next block up. "She's forgotten that he's Tuxedo Mask and she's madly in love with him. Right now she thinks she hates him."
At the café, they were seated at a table for two by the window. Nephrite refused the offered menus, and ordered for himself and Naru. A large chocolate parfait with two spoons, coffee and hazelnut biscotti for himself, and cherry soda for Naru. When the waiter left, Nephrite wound his fingers through Naru's and smiled at her. She beamed back at him, hardly able to believe that this was really happening.
"You look pretty in the cold weather," he said. "You always look pretty, but especially when your cheeks are all pink and your eyes are sparkling like this."
Naru blushed and looked down at the table. "I think it's just because I'm so happy."
"Whatever. You're beautiful, Naru. When I was away, I tried hard to keep in my mind how beautiful you are, but it didn't come close to sitting here actually looking at you."
Naru couldn't think of anything to say. She couldn't imagine ever being any happier than she was right at this moment.
Nephrite squeezed her hand. "I spoke to your mother earlier this afternoon, asked her permission to see you. Since you're so young, I want to be careful to observe all the proprieties."
"What did Mama say?"
He laughed. "At first, as you might imagine, she was speechless. Sanjouin Masato wanting to date her daughter came as rather a surprise, I think. Then she said she supposed you could do worse, and gave her approval on the condition that I conduct myself as a gentleman at all times."
"But you will," Naru said. "You're always a perfect gentleman."
Again that deep laugh that made her feel all smooshy inside. "That, my dear," he kissed the palm of her hand and pressed it against his cheek, "remains to be seen."
Naru thought she would melt right through her chair.
The parfait arrived, a glorious concoction of dark chocolate mousse, whipped cream, nuts, and dark cherries. Naru and Nephrite made short work of it, feeding it to each other with the long spoons. Then Naru sipped her cherry soda, thirsty after eating the rich dessert, while Nephrite savored his coffee and biscotti. "Have you ever tried this?" he asked, dunking one of the hard cookies in the coffee then holding it towards Naru.
Naru took a bite. "Mmm. It's almost as good as the parfait."
"Nothing like this in the Dark Kingdom," Nephrite said. "You humans know how to live."
Naru giggled, then a voice behind her said, "Hey, Naru-chan!"
Naru nearly jumped off her chair, then turned around to glare at Umino, standing behind her. "One of these days, Gurio Umino, you're going to sneak up on someone and they're going to knock your head off. What are you doing here?"
"Did you give my message to Usagi-chan?"
Naru closed her eyes and sighed. Umino's stupid message... "I'm sorry, Umino. I forgot. How did you find me here? In case you haven't noticed, I'm in the middle of a date."
"Usagi-chan told me you were going to your favorite café with some guy." Through the thick lenses of his glasses, Naru could just barely see Umino's eyes stray to the "some guy."
"Umino, this is Sanjouin Masato-san. Sanjouin-san, this is Gurio Umino. A boy from my school," Naru said.
Umino bowed slightly, and Nephrite nodded to him.
"So, Umino," Naru said, "if you talked to Usagi, why didn't you give her the message yourself?"
Umino blushed. "I... I couldn't. I'd just get all confused, and then..."
"Oh, all right. I'll phone her this evening. Sunday afternoon, ship-building museum, ice cream. Right?"
Umino grinned broadly. "Right. Thanks, Naru-chan. Gotta go - I'm behind in my extra-credit work. Nice meeting you, Sanjouin-san." The boy ran from the café.
"What was that?" Nephrite asked.
"That was Umino, the school pest, the school brain, and the school gossip. It's so funny. He's in love with Usagi, but Usagi thinks he's in love with me because he'll hardly talk to her any more, only to me. She actually had me worried, right after everyone's memories were changed, she was so convinced I was dating Umino. I was afraid he would think so too."
"What if he did?"
"I'd have had to dump him. Umino may be a pest, but he's sweet, in his own strange way, and I would have felt bad, having to hurt his feelings." Nephrite gripped her hand, and a strange kind of lost look passed over his handsome face. "What's wrong, Nephrite-sama?"
He gave her a small, brief smile. "I was just thinking, I have no memories of when I was your age. I don't know if I was ever young like you and Usagi and Umino. All I have are the memories of a thousand years of evil."
Naru gently touched his cheek, and brushed a lock of his long hair back behind his ear. "You have more than that, now."
He pressed her fingers to his mouth. "Thanks to you."
"And there was the time you were in Africa, helping those refugees. That should be something good to remember, isn't it?"
He nodded, her fingers still against his lips. Then he put her hand on the table and covered it with his own. "I've got a new life now," he said. "Nothing that happened before matters anymore."
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Naru had homework, so Nephrite took her home, then went to the offices of Sanjouin International, Ltd. to tie up a few loose ends for the day. He arranged for payment of the US $2 million to the four relief agencies that had accepted his offer, then added an extra half-million to each donation. The half-dozen office youma had done an admirable job of running the business during his absence; he finished reviewing their reports, and gave them each a substantial raise. Then he headed home, stopping at a supermarket on the way to stock up on his favorite gourmet frozen pizza.
Nephrite lay in bed late that night, filled with a pleasant and unfamiliar sense of well-being. He reviewed the day, his conversation with Mrs. Osaka, his date with Naru, going to the office to resume the work that he found fascinating, fulfilling his pledges with more money than he had promised originally. It had been a good day, the best day in his memory. He rolled onto his side and fell asleep thinking of Naru.
He awoke, chilled and sweaty, paralyzed by a sense of dread. He thought he had heard laughter, laughter that had haunted his nightmares for a thousand years.
There it was again, faint and echoing, dreamlike but not a dream. Metallia's laughter, then her voice, invading his mind, turning his blood to ice. You think you've gotten away with something, don't you, Nephrite?
"You don't exist," he said out loud. "You were destroyed when Beryl was destroyed."
I cannot be destroyed. You are my one servant left upon the Earth, and I will always be your queen.
"I will not. I left the Dark Kingdom. I left Beryl's service, and yours. My blood is red now."
Hah. That was just a silly little conceit of Beryl's. The color of your blood means nothing. You cannot leave my service. You and Beryl were the only ones who joined me of your own free will. You gave yourself to me knowing full well what you were doing. You can never be free of me unless you are destroyed as Beryl was destroyed.
"I will not serve you!" Nephrite's shout echoed throughout his mansion from the loft where his bedroom was.
You have no choice. You can do as much good as you want, you can pretend you have a new life, but sooner or later, you will serve me. Everything you touch will be corrupted, and you will destroy that which you love. It is inevitable, because I am a part of you and always will be.
"No!" Nephrite cried, as Metallia's laughter faded.
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Naru awoke. She had fallen asleep thinking happily of her date with Nephrite that afternoon, but now a sense of unease filled her. Nephrite's gloves were still under her pillow, where she kept them every night now; clutching them, and fingering the necklace of wooden beads she was wearing, she got up and went to the window and looked out at the city night. "Nephrite-sama," she whispered.
Stars danced into sight. One of them, a large, brilliant bluish-white star, seemed to be looking directly at her. Naru returned its gaze, and felt rather than heard a soft, slightly chiming voice. Have faith in him, child. Do not despair, do not lose hope. He is not as free as he thinks he is, but he can be, one day. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it.
Naru pressed Nephrite's gloves to her lips. It would not be easy... Not every day would be like today had been, where they could be together and be happy with nothing worse than Umino bothering them. It isn't fair, she thought.
Poor child, said the star. Your childhood is over. You must be a woman for him now. You must be strong and faithful.
"What if I can't?" Naru asked. She didn't understand what she was supposed to do. Tears pooled in her eyes, then spilled down her cheeks.
You can do it, child. I have watched you long, and I know you can do it.
"Who are you?" Naru whispered.
I am called Vega, in the constellation called Lyra, and I watch over those who love but cannot be together. I will always be with you and him, no matter what.
Naru nodded, and wiped her tears away. She could be strong for Nephrite. She had to. "Thank you."
A final caress, an overwhelming sense of love and safety, then the star faded from sight. Naru stood at the window, Nephrite's gloves still resting against her lips. She felt so sleepy.... She went back to bed, and dreamed of eating chocolate parfaits with Nephrite while the stars wove ribbons around them, binding them to each other forever.
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He wouldn't give in. He would resist Metallia, he would go wherever her influence was and fight her, he would hunt her down and destroy her. He would not turn to evil again.
Nephrite stood at his bedroom window, looking out over the starlit woods, thinking about what to do. He would have to go away from Naru again. He didn't want to, but he had no choice, if they were to be able to have a life together one day. "Naru," he whispered. I will not let her harm you. I will not let her force me to harm you.
Long into the night he stood at the window, shivering in the cold air, talking to the stars and making his plans.
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The next day, thanks to Umino, the whole school knew that Naru had been on a date with the very handsome, very rich business tycoon Sanjouin Masato. Naru tried to ignore the stares and whispers, the questions thrown at her by friends, acquaintances, and strangers alike. She tried to be patient, and make polite non-answers to the questions, but she finally snapped and said, "Umino knows everything, why don't you go ask him?" when someone she didn't even know asked if Sanjouin-san was planning to marry her.
She was feeling unsettled after her dream the night before. Or had it been a dream? It had seemed so real, but it was so strange... To think that a star had been talking to her. That day at lunch she looked up "Vega" in an astronomy book in the school library and found that while there was indeed such a star, it shouldn't have been visible at that particular time on that particular date.
But the star's words still sounded clearly in Naru's mind. Nephrite wasn't free, things would not be easy for them. She had to be strong, she had to be faithful, she had to be brave. Nephrite was depending on her, and she had to be a woman for him now. The happiness Naru had felt over their date the day before had been replaced by fear, and by sadness for what was being lost. Why couldn't they just be happy together without worrying about the past?
As the day passed, Naru grew more worried and upset. What if something had happened to Nephrite? What if he had had to go away again suddenly, without being able to tell her goodbye, and she wouldn't know where he was or if he was all right, or when he could come back? What if he never came back?
When Naru went out the front gate after school and saw Nephrite's car parked at the curb, Nephrite leaning against it, she froze briefly in disbelief. He hadn't had to go away. He was all right, and he was there, waiting for her. She hadn't needed to be so afraid. She gave a small cry and ran to him, oblivious to the stares and whispers of her schoolmates, and Nephrite gathered her close to him. "Oh, Naru, I'm so glad to see you." There was a harsh, desperate edge to his whisper.
"I was so worried about you, Nephrite-sama," she whispered back.
"Come with me. We need to talk."
They drove to a park, then got out and walked to a secluded bench in the middle of a stand of trees. They sat down together, and Nephrite put an arm around Naru's shoulders and pulled her close. "Naru-chan, I have to tell you something. This isn't easy to say...."
"I know, Nephrite-sama. A star talked to me last night, and told me you aren't free from that evil kingdom after all."
He looked at her, his eyebrows furrowed together. "Which star?"
"A big, bright one, kind of bluish. It said its name was Vega, in the constellation Lyra, and that it watches over people who love each other who can't be together."
"Vega," Nephrite murmured, and pulled Naru even more tightly against him. "It isn't the Dark Kingdom," he said after a moment. "It's the demon who guided Beryl when Beryl founded the Dark Kingdom. I'm still... I'm still bound to her. To Metallia. Sooner or later she will turn me evil again, unless I fight back. I've got to find a way to destroy her. Otherwise, the only way I'll ever be free is if I'm destroyed as Beryl was."
Naru tried to ignore the cold fear that washed through her. She had to be strong for him, she had to be brave. Hesitantly, she rested a mittened hand on one of Nephrite's long, lean legs. Nothing bad happened, and he didn't object or try to move her hand, so she patted his thigh in what she hoped was a comforting gesture. "You do what you have to do, Nephrite, and I'll do whatever I can to help. I have faith in you. I'll wait however long it takes."
"Oh, Naru." He gathered her close to him and buried his face against her hair for a moment, before letting her sit back again. "I have to go away again, Naru. To find Metallia, I have to go to places where her influence might be... Places like where I was in Africa, where there's evil. I'm hoping I can weaken her, and strengthen myself, by fighting against evil. And if I can talk to some of the humans... I mean people who are responsible for such evil, maybe I can trace Metallia that way."
"It'll be dangerous."
"I know. But I don't see any other way. I'll come back as often as I can, but, Naru, you need to understand that I may not be able to come back at all."
"Did you ask the stars what to do?"
"Yes. They told me this is a good course of action. They did not tell me if it was the best, or if it would be successful."
"They'll watch over you, Nephrite. I know they will. You'll be all right." Naru hoped her own doubts and desperate fears didn't come through in her voice. He could die....
"Oh, my Naru-chan." Nephrite rubbed his hand along her shoulder, then tangled his fingers through her hair. "You're trying so hard to be brave, my love. And I'm very grateful." He pulled away and reached into the pocket of his overcoat. "I have something for you. From your mother's store. I asked your mother what would be appropriate for a girl your age, and she suggested this." He handed Naru a small box covered in OSA*P's signature emerald velvet.
Her hands shaking, Naru opened the box. It contained a slender gold ring, with two small openwork hearts that overlapped. A tiny diamond was set into the area where the hearts overlapped. "Ohh," she breathed. "It's beautiful!"
Nephrite pulled off Naru's right mitten and slid the ring onto her third finger. Then he held her small hand in his much larger, stronger hands and looked at the ring for a moment. "I wanted to give you something to help you remember that I love you even though I can't be with you. It's because I love you that I have to go away and fight against Metallia. Everything I do, Naru, I do for you. Please remember that."
"I will, Nephrite-sama." Naru rested her right hand, with its new ring, against his face, then reached up and kissed him. "You remember that I'll wait for you no matter how long it takes, okay?"
"Okay." He returned her kiss, then they stood to walk, hand in hand, back to the car.
"Where do you think you'll go first?" Naru asked.
"Back to where I was working before, in Africa. I'm hoping to talk to the warlords behind the fighting, find out if they might have been influenced by Metallia. And I want to see how the relief work is going."
Naru nodded. After a moment she said, "You'll see your friend again. What's her name?"
"Monique. Yes, I'll probably see her. You needn't worry about that, Naru." He stopped, and pulled her in front of him to face him. "No one can break the hold you have on me. No one."
Naru looked up into his face. "I trust you, Nephrite. I'm not worried." He gave her a quick hug, then they walked on. "Is she beautiful?"
Nephrite gave a small laugh, the first time he had laughed that afternoon, and shrugged. "I suppose so. She's blonde, though, and I have a definite preference for redheads, as you might have noticed."
Naru laughed too, looking up at his own dark red hair. "Just because you're one -"
He laughed again and pulled her close, ruffling his hand through her thick, wavy hair. "I'd say we're perfectly matched, wouldn't you?"
"Yes." Naru hugged him around his waist. Her fears, while not gone, were lightened considerably, and her mood had brightened. "Everything will be all right, Nephrite-sama. I know it will."
Nephrite didn't answer. He just smiled down at her and dropped a kiss on her forehead.
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Vega, he thought. In the constellation Lyra, named for the lyre of Orpheus, who failed in his attempt to bring his beloved wife Eurydice back from the dead. It was said that Vega watched over lovers who were forced apart. Especially those who were forced apart by death.
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Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 1 Chapter 6
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury