Book 3 Chapter 3
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After a four-day honeymoon at the hotel at the lake where they had always liked to go, Nephrite resumed his heavy travel schedule, though he tried to never be gone longer than two weeks at a time. Naru's University classes helped keep her mind off Nephrite's absences. Compared to the time when he had been away for months on end, however, the two-week separations weren't so bad. Rei and Usagi were also planning their own weddings, and Naru, as the first bride among the group, was often called upon as the wedding expert, which also kept her from feeling too lonely.
When he was home, Nephrite, with Naru's assistance, continued his research into what sort of being Metallia was. Naru had a keen, orderly, intelligent mind, and did an excellent job of tracking down and acquiring books and manuscripts that might contain the information he needed. She kept detailed notes of everything he learned, and listened to his theories, pointing out their flaws and suggesting alternatives. Ever since they had first been together in this time and place, Nephrite had been developing a healthy respect for Naru's intelligence. He considered himself very fortunate to have a wife who was not only sweet and beautiful and who loved him truly and deeply, but who also had an intellect that he could respect and who was far wiser than he in many things.
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Nephrite's success in both his business and humanitarian endeavors continued to win him a great deal of attention. Most of it was admiring and respectful, but there were a few among his acquaintances and rivals who became filled with resentment towards him. Metallia began watching these, looking for the right one to serve her in a very specific way.
* * * * * * * *
On a chilly, wet late autumn night, Nephrite and Naru lay in front of the huge fireplace on the main floor of the mansion. They wore jeans and sweaters against the cold, and the floor was littered with books and sheets of paper covered with Naru's careful handwriting. Nephrite stared up at the firelight dancing on the high ceiling of the room. Naru was resting her head on his chest, and he stroked her hair slowly and evenly while he mulled over everything he had learned. He had begun to form another theory about Metallia, and this one seemed to have no flaws.
"Naru-chan," he finally said, "think about this. Think of all souls being created by Deity before any of them were born as mortals. Some of them rebelled against the Deity, wanting divine power, the same power that was used to create them, for themselves, or even to usurp the Deity's place. For their rebellion against their Creator, they're banished to eternal darkness and denied the power to take on physical forms."
Naru was silent for a long time, as he continued to stroke her hair. He had learned that just because she didn't answer right away, it didn't mean she hadn't heard him or didn't know what to say. She was carefully considering what he had said, and thinking about her reply.
"I think you're right," she eventually said. "It fits with everything we've learned. But, Nephrite," she put her forearms on his chest and raised her head up to look down at him, "if that is what she is, how will you ever find her? And how can you destroy something created by divine power? How can you destroy a soul?"
"Beryl's soul was destroyed by the Silver Crystal," Nephrite said thoughtfully.
After another, shorter, silence, Naru spoke again. "Nephrite, I'm afraid that if the Silver Crystal could destroy Metallia, it could also destroy you, since you are so closely bound to her."
"That thought had occurred to me," Nephrite said. "That whatever I do to destroy her might also destroy me.."
She lay her head back down on his chest. "Nephrite, I'm scared."
"I won't move until I'm sure of what I'm doing, Naru-chan. I promise. I've bought myself some time, by renouncing our contract and refusing to allow her to dictate my decisions. She's weak now; I can barely hear her anymore. I don't need to move quickly."
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In the cold, dark, distant place where she and her kind had been banished, Metallia fumed. He had discovered her true nature. He was now worse than useless; he was dangerous. She had to put a stop to his defiance before it permanently weakened her. Drawing heavily on the misery of the souls that were bound to her, she sent forth her power to the Earth, seeking more intently the one who could do what needed to be done.
* * * * * * * *
On Nephrite's next trip out of the country, he ended up being gone more than a month. Conditions in the war-torn country where he was helping to set up refugee relief camps had suddenly deteriorated badly, making it impossible for anyone to get in and out. This wasn't a difficulty for Nephrite, since he could have teleported out any time he wanted, but he felt an obligation to stay and try to negotiate safe passage for the relief workers. His efforts finally bore fruit, and he was able to go home.
Naru met him at the airport, in tears at seeing him after his longest absence since their marriage. For a long time he just held her, savoring the feeling of being home again after a long, uncertain absence.
Back home, soaking the dirt off in a blessedly hot bath, Nephrite thought about another homecoming, when he had longed for what he had now: Jets of hot water washing away the layers of dirt and sweat. Herbal soap and soft, thick towels. John Coltrane's mellow, intelligent sax on the stereo. A glass of very expensive whiskey in his hand. Scented candles burning on the tiled ledge around the bath; actually, that was Naru's contribution to the fantasy. And a beautiful wife in the water with him.
Nephrite looked at Naru where she sat a few feet away, resting her arms on the ledge, doing something arcane and feminine to her fingernails. Her wavy red hair was caught up out of the water with a big green ribbon. The swirling water flowed over and around her curves in a way that was all the more seductive for her being completely unaware of the effect.
"Hey," he said.
She looked up from what she was doing and met his eyes. He drained off the contents of his glass. "Get over here," he said.
Smiling, she complied....
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But the best part, Nephrite thought the next morning, was the luxury of spending a whole morning, or even a whole day, in bed with Naru. Though their secret nights together a thousand years before had been sweet, there was something deeply satisfying about being able to wake up at their leisure, dozing and stretching and talking sleepily, indulging in long, slow, lazy lovemaking, eating breakfast and reading the newspaper in bed and ignoring the telephone.
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In May, Rei and Yuuichirou abruptly dropped their plans for an elaborate June wedding, and were married in a freestyle ceremony on the beach, conducted by Rei's grandfather. Mr. Hino complained about the unorthodox proceedings, but finally confided to Rei's friends that he was glad that his headstrong granddaughter had at least managed to get married before her pregnancy started to show.
This was news to Naru, Usagi, and the others. During a quiet moment, they cornered the newlyweds. "Don't you think you're fooling us," Usagi said, grinning.
"Yeah," Makoto added. "We can count to nine."
"Hey, I'm only one month -" Rei caught herself, and she and Yuui blushed. The teasing ended with laughter and hugs, though Naru held back a bit, looking at Rei, marveling at the quiet miracle that was taking place inside her body. She realized that she envied Rei.
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Usagi and Mamoru followed in June, with an extravagant wedding that rivaled Nephrite and Naru's for elegance and had about four times as many guests. Nephrite, in his wedding tuxedo with the jade trims Naru had given him, and Naru, in a sophisticated gown of silvery blue silk, stood up with the bride and groom. During the ceremony, Naru kept glancing at Nephrite, smiling whenever she caught his eye, remembering their own wedding. Immediately afterwards, Naru watched in astonishment as her reserved husband hugged both the groom and the bride, then kissed Usagi on the forehead and spoke quietly to both of them for a moment before letting them walk back down the aisle and out of the wedding hall.
Naru took his arm as they followed the newlyweds out to the street. Usagi and Mamoru were climbing into the limo that would take them to one of Tokyo's finest hotels for the reception. "I wonder how many years it's going to take Mr. Tsukino to pay all this off," Nephrite said under his breath.
"Usagi-chan's his only daughter," Naru replied. "I'm sure he doesn't mind the expense. Is that what you were asking her, in there?"
Nephrite chuckled a little as he led Naru to the red Ferrari. "No. Actually," he sounded more serious, "I was apologizing for keeping them from getting married a long time ago."
"Oh," Naru said. "Because of... all that."
He nodded. "I'm trying to make up for as much as I can."
They reached the car, and Nephrite opened the passenger door for Naru. She turned to face him before she got in. "Nephrite, you're doing really well at that. Really."
Naru got in the car, then Nephrite went around to the other side. He sat for a moment, then took a deep breath and let it out. "Come on," he said, smiling. "Let's go celebrate the royal wedding."
* * * * * * * *
Three weeks later, while Naru was clearing up after breakfast, the phone rang. "Naru, guess what?" Usagi squealed before Naru could even say hello. Her voice seemed to echo strangely.
"You're what?" Naru asked. "Already? Are you sure?"
"Yes! I'm in the bathroom, and I'm looking at the stick right here, and the instructions say two blue lines means you're pregnant, and it's got two blue lines on it, so I'm pregnant!"
"Usagi! That's wonderful... right?"
"Well, Mamo wanted to wait until he finished his Master's degree, but I didn't, but we were going to wait anyway, but now... Oh, Naru, I'm going to have a baby! I wonder if it's little Usa. Maybe she won't seem like such a spore when I've carried her and given birth to her."
"I'm sure you'll love her, or him or whoever it is, all to pieces, Usagi-chan. I'm so happy for you!" But tears stung Naru's eyes and threatened to choke off her voice.
"What about you guys?" Usagi asked. "Aren't you going to have kids sometime?"
"Yeah, we want to right away," Naru said. "I was hoping it would have happened before now, but..."
"Oh, Naru, I'm sorry." Usagi sounded crestfallen. "Here I'm so happy, and you're probably worrying about why you aren't pregnant yet."
"Well, it isn't for lack of trying." Naru tried to put a casual, conversational tone in her voice. The last thing she wanted was to spoil Usagi's happiness. "But with Nephrite away on business so much, it's hard to, you know, get together at the right time. It'll happen sooner or later. In the meantime, I'm so busy with school that it's probably just as well I'm not getting morning sickness and stuff."
"If you say so," Usagi said doubtfully. "I'll keep hoping for you, okay? And you let me know the minute that second line turns blue, okay?"
"Okay." Naru had to smile; once Usagi decided to cheer someone up, it was impossible to keep from smiling, though the smile didn't reach her heart. "Congratulations, Usagi. I'm happy for you. I really am."
Naru hung up the phone and burst into tears.
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Late that morning, at the office, Nephrite received a letter from Takita Reizo, the owner of a chain of department stores. Takita was one of Nephrite's largest customers for imported jewelry and housewares. Nephrite opened the letter curiously; normally, he only communicated with the company's buyers, but this letter had come from the office of Takita Reizo himself. He became even more curious when he saw that the letter was handwritten.
"Mr. Sanjouin," it read, "I have recently had personal communication with Shimura Jiro, your rival in the jewelry import business. He proposed to me an arrangement whereby we could purchase jewelry from the artisans much more cheaply and still sell it for the same price which it now sells for. Upon reviewing his proposal, I found several aspects of it which I considered to be dishonest and unethical, if not illegal. I informed Mr. Shimura that I prefer to do business with a man of honor and integrity, a man such as Sanjouin Masato, even if it means giving up profits. I have written this note to you for two reasons: to tell you of my regard and respect for you, and to warn you that Shimura Jiro is attempting to undermine or even ruin your business. Sincerely, Takita Reizo."
Nephrite stared at the note. He had already had run-ins with Shimura, an oily character who was rumored to have underworld connections. That part was no surprise, though it was unlike Shimura Jiro to approach someone at Takita Reizo's level personally. What was hard for him to comprehend was the words of praise from Takita, one of the most respected businessmen in supremely honor-conscious Japan. If Takita Reizo thought so highly of him, maybe he was a good man after all. He briefly wondered what good it did him to be considered a man of honor and integrity as long as Metallia still existed and had claim upon his soul. But he knew, deep inside, that the only way he could ever hope to overcome Metallia and be forgiven for his treason and betrayal and the countless killings and other crimes he had committed was to be as much unlike Metallia as he could. Nephrite dropped the note into his briefcase to take home. Maybe Naru would be pleased to see it.
Over the next few hours, Nephrite's mind kept returning to the problem of Shimura Jiro. He didn't like his rival's sudden boldness. He wondered if this might be some plot of Metallia's, to force him to serve her by ruining his business. He laughed at the notion and tried to return his mind to his work, but he felt restless. Finally, early in the afternoon, he gave up and decided to go home.
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He walked in the front door, calling, "Naru-chan! I'm home!" as he loosened his tie and set down his briefcase.
"Hi," she said quietly from the sofa in front of the fireplace. Nephrite looked at her. She was sitting huddled in the corner of the sofa, hugging a huge cushion. She hadn't changed out of her pajamas or fixed her hair. Her face looked blotchy and tear-streaked from crying.
"Naru." He walked quickly to the sofa and sat down beside her. "Is something wrong?"
"Usagi's pregnant," she said in a small voice.
"Already? But that's good news, isn't it?"
Naru sniffed, and rubbed the back of her hand across her eyes as she nodded.
"Tell me what's wrong, Naru."
"Usagi's pregnant, and Rei's pregnant..." She started crying. "And I'm not!"
Nephrite pulled his sobbing wife against his chest. "Naru, I'm sorry, I had no idea this was bothering you."
"I'm sorry." She could barely speak through her tears. "I know I shouldn't think this, but I keep thinking that if you weren't gone so much, there'd be a better chance that we could, you know, at the right time, and I'd get pregnant, but I keep worrying that something's wrong with me, you know, and I'll never be able to have a baby...."
Nephrite looked down at her, mentally kicking himself. He'd been so proud of himself, building his business, doing good in places where good works were so desperately needed, gaining the respect of men like Takita Reizo, while all the time he'd been neglecting the most important part of his life. Everything he'd done, he'd done for her. If he was ever to break free of the demon, it would be because of Naru. She deserved so much more than he'd given her.
He took his cell phone from his coat pocket, and dialed his secretary's number. "Yuriko," he said when she answered, "I want you to cancel all my trips, and don't schedule any more until further notice. At least the next three months." Naru suddenly stopped crying, and looked up at him.
"But, Sanjouin-san, you need to -" Yuriko started to protest.
"I know. But right now, my wife needs me more."
"Ah, I see. Is she perhaps..." The secretary-youma let her voice trail off tactfully, but Nephrite knew what she meant.
"No. That's the problem, actually. I want to take some time to try to rectify the situation."
"I see. Very well, I'll make the cancellations. Perhaps Kyoko and I can handle some of the business you were going to see to?"
"That would be good. The two of you work it out."
"As you wish, Sanjouin-san. And may I wish you good luck in your endeavors."
Nephrite felt himself smile. "Thank you, Yuriko." He hung up the phone and set it on the coffee table, then looked at Naru. How could he have neglected her so? "All right, Naru-chan," he said, meeting her eyes directly. "You want a baby? Let's go make a baby." He scooped her up, slung her over his shoulder, and carried her upstairs while she laughed and pounded on his back.
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Later, Nephrite remembered the letter he'd brought home to show Naru. She was lying on her side, facing away from him, asleep. He raised himself over her and just looked at her for a moment, remembering how young she had looked, asleep that way, the night when he had first realized he loved her. Nearly five years had passed since then, but she still looked so innocent and vulnerable in her sleep. And when she was awake, he thought. There was a pure, childlike quality about her that he hoped nothing would ever be able to destroy. He would do everything he could to protect her against the kind of heartbreak and hardship that could ruin her innocence.
He kissed her cheek, and her blue-green eyes, soft and heavy with sleep, opened. "I brought something home to show you," he said. "I'll be right back."
He got out of bed, decided not to bother with putting anything on, went downstairs, got the letter from his briefcase, and went back upstairs. Naru was sitting up, propped up by several pillows. Nephrite got back into bed and pulled her close to him. "I got this today," he said, and handed her the letter.
Naru read it, then looked at him, her eyes shining. "That's very high praise, coming from someone like Takito-san."
"I know. I'm not sure I deserve it."
"You do. You're a good man, Nephrite, and I'm not the only one who thinks so."
"I thought I was doing all right, until I realized how I'd been neglecting you."
"But you've been doing so many important things, to help others."
"And making lots of money. That isn't important. I shouldn't have been spending so much time on it."
She kissed his chest, right over his heart. "No one's perfect, Nephrite."
"I'm afraid that's what I'm going to have to be," he said softly.
They were silent for a few moments. Then Naru said, "Well, anyway, I'm very proud of you, that Takito Reizo thinks so highly of you. He must be a very intelligent man, to prefer doing business with you."
Nephrite chuckled a little, and held her even closer. Too close for them to just remain sitting up like that. He started to ease her back down onto the bed.
Naru spoke again. "But I'm worried that - Nephrite, stop that, I'm trying to say something - that Shimura Jiro might cause trouble for you."
"Who cares about Shimura Jiro?" Nephrite growled into her hair. "He's just an oily little rat. No one takes him seriously."
Like Zoisite, Naru thought, then wondered where the thought had come from, then she lost the thread of the thought as Nephrite worked his magic on her.
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Shimura Jiro sat in his office, thinking about how much he hated Sanjouin Masato. He looked around at his surroundings. He had bought the most expensive furnishings he could afford, but they looked cheap and tacky compared to the flawless, understated elegance of Sanjouin Masato's offices. Exactly the same thing could be said of their clothes: cheap and tacky, though he patronized the most stylish shops he could afford, compared to flawless and elegant.
Come to think of it, Jiro thought, the same thing even applied to their women. He had himself an expensive blonde magazine model for a girlfriend, but she looked like a slut compared to that radiant young thing Sanjouin had married. Sanjouin had been dating the girl since she was fifteen, and, some time ago, Jiro had set some men to investigating whether there might be a scandal there, child molestation or statutory rape or something. What they found, to Shimura Jiro's disgust, was that Sanjouin's behavior with his little girlfriend had been above reproach, and the whole relationship had had the girl's mother's wholehearted approval.
Takita Reizo's rebuff still stung. Takita would rather lose money than deal with him. Sanjouin had all the good contracts tied up, and no one on either the supplier or buyer end wanted to cut Shimura in on the action. Somehow, some way, he vowed, he would find a way to ruin Sanjouin Masato, and then he would have everything he had ever wanted.
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Metallia stirred from her weakness. Somewhere a soul was calling to her, somewhere someone wanted what she could give, though he didn't know it yet. She had found her servant. She was too weak, though. She couldn't contact him....
She had to try. Even the slightest initial contact with human energy would revive her, give her the strength to find her servant and bind him to her. She strove and stretched, trying to draw energy from the miserable, tormented souls that were in bondage to her. She was almost too weak to do even that much. But finally, using all her strength, she was able to reach out to the soul that was in turn reaching out for her.
Briefly, barely, they touched. Metallia tasted of the hatred and envy in the man's heart, and felt strength begin to flow through her. For a moment she was disappointed. Like all the other servants she had found during this age, the man had no gift for magic, making him of very limited use. But she wanted him for a single, specific purpose which could be carried out with very little magic. If she became stronger, she could supply the little that would be needed. He would do. I can help you, she said to him.
* * * * * * * *
Shimura Jiro felt it, the presence of someone who understood his hatred of Sanjouin Masato, who understood his need to destroy him. I can help you...
He looked around; no one was in the room with him. But the words, the tone of voice, though faint, had been distinct. It hadn't been his imagination, surely it hadn't.
The voice spoke again, stronger this time. I can help you.
Who are you? he called out in his mind.
There was no answer, but Jiro know that he had found a kindred soul, another member of the Sanjouin Masato Must Go To Hell club. He wondered for a moment if he were crazy, then decided it was worth taking the chance that he was. He would wait and listen.
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Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 3 Chapter 4
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury