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Lyra's Children
by Moon Momma

Book 3 Chapter 5

* * * * * * * *

Monique came down the stairs of her fashionable Paris apartment to find Erik already at the breakfast table, reading the paper. "Good morning, darling," she said, sitting down and helping herself to a roll and coffee.

A grim look on his face, Erik handed her the paper. "An old friend is in the news. And for the worst possible reason."

"Let's see." Monique unfolded the paper to the front page, and drew in a sharp breath when she saw the headline, "Wealthy Tokyo Humanitarian Sanjouin Masato Murdered."

"Oh, no," she whispered. Though she didn't want to, she forced herself to read the article.

"Japanese business tycoon and world-famous humanitarian Sanjouin Masato was gunned down Tuesday night in a Tokyo park. He died of shots fired from one or more automatic rifles. His wife of one year, Naru, witnessed the killing, but was unable to provide police or reporters with a statement. She was taken to an undisclosed hospital and treated for shock. Police refused to say whether there were any other witnesses. However, close friends of the couple, who asked to remain unidentified, told reporters that Mr. Sanjouin had told them earlier in the evening that his wife had been kidnapped by a business rival of his, Shimura Jiro. It appears that Mr. Sanjouin was on his way to deliver the ransom to the kidnappers when they opened fire on him. Police have thus far been unable to locate Mr. Shimura, anyone else who might have participated in the crimes, or the weapons used." There were several paragraphs about Masato's business and humanitarian activities; Monique skimmed over these. The article ended, "Mr. Sanjouin's only known survivor is his wife Naru, nee Osaka, who is expecting the couple's first child."

"Ohh..." Monique said. Tears filled her eyes and spilled over onto her cheeks. "How terrible."

"I know how you felt about him," Erik said quietly. "I'm sorry."

"I -" Monique tried to smile at her lover, but couldn't quite do it. "I think I got over him a long time ago. But it's still - Poor Masato. I can't believe it. And his wife -" Monique thought for a moment. "Erik, I think I should go to Tokyo. I'd like to pay my respects in person."

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"Yes. Yes, I'm sure." For some reason that she couldn't begin to guess at, Monique felt that Tokyo was the most important place in the world for her to be right now.

* * * * * * * *

Sailor Pluto returned to the mist-filled room where Nephrite waited. "Congratulations, Nephrite," she said. "You've made the right choice. You may love Naru more than anything, even more than your honor or your own soul, but that love is pure and unselfish. Because of that, and because you did become a good man at the end, you will be permitted to finish your hunt for Metallia and face her. If you are able to destroy her, you will be released from your oaths to her."

"But how am I to find her?" Nephrite asked. "Aren't I trapped here?"

Setsuna smiled a little. "You aren't trapped here. This is your refuge, a place made by the stars to temporarily protect you from Metallia's grasp, until you are ready to leave. Your soul is bound to Metallia. To find her, you must allow yourself to be drawn to her, but you also must remember who you are and hold fast to your faith in the stars. If you do, the stars will be able to protect you."

Remember, have faith... It seemed impossible, without Naru. "I can't," Nephrite whispered. "If I can't be with Naru, it doesn't matter what happens to me."

Setsuna shrugged. "Then you are lost."

* * * * * * * *

Since no one knew for sure what nationality Sanjouin Masato had been, or what his religious preferences, if any, were, there was a great deal of uncertainty about what should be done for him. Naru was incapable of making any decisions at all, so her mother eventually decided on the traditional funeral ceremonies and cremation, and she, Usagi, and Mamoru took over the arrangements and duties that normally would be handled by the deceased's closest relatives.

In the midst of all the activity, Naru kept telling herself that it wasn't really happening. People asked questions about funerals and announcements and wills and such things, but she shut the words from her mind. If she could only believe hard enough that it wasn't happening, she could make it go away. Nephrite would come walking in the door, like he did every day, loosening his necktie and calling out, "Naru-chan! I'm home!" Then he would come into the kitchen where she was fixing supper, and rub her shoulders while she cooked and they talked about the day. Or he would turn off the stove, lift her into his arms, and carry her upstairs, and they would fall, laughing, onto their big bed ....

She let the others go about their business, let them maneuver her from one thing to another. None of it mattered. It wasn't really happening. She sat in the Hikawa Shrine, wearing a subdued suit her mother had put on her, listening to Rei's grandfather say a lot of things that didn't make any sense. It didn't matter what he was saying, for surely, sometime soon, Nephrite would appear, he would walk up to her, laughing at what a joke this had all been, and put his arms around her and kiss her, then gently pat her stomach, greeting the baby.

They climbed into cars, went back to the mansion. There was food, lots of food, and lots of people shaking Naru's hand, hugging her, talking to her. Yuriko and Elsa and Kyoko were there, along with the other youma and humans who worked for Sanjouin International. Their faces were red and tear-streaked as they hugged Naru and told her how sorry they were. Usagi, Ami, Rei, Makoto, and Minako moved around in the background, making sure the trays of food were kept full and attractively arranged, talking to visitors, showing people in and out. They also hugged Naru a lot. Naru's mother sat beside her on the couch the whole time, holding her hand tightly. Why were they all doing this, Naru wondered, if Nephrite was going to walk in the door any moment now and scoop her up into his arms?

An elegantly-dressed middle-aged man stopped in front of Naru. Her mother helped her stand, then bowed slightly. "Takita Reizo-san. We're so honored that you're here. I am Mrs. Osaka, Mrs. Sanjouin's mother."

"How I wish I weren't here, Mrs. Osaka," the man replied. He took both of Naru's hands in his. "I am so sorry, Mrs. Sanjouin. So, so terribly sorry. And to think that my rejection of Shimura Jiro may have led to this... I shall never forgive myself."

At the mention of Shimura Jiro's name, Naru felt a sudden pain grab at her heart. The memories of that awful night threatened to flood back into her mind. She closed her eyes against the pain, and turned her face away from Mr. Takita while her mother said, "I don't think any of us will ever understand why that man did what he did."

Mr. Takita squeezed Naru's hands and spoke again. "If there is any aid or assistance at all that I can give you or your child, all you need to do is ask. I will do whatever I can for you, Mrs. Sanjouin. I am so sorry for what has happened."

"Thank you," Naru managed to say. Takita Reizo walked away, and Naru sat down again. Darkness was creeping in, memories that she couldn't push away, of a park at night, blood soaking through her clothes, Nephrite's lifeless body in her arms.... It was getting harder to have faith, to believe that none of this was really happening.

The last mourners left. Only Mrs. Osaka, the Senshi, and their handful of husbands and boyfriends were still in the house with Naru. They all set about cleaning up. Naru stood up from the couch, walked over to a table, fingered a sympathy card that had been left there. She didn't recognize the signature. Then she looked up at the people who were moving around, putting away food and chairs, gathering trash, talking quietly among themselves. The ceremonies were over, the little details of life continued, and still....

"It isn't going to go away, is it," Naru said.

Everyone stopped what they were doing, fell silent, and looked at her. She started shaking. Something powerful began building up inside her, something painful, something she wouldn't be able to hold back.

"Oh, Naru," her mother said. She set down the tray she was holding and hurried to Naru, catching her in her arms just as the cries Naru had held back for so long tore out of her. Naru collapsed in her mother's embrace. "Oh, Mama," she sobbed, "Oh, Mama, I want Nephrite. I want him so bad...."

Someone carried her upstairs and laid her down on the bed; someone else pulled off her suit jacket, shoes, and stockings, then gently stroked her hair as she cried and cried in her big, empty bed.

* * * * * * * *

Nephrite, Vega said, her voice chiming softly in his head, why are you giving up so easily?

It doesn't matter what happens to me, if I can't be with Naru again.

What about us, my son? Do you think we don't care if you're imprisoned in the Darkness, separated from us forever?

You didn't save Naru. You let Shimura kill me.

We are not gods, Nephrite. We can neither cause nor prevent events on Earth. And we did try to warn you, before, that the time was not the right time for you and Naru. Remember?

Yes. What a fool he had been, ignoring the stars' counsel when they had never led him wrong before.

As for your death...Metallia is in a place of utter darkness. Our light cannot go there; it is forbidden. We cannot know her thoughts and intentions. Besides, Nephrite, beloved son, you never would have been able to find Metallia while living as a mortal on Earth. In order for you to be free, it was necessary for you to die. Don't you see that?

Nephrite remembered Naru asking, "If that's what she is, how will you ever find her?" Nephrite realized he had known all along, though he had been afraid to admit it even to himself, that he never could have faced Metallia while he was alive. I - yes.

Remember your love for Naru, remember my faithfulness, remember the good man that you are, and although Metallia may draw you to the place where she is, she cannot hold you there or command you. You are only hers if you give in to darkness and despair.

Nephrite bowed his head. But without Naru, that's all that's left.

* * * * * * * *

Monique arrived in Tokyo five days after seeing the article about Masato's death in the paper. At the airport, she hailed a taxi and asked the driver, in English, to take her to Sanjouin Masato's home. Fortunately, the driver recognized the name, knew exactly who and what she was talking about, and was able to comply with her request.

The old mansion was a forbidding-looking place, like something out of a gothic romance, but the windows were sparkling clean, the beautifully-polished wooden door looked new, and there were pots of flowers by the front steps. Clear signs of a loving presence in the house.

Monique rang the doorbell, and a moment later a tall young woman with a thick brown ponytail opened the door. This definitely was not Mrs. Sanjouin. "Hello," Monique said in her French-accented English, hoping that the young woman would understand her. "My name is Monique Barbier. Is Mrs. Sanjouin in?"

"Yes," the young woman said, also in English, "but, you see -"

"I know. I was a friend of her husband's when he was in Africa. I've come to give Mrs. Sanjouin my condolences. I would have written or phoned, but, you see, I did not know the address or phone number." She smiled.

"Ah." The young woman seemed to think about it for a moment. "Yes, all right, come in. I'll get Naru. My name is Kino Makoto. I am a friend of Naru's."

Monique walked into the house, looking around at the comfortable, attractive living room. Masato had made a beautiful home here with his little red-haired girl. Makoto disappeared up the curved staircase. A moment later, she reappeared, another young woman holding onto her arm.

Monique studied Sanjouin Naru as the young widow slowly came down the stairs. She was small and slender but very nicely curved. She had large blue-green eyes and a wealth of thick, wavy, red hair, some of which was tied back with a green ribbon. Her face and eyes were filled with sadness - too much sadness for someone so young and pretty, Monique thought. She wore a slim green linen skirt that reached to just above the knee, and a white button-front blouse that skimmed the top of her hips. She certainly didn't look pregnant. Monique wondered suddenly if Naru had lost the baby because of shock over her husband's murder. She hoped not.

Naru looked at her visitor. She was tall and lean, with shoulder-length, blunt-cut dusty-blond hair and brown eyes. Her khaki pants and pale yellow twin set were clearly very expensive. Naru felt a bit intimidated by the woman's height and air of self-possession. It was so hard to remember how to deal with people. "Yes?" she asked.

The woman came to her and took her hands. She spoke in French-accented English. "Mrs. Sanjouin, my name is Monique Barbier. I knew your husband when he was working in Africa."

Naru had four years of high school and college French behind her, so she switched to her guest's native language. "Monique. Of course. My husband had mentioned you to me. Please sit down." The long-ingrained formulas of politeness served her well. She didn't have to come up with anything original to say; she just had to recite the proper words.

She led Monique to the overstuffed sofa in front of the fireplace. Makoto gave Naru a questioning look, asking silently if she needed help. Naru shook her head, then sat down with her visitor.

"Your French is excellent, Mrs. Sanjouin," Monique said.

"Thank you." Naru sat down on the other end of the sofa. "Neph - Masato wanted me to learn many different languages, so I could help him in his business."

"I see. As I said, I knew your husband when we were doing relief work together, five years ago. He was an extraordinary man."

"I know," Naru said. She looked at Monique; she was beautiful, in an outdoorsy kind of way. "You were in love with him."

Monique laughed a little. "I don't know if it would qualify as love. Lust might be more accurate. He was far more handsome than any man has any right to be. I was very forward about my feelings for him, I'm afraid. He told me repeatedly that while he was flattered by my interest, he was in love with someone else and intended to remain faithful to her." She spoke more softly. "He wanted to be worthy of you. He loved you very much. That is why I came here, to tell you that."

Naru looked down, wringing her hands together in her lap. Tears spilled from her eyes. Monique's words were like a knife slicing through her heart, reminding her so sharply of what she had lost. But at the same time, it was comforting to hear someone else who had known Nephrite speak of him. "Thank you." She swallowed, then took in a long, sobbing breath. "His real name was Nephrite."

"Nephrite," Monique said. "Isn't that the name of a gemstone?"

Naru nodded. "I gave him cufflinks and, you know, shirt studs set with the same stone for our wedding." She started crying. Her visitor moved closer and put an arm around her, letting her cry against her shoulder. "I'm sorry," Naru said after a few moments, pulling away.

"It's all right. No woman expects to be a widow when she's so young. I can't imagine what this must be like for you."

Naru nodded, wiping her eyes.

"Thank you for telling me his real name. I know he must have had a very unusual life, but he would never tell me anything. It was kind of you to share that with me."

"It makes him seem more real, I guess."

"I understand." The blonde woman hesitated a moment, then spoke again. "The newspaper report I saw indicated that you are - that -"

"I'm expecting a baby?"

"Yes. I've been worried, since you don't look -"

Naru rested her hand on her abdomen. The tiny new life was still safe and secure inside her. "I'm only six weeks."

"Ah. I was afraid that, perhaps, due to shock over what happened, you might have lost the child."

"No. I've had two ultrasound exams since then, and everything's fine."

Monique smiled slightly. "That's good, then. At least you have a part of him with you still."

Naru nodded again.

Makoto brought out a tray of tea and cookies, and set it on the coffee table in front of the two women. "Umino called," she said. "The police are releasing your car from impound. He's on his way over right now, and I'll just give him a ride home when I leave."

"Thank you, Makoto-chan," Naru said to her friend. Then she turned back to Monique and told her what Makoto had said. "I don't know what the police thought they would find in my car. Just because it was in the parking garage where I was kidnapped...."

"I'm sure they're doing everything they can to find the men who did this," Monique said.

"They won't find them."

"You sound very certain of that."

"The matter has been... handled privately."

Monique was silent for a moment. "Does this have anything to do with his unusual name, and his past, and, oh, his ability to fire blasts of light out of his hand?"

Despite herself, Naru smiled a bit. "Yes."

"I would love to know his story."

"I would love to tell you. But it's very long, and very unbelievable, and there are several people whose permission I would need to ask before I told you, since it would mean revealing things about them they might not want revealed."

"Ah. This grows more intriguing all the time."

They ate cookies and drank tea in silence for a few minutes.

There was a knock at the front door, then Umino walked in. He had changed a great deal since his junior high pest days. His fascination with insects had led to several summer research programs, studying insects in the wild, which had led him to discover a love of hiking and, eventually, rock climbing. He now kept himself in excellent physical shape, in preparation for his next expedition. His dark hair was still unruly and he still wore thick, round glasses, but now the effect was charmingly boyish rather than hopelessly geeky. "Hey, Naru," he said, coming over to the sitting area and setting her car keys down on the coffee table. "You've got your car back now. I don't think they found any clues." He winked; he also knew that the Sailor Senshi had already punished the criminals. "But at least they washed and vacuumed it for you."

Naru was able to force a small smile at Umino. He had grown out of his alternating crushes on Usagi and Naru, and now was a good friend. "Thank you, Umino." She shifted back to French. "Monique, this is my dear friend Gurio Umino. Umino, this is Monique Barbier. She was a friend of Nephrite's, when he was working in Africa."

Monique stood; she was about three inches taller than Umino. The two of them shook hands and said, "It's very nice to meet you." Then something happened, a pause, they kept their hands clasped just a second too long, looked silently at each other just a little longer than might have been expected.

Umino broke the silence. "I'll go find Makoto. Is she in the kitchen? I've got a seminar in an hour I can't be late for," Umino said. He walked away to the kitchen.

Naru watched Monique's eyes follow the young man. "He's charming," Monique said.

"He wasn't always," Naru said. "He's changed a lot. But he's always been a good friend, and has been a great help to me ever since - since -" She closed her eyes and tried, again unsuccessfully, to keep from crying.

Monique was reconsidering her plan to return to Paris the next day. There was something magical about this house, about young Mrs. Sanjouin and her friends, that seemed to connect with something deep inside her. Her life with Erik was so dull. He was a fine man, and a wonderful lover, but they had been going on the same way for nearly five years. Not quite living together, sometimes talking about marriage but never quite getting around to it. If a permanent relationship between the two of them was meant to be, Monique suddenly thought, it surely would have happened by now.

"I'm sorry," Naru said again, wiping her eyes with a tissue. "I keep - I keep crying."

"Of course you do," Monique said. "You've every right to cry. Go right ahead."

Naru sniffled, and tried to smile at her guest. "Thank you."

"You know," Monique went on, "I was planning to return to Paris immediately, but now I think I'd like to stay here for a while. I'd like to honor my old friend's memory by helping look after his wife whom he loved so much. I'll confess, Mrs. Sanjouin, that when I first knew about you my thoughts toward you were not very kind. I'd like to make up for that, if I may."

"I..." Naru had no idea what to say.

Monique went on, saving her from having to say anything. "Besides, your friends seem like lovely people, and I would like to get to know them. And I've always wanted to tour Japan."

Naru managed a smile, though she knew her eyes and nose must be red from crying and it was a struggle to keep herself under control. "If you enjoy being outdoors, Umino knows a lot of good places to hike. I'm sure he'd be glad to show you."

"That would be wonderful," Monique said.

* * * * * * * *

Late that night, Naru sat at the bedroom window, staring out over the starlit woods. In her hands she held her treasures: Nephrite's old gloves, the necklace of wooden beads he had brought her from Africa, the pearls he had given her for their anniversary, the chain he had found in the ruins of the Dark Kingdom and had worn around his neck ever since then. On the chain were his magical symbol, miraculously unscathed by the bullets that had torn into his chest, and his wedding ring. She had these things, and the diamond rings she wore on her fingers, her engagement and wedding rings and the promise ring he had given her five years ago; she had the baby that was growing inside her; she had five years' worth of memories; and now she had Monique Barbier's words about how much Nephrite had loved her. She had far more than she would have had if he had left her room that night five years before and walked into his rival's trap.

But he had walked into another rival's trap, and now was just as dead as he would have been then. Naru closed her eyes and held her treasures tightly, pressing them against her breast, trying again to fight back the painful knowledge that she had been avoiding ever since his death.

But it would no longer be denied. She wasn't strong enough to hold it back any more. Nephrite had died before he could destroy Metallia and break the claim she had on his soul. He belonged to the demon now. He was damned.

There was a soft tapping at the door, then Usagi stuck her head into the room. It was her turn to spend the night at the mansion; it seemed to have been generally agreed that Naru should not be alone in the big, isolated house at night. "Hi, Naru-chan, I just wanted to let you know I'm here. Is there anything... Naru-chan? Are you all right?"

Naru was holding herself tightly in check. If she moved, she would scream. Usagi came over to her and put her arms around her. "Is it bad right now?"

Naru nodded. She couldn't hold her terrible knowledge inside any more. "Oh, Usagi, he died before he could - before - Metallia has him, Usagi. She has him, and it must be awful - If I knew he was at peace, after living so long, it wouldn't be so bad but he isn't, Metallia has him...." She dissolved in tears in her best friend's arms. Usagi stroked her hair, but didn't say anything. There was nothing she could say.

* * * * * * * *

Nephrite, it isn't like you to quit so easily, Vega chided him. Will you give up all hope of being with Naru again?

But the choice I made....

Laughter. Oh, my son. There are always more than two possibilities. And think about the illogic of the choices you were presented with. Do you really think that your innocent Naru would be condemned to the Darkness simply because you wished it? On the contrary - if you had chosen that option, you would have proven yourself unworthy of the privilege of having your beloved wife with you forever. You chose for her to live, though you thought it meant losing her forever, and in so doing earned the chance to be released from your oaths to Metallia. If you can do this, you will go into the Light, where the souls of those who truly love each other cannot be kept apart. In time your Naru will come to you there, and you'll be together.

Nephrite thought about this. Could it be that Vega was right? What she said made sense, though he was afraid to believe it. It's hard to be logical when one is dead.

More laughter. That may be true, my son. Now, are you going to take this chance you've been given, and fight for your freedom and to be with your Naru again?

Nephrite began to feel something besides the vast, lonely sorrow and despair that had filled him. Something hot and strong... Setsuna lied to me.

Vega seemed amused. Sailor Pluto is only acting as a messenger. Besides, no one said that either of those possibilities would actually happen. You were only asked to consider them. It was a test of the quality of your love for Naru.

I don't like being toyed with. But Nephrite realized that, for the first time since his death, he felt like doing something. He felt like he could do something.

Good. You're angry. Now use that anger, and your love for Naru and hers for you, and your faith in us and ours in you. You'll need all those things to free yourself from Metallia. But we know you can do it.

The stars know everything, Nephrite muttered to himself. The words he had lived by for so long. Well, maybe they didn't know quite everything, but he had to believe that in this case they were right.

With a soft, chiming laugh and a gentle caress of his mind, the star left. Nephrite stood and looked around the small room. There was no way out of it that he could see; how was he supposed to get out to fight Metallia? Have faith, he reminded himself. Somehow, there's a way. "Metallia!" he shouted out loud. "I'm coming after you, and you're going to fight me face to face! You won't be able to hide from me any more!"

Around him, the walls of the room dissolved, leaving him in black, star-filled space.

* * * * * * * *

A chiming, gentle voice came into Naru's mind as she sobbed helplessly against Usagi's shoulder. Don't despair, child. Don't give up hope. He is our favored son; we will not allow him to be damned, or to lose his beloved, so easily. Please don't lose hope.

But Naru was too engulfed in sorrow to pay any heed to the words. Words meant nothing. Nephrite was dead, and damned, and lost to her forever.

* * * * * * * *

Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 3 Chapter 6

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury