Book 3 Chapter 6
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Surrounded by the black, star-filled depths of space, Nephrite felt something tug at him. He cast a look towards Vega; from this vantage point her constellation was unrecognizable, but the star herself was unmistakable in her color and brilliance. His love for Naru and hers for him, his faith in the stars and their faith in him would protect him. His anger - at Metallia, at Setsuna and those whose messages she brought, at Shimura Jiro, at Naru's murderers, at himself - would give him strength. He looked at Vega again; she shone bright and serene and unmovable. He fixed the memory of that sight and of Naru's face in his mind, then gave in to the force that was pulling on him.
At first it didn't seem as though he were going anywhere. He had no sensation of movement. The stars appeared to barely move past him, but gradually their movement became more noticeable, until finally they were rushing by in blurred streaks.
The farther he traveled, the fewer and farther between the stars became, until finally there was only darkness before him. And in the midst of that darkness, an area of something even darker. It was more than the absence of light; this darkness was a power as vital and dynamic as light. It was a negation of light, a denial that such a thing as light could exist. Nephrite grew cold with dread, but he couldn't stop himself now. He allowed himself to be drawn into the darkness and engulfed by it.
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Slowly, a little bit at a time, Naru forced herself to pick up her life and go on with it. Two weeks after Nephrite's death, she changed the sheets on the bed, the sheets he'd slept on last. She cried, holding them bundled against her chest and face, then determinedly stuffed them into the bag to send to the laundry. But she couldn't bring herself to add the shirts he'd worn in the days before he died to the bag. She slept in these, taking what small comfort she could in the scent of him that lingered in the fabric.
A week later, she went back to school. She didn't want to go anywhere near the garage where she'd been kidnapped, so she ended up parking all the way across campus from the buildings where her classes were. Walking across the busy campus in the crisp fall air, she was able to turn her mind from her grief a little, and think about her schoolwork. Her professors were being most kind and understanding, forgiving some of her missed work and allowing her extra time to make up the rest.
Her days were all very much the same, which suited her. It was all she could do to cope with a simple routine, and the sameness of each day gave her something to hold on to, something to go by. She simply didn't have the strength to deal with any variety or anything complicated.
Four weeks after Nephrite's death, she met Usagi for lunch at a café favored by University students. Naru was uninterested in food, but she knew that for the baby's sake she had to eat properly. Usagi ordered a chicken sandwich, a fruit plate, and milk, and Naru asked for the same, not really caring what she ate but knowing the meal would be good for the baby.
While they waited for their meals to arrive, Usagi squeezed Naru's hand. "I'm glad you felt like getting out today, Naru-chan. Does this mean you're starting to feel a little better?"
Naru shook her head. "I don't think it'll ever feel any better," she said in a flat, quiet voice, twisting her wedding rings around on her finger. "It still hurts as much as it did the day of the..." She couldn't make herself say "funeral." "It still hurts that much. It isn't going to go away. I just have to get used to it, and figure out some way to get through the rest of my life."
Usagi squeezed her hand again, and Naru saw tears swim in her friend's eyes. "I wish so badly I had that night over again, to do differently. I should have attacked sooner - I could have saved him - but I was so afraid that they were going to hurt you. Oh, Naru, I'm so sorry I failed you."
"Usagi. It's all right. You had no idea they'd go after him. Neither did he. It was me they were threatening. Metallia told Nephrite a long time ago that she would try to force him to hurt me. We thought she wanted him alive. None of us could have guessed she meant to kill him."
Usagi finally nodded and wiped her eyes. "What did the doctor say yesterday?"
Naru's hand automatically went to her abdomen, which had started to swell ever so slightly. "The baby's fine. The danger of losing it because of - what happened - is past. And I'm two and a half months, so I'm almost past the dangerous time anyway." Her greatest fear these last four weeks had been that she would lose the baby, Nephrite's baby, and then there would be nothing left of him at all. This was the only thing that motivated her to take care of herself at all; she had to, for the baby's sake.
"It's going to be fun - you and me and Rei all with babies. We can all help each other out." Usagi smiled, a little too brightly, and Naru tried to force a smile in return. She felt like she just didn't have very many smiles left inside her. The food arrived, and Naru set herself to dutifully eating. It tasted like dust, everything did, but she knew it would be good for the baby.
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Monique Barbier visited frequently. She had brought an album of photographs of Africa, that she had taken while doing relief work there, and Naru spent hours poring over these, imagining Nephrite in the landscapes. Monique told her stories about Nephrite's exploits there, how he had blasted his way through roadblocks of heavily-armed men, how he had brought order to chaotic refugee camps and fed the starving people in them.
With the Senshis' permission, Naru told Monique about Nephrite's background in the Dark Kingdom, and how he had left it for her. Monique nodded, listening. " It is unbelievable, or, rather, it should be. But I do believe it. It explains a lot."
Monique went hiking with Umino nearly every weekend, and frequently came with him to Naru's house for dinner or just for a visit. Naru found herself watching the pair closely. She wondered if they were aware of the almost palpable chemistry they generated together. Naru couldn't think of a more unlikely couple, the tall, elegant, wealthy French woman and the shorter, much younger entomologist/reformed nerd. But, despite the pain she felt at seeing people in love, something inside her was pleased at the thought of those two together. It just seemed right, somehow. Though Naru was certain she would never again feel real happiness, she still wished for happiness for her friends.
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Monique sat with Naru on the sofa in front of the mansion's great fireplace, where a huge fire blazed. Autumn this year had come early and hard; though it was only late October, snow had already been falling for over a week. Naru was looking again at Monique's album of photographs from Africa. There were a few pictures of Nephrite in the album, and Naru could spend hours looking at them. Monique was having Erik ship the negatives to her, so she could get prints made of those pictures for Naru.
While Naru was busy with the photo album, Monique puzzled over her last conversation with Erik. He had told her that an old girlfriend of his in Germany was recently divorced and he wanted to give things with her another try. He hoped Monique understood that the time had come to move on. What was strange was that Erik's breaking up with her hadn't stung the way it once would have. She wondered how much of it had to do with her enjoying her stay in Tokyo. The Sailor Senshi were very easy to be friends with, once they had gotten over their initial suspicion of her. Monique had grown especially close to the two older women, Haruka and Michiru, who were lovers and who were pursuing careers in car racing and music. There was a third woman, Setsuna, who was close to Monique's age, but she was rarely around and seemed very distant and self-contained.
Monique also asked herself how much Umino had to do with her lack of regret over losing Erik. They had fun together, going on hikes and weekend campouts. He was intelligent and interesting, the most interesting man Monique had ever met, except for Sanjouin Masato. But Umino also had an openness, a guilelessness, that was very much the opposite of Nephrite. In fact, it was completely unique in her experience with men. He didn't play games, he didn't try to be mysterious or hard to get, he was very open about his interest in her. They hadn't slept together yet, but Monique had a feeling it was only a matter of time. She wondered if she should be alarmed at the fact that she would actually consider an affair, or something even more serious, with a man who was not only five inches shorter but eight years younger, however charming and intelligent he might be.
Naru closed the album and handed it to Monique. "You'll get me prints of those pictures as soon as the negatives arrive?" she asked for about the twentieth time.
"Yes. Erik promised to send me those and the other things I asked for before he moves back to Germany. I don't know when I'll go back to Paris, so he's packing several boxes for me. The minute the negatives arrive I'll take them to the developer, I promise."
"Thank you." Naru gave her a hesitant, forced little smile. "You need to put some pictures of Umino in here."
"I've got some already." For some reason, Monique found it hard to meet Naru's eyes. "I just haven't gotten around to it."
"Hmm." Naru looked sideways at her. "You can't fool me."
Monique was horrified to feel herself blush.
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As the darkness closed around him, Nephrite wanted to cower beneath its oppressive weight. Just as this place was a negation of the existence of light, it was also a denial of life. Life and death had no meaning here; this place was the opposite of existence. It was oblivion.
An overwhelming rush of emotions that flooded over Nephrite, battering at his sanity. Remorse, hatred, fear, envy, regret, bitterness, despair... They poured around him and into him, filling him. Nephrite fought to hold onto his sense of himself. He tried to remember Vega's promise that he would not be trapped here, tried to remember the happiness he and Naru had shared, tried to cling to the thought that, perhaps, one day they could be together again after all. Gradually the assault on his mind and spirit ebbed away.
Nephrite sensed the presence of a large number of souls around him; the onslaught of emotions had come from them, as they sought to gain relief from their torment by giving it all to the newcomer. Most of the presences were weak, overwhelmed by their torment, unable to exercise any kind of thought independent of it. A few were more powerful, and were able to think and plot and manipulate others. Of these few, a very few were strong enough to draw energy from the souls around them and thus extend their awareness beyond their dark prison. Among these, he sensed the being known on Earth as Metallia.
"Welcome, Nephrite," she said. "You've finally found me."
"So this is what Hell is like." Nephrite had to make an effort to remain confident, to not allow Metallia to make him cower.
That grating, metallic laugh... "No, Nephrite, this isn't Hell. Hell is for those who deserved at least the chance to live. This place is for those of us who were not so deserving. I never had the privilege of living as a mortal, physical being. You, on the other hand... Do you realize, Nephrite, how evil one must be to make the Divinity decide one should never have been born? That's how evil you were, my loyal servant."
"It isn't true. I helped war refugees. I was faithful to Naru."
"That may be. But you sold your soul to me, a demon, knowing full well what you were doing. You served me well and willingly."
"That may be," Nephrite said in turn. "I've still been given the chance to try to destroy you and redeem myself."
"Impossible. You aren't strong enough, and you are weakened even more in this place."
"I cannot be held here. I can come and go."
Laughter. "Oh, you fool. You hopeless fool, believing what that stupid star said. Do you really think that you are stronger than the darkness that holds even me prisoner?"
"Not on my own, no. But with the power of the stars, and Naru's love, I am strong enough."
"Really? Well, then, it's a pity she's already forgotten you, isn't it. You've been dead, oh, let's see, a little over two months of Earth time, and she's forgotten about you."
"Ridiculous. Naru wouldn't forget me."
"You seem very sure of yourself. Wasn't it this arrogance that got you into trouble with Beryl?"
"Of course I'm sure." But the damage was done; the seed of doubt was planted in his mind, which had been prepared for it by the hopelessness and despair around him. How could he be so certain that Naru wouldn't forget him? She had been so very young when she had fallen in love with him; what if it was really only a girlish crush, which she had outgrown? What if his death had only freed her from an obligation she had taken on when she was too young to understand what she was doing?
"You're right, of course," Metallia said. "If she really loved you, if she really had faith that you were not an entirely evil man, you would be able to leave this place. Care to try?"
"I will leave, and I will destroy you." Nephrite tried to move his spirit self, as he'd been able to do in the misty room, but the darkness around him was too solid, too dense. He sought for a crack in the darkness, a thinning, some indication of the way out, but found none. There was no way out, nothing to hold on to, no place to go.... Panic welled up inside him. He struggled to push it back down, but the more he struggled, the more his terror overwhelmed him, and the deeper he seemed to sink into the darkness...
Metallia's laughter sounded as though it was far away. "Poor Nephrite. Your precious stars lied to you. They can't protect you, and your Naru has forgotten you. You'll be here forever."
"No!" Nephrite roared, as the Darkness thickened around him....
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In December, bitter cold began to steadily, unstoppably blanket the entire world. Scientists worked frantically around the clock, trying to figure out what was causing the destructive cold and how it could be reversed, but they were baffled. Rumors and panic had fueled mass migrations towards the tropical and equatorial regions, but a devastating series of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, followed by swiftly plummeting temperatures, had convinced everyone that there was no place to hide from the coming disaster.
The cold was accompanied by a growing sense of despair, as though hope and happiness were being sucked out of the world along with all the warmth. Those who had people they could draw close to seemed to be protected somewhat from the spreading bleakness, but this was no guarantee against despair, and suicides among those who had no one to turn to skyrocketed.
Naru's friends and her mother gathered around her as much as they could, but this only made her more aware of how very alone she was. They all had someone, Usagi had Mamoru, Ami had Ryo, Rei had Yuui, Monique and Umino were growing closer to each other all the time, Minako had a brand-new boyfriend, Haruka and Michiru had each other, of course, and Hotaru had her father and Haruka and Michiru, and Makoto and Shinozaki had finally moved beyond the pretense of being "just friends." Even her mother had a boyfriend. No one needed Naru, and she was only a burden to them.
Finally, one day, she couldn't bear the weight of her sadness and loneliness any more. With only a sweater over her skirt and blouse, she went out into the snowy woods around the mansion. The fierce cold filled her mind, driving out everything else. If she could just stay out here in the cold, she thought, she could stop thinking, stop feeling.... She found a tree to sit under, and let cold and darkness take over....
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"Naru!" Someone was frantically calling her name and shaking her. "Naru! Wake up! You can't stay out here, you'll freeze to death!"
Slowly, Naru looked up. She was so tired, and had just started to warm up.... Her vision focused on Monique's face, pale except for her nose, which was red from the cold.
"Naru, you must wake up! Thank goodness I came over - I was worried about you, and tried to call you, but there was no answer. I had this feeling, that something was wrong. Come, Naru, you must get up and come inside."
Naru couldn't move, but she didn't resist as Monique pulled her to her feet and, supporting her with an arm around her shoulders, walked her to the house. "I don't want to," Naru said. Tears choked her voice and stung her eyes. "I just want to sleep. I don't want to feel anything."
"Naru. Listen. You must come inside and warm up. Think of your baby. Nephrite's baby. You must come inside, for the child's sake. Do you understand?"
They had reached the door. As they stepped inside, Naru, more awake now, suddenly realized what she had nearly done. She started shaking harder from fear than from cold. "Oh, Monique. I nearly - I could have - the baby --!"
"Hush, it's okay now," Monique soothed her. Naru let the tall woman settle her on the sofa in front of the fireplace and cover her with a blanket. "Now you can sleep. I'll light a fire, then I must get back into town. Umino's waiting for me. You'll be all right; I'll call your mother to come check on you."
"Thanks, Monique." Naru's voice was flat; she felt dull and heavy and sad. Monique was right, she was just going to have to go on living, for the baby's sake.
Monique got a fire going, then left as Naru murmured, "Drive carefully" after her. Naru tried to sleep, but it was too cold. The blazing fire in the fireplace only warmed the air a few feet in front of it. Naru took her blanket and lay down on the floor as close to the fireplace as she dared. Then she was finally able to doze a bit.
She awoke, hearing the doorbell of the mansion ring repeatedly. She left her place in front of the fire and opened the door. Setsuna stood there, heavily bundled against the bitter cold.
"C - c - come in," Naru said, her teeth chattering. She was surprised to see Setsuna; the tall, dark-haired woman had been around very seldom over the last three months.
Setsuna stepped inside, and Naru pushed the door shut against the fierce wind and flying snow. The two women went to the fireplace and sat on the hearth, as close to the fire as they could get without actually setting themselves alight. "Naru, do you still love Nephrite?" Setsuna demanded without any sort of prelude.
Naru was bewildered by the question. "Of course I do."
"And you honestly believe that he was a good man?"
"Of course! Setsuna, what --?"
"Naru, I know you've been trying to protect yourself from your pain. But now you must allow yourself to feel the full force of your love for him. You must believe in his goodness with all your heart. It's his only hope, if he is to break free of Metallia. He's been given one chance, but he needs you, Naru. No matter how much it hurts -"
The fire sudden went out, with a soft puffing sound. "What happened?" Naru asked. Something was very, very wrong.
"No, this can't happen, not yet," Setsuna whispered. Then she said to Naru, "The cold is taking all the energy out of everything. I can't be trapped here. Naru, you must help Nephrite. Stop protecting yourself. Give him all your love and belief and pain, before it's too late." She stood, shimmered, disappeared.
Naru suddenly felt very tired. Weariness overwhelmed her, making her dizzy, blurring her vision and her thoughts. With great effort, she brought herself back to full consciousness. She rested her hand on her gently rounded abdomen, and felt the faint, ticklish movement of her baby inside her. She had to do everything she could to save her baby's father.
She tried to break down the guards she had erected around her emotions and call one memory of Nephrite clearly and vividly into her mind. The memory that came was of the day Nephrite had come home to find her crying over the fact that Usagi was pregnant and she wasn't. He had been so concerned about her. Without hesitation, he had cancelled three months' worth of business trips in order to be with her, and Naru had marveled at being loved so much. She remembered how handsome he had looked, in his perfectly-tailored suit, with his tie loosened and his glorious auburn hair flowing over his shoulders, as he gave his orders to his secretary over the phone.
All the pain of missing him, of knowing she would never see him again, burst into Naru's heart. "Nephrite!" she cried, doubling over. But no sooner had her emotions broken free than everything faded into cold oblivion....
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In the depths of darkness and misery, Nephrite thought he felt a faint call - his name, carried to him on a powerful wave of love and pain. The call startled him; too late he realized what it was. Naru! he cried, and tried to grasp hold of the power that had so briefly touched him.
It was gone. It didn't come again. There was only silence, and the Dark.
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Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 4 Chapter 1
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury