Book 4 Chapter 3
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Nephrite found himself back in the misty gray room. So much had happened, so suddenly, he wanted to just sit and think about it. He had been trapped in the darkness beyond the universe for - how long? He had the feeling it was a very long time. His own daughter had freed him. He had been present at her birth. What had Naru named her? he wondered.
Now he knew who and what and where Metallia was. She was powerful, but strong love and faith could overcome her. He hadn't been strong enough to break free of her himself; he had needed help from Naru and their daughter. When he went back to face Metallia one last time, how would he keep from being trapped in the darkness again? And then there was the old question, what weapon would destroy her that would not destroy him too?
Nephrite looked up, startled, at Setsuna's voice. "What was that?"
"Naru named the baby Hoshiko. For you."
Hoshiko... Nephrite thought of the Japanese words, then smiled. "Star Child."
Sailor Pluto smiled in return. "Naru knows you were there, at the child's birth. She still grieves terribly over your death. But at least she knows you are free of Metallia for the moment."
"I thought I'd never get out of there."
"Now, that isn't entirely true, Nephrite. If you'd really been convinced of that you wouldn't have been able to respond when your wife and daughter called to you. You would have given up all ties to them if you had given up all hope. You would no longer have had a wife and daughter."
Nephrite thought this over. It was true, he hadn't entirely given up hope. But it had been hard, so hard, to cling to that one last faint spark. "I'm afraid that when I go back, I'll be trapped again. And I don't think I can count on another child of mine coming along to rescue me," he added dryly.
Setsuna smiled a bit. "It's doubtful." Then she spoke more seriously. "Nephrite, I didn't tell you this before, because I didn't want to undermine what confidence you had, but you need to know now. And you have the right to know. Never before has a soul condemned to eternal Darkness been permitted to try to win redemption. When you went into the Darkness, even Those who created all light and darkness and all living spirits didn't know if you'd be able to come out again. It's never been done before."
Nephrite stared at the Guardian of Time. "What?" he demanded in a low, harsh whisper.
"In the meantime," Setsuna continued, "they've learned some things. One advantage you have over Metallia - there are several, but this one is significant - is that you were born into a physical form. Metallia can manipulate physical objects, but it takes a great deal of strength out of her. Remember those two times she saved your life, from the gunfire in that city in Africa, and then from the truck bomb? The fact that she expended the vast amount of energy required to move you out of harm's way shows how valuable you were to her."
"How fortunate for me," Nephrite muttered.
Setsuna ignored his comment. "Anyway, the point is that physical bodies have a strength that is forever denied to Metallia. The Divinity have learned how to refine your body so that it can exist in the spiritual sphere and in the Darkness. If you get your body back, you will, in theory, be able to go into the Darkness without being trapped there by Metallia."
"In theory." Nephrite couldn't help sounding skeptical.
Setsuna shrugged. "It's never been tried before."
"That's just wonderful. I'm a guinea pig in a grand experiment in avoiding damnation."
"What other choice do you have?"
"None." Nephrite reflected on this fact for a moment. "There's one other thing. I believe my body was cremated. I don't think a handful of ashes will be of much use against Metallia."
Setsuna gave a short laugh. "Do you really think that makes any difference? You could have died at sea and been eaten by fishes, and the Deity would still be able to reassemble you. All the atoms that made up your body are still in existence. Do you doubt that the Ones who made the whole Universe could put the pieces of your body back together?"
"I'll believe it when I see it."
"All right." Setsuna gave him a slightly mocking smile. "Believe it, then."
Suddenly, Nephrite felt heavy, strange, as though trapped inside something that was weighing him down. He looked at his hand, which was no longer slightly transparent, and made a fist, feeling its solidity and strength. Then he realized he was naked. He was appalled to feel himself blush. "Do I get to do this with clothes on?" he asked. "Being unclothed does tend to make one feel at a disadvantage."
Setsuna eyed him. "In your case, I don't see why it should."
Nephrite felt his face grow hot again. All these sensations were so confusing. It was only in comparison to how he was feeling now that he realized how numb he had been before. He felt restless, energetic... alive. He raised an eyebrow at the tall Senshi. "I'll thank you to remember that I'm a married man."
Still completely unruffled, Setsuna motioned with her hand, and clothes appeared on Nephrite's body, the rumpled khakis, pastel collarless shirt, and citified hiking boots he had always favored for casual dress. "Is that better?" she asked.
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Naru sat nursing her two-month-old baby, looking into the little girl's deep blue eyes. Eyes exactly like Nephrite's. Hoshiko's fine, curly hair was turning out to be a color somewhere between Nephrite's auburn and Naru's bright red. Naru had always thought that newborn babies were blank slates, but with Rei's and Usagi's babies and especially with her own, she saw something inside, a knowing, as though the baby were carefully and silently watching and waiting... Hoshiko's eyes seemed to be filled with a wisdom that Naru could never quite grasp. She would study her daughter for hours, wishing the baby could talk, to tell her what she knew.
Often, she would show Hoshiko pictures of Nephrite, wanting her daughter to know as much of her father as she could. Naru might have been imagining it, but she thought the baby studied the pictures intently, almost as though she understood why Naru was showing them to her. Perhaps, Naru thought during the quiet, reflective times when she held the suckling baby to her breast, perhaps during the birth, during that mystical moment when the baby was drawing her first breath and Nephrite's spirit had been present in the room, they had met then. The raw, painful grief Naru still felt at Nephrite's death would never go away, but it was eased slightly as she thought that maybe Nephrite had been able to see their daughter after all, and that their daughter did know her father.
She loved these quiet times of feeding her baby. There were times when she missed the warm, living presence inside her, and feeding Hoshiko from her own body was the closest thing to the feeling of sharing that body with her. Nephrite would have loved to see her nurse their baby, Naru thought. He had reveled in the differences between them, his masculinity and her femininity; had marveled at her curves and softness and at the mysterious workings of her body. She could imagine him sitting beside her, watching in fascination as she nourished the baby with the milk that her breasts miraculously produced.
Naru blinked back tears. No point in dwelling on what could never be, she told herself sternly, as she did a dozen times a day.
She also used these times when she was alone with her baby to assimilate the memories that had come to her of the Silver Millennium. There was so much that Nephrite hadn't told her. At first she had been irrationally angry at him for not telling her the whole truth. But as she carefully sorted through the memories and pondered them, especially during the midnight feedings when everything was dark and the only sounds were Hoshiko's quiet suckling and gulping, she began to feel grateful for his attempt to protect her from the worst. Could she have handled being told the manner of her death, of her terror as she was dragged to the execution block to be beheaded? She remembered that she had only begun to suspect that there would be a baby; it had been far too early to say anything to Nephrite about it. Usagi had told her that, after the execution, Mamoru had told Nephrite of the royal physician's discovery of the pregnancy, so Nephrite had known about her condition, and hadn't told her. Could she have handled knowing that she was pregnant at the time of her execution?
Probably not, Naru decided. This was another of the many, many kindnesses he had shown her that she had never even thought about while he was alive. More and more she realized how everything he had done, since the night he first acknowledged his love for her, had been for her sake. Had any woman ever been loved as much as Nephrite had loved her? she wondered.
He had also refrained from telling her how she had been scorned and shunned by the other Guardians and the Senshi. Naru was also grateful that he had spared her that, even though she fully remembered it for herself now. How different things were now, she thought. She was a Lady of Endymion and Serenity's Court. Even after their memories had been fully restored, the Senshi had drawn close around her, supporting her with their friendship and doing their best to comfort her in her widowhood. The Guardians had, albeit reluctantly on Zoisite and Kunzite's part, acknowledged her as their equal in the Royal Court of Crystal Tokyo and as Nephrite's wife and the mother of his legitimate child.
But she would trade all of that respectability, Naru sometimes thought, for one more sweet, stolen night with Nephrite in an unused room of the Palace of the Moon.
One day, as Naru finished feeding Hoshiko, the doorbell rang. Mrs. Osaka answered the door. "Umino! How nice to see you. Come in; Naru's just finished feeding the baby."
Naru was sitting on the sofa, facing away from the front door. She quickly buttoned up her blouse, then put Hoshiko over her shoulder with a cloth to catch the spitup. "It's safe now, Umino. What's going on?"
Umino came to sit beside her. He looked nervous, chewing his lip and bouncing his knee slightly. "I, um, wanted to talk to you privately, Naru-chan."
Mrs. Osaka tactfully retreated to the kitchen.
"So what's up?" Naru asked, patting her baby gently on the back.
"Well, um," Umino said, turning slightly pink. He wouldn't look at her. "I've been thinking, raising a child alone is a big job, and, well, you and I have been friends for a long time, and, well, if it would help you, we could get married."
Naru concentrated on burping the baby. Finally Hoshiko noisily relieved herself of an air bubble and a large quantity of excess milk. Naru wiped up the milk, then sat Hoshiko upright on her lap, holding her wobbly little body straight. "Umino," she said, "does Monique know you're here?"
Umino went redder. "Yes. See, I asked her to marry me, and she said she didn't want to if I'm feeling an obligation towards someone else. I knew she meant you, even though she didn't say your name. And I guess I do feel some responsibility towards you, since we've been friends for so long."
Poor Monique, Naru thought. First Naru had kept Nephrite from her, and now, with a word, she could steal Umino from her too. "Umino, go home. Go tell Monique that what I really want from you is to see the two of you happy together. Besides," she held up her left hand, displaying the diamond rings she still wore, "I'm already married. Even if Nephrite isn't here, I'm still his wife. I always will be."
Umino visibly relaxed, and his knee stopped jouncing. Obviously he'd been hoping this was what Naru would say. "Thanks, Naru." He blushed again, from happiness instead of nerves. "You know, I can't believe that someone like Monique would love someone like me."
"I know. I can't believe it either," Naru said.
"Ha ha," Umino said sarcastically, though Naru knew that he knew she was only joking.
"No, I know what you mean," Naru said. "I still feel like that about Nephrite. I can't believe someone like him could love someone like me so much. But he did."
Her voice choked off, and Umino gave her a quick hug around the shoulders. "Remember, Naru, anything Monique and I can do for you..."
"I know. And I'm really happy for you two. Really. And you know what, Umino?" She looked at him sideways, suppressing a smile. "I bet you two will have really cute babies."
Umino's face flamed. "We'll do our best," he said, trying to sound dignified.
Naru laughed a little as he left, hurrying home to the half-demolished apartment he shared with Monique to tell her he was free to marry her.
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More and more, the people of Earth were turning to Usagi for practical guidance and as a symbol of Earth's new possibilities. If all was done right, most people seemed to think, this could become an era of peace and prosperity as had never before been known. Usagi knew that this would happen; she had seen the future for herself. But she still didn't feel like a very inspiring leader. She and Mamoru decided that the time had come to begin building the Crystal Palace, as a symbol of everything the future could hold.
Setsuna made her first appearance since the Thaw, explaining that the power of Queen Serenity and all the Senshi would be needed in order to create the Palace. Early one morning they assembled, along with Endymion, the Guardians, Yuuichirou, Ryo, Shinozaki, Naru, and a growing crowd of curious onlookers, in the center of the city. All the buildings here had been torn down, and over the past several days, work crews organized by the Guardians had hauled away all the debris, leaving a large, clean, flat plot of ground, the heart of what would be the beautiful new city. No one was sure how long it would take to build the Palace; Usagi herself had no idea whether it would happen instantly or take years.
Setsuna came over to Naru, who was holding Hoshiko, and brushed a finger lightly along the baby's cheek. "She's beautiful."
"Thank you. She's so much like her father."
"Yes, she is," Setsuna said, studying the baby's face. "But I see a lot of you in her, too.
"I wish she could know him."
Setsuna looked at her sideways, and gave her a mysterious smile. "I believe she already does."
"I know. He was there when she was born." Naru smiled sadly. "But that isn't what I meant. I wish he were here to teach her about the stars and buy ice cream for her and inspect her boyfriends. All the things a father's supposed to do."
"Her mother will do a fine job." Setsuna hugged her, then turned to leave.
"Setsuna, wait," Naru said.
Setsuna looked back at her.
"If he was there, when Hoshiko was born, does that mean he's free of Metallia?"
The Senshi's dark eyes were kind and somber. "He found her, and was trapped in the Darkness with her for a time. He's free of the Darkness for now, but still has to fight Metallia."
"I see." Naru closed her eyes. She had been hoping it was over and he was truly free. She gathered her courage for the next question. "Do you think he has a chance against her?"
Setsuna was silent for a moment, as though considering her answer. "I believe his chances are quite good. He does have certain advantages over Metallia, which will serve him well."
Quite good. Not guaranteed. "I see," Naru said again. Hoshiko bubbled up some milk, and Naru wiped her little mouth and chin with the cloth she had tucked into the blankets for that purpose. "Thank you, Setsuna."
The Guardian of Time smiled gently at her, and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Have faith in him. That's the best thing you can do for him." Then she walked away to join the rest of the Senshi.
"Naru!" This was Umino's voice, now. Naru smiled as he and Monique walked hand-in-hand towards her. They had been married for two weeks now. "Hey, Naru!" Umino called again. He and Monique reached her and hugged her and the baby. "So what's the deal with this Palace Usagi-chan's going to build?"
"I don't know," Naru said. "Except that it's supposed to be very big and very beautiful and Usagi has no idea what she's doing."
"Or so she says," Monique said. "I think she's far more intelligent than she lets on." Her Japanese had improved rapidly after she moved in with Umino, and while she wasn't quite fluent yet she was able to communicate fairly easily.
"Well, we're about to find out if she knows what she's doing," Umino said. "Look."
Usagi was in her full transformation, complete with gauzy wings. The Senshi stood in a ring around her, their hands joined. Usagi - no, Serenity - raised her scepter above her head. Her eyes were closed, and she held herself very still and rigid, as though preparing herself for some tremendous effort.
The Senshi began chanting quietly. Soon a low hum emanated from the Silver Crystal and mingled with the chanting. After a long time, a beam of light suddenly shot out from the Silver Crystal, briefly blinding the onlookers. The light cleared to reveal a segment of sparkling, translucent wall, about four meters high by four meters wide, in the middle of the bare expanse of dirt.
"Ahh..." Everyone in the crowd seemed to let out their breath all at once.
"She can actually do it," Naru said.
"Amazing," Monique murmured in French. "It's so beautiful."
"That's a long way from a whole huge palace, though," Umino pointed out.
In the circle of Senshi, Sailor Mars seemed to have had the same thought. "That's it?" she demanded of Serenity. "All that time and effort for that one little section of wall? This is going to take forever!"
"Settle down, Mars," Serenity said. "It took so long because I was figuring out how to do it. Now I know. Ready for the next try?"
Mars scowled, but joined hands with Mercury and Jupiter as the ring of Senshi re-formed. Serenity raised her scepter and concentrated for a few seconds, then another ray of light flashed and dissipated. The segment of wall was now four times wider than it had been. Serenity smiled rather smugly. "See? It's easy now. Ready to go again, Senshi?"
That day, Neo-Queen Serenity and the Senshi managed to build the first level of the main part of the Crystal Palace. The work was exhausting, but by the time they quit for the day, the gleaming, rainbow-sparkling spires at each corner of the four walls towered over the tent cities and half-demolished buildings of Tokyo.
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Setsuna did not return to the gray room for some time. After a while, Nephrite decided to see if he could go outside and have a face-to-face talk with Vega. To his surprise, his new body passed through the wall of the room as easily as his spirit had. Too late it occurred to him that venturing into space with his body might not be a good idea, but he remembered what Setsuna had told him, that this body was specially refined to be able to exist where a regular mortal body could not.
He stood in the vast, velvety darkness of space, looking over the millions of stars that surrounded him in all directions. They ranged from distant, cloudy clusters to clear groups and constellations to single stars that gleamed as brilliantly as diamonds against the black backdrop. He stood for a while, simply letting the beauty around him fill his mind. How desperately he had missed being able to see the stars, first during the thousand years when he and the other Lords were banished to the Dark Kingdom, then when he was trapped in that Hell-beyond-Hell where Metallia dwelt. If he couldn't have his Naru with him, at least he had the stars, the same stars she could see.
Vega was unmistakable, shining blue-white, brighter than any of the other stars around her. I'm glad you met your daughter, her soft, chiming voice said in his mind. I told her where you were, and asked her to help you. How could she refuse? Unfortunately, it made Naru's labor longer and more difficult, since Hoshiko's arrival was delayed, but I don't think Naru would mind, if she knew.
How are they? Nephrite asked.
They are well. Hoshiko is a beautiful child, very like you. She has your eyes.
How is Naru?
The child is a great comfort to her. There were times when knowing that she had to do what was best for the baby was all that kept her going.
Does she still love me?
She always will, my son. She recently turned down a marriage proposal, saying that she's still married to you.
Really? He shouldn't be surprised that someone else would want to marry her, Nephrite told himself. She was so beautiful, and still so very young. It would probably be the best thing for her and Hoshiko, if Naru remarried. Still, though, he felt selfishly pleased that she didn't want anyone else. Who wanted to marry her?
An old friend. Umino.
Nephrite had to laugh at that a little, remembering the boy's persistent, alternating crushes on Naru and Usagi. Will he keep asking her?
No. He really only asked her out of a sense of obligation, for the sake of their years of friendship. He's married to someone else now, the one he really loves.
Nephrite hated to admit that he felt somewhat relieved. Not that it should matter, me being dead, but -
You have a wife who loves you and believes in you, and she knows that whatever you do, you do for the sake of your love for her. Don't forget that. That star's words were gentle but firm, and Nephrite wondered if she saw something in the future, something he would need to do, that would make it hard for him to trust in Naru's faith in him. Do whatever you must, to destroy Metallia, for your sake and for Naru's.
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Lyra's Children Index / go to Book 4 Chapter 4
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury