Book 4 Chapter 5
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Naru awoke, wondering, as she did every morning, if she would hear anything from Setsuna today. It had been four months now, with no word. If it had been a good outcome, if Nephrite had survived, surely Setsuna would have told her by now....
Naru forced her mind to the chrysanthemums she was planning to transplant that day. Four dozen plants... She mentally calculated again how much space she would need, how many rows, how she would distribute the colors. With an immediate purpose in mind, she was now ready to face the day.
Hoshiko was already out of bed, eating breakfast with her grandmother. Naru wasn't sure she was ready to face her mother; their argument the night before still stung. Hoshiko had been telling Naru and her grandmother the "story about Papa" at least once a day for several months. Finally, last night, after Hoshiko was asleep, Mrs. Osaka said to Naru, "I don't think it's healthy for you to talk to her so much about her father."
"I want Masato to be part of her life," Naru answered.
"Of course you do. But I don't think it's good for either of you to be so wrapped up in someone who's, well, gone."
"We're fine, Mother." Naru deliberately didn't look up from the book she was reading, in hopes that her mother would drop the subject.
"You really ought to think about remarrying, Naru-chan. You're not even twenty-four yet. That's far too young -"
"I don't want to remarry, Mother.
Mrs. Osaka continued as though she hadn't heard Naru. "Maybe one of those Guardians of Mamoru's. They're all handsome and single."
"Mother," Naru said through gritted teeth, "in case you hadn't noticed, two of them are gay."
"Oh." Mrs. Osaka blushed and looked rather flustered, and Naru wondered if maybe she had somehow managed not to notice. "Ah. Well, anyway, the third one isn't -"
"I believe he's dating Mina-chan. Besides, Mother, Masato used to know those guys, and they didn't get along. He had a pretty serious falling-out with them. I -"
"Really? What about?"
Naru thought for a moment, trying to decide what to tell her mother about the past. "They didn't think I was good enough for him."
"Oh." Mrs. Osaka seemed even more taken aback. "Well, if that's what they thought, then who needs them? But Naru, there's got to be someone out there you'd be interested in. It's a shame Umino married that French woman -"
"They're perfect for each other, and I'm very happy for them."
"I wish you would think about this, for your sake and for Hoshiko's."
"You never remarried, Mama."
"And I'm not sure that wasn't a mistake."
The argument had gone on, pointlessly, for a little longer, until a cough from Hoshiko's room gave Naru an excuse to end it.
This morning, Naru was still upset at her mother's attempts to persuade her to remarry. She didn't want anyone but Nephrite, and she wished her mother would have some respect for her feelings in the matter. It was her life, not her mother's, and she was managing just fine, or at least as well as she could without Nephrite, thank you very much.
"Good morning, dear," Mrs. Osaka said. Naru opened her mouth to say the things she had thought of after it was too late to say them, then decided it was best to pretend the disagreement hadn't happened. The matter would never be settled, and Naru didn't care for pointless arguments. "Good morning, Mama," she said, taking a seat at the table. She ate a slice of toast and a small helping of cut-up fruit; her appetite, ever since Setsuna's last visit, had not been good. "Come along, Little Star," she said to Hoshiko. "Are you going to help me with the flowers today?"
Next to running and climbing, Hoshiko's favorite thing was playing in the dirt. "Yes!" she shouted happily. She crammed the rest of her toast into her mouth, and followed her mother out the door and down the crystal staircase, clutching the banister as she jumped down the steps two at a time.
Most of the Palace's residents were outside on this beautiful morning, walking, eating breakfast on the terraces, watching their children play. The three Guardians and Mamoru were engaged in sword practice on one of the lawns. Naru had pretty much given up hating the Guardians; there didn't seem to be much point in it, and, after all, they had apologized, but she just didn't have much to say to them. She nodded politely to them, and they nodded in response, then she turned away to her flower bed, where the chrysanthemums were waiting in their black plastic pots. Hoshiko was happily digging, her yellow sundress already covered with dirt. Naru knelt beside her daughter, picked up a trowel, and got to work.
* * * * * * * *
There was something solid beneath him. Cool, soft, slightly damp. Grass.
Nephrite opened his eyes and looked up into a sky that was pale with morning light. He breathed deeply of crisp, pine-scented air, and wondered what, if anything, he had been breathing before now.
Pines... He looked around, at the tall evergreens surrounding the small mountain meadow where he lay. It was his and Naru's clearing, where he had taught her about the stars and laughed with her the night before she died. Where they had spent their wedding night. Slowly the significance of his location dawned on him.
He was back on Earth. Alive, by the feel of it - he needed to breathe, he could feel the grassy ground beneath him, his head hurt like hell when he tried to move. Cautiously, closing his eyes against the pounding in his head, he sat up. When his headache had ebbed a bit, he opened his eyes and looked at himself.
He appeared to be all there, though aching in nearly every muscle and joint. He was still wearing the clothes Sailor Pluto had given him when he got his body back. He studied his hands, flexing them, feeling strength enter them as they loosened up. Remembering the gunshots that had killed him, he opened the front of his shirt and looked down at himself. A maze of scars was scattered across his chest. His body was imperfect, aching, scarred, a real living body.
"What -" he murmured to himself.
Nephrite. It was Vega's voice. He looked up, to see the constellation Lyra, faint in the morning sky, Vega shining more brightly at its center.
What happened? he asked.
Metallia is destroyed, Vega answered. You are free.
But what am I doing here? I am alive, aren't I?
You forgave what most would have considered unforgivable. You forgave freely, and now you are as free of hatred and bitterness as though the thing you forgave had never happened. Because you were willing to give up your hatred, anger, and pride, and to lose yourself completely, you are being granted the privilege of resuming your life as though the crimes against you and your Naru had never been committed.
Nephrite wasn't sure he understood correctly. He was afraid to think that the star's words really meant what he thought they meant. It couldn't be... It was too much to hope for. Do you mean - I can - Naru -
Yes. Go to her. You and she can be together for a good long time, now. Not forever, not until you've both gone to the other side, but for a great many years.
Did you know this would happen?
We had just a very faint hope that it might be possible. We didn't mention it to you, lest you be disappointed if it weren't.
Naru... With shaking fingers, Nephrite rebuttoned his shirt. Something caught his eye as some of his hair fell forward over his shoulders. There was a streak of white, vivid against the auburn, through the hair on the left side of his head. Where did that come from?
There was a hint of laughter in the star's chiming voice. You didn't expect to use that much power and remain unscathed, did you?
Nephrite thought about it. Given the intensity of the power he had been handling, and the way it had burned him when he first tried to touch it, he should have expected to wake up with his hands and face burned away. At that thought, he suddenly brought his hands to his face and felt it.
Vain, the star laughingly chided him. You're still as handsome as always. Even with white in your hair.
Nephrite felt a warmth of embarrassment in his face. I just wouldn't want to frighten Naru, showing up with my face all burned off or something. She'll get enough of a shock, just seeing me.
Somehow, I doubt she'll mind. Go on now, go to your wife and daughter, and be happy with them. The stars faded from sight as the sky brightened with the light of the advancing sun.
Stiffly, Nephrite stood, fixed his mind on home, and teleported.
* * * * * * * *
He materialized at his mansion outside of Tokyo. The huge old house appeared well-cared-for, but it was silent and empty. He went inside; it was clean, as though someone came in and dusted every once in a while, but there were no signs of life. Naru and Hoshiko must have moved into the city, probably with Usagi and Mamoru in their new palace. At least he hoped so; he hoped Naru and the baby were living in a comfortable place among friends. That was probably for the best, though he felt a twinge of sadness at seeing his and Naru's beautiful home, the focus of all their dreams of a life together, deserted.
After a last look around, Nephrite teleported to the outskirts of the city. Tokyo had changed a great deal since he was there for Hoshiko's birth. The old buildings were nearly all gone, leaving large stretches of empty land dotted with new construction. Even more noticeable than this, though, was the huge, shimmering spire that arose from the center of the city. It caught the light of the morning sun and refracted it into thousands of sparkling rainbows. Nephrite had to shield his eyes against the glory of light and color for a moment, then he looked again.
Obviously, this was Usagi and Mamoru's Crystal Palace, that Setsuna had told him about. He walked into the city, along stretches of crumbled sidewalk that alternated with new concrete, among the crowds of people going about their morning business. No one seemed to pay him more than the minimal amount of notice, if that much. And why should they? he asked himself. He was just an ordinary man walking along the streets of a vast and populous city.
Just an ordinary man... The enormity of that idea hit him all at once, and he stopped walking. He was an ordinary mortal man, with a normal lifespan ahead of him, going to join his wife and daughter, no longer captive to a demon, no longer an inhuman servant of evil, no longer ruled by old oaths and hatreds. Nephrite closed his eyes, trying to hold back sudden tears. An ordinary man... He opened his eyes and started walking again, picking up his pace as he drew nearer the Palace.
A number of smaller outbuildings, gradually increasing in height, were clustered around the spire he had seen. The sidewalk broadened and led through the smaller buildings to what he could now see were lawns and gardens surrounding the Palace proper. Nephrite caught glimpses of a number of people in the gardens. He slowed down, feeling unaccountably nervous. Surely Naru would be here; where else would she be? Surely Usagi and Mamoru would welcome him as a friend, not as a traitor and enemy. Until now he hadn't thought about what to expect, or how the people he knew would react to his sudden reappearance. He almost wanted to turn away, but with Naru possibly so close, he couldn't. He took a deep breath, said a small prayer that Naru really was there, and entered the Palace grounds.
Kunzite, Zoisite, and Jadeite were there - how? Nephrite wondered - swordfighting with Endymion. The four of them stopped abruptly and stared silently at him. Endymion's sword thumped to the grass. Nephrite walked on, ignoring the men. He had found what he was looking for.
Naru was kneeling over a patch of dark earth, digging holes and planting flowers. She wore a short, slim blue skirt and a white blouse, a blue bow in her hair, and gardening gloves, and looked exactly as he remembered her. Next to her, also intently digging in the dirt, was a small girl with red curly hair. Nephrite stopped and just looked at them, wanting to fill himself with the sight of them. He hardly dared believe they were really there before him; at any moment the lovely illusion could be snatched away....
His daughter looked up, and saw him.
* * * * * * * *
"Mama," Hoshiko said.
"What, sweetie?" Naru asked distractedly as she eyeballed the depth of the hole she was digging.
"Mama, I see Papa. He's over there."
"Don't be silly, Hoshi-chan. I told you why Papa can't be here." Her voice caught, and for a moment she wondered if her mother was right. Maybe she should never have mentioned Hoshiko's Papa to her at all.
"I'm not silly. He's looking at you. He wants you to look at him."
"Hoshiko, please, let me get this done." Suddenly, though, she noticed how quiet it was. The sounds of swordfighting and conversation had all stopped. Naru looked in the direction Hoshiko was pointing in.
The world seemed to suddenly drop away. She froze, she couldn't say a word. Her heart thudded loudly, painfully, in her ears.
He stood there, looking the same as he always had, except for a streak of white through his long auburn hair. There was a look of inexpressible longing on his face.
It couldn't be real. He had been dead for over a thousand years. She was imagining things, she had to be. But everyone else in the gardens had fallen silent and was also staring at him.
Then he spoke. "Naru."
She couldn't move fast enough, she stood, half-stumbling, and ran to him, tears streaming back along her face. He took several long strides towards her, and then they were in each others' arms, he lifted her off her feet and spun her around, then set her down again and buried his face in her hair. "I did it, Naru-chan," he whispered, his voice choked with tears. "I destroyed Metallia. I'm free. I can live the rest of my life the way it should have been."
Naru was crying too hard to really hear Nephrite or understand what he was saying; all she knew was that, by some miracle, she had him back, he was big and warm and solid in her arms, he was alive. He put his fingers under her chin and tilted her head back, then brought his mouth to hers. He kissed her deeply, hungrily, as though trying to take her breath into himself. She opened her mouth to him and they tasted each other, exploring, learning each other all over again, coming alive again.
Naru felt a tug at her skirt, and finally broke the kiss to look down at her daughter. She let Hoshiko climb into her arms and then launch herself at her father. Tentatively, as though afraid he might hurt her, Nephrite wrapped his arms around his daughter. She responded by giving him a squeeze around the neck that made his eyes briefly widen in surprise. "Papa got lost in the dark," Hoshiko said. "I helped him so he could come home."
"That's right, Hoshiko. You helped me, and now I'm home." With Hoshiko secure in one arm, he wrapped the other around Naru's shoulders and pulled her close to him again. "I'm home to stay, Naru," he said, and kissed her again.
After a moment, they heard a throat being discreetly cleared. They looked up to see Mamoru, with Usagi snuggled against his side. The young King held himself stiffly and formally, making a manful effort to ignore the tears running down his face. "Welcome home, Nephrite."
Gently, Nephrite handed Hoshiko over to Naru, then knelt down on one knee. "Endymion. I am at your service again, if you've a place for me."
"I need my fourth Guardian, Nephrite. Would you be willing to resume your duties?"
Nephrite glanced over to where Zoisite, Kunzite, and Jadeite stood, a short distance away, staring at him. "If the others will accept me. And if they will accept Naru as my wife."
"I think they will," Mamoru said, smiling.
Nephrite stood and walked over to the Guardians, followed closely by Naru, who was holding Hoshiko. In front of the Guardians, he knelt again, on both knees. Naru hated to see him humble himself before the other men, but held her tongue. If this was what he felt he had to do, she would let him do it.
"Forgive me," Nephrite said simply.
After a moment, Jadeite reached down, grasped Nephrite's arm, and made him stand up. "Forgiven. Can you forgive me for not doing anything to stop what happened?"
"I already have. Thank you for what you did to keep me from seeing her death."
"It was all I could think of to do. It's what I would have wanted someone to do for me, if there was no other choice."
"Thank you," Nephrite said again. The two old friends wrapped each other in a huge hug.
Then Nephrite stepped back to face Zoisite and Kunzite, and pulled Naru and Hoshiko close against his side. Kunzite slid an arm around Zoisite's shoulders, and the smaller Guardian wrapped his arm around Kunzite's waist. Naru felt almost like they were two different sides about to face off in a battle.
Nephrite finally spoke. "Forgive me for betraying you. I was wrong to seek revenge."
After another awkward silence, Kunzite said, "It is we who need to ask your forgiveness. We didn't know that Arrendel -"
"No explanations are necessary," Nephrite said. "What's past is past."
Kunzite nodded formally in acknowledgement, but Zoisite said, "I kept seeing her death, every time I closed my eyes. It could easily have been me. That's why I hated you for so long, Nephrite. It was either her or me, and I lived while she died. Even after I lost my memory of what happened, I still couldn't bear the guilt I felt whenever I looked at you. I hated you for making me feel that way. Please forgive me."
"Forgive you for being human?" Nephrite gave Zoisite a half-smile. "There's nothing to forgive." He looked from Zoisite to Kunzite, then to Jadeite, then addressed all three of them. "Will you accept me as one of your number again?"
"Of course," Jadeite answered.
"And your Lady, too," Kunzite added. Before Naru could say anything, he took one of her hands and bent over it in courtly fashion. Hoshiko, who had been wriggling in Naru's arms, trying to get back to Nephrite, took the opportunity to clamber over her mother's head and onto her father's shoulders. She clutched at great handfuls of Nephrite's hair and crowed, "I'm sitting on my Papa!"
Nephrite twisted his neck to smile up at her. "I know, Little Star. But please kindly try to not pull out all my hair, okay?"
Hoshiko giggled. The other Guardians stepped back. "We'll leave you to your family now," Kunzite said. "Lord Nephrite. Lady Naru." The other two echoed his words as the three of them bowed, then they walked back to where they had dropped their swords on the grass.
Nephrite turned to Naru. "I forgave them, Naru. I had to. I couldn't destroy Metallia as long as I still bore hatred in my heart. I did it so that we could have a hope of being together again some day, though I really didn't expect it to be here and now. I hope you understand."
She looked up at him, her eyes sparkling with joyful tears. "Of course I understand. I'm glad you were able to do it."
With Hoshiko on his shoulders, he couldn't bend down to kiss Naru, so he took her left hand in his and pressed it to his lips. "Now, my love," he said, "I haven't eaten in a very long time, so I'm rather hungry. Is there any decent food to be had here?"
Naru smiled up at him. "You're in luck. Sakura House had to let two of their chefs go, and I talked Usagi into hiring them."
Nephrite's eyes nearly glazed over in pleasure and anticipation. "I think I've died and gone to Heaven, Naru-chan."
"Don't say that," she replied.
* * * * * * * *
As they were headed to the kitchens, they ran into Monique and Rene. Nephrite and Monique came to a dead stop and stared at each other. "Monique?" Nephrite asked in disbelief.
"Ma - Masato. I mean -" Monique could barely talk.
"What are you doing here?" they both said simultaneously. Naru had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.
"Well," Monique said, quickly regaining her poise. "I suppose this isn't any stranger than anything else that's happened. I came to Tokyo as soon as I learned of your death, to give my condolences to your wife in person. I liked it here, and ended up staying. Now, your turn."
"I've got my life back." He hugged Naru closer to him.
"Monique has been a very good friend," Naru said. "Right before the Freeze, I was so sad I couldn't bear to go on, and I went outside hoping... hoping that the cold would make me forget, and stop feeling. Monique was worried about me, and came and found me, and made me go back inside. She saved my life, Nephrite."
Nephrite looked into Naru's eyes, then, apparently satisfied with what he saw there, smiled at Monique. "Thank you, Monique." He finally seemed to notice the child standing beside her. "Who - Surely that isn't your child, is it?"
Monique's face glowed with pride. "He certainly is mine. His name is Rene."
"Not Erik's, though," Nephrite said thoughtfully. "You and Erik wouldn't have a dark-haired child."
"Erik and I decided to go our separate ways after I moved here. He decided to get back together with an old girlfriend. But by then I had already met the right man for me."
Naru couldn't contain herself any more. "Monique is married to Umino," she said, smiling broadly.
Nephrite stared at her. "Umino? Not your Umino?"
"He isn't my Umino. He never was. But yes, that Umino."
"Huh." Nephrite was speechless, a condition Naru had seen him in very few times.
"I know," Monique said. "I had the same reaction when I first realized I loved him. But he's a wonderful man, and we're very happy together. And you must admit, Masato, he and I produced a very beautiful child."
"That's true." Nephrite seemed to come out of his state of shock, and smiled. "I'm happy for you, Monique. You deserve to be happy. Besides," he lifted an eyebrow slightly, "this means that Umino has probably stopped getting crushes on my wife."
"Umino's practically forgotten that I exist, since he met Monique," Naru said.
Nephrite laughed a little, then put his free arm around Monique's shoulders and kissed her cheek. "It's good to see you again. I'm glad you're happy. You deserve to be happy. And thank you for everything you've done for Naru."
"It was the best way I could think of to honor my old friend's memory," she said. "But now that you're back, I think Naru and I will still be very good friends."
"Good," Nephrite said.
* * * * * * * *
That night, after a day filled with telling his story to Endymion, Serenity, and the Guardians and Senshi, and hearing from them all about what had happened since his death and what was going on in Crystal Tokyo and the rest of the world, and being reinstated as a Guardian, and taking a quick survey of what was left of his business (not much, despite the best efforts of Yuriko and his other employees - it would need to be completely restructured), Nephrite finally found himself alone again with his wife in her - their- bedroom in the Palace. After some effort, they had finally managed to get Hoshiko to go to sleep in her own room. Mrs. Osaka, who had reacted to her son-in-law's return to life with a mixture of stunned speechlessness and tears of joy, was sitting in Hoshiko's room, reading. She had told Naru and Nephrite that she would tend to the child that night.
So now they were alone. Slowly, Nephrite undressed Naru, then himself. Naru exclaimed over the scars on his chest. She traced her fingertips lightly over them and kissed them.
Nephrite looked at her, wanting to savor every inch of her. Motherhood had made her body curvier and more mature-looking. He liked the changes. She still wore the chain with his magical symbol and his wedding ring around her neck. Nephrite fingered his ring where it lay between her breasts. "Can I have this back?" he asked.
Smiling, she lifted the chain over her head, unclasped it and took the ring off, then refastened the chain around Nephrite's neck. She slid the ring onto his finger. "There," she said. "Now everything's proper."
"You remembered the time before?" he asked softly.
She nodded. "When I woke up, after the Freeze. I'm glad I had those memories, of us together."
He gathered her close to him, feeling her warm, soft body all along the length of his own body. He had missed this, had missed just being with her. But they had plenty of time now.... Not forever, not on this side. They would grow old together, and one of them would certainly die before the other, and they would be apart for a while, but only for a while, for death was only the other side of life. He knew that now. When they were both on the other side, then they would be together, and nothing would ever separate them again. But for now, they had a good many years stretching out before them.
Nephrite pulled the cream-and-blue striped comforter from the bed and draped it around them, then said, "Ready?"
Naru looked up at him, her eyes shining, and nodded.
"Hold on tight."
He teleported the two of them in a swirl of crimson and white energy, and they rematerialized in the starlit clearing. "This is where I came back," he said.
Naru looked around. "I remember the first time that you brought me here."
Nephrite nuzzled his mouth against her neck. "I promise this won't be the last time."
Naru was trembling as he lowered her to the ground and pulled the cover over them. She gasped a bit at what he began to do, then said, breathlessly, "I thought I'd never do this again."
"But you will," he whispered into her ear. "And again, and again, and again, more times than you could ever count. We've got plenty of time now, and Hoshi-chan does need some little brothers and sisters...."
"That's debatable," Naru said, but there was laughter in her voice, and more than a trace of tears, and he knew she didn't mean it. They would have more children, they would have joy and sorrow and hard times and good times. They would have their life together.
* * * * * * * *
Above them, watching over them, Lyra shone brightly in the sky, Vega beaming at its center while the stars danced for joy.
* * * * * * * *
Lyra's Children Index
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury