This story was inspired by Soylent Green's painting "Ghost," and is dedicated to everyone who's ever sat in a bathtub and cried.
by Moon Momma
* * * * * * * *
"Naru, come on. It's time to go home. Come on. Please?"
Sailor Moon's words barely penetrated the sound of Naru's crying. All Naru could think of was that Nephrite was gone. He had rescued her and carried her in his arms and promised to take her for a chocolate parfait and laughed with her, though she didn't understand what it was she had said that was so funny. Then suddenly, horribly, the attack, the thorns that pierced his chest, the explosions...
Her arms ached from the emptiness he had left there. Her heart ached from knowing that there was nothing left of him, nothing at all, except for the bloodstains on her hands and pajamas and on the strips of cloth she had wrapped around the cut on his arm. There was nothing she could do but cry for him, and crying wouldn't bring him back.
"Naru, please. We've got to get you home. Your mom is probably worried about you. Come on."
Her mom. That caught Naru's attention. Suddenly she longed for the safety and familiarity of home. "Okay," she said, gulping back sobs. Sailor Moon reached down to help her stand up. Naru picked up the bloodied bandage that had fallen to the ground and clutched it close against her breast with numb, shaking hands. Then she let Sailor Moon help her to her feet.
The three Senshi surrounded her, grasping each other's hands. There was a brief sensation of cold, and dark, and vertigo, then Naru found herself in the hallway of her apartment. The Senshi, their faces still damp with the tears they had shed for their one-time enemy, hugged her, then were - gone.
Naru stood in the dim, quiet hallway. Her mother must be asleep, she realized. She looked down at herself, at the green blood that soaked the front of her pajama shirt and mingled with her own blood on her cut and abraded hands. She probably had Nephrite's blood on her face, too, where he had touched her just before he died. Naru wondered how she could possibly explain her appearance to her mother. How could she ever explain anything that had happened tonight?
Naru went across the hallway to the bathroom, and locked the door behind her. If she got cleaned up now, her mother would never know that anything had happened, and she wouldn't have to try to explain anything.
She set the bandage next to the sink, then started running water into the bathtub. She stripped off her pajamas, which were beginning to stiffen as the blood dried on them, and stuffed them into one of the plastic bags that were kept beneath the sink to line the wastebasket. Later she would decide what to do with them; the question was too much for her to deal with now.
The touch of warm water on her skin as she climbed into the tub suddenly dissolved the control she had been clinging to since deciding to let the Senshi bring her home. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks, and she started crying again. She bit her lips against the high, whimpering sound, afraid that her mother would hear her.
He couldn't be gone. It just wasn't fair - she had come so close to having what she wanted. He had promised to take her out on a date. She was sure he had felt something for her, he must have, the way he was looking at her as he died, the way he touched her face, so gently. He must have felt something. But she would never know.
Naru pressed her fingertips to her lips. She had imagined so many times what it would be like to kiss him, had wanted it so badly, and tonight she felt like it might happen, it just might.... But now it never would. "Nephrite," she wept, longing for the possibilities that were lost, wondering how she could possibly live with the huge, aching emptiness inside her that would never be filled.
It didn't seem like she'd ever be able to stop crying. How am I supposed to go on without you, Nephrite? I think I'm going to go crazy.
The water stirred in the tub. Thinking that her mother had come in, Naru quickly sat up straight, crossing her arms tightly over her chest. No one was there, but she thought she saw, just for an instant...
Never mind. There was nothing there. She closed her eyes again, letting more tears spill down her cheeks.
There was another, bigger disturbance in the water, and a low, hoarse groan. Naru's eyes snapped open. Abruptly, she pushed herself all the way back against the wall of the tub until the faucet dug into her back.
He was there, in the tub, but not quite there; he seemed to waver between transparency and solidity, but the water level was definitely higher than it had been, so he wasn't just a vision from her imagination, he had substance. Naru closed her eyes very tightly, counted to five, then slowly opened them again.
He was still there, solid now - she couldn't see through him at all. He sat hunched over, hands pressed to his chest where the thorns still penetrated. Green blood poured out over his hands and arms, spilling onto his legs and the edge of the tub, staining the water. There were smears of his blood on the tiled wall. His auburn hair fell in bloodied tangles around his face and down his back. His face was drawn tight with pain; he rocked back and forth slightly, making a low, moaning noise in his throat, like an angry, wounded animal.
And he was stark naked.
I have gone crazy, Naru thought. Cautiously, she reached out one forefinger, touched his knee, and snatched the finger back.
He opened his eyes and looked at her. The blue depths were hazy with pain and something else - a question, a plea?
A voice came to Naru, faint but clear, musical-sounding but more felt than heard. The power of the thorns and the strength of your love are evenly balanced. Your love has pulled him back towards life, at least for the moment. You can tip the balance and keep him alive, if you are willing to give him of yourself.
Naru looked at Nephrite, at the pain in his face. The thorns were no longer crackling and sparking with his life leaking out along them, but they still had to come out. But if she pulled them out now, Naru thought, he could bleed to death. Before, when the thorns were working their magic and draining all his energy, she could have saved him by pulling them out. Doctors could do something about loss of blood, but they were powerless against magical life-draining thorns. Now that he had already lost so much blood, though, ripping the thorns from his body could kill him before an ambulance could arrive.
Do it, the voice said. You can give him what he will need.
Naru nodded to herself, then moved close enough to Nephrite that she could brace one hand against his chest while she pulled with the other. At her touch, Nephrite's eyes opened wide, almost as if he couldn't believe she was going to help him. Naru was suddenly very aware that not only was he stark naked, so was she, and their bodies were very close together, and if her mother happened to walk in right now she was dead, or at least grounded for the next ten years. Mom's asleep and the door's locked, Naru told herself firmly. Just get the thorns out and don't think about anything else. "It's all right," she whispered to Nephrite. "I'll help you."
He nodded slightly, and closed his eyes again.
The force that had made the thorns so hard to pull out earlier seemed to have dissipated, but it was still difficult to remove them, since they were barbed in all directions all along their length. Nephrite held himself stiffly, making low, pained noises in his throat as Naru worked. Her hands slipped along the rough thorns, leaving behind tiny shreds of flesh, but by pulling them one at a time she was slowly able to get them out. As each thorn came out, it disintegrated into shimmering dust and fell into the bathwater, adding a faint sparkle to the murky green water.
The wounds bled heavily as the thorns were removed. Naru reached for a towel on the towel bar next to the tub and pressed it against Nephrite's shoulder. The towel was quickly saturated, and the wounds continued to bleed freely.
He could stop the bleeding, the soft, crystalline voice said, if he had the energy. You must give him your energy to keep him alive.
Naru was very familiar with the unpleasantly sick, weak feeling of having her energy drained by Dark Kingdom servants. She shied away from the thought of being subjected to that again. But if it would save Nephrite's life, she could bear it. "Nephrite," she said. He looked at her. "You can have my energy, if it would help."
He nodded once, then leaned forward, taking her under the arms, and pulled her against his chest. Her legs straddled his hips, and she was suddenly and uncomfortably aware of the closeness of their bodies beneath the surface of the opaque water. Naru bit her lip and held her breath.
What she was afraid would happen - what she almost hoped would happen - didn't. He simply held her close to him, her breasts crushed against his broad, solid chest, his cheek resting against her hair. After a moment she slowly let out the breath she'd been holding.
Gradually, Naru began to feel deeply tired even as Nephrite seemed to sit up straighter. It was working; her energy was helping him. She would give him whatever he needed of her, as long as it meant he would live. She relaxed against him and closed her eyes, letting her energy flow freely to him.
His heartbeat strengthened and his skin grew warmer. Naru would have been content to fall asleep like that, wrapped in his arms, resting against his chest. He was so warm and big and solid, she could rest here forever....
Finally, he moved his hands from her back to the sides of her head, and tilted her face so that she met his eyes. "Thank you," he whispered. Then, so lightly she barely felt it, he touched his lips to her forehead. He shifted her off of him and leaned forward to open the bathtub drain, then stood and disappeared in a swirl of white and crimson light.
Naru sat exhausted in the rapidly-draining green water. She leaned against the side of the tub, resting her arms on the ledge, feeling strangely empty. He was alive; somehow, miraculously, she had been able to save him after all, and he had left her with nothing more than a whispered "Thank you" and a kiss on the forehead. Not a word about the promised chocolate parfait, or seeing her again sometime, or how he felt about her. Nothing.
"Stupid," she told herself. "Stupid little kid, what would he want with a little kid like you anyway?" She buried her head in her arms. "Idiot, imagining that he liked you...." She started crying again, too tired to try to keep quiet.
A few moments later there was a tap at the bathroom door, and the knob jiggled. "Naru? Are you okay? Naru-chan, what's wrong?" her mother asked.
Naru tried to collect herself enough to speak. "I - I'm okay, Mama."
"Why are you taking a bath this hour of the night?"
"I'm not feeling good. I wanted to get cleaned up."
After a brief silence, her mother asked, "Bad period?"
That would work; she was due in another day or two anyway. "Yes. I'll be okay."
"Do you need me to bring you anything? Clean pajamas?"
"Thanks. Just leave them outside the door, okay?"
Naru heard her mother's feet pad off down the hallway, then return as she brought the pajamas and set them down on the floor. "Anything else, dear?"
"No, Mama. I'm fine. Thanks. Good night."
After she heard her mother go back across the hall, Naru started running more water, to wash away the green blood from the tub and the walls and to rinse the towel. Though she felt so weak and tired and sad that she just wanted to dissolve into darkness, she concentrated on removing every trace of the night's events. Finally, when the bathroom was sparkling clean again and the hopelessly stained towel was stuffed into the plastic bag with her orange pajamas and she was putting on the pink Hello Kitty nightshirt her mother had left for her, Naru told herself sternly that everyone acted stupid at least once in their lives and the only thing to do was to go on and forget about it. Nephrite was alive and she should be glad of that for his sake instead of wishing he would love her.
But that didn't ease the aching emptiness in her heart.
* * * * * * * *
"Naru, what's wrong?" Usagi asked on the way to school the next morning.
"Nothing's wrong," Naru said. She heard how dull and flat her voice was, and tried to put some life into it. "Everything's fine."
"No, it isn't. You look so sad this morning." Usagi looked sideways at her. "Is it something to do with Sanjouin Masato? You can tell me, Naru."
Naru's stride broke just a little, then she forced herself to keep pace with her friend. "No, it's all right. You wouldn't understand."
"Hmm." Usagi got a determined look on her face. She grabbed Naru by the sleeve and pulled her into a small park they were walking past. "Naru, I don't think I'm supposed to tell you this, but I'm Sailor Moon and I know all about Nephrite and that - and that he died last night - " Usagi bit her lip as tears swam in her eyes.
Naru held utterly still. Then she let out a long breath. She didn't know why she believed Usagi's wild claim, except how else would she have known about what had happened in the park? And, now that she thought about it, there was the hairstyle.... "He's alive, Usagi." Reluctantly, Naru told her friend everything that had happened after the Senshi brought her home the night before.
"Oh, Naru," Usagi said softly when the story was finished.
"It's okay." Naru sniffed, and rubbed tears from her cheek. "I guess I'm disappointed, but I'll get over it. I was just being a stupid little girl with a stupid crush. That's all. Come on, we're going to be late."
She started walking, while Usagi trailed behind her, muttering, "That's all? As if."
* * * * * * * *
In his mansion, four days after being attacked by Zoisite's youma, Nephrite was slowly going through some fighting moves, trying to loosen and strengthen his injured shoulder. The muscles in his chest and shoulder had been shredded by the thorns; he thought it likely he would never have full use of his right arm again. Damn Zoisite, anyway. The little rat couldn't meet him face to face, man to man; no, he had to hide behind his youma. Nephrite wouldn't have minded being half-crippled in honest battle, but to end up like this because of the little weasel's ambush was disgraceful.
To make things even worse, the stars wouldn't leave him alone. They had never spoken to him like this before. Nephrite put himself through the rest of the exercise, trying to ignore both the pain in his shoulder and the stars' words.
Old friends can be honest with each other, can't they? When you were a Lord of the Dark Kingdom, we couldn't speak truth to you. We told you what you demanded of us, but we couldn't tell you what you really needed to know. Though Heaven knows we tried, through the crystal you made.
"Shut the hell up," Nephrite said, panting as he tried to catch his breath. Damn, he was out of shape.
You're so self-sufficient, Nephrite. So self-contained. Independent, whole, complete, perfect just the way you are. You work alone, you don't need anybody.
"All right," Nephrite growled, "so I needed the girl to help me with the thorns." He summoned his sword into his hand, and found he could barely lift it. Pathetic. He motivated himself by imagining what he might do to Zoisite once he could use a sword again.
Maybe you need her for a lot more than that.
Ah, that's right. You don't care about the girl. That's why you cried out her name when you protected her against Yasha. That's why you went to her rescue even though your crystal was safe in your pocket. That's why you picked her up in your arms and carried her out of the bar instead of making her walk -
-- Or leaving her to make her own way out. That's why, at the end, you thought you would die of your heart breaking instead of from your injuries.
Nephrite was trying a simple presentation position with the sword, but couldn't even hold that. He swore at his weakness, and dropped the sword. "She's too young."
She won't always be this young. And in the Silver Millennium, she would have been considered perfectly marriageable at the age she is now.
"I'm a Lord of the Dark Kingdom -"
Not any more, not if you don't want to be.
"They'd never let me walk away."
You're safe. Your rebirth through the girl's love has given you no small measure of protection. You're free of the Dark Kingdom, if you want to be.
That brought him up short. Did he really want to go back to Beryl's outrageous demands, Zoisite and Kunzite's plotting against him, the dark, closed-in caverns where the stars were hidden from his view?
"I don't need -"
Why does it frighten you so much that this little schoolgirl holds your soul in her keeping? Is it possible that you want her to go on holding it, and your heart, and that you want hers in exchange?
She gave you back your life. She can give you so much more, and she longs to. Love, happiness, peace. Yourself, herself. Children. Eternity. All you have to do is reach out your hand for them, and love her in return.
Abandoning his sword on the floor, Nephrite stalked over to the wall and leaned against it, his arms shielding his face. But it was futile; he could no longer keep himself from thinking about what the stars were saying to him. "Why would she want to give me anything? After the way I treated her, why would she do anything for me?"
She loves you. You were an evil man, Nephrite, but somehow you won the unconditional love of a gentle, innocent heart. Such love is a gift too valuable and rare to turn down. If you have the courage to accept it.
Nephrite closed his eyes, looking into the darkness behind his eyelids, the darkness within his soul. "I don't know if I do," he finally said, so softly that only the stars could have heard him.
* * * * * * * *
"Come on, Naru-chan, don't you want to go to the arcade or get ice cream or something?" A week after Nephrite was attacked, Naru was still quiet and depressed, and Usagi was still trying to coax her into showing some interest in their favorite after-school activities.
"No thanks, Usagi," Naru said, keeping her eyes fixed on the sidewalk as they walked away from the school. She wished - but it was impossible, as well as stupid, what she was wishing for. She should go with Usagi for ice cream or video games and get her mind off things. But she just didn't feel like it. She didn't feel like doing anything.
"You said you'd get over it, but you aren't," Usagi said. "Do you want me to try to find him for you? Maybe I could talk to him and tell him how you feel -"
"No, don't!" That would look really pathetic, Naru thought. Stupid little girl with a stupid crush sending her friends around to bug him. "Please, Usagi, don't."
They rounded a corner and Usagi suddenly stopped. "Speaking of," she said quietly.
Naru looked up, and froze. Nephrite was leaning against his parked car a little way up the street, arms folded across his chest, looking at her. Almost as though he were waiting for her. Yeah, right, Naru told herself. He wore clothes she hadn't seen before - he was dressed neither as a Dark Kingdom warrior nor as Sanjouin Masato, but was wearing jeans and a dark green collarless silk shirt. Naru stared at the rich shimmer of sunlight on his long hair and on the silk that covered his broad shoulders, and felt strangely breathless.
"Go on." Usagi gave Naru a shove between the shoulderblades.
"I -" Naru looked at her friend.
"Go on, Naru-chan. At least find out what he has to say. If it hurts, I'll be here for you."
"Okay," Naru finally said. With a final glance at Usagi, she started walking towards Nephrite, cold fear warring with excitement inside her. When she got to the car, Nephrite silently opened the passenger door for her, then closed it after she got in, and went around to the driver's side. He started the car and pulled into the street with a squeal of tires.
"I still owe you a chocolate parfait," he said in his Sanjouin Masato voice. "Let's do that, and get to know each other a little, see what happens-"
Naru suddenly felt angry, though she wasn't quite sure why. "Don't lie to me, Nephrite."
The car veered slightly. "What?"
"If you're only doing this because you feel like you owe me something, then just say so."
"Why do you -"
"I'd also appreciate it if you would pull over, so we can talk without me worrying about getting killed in a car crash."
Nephrite didn't answer. He was silent as he maneuvered the car through the chaotic Tokyo traffic. Naru realized where they were going and glanced at Nephrite, puzzled and a little alarmed. There was a set, determined look on his face.
They reached the park where he had died, and Nephrite pulled the car more or less into a space parallel to the curb, with another screeching of brakes and tires. He got out, opened the door for her, and walked, without looking to see if she was following him, into the park to the tree where they had sat that night.
The craters from the explosions had been filled in, but the grass was broken up into clods of dirt. Naru wished she hadn't said anything, that they had just gone on for the parfait. She didn't want to be here. She didn't want Nephrite to be mad at her.
They sat down on the grass under the tree. "What makes you think I was lying to you?" Nephrite asked. He didn't really sound angry, but there was something rough and edgy in his voice.
Naru plucked at some blades of grass. She couldn't look at him. "When you're lying, you sound really smooth and confident. You sound like Sanjouin Masato." Finally she dared a glance at him. His eyebrows were drawn together as though in concentration, but he didn't look mad. "When you're telling the truth, you sound a lot less sure of yourself."
He was silent for a few minutes, and when he finally spoke again he didn't look at her. "You said, that night, that you didn't mind if I lied to you, as long as I was with you."
"I changed my mind. A lot of things changed that night. I'm not a stupid little kid any more, Nephrite. After everything that happened, I think I've got the right to expect some honesty from you. I don't care what you say to me, as long as it's the truth."
After another silence, he spoke again, hesitantly. "What if I don't know what the truth is?"
"Then don't say anything at all." She felt cold inside, saying this. Even if nothing else that she said pushed him away from her, surely this would.
"Nothing at all..." he murmured. A few moments later he said, "Well, all right, then." Before Naru knew what was happening, he pulled her into his lap, wrapped his arms around her, and pressed his mouth to hers. The kiss was more than she had ever imagined their first kiss would be. It was long and warm and messy, full of words that could never be said. She pushed her hands through his long hair, clutched at his shirt, his shoulders, held him as tightly as he was holding her, trying to bring him close enough that they could never be separated.
Finally he had to pull away, but he pressed her head even closer against his shoulder as he tried to catch his breath. "For the last week," he said, his voice low and husky, "I've been asking the stars, asking myself, why I lived, who I am now, what I'm supposed to do. And the answer is always, always the same word. Naru-chan." He paused. Naru held very still, waiting. She hardly dared breathe. "I just didn't have the courage to accept that answer until... Until now, I guess." He loosened his hold on her a little so that he could look directly into her eyes. "And that's the truth, Naru-chan. I swear it on what little honor I have."
"I believe you," Naru said softly. Inside her, something warm and fragile was growing, something she was afraid to even think about too closely, for fear it would shatter and be ruined. She just let herself feel it, not trying to analyze or name it.
"That's the truth," Nephrite repeated, not sounding sure of himself at all now, "but I don't know what to do about it."
Happiness. That's what it was, a happiness unlike any she had ever known before, still fragile, but growing stronger. "Well, for starters," she said, "you can take me for that chocolate parfait now." She smiled up at him, tentatively.
He returned the smile with one of his own, slightly lopsided and reserved, definitely not Sanjouin Masato's smooth, self-confident smile. "Good idea."
He moved her off of his lap and stood, helping her to her feet. Then, hand in hand, they walked out of the park together.
* * * * * * * *
return to The Library
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury