A Gift by Starlight

by Mina Martin


Chapter 1: Naru's Choice


Juuban Park, 1992


How had it all gone so wrong?

Just a few hours ago Naru Osaka had been safe and warm in bed, asleep in her favorite pajamas. They weren’t her cutest pair, with clashing orange and green panels, but they had been a gift from Usagi for her 11th birthday. Oversized back then, and almost too-small of a fit now, they were made out of prized angora wool. Most wool was from sheep, but angora was actually a special type of rabbit, as Usagi had been so excited to tell her.

First Masato had shown up and confessed, his shadow behind her balcony curtains like some twisted version of a Catholic confessional. He confirmed everything Sailor Moon had accused him of; he really had lied to Naru, and he was a part of some supernatural evil organization. She knew since that night in Sankaku plaza when he tried to say goodbye to her that he was caught up in something bad, that he wasn’t an innocent man. Even before then something in the back of Naru’s mind had known a man well into his twenties shouldn’t be so interested in a teenage girl. She always ignored it because the whole world was so much more vivid whenever she was with him. But Masato – Nephrite – was still a good man, that she believed, even if no one else including Nephrite himself did.

Instinct had her call Usagi, not that she would know any better than Naru how to get in touch with Sailor Moon. Still, it helped to hear her best friend’s voice after not being able to help Nephrite with something so desperate and important.

Then, three hideous monsters had appeared out of thin air in her own home and attacked her, physically yanking Naru from her room by her limbs and her hair while she screamed for help; to her mom, to Nephrite, to anyone who could hear, until one of them threw a red bead that exploded with some kind of gas and knocked her out. The next thing Naru remembered was regaining consciousness while tied up to the remnant of a knee wall, or maybe a kicked over tabletop. She couldn’t turn enough to actually see. The paneling behind her back was dirty – sticky in some places - and under her bare feet was cold concrete. Her head must have hit something while the monsters moved her unconscious body, because her skull felt like it was pulsating in pain.

They taunted her. The monsters never touched her while she was awake, although they did throw little rocks and chunks of gravel they found at her. Whenever rocks landed down the front of her pajama top Naru had to shimmy them out, the monsters watching and laughing while she squirmed, her shackled hands unable to pick them out. One of them tossed a cue ball and it hit bone near the corner of her eye socket, and they laughed when she yelped at the sharp pain.

For what seemed like hours they sneered at the helpless little human, in love with someone who only ever used her. What a pathetic, naïve girl. Did she really think he cared for her at all? That he would come to save her? That someone as powerful as Nephrite, if he actually desired for a human female, would choose a weak child like her? She was all freckles and no curves. The only thing interesting about her was the number of times Sailor Moon had come to rescue Naru, but this time the Sailor Soldiers had no idea Naru was here. That’s right, cry all you like, no one’s coming to save you.

She tried to gulp down her sobs. The louder her crying the more the monsters tormented her. But she couldn’t help it, because they were right. There was no guarantee Nephrite would come to her rescue, and there was no way to save herself. Even if she had a hairpin and knew anything about picking locks, she was tied back with rope, not chains, and her arms were stretched out too far on either side. She’d heard of breaking a wrist to get out of a handcuff, or smearing it with blood for lubrication, but even if it was possible to do that with rope, the thought alone made her nauseous, and she didn’t want to throw up again. She’d barely managed to turn her head in time and miss staining her pajamas when her dinner had come rushing back up. Did that happen because of her terror or because she had a concussion? Thinking about it only added to her dreadful headache.

The only thing she could do was sit there and endure, and hope it would be over soon. She didn’t care about whatever the monsters bickered about, since when they did that, it meant they left her alone. She understood that they were acting on orders from Zoisite, that they all worked under Queen Beryl, and Naru was both ransom and bait for Nephrite. Odd how they all had semi-precious gemstones for names, but otherwise none of the information was helpful to her.

The more Naru tried not to think about Nephrite, showing up versus not showing up, the more it took up her thoughts. Part of her didn’t want him to have to fight monsters and get hurt, but part of her desperately hoped for him to come save her. If they were all here when morning finally came, those beastly women would probably follow through on their threats and kill her after all. Or worse, just leave her there to starve to death. And either way, she’d be dead in the basement of some abandoned bar, her body rotting for months until it was found, and who would take care of her mother? Who would take care of Usagi? But that last thought was sour in her mind. Usagi had a lot of new friends lately, and none of them had really tried to be Naru’s friends too.

Her hands and feet had grown numb by the time Nephrite appeared, tall and menacing. Naru cried out to him, but once again she proved useless. All three monsters charged at him.

“Die, traitor!”

They seemed more capable of destruction than any of the monsters in Tokyo she’d seen or heard about before. One of them threw two handfuls of red marbles that all exploded with dark, cloudy gas, something like tear gas if the welling in her eyes was any indication. Another generated some type of disorientating sound waves, so strong Naru would swear she could see the waves make concentric ripples in the air. And the third let loose some ugly thing from her arm, firing a biological weapon of razor-point tipped vines like a cannon.

Nephrite dodged them all, proving to be the stronger and faster warrior. He defeated them - she’d never seen a man hit a woman before. The thuds of a fist meeting flesh were oddly inaudible under the other noises of a real fight: the grunts and shouts of pain or exertion, and the sounds of everyone’s boots moving for a better foothold. Then Nephrite conjured a sharp, shining sword, charging forward to... thrust it into the wall. He did it in a way that he could also hold it diagonal to the vine monster’s neck. Just close enough that if she moved to breathe the sword edge would break skin. Nephrite’s warning was hard and final, and that was it. The fight was over. And only when he stepped back and the monster took giant, heaving gasps, did Naru remember to start breathing again herself.

He saved her. To anyone else, the long, blank stare he gave Naru before untying her would seem emotionless and cold, maybe even irritated. But she knew it was only a mask, that on the inside Nephrite’s emotions were just as spiraled-out as her own. When she crumpled after trying to walk a single step, because everything from her knees down was a pins and needles sensation, he just picked Naru up in his arms and walked out.

She almost fainted all over again.

Eventually she found her voice and remembered to thank him for rescuing her.

“Don’t thank me. If you didn’t know me, this wouldn’t have happened.” Nephrite’s voice was flat and toneless, maybe a little raspier than his usual smooth baritone, stunned into speaking the plain truth for once. “In fact, I don’t even know why I saved you.”

Naru had a pretty good idea why. The thought wasn’t just in her head, it radiated out from her heart like physical warmth. That’s why, even when Nephrite tried to protest that he’d been lying to her the whole time and it was in his nature to keep being dishonest, she wasn’t afraid to tell him how she felt.

“That’s okay with me,” she told him, and the surprise on his face looked real enough. “As long as you always remain by my side... I can live with the lying.” Which was stupid, but Naru didn’t care. Demanding honesty just didn’t seem important at the moment, not when he was holding her so close.

Then she saw Nephrite’s injury. He hadn’t reacted to it at all so far, but it looked like a very deep cut and it must have stung badly – all while carrying her! “It’s all right,” he insisted over her distress. The green blood clotting around it barely registered in Naru’s mind. She only saw evidence of her own helplessness being taken out on someone she loved.

“It’s not all right, this happened to you because of me! We have to hide from those women before they find us again. Come on, follow me.” Naru led them deep into Juuban Park, since they were already by an opening to it. She kept a tight grip on Nephrite’s sleeve, on the arm that wasn’t injured.

“Do you know where you’re going?” Nephrite asked as they walked. He was... amused, he decided, at her unwavering determination to lead him to safety among the trees. Normally he’d never yield to anyone or anything that tried to drag him anywhere.

“Oh, well, no. I just want to get a lot of distance between us and them,” she said.

“That’s not what I meant. We’re actually getting closer to my base.”

Naru stopped and looked up at him. “Your base? You mean your home?”

“No.” There was a long moment of silence. “I keep it slightly phased out of this dimension,” he explained. “It touches most of the forests and parks in the prefecture, for hidden access or an easy escape route. They’re only accessible when I’m near them. If we keep going that way, we’ll run into the main path.” He pointed somewhere northwest of them. Nephrite usually kept his tricks and traps as secret as possible in the Dark Kingdom, but it felt natural to explain them to this girl.

Naru was stalled. Should they just continue to Nephrite’s place then? It would be safer, but there was also something decidedly grown-up about them going back to his place alone.

Then again, he’d been very clear about it being a base of operations. Not a home at all.

Looking around, Naru quickly found what she thought was a better spot, at the base of a large tree. The truck was wide enough to lean back against, and there was a big gap in the overhead canopy that let in lots of light. It was almost a full moon, and this far in the park away from streetlamps the starlight was radiant. She’d be able to see what she was doing.

Naru had really enjoyed the first-aid section in her Home Economics class last semester – here was a way for her desire to help people made real and physical. She had worked hard to get the highest grade in the class. So she didn’t feel too self-conscious asking Nephrite to take off his jacket. But once he did Naru was surprised to see he was leaner than she ever realized. The loose cut of his business suits and that weird gray uniform, plus all that (magnificent!) hair – it all had the effect of making him look much bulkier than he actually was.

Naru sacrificed a strip of fabric from her pajama top to bandage the nasty cut on his arm. Soft, pliable wool was a much better choice than whatever the thick and scratchy fabric his uniform was made out of. That made her self-conscious; unlike some of the bustier girls in class, she didn’t sleep in a bralette under her pajamas, and had to be careful when ripping away fabric that would expose her skin.

Not long after she began wrapping the strip of fabric around his upper arm, Nephrite reached over and carefully took one of her wrists in his left hand, to better examine the rope burns left by these monsters when they restrained her. He’d taken off his white gloves with his jacket and his hands were bare. They were rougher than what she’d expect from a traditional businessman’s, and warm on the inside pulse of her wrist. “I’m all right,” she told him, and tugged her hand back to finish her work.

It didn’t seem to be the perfect moment, but if you waited for perfect moments they never arrived. You had to make them yourself. So, right there in the still moonlight, and the occasional owl hoot and wind-rustle of leaves, in one of those rare silences between people that didn’t feel awkward, and wrapping a makeshift bandage around a bicep so perfect even a deep gash with pea-colored blood didn’t make a difference to her, Naru went for it.

“You know, right downtown on 3rd Avenue there’s this little cafe that serves the best chocolate parfait.”

“Chocolate parfait?” He said the words like he’d never heard them before, separate or together.

“Yeah, do you like it?”

“... Yes, I do.”

Naru grinned at him. “You’re lying!” She said it cheerfully, and it threw him off.

“But you’re only lying because you want to be nice to me.” She finished tying the makeshift bandage, tightly to provide pressure. Nephrite flexed to test it and thanked her. And he meant it – he’d never met anyone, human or otherwise, who was so open and honest with their intentions. And had the conviction to follow through on them. It was... safe for him to be around her. Ironic, since consorting with him, and by extension the Dark Kingdom, was decidedly not safe for Naru. Her skill at tying a bandage was a bonus.

Stretching out beside him, Naru spoke from the heart she wore on her sleeve. Or in this case, the little pocket on the front of her pajama top. “Anyway, I was wondering if you’d like to go there with me sometime. I know it’s kind of a silly idea, but I’ve dreamed of going there with you. To share a chocolate parfait together.”

It was definitely a silly idea. But so had been the idea to go through with rescuing Naru, and he still hadn’t come up with a plan to twist tonight’s events into a narrative that Queen Beryl would accept. Typical of him – act first on his emotions, think later with his brain. He’d taken a lot of satisfaction in just physically thrashing Zoisite’s lackeys with his bare hands instead of setting up enchantments. Leaving them alive was a semi-calculated choice. In the heat of the moment it had become more important to ensure Naru’s safety, and sometimes a show of power could force a change in loyalties. He could be as ruthless as Kunzite when he wanted, if not as cold.

Nephrite was strangely in the mood to do more things the Dark Kingdom wouldn’t approve of, or even understand. Earlier that very night he’d lied to her and manipulated Naru. And here they were sitting together under the all-knowing stars, his secret identity and evil plans completely blown, and she still cared about him. Wouldn’t leave his side. The idea of continuing to use her as an unwitting agent felt... distant somehow.

A plain human girl had such power over him. But unlike with Beryl he welcomed it. It didn’t want to control him or use him, or crush him like a bug. It just wanted to support him. Bask around him. Nephrite wanted to know more, to know her better. The idea of spending more time with Naru, without any hidden evil agenda, and being able to just talk like they were doing right now –

“Why not. Let’s do it.”

“You mean it!?” Naru’s face lit with delight. Being literally carried away was one thing, but the girl asking out the boy and getting a yes? Even in the modern era of the 1990s, that was something!

“You think I’m lying to you,” he teased. The sentiment came so easy to him. How strange.

“Mm-mmm,” she disagreed. “I can’t wait!”

Then, because the night was already so crazy, with the confession, and the kidnapping, and the dramatic rescue, and then being carried bridal-style by the literal man of her dreams long enough that she’d been able to listen to his heartbeat, Naru decided to tease him back.

“Oh,” she asked, “But will your evil organization give you a day off? Like maybe this Sunday, or – do you have any holidays?”

She would never forget the dumbfounded look on his face, or the way he started laughing. It was so absurd! She was out in the woods in the middle of the night, way past curfew, with a man her mom thought was total bad news, and he was looking forward to a date with a teenage girl, in between scheming to steal energy from other humans, for a sorcerer Queen who wanted to take over the planet Earth.

They laughed until they cried. Somehow, through all the lies and the danger, plain old infatuation and evil manipulations, two people had made a connection with each other.

But that had to end, of course.

Nephrite sensed the attack milliseconds before the terrible vines struck. He could have moved out of the way fast enough, if he didn’t take the extra second to try and pull Naru with him. Trying to save both of them would only mean they’d both get hit. Just like that night in the plaza only days ago, a strange instinct overwhelmed him.

He pushed Naru out of the way and took on the full impact of the assault. She gasped as she saw a twisting mass of branches slam into him, impaling him all the way through his chest. It stabbed through shoulder muscles and punched through his scapula bone with a crack he felt more than he heard. Zoisite’s personal assassin let her plant-like arm glow ferociously, breaking off a piece to leave in Nephrite and the rest to recoil back to her. There was easily an arm’s length of evil thorns protruding out from his chest, and a decent amount hanging out from his back, severely affecting his balance.

Then she said something that truly made him dizzy. “You let your guard down. Those thorns will drain your energy until you meet your death.”

The creatures of the Dark Kingdom had all kinds of physical mutations, but the innate ability to drain energy – without a tool or a magical focus – was rare enough to be nonexistent. The last time a youma had been foolish enough to openly display such a talent she’d been summarily executed. All energy was under dominion to the Dark Kingdom, to their Great Ruler beyond Queen Beryl, except for the amount individuals naturally produced for themselves to stay alive. It was forbidden to take someone else’s energy for yourself, or even worse, to drain it away without collection like the thorns were doing to Nephrite.

He could already feel his right side going numb. It was a lethal feedback loop. Normally, Nephrite could recover from almost any physical attack, no matter how many bones broke or blood was let – as long as he could divert energy to healing. Conversely, an energy-draining attack could normally be blocked or stopped by his own powers and he would recover in time. The benefits of being one of the four Kings of the Dark Kingdom, a being higher and more powerful than a lowly human.

But now he had a stabbing cluster of branches draining his energy and his physical health at the same time. Any choice forward wouldn’t work. Telekinetically pull out the vines? He wouldn’t have enough power leftover to dampen the blood loss. Direct enough power against the vines to ‘short circuit’ their draining? He wouldn’t have any physical strength leftover to survive the traumatic effects of being impaled. Call for power from the stars? The Plant Sisters would interpret it as the beginning of an attack and go on the offensive. That cut on his arm might have even been draining the faintest amount from him the entire time too.

Now Nephrite understood why the Three Sisters, the one called Grape in particular, were favorites of Zoisite. Youma of such ability and cunning were hard to find or train in the Dark Kingdom. Even through the haze of pain Nephrite had enough anger left for that bastard. If he survived, he could pass off his trembling as an effect of his temper, and not the effort it took to remain upright and coherent. And then he would make Zoisite regret ever attacking him, even indirectly, as befitted the most scheming denizen of the Dark Kingdom.

“A fitting end for a traitor,” one of them giggled. “If you don’t want us to kill the girl too, then hand over the Dark Crystal.”

“You can have it,” Nephrite immediately agreed. Even if the thing ever worked as intended, it wasn’t important anymore. He turned slightly and saw Naru was still there, shaking almost in sync with him. “Get out of here, now!” he commanded her.

“No!” cried Naru.

“Run away!”

She wanted to. Just the sight of those same three evil women made Naru want to run screaming in the other direction. But she was more afraid to leave Nephrite to their whims, and ran to his side instead. “I won’t!” Not without doing everything she could to help, no matter how dangerous.

“Go, you idiot!” Nephrite tried the opposite of every trick he’d ever played on Naru, hoping to insult her into leaving him, even physically shoving her away. He should have known it wouldn’t work. Instead she grabbed a branch in each hand and pulled, activating an electrical force that made the air around them light up and crackle.

Nephrite could smell when the skin on her hands started to blister at the heat and could only listen as Naru shrieked and cried. The thorns didn’t, and wouldn’t, budge at all. But she didn’t let go. This ordinary, frail human girl wouldn’t give up on him, no matter how much pain or energy it cost her, and she wanted nothing in return. All he wanted was to save her from it.

The three sisters laughed. “Stupid girl. Do you really think a pathetic human like you could pull out those thorns?”

“Give it up! You have to get out of here!” Nephrite was reduced to pleading. Every moment she stayed put her in further danger. The electric sparks burned tiny pinpricks of holes in both of their clothes. “Just leave me, you’ve done enough!”

Then he felt something impossible – so impossible one of the youma echoed what he was thinking and he was distracted from the throbbing of his fractured shoulder blade and his life energy draining away. The thorns were coming out. It was Naru! She was actually pulling them out! Was human love such a powerful force after all?

Through tears Naru pleaded, “Nephrite, please don’t die! Hold on, please!”

If the Sailor Soldiers had been able to show up right then, instead of barely a minute later, events might have gone very differently. But sometimes one minute makes all the difference, and sometimes even the incredible strength of one brave girl isn’t enough to fight off the overwhelming forces of evil in the world.

The tallest of the women watching, Housenka, had seen enough. She and her sisters weren’t about to fail like Nephrite had, and suffer the consequences. “I’m going to finish both of you!” she shouted. “Now die!”

The beating she’d taken at the abandoned bar fresh in her mind, the youma fired off a hailstorm of more red beads than ever before.

Nephrite, the only one with any training, moved with nothing but willpower and adrenaline to shield Naru. If he could spare a thought, it might have been that Naru probably wouldn’t have even noticed the assault because she was too focused on him. Or it might have been that he really wasn’t going to live through this after all, because something far stronger than his natural survival instinct had taken over. But he couldn’t spare the energy to even think, because he had to protect Naru from multiple explosions of fire and poison gas, all with a giant mess of branches still painfully rammed through his shoulder.

The red smoke cleared and Naru realized he’d protected her, again, from another attack. When she opened her eyes it was easily the worst thing she’d ever seen in her life – by moving her out of the way Nephrite had taken the brunt of the full strike and jammed the branches right back through himself, maybe even a little further in. Most of his undershirt had been seared off. The entirety of his back was marked up with burns and gashes; bits of twigs or gravel from the forest floor had embedded in his torso from the force of the blasts, and even some small scraps of fabric had fused to his skin from the immense heat.

He was covered in blood. She could see sweat forming on his quickly paling face from the immense pain, so much more than before. He still managed to whisper to Naru and ask if she was all right, before collapsing in agony.

It was all her fault. And now there was truly nothing she could do.

A slim, androgynous man appeared in a flurry of cherry blossoms by the Plant Sisters. Naru barely registered him taking Nephrite’s dark crystal and gloating, or instructing the monsters to finish them off before disappearing again. Her mind was stuck on a doomed mantra; “He can’t die! He can’t, he can’t!” Her hands fluttered over Nephrite, wanting to hold him but not wanting to cause him any more pain.

“Damn you Zoisite,” Nephrite rasped. He gathered the very last of his strength – the ends of his energy – to sit back up. He’d prefer to face his death literally.

“Run; leave me,” he told Naru one last time. The monsters giggled in the background, ready to savor in their destruction.

Love had given her the strength to bare her heart to the man she adored, open and vulnerable like an exposed nerve. It let her stand up to magical vigilantes more powerful than her, to stand firm as a weaponized tiara of all things bore down on her with the ability to kill her. It let her tolerate hours of enslavement and cruelty because evil agents from another dimension thought of her as a thing to be bartered and discarded.

But it wasn’t enough to save Nephrite, the way he had always saved her. She just wasn’t strong enough. So be it; Naru still had the strength to stay, and she hoped her mother would forgive her. Maybe fate would be kind enough to let her be killed second, and Nephrite could die at least knowing she would never abandon him. He’d never have to see how scared she was to die at all.

And then, somehow, in the middle of it all - the splinters from the giant thorns in Nephrite’s shoulder like needles in her charred hands - the taunts from the evil women sauntering ever closer - the bright, electrical sparks coming from the branch ends like biological downed live wire – the pleas from Nephrite telling her to save herself, and the whimpers that must be coming from her. Screaming and whimpering like a girl in a Hollywood horror movie.

Screaming like that first time she saw one of Sailor Moon’s hideous monsters, before she ever met Nephrite, her own mother’s face melting into a zombie rictus too wide and jagged, and Naru’s covered gasp only serving to come out later as a scream when shock gave way to fear. She was so tired of being the victim to all these monsters. She didn’t want that to become her life.

In the middle of it all Naru heard another voice very clearly, in her head and in her heart.

“Are you ready to be strong?”


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 to be continued...

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Author's Notes:

a) Content for this chapter is taken from the both the original DiC dub and the later Viz dub. We tend to drag the DiC dub to the moon and back, but if there was nothing to the original English voice actors' performance it wouldn't have affected us so much in the first place!

b) Some content is also from the TokyoPop book "Diamond's Not Forever," a novelization of the DiC dub, by Lianne Sentar. Specifically Nephlite examining Molly's wrists for rope burns. It's a different take on the anime, but it adds a lot of backstory that will feature later in this fic. :)

return to Index / go to Chapter 2

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury