A Gift by Starlight
by Mina Martin
Chapter 2: The Reboot is Always Darker and Edgier
Juuban Park, 1992
“Are you ready to be strong?”
There was no need to answer out loud, or even wonder why a question outside herself had so clearly formed in her soul. The power was a rushing wind, a hammer blow, a slap and an embrace and true love and sure death.
Naru’s hands – burned and bloodied - clenched into fists.
It happened so fast. She put one hand to Nephrite’s chest, to the side of his injury for leverage, and with the other took hold of a branch. Instead of pulling from the ends like last time, she knew to grab it right where it met his skin and in a reverse hold. In one fluid motion she yanked it right out of him, turned, and flung it straight at the monster it came from. The toxic thorn hit her in the dead middle of her chest and she went flying backwards with a satisfying yelp.
Before the shock wore off on the other two monsters, the Sailor Soldiers arrived, and then they had no time to spare for Naru or Nephrite.
She made quick work of the rest of the branches, pulling them out one after the other and hatefully throwing them as hard and as far away as she could. Nephrite collapsed in Naru’s arms once all the vines were gone, blood streaming down from his chest wound at a troubling pace. His eyes were comically wide. “How?” he rasped.
“Don’t speak,” Naru said. “Please, you have to conserve your energy. We’ll get you to a doctor.” She used his discarded jacket to help press down on his injury, and he made an awful noise at the pain of it. She’d been in a panic just a moment ago, but now that the branches had been removed and the Sailor Soldiers were taking care of the monsters, Naru was strangely focused. She had to take care of Nephrite, and keep him alive, and get him help.
She looked up at Sailor Moon, and the other two girls. The three monsters were gone. “Please, he needs help!”
The three Sailor Soldiers looked at each other.
“He saved my life, you can’t let him die!” She was becoming hysterical again after all. Was she going to have to fight the so-called good guys? Three Sailor Soldiers for three monsters. She could do it this time - Naru could land a hit before that tiara reached her, she could feel it.
Sailor Mars crossed her arms. “He’s an attempted murderer. Maybe this is his penance.” Naru could have attempted murder herself at that, if it hadn’t meant letting go of Nephrite.
“And any hospital is going to notice that green blood,” Sailor Mars continued.
“You’re supposed to be heroes!” Naru cried. She clamped down on the part of herself that wanted to smack them senseless for just standing there, because it wouldn’t help Nephrite. She had to remember that. She stared at their leader, Sailor Moon. “Please, I’m begging you! Don’t let him die! He deserves – Usagi?!?”
The Sailor Soldiers all gasped. The basic details of the magical sailor suited superheroes were known throughout Tokyo – blonde pigtails, short blue hair, long black tresses, all of them teenage girls – but the magic that blurred any photos taken of them also worked in real time. Looking at them in real life was like looking at someone in a dream. Naru didn’t know how, but she suddenly recognized her oldest friend.
“How do you recognize her?” Sailor Mars demanded, but Naru ignored her.
There was just no end to the shocks that night. “You’re my friend,” Naru pleaded. She was openly crying, now. “You’re supposed to be my best friend.”
Tears started to form in Sailor Moon’s eyes too. She shook her head and pumped her fist. “Right! We have to get Nephrite to a hospital. Let’s call an ambulance!”
“Great idea moon-for-brains, with what? Our communicators only contact each other. And what hospital could we trust to take him to?”
“We can take him to my mother.”
Everyone stared at Sailor Mercury. “She’s a doctor, she’ll know what to do.”
Looking around, Sailor Mercury then added, “But even if we could call an ambulance, how would it get here through the trees? A regular car might fit but an ambulance is too wide. Maybe a taxi? Or there might be a pay phone nearby.”
“Oh!” Naru remembered what Nephrite had told her earlier, and Masato Sanjouin’s notorious red sports car. “Nephrite, is your car at your base?”
He was barely able to answer “yes,” and it came out more as air than a voiced answer. Naru explained the basics of his dimensional space as she understood it, and Sailor Mercury pressed an earring that made a blue screen form across her eyes. “I can see the boundary! We’ll all have to be touching him to cross it, but it’s doable.”
“Oh great,” Sailor Mars grumbled. But she watched in surprise as Naru used a modified shoulder drag to carefully pull Nephrite to the portal edge all by herself, guided by Sailor Mercury. The Soldiers all took a hold of his arm and then walked through, a buzzing sensation the only indication they were crossing a gateway. Then they were in a completely different forest, with a dirt path right in front of them, leading up to large and old-fashioned Western style mansion.
Nephrite’s trademark red Ferrari was there in sight.
It was unlocked with the keys helpfully already in the ignition. Of all the things Nephrite had to worry about, someone breaking into his car or stealing it wasn’t one of them. No, better to worry about how he could feel his lungs breathing something pulpier than air. The stars shone brighter than normal above his mansion base and they didn’t match the normal pattern for that time of year on Earth, over the islands of Japan. The constellation the Greeks called Scorpio was ascendant on the Eastern horizon. The 8th House: sex, death, and rebirth.
Stars help him, please. He didn’t want to go.
The three Sailor Soldiers helped move him to the backseat, typically cramped for a sports car. Naru cradled his head in her lap and tried to move strands of his hair away from his face. All of it was sticky with cold sweat and dark green blood. “Just keep breathing, Nephrite,” she said. “Don’t waste energy trying to talk, just focus on breathing and staying awake.”
Sailor Moon got stuck in the small backseat as well, with one of Nephrite’s booted legs nowhere to go but over her knees. “Um,” she said.
Sailor Mars claimed the driver’s seat, Sailor Mercury took shotgun as the navigator, and a cat – a cat! where did the cat come from? – hopped in too, taking perch between the headrests in the backseat. Naru belatedly recognized it as Usagi’s cat... Luna. With a bald spot in the shape of a crescent moon. How had she never put any of this together?
“Do you know how to drive?” Sailor Mercury asked.
“Better than my blind grandpa at least.”
Sailor Mars slammed on the gas and the clutch petals at the same time, shooting down the dirt pathway and onto the regular expressway like she had learned from so many hours playing racing games at the arcade. Sailor Moon’s screams were distant in her ears, and she barely noticed each time she knocked over a curb, everyone’s head smacking into the windows or the head rests. At one point Sailor Moon was kneed in the face by Nephrite – involuntarily, he would swear.
“Which way?!” Sailor Mars shouted.
Sailor Mercury braced herself using the dashboard and ceiling. There were no safety handlebars. “T-take the third exit coming up, east,” she squeaked.
Naru was both grateful for, and fearful of, Sailor Mars’s aggressive driving skills.
“So... Nephrite.” Sailor Moon tapped her two index fingers together while she spoke. “Does this mean you’re going to leave us alone from now on? Because if people from your own evil organization are trying to kill you, and we’re the ones saving you, I think you owe us a pretty big favor. What do you say, even-steven? Pretty-please?”
Nephrite was only able to look at her with incredulous eyes, and just continued to bleed all over the expensive leather.
“Usagi, is this really the time?” said an exasperated Naru.
“What! He’s tried to kill us before, taking him to a hospital for help is kind of counterproductive to our mission, and also my life, and also my love-life. You totally owe us!” She slapped both her hands on his boot shaft to make her point. As if he needed any more hits that night.
Mercury turned around in her front seat. “Sailor Moon, did you... did you just use the word ‘counterproductive?’ Correctly?”
“WHICH WAY DO I TURN!?”
“Ah, sorry! Left!”
Nephrite groaned at the sharp turn, momentum bumping all of them around inside the car, and the cat yowled at a painful pitch. “We’re almost there,” Naru said. She had no idea if it was true. Maybe it was her turn to lie to him.
Naru’s whole body felt like it was humming, maybe from the shock and triumph from finally being able to pull out those branches and actually take down one of those monsters. It was like she had so much energy; like she’d slept for ten hours and then had ten cups of coffee, and she was facing a hated opponent on the other side of the tennis court and she knew she was going to crush them. If only she could give some of it to Nephrite.
Eventually Sailor Mercury lead them up a specific road by a large hospital, past the regular emergency entrance with its glowing red sign, to a second set of unremarkable doors. “Mother says they have this second entrance for high profile patients – YOU’RE GOING TO CRASH!”
Sailor Mars slammed on the brakes. The cat went flying with an almighty feline screech and hit the front glass windshield. They still bumped over a curb and landed half in the bushes. Naru twisted in time with the movements of the car to shelter Nephrite from colliding with the seats in front, and to stop him from falling off the backseat entirely.
“Luna!” Sailor Moon pushed her way out of the Ferrari first to reach over Sailor Mercury and grab her cat, ironically crushing her in a hug of fierce love right there in the parking lot.
Naru barely noticed Sailor Mars or Sailor Mercury de-transforming before running inside. She was focused on the faint rise and fall of Nephrite’s chest. But he did notice – because it meant they were alone in the car. Without the annoying audience of the Sailor Soldiers, it was suddenly important that he speak, that Naru know something true from him if he were going to die.
Over the wet, bloody feel in his mouth, Nephrite started to talk. “Naru... I want you to know... I’m glad I met you...”
“Please don’t. The doctor will be here any second, and you can tell me whatever you like later, ok? You owe me a chocolate parfait. I know you said you couldn’t stop lying, but just this once you have to keep your promise to me.”
The main interior light clicked off, having reached its automatic shut-off point. What a horrible sham of a date. Naru knew about American-style dates; burgers and a shared milkshake, then an outdoor movie, watched together in the dark backseat of a boy’s car. Or not watching together. She’d been having those daydreams a lot lately. But here she was, holding the man of her dreams closer than ever before, and it wasn’t romantic at all. Any minute he could stop breathing. His skin was clammy and cold. The air in the car had a sick, metallic tang. Naru could only hear Nephrite’s wet gasps for air, and her own pathetic sniffles.
The door behind her was pulled open, letting the cool night air rush in. “We can take over from here, miss!” Naru reluctantly let go of Nephrite and moved out of the way – was that his left arm reaching for her, or just a painful flail and her overactive imagination? – so the nurses and medical assistants could move him onto a gurney.
There was a flurry of activity, tubes and tools and a woman with dark blue hair commanding everyone.
“Nande kotta?!” one of the nurses said. “This green stuff, it’s not some chemical, it’s his blood!”
“Sulfhemoglobinemia,” snapped Dr. Mizuno. “Don’t stop moving! Let’s get him to the suite, and someone go get as much hemostatic gauze as they can carry. We’re going to need to repack that wound at least once before we get there.”
The four girls ran after the medical team into the hospital. Sailor Moon had de-transformed to just her best friend. Naru numbly recognized the other girls as Usagi’s new friends, the ones that had been taking up so much of her free time lately, leaving less and less for Naru. She was still barefoot.
“They have a VIP suite here?” Rei side-eyed Ami. “That would have been nice to know when my grandpa had his knee surgery.”
“I don’t think... it’s not really that kind of suite,” said Ami. She looked a little ashen. This was the first time she was seeing her mother in action, really in action and not just doing rounds in a clinic.
They all gathered in a strangely large elevator, and one of the nurses pressed three numbers at once, holding them all down. 8-9-3. The floor they wheeled off at was devoid of any machines or people in the hallways, although the operating room was properly equipped. And sterile, so as assisting surgeons came in and out, Naru and the others were stopped from going in.
“I guess we’re just going to have to wait,” said Usagi. “Don’t they have chairs in this hospital? How is a lonely maiden supposed to be vigilant by her beloved’s bedside?”
One of the surgical assistants came up to them and pulled his mask off. “I’ve been told to get the full story of how Mr. Sanjouin was injured. I don’t think anyone really believes he was attacked by monsters. Those Sailor Soldier vigilantes are just an urban legend."
Ami’s face flared pink.
“Sailor Moon is not made up!” Usagi loudly berated the man. Her voice pitched higher on every word. “She fights real monsters for love and justice!”
The doctor looked like he would much rather be back in the OR, digging through a patient’s bloody innards instead of talking to live people. “The chemical burns and cuts on his back we can take care of, although he might need skin grafts. I just need to know about whatever made the giant hole in his upper chest by his right shoulder, so we can treat for any particulates. Was he shot?”
“Thorns,” said Naru. “Like very large, thorned branches.”
“So, a tree branch?” the doctor extrapolated from her description. “We’ve seen that a couple times after a bad wind storm. They’re just like bullets, they don’t need to be big or heavy at all to do a lot of damage.”
“They didn’t feel very heavy when I finally pulled them out...” The doctor started at her, and Naru realized in hindsight there was something strange about her newfound strength that night, and she probably needed to be more cautious talking about it. “I mean – I was full of adrenaline, normally I’d never be able to do such a thing.”
“What do you mean you took it out?!”
The four girls were surprised by his anger, the only personality he’d shown so far.
“You never take out an impaled object without being right at the hospital, that just worsens blood loss! Leaving it there tamponades better than any hands or packing gauze! Even a tiny puncture can kill because ignorant, impatient people just won’t leave the object in and wait for proper medical attention!”
Just then they heard all kinds of alarms go off, and there was a rise in the volume of Dr. Mizuno’s commands. A tell-tale sign that something was very wrong. The surgeon turned on his heel and sprinted back into the OR.
“Naru... Naru, you’re shaking,” said Usagi, softly.
“He’s wrong,” she said. “I heard that monster say it would drain his energy and kill him, I had to get them out. I had to! I did it to save him!” She felt like stamping her foot, like a child. Or throwing something, or running into the operating room. Anything that would let her do something to help.
How could she feel so powerful but still be so helpless in the end? Usagi hugged her trembling friend while Rei and Ami looked on. All they could do was wait.
* * * * * * * *
Deep in Juuban Park, the vines from the Dark Kingdom finally began to wither and fade, left without a strong source of energy to feed on.
Two of them lay in the grass, unable to draw on the deep, slow power of the Earth, and eventually dissolved and dissipated into the night air.
A curious squirrel crawled on a third branch, seizing up and dying at the shock of its energy drain. That vine persisted through sunrise before vanishing in a puff of shiny dust.
The last branch – the last one pulled out of Nephrite, as it happened – Naru had thrown further and harder than all the others. It had embedded in the trunk of a keyaki tree, going almost all the way through with maybe ten inches poking through the bark on the other side. Like a lone thorn on a rose stem. The razor point was still lethal, as some unfortunate forest critters would find out.
There, cocooned in the heartwood, and anointed with both Nephrite and Naru’s blood, the vine continued to take on energy. It consumed life and nutrition along with the tree - feasting, aging, growing.
* * * * * * * *
to be continued...
* * * * * * * *
Special shout-out to Nancy Holder who wrote the novelization for Buffy’s 7th season; those are her words in the 2nd paragraph of this chapter, they were too awesome not to include here.
return to Index / go to Chapter 3
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury