Brothers in Arms
by Dark Amethyst

Chapter 2

* * * * * * * *

I ‘awaken’ in a dark unfamiliar place, feeling hollow and dismal. I discern desks in the dim light, and remember my encounter with Naru.

I feel…abandoned…betrayed. But that’s not fair to Naru. She loved me, and still does. She didn’t leave me. I left her. But I didn’t intend to. Rage and frustration flood through me, then ebb, leaving me numb. No. It isn’t fair. But I’ve never known life to be so. At least Naru is happy now. That’s what I came to find out.

I don’t bother moving to the door this time, but pass through the window beside me and out into the night. I drift aimlessly about, seeing occasional places that I remember…wishing I could forget.

I wander, eventually, to the brow of a hill where the land slopes away, touching the sea not too far in the distance. There’s a bench here and I wish I could sit. Pathetically, I pretend to, settling my energy as I might had I a body…and fall to thinking.

What now shall I do? How can I stay here as nothing more than a bloody wraith? This is not my world. I want…to go home.

I will go back. I’ll return and face the consequences with Beryl.

I laugh bitterly as I reflect that it would be pleasant to see a familiar face – even hers!

And if she terminates me? I think I’d prefer that to this powerless half-life. I’m not used to being powerless, and I don’t like it.

I still my thoughts and concentrate on home…the Dark Kingdom…willing myself across the strange membrane separating our dimensions. But…I fail! I cannot cross over! Desperation begins creeping over me as I try again, and again, slowly realizing that the door is closed to me.

Great emotions begin to wash over me – rage, frustration, lust for revenge…and even fear. Perhaps the Dark Kingdom is no more. Could it be we were all defeated? Could I be the only one left? I’m suddenly tempted to start some trouble – as if I had the power – just so it might summon that wretched Sailor Moon and perhaps she might explain some things to me. But, of course, I can’t. Besides, if I did, she might let Naru know that I’ve returned, and I can’t allow that.

I feel spent. I feel hopeless, friendless, and afraid. I crave oblivion. But how does one kill oneself when one is dead already?

This absurd contradiction makes me laugh bitterly, and then…I am crying…my whole being tensed with loathing at my own weakness.

“Excuse me…,” a gentle voice says. “Are you alright?”

I startle violently and spin around to see a woman standing quietly behind me, watching me with wide dark eyes. She shelters under a large black umbrella and I notice that a cold rain has started, falling in large, icy drops upon my upturned face.

It takes a few stunned moments for these startling facts to sink in…this woman can see me, and I can feel the rain! I jump to my feet, looking down amazed over my familiar form, clad in my beloved grey and gold uniform. I could almost cry again, in relief!

“You looked so sad,” the woman explains quietly, and I glance at her, still in some disbelief.

“I’m alright,” I say shortly, my voice low and a bit gravelly from long disuse. I turn away from her, concentrating on this new factor.

So – now I do have a form…and possibly powers as well. But what does this change? I try again to cross through to the Dark Kingdom, and fail, again. My shoulders sag and I sit down tiredly. I seem very weak.

I look down to the dark flash of the ocean, squinting my eyes against the increasing rain.

What good does my body do me? I have no mission – no purpose…no desire. Perhaps some being overheard my earlier thoughts and gave me a form so I might kill myself properly.

“You’re getting soaked…and you don’t seem well.”

I startle again, less sharply than before, but I had forgotten this woman’s presence.

“Leave me,” I order, not looking at her, and wishing she would stop pestering me.

She does not leave, but moves around to stand before me, staring down at me appraisingly, one eyebrow lifted slightly. She is not terribly tall, and not terribly thin – though it is difficult to make out much detail between the darkness and the long coat she wears. Her hair is darkish, and short and boyish – almost as Jadeite wore his. Thoughts of Jadeite cause more painful frustration and I turn my face away from her. I have nothing but sympathy for poor Jed now…I wonder if he is still imprisoned. Perhaps he could be saved…perhaps we could work together. But I can’t even return. How could I save him?

“Have you nowhere to go?” she asks me sadly.

I ignore her. She steps closer to me and bends down, sheltering us both under her umbrella.

“You can’t stay out here,” she says firmly.

I turn my head to glare at her, and speak as threateningly as I can.

“I told you to leave me. Go away or you’ll be sorry.”

Her dark eyes widen, yet to my exasperation, she does not obey.

“I don’t know who you are, but I’m not leaving you here like this. You look terrible, and you’re going to get worse sitting out her freezing and soaked.”

A shiver goes over me, and I realized grudgingly that she is right. My belly suddenly growls, adding more strength to her argument. She plainly hears this and smirks slightly, then straightens up and smiles, unsurely but kindly. She puts out a hand towards me.

“Come on,” she says softly. “You can stay with me until you’re feeling better.”

I don’t move, but meet her eye undecided.

“I can see that you’ve got a lot on your mind…but you can’t make any good decisions until you’re well and rested. Whatever is troubling you, it will keep.”

That is true, I have to admit. What would be lost by waiting? And I’m feeling physically miserable, and no longer glad to have my body back. I must have shelter and food. She offers them. What would it hurt to accept?

I ignore her outstretched hand and rise to my feet. Lowering her hand, she looks up at me, perhaps looking a little frightened or dubious – but she makes herself smile.

“Here,” she offers, reaching up. “Take my umbrella. You’re too tall for us to share it. I don’t mind getting wet, and it’s not far.”

I shake my head, and she shrugs resignedly.

“Very well then. Come on, it’s this way.”

She turns and walks away, glancing over her shoulder to see that I’m following. Seeing few other options, I do.

= = = R = = =

Rachael, what are you doing? Have you lost your mind??

I glance back over my shoulder, on the premise of checking for traffic as we leave the park and cross a street. He’s still there - a few paces behind me. Meanwhile, my mental ranting continues…

How can you bring a total stranger back to your apartment? He could be anything! A murderer!

Oh, come on! How could I leave him there looking like that? I had to help him. And he’s not a murderer, obviously. If he meant me harm, it wouldn’t have been so hard to convince him to come with me. But god, he is strange…

We’ve arrived at my building and I dig in my coat pocket for my keys. They jangle together as I pull them out and find the right one, my fingers stiff from the cold. My mysterious companion stands quietly behind me, waiting, until I finally unlock the door and open it.

I wedge my foot in to keep it open, then turn to collapse my umbrella and shake the rain out of it. He steps back as I do this, but he really couldn’t get any wetter.

I glance up at him…way up. His long hair hangs in wet clumps over his shoulders. The entryway light shines directly behind his head, making his face hard to see and giving him an ominous look. I shiver and turn away quickly.

“Here we are,” I say, stupidly and unnecessarily as I hold the door open. He takes the door and waits silently for me to precede him.

So…definitely a gentleman. But not much of a talker.

I steal another glance at him as we wait for the elevator. Here in the light, he’s even more impressively gorgeous than I’d imagined…but he also really looks ill. His lovely blue eyes are dull, with dark circles beneath them. He doesn’t glance around or look at me, but stares lifelessly ahead, waiting.

Poor guy, I think sadly, looking up at the lighted floor numbers, slowly moving lower…7…6…5. He should be in bed.

When the damn elevator finally arrives, we ride up in silence, then move down the quiet hallway to my door in the corner. I unlock then open it, feeling around for the light switch.

Stepping in behind me, my strange gentleman casts a quick glance over my small apartment.

“Not overly impressive,” I acknowledge, bending down to untie my boots. “But it’s clean and warm. And I don’t need much space.”

I wait for the standard, “You live here alone?”, but it doesn’t come. I glance at him again and I’m immediately awash in sympathy.

“Look,” I tell him, a hand on his arm. “Go over and lie down on the couch. I’ll get you something to eat, and then you can rest.”

I move off towards the kitchen and notice that he hasn’t obeyed, but is reaching down to remove his own high boots. I raise an eyebrow to myself at his costume, not for the first time. What on earth does he do? I’ve never seen clothes like that.

Shrugging, I hurry into my tiny kitchen to try to find something quick and warm.

= = = N = = =

My boots removed, I do as she bid me and move slowly over to the green, plush sofa in the middle of the small room. I sit down gratefully, appreciating its softness, resting my head as I glance around the place.

Before me sits a long rectangular table that would be quite at home in the Dark Kingdom…reddish-brown polished wood, ornately carved with sinister-looking dragons. Across from me is a high-backed chair, upholstered in green and black. The rest of the available space, and there is not much, is taken up by bookshelves, these filled with an impressive number of books, as well as a few neglected-looking plants.

I close my eyes a moment and listen to the busy sounds of dishes clanking. Pleasant smells begin to waft to me, and my stomach growls again. I’m so tired…I hope I can stay awake to eat.

An electronic beep sounds. A few minutes later my hostess returns with a tray which she sets on the table before me. She kneels down on its other side, looking up unsurely.

“I brought you some soup. I hope you like it…I had to microwave it, as it was frozen…but I made it myself, originally…it should warm you up.” She pauses abruptly, as if embarrassed by her flustered talk. She takes a deliberate breath before continuing more calmly. “I brought you coffee too, if you don’t think it will keep you from sleeping.”

I shake my head at this.

“Not much could do that. I’m bloody exhausted.”

I reach down and take the mug, and swallow gratefully the strong, steaming coffee, feeling its heat spread through me.

The woman is watching me, and I give her a small nod of thanks. She seems to realize that her staring is disturbing me so she looks down at her hands a moment. I start into the soup which I find hot and incredibly delicious. My appetite is sharper than I ever remember it being before.

Perhaps noticing this fact, my companion departs the room and returns with a loaf of dark bread, a knife, and a small plate of butter.

She sits down, but this time in the chair across from me. She’s staring again.

“What’s your name?” I finally ask her, putting down my empty bowl and cutting myself a generous slice of bread.

“Rachael,” she answers softly. She then asks mine, and I tell her quickly, between mouthfuls.

“Nephrite?” she confirms, uncertainly, as if she’d never heard a name like that before.

I nod shortly. This bread is wonderful.

“You made this too?”

She smiles, slight pride lighting up her face.

“Yes…I love to cook. It’s my hobby. It’s nice to have someone to cook for besides just myself.”

But she looks away as she says this, and looks angry with herself.

“Everything was excellent.” I tell her honestly. I believe my stomach is at last content, and I sit back and rest my head again.

“It’s time you got some rest…Nephrite.”

She says my name so gingerly – as if she’s afraid to break it.

She takes the dishes away to the kitchen. When she returns, she moves the chair over to the wall, and then drags the table away as well. She stands before me waiting, then smiles crookedly.

“Would you get up a moment?” she asks with slight emphasis.

I do, and she removes the couch cushions, and deftly turns couch into bed. She moves to a closet and produces pillows and blankets, then arranges the bed quickly with both.

“There you are,” she says efficiently. “Now. There’s a bathroom in there. And towels under the sink. Please make yourself at home. Um….”

Her business-like speech is marred by this last syllable. She is staring at my chest with a faint blush on her pale cheeks.

“I…haven’t got a lot…for you to wear…” Her brow furrows. “Hmmm. Just a minute.”

She leaves the room quickly, and returns with an armful of dark green.

“It’s a robe. It’s the only thing I possess that might even possibly fit you. At least it doesn’t have lace or ribbons.” She smiles slightly teasingly, then runs a hand self-consciously through her shining red hair.

I had not paused yet to scrutinize her very closely, but now I do, and I realize she is quite lovely. Her skin is clear and white, and her eyes are green.

I step a bit closer to her, to see her better, and her smile vanishes and her eyes widen. She is wearing jeans and a beige sweater, both of which reveal her to be very curvaceous, with wide hips and a narrow waist.

I raise my appreciative eyes to hers and find her trembling slightly. Am I frightening her? I step back a pace, then try to speak in a non-threatening way.

“Thank you, Rachael, for your kindness. I’m very grateful.”

“I’m glad I could help you,” she answers in a slightly hoarse voice, then clears her throat nervously. “If you lay out your clothes…over the chair, they should be dry by morning. I can press out the wrinkles for you, but I don’t have a drier.”

“Thank you,” I say again. “Good night.”

“Good night,” she echoes with a barely discernable shake of her head, as if she cannot quite accept what she sees. She turns and goes into another room, leaving me alone.

She’s probably questioning the wisdom of letting a strange man sleep outside her door. How many people would have taken me in like this?

I shake off the thoughts, feeling increasingly exhausted. I use the bathroom, then return to the bed and remove my very damp uniform, hanging it over the chair, as she suggested.

I climb naked under the clean sheets and lay back on the pillows. The bed is small for me, but it is soft and welcome. I shut my eyes, then notice I’ve forgotten the light. Too tired to bother getting up again, I reach out a hand towards it and will it off. The room disappears into darkness and I doze off to sleep feeling at least slightly comforted.

= = = R = = =

As I close the door to my bedroom, my heart is at last slowing down. I undress with distinct nervousness – as if Nephrite might hear or see, or burst in – then reach for my comfortable flannel ‘jammies’. I think better of this, however, and put on the green silk nightdress I bought and have been saving for god-knows-what.

I catch sight of myself in the mirror, and turn slightly. It looks good, and I’m reassured…slightly.

My wits and emotions are addled, I realize. It’s very late. I douse the lights and crawl between the cold sheets of my antique bed. It’s huge, and as usual I feel very small in it. How ridiculous to have Nephrite out there uncomfortable on that tiny bed, and little me here in this one. I’m an airhead, truly. I should have suggested we switch, but it’s too late now.

I close my eyes firmly and will myself to sleep…but it’s hopeless. I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve, and my mind races as if I’d had seven cups of coffee before retiring. All I can think of is that magnificent man, and how I can’t wait ‘til morning for a chance to see him again.

I sigh, exasperated with myself, and put a hand over my face. It’s going to be a long night.

* * * * * * * *

return to Index / go to Chapter 3

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury

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