Enemy's Choice
by Moon Momma

Chapter 4

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The attempt to gather energy from the animation artist had turned into the most humiliating failure Nephrite had ever experienced. Damn his cockiness; what had he been thinking, inviting Zoisite to watch the Twins fight the Senshi? Damn the Twins for their stupid jealousy and infighting. Damn Zoisite for his gloating and needling. Damn that Sailor Mercury, for having the nerve to stand on his car.

Damn everything.

It was time to forget these stupid plans to gather energy. He had hoped that this one would pay extra dividends, to use a term very familiar to his wealthy alter-ego Sanjouin Masato. The animation artist was working on a movie about the possibly-real Sailor V, in whom Beryl had shown a certain amount of interest. Nephrite had hoped to uncover some information about her for the Queen. But now he didn't have the luxury of wasting any more time. If he was going to survive to the time of the Dark Kingdom's victory, he was going to have to impress Beryl very quickly. Which meant discovering Sailor Moon's identity and finding the Silver Crystal. He didn't want to end up frozen for all eternity like Jadeite, especially not in a ridiculous-looking pose like that. Beryl did not believe in granting her underlings dignified deaths.

He got an unexpected reprieve when Beryl assigned him instead of Zoisite to investigate a new lead into the Silver Crystal's whereabouts. It was a valuable opportunity, and possibly his last chance to avoid Jadeite's ignominious fate, prove his worth to Beryl, and gain the position he wanted. Though he could have done without Beryl's reminder that he was so desperate he couldn't afford to fail the assignment.

All things considered, he found himself looking forward to his next meeting with Osaka Naru. Her company would be a welcome change from what he'd been having to deal with lately. It was rather fortunate that this next task was one in which her help could possibly prove invaluable.

* * * * * * * *

It was her fourth tennis lesson with Masato-san, and Naru had decided that either he was going easier on her, or she was getting better. Probably the latter, she decided; he didn't seem like the kind of person to go easy on someone. Naru returned her third serve in a row - a record for her - and grinned proudly as he said, "Excellent, Naru-chan. You're coming along very well. Water break."

Naru went over to the bench where she had left her sports bag and water bottle, aware of Masato following her. As she gulped back a long drink of water, he said, "You really have improved a great deal, Naru-chan."

"Thank you, Sanjouin-san."

He moved ever so slightly closer to her, close enough to speak privately but not so close as to raise suspicion in anyone who might see them, and spoke in a lower voice. "I have another lead, and I need your assistance this time."

"Oh?" Naru looked up at him, surprised. She had never expected him to ask for her direct assistance with any of his own projects.

"How would you like to attend a ball at the Diamond Embassy next week?"

Naru was nearly speechless. "A - a ball? With you? But I thought we shouldn't be seen together except for ..."

"We won't attend together. The occasion for the ball is the unveiling of a great jewel that has belonged to the royal family of the Diamond Kingdom for generations. I have reason to suspect that this jewel may be the crystal for which I am searching. Because of their professional interest, the major jewelers in Tokyo have all been invited to the ball. Including your mother. I will find a way for you to be included in her invitation."

"Oh?" This was puzzling, but seemed workable. It would make sense for her mother to bring her to an event like this ball... maybe. "What do you want me to do there?"

"The Diamond Princess, I understand, is a young girl about your age. You may be able to speak to her more personally than I would. Perhaps you could learn something from her about her family's treasure."

"Oh. Okay. That makes sense, I guess. I'll do my best."

"That's all I ask of you, Naru-chan. We never know what small, seemingly insignificant piece of information may prove the key to the mystery." He smiled and laid a hand on her shoulder. It felt pleasantly warm and solid.

"I'll do what I can, Masato-san." Naru glanced around the perimeter of the court, and saw Usagi leaning against the chain-link fence opposite where she and Masato stood. Usagi was glowering at them. "It looks like Usagi is waiting for me, and getting impatient."

"Ah. We don't want to keep your friend waiting, then. I'll let you go early today, and I'll make contact with you at the ball. Good afternoon, Naru-chan."

"Bye, Sanjouin-san!" Naru called after him as he walked away.

* * * * * * * *

So na´ve, so easily lied to, so easily led.... He had been fortunate indeed to find a human assistant like Osaka Naru. But Nephrite felt a bit of an uncomfortable twist inside as he thought about his real plans for her at the ball. Doubts about whether they would work, he told himself. Those damn Senshi, not to mention Zoisite, had undermined his confidence. Of course his plan for the ball would work. There weren't going to be any stupid youma involved, and he doubted that even Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Kamen would be able to penetrate the security... Unless, of course, they were on the guest list.

His mind busy working on how to get around this possible complication, Nephrite gathered up his things and left the tennis court.

* * * * * * * *

Usagi was predictably jealous that Naru was going to attend the ball. Umino, with his love of the latest gossip, had brought up the subject, and finally Naru, at everyone else's prodding, had been forced to admit that she was going. "My mother's sending me in her place," she said. "I really don't want to go." It was best, she thought, if everyone believed that she wasn't going voluntarily.

It was odd; her name hadn't been on the invitation after all. But this morning, the day of the ball, Osaka Kyoko had awakened with a bad cold. "Naru-chan, would you please go to the Diamond Embassy ball for me? I can't let the OSA*P shop be unrepresented. It would look like our store isn't very important."

"If you really want me to, Mama," Naru answered dutifully. She was trying to sound reluctant, but inside she was relieved. She had been worrying about how to get her mother to take her. Of course, she was sorry that her mother was sick, but it was nothing more than a cold, and now she would be able to go to the ball and help Masato-san after all. It was strange how things worked out for the best.

"You're so lucky!" Usagi whined. "I wish I could go. I've just got to figure out a way to go!"

"It'll mostly be a lot of rich old people talking about some boring old crystal, Usagi-chan."

"But there'll also be dancing, and princesses in beautiful gowns, and handsome, mysterious guys in masks..." Usagi sighed dreamily. "I've just got to go!"

Naru was a little worried that Usagi might really find a way to attend the ball. Usagi might start to get suspicious if she saw Naru there with Masato-san. Then she dismissed the idea. There was no way that Usagi the Dumpling Head would find a way to sneak, uninvited, past the security at the Embassy and into the ball.

* * * * * * * *

It took Nephrite a while to find her at the ball, in the crowd, but finally he spotted her, standing against a wall by herself, looking distinctly discontent. He would have felt unhappy too, he thought, with nothing else to do but stand around watching a lot of older people dance. Not to mention having to wear a ridiculous dress like the one Naru had on. It was a child's dress, all ruffles and bows. He would have preferred to see her in one of the elegant strapless gowns that were so prevalent. For his own part, he was glad he had rejected his personal serving-youma's initial suggestion of a lavender tuxedo with a ruffled shirt and insisted on the classic black formalwear he had worn for his Tuxedo Kamen plot. Minus the idiotic top hat and cape, of course. He wished he could have foregone the mask that covered the top half of his face, but it was part of the uniform for the ball, at least for the gentlemen. Naru-chan, he noted, like a few of the women, was not wearing a mask.

Her evening was about to become much more interesting. He straightened his mask and the cuffs of his crisp white shirt and approached her. "Osaka Naru-san," he said in his smoothest Sanjouin Masato voice. She looked up at him, relief filling her face. "What a pleasant surprise to see you here, Naru-san."

Almost instantly, she rearranged the relief on her face into happy surprise. "Sanjouin-san," she greeted him. "I came in my mother's place. She got sick."

"What a shame," Nephrite said, putting every bit of regret he could muster into the words. He had made sure that the mother wouldn't fall too ill; he rather expected that she would make a miraculous recovery almost as soon as the ball was over. "But at the same time, how fortunate for me, to have a chance to see you away from the tennis court. Would you care to dance?"

The happiness in her face was genuine now. "I - yes!"

She was not an experienced dancer. Neither was Nephrite; the surroundings of the Dark Kingdom were not conducive to waltzing, even if there were anyone to waltz with, which there wasn't. But he had a physical gift for being able to pick up such things quickly - he had learned to play tennis like an expert in the two days before commencing his initial plot, the one involving the rising young tennis star. Who happened to be a friend of Naru's, he recalled. Odd. Even from the beginning, Naru had been connected to his work in one way or another. She was also one of the young swimsuit beauties who had been sucked into his photographer-slave's camera.

Nephrite forced his attention back to the dance. It was pleasant. He could almost forget the reason why he was here, the pressure to please Beryl, Zoisite and Kunzite's plotting against him, all of his previous failures, as he danced to the lilting, soothing music with Naru in his arms. She was so warm. He had never before realized how cold he always felt inside, but now, being so close to her, it was like coming in from a snowstorm and sitting by a comforting, life-giving fire.

Foolish thoughts, he chided himself. Pretty thoughts, and he certainly couldn't be blamed for indulging in such fancies, given the pressure he was under, but he also couldn't afford to be distracted from his work. He glanced at his Patek Phillippe wristwatch; the formal presentation of Princess Daiya and the Diamond Family treasure was in less than half an hour. It was time to move things along.

The dance ended and another song began. Nephrite turned to walk towards the balcony overlooking the Embassy gardens, but Naru stopped him with a tug on his sleeve. "Look over there," she said, pointing to a far corner of the ballroom. "Doesn't that lady look like my friend Usagi?"

The woman Naru was pointing at had blonde hair done up in elaborate bun-topped ponytails. She wore a low-necked white gown festooned with ribbons and roses, and she carried, of all things, a frilly white parasol. Either she was unused to attending these sorts of formal occasions, or she was an eccentric lady of rank who could get away with any sort of fashion foolery she wished. He wasn't sure he saw very much resemblance to Naru's friend, though he would trust Naru to know better than he did what her friend looked like. But if he concentrated and looked at the woman in just the right way, she almost looked like...

"Come, Naru-chan," he said, tucking Naru's small hand into the crook of his elbow and guiding her towards the balcony doors. He filed away this small incident to think about later. A woman at the ball whom Naru thought looked like her friend and whom Nephrite could almost swear bore a resemblance to Sailor Moon. A coincidence - or was it? - that would require careful consideration indeed, even before he mentioned it to his na´ve young accomplice. On second thought, maybe he wouldn't mention it at all.

He led Naru out onto the large balcony. It was a relief to get away from the crowds and the noise. The embassy was on the outskirts of the metropolis, and it was actually possible to see a few stars through the haze of city light. He and Naru walked to the marble railing and leaned against it. Nephrite looked up at the stars, and then at Naru. "Your eyes are like the stars shining in the sky," he said. Females liked to hear that sort of thing; this would keep her nice and pliable. But, he had to admit to himself, there was some truth to this. Her eyes shone with the pure, endless light that had always drawn him to the stars.

For a moment, the world seemed to shift and sway. Nephrite refocused his attention on the evening's mission. He took Naru's hand in his and leaned closer to her. "Look at me," he whispered.

"Sanjouin-sama," she said, her voice small and breathless.

Nephrite put out a hand and sent his shadow-youma into her.

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return to Index / go to Chapter 5

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury