* * * * * * * *
Naru slowly woke up. She was lying among blankets on a narrow bed. She looked around; the light was dim, and her surroundings seemed to be a dull gray that was really no color at all. As she shifted position in the bed, pain ripped through her right shoulder and the right side of her chest. She remembered, then, the searing pain of the thorns as they tore through her body. Looking down at herself, she saw that the thorns were gone, and she was wearing a lightweight, sleeveless, white silk nightgown instead of her orange pajamas. Was she dead? She couldn't imagine surviving an injury like the one the thorns had given her, but if she were dead, why did it hurt so much?
She looked around more, trying to get an idea of what kind of place she was in, and saw him sitting on what looked like a stone bench, of the same colorless gray as the rest of the place. He sat bent over, his head buried in his arms. His posture exuded misery and exhaustion. "Sanjouin – Nephrite-sama," Naru said. Her voice was weak; she barely had enough breath to make any sound at all.
His head jerked up and he saw her. "Naru-chan!" In a few long strides he was sitting on the bed and pulling her into his arms. His face felt wet where it rested against hers; he hadn't been crying over her, had he? "I didn't want you to die," he whispered hoarsely. "I just didn't want you to die."
"Where are we?" Naru asked.
"I'm not sure," Nephrite answered. "I think it's in the same dimension as the Dark Kingdom, but it isn't the Dark Kingdom. It's a place where you can live."
"What do you mean?"
"After you – after you were hurt, the only thing I could think of was that I wanted you to live. You had to live; I couldn't lose you. When I teleported with you, that's all I was thinking of. I suppose that if doctors could have helped you we would have ended up in a hospital, but instead we came here."
"I don't understand – it's all healed, where the thorns went in. How did that happen?"
"I'm not sure. When we arrived here, the thorns disappeared and the wounds healed instantly. I have the feeling that if you were to leave here and go back to Earth, the wounds would open up again and you would die. You were only a breath away from dying when I brought you here – I was almost too late." At that, he held her more tightly until the pain in her shoulder made her gasp. He loosened his grip. "Why did you do it?" he asked.
Naru drew back so that she could see his face. A fresh tear was sliding down his cheek. She couldn't bear to see it; she raised her right hand and gently brushed it away with her fingertips. "Why did I do what?"
"You knew the truth about me. Why did you put yourself in danger to save me again?"
Naru considered for a moment. At the time, she hadn't even paused to think about it; saving him was simply the only thing there was to do. "I guess... I knew some of the truth, what Sailor Moon and that – that man said about you, but I also... I guess I knew that wasn't all of the truth. Maybe part of you was evil, and you had done some evil things, but I also knew that way deep inside, you're also good." Her voice trailed off; so much speaking took all her breath and wore her out.
Nephrite just held her for a long time, until she had to rub at her aching shoulder again. Gently, he lowered her back down to the bed, making sure her head was settled on the pillow. Had the pillow been there before? Naru suddenly wondered. "I'm thirsty," she said.
Nephrite looked around briefly, then reached to a small table beside the bed – it hadn't been there before, either – and picked up a silver pitcher and a glass. He filled the glass with water, then helped Naru sit up so she could drink it. "Where did that come from?" she asked.
"I don't know. Things just seem to appear when we need them. The bed and blankets, water to wash you with, the nightdress – they were all just there when I reached for them."
He had taken off her old pajamas, and washed her, and put the new nightgown on... Naru felt herself blushing. Nephrite must have noticed her blush, because he said, "It's all right. I didn't do anything I shouldn't have done."
Naru blushed even harder, that he would think that she thought he would have done anything improper. "I know. It's okay. I’m sorry." She drank the rest of the glass of water, to hide her embarrassment.
Nephrite took the glass when it was empty, and carefully laid her back down. "Before, when you got hurt, why did you say you were sorry?" he asked.
Naru thought back. "Because I should have known that it was a trap. I led your enemies right to you. I should have known that was what that man wanted, when he came and told me all those things. If you had gotten hurt –" Tears threatened to choke off her voice. "If you had gotten hurt, it would have been my fault."
"It's all right, Naru-chan. Even I have a hard time figuring out what Zoisite is thinking, and I've known him for more than a thousand years." He took her hand and squeezed it. "If you're right, if there's any good in me at all, I promise you I'll find it, and do something with it, so that what you did won't be in vain. After all the lies I told you, I don't expect you to believe me, but I hope you will, just this once."
Naru tried to smile at him, but it took too much energy. "Of course I believe you, Nephrite-sama."
"Thank you." He brushed some strands of hair away from her face, and settled the blanket around her shoulders. "You're tired. You should rest now." His hand hovered near her face for a moment. Then slowly he bent over and lightly, gently, brushed his lips against hers. "I'll be back in a while." A swirl of red and white light surrounded him, then he was gone.
Naru lay staring at where he had been. She brought her left hand up and gently touched her mouth where he had kissed her. Ever since she first met him, practically, she had dreamed of being kissed by him. And now it had happened, in this strange place, on such a strange and frightening night. A night when she had almost died. But that didn't matter, because Sanjouin-sama – Nephrite-sama – had kissed her.
* * * * * * * *
Just before dawn, Nephrite materialized in his Sanjouin Masato guise in front of the door to the apartment over the OSA*P jewelry shop. He knocked on the door; it was quickly opened by Naru's mother. Mrs. Osaka's face was red and tear-stained; her reddened eyes widened when she saw him. "S – Sanjouin Masato-san!"
"May I come in, Osaka-san?"
Mrs. Osaka stood aside so he could enter the apartment. "My daughter – do you know what's happened to her? I thought I heard something, about two o'clock this morning – I went to check on her and she was gone – no one's seen her –" She started crying.
"That's why I've come, Osaka-san."
Mrs. Osaka looked at him, hope suddenly showing in her face. "Do you know where Naru is? Is she all right?"
"Let's sit down, Osaka-san." Nephrite took her elbow and guided her to the sofa in the small living room. She sat down, and he sat in a chair across from her. "Naru got caught in a disagreement that some of my rivals have with me. They used her to set a trap for me tonight, and unfortunately she was very seriously injured." Mrs. Osaka started crying again. "Believe me, Osaka-san, I never wanted her to get hurt. I'm terribly, terribly sorry that she got caught in a bad situation. I've used my influence to take her to a safe place away from my enemies, where she can be treated for her injuries. I can't say when she'll be able to come home" – inside, he winced at the half-lie; she would never be able to come home – "but I can assure you that she's alive and safe."
Mrs. Osaka dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief. "Can I go see her?"
"I'm afraid not, Osaka-san. It's far too dangerous."
"I see. Would you – would you please tell her that I love her?"
"I'll do that." He stood to leave. "Are you going to be all right, Osaka-san?"
She nodded, though tears still swam in her eyes. "As long as I know my daughter is safe, I'll be well enough, I guess. Thank you for letting me know."
Nephrite left the apartment, walked down the stairs where he would be out of Mrs. Osaka's view, then teleported to his mansion. That had been hard – one of the hardest things he could ever remember doing. But it had been the right thing to do. Of course Mrs. Osaka would have been frantically worried about Naru, and giving her what comfort he could had been a good thing. Nephrite wondered what he would do as time went on and Mrs. Osaka started to wonder why Naru hadn't come home yet. Though Nephrite wasn't exactly certain of the nature or location of the place where he had taken Naru, he was sure of one thing – just as Naru's wounds had healed when he took her there, if she ever left that dimension and returned to Earth they would reappear and she would die almost immediately.
Well, he would deal with that problem when it happened. In the meantime, he had another visit to make, which would be at least as difficult as the other one, in a different way. Starting with the fact that he had no idea where to find the people he needed to talk to, and not to mention that they considered him their mortal enemy. After some thought, Nephrite decided that the best place to start would be the park where Naru had been injured. He would worry about convincing them that he didn't pose a threat after he found them.
Luck was with him (Nephrite wondered if his first few attempts at doing good had already started to swing the fates over to his side). Sailor Moon and her two cohorts were there, crouched by the spot where Naru had fallen and where he had teleported with her. Still dressed as Sanjouin Masato, in the hopes that he would look less threatening this way, he approached the group. "Sailor Moon."
The three senshi jumped to their feet, Sailor Mars and Sailor Mercury closely flanking their leader. All three girls had been crying, and Sailor Moon's face was as red and swollen as Mrs. Osaka's had been. Nephrite wondered if Sailor Moon had been personally close to Naru. "Where is she?" Sailor Moon demanded, sobbing. "What did you do with her?"
Nephrite tried to speak softly and calmly, to reassure the frantic girl and hopefully keep her from lashing out at him. "She's safe, Sailor Moon. I took her to a place where she could survive. She's all right."
Sailor Moon sniffled and dragged her white-gloved arm across her face. "Where is she? In a hospital somewhere?"
Nephrite shook his head. "No. My only thought when I teleported was to get her to a place where she could live. It's some sort of alternate dimension, like the Dark Kingdom, but not the Dark Kingdom." He briefly described the place, and how Naru's injuries had healed themselves. While he spoke, he kept his senses alert for any sign of Zoisite or his servants. He doubted they would challenge him while he was with the Sailor Senshi, but he didn't want to take any chances. On the other hand, it wasn't likely that the Senshi would be willing to teleport to a safer location with him. "So, you see she's all right," he concluded. "The only thing is, she can't leave the place where she is. If she does, she will die."
"I don't see how you can say that's 'all right.'" Sailor Moon wiped her eyes again. "If she's in some weird place where she can't come home and her mom can't see her again and I can't see her –"
"Sailor Moon," Sailor Mars said warningly. Cautioning Sailor Moon against giving away her identity? Nephrite wondered.
"At least she's alive," Nephrite said. "I didn't want her to die. Believe me, I never wanted her to get hurt."
"Then why did you let this happen?" Sailor Moon cried.
Nephrite closed his eyes as guilt washed over him. It was an emotion that had been completely foreign to him during all the long years in the Dark Kingdom. It was uncomfortable, but at the same time it was almost freeing to acknowledge the wrong he had done. "I never meant – I should have told her to go away, after I realized she wasn't going to be of much use to me. She didn't know who you were, she couldn't find the ginzuishou any more than I could – but, no matter how bad my situation was, no matter how much pressure I was under, I always felt better when Naru-chan was with me. I didn't want to send her away." It was out now, the truth he'd been denying to himself ever since that night at the department store. Nephrite was appalled at himself, admitting this weakness in front of his enemies, but it had to be said. "I never meant for her to get hurt."
There was a long silence. "I guess I believe you about that," Sailor Moon finally said.
"I don't think we can trust him one bit," Sailor Mars said.
Sailor Mercury spoke up. "I trust him, at least about this."
Sailor Moon nodded agreement. "I just don't understand why Naru chose you over everything else, Nephrite."
"I don't understand either," Nephrite said. "All I know is that she told me, after she woke up, that she knows that somewhere deep inside, there's good in me. I feel like I owe it to her to find out if she's right."
"I hope she is right," Sailor Moon said softly. Then she and the others walked away, and soon disappeared from sight.
Nephrite didn't dare stay there any longer. He teleported back to the place where Naru was, to think about what he could do to prove to the Senshi, and to himself, that Naru really was right about him.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 10
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury