Enemy's Choice
by Moon Momma

Chapter 12

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There was nothing to do now, but wait, and hope that the Senshi would make good use of the advantage he had given them. Nephrite didn't dare intervene more directly in their behalf; while he had never been interested in dying, he was even less interested now that Naru needed him. He had no doubts about how he would fare if he was confronted by Zoisite and Kunzite at the same time. They would destroy him without a second thought; if they had hated him before, they would hate him even more now that he had given his kurozuishou to the Senshi. As for that, he could only hope that if they were aware that the Senshi were in possession of the kurozuishou, they would assume that the Senshi had captured it from him and not realize that he had given it to the girls.

Since he had given away the kurozuishou, the only way he could observe what was going on was in the viewing window in his mansion. He didn't like spending so much time away from Naru, but the power that would have to be expended to make another Star Crystal so that he could keep an eye on the Senshis’ activites from the gray room would act as a beacon to his enemies.

Nephrite kept careful tally of the Rainbow Crystals. Though he had given the Sailor Senshi a way to find out who had the Rainbow Crystals, they still had to let Zoisite remove the Crystals from the carriers before they could try to take them. Zoisite had the first Crystal; Tuxedo Kamen captured the second. Nephrite decided not to worry about that yet; he wasn't as certain as Luna seemed to be that Tuxedo Kamen was an enemy. If he was the Senshis' enemy, why was he so compelled to come to Sailor Moon's rescue so often? If nothing else, maybe the top-hatted hero would be willing to negotiate a temporary alliance with the Senshi.

He watched, amused, as the third Great Youma turned on Zoisite, attacking him instead of Sailor Mercury, causing Zoisite to lose the third Rainbow Crystal to the Senshi. So, they finally had one. The Senshi briefly lost sight of the fourth Crystal when Zoisite spirited himself and its host away to a construction site; this brief lapse allowed Zoisite to get away with the Crystal. The bearer of the fifth Crystal was being protected by a young man whom the Senshi seemed to know; they got distracted from the Crystal by their concern for him when Zoisite attacked him. Tuxedo Kamen was in arm's reach of the Crystal but was tricked by Zoisite, who stole away with it.

The Senshi were already on alert when Zoisite discovered that Rei's grandfather was the bearer of the sixth Crystal. Although they were attacked by the youma that emerged from the old priest's body, they were prepared for the shock and managed to capture that Crystal. Zoisite appeared confused as to who the host of the seventh Crystal really was; he was targeting a little girl, but the Senshi had determined that the actual host was the child's large pet cat, who had protected Luna from a pack of stray cats earlier in the day. This gave the Senshi the advantage they needed to take the Crystal after Zoisite, who apparently was being chased by every sewer rat in Tokyo, finally managed to extract it.

So the final tally was the Senshi with three Crystals, Zoisite with three, and Tuxedo Kamen with one. Not the results Nephrite had hoped for, but it could have been worse. If he could figure out a way to convince Tuxedo Kamen to join forces with the girls instead of pursuing his own mysterious goals...

"Nephrite?" Naru asked when he returned to the gray room while pondering the problem, "Is something wrong?"

He sat down heavily on the bench that had carved itself out for him from the wall opposite her bed and dropped his head into his hands. "I feel like they aren't getting anywhere. The fight's at a stalemate, and I don't know what to do next to help them without revealing my involvement."

Naru was sitting up in bed; she stared at her hands folded in her lap. "I wish there was some way I could help them. I wish... I wish I could do something. I'm tired of sitting here, just waiting for things to change, and they never will. I wish I could do something that's of use to someone."

Nephrite came over and sat beside her on the bed, putting an arm around her shoulder. He hadn't told her about Luna's promise that the Senshi would try to find a way to bring Naru back to life on Earth when the battle against the Dark Kingdom was over. He didn't want her to get her hopes up, and right now things were not looking very good. He tried to think of what to say to her, but a soft noise disrupted his thoughts. "What...?" Naru said. Nephrite looked at the table next to Naru's bed.

A stack of textbooks had appeared there. He moved aside so Naru could look through them. "What are these?" Naru said, looking at each book. "Economics, Basics of Business Management, Accounting Fundamentals, Business English..." She looked up at him, puzzled. "The room wants me to study business, I guess. I don't know what good that will do, but I guess it's better than just sitting here doing nothing."

As Nephrite opened his mouth to agree with her, the explanation came easily to his mind. "Maybe if you study these, you could help me with my business. I mean, my business on Earth, the imports. Not... not that other thing you were helping me with."

"I could?" She sounded doubtful.

"Of course." It seemed obvious to him now. He wanted to work with her, to have her as part of his life, and having her help him in his business was one way she could do that. "There's a lot involved in operating a company that goes on behind the scenes. Planning, accounting, decision-making... You could help with all those things from here." Unless the Senshi finally lose to the Dark Kingdom once and for all, and then everything will be gone. He firmly moved his mind off of this discouraging train of thought. The Senshi hadn't been defeated yet.

"I guess... I guess I could do this, then. It's something to work towards, anyway." Naru picked up the Business English textbook and flipped through the pages. Nephrite watched her trying to put on a brave face. She was so young, just a schoolgirl, she couldn't spend all her time studying. With a soft whoosh of air, another stack of books appeared on the table, this time a pile of manga with cute schoolgirls and handsome young men on the covers. A genuine smile appeared on Naru's face as she turned her attention to the manga. "The room knows my favorites!" she beamed up at Nephrite.

"Good." He pushed his worries aside enough to smile back at her. "I hope you'll still study, though. I'd like it if you could be my partner in my business." And in other ways, he thought, surprised. He had always preferred to work alone, there had never been anyone in the Dark Kingdom that he had cared to spend time with; it had never occured to him before that he might want to share any part of his life with someone. But now, he realized, he liked the thought of having Naru by his side, living their lives together.

But it all depended on the Senshi. They had to win, and they had to survive in order to find a way to bring Naru back. A victory that was a battle to the death would be no victory at all, as far as Naru’s fate was concerned. If they won but didn't survive, he and Naru could still be together in this room, but she would always be fifteen years old while he, whose life was not tied to the stasis of this place, would grow old and eventually die. Any kind of partnership they had under those conditions would be incomplete and imperfect.

A fifth Senshi was discovered, Sailor Venus (who bore a striking resemblance to Sailor V in the comics Naru loved so much), who along with her feline mentor Artemis was a powerful new ally. But it seemed like every advantage the Senshi gained was offset by some new plot or trickery of the Dark Kingdom.

He watched in horror as Zoisite challenged Tuxedo Kamen and Sailor Moon into meeting with him, ostensibly to engage in a fair fight, with the prize being the Rainbow Crystals. It was a trap, of course; when Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Kamen arrived at the appointed place, Zoisite tricked them into putting their Rainbow Crystals into the same box as his; the box was immediately stolen by Kunzite. Nephrite couldn't believe that the two of them had been naive enough to think that Zoisite would keep his word. But as he watched the events that followed he forgot his anger and despair. Zoisite's nearly-fatal attack on Tuxedo Kamen backfired when Sailor Moon's tears summoned the Rainbow Crystals together to form the Ginzuishou. The long-sought-after jewel nestled itself into Sailor Moon's Moon Stick and revealed Sailor Moon to be the long-lost Moon Princess.

So the Senshi had gained the Silver Crystal, but the Dark Kingdom took Tuxedo Kamen, a serious blow to the Senshi as they lost a powerful ally and the Dark Kingdom gained one, if he could be turned to their side. Nephrite didn't doubt it could happen; Metallia's magic was powerful.

Zoisite was killed by Beryl for his attempt to kill Tuxedo Kamen. Nephrite was stunned at his reaction to Zoisite's death - he had never felt anything but dislike and contempt for the youngest Lord, but he was shocked to find himself feeling compassion for Kunzite. He abandoned his observation of the rest of the events in the Starlight Tower and rushed back to the gray room. Naru sat on the bed, looking fragile, almost not completely solid, but at least she was alive. He pulled her tightly into his arms.

He held her as he fought back the memory of those terrible few moments when he had thought he would lose her. Is that what it was like for you, Kunzite? he wondered. Did the thought of losing him hurt you that much? Are you going to keep working for Beryl after what she's done to you and Zoisite?

"Are you all right, Nephrite-sama?" Naru asked.

Nephrite realized that his grip on her must be making her uncomfortable. He loosened his embrace, though he still didn't let go. "I'm sorry. I just -- I'm glad you didn't die."

"I know," she said. "I'm glad I didn't die, too."

In control of his emotions once again, Nephrite considered the situation. If Kunzite did indeed decide to stop obeying Beryl, that would be a huge benefit to the Senshi. It was probably too much to hope for that Kunzite would turn against the Dark Kingdom and help the Senshi against Beryl, but at least if the girls didn't have to battle against him...

No such luck. If Kunzite's heart was broken, he channeled his anger and grief into fighting even more furiously against the Senshi. Nephrite would have almost been amused by the silver-haired lord's unsuccessful attempts to discover Sailor Moon's identity if not for the damage being done to the Senshi's health and morale by the drawn-out fighting and the appearance of Tuxedo Kamen as their enemy. A scheme to make it look as though the Senshi were fighting among themselves and had rejected Sailor Moon looked a little too realistic for Nephrite's liking. They were falling apart, and quickly.

Something had to be done. The time had come for the Senshi to take the initiative, before they grew any weaker and more demoralized. Ignoring the risks to himself if his actions were discovered by Beryl, he leaked the coordinates of the Arctic entrance to the Dark Kingdom into the computer system through which Luna and her partner Artemis received information. It would be dangerous for the Senshi to go in this way, but at this point, whoever made the first attack would probably win, and Nephrite wanted to make sure it was the Senshi who had the advantage.

In spite of everything he could do for them, though, the Sailor Senshis’ victory, let alone their survival, was far from certain. For the first time that he could remember, Nephrite found himself praying. To what deity, he had no idea, but there had to be something or someone out there who would protect five young girls and two cats who were fighting to protect the Earth.

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury