Love of mine, someday you will die
But I'll be close behind and I'll follow you into the dark
No blinding light or tunnels to gates of white
Just our hands clasped so tight, waiting for the hint of a spark
-- Benjamin Gibbard
* * * * * * * *
They all died. Nephrite watched, tears tracing unheeded down his face, as one by one the Senshi were killed by the traps set for them in the snow as they approached the Dark Kingdom. Why was he crying? he wondered. Was it only because with each death Naru's chance of being able to return to a normal life was disappearing and her world itself was in greater danger? Much as he wanted Naru to be able to live her life, he knew deep inside that he was also grieving because he had met most of these girls, spoken to them, tried to help them - he cared whether they lived or died, for their own sakes. He had changed so much, but it seemed that the changes were in vain after all, and his caring and help had come too late...
Tuxedo Kamen broke free of Beryl's hold on him, and was killed defending his princess. It was up to Sailor Moon, Usagi, now. Nephrite couldn't imagine how the girl, beaten and broken and grieving her losses, could possibly win against Beryl and her ruler Metallia, who had merged into one horrendous being. But in assuming her identity as Princess Serenity the girl found hidden reserves of strength from somewhere. And Nephrite thought he could see, during the final struggle, the spirits of the other Senshi gathered around Serenity, lending her the additional strength she needed.
It worked. Beryl/Metallia shattered out of existence with a soul-gutting howl.
And Serenity died.
The Earth was saved, but Nephrite could only feel darkness as all his dreams of a life shared with Naru came crashing to an end. He fled the viewing room of his mansion for the gray room that would be Naru's world forever, for as long as she chose to continue living, and pulled her into his arms, burying his face against her hair.
"Nephrite," she said questioningly. She pulled back far enough to see his face, and brushed her fingertips across the wetness of his tears. Her eyes widened with fear. "Nephrite, they didn't... the Senshi... they lost?"
He shook his head. How could he tell her what had happened to her friends? "They won. But --"
His words were cut off by Naru's gasp as she looked over his shoulder past him into the center of the room. He turned to follow her stare.
Six apparitions stood there in the middle of the room: five young women, four of them in sailor fukus, the fifth in a flowing white gown, along with a young man in dark armor. They were transparent, insubstantial - the spirits of the Senshi and Mamoru, he knew. A crystalline glow surrounded them, and they were smiling.
"Usagi!" Naru gasped. Her sudden understanding of the terrible truth showed in her face.
"There's a way, Naru," Serenity - Usagi - said. "We can bring you back, if you want. I made a wish, and the Ginzuishou is sending us back, and you can come with. But you'll have to die first. You'll have to go outside."
"I..." Naru's hand went to where the wounds on her chest and shoulder had been. She looked at Nephrite.
"Do it," he said.
She hesitated only briefly before answering, "I will."
"There's something else you need to know, Naru," Usagi said. "We're going to forget everything. The Crystal's going to take away our memories of all of this, so we can live normal lives."
Naru's hand dropped to her lap. She looked down. After a long moment she said, "I don't want to, then."
"Naru -" Nephrite said.
She looked up at him, her eyes flashing. "I don't want to forget you! I'd rather stay here forever, with you, than go back and forget that I ever knew you! I don't want to live like that."
"But I will remember," Nephrite told her. "And I'll find you."
She was silent for a moment. "You'll find me? Promise?"
"But Nephrite, what if this doesn't work? What if I just die and don't come back?"
"I'll find you," he said. "I promised, remember?"
"All right," she finally said, "I'll do it, then."
Nephrite stood and lifted her into his arms. She felt so light, so insubstantial, as though she herself were half a spirit. She had never even regained enough strength to leave the bed during her time here; it had been a half-life at best. Even if this didn't work, and she died without being brought back by the Ginzuishou, at least she would be free to move on. And he would do what he had to do in order to follow her.
The Senshi and Mamoru joined hands to form a circle around them, taking Naru into the glowing field that surrounded them. Then Nephrite teleported from the room.
* * * * * * * *
She felt a sudden, searing pain in her chest and shoulder, then a cold, heavy sensation, then finally a feeling of lightness as she rose up and joined the others in the circle. She allowed herself only a brief glimpse back at Nephrite where he knelt on the floor of a huge dark room, clutching her limp, blood-covered body to his chest. Then the light that surrounded the circle flared into a million different sparkling shards of color, and then --
* * * * * * * *
Naru and Usagi stood at the fence around the tennis court, clutching at the chain link fence. "He's so handsome," Naru sighed, looking at the new volunteer coach who was helping her friend Rui perfect her already nearly-flawless serve. His long auburn hair flowed around his broad shoulders as he showed Rui the form he wanted her to try; his handsome, finely-chiseled face softened in a smile as she repeated the motion perfectly.
"I know," Usagi sighed back.
"I think that's enough for today, Saionji-san," the coach said. "You've done well today."
Rui glowed at the praise. "Thank you, Sanjouin-san. You're the best teacher, you make me want to do my very best!"
"The teacher is only as good as the effort the student puts into the lessons," he replied.
Rui walked to the edge of the court to put away her racquet, but the coach spotted Usagi and Naru where they stood watching at the end of the courts. He walked towards them, smiling. "Omigosh, he's coming this way," Usagi whispered excitedly.
"What'll we say?" Naru whispered back.
He stood on the other side of the chain link fence from them and hooked his fingers through the wires. "Hi," he said. His voice was deep and smooth, and Naru felt a shock flow through her blood at the single word.
"Um, hi!" Usagi stammered.
"Do you girls know Rui-san?"
"Um, yes," Naru said. She could hardly bring herself to speak loud enough that he might be able to hear her. "We've been friends for years. She's like a big sister to me."
"And Naru and I are best friends," Usagi added, giggling nervously. "My name's Usagi."
"Naru. Usagi." He nodded at each of the girls in turn. Naru noticed that he wore earrings in both ears, unusual for a man but just way too sexy, she decided. "Well," he said, "since you're friends of Rui-san's, would you girls like a free tennis lesson?"
"Oh, not me, sorry," Usagi said, giggling some more and rubbing the back of her head awkwardly. "I'd probably just kill myself with the racquet."
Sanjouin-san laughed a little. "Well, all right, but let me know if you change your mind. What about you, Naru-san?"
Disappointment made the sunny spring day suddenly seem cloudy. "I wish I could, but I hurt my shoulder really bad in an accident a few months ago - I got hit by a car - and I can't move my right arm very much."
His eyebrows drawn together in concern, he seemed to study her shoulder. "Have you had physical therapy for it?"
"Some. It doesn't seem to help much, though. The muscle there was damaged pretty badly."
He smiled. "Playing tennis - just very gently and slowly, you understand, not competitively - might be good therapy. Want to try?"
He looked almost hopeful, Naru thought. "Ok," she said.
Just as he was turning to go open the gate for Naru to come onto the courts, Usagi's little black cat Luna appeared at their feet. "Hey, a cat," Sanjouin-san said. "I love cats." He crouched down to rub the cat's head and cheeks through the chain links, and Luna pushed her head against his fingers, purring loudly. And then Naru thought she saw him wink at the cat.
He stood. "Come along, Naru-chan. We'll have your shoulder back in shape before you know it."
"Ok!" She hurried over to the gate and followed him onto the court.
* * The End * *
* * * * * * * *
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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury