Hearts of Sword
By Moon Momma

Part Three -- Reunion

* * * * * * * *

If only tears could bring you back to me,
If only love could find a way,
What I would do, what I would give
If you returned to me
Someday, somehow, some way,
If my tears could bring you back to me.

* * * * * * * *

The monastery was turning out to be just what Molly needed. She was welcomed warmly by the kindly old stick-thin priest, who insisted that she call him Grandpa Mikami. "I have no children or grandchildren," he had said, "and you are the friend of the granddaughter of my old friend, so that makes you my honorary granddaughter." She found it easy to talk to him, and before long had told him the whole story of her love for Nephrite and his death. Grandpa Mikami accepted the incredible story at face value, and did not try to talk her out of grieving.

She was left alone by the other residents of the monastery; Grandpa Mikami had explained to them that Molly was recovering from a terrible tragedy and was to be left in peace unless she sought out their company. She asked for, and was assigned, a full slate of chores: cleaning the buildings, preparing meals, and tending the gardens. She joined in the lessons, receiving both spiritual and physical training. The hard work, discipline, and simple, silent routine freed her to begin taking apart her memories of Nephrite and putting them back together.

There was a small clearing in the woods near the hut that was her home here, where she often sat half the night to meditate. Early on in her stay, she realized that part of her intense grief was an uncertainty about who and what Nephrite had really been. She knew he had lied to her and deceived her over and over, and she couldn't make any peace with her memories and feelings of loss until she had discovered the truth of him. Gradually, she identified the few things of which she was absolutely certain. She had truly loved him -- it wasn't just a crush. He had saved her from those awful monsters who had kidnapped her. He had died protecting her from those monsters.

But had he loved her? It startled her to realize that this question had been gnawing at her soul ever since his death. Somehow, she would have to find the answer.

* * * * * * * *

One day, after Molly had been at the monastery for a few weeks, Grandpa Mikami invited her into a private room inside the shrine. The room was furnished with only a low table, on which were three different-shaped swords in scabbards and a single oil lamp, burning. "Granddaughter Molly," he said in his low, papery voice, "there is something I wish to begin teaching you. It is the art of Kharandha'i, or Swordsdance. It is very ancient, and comes from a civilization which disappeared from the earth long ago. It has been passed down through my family for countless generations; I do not know if there are any others in the world who know it. It is a manly art, and you are only a small, pretty girl, but I have no sons or grandsons and I have been searching long for someone to teach it to so it will not be lost forever. You are the one I wish to teach. Are you willing to learn?"

Molly looked at the swords. What a strange idea. But she felt touched that he would want to entrust his family tradition to her. She looked at the swords again and had a brief sensation, like deja vu, that she knew how the swords would feel in her hands, that there was something very right about this whole idea. "Yes, Grandpa Mikami, I'm willing."

"Good." He smiled. "We may as well begin now, if you are ready. Or have you other things you must do right now?"

She smiled back. "No, Grandpa. I always have time for you."

"Well, then, Granddaughter Molly. We will begin with how to honor the swords. These are very ancient swords, the last relics that I know of from that long-lost civilization. You must learn their names, and how to speak to them and care for them."

One sword was a broad, curved sword, one was straight and thin, one was straight, broad, and nearly as tall as Molly. They were beautiful, like an illustration from a fairy tale. The blades were covered with lacy engravings, the hilts were shaped in subtly elegant forms. Each sword had a name, and formulas to be spoken when inviting the sword to dance and thanking it for the dance. It was also possible to ask the swords to reveal things through the dance.

"Let us start with the curved sword. Its name is Leubhe'ira,' meaning Beloved Girl.' I cannot tell you why that is its name," Grandpa Mikami said. He showed Molly how to bring the sword up with the hilt level with her heart and the blade perpendicular to her face, and how to address it. The words to be spoken were in a language she had never heard before, but Grandpa Mikami told her what they meant. "There is one invocation to be spoken when the sword is to be used in battle, another for when the dance is to be performed as art. In the first, you ask the sword to help you triumph over your enemies. In the second you ask the sword to help you win the hearts of those watching you with beauty. When we practice, I would prefer you use the second invocation, lest you become angry with me and the sword decides to kill me." He smiled gently, to show he was joking.

"Oh, Grandpa, I could never be angry with you," Molly laughed. She repeated the words of the invocation after him. The complicated language came easily from her mouth, almost as if she had spoken it before. She followed the old man through the first basic set of moves, raising the vertical sword above her head, pointing it to one side and then the other, then lowering it to point towards the ground. Each movement had to be performed with precise timing and placement and with coordinated movements of the head, body, and feet. To Molly, it seemed completely natural.

Grandpa Mikami smiled approvingly. "Very good. And such grace! You have a talent for this, Granddaughter Molly."

"It's strange," she said. "I feel like I was born knowing this, and I only need to be reminded. Thank you for wanting to teach me, Grandpa Mikami."

* * * * * * * *

Kharandha'i was the best thing that had come into Molly's life in a long time. She spent hours practicing, working to get each individual move correct, learning the meanings of each move and the subtle variations that could change or heighten the meaning of the dance. Each sword brought its own meanings to the movements, and each sword also had its own unique movements. It was possible to tell long, precisely detailed stories with the swords, once one's repertoire of moves had grown enough. It was like a whole language. Molly gained a strength, endurance, and mental focus which she had never had before. Her arms, legs, shoulders, and back took on new, smoothly muscled contours; she felt stronger than she had in a long time.

She began dancing with the swords as part of her nightly meditations. During the snowy winter she danced in Grandpa Mikami's practice room, but even when spring came the mountain nights were still crisp. Absorbed in the dance and her meditations, Molly never noticed the chill in her meadow. She had learned enough movements to act out most of her and Nephrite's story, and in constructing and performing the dances often found insights that had evaded her before.

Molly had realized, not long ago, that she had been like a moth that was obsessed with a flame and flew too close to it; now she saw Nephrite in very much the same position. They were each moth and flame, drawn to each other despite the danger. The original reason for his obsession with her didn't matter right now; the important thing was that it had existed. Molly couldn't tell yet if love had been any part of it, even at the end, but at least there had been something there on his part.

And he had come to her even when his allies branded him a traitor for it....

* * * * * * * *

She gathered up all the good memories -- his beautiful face, his broad shoulders, his voice, the color of his eyes and his long hair; the time he told her she was cute; the time he had asked her to waltz when she stood dejected and lonely at Princess Diamond's ball, then walked out on the balcony with her; the time he invited her to the park near her home; the feel of his hand on her bare shoulder when he asked her to come with him to help him; being carried in his arms after he rescued her from the monsters; the few moments under the tree before the monsters came and attacked. And when he had gently brushed her tears away as he was dying. These were her jewels, precious despite the false and flawed settings, and no one could steal them from her. She weighed them against all the pain she had suffered during and since that terrible night, and found that the jewels outweighed the pain. To trade them away in order to be free of the pain would be a poor trade indeed.

* * * * * * * *

After more than nine months at the monastery, she was beginning to make some peace with her memories and with the pain, but she was still troubled deeply about one thing. Over and over she danced the story of the night Nephrite was murdered, but the swords refused to give her any answers. Why did it have to happen? Why couldn't she have helped him? She had vowed only a few nights before to protect him with her life; why hadn't she been able to do that?

She decided to dance the story of that night the way she wished it had happened. Maybe that would tell her something. Late that evening, in the clearing that was alternately moonlit and cloud-shadowed, she prepared the swords and herself. She invoked both the fighting power and the beauty of the swords, and took up Leubhe'ira, the curved sword.

In her dance, she cut down the thorns before they could strike her beloved. She fought the three youma, driving them back, evading their attacks. She took up a second sword, the broadsword -- Waeldhe'ira, Valiant Girl -- to defend herself and her beloved. She cut down two of the youma, then turned on the third as it prepared to strike at her beloved, and killed that one. The youmas' mistress appeared, floating in the treetops, taunting and threatening. Molly threw Leubhe'ira skyward, toward the enemy only she could see. The enemy was dealt a fatal blow by the flying sword, which then returned, ever faithful, to Molly's hand. A sword in each hand, their work done, she turned to her beloved; he smiled and opened his arms to her, for her to come into and stay forever....

There was no Nephrite. There was only a tree at the edge of the clearing. It hadn't happened that way, and she would never be able to go back and change things. Molly focused on the discipline she had been taught. She blessed and thanked the swords and returned them to their scabbards. Duty done, she walked a few steps away from the sword table, then sank down on her knees on the grass, crying.

* * * * * * * *

He had left the Ferrari in the small parking lot down the mountain from the monastery, and walked up the hill to where he had been told the girl's hut was. He topped the rise and saw below him a clearing. Moonlight and cloud-shadows shifted across the meadow. He caught a flash of brightness; it was moonlight reflecting off the blade of a sword. He realized what was happening in the clearing, and stood transfixed by a sight he hadn't seen in a thousand years, since before he turned traitor....

Kharandha'i. The Swordsdance. He couldn't see the performer in the shadows, but the movement of the sword was precise, skillful, and expressive. Then the clouds moved away from the moon and he saw the small, feminine shape of the person dancing. She wore a form-fitting black exercise top and leggings; her short, wavy red hair was tied back with a black ribbon.

Molly was dancing the story of the night he had been killed. Her mastery of the language of the swords was such that he understood the story she was telling as clearly as if it were being told in words. She was killing the youma, defending her beloved, taking revenge for the pain and terror the youma had caused her. The dance was full of anger and passion and grief, a catharsis, a desperate wish. With strong, athletic, graceful motions she drove back to imaginary youma. His eyes widened in admiration as she took up a second sword, so that now she held both the curved sword and the greatsword. And he remembered --

* * * * * * * *

During one visit to the Moon, he and the other three Generals had been summoned to Queen Serenity's throne room. She said, "Gentlemen, I have a rather unusual request to make of you. My handmaid, Maira, whom you know I love dearly, has expressed a wish to learn a little of the Earthly art of Swordsdance. Would one of you be willing to teach her?"

Mallory answered first, coldly. "Your Majesty, Kharandha'i is not to be trifled with or dabbled in. It is an ancient and noble art of war. It is not for young, silly girls."

"Nor is it for mere servants, who are incapable of understanding it," Zoyan added.

Jederin also spoke. "With all due respect, Your Majesty, we would dishonor both the art and ourselves were any of us to agree to teach it to a handmaid."

The three of them looked at Nephre'im. Among the Four, he was acknowledged to be the greatest master of Kharandha'i. He was also a prince of the land where Kharandha'i had originated; it was his birthright. Beyond this, he was one of only a dozen men in the Realm of Earth, and the only one of the Four, who was skilled enough as both a mage and a Kharandha'i warrior to be a Sword Namer. Therefore he was expected to uphold the honor and traditions of Kharandha'i the most firmly.

Queen Serenity also looked at him, to see if he would refuse her request as rudely as the others had. Nephre'im stepped forward. "I would be glad to give the girl a few lessons, Your Majesty." Mallory, Zoyan, and Jederin all drew in their breath with a hiss, and glared sideways at him. He ignored them. "Please understand, she won't be able to go very far in the limited time we will have. But I can teach her enough to increase her appreciation of the art form, as well as to give her a good source of wholesome exercise."

"That is most gracious of you, General Nephre'im. You have my gratitude." She favored him with a lovely, elegant smile.

Nephre'im returned the smile, along with a deep bow. He had shown up Mallory and Zoyan, who were getting far too pompous for their own good, won the Moon Queen's favor, and found a legitimate excuse to spend some more time with that pretty little handmaid. Not a bad day's work. He felt a little sorry for showing up Jederin, but the blond General was a step below him in the Generals' hierarchy and should not have presumed to speak for him. Besides, if any of the Four had the right to decide who should and should not learn Kharandha'i, it was Nephre'im.

Despite active opposition from the other Generals, especially Mallory and Zoyan, Nephre'im managed to give Maira a dozen or so lessons, over the course of several visits to the Moon Kingdom. She had a natural gift for the art, despite being such a small, feminine, demure young lady, and Nephre'im wished for the opportunity to train her more seriously. But it never happened. Beryl, the Negaverse, his treason happened instead.

* * * * * * * *

The anger and beauty of Molly's dance held him spellbound. She wielded the two swords perfectly, raging against invisible, long-remembered enemies. He held his breath as she sent the curved sword spinning upwards towards the sky and caught it perfectly by the hilt as it fell to earth. Holding a sword in each hand, she turned, arms outstretched, to an unseen lover.

All the energy of the dance seemed to leave her at once. Slowly, she returned to the low table at the other side of the clearing. She made the proper benedictions over the swords -- whoever had taught her (who in the world still knew Kharandha'i?) had taught her well -- and replaced them in the scabbards. Then, after leaving the table, she sank to her knees on the ground, crying.

* * * * * * * *

What had happened had happened, the swords had told her. The swords, her tears, her sorrow, could never make it happen any other way. She was just going to have to live with it. "How?" she sobbed.

Your tears in the moonlight are so beautiful.

Where had that come from? It was just the sort of suave, seductive, poetic thing he would say, the downfall of all those people whose energy he had stolen, her downfall....

Footsteps, a warm presence next to her, fingers brushing the tears from her face. "But your smile would be even more beautiful."

His low voice, the clean herbal scent of his hair, his fingers. She raised a hand and pressed his hand close against her cheek.

"I love you, Molly. I love you so much."

Words she had longed to hear, had dreamed of hearing so many times....

"Molly, please open your eyes and look at me."

"If I do," she wept, "I'll see that you aren't really here. Let me keep pretending."

"Hmm." He cupped the back of her head in his other hand, tangling his fingers in her hair, and tilted her face upwards. Warm breath, then his mouth, warm and firm, pressed against hers. She gasped, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, weaving them through the heavy length of his hair. Their kiss was hungry, desperate, urgent, as they sought healing for their pain and nourishment for their hearts.

Finally, Molly was able to open her eyes and look at him. It really was him, his face more beautiful than she remembered because it was full of life and love. His dark red hair gleamed richly in the moonlight. She had to touch his face and hair over and over, convincing herself. "You really are here. How is it possible?'

"I was given the chance to come back and do things right. I only wish I could have come sooner." He picked up one of her hands and rubbed his thumb gently over the thick scars on the wrist. "The Sailor Scouts told me what happened."

Ashamed, she turned her face from him. "Forgive me, Nephrite."

"For what?"

"I had no right to try to kill myself, after you died to save my life." She started crying again. "Please forgive me."

He pressed his lips to the scars on one wrist, then the other, then pulled her close. "Oh, my poor love," he said into her hair. "The pain you must have been in... I'm so sorry."

"I didn't know how to go on without you," she cried into the front of his shirt.

He held her closer. "But I'm back now. I don't understand what I did to deserve another chance, but I'm here. I can stay. We're together now." He stroked her hair and murmured to her until her crying quieted.

She pulled back a little to look into his face. "You talked to the Sailor Scouts?" She tried to smile, but it turned into a sniffle and another sob.

"Yes. I'm on their side now."

"I'm glad." She laid her hand against his cheek; he turned his face to kiss her palm. "I always knew you weren't really bad, deep down inside." Her smile came a little more easily this time.

"You were the only one who believed that, Molly. Thank you for having faith in me." He kissed her again, while he gently lowered her onto the grass. They lay like that for a long time, lost in the feel and taste and scent of each other. Molly didn't want it to end; she wanted to keep exploring him, the miracle of his being alive. But eventually, Nephrite, breathing heavily, raised himself onto one elbow and reached into a pocket of his jeans. "I wasn't sure when I would give you this, but now seems like the right time." He produced a tiny drawstring sack made of OSA*P's signature emerald-green velvet. "If you want it."

"Ohh." Molly took the sack and opened it. "Ohh!" Inside was a ring she had admired, gold set with three diamonds, a large one in the center with a slightly less hefty stone on either side. "Oh, Nephrite." She laughed and cried as he took the ring and slid it onto her finger. Then he kissed her again. "The wedding rings are in the car, we're in a monastery and there has to be at least one priest with a little extra time on his hands tomorrow, and you're of age. Tonight's the last night we'll have to spend apart."

"We don't have to," Molly murmured against his mouth.

"Yes, we do. I want to do this the right way, Molly."

"We'll have to ask Grandpa Mikami to marry us. He's the head priest. He's been so kind to me, but he'll never forgive me if I don't let him marry us."

Nephrite stood up, and helped Molly stand. He wrapped his arms around her; the top of her head still fell an inch or so below his shoulders. "Whatever you want, Molly. As long as we're married tomorrow. And then we don't ever have to be apart, for the rest of our lives."

Molly held him tighter and prayed that would be a very long time.

* * * * * * * *

Licence my roving hands and let them go
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O my America! my new-found land,
My kingdom....

John Donne, Elegy No. 19

* * * * * * * *

Molly didn't want to wake up. She tried to cling to sleep a little longer, to that gorgeous dream. It had seemed so real, as though he really were back, so real that she could feel him, smell him, taste him. She could recall, so clearly, the dream-sensation of his weight on her as they lay in the grass and kissed.

Sleep fled, and with it the dream. Molly made a little sound, a cross between a sob and a sigh, and rolled over. The same as every morning, she tried to look at the day ahead and imagine how she was going to get through it. She rested her head on her curled-up hands while she tried to muster the strength to get up.

Something was digging into her cheek. She lifted her face and saw the ring on the third finger of her left hand, gold set with three seriously large diamonds. Sleepily, she guessed that she must be wearing at least three and a half carats' worth of the African landmass on her hand.

The implication of the ring hit her all at once. It wasn't a dream. He really was back. Still wearing her leggings and tank top from the night before, she jumped up from her sleeping mat and ran out the door.

He was standing near the monastery gardens, his back to her, talking to Grandpa Mikami. She began running barefoot across the dewy grass and the gravel paths. "Nephrite!" she called out, laughing. He turned, saw her, smiled, opened his arms to her. When she reached him, he caught her up, spinning her around. She swung her legs around his waist and clung to him as he kissed her all over her face. "I thought it was a dream," she cried. "I was so sad when I woke up, I thought it was just a dream."

"We'll wake up together every morning from now on, Molly," he said between kisses. "Unless you want to wait, go back to Tokyo and have a big white-dress wedding and a fancy reception, and although I personally would be happy if I never saw another tuxedo I'll wear one for you if you want me to, Molly."

"No." She was laughing now. "I just want you, Nephrite."

They both seemed to remember at the same time that they had an audience. Nephrite set Molly down, but they kept their arms around each other as they face the smiling old priest. "Grandpa Mikami," Molly said, "this is -- this is -- the man I love, that I thought I had lost. He's come back to me."

"I know," Grandpa Mikami said. "Mr. Maxfield Stanton." There was a touch of gentle humor in his voice as he said the name, as though he were sharing a private joke with himself. "Come, join me for breakfast and we will talk some more."

* * * * * * * *

Grandpa Mikami had only one objection to performing the marriage. "This means you will leave us, Granddaughter Molly. We cannot continue our training. But of course you would rather be with a handsome husband than with an ugly old grandfather."

Molly threw her arms around the old priest's neck. "But we'll come back to visit, I promise. And you're not ugly -- your face is very dear to me."

Grandpa Mikami laughed, though tears sparkled in his cloudy eyes. "Ah, the flattery of a pretty girl." He winked at the tall, auburn-haired man who had come to claim Molly. "Granddaughter Molly, my wedding gift to you will be my swords, so that you can practice between visits."

"No, Grandpa, I don't want to take away your swords. They've been in your family for so long."

"But I insist. You are my heir, and you will use them more than I would. Please, make your old grandfather happy, and take your inheritance with you. Or else I won't perform your wedding!"

Molly laughed. She didn't know when in her life she had ever felt such joy. "All right, Grandpa Mikami. Thank you so much!"

* * * * * * * *

The monastery had in its possession an antique kimono, deep blue silk embroidered with silver birds and scarlet flowers. It was the most beautiful kimono Molly had ever seen, and she tried to refuse when Grandpa Mikami insisted she wear it. Finally she gave in, and allowed the old man to arrange it over her skirt and blouse. Then, kneeling together, Molly and Nephrite were married, in a simple ceremony. "Now," Grandpa Mikami said, "you two get out of here, and I don't want to see either of you until noon tomorrow, at the earliest."

Nephrite stood and scooped Molly into his arms, and carried her to the small hut that had been her home for the better part of a year. The old man watched the couple disappear. More tears brightened his eyes. "At last, my dear friends," he whispered, "at last you are together, as you were meant to be. Be happy, and perhaps you will be kind enough to name a son after me one day."

* * * * * * * *

In the hut, Molly and Nephrite carefully folded the priceless kimono and set it aside. Then they looked at each other. The expression on Nephrite's face was achingly tender as he caressed Molly's cheek, then reached behind her head and untied her hair ribbon. He let the ribbon trail along her neck and shoulder as he lowered his hand. "We're not in any hurry, are we, Molly?" he asked softly.

"No hurry," Molly said. She felt both eager and shy, and was grateful for his gentleness.

Nephrite's smile, the look in his eyes, made Molly's insides turn to warm honey. "Good," he said.

They went very slowly, savoring every moment, every detail, and Molly couldn't imagine anything in the world more perfect than being with this beautiful man who was her husband.

* * * * * * * *

Molly lay half-sleeping, reveling in the warmth of intertwined limbs and Nephrite's hair spread across her face and shoulder. She felt deeply, profoundly content. Nephrite spoke, low and soft, into her ear. "Are you all right?"

"Mmm." She smiled and snuggled even closer to him.

"I love you, Molly. I've always loved you, even when I didn't know it."

She couldn't help the tear that trickled down her cheek. He shifted her onto her back and raised himself onto his elbows above her. "Are we crazy?"

"For what?" Molly asked.

"Marrying so quickly, like this."

She raised her left hand and stroked his hair. "I don't care if we are. We're so lucky to have a second chance. It would be wrong to waste a moment of it."

Third chance, he thought. It's our third chance, and this time I swear I'll get it right. But how will I ever have the courage to tell you about the first time? Later, he thought, lowering his face to kiss her. Right now, this is all that matters.

* * * * * * * *

Jadeite, Zoisite, and Malachite sat in the alleged luxury apartment that was Jasper's squalid lair. Unlike their previous ruler's scrying ball, Jasper used a large-screen TV and remote to see what was going on in the outside world. The smelly, trash-strewn den was dark except for the blue glow from the TV screen. A stiff and dusty pair of women's underpants dangled from a corner of the TV. "You're sure you saw this Nephrite dude, Zoisite?" Jasper growled. " Cause I don't like bitches who tell lies."

Malachite clenched his fists. It took all his self-control to keep from standing up and knocking his king into oblivion.

"I know it was him. I saw him coming out of a gourmet food shop downtown yesterday afternoon. He didn't see me, but I got a good look at him. I'm pretty sure he saw Malachite."

"Then why can't I find him?"

Because you aren't looking in the right place, bonehead, Malachite thought. "Perhaps he is not in the city at this time, my lord."

"Where is he, then?"

How the hell should I know? "Nephrite always enjoyed a luxurious, indulgent life. Perhaps he has traveled to one of the resorts in the mountains," Malachite said. It was a wild guess, but the sooner Jasper found Nephrite on his stupid TV, the sooner the rest of them could get out of that disgusting place. Jasper was absolute proof that vast wealth did not necessarily bring any sort of culture or good taste to the person who possessed it. Malachite wasn't sure that Jasper could even be described as civilized. Or even house-trained. Beryl had been ruthless, cruel, and heartless, but at least she had bathed occasionally.

"Whoa, wait." The TV screen was zeroing in on an area in the mountains: forest, a compound of old buildings, a small hut near the edge of the complex. "Looks like you got lucky, Zoisite babe," Jasper said. Inside the hut, they saw the back of a head of long, wavy, auburn hair. It might almost have been a woman's hair except that the shoulders it tumbled and spilled over were broad, muscular, male shoulders. Near the right shoulderblade were five large scars.

"It's him," Zoisite said. "Those scars are from the thorns that killed him. I don't understand how he could have come back."

They continued watching. A small, feminine hand reached up to the back of the man's head and stroked his hair. Gold and diamonds sparkled on the third finger of the woman's hand. The man shifted slightly, revealing his profile through the curtain of hair, then the face of the woman with him. "It's Nephrite, all right," Malachite said.

Zoisite's face twisted with hatred and fury. "Her! I can't believe it. She caused me more trouble...."

Nephrite's left hand caressed the woman's wavy red hair, revealing the gold band on his ring finger.

"He's gone and married the little tramp," Zoisite said. "I can't believe it. What gives him the right, that traitor?"

"I want her," Jasper said.

"What?" all three of the Generals said together.

"You heard me. I said I want her. SO GO AND GET HER!"

"Yes, my king," they all said. Finally, they could get out of there. As they rose to leave, Jadeite turned off the TV. "Hey, I wanted to see the good part," Jasper whined.

"Disgusting," Jadeite muttered to the others as they left the apartment.

* * * * * * * *

"I can NOT believe we're actually sitting here talking about this," Zoisite said. "Here" was a table in a supremely trendy and sophisticated coffeehouse, a contrast in every way to Jasper's den of infamy. "I'm sorry, I don't do the Molly Kidnapping thing any more. The last time I tried it, I got rid of Nephrite, that loser, but I also lost my three best youma."

"So who's the loser now?" Jadeite muttered into his espresso. "Nephrite's in bed with that cute red-haired babe and we're going, Oh yes my lord, anything you want my lord' to the slimiest, most disgusting rat to ever sleaze its way out of hell's sewers."

"He did bring me and Zoi back to life, and freed you from that crystal," Malachite pointed out. He reached over to Zoisite and caressed her neck. She rubbed her cheek against his hand.

"So I guess we have to be grateful, and jump when he says jump, and kiss him wherever he tells us to," Jadeite said.

"No," Malachite said. "We have to play along with him until we figure out a way to get rid of him. Now, how are we going to go about stealing Nephy's little wife?"

"Don't look at me," Zoisite said. "I'll be happy if I never see that little twit again in my life."

"I know one thing," Malachite said. "We're only going to get one chance. If we try and fail, even if Jasper doesn't squash us like a bunch of roaches, Nephrite's going to be on the alert, and he'll make sure no one gets near his precious Molly again."

"You're right," Jadeite agreed. "This will take time and planning. Jasper is just going to have to be patient, even if it kills him."

"Hopefully it will," Zoisite said. They all raised their coffee cups to that.

* * * * * * * *

In the middle of the night, Nephrite took Molly by the hand and scooped up the blankets with his other arm. "Come with me," he said, and led her outside to the clearing. He spread one blanket on the grass and they lay down again, curled up beneath the other blanket. The spring night was chilly and clear.

"Nephrite," Molly said, "someone might see us."

"They won't. It's the middle of the night, and no one's around."

"But --"

Nephrite made a gesture over them with his right hand. "There. I've put a Blind on us. Even if someone trips over us, they won't see us. Molly, do you know the stars?"

"I tried to take an astronomy class while you were... gone, but I had to drop it. It kept reminding me of you."

"Let me introduce you, then. With gestures and quiet words, he showed Molly the stars and constellations that were visible in the clear, dark mountain sky, and told her their stories and the wisdom they held for those who knew how to find it. As the night passed, new stars came into view, rotating around the earth. Molly felt dizzy and ecstatic, her mind filled with the vastness of time and space. "Nephrite, how old are you?"

"I'm so much older than you that the difference is really irrelevant."

"The difference in our ages never bothered me. But I'm curious how old you really are. I think it's a lot older than you look."

He laughed a little. "I'm, let's see, about one thousand thirty-four years old. Give or take a year or so. Physiologically, I'm thirty, since that's how old I was when I fell to the Negaverse, and I didn't age after that."

Molly said nothing, trying to comprehend the years he had lived.

They lay there in the meadow, minds soaring with the stars, bodies anchored by the warmth of skin against skin. After a long time, Molly spoke again. "Nephrite, do you think we've started a baby?"

A baby? He remembered his visions of their red-haired children, children he had thought would never be born. He looked at her; even in the starlight he could tell she was blushing slightly. "Do you want one?" he asked quietly.

She blushed deeper. "Oh, yes!"

He raised himself above her, and smiled into her eyes. "Let's make it happen, then."

* * * * * * * *

return to Index / go to Chapter 4

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury