Part Four -- Honeymoon
* * * * * * * *
When you need confession, I'm there to listen,
When you're crossing the ocean, I've got a boat to row,
When you need attention, your audience won't be missing,
That's the mission of my soul.
Peter Himmelman, "Mission of My Soul"
* * * * * * * *
Two days later, Nephrite drove his Ferrari down the twisting roads out of the mountains towards the city. He smiled at Molly sitting next to him, then looked at her again. She was smiling, but the smile was frozen stiff, and her hands were clenched white in her lap. "What's wrong, babe?"
"Oh, nothing," she said through clenched teeth, but a moment later she added, "Does this car do anything between way too fast and stopped?"
"Sorry." Nephrite eased up on the gas and brought the car's speed down to what he considered a reasonable percentage above the speed limit. "I thought you were anxious to get back."
"I am. In one piece."
"Don't worry. I'm an excellent driver."
"I can tell."
He laughed, then reached to the dashboard and tossed Molly his cell phone. "You want to call your mother?"
"Okay." Molly dialed the number of the OSA*P store. "Mama?" Molly said.
"Molly! It's wonderful to hear your voice, sweetheart! Where are you?"
"I'm on my way home, Mama. I mean we. Me and Maxfield."
"I know his name's Nephrite, honey. I know the whole story, now. Did he, I mean did you --"
"We got married two days ago. Mama, I can't wait to see you!"
"I can't wait to see you -- Oh, darn! Molly, I'm so sorry, I've got a meeting this afternoon and evening. It's a big trade meeting, and there's no way I can miss it. We'll have to wait till tomorrow morning to get together. I hope you understand, sweetheart."
"Sure, Mama. It's ok. I understand. We'll see you tomorrow, then. Bye." Molly turned the phone off and told Nephrite what her mother had said. She wasn't sure why she should feel so disappointed. After all, it wasn't like everyone else had put their lives on hold while Molly was spending nine months getting her head straightened out. Life had gone on, and she was just going to have to find her way back into the flow. "I'll try Serena. She should be home from school by now, unless she had detention." But Serena's number was busy.
After several tries, her best friend finally answered. "Serena? This is Molly."
"Molly? Oh. wow! Where are you?"
"We're on our way home, me and Nephrite. We got married two days ago."
"MOLLY! Oh, I'm so happy for you guys. I can't wait to see you!"
"Are you really happy about this, Serena?"
"Ok, I'll admit, three and a half years ago I wouldn't have been. But when he came around looking for you the other day, it was so obvious that he really, really loves you and he really is a good man. So, yes, I'm happy."
"Thanks, Serena. My mom's busy tonight, so maybe we could get together? I'm anxious to see everyone."
"Tonight? Hmm -- we're all getting together for supper at Darien's place. You could drop by if you want -- I'm sure there'll be plenty to go around, so why don't you do that?"
"We wouldn't want to intrude, if you guys already have plans." Molly tried hard not to let the weight of this second disappointment show in her voice.
"You wouldn't be intruding. Please, please come. I'll call Darien and let him know to expect you. Please say you'll come."
"Well, ok, I guess we can."
Serena rattled off Darien's address, an elegant high-rise apartment, and hung up with a chirpy, "This is so wicked cool! You and Nephrite married!"
"They're all having supper at Darien's place," Molly told Nephrite. "Serena said we could come if we want."
"Yes....I don't want to be a party-crasher, though. I've been away so long, I feel like I don't really fit in anymore. Actually, for a long time before I went away, I felt like I didn't belong with them."
Nephrite squeezed her hand. "I have an idea. When's the last time you had some new things? Let's go home by way of Juuban Mall."
Molly's face lit up; she couldn't remember the last time she'd been shopping. "Okay!"
* * * * * * * *
They stood in the central atrium of the vast mall. Nephrite reached into his pocket for his wallet, and produced a silvery credit card. Molly took it between her thumb and middle finger, almost afraid to touch it. "I'll be right around here. Have fun, babe." He kissed her, and Molly wandered off into the wonderland of the mall.
Dresses with short, flippy skirts; longer, graceful skirts; silk and cotton blouses; a couple of really cute short black dresses, one beaded, one velvet, some pretty nightgowns of silk and lace....
Her arms were full, so she headed for where Nephrite had said he would be waiting. He sat on a bench near the center of the mall, near a bookstore. He had bought the latest bestseller by the latest popular physicist whom everyone wanted to be able to claim to have read but no one could actually understand. He was laughing at something in the book as Molly walked up.
"I didn't know that book was supposed to be funny," Molly said.
"You live in negative space for a thousand years, you learn a thing or two about physics. This guy may be brilliant, but he's making some very closed-minded assumptions. Anyway." Nephrite dog-eared the page he was on and put the book down. "Done yet?
"I don't know. I needed to put these down."
Nephrite helped Molly put the bags and boxes on the bench beside him. He noted the frilly logo on the pink boxes the nightgowns were in, and looked at her, one eyebrow slightly raised, in a way that made her face flame.
"I don't see any shoe boxes here," he said. "Go buy some shoes, babe."
"Okay." Molly ran off again.
* * * * * * * *
Zoisite and Malachite stood around the corner, watching Molly make tracks for a shoe store. "You were right, Zoi. She was bound to turn up at the mall sooner rather than later. Only one problem."
"Too many people around. One person in particular. We grab her, she screams, the game is up. Neph knows what we're up to and we never get another chance at her."
"I never said we should actually try to grab her here. It's just a good place to start observing."
Malachite rested his hand on Zoisite's forehead. "Zoisite, you're advocating patience. Are you feeling sick?"
"No, I've just learned some lessons the hard way."
At the tone of her voice, Malachite put an arm around her and held her close for a moment.
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite shifted almost imperceptibly on the bench, looking sideways through the hair shielding his eyes. Malachite and Zoisite were still there, watching Molly.
* * * * * * * *
Three pairs of shoes later -- purple flats, strappy white sandals, and black suede pumps with bows above the heels -- Molly was ready to leave. They stuffed the bags and packages behind the seats of the Ferrari, and Molly still ended up holding a pile of things on her lap. They headed for the outskirts of the city, into the hills, to a huge old mansion secluded by massive pine trees. As they carried in the purchases from the mall, the small amount of luggage they each had, and the swords from the monastery, Molly noted the elegant but understated furnishings of her new home. The vast main room downstairs held several groups of cushiony, leather-upholstered sofas and chairs. One wall featured a gigantic stone fireplace. In the opposite wall was a door that led to a beautiful Gothic-style private chapel with stunning stained glass windows. The kitchen, an exercise room (Molly caught a glimpse of a weight machine and a jumbled pile of towels next to it, attesting to its recent use), and French doors leading to a patio opened off the main room.
Upstairs were a few closed-off rooms, but the main area was a loft overlooking the lower floor. A luxurious bathroom occupied the rear right-hand corner of the loft. In the center of the loft area was a huge bed with beautifully-polished deco-style head and footboards, made up with sheets printed in cream and hunter green. Above the bed was a giant skylight. The glass was so clear that it looked like the ceiling was open to the sky. For a moment, Molly imagined lying in that big bed with Nephrite, looking up at the stars.
They put away the things they had brought in, showered, (eventually) dressed, and headed back out for Darien's place. Molly wore her new purple knit minidress and purple flats from the mall. Despite her misgivings about crashing Darien's supper party, she felt festive and pretty. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt like this. Molly looked at Nephrite, carelessly handsome in a pale blue collarless shirt and jeans, and smiled, feeling a slow heat come to her face as she thought of their shower that afternoon. That definitely had to have something to do with how happy and alive she felt.
Nephrite parked the Ferrari, more or less in a space in front of Darien's building, and the two of them went up. From the moment they stepped off the elevator, they could feel the bass of the dance music rumbling through the floor. At the door, Molly raised her hand to ring the bell, then hesitated. "It sounds like it's more than supper. It's a real party. I don't want to intrude...."
Nephrite looked at his wife's sweet, pensive face, and tried to decide what to do. He also felt reluctant to intrude on the party. He had no right to expect the Sailor Scouts to trust him, and he didn't want to go where he wasn't wanted. He could manage without friends; as long as he had his Molly, he didn't need anyone else. But it was different for Molly. She was used to having friends, and she needed them. Besides, if he went to Serena and Darien's party, that might help them start to feel more comfortable with him. He took a deep breath. "Let's go in for just a minute, just long enough to say hi. Then we can leave if you want."
"Okay." She took his hand, then rang the doorbell.
Serena opened the door, and smiled widely at them. "You guys are finally here! Come on in."
Gripping Nephrite's hand tightly, for moral support, Molly stepped into the room, then stopped and looked around her. She saw the crowd of bouncing, gyrating couples in a corner of the huge room near the stereo speakers, a buffet table piled high with all sorts of delicious-looking things....
Molly blinked and looked again. A banner over the glass balcony door that read "Congratulations Max and Molly!", white balloons tied with silver ribbons, white garlands of flowers all over the place.... "Oh, Serena, this isn't for us?"
Serena threw her arms around her friend and hugged her tightly. "Your mom and I didn't want to tell you because we were afraid we wouldn't be able to get it together fast enough. But it's such a miracle that you and Nephrite can be together, we had to have a party for you!"
Molly's mother appeared, and Serena stepped aside so that Mrs. Osaka could gather her daughter into her arms. "Oh, Molly, darling." She was crying. "I'm so glad to have you back." She let go of Molly and took Nephrite's hands in hers. "Thank you so much for bringing my daughter back. It's been years since I've seen her look so truly happy."
"Hey, everyone, look who's here!" Serena shouted. The other girls, Amy, Raye, Lita, and Mina, left their partners on the dance floor and crowded around Molly, hugging her and admiring her rings. ("You can lift your hand with all those rocks on it?" Mina asked, looking at the three-diamond engagement ring and the five-diamond wedding ring.) Molly, dazed by the girls' friendliness, looked at Nephrite. He stood back a little ways, smiling at the group of girls with a soft look in his eyes.
Molly noticed one of the few remaining couples dancing. "Serena, I can't believe you invited Melvin and Winnie. That's too funny!"
"Actually, it was your mother's idea. She's never forgiven Melvin for dumping you."
"But she hated it when I was going with him. She actually took me out to dinner to celebrate when we broke up."
"I know. What I mean is, she's never forgiven Melvin for not realizing what a privilege it was to go out with you. You should have been the one doing the dumping, not him. Anyway, she wanted to invite him so he could get a look at, and I quote, that gorgeous hunk of millionaire you married, unquote. It's like punishment."
"My mother doesn't talk like that!" Molly looked over her shoulder at her mother, who was on the dance floor with a tall, slim man with short salt-and-pepper hair. "Who's she dancing with?"
"It's this architect guy she's been dating for about six months. She wasn't sure if she should write to you and tell you about him. But I think it's getting serious."
"So is he a gorgeous hunk' too?" Molly still couldn't imagine her very proper mother talking about any man in those terms.
"Molly!" Molly winced at the high-pitched voice, then turned around. Melvin was eighteen now, and presumably had passed through puberty, but the transition had left little mark on him. He certainly hadn't lost his knack for sneaking up on people. Molly forced herself to smile graciously at him. "Hello, Melvin. How are you?"
"Oh, I'm doing great! Molly, I wanted to ask you, no hard feelings, huh?"
Actually, she thought, if Melvin would slow down, breathe a little, and quit talking through his nose, his voice might not be so intolerable. Wouldn't help the rest of him, though. It wouldn't kill him to wear his polo shirt with the top button unbuttoned, but that seemed to be against the Nerd Dress Code. "No hard feelings, Melvin. I promise."
"Good. I wasn't sure I should bring Winnie. I thought it might be tactless, but your mother insisted."
Nephrite came up beside Molly and put an arm firmly around her shoulders. Molly smiled more genuinely and said, "It's ok, Melvin. I can see that Winnie's perfect for you. The two of you deserve each other."
"Oh, good. I was hoping you would think so. How about a dance, for old time's sake?"
Nephrite stuck out his right hand and shook Melvin's hand firmly. The teenage boy winced a little. "Max Stanton. Nice to meet you, Melvin. I've heard a lot about you."
Molly thought how much she loved her husband's deep, slightly gravelly voice, rumbling in his chest.
"Nice to meet you, Max." Melvin was trying, with limited success, to make his own voice sound deeper. Breathe from the diaphragm, Melvin, Molly thought. "I'm afraid I, ah, broke this pretty lady's heart, but I'm glad she caught a fine fellow like you on the rebound." Melvin glanced over to the dance floor and saw his date, arms crossed and tapping her foot impatiently. "Excuse me. My services are needed. As a dance partner, ha ha." Melvin hurried back to Winnie, who appeared to be giving him an earful.
Molly was trying hard not to laugh. After all, Melvin had been a good friend, even if he was a dud as a boyfriend. Serena and the other girls felt no such inhibition, and were giggling. Nephrite looked down at Molly sideways, his own eyes twinkling with suppressed laughter. He was too much of a gentleman to laugh behind the back of a vanquished rival. "Really, Molly," he murmured. Serena snorted.
"You're jealous, Nephrite." She had to laugh at the sudden look in his face; he was jealous. But then he smiled that slow smile that made her insides melt, pulled her close to him, and growled, "I don't care who you dance with as long as you come home with me." Molly sighed, staring up into his big blue eyes, oblivious to the fresh wave of giggles that surrounded her and Nephrite.
Nephrite kissed her, then backed off a bit, his arm still around her. "Serena," he said, serious now.
"What?" The other Sailor Scouts were also paying attention.
"I saw Malachite and Zoisite when we were at the mall this afternoon. It looked like they were following Molly." Surprised, Molly looked up at Nephrite; he held her a little closer. "We'd better talk about this soon," he said.
"I know," Amy said. "We've thought of some things that have happened that, in light of Malachite's reappearance, ought to be re-evaluated. They might mean something."
"Right," Serena said. "Raye, can we meet at your place tomorrow -- no, shoot, I've still got some detention to do tomorrow. Day after?"
It was agreed, the Sailor Scouts would meet with Nephrite then.
The song that was playing ended, and Serena hurried to the stereo. She popped in another CD, pushed a few buttons, and said, "Okay, everyone, this is a dance for Max and Molly!"
The song began, a jazzy waltz tempo, delicate Spanish-style guitar, tender saxophone. Nephrite took Molly's hand and gracefully whirled her onto the dance floor with him. He held her close, one hand at the small of her back, the other holding her hand against his heart. Their movements matched perfectly as they swayed and turned together.
There's only one heart beating between us,
One rhythm made from two,
This is the one love we can be sure of,
You are me, I am you.
* * * * * * * *
When you're making plans, and you need a partner,
Baby I'm your man, just tell me when do we go?
You be my flower, I'll be your gardener,
That's the mission of my soul.
Peter Himmelman, "Mission of My Soul"
* * * * * * * *
It was like a dream, waking up in his arms, in his bed...their bed. She pressed herself close against him, so she could feel his warmth along her full length. He felt her move, and tightened his embrace around her shoulders and waist, but even that wasn't close enough....
When Molly woke up again, later, she was alone. She felt lost, until she heard Nephrite moving around downstairs in the kitchen. She smiled and got up. After pulling on an exercise top and leggings, she went downstairs, collected her swords, the small oil lamp, and the collapsible table that Grandpa Mikami had given her, and took these into the exercise room.
Against the left-hand wall was a similar low table with an oil lamp and three Kharandha'i swords. Molly stopped short, thinking, How strange, Grandpa Mikami isn't the only one after all. She set her things down next to the other table, then called, "Nephrite?"
He appeared in the doorway of the room, wearing pajama pants and holding two glasses of orange juice.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Molly indicated his swords. "You do know Kharandha'i, don't you?"
He shrugged a little. "I haven't practiced it in a long time."
"Did you know it before you joined the Dark Kingdom?"
"Yeah. It actually originated in the land where I was born." He seemed to be trying to look anywhere but at the swords. "All four Imperial Generals -- that was my position, before -- were supposed to be masters of Kharandha'i, but I started learning it almost as soon as I could walk.
"But this is great," Molly said. "We can practice together, and you can teach me."
"But why not?"
He sighed deeply, then spoke after a moment. "I lost the right to practice Kharandha'i when I betrayed my heritage, my beliefs, my oaths, everything, by joining the Dark Kingdom. I kept my swords, and I go through the motions sometimes, but the swords no longer obey me. Kharandha'i is an honorable art. It isn't for traitors."
Molly studied the swords on Nephrite's table. She recognized the greatsword. "You used this one to rescue me from those awful plant-women things. You called it to you somehow, and it came."
Nephrite set the glasses of juice down on the bench of the weight machine, and walked over to stand beside her. "That wasn't Kharandha'i. That was... something else."
"But the sword didn't have to come to you, no matter how you called it, if it didn't want to. Maybe when you chose to rescue me, you regained the right to practice Kharandha'i. You never got the chance to find out, that night, and I'll bet you haven't even tried since you came back."
He shook his head. Molly stood up beside him. "Come on, let's try. Just a few of the beginning exercises."
Nephrite put his arms around her. "I have a better idea. Let's go back upstairs."
"Don't change the subject." She looked up into his face and was startled to realize that he was afraid. "I think it'll work, and I want to learn from you." She gave him her best sparkly wide-eyed look. "Pleeeease?"
His face softened, then he laughed a little. "Molly, I don't know what made me think I could ever say No' to something you want. Okay, I'll try."
Molly stood on her toes to kiss him, then quickly set up her table and arranged the lamp and swords on it. Kneeling, she selected the curved sword, and made the proper invocation, invoking the sword's power of beauty. "And please don't hurt him," she whispered.
Nephrite followed her lead, choosing his own curved sword and saying the same invocation. She noticed the time he took with the ritual; he seemed to use it to center himself deeply. She wondered if this was to help him deal with his fear of not being able to wield the sword, or if it was his usual practice.
They took their positions, about eight feet apart, facing each other. "You lead," Nephrite said. "But go slow. I'm out of practice." He took one more deep breath to center himself, prayed that he would be able to do this, then imitated Molly's opening posture, sword held vertically, point up, hilt at heart level.
He felt awkward and hesitant, but at least he hadn't forgotten the patterns. Gradually he loosened up and the patterns came more easily. He concentrated on watching Molly, so he could follow her lead, and found himself getting distracted with awe at her skill. Her movements were precise and controlled, yet extraordinarily graceful. Kharandha'i looked very different when performed by a woman; it was a shame that custom had restricted it to men. He admired the movement of muscle beneath her smooth, fair skin, and wondered how far she could have gone if his treason had not interrupted their lessons, long ago....
* * * * * * * *
"What made you want to learn Kharandha'i?" General Nephre'im asked Maira at the end of their first lesson. Flushed and sweaty as she was, wearing a sleeveless practice tunic and loose trousers that had to be rolled up, she still looked beautiful. Of course, a body like hers would look great no matter what was draped over it, but she looked so alive, in a way that few women Nephre'im came in contact with ever looked.
She seemed a little embarrassed. "I've seen it done -- I've seen you doing it, and I just thought how wonderful it would be to be able to do something so beautiful. And..."
"Well, you know that Queen Serenity and Princess Serena have the Sailor Senshi to guard them. Everyone knows about that. But I thought that, if someone closer to them and less obvious also had the skills to defend them, they would be even safer."
Nephre'im could think of nothing to do except bow deeply to her. "Your loyalty and courage make you truly worthy to practice the art of Kharandha'i, far more than many of the men who claim that privilege. I am honored to have you as my student."
* * * * * * * *
She could help the Sailor Scouts fight against the possible threat that was represented by Malachite and Zoisite's reappearance. An instinct arose within Nephrite, to keep Molly uninvolved whatever the cost, but he reasoned it away. Being utterly innocent and uninvolved hadn't protected her before. She was his wife and Sailor Moon's best friend, and that made her a potential target twice over. Hadn't he himself tried to exploit the friendship between her and Moon? She would be safer if he gave her the knowledge and tools she would need to protect herself, and if she could protect herself than she could also help to protect the world. She wasn't a Sailor Scout, but she was brave and loyal and strong. He had learned, in his experience as a commander of King Arrendel Endymion's armies, that these were qualities that should never be disregarded.
Nephrite suddenly wanted to tell her about before, when she had been his student, his best student, but the past was dangerous. One part of the story would lead to another, and she would eventually learn of how he had coldly murdered Maira the handmaid. He had no right to expect her forgiveness after that, and even worse than being damned would be the hatred she would feel for him.
Molly led into a fighting pattern and he followed before he realized what she was doing. The swords clashed together, jarring Nephrite's wrist and arm. Abruptly, he lowered his sword and stepped back. "I don't think this is a good idea."
"It's all right," Molly said. "Just tell the sword not to hurt me." Her face was full of faith and innocence.
He was afraid to trust himself with a sword in her presence. Nephrite held the sword, point up, hilt at heart level, to speak to it. "Please do not hurt her. Do not let me hurt her," he whispered in his native language.
A long-forgotten sensation washed over him. The sword had understood, and it would obey him. He could do this. He breathed deeply, centering himself, then opened his eyes and smiled challengingly at Molly. "Okay, the first five attack patterns, without break. And remember to change arms sometimes, so your strength develops evenly." She smiled back, and took up the opening position.
To the sound of swords clanging together and Nephrite's shouted instructions, they drove each other back and forth across the room and in circles around the weight machine for the better part of an hour. When they had completed the basic sequence, Nephrite began calling out different patterns at random, then began leading into patterns without telling Molly, seeing if she could interpret and follow his motions. He never once had to correct her. Several times, she found openings in his own patterns, and he could only be grateful that she had told her sword not to hurt him. If they were really fighting, she would have won four or five times over. He laughed, remembering how his greatest satisfaction as a teacher had been when one of his students was able to give him a real challenge. Whoever this Grandpa Mikami was, he had done an excellent job of teaching her.
Finally his lack of practice got the better of him, and he had to give in. Finding an opening, he adopted the posture of honorable surrender, kneeling on one knee, sword raised horizontally above his head, blade held in both hands. Molly accepted his surrender properly, then they made the benedictions and replaced the swords on the tables. Still breathing hard, Molly said, "Okay, you did what I wanted, now I'll do what you want." He saw from her smile that he didn't have to tell her what he wanted. Breakfast would just have to wait a while longer.
* * * * * * * *
The next afternoon, Nephrite and Molly arrived a little early at the Hikawa shrine. Lita and Amy hadn't arrived yet, and Raye was still busy with chores, but Serena and Mina were already there. They had stopped by a drugstore on their way over and bought out a whole clearance basket of nail polish, and were now occupied in painting their finger and toenails in a rainbow of discontinued colors. Molly joined in; Nephrite, after observing the proceedings for a moment, sprawled on the floor on his stomach at Molly's feet, grabbed a handful of green, purple, pink, blue, coral, and red bottles, and began painting Molly's toenails. The three girls stared at him, then Molly said, "Nephrite, what in the world are you doing?"
"I'm creating a work of art. Hold still." With the tip of his tongue just showing through his teeth, he painted a toenail in tiny stripes of purple and red.
"Wow," Mina said. "That's how I'll pick a husband. He'll have to audition by painting my nails."
Amy came in, arms full of books, as usual, and stared at the scene. "If anyone had told me three years ago I'd be standing here watching scary old Nephrite paint Molly's toenails, I'd have said they were crazy."
Nephrite was now putting tiny coral dots on the blue background of Molly's left big toe. He paused and looked sideways at Amy through his bangs. "Scary, huh?"
"Well, not as scary as Malachite. No matter what we threw at that guy, he just absorbed it and got stronger. But you were scary enough."
"Thanks. By the way, I don't think I ever apologized for the time I knocked you off the roof of my car. Sorry about that. I hope you weren't hurt."
Amy laughed a little. "Oh, no, I wasn't, and I learned a valuable lesson. Never climb on a man's Ferrari."
Nephrite also laughed. "Damn right." He closed the bottle of coral polish and selected a sparkly gold shade for his next miniature masterpiece.
Lita came in next, followed shortly afterwards by Darien. They also stared at Molly and Nephrite, looked at each other, shrugged, and found a place to sit on the floor. Raye and Chad were last to arrive, having finally finished their chores. Raye looked at Nephrite and Molly and made a gagging sound. "Don't be jealous, Raye," Serena said. "I'll bet if you asked him verrry nicely, Chad would paint your toenails, too."
Raye and Chad both went bright red. Luna uncurled from the corner where she'd been napping. "This is all very enlightening, but maybe now we should get down to business."
"Right." Raye sat down, and Chad positioned himself next to and slightly behind her. "The first question is -- are you listening, Nephrite? -- should Molly be here? Do we really want to get her involved in whatever might happen?"
Nephrite put the finishing touches on Molly's right little purple toenail, capped the bottle, and sat up. "I've already thought about this. Molly's involved whether we want her to be or not. Being uninvolved' didn't protect her before. Even if Molly wasn't my wife, she would still be at risk because of her friendship with the rest of you girls. You know as well as I do, and I do know because I used the tactic myself, that if the Negaverse can't get to you Scouts they'll go after the people you're close to. The people you love. To them, love is a foolish weakness, to be exploited. You tell me, Raye, how do you feel about Chad being involved?"
"Well," Raye said slowly, "he's been attacked so often by the Negaverse and our other enemies, that I felt like I owed it to him to explain why these things were happening, so he could be prepared to protect himself. Besides, now he can help me protect Grandpa."
"Exactly. I think we owe it to Molly to make sure she has the knowledge and skills she needs to protect herself. And the more people we have fighting on our side, the better."
"It isn't quite the same, though," Raye said. "Grandpa's trained Chad to be a really good fighter. And if all else fails, Chad could always sing at an enemy."
"Raye!" Chad protested.
"Or hit them on the head with his drumsticks. But what can Molly do?"
Nephrite put an arm around Molly and pulled her close. He never would have admitted it, but he was sore from head to foot after their Kharandha'i training sessions the last two mornings. He couldn't remember ever having been pushed so hard during his own training, so long ago. "I wouldn't underestimate her."
"Well, as the official leader," Serena said brightly, "I say that settles it and Molly's part of the group." She scooted on her rear over the floor and gave Molly a big hug. "I'm so glad, Molly." The other Scouts agreed with Serena, even Raye after a moment.
Nephrite looked at his young wife's beaming face. It was such a contrast to the sad, sad Molly he had found at the monastery less than a week ago. He was both egotistical and honest enough to know that her happiness was mostly due to his return, but that a lot of it also came from being accepted by this group of girls in a way she never had been before. A huge warmth grew inside him, and his eyes stung a little. This was something that was unknown in the Dark Kingdom -- the ability to find perfect joy in someone else's happiness.
"All right. Next item of business." Amy brought out a long white envelope. "Lita, did you bring yours?"
"Yes. Here it is." Lita produced a similar white envelope.
Amy took Lita's envelope and handed it, along with her own, to Nephrite. "We got these a few months ago. It was an isolated incident, and we didn't think a lot of it, but now that we know that Malachite and Zoisite are back, we thought we'd better take another look. It might mean something after all. Tell us what you make of these."
Nephrite glanced over the letters. One offered Amy a no-strings, full scholarship to any university and medical school anywhere in the world. The other offered Lita no-strings funding to start a restaurant anywhere in the world. "You didn't accept, I take it."
"Nope," Lita said. "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is."
"Smart girls." He looked at the heading on the letters; they had both come from an organization called the Gems Foundation. He shook his head in disbelief. "I wonder if it was stupidity, lack of imagination, or sheer cockiness that made them pick that name."
"Who?" Lita asked.
"Malachite, Zoisite, and Jadeite, of course."
"How do you figure?" asked Darien.
"Those are all names of minerals and semi-precious gemstones. Malachite, Zoisite, Jadeite, Beryl. Nephrite. You could look them up in the dictionary. Metallia, for some reason, likes to name her servants after rocks."
They all looked surprised. Amy asked, "You mean those aren't your real names?"
"Oh, no. They are similar to our real names, because a lot of character and destiny is contained in one's name. But they are not our real names." He smiled at her a little. "So, two of the Sailor Scouts have received letters from this so-called Gems Foundation, which is obviously a front for the Dark Kingdom, offering them large amounts of money to pursue their dreams in a different part of the world." He flicked the papers with a forefinger. "They're trying to break you up. Probably their strategy is to isolate Serena, so they can defeat her easily and take the Silver Crystal from her."
"That was the thought I had," Amy said. "But I just wasn't sure. I hadn't made the gemstones connection."
Nephrite handed the letters back to Amy and Lita. "Keep them, as a reminder. All of you," he looked at all the young faces around the room, "must resist any temptation that comes along that would pull you away from Serena. Of course, when these gentler tactics fail, they'll start to try to separate you by force. So you'll need to be prepared to deal with that."
Chad spoke up. "I've got something." He held up a white square of cardstock. "It's an invitation to audition to be the replacement drummer for Mazz Destrukshun."
"Who?" Nephrite asked.
"Amy," Raye asked, "did you get those printouts of newspaper articles? This was something else we've noticed," she explained to Nephrite, "but didn't think much of it until yesterday, when Chad got that invitation. These incidents would seem to fit the old Negaverse energy-stealing pattern."
Nephrite read the printed-out newspaper articles. Apparently, Mazz Destrukshun was one of those rock stars who deliberately cultivate an evil, demonic image. Fools, he thought. They don't know what they're tampering with. He had been in the heart of evil, and it wasn't something to be treated lightly. He read the articles about the increasing numbers of incidents at Mazz Destrukshun concerts, and recognized all the hallmarks of large-scale Negaverse energy stealing. Then he came to the first reports of deaths, and sucked in his breath harshly. True, he admitted, he had tried to kill the Sailor Scouts and Tuxedo Mask, but he had had no interest in killing the innocent people whose energy he was draining, as far as he could remember. He seemed to recall that Jadeite had also avoided crossing that line. Perhaps that was their way of clinging to whatever small shreds of honor they might have still possessed. Or maybe they just couldn't be bothered with killing their victims. In any case, the deaths were a new and deeply disturbing development.
Increasing numbers of deaths in over a dozen cities around the world, and this Mazz Destrukshun guy only seemed to grow more popular. Humans were such idiots, he thought, then corrected himself, remembering that he was now human again. He shook his head at articles about naked, abused, drugged-out teenage girls being found in some of the worst areas of Tokyo, who reported that their last coherent memories were of getting on Mazz Destrukshun's private jet after a concert in one foreign country or other.
"This guy is bad news," Nephrite said. "I mean, bad, bad news."
"So you think he's Negaverse?" Darien asked.
"Without question." Nephrite turned to the last article, from three days earlier. Apparently, this charming fellow had a famous special effect at the end of each concert, where it appeared that his drummer blew up. Normally, rubber body parts and fake blood were used to achieve the effect, but at the last concert, tragically, the real drummer had gotten too close to the explosion. A replacement was being sought immediately, so that the coming weekend's concert wouldn't have to be canceled. "And that's what this invitation is about?" he asked Chad.
"Yeah. I wasn't going to go anyway. Mazz Destrukshun is totally bogus, he isn't about the music at all, just shock value and the money. But now that you've told me he's one of these evil dudes, I'm definitely not going."
"Actually," Nephrite said, "I think you should."
"Are you crazy?" Raye shouted. "What are you trying to do? Get Chad killed? Make him the next Amazing Exploding Drummer?"
"Not at all." He kept his voice and face very calm. These kids had to learn to trust him. "We won't send him alone. Some of us will go with him, disguised in some way --"
"We can use my Disguise Power Pen!" Serena said happily. "I haven't had a chance to use it in ages!"
"Good. Some of us will go with him, and make sure he gets out in one piece." Nephrite thought about what he had said. "So to speak."
"But why?" Mina asked. "It still sounds too dangerous."
"It's a perfect opportunity to infiltrate the enemy's territory and have a look around. Hopefully we can get in and out without their knowing we're onto them, but it won't be such a bad thing if we have to reveal ourselves. It might throw them off balance, maybe force them to act before they're ready. I think it would be a good idea. I hope some of you agree with me. But it's really up to Chad."
The young musician looked deathly afraid. But he swallowed and said, "I'll do it, if you think it's a good idea, dude. General, I mean. Whatever."
" Neph' works fine for me." He smiled, trying to reassure the young man. He remembered taking young troops out into their first real battle. He had always prayed, earnestly (he had once been a deeply religious man, he now recalled), that his leadership and guidance would be enough to justify their trust in him. Specifically, that he would get as many of them out alive as he could. "When's that audition?" He took the card from Chad. "Three o'clock tomorrow. We'll all meet here at one. Do whatever you have to do to to get here on time."
He looked around the circle. Everyone nodded, then, by unspoken consent, the meeting began to break up.
* * * * * * * *
"Nephrite?" Molly murmured.
They lay in bed in their darkened house that night. Molly was sprawled across Nephrite's chest, and he was trailing his fingers down her spine, trying to memorize the pattern of bumps beneath her silky skin. "Hmm?" he replied after a moment.
"Are you going tomorrow? To the audition?"
"Yes. A good general never sends his troops to do anything that he wouldn't do himself."
"Are you a good general?"
He smiled. "One of the best, babe."
"Nephrite, I'm afraid. Promise me you'll be all right."
He put his arms around her and squeezed her so close that he couldn't tell where he ended and she began. "No one can make a promise like that in wartime, Molly. And that's what this is. But I don't think tomorrow's operation will be too difficult. My main concern is that they'll try to keep Chad with them by force, and Moon, Tuxedo Mask, and I should be able to get him away okay. So try not to worry too much."
He loosened his grip on her. She was quiet for a while, but her slender shoulders were shaking. "Don't worry," he whispered.
"I just got you back," she sobbed. "I couldn't bear to lose you again."
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 5
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury