Hearts of Sword
by Moon Momma
Part Six -- Some Domestic Scenes
* * * * * * * *
Mr. and Mrs. Maxfield Stanton were enjoying a relaxed evening at home, three days after Chad's audition. They were dining on one of the few recipes Molly had mastered in cooking class (spicy shrimp with vegetables) and laughing at an old Godzilla movie on the big-screen TV.
The doorbell rang, a deep, soft tone. Molly started to get up, but Nephrite said, Ignore it." A moment later it rang again, three times in quick succession. "Damn," Nephrite said, and put down his bowl of shrimp, vegetables, and rice and stopped the videotape. He went to the door and looked out through the peephole. "It's Darien and Serena." He opened the door wide, to see Serena crying and Darien looking irate. The pair walked in, though Darien was saying, "Serena, I told you that you shouldn't bother them with this."
"B-b-but if you won't b-b-believe me, m-m-m-maybe they will!" she sobbed. She held out a manila envelope, addressed to Darien Chiba. It had no return address. Nephrite took the envelope and glanced through the contents, half a dozen eight-by-ten photos, then stuffed the pictures back in the envelope. "Well, they're obviously fakes," he said.
"Let me see," Molly said.
"No." Nephrite held the envelope up out of her reach. "They're not decent."
Molly pulled his arm down and grabbed the envelope. She flipped through the pictures. "Oh, my," she said. "You don't know who any of these guys are?" She studied the tangle of body parts for a moment. "Or girls?"
"Of course not!" Serena wailed. "I've never seen any of those people in my life! Can't you tell that isn't me, it's just a picture of my head pasted on some girl's body?"
"Well, sure," Molly said. "Whoever faked this did a lousy job."
"See?" Furious, Serena turned on Darien. "They believe me! Why don't you?"
Now Nephrite and Molly both stared at the dark-haired young man. "You mean to say," Nephrite said, "that Darien actually believed it's you in these pictures?"
"Oh, really, Darien," Molly said in her best disapproving voice. "You fell for the old fake-compromising-photos-mailed-anonymously trick? Honestly."
The fury had gradually melted away from Darien's face, to be replaced by shame. "I -- It was so strange. It was like, when I picked up the envelope, I had to look at the pictures and believe it was Serena in them. I had this compulsion to remember all the annoying things she's ever done, and to hate her for being such an airhead and for betraying me. I felt this need to hate her."
"Who would do such a horrible thing to us?" Serena said.
"Who, indeed." Nephrite took the pictures from Molly and replaced them in the envelope. Then, while he held the envelope in his hand, it burst into flame and burned to ashes, which then disappeared. "Didn't I say that we all had to be careful of anything that would pull us away from Serena?"
Darien rubbed his eyes with his hand. "I can't believe I was so stupid. Of course, it's another Negaverse plot to isolate Sailor Moon."
"Right, and it appears their tactics are getting rougher, even if they're not especially original. But that's no excuse for any of us to get taken in. Now," Nephrite said, folding his arms across his chest, "I believe some apologies are in order."
"Oh," Darien said. "I'm sorry for interrupting your evening." Nephrite raised one eyebrow but remained silent. Darien sighed and his shoulders slumped. He took Serena into his arms. "I'm sorry, Serena. I knew it wasn't you -- you could never, ever do anything that awful, but something was making me want to believe it. I'm so sorry, Meatball Head. Can you ever forgive me?"
"Oh, Muffin," Serena sobbed against Darien's chest. "I would just die if you ever really hated me."
Molly and Nephrite glanced sideways at each other. "Nephrite," Molly said, "let's go in the kitchen and heat up the rest of that shrimp. Maybe they'd like to stay for supper." They retreated to the kitchen, giving Darien and Serena some privacy. Nephrite backed Molly up to the refrigerator door and pressed himself against her. "Molly," he said in his lowest, sexiest voice, "don't you ever even think about calling me Muffin.'"
* * * * * * * *
A letter came for Molly the next afternoon. It was the first letter she had received since her marriage, and she looked at it curiously, smiling at the name on it: "Mrs. Molly Osaka Stanton." She slit the envelope open with a fingernail, and began reading.
The smile quickly left her face. She said, "Ohh," in a small, tight voice, and tears came to her eyes. Nephrite, who had been opening the junk mail, turned to her. "Something wrong, babe?"
"Oh, Nephrite." She sniffled. "Grandpa Mikami died, three days ago."
"Molly." He hurried to sit beside her, and gathered her close against him. She cried for a few minutes, then sat up straight, wiping her eyes. "I know he was very old, but he was so kind to me when I really needed it, and I'll miss him. I won't be able to have any more Kharandha'i lessons with him." She cried a little more, then picked up the letter to read the rest of it. Another piece of paper, covered closely with writing in an unfamiliar script, fluttered out of the half-folded letter. "Your honorary grandfather wrote this after your marriage," the letter continued, "and asked that upon his death, it be sent to you and your husband. He said that your husband will be able to read it."
She handed the other piece of paper to Nephrite, and repeated what the letter said about it. Nephrite looked at the paper and got a strange, almost pensive, look on his face. "It's in the writing of the ancient Realm of Earth. I'll translate it for you." He began reading, haltingly, as he translated the ancient, dead language. " My dearest student Nephre'im --' " here he closed his eyes and swallowed. After a moment he continued. " You did not know me when you came to claim your bride. I intended it to be that way. Long ago, when you fell into the darkness, I knew that you would one day return to the path of honor. I vowed to live until I had seen that day. Even when I learned of your death, from Molly, I did not lose hope. I knew that your story could not end that way. The day I've waited for has come, and I have had the further joy of seeing you reunited with your beloved Maira.' "
A sudden wave of cold washed over Molly, and she put a hand on Nephrite's arm to stop him reading. She didn't dare look in his eyes, for fear she would find signs there of another love. "Nephrite, who is Maira?"
"I'm sorry. Sometimes I forget that you don't remember." He cupped a hand around her cheek. "You are. Or were. Do you know about Darien and Serena and the Moon Kingdom?"
"Long ago? Yes, a little. They were a Prince and Princess there, and were engaged to be married, and the Sailor Scouts were there too. The Moon Kingdom was destroyed by the Dark Kingdom, and the Queen sent them all here."
"You were there, Molly. Your name was Maira, and you were a handmaid to Queen Serenity, Serena's mother. Even though you were a servant, the Queen loved you dearly, and you were almost like a sister to Serena. I was one of the Earth Realm's four Imperial Generals, and Prince Darien's personal bodyguard and Kharandha'i teacher. Somehow, I don't remember yet, you and I became friends, then grew to love each other. I taught you Kharandha'i. I intended to marry you, despite opposition from the King of the Earth, Arrendel, and the other three Generals. But we never had the chance to be married."
He paused, a haunted look in his eyes. He looked away from her and spoke hesitantly, seeming to choose his words carefully. "I fell to the Dark Kingdom, and you, like Darien and Serena and the Scouts, were killed in the destruction of the Moon Kingdom. There were no survivors of that battle, among the people of the Moon. Queen Serenity gathered as many of the souls of the Moon Children as she could into the power of her Silver Crystal, and sent them all to be born into this time and place."
She knew, deep inside, by some instinct or repressed memory, that every word he said was true. "Did you remember all this, before?"
"No. The act of joining the Dark Kingdom pretty much destroyed all my memories of the time before. I didn't begin regaining the memories until the night I came back. But, I know I sensed... something... about you. I loved you, even though I didn't know it until the end. I did know then, before I died." He touched her face gently. "We've loved each other for a thousand years, Molly."
He went back to the letter. " The swords I've given her are the swords you had intended to give her as a wedding gift. I have kept them all these years, in hopes that the stars would send her my way. I still remember the time you dragged me to the Moon Kingdom with you, so you could show off your prize student to me. I thought then, as I think now, that she is a lovely and charming young lady, as well as being courageous and true. Always try to be worthy of her, and you will do well. Thank you for repaying my faith in you. All my love and best regards, your teacher, Mikha'erin.' "
Nephrite read further down the page, and turned it over. "The rest of this is addressed to you. My dearest Granddaughter Molly, I hope my death will not grieve you too much, but I have learned from you that it is wrong to ask people to deny the sadness in their hearts.' " Nephrite's voice shook slightly as he read that sentence. " I hope you will take comfort in knowing that the purpose of my long, long, life has been fulfilled, and that you brought great joy to my final months. I love life, but I am also ready to rest. Be happy with my dear Nephre'im. He was once the best of men, and will be again one day, with your help. In all my long life I have had no children of my body; you and Nephre'im are my children, and I love you both dearly. I hope you will always have a place in your heart for an old man who was kind to you. All my love and bast wishes, Grandpa Mikami.' "
Molly took the thin sheet of paper from Nephrite and held it to her cheek. She closed her eyes, thinking of the old man's wrinkled, craggy, smiling face. "It's strange," she said. "I'm not sad any more." She looked at Nephrite. He was looking away from her, his face curtained by his hair. He was turning his wedding ring around and around on his finger. She leaned her head against his shoulder, giving him her presence without invading his privacy, and closed her eyes....
* * * * * * * *
A huge white marble ballroom, brilliantly lit by globes of light that were neither fire nor electric. Waltz music floated through the room, played on exotic, ethereal instruments. The men were handsome in formal black, the women wore flowing gowns in a rainbow of pure, brilliant colors. She sat in a corner of the ballroom, tending to those who were too old or infirm to dance. She didn't mind this duty; she was used to it, and cared for her charges with tender attentiveness. But her new ballgown, of layer upon layer of sheer blue silk, each layer embroidered all over with silver thread, cried out for the dance floor.
"Maira." At the familiar voice, deep and slightly gravelly, but kind, she looked up and smiled. He stood there, the tall, blue-eyed General with long auburn hair. He held out a white-gloved hand to her. "Will you dance?"
For a moment she couldn't speak. He looked so dashing in his black full-dress uniform, the high-collared coat trimmed in crimson and silver, a brilliant array of medals and ribbons across the left side of his broad chest. His trousers were creased to lethal sharpness, his black boots were polished until they seemed to glow with an inner light of their own. At his hip was a slender dress sword with a beautifully jeweled hilt.
She finally found her voice. "I should ask the Queen's permission first."
"I already have," he said. Maira glanced at the Queen, elegant in her form-fitting gown of white silk. The Queen smiled and nodded at Maira. The handmaid excitedly pulled on her white gloves, embroidered with white silk. "I would love to dance, General Nephre'im."
Taking her hand, he gracefully whirled her onto the dance floor....
* * * * * * * *
"....I remember now, Nephre'im," she murmured. Without looking at her, he felt for her hand and gripped it tightly.
* * * * * * * *
Molly and Nephrite had their first real argument two and a half weeks after they were married. Mrs. Osaka had brought some of Molly's things over the day before, including her bike. Molly wanted to go on a long bike ride, down through the hills and into the city, but Nephrite wouldn't let her. He finally put a Guard on the bike that made her start to sneeze uncontrollably when she touched it, to ensure that she couldn't go.
"This isn't -- ah-choo! -- funny, Nephrite!" she cried. "What's wrong -- ah-choo! - with me going on a - a - ah-choo! -- bike ride?"
"I know that the other Generals are after you, Molly, and I'm not going to let them get you this time. Remember what happened the last time Zoisite kidnapped you? It'll be worse for you if it happens again."
She wasn't in the mood to listen to reason. "I don't have to be -- ah-choo! -- kidnapped by them. I'm already being held prisoner, thank you very -- ah-choo! -- much!"
Nephrite rubbed his forehead. His wife was giving him a headache. "Molly, you know it isn't like that. If you want to go see Serena or the other girls, I'd be happy to drive you down --"
"But I don't want to see Serena or the others! Dammit, Nephrite, didn't it ever occur to you that maybe I want some time to myself?"
"Molly --" but she was already stomping up the stairs. She threw herself onto their bed and sat with her knees pulled up to her chest and her face buried in her arms. She silently fumed, then gradually the fury faded away to be replaced by chagrin as she realized how childish she had been acting. How could she have spoken to him that way? He was dead for three and a half years, and she had thought she couldn't go on living without him, then by some miracle he came back and loved her and married her, and she was acting like this? Way to go, Molly, she thought. What was wrong with her? She wasn't usually subject to these kinds of mood swings, but Nephrite's refusal of her simple request had made her feel like the bottom had dropped out of her world.
"Molly," Nephrite said quietly.
She sniffed and wiped her eyes with a fist, then looked up. He was standing at the entrance to the loft area, leaning against the corner of the wall, face downcast, hands stuffed in the pockets of his jeans. "I'm sorry, Nephrite," she said. "I don't know what came over me. I shouldn't have argued with you."
"It's ok, Molly." He walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. "Maybe you're right -- I've been so worried about you that I'm smothering you."
"Nephrite, no --"
"Listen. I've got to go into the office this afternoon. You can come with if you want, or you can stay here."
"The office?" This piqued Molly's curiosity. "You mean you really have an office where you go and work?"
"Sure." He smiled a little. "Ferraris don't grow on trees, you know."
"What kind of work?"
"Stanton International imports luxury goods and art objects."
Molly thought about this for a moment. "I'd really like to come with you sometime, but not today. Do you mind?"
"No. He leaned towards her and kissed her. "Just one thing, ok?" He kissed her again, and they tumbled over onto the bed.
"Humor me, and stay in the house until I get back. Okay?" he mumbled through another kiss.
* * * * * * * *
Later than he had intended, Nephrite set some newly designed Guards on his property, then got into his Ferrari and aimed it at downtown Tokyo. He and Molly had made up their quarrel -- very satisfactorily, it almost made it worth having an argument -- but he was still worried about her. It just wasn't like her to get angry like that, and the swearing was especially out of character for her. He pondered the problem for a while, as he approached the city and began negotiating the heavy traffic. He was making the same mistake with Molly, he realized, that others had made after his death, expecting the poor kid to go on after some huge change in her life acting like nothing had happened. Plus, he understood from observing Malachite and Zoisite over the centuries, that living with a woman entailed a certain amount of emotional ups and downs, and that the best way to handle it was to just humor her and ride out the storms.
He had left her sleeping in their bed, had covered her up so she wouldn't get chilled, put a note where she could find it, and kissed her. With any luck she would just sleep the rest of the afternoon, but just in case he had reminded her in the note not to leave the house. He resolved to figure out some way for her to have a little more freedom without being endangered. Damned if he was going to let them take her....
* * * * * * * *
Zoisite and Malachite floated down from where they had been hovering in the treetops, conducting more reconnaissance. Malachite smiled slyly. "He's gone..." "And left her here alone," Zoisite finished the sentence. "He really is a fool. There's the house, with Jasper's red-haired chick inside it, just ripe and ready for the picking."
"It can't be that easy." Malachite crossed his arms and stared at the house suspiciously. "It's got to be a trap."
"Nephrite thinks he's so clever. That'll be his undoing, just like before. Come on, Malachite. The sooner we get Precious Molly, the sooner we can stop listening to Jasper nag us about it." With Zoisite leading the way, and Malachite trailing behind, still looking suspiciously at the old mansion, the two began walking through the trees towards the house....
* * * * * * * *
In the Ferrari, nearing his office, Nephrite felt the Guards activated. His eyes narrowed, and he smiled in a way that used to make his youma cower with terror....
* * * * * * * *
Molly woke up and found Nephrite's note. He would be gone all afternoon, he would bring home some take-out for supper, and she was to stay inside the house. Molly sighed. She didn't feel like arguing the point any more, even though she would win the argument this time because he wasn't home. She soaked in a nice warm bath for a long time, removed the last chipped remnants of Nephrite's nail-polish art from her toenails, then pulled on her exercise clothes. After a long Kharandha'i session, she watched TV for a while, raided the refrigerator, and looked over some schoolbooks her mother had brought over. Nephrite and her mother had banded together to announce that they wanted Molly to catch up on her missed classes, prepare for her high school graduation exams, and apply to university. Amy, who had already passed her exams with perfect scores, had agreed to tutor her, three afternoons a week at the library. Molly got a strong feeling that she, personally, didn't have any say in this decision. Oh, well, she had always wanted to go to university. She shouldn't let the fact that her life had taken some strange turns the last three years or so deter her from that goal. She picked up her old Trigonometry textbook and opened it to the first chapter. Realizing that she didn't remember the slightest thing about Trig, she dropped the book with a discouraged sigh. Poor Amy was going to have her work cut out for her.
She flipped through the TV channels again. She was bored and lonely. To think that she had wanted to be alone for a while! It was nearly six o'clock; surely Nephrite would be home soon. She missed him.
The phone rang, and Molly ran to answer it. "Hello?" she said breathlessly, hoping it was him.
It was him, calling from his car. "Hi, babe, I'll be home soon. Is pizza ok?"
"Sure!" She thought her face would crack in half from smiling.
"Good. I already picked it up. Have you stayed inside?"
"The whole time. I promise."
"Good girl. See you soon."
She ran upstairs, showered quickly, put on something short and pretty, and ran back downstairs to wait for him.
* * * * * * * *
Zoisite and Malachite stumbled out of the woods onto the road that led to the property. They were hot, tired, dirty, scratched, scraped, hungry, thirsty, sore and barely speaking to each other. Malachite looked at his watch. "Almost five hours, wandering around in there. I told you it couldn't be that easy."
"Oh, shut up," Zoisite said. "I don't get it. The house is right there in front of us. How come we couldn't find it?"
"Maybe," Malachite said dryly, "Nephrite really is as clever as he thinks he is."
They were in a fix. Too tired to teleport, they had to walk until they could find a bus stop. A half-finished teleport was not a pleasant experience. Trudging down the road, they heard the roar of a finely-tuned, very powerful engine in the distance. Soon, a red blur approached them. The car slowed down enough so that they and Nephrite could get a good look at each other. Nephrite grinned his old evil grin, and sped away. Zoisite shook her fist after him. "I'll get you for this, Nephrite!"
"And now he knows," Malachite said glumly. "We'll never get another chance."
"Great. How are we going to explain this to Jasper?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite came in the house, carrying a pizza in one hand and a small black plastic rectangle in the other. This he tossed to Molly. "Catch, babe."
She caught it. It was the smallest cell phone she had ever seen. "For me?"
"For you. Now you can get out on your own, and I can check up on you. I would still prefer it if you were with at least one of the Sailor Scouts when you're not with me, but at least now I won't feel like I have to keep my eye on you every minute."
"Oh, Nephrite." She beamed up at him. "Thank you. I'm sorry about how I acted earlier."
He put the pizza down, and put his arms around her. "It's ok, Moll. You don't have to be perfect all the time. Just most of the time."
She kissed him eagerly, and after a few minutes he had to push her away. "That pizza's going to get cold, and I hate cold pizza. Oh, by the way," he said as they headed to the kitchen, "when I got here I saw Zoisite and Malachite walking down the road, coming from the house. They were not happy to see me."
Molly stopped dead. "They really are after me."
"Exactly." Molly realized she had been set up for this. "That's why I don't want you to go off by yourself, even with the cell phone, and I want to know exactly where you're going and when, and with whom, and when you'll be back. I don't want to keep you prisoner, and I'm going to try to let you have a little more freedom, but I hope you understand that this is very serious business. If I'm right that Mazz Destrukshun is the one in charge of Negaverse operations now, I don't want to think about what he would do to you if he captured you. Remember those newspaper articles about those girls he took from his concerts?"
"Yes." Molly felt a cold wave of fear wash over her. She unconsciously moved closer to Nephrite. He put an arm around her. "I'm doing my best to not let anything happen to you, but you have to help me, okay?"
She nodded. He led her into the kitchen and Molly sat down at the counter with the pizza. Nephrite went to the refrigerator and took out a Coke for Molly and a bottle of designer water for himself. "Also by the way," he said, "I ran into Serena at the pizza place. She asked me to ask you if you want to go, quote, mall-trawling, unquote, with her and the other Scouts on Saturday."
"Oh, yes!" she smiled. "If it's okay with you."
"It's fine with me. Just keep your phone with you. And one other condition."
"What?" Molly tore off a bite of pizza and delicately caught some loose strands of cheese around her forefinger.
"That store where those pink boxes came from? Go there again."
Molly felt her face flame. She tried to glare at him, but couldn't quite do it. "Men!"
* * * * * * * *
After getting cleaned up and eating something, Zoisite and Malachite were debating whether to make their report to Jasper and get it over with, or wait and hope he would forget that they had gone out to Nephrite's house that day. The point was rendered moot when Jasper teleported into their apartment in the middle of the discussion. "Well?" he said, looking at them coldly.
Malachite decided to be gallant and be the one to deliver the bad news. "We thought we got lucky. Nephrite went out and left her alone. We tried to go get her, but he had set some sort of trap around the house."
"And that's your excuse for screwing up this time?"
Jadeite came in. He had been busy the last few days laying the groundwork for the next strike against the Sailor Scouts. He tried to sneak past Jasper into the kitchen, but the King caught him. "Jadeite, my man. Come over here, dude. We're just shootin' the bull. A nice friendly little visit, man." He grinned horribly as Jadeite slunk over to join the group, then continued speaking to Zoisite and Malachite. "You'll just have to keep trying."
Malachite took a deep breath. "That's the other bad news, my King. Nephrite saw us. He knows now, if he didn't before, that we're after his wife. We'll never have another chance at her."
"Tough. You'll keep trying."
Malachite listened in horror as Zoisite lost patience. "Listen, King." She twisted the title, making it sound like the mockery it was. "We've got more important things to do than chase around after this obnoxious little twit that you've got the hots for. Remember the Sailor Scouts? Sailor Moon? The Imperium Silver Crystal?"
"Zoisite, no!" Malachite hissed at her. He pulled her behind him and braced himself for the blow he expected.
It didn't come. Instead, the air in the apartment shimmered black and purple, and a change came over Jasper. His skin turned purple, and his face took on an even more demonic appearance than it usually had -- long, pointed ears, narrow eyes, sharp little teeth. "Listen to me, minions," Jasper said in a voice that was not his. It was a snakelike, female voice that grated painfully on the ears. "I chose Jasper to rule over the Dark Kingdom. Do not question my choice. You will obey him. The girl is the key to our victory. The Sailor Scouts have become dependent on Nephrite's guidance. If you take the girl, you will be able to destroy him. Once he is gone, the Sailor Scouts will be helpless. Then your other plans will finally succeed."
The presence left the room. Jasper, his face restored to its normal black and white paint, grinned. "Told you so, losers."
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 7
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury