by Moon Momma
* * * * * * * *
Beryl was not pleased. She had told Zoisite in no uncertain terms that he'd better figure out a way to get that last crystal from Tuxedo Mask or he wouldn't even live to be sorry. Nephrite hung around in the shadows in the farthest reach of the throne room, and listened carefully to the whispered gossip among the youma. Zoisite had come up with a plan: he would stage an attack at a professional wrestling match at a Tokyo amusement park to lure the Sailor Senshi, which would in turn lure Tuxedo Mask. Tuxedo Mask, so the theory went, would be taken by surprise when the focus of the attack turned from the humans and the Sailor Senshi to him, and Zoisite would be able to take the crystal from him. Nephrite thought the plan sounded as idiotic as anything Zoisite had ever thought of, but he wasn't taking any chances. He needed a decoy, and after some thought he came up with the perfect candidate.
The day before the attack was to take place, he changed into his biker disguise, kissed Naru goodbye, and teleported to his mansion. From there he rode the Harley into the city.
Classes at Juuban Junior High were just letting out. Nephrite idled his bike across the street until he saw his target, then followed him at a discreet distance until they were both away from the crowds of homeward-bound students. He pulled up next to Umino Gurio and stopped, revving the bike to get the boy's attention.
Umino went pale, staring at the black-clad biker who had stopped beside him. Nephrite raised the visor of his helmet. "Umino Gurio."
"Sanjouin!" the boy hissed. "Where's Naru-chan? What have you done with her?"
"Come with me and I'll tell you. I need to ask you a favor."
"Forget it, creep."
Nephrite shrugged. "Fine, then. I won't tell you." He made as if to ride away.
"Wait!" Umino chewed his lower lip, trying to make a decision. "My parents don't want me riding on motorcycles."
Nephrite held out the extra helmet he had hung from the seat behind him. "Do you want to hear about Naru or not?"
"Okay," the boy finally said. He put the helmet on, and Nephrite opened one of the saddlebags behind the seat for him to put his school satchel in. Then Umino climbed onto the motorcycle behind Nephrite and clutched at Nephrite's jacket.
The bike roared through the city and out onto a highway that wound along the bay. When they reached a pullout overlooking the water, Nephrite stopped the bike. Umino got off and took off the helmet. Nephrite turned to sit sideways on the bike and also removed his helmet.
"Okay," Umino said, "where's Naru-chan?"
"Naru's safe. You know those monsters that she's been attacked by so many times? She's in the one place where she's safe from them."
"Where is that?"
"My home. Not Sanjouin Masato's mansion, but my real home."
"You took her--You kidnapped her!"
"She went with me of her own choice."
Umino was chewing his lip, clearly torn between wanting and not wanting to ask. "Does that mean--Are you guys--I mean, you know, are you and she --"
"She loves me. And I love her. I won't let anything hurt her."
Even with the thick glasses concealing half of Umino's face, Nephrite could see the boy's misery. Life's tough, boy, he thought, and there are worse things than losing the girl. Then another voice inside his head, an unfamiliar one with just a hint of Naru in it, said, Ease up. He's just a kid. "Now, Umino, how would you like to be a hero?"
"I wanna be a hero for Naru-chan."
Nephrite remembered Umino trying to pull Naru out of his arms the day the schoolyard was attacked. The kid could be brave. "I'll make sure I tell her about it." A strange feeling--pity?--made Nephrite continue. "Listen, Umino. You're a great guy, and you've got a lot to offer the right woman some day. Now, do you want to be a hero or not?"
Umino sighed. "Okay."
Nephrite explained what he needed Umino to do, and gave him the replica he had made of the large violet crystal. He made the boy repeat his instructions three times. "Oh, and by the way," he said, "I'd appreciate it if you didn't say anything about talking to me, to your parents or anyone else."
"A couple of reasons. First of all, I imagine the police have a few questions they'd like to ask me regarding my relationship with Naru-chan and her sudden disappearance. I don't have time for that. Second, and more important, the people who are controlling the monsters, who are trying to destroy your world, I used to work for them. I don't anymore, but they don't know that. They think I'm still on their side."
"So you're like a double agent? Cool!"
"Exactly. And if they find out what I'm really doing, I'm dead. And so is Naru." Umino turned even paler than before. "So not one word. Understand?"
"Sure, Mr. Sanjouin! Or whatever... Who are you really, anyway?"
"Believe me, Umino, you're happier not knowing."
* * * * * * * *
After dropping Umino off a few blocks from home, Nephrite tried to decide what to do next. The wrestling match was scheduled for one o'clock the next afternoon. He didn't want to hang around the mansion all by himself until then, but he also didn't want to risk missing the event. Just because he felt confident of his plan didn't mean it would work--so many plans he had been sure would work had failed before--and he wanted to be on hand to intervene if necessary. He had to do everything in his power to make sure Zoisite didn't get that seventh crystal.
An idea struck--it seemed so obvious, Nephrite felt like an idiot for not thinking of it before. He stopped at a housewares store on his way back to the mansion and bought an old-fashioned wind-up alarm clock. He set it to current Tokyo time and set the alarm for eight o'clock in the morning. The clock was mechanical, so it wouldn't be subject to the slips and slides of time in the Dark Kingdom. With this new present in hand, he teleported back to Naru, who greeted him happily and exclaimed over the clock. "For some reason, it's so hard not knowing how long you've been gone," she said.
Nephrite selected one of his favorite CDs, a collection of John Coltrane ballads, and put it in the player. He pulled Naru into his arms, and they danced to the first few songs. Then they ate some supper and listened to some of Naru's CDs while he told her about his conversation with Umino.
"Poor Umino-kun," Naru said. "I hope this works. He deserves to feel like a hero."
"I'll be there to make sure it works." He lay down to sleep. Naru took some blankets from her bed and lay down beside him. He was going to have to tell her that this wasn't a good idea, he thought, but he fell asleep before he could say anything, and slept better than he had since their flight to the Dark Kingdom.
The alarm clock worked. Nephrite had time to put in an appearance at his official job of training the lower youma, then changed into his biker disguise and teleported to Tokyo in plenty of time to inspect the setting of that day's plots. He parked the Harley as close as he could without risking the unnecessary complication of a parking ticket, and hid in the shadows of the trees as the crowd gathered for the wrestling match. Umino was also lingering in the shadows, costumed in a dark suit, top hat, and cape. His cover story was that he was a wrestling fanatic and was hoping that a talent scout would spot him in his costume and sign him to a contract as Tuxedo Umino. The story was plausible; several of the other teenage boys in the audience were costumed, either in imitation of their favorite wrestlers or as characters of their own invention.
The match began, and proceeded normally, or as normally as such a bizarre spectacle could. Humans, Nephrite thought as he watched from the shadows. They were so easily entertained.
Then he felt a shift in energies. One of the costumed wrestlers turned into a youma and tore into the audience, flinging screaming kids every which way. Sure enough, the Sailor Senshi appeared, followed by Tuxedo Mask. Then Zoisite appeared, hovering about ten feet off the ground, and commanded the youma, "Get him! Get Tuxedo Mask!"
The youma turned its attack on Tuxedo Mask, flinging him back against a tree. Sailor Moon cried out and tried to run to her hero, but Zoisite held her back with a flurry of razor-sharp cherry blossom petals. Any time now, Umino, Nephrite thought.
Almost as though he had heard the command, Umino popped out from his hiding place. "Don't worry, Tuxedo Mask! It's safe with me!"
"What?" Zoisite shouted. His cherry blossom attack faltered. "Just what I need--another Cape Boy! Get him!"
The youma tore off after Umino, who was already running as fast as his short legs could carry him.
Neither Tuxedo Mask nor the Senshi had moved. Get the hell out of here, Tux.
Tuxedo Mask and the Sailor Senshi stared incredulously as a violet gem fell from Umino's hand to the ground and the youma stopped and picked it up. Then they finally seemed to realize that they had, miraculously, been given a break, and disappeared. Zoisite joined the youma, studying the crystal Umino had dropped.
Umino was out of breath and staggering, bent over, holding his hand to his side. If Zoisite figured out that the crystal he held was a fake, Umino was in trouble. Nephrite teleported to his motorcycle, rode across the grass to intercept Umino, and tore off even as the exhausted boy was still climbing on behind him.
They roared through the city streets, taking a random, circuitous path back to Umino's neighborhood. Nephrite dropped the boy off a few blocks from his house. "Good job, Umino." The boy glowed at the praise, and Nephrite rode away feeling like a cold-hearted, manipulative bastard. But at least the Earth was, once again, safe for another day.
* * * * * * * *
Back in his chambers in the Dark Kingdom, Nephrite kept his promise to Umino and told Naru all about the boy's heroics. "Good for Umino," Naru said. "He's such a goof, but maybe now he'll start to make something of himself. I want him to be happy."
"Why does that matter to you?
"Because he's a friend." She laughed a little. "Nephrite, you're jealous! Of Umino!"
"I am not. That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."
"Actually, I think it's sweet that you'd be jealous of Umino over me." Naru kissed him, and in a part of his mind that wasn't occupied with what Naru was doing, Nephrite reflected that he still had a lot to learn.
* * * * * * * *
Queen Beryl wanted to see him. Now. After assuring Naru that he would be back as soon as he could, Nephrite teleported to Beryl's hall.
"Nephrite, I have some questions for you."
He bowed. "Yes, Queen Beryl-sama."
"What exactly is it that you are doing with the youma? You're supposed to be training them to be servants and soldiers."
Slaves and cannon-fodder. "I am securing their loyalty, my Queen. They are stupid, and their loyalty can be easily bought and sold. What if the Sailor Senshi were to offer them, say, sufficient food and decent living quarters? The Senshi would then have a youma army."
"That's impossible! Metallia's power keeps them bound to me!"
"Just a precaution, my Queen. The training itself is going quite well. They've actually learned how to stand in straight lines. Remarkable for such stupid creatures."
"Hmm. Very well, Nephrite. I must commend you for the progress you have made with them, and for your foresight. Now, can you tell me why Zoisite's attempts to seize the seventh rainbow crystal have failed? Give me some of this 'inside information' you boasted about when you returned."
There had been a few more attempts since the wrestling match, but Tuxedo Mask and the Senshi seemed to be more on guard now. Maybe they didn't like being outdone by Umino. "Zoisite is underestimating the Senshis' capabilities. They have a strong bond among themselves and with Tuxedo Mask and Luna. That bond strengthens each of them individually, and makes the group even stronger than the sum of the parts. The only way to weaken any of them would be to make them turn against each other." Nephrite made a mental note; this could be something the Senshi could use, to gain a surprise advantage over Beryl.
"Another thing, Nephrite. You've been making a great many trips outside. Why?"
"I have other interests to attend to on Earth, my Queen."
"And are these 'other interests' of such importance that you must neglect your duties here?"
"Need I remind you, Queen Beryl-sama, of who it was that put up the money for Jadeite's gym, and the cruise ship, among many other operations? I didn't just conjure up that money. I've worked hard to earn it and I must continue to tend to Sanjouin Masato's business if our resources are not to dry up and disappear."
"I do not need a lecture from you, Nephrite."
He saluted and bowed again. "My apologies, Queen Beryl-sama."
"You're right, though," Beryl said reflectively. "I'll tell Zoisite again to mind his own business. You're dismissed, Nephrite."
* * * * * * * *
"This can't go on," he said to Naru, when he was back in their rooms. They were eating lunch, and though Dusty had just brought this food in a day or so ago, it still wasn't settling well in Naru's stomach. "This business of Zoisite coming up with a plan to get that seventh crystal, and Tuxedo Mask and the Senshi having to fight him off--that can't go on indefinitely. We need to bring this to an end somehow. One big showdown, instead of all this plotting and scheming..."
"What if Zoisite challenged Tuxedo Mask to a one-on-one battle, winner take all the crystals? You could find a way to make sure Tuxedo Mask wins."
"I could... It would be risky, though. Zoisite is too much stronger than Tuxedo Mask."
Naru chewed on a bite of apple, thinking. Nephrite loved to watch her face when she was thinking hard. "I know," she said. "You could challenge Tuxedo Mask, winner take all."
"Me? Zoisite would never agree to that."
"Why should it be up to him? Doesn't Queen Beryl give the orders around here? You're way stronger than Zoisite--the only way he could get to you was to send his youma to sneak up on you, remember? And you've got the 'inside information.'"
Nephrite rubbed his forehead. "I'm starting to wish I'd never said that."
"It'll work," Naru said. "You just point out to Queen Beryl that Zoisite has failed, what is it, twice?--to get that crystal. Remind her that you're stronger than Zoisite and you know Tuxedo Mask's strengths and weaknesses, and convince her that you should just issue him a direct challenge. You'll win easily, and you'll have control of the crystal. Then you can figure out a way to give it back to the Sailor Senshi."
"Then we're right back where we started," Nephrite pointed out.
"Yeah." Naru seemed deflated.
"I think you're on the right track though," he reassured her. She brightened again.
"I know," Nephrite continued, "I'll persuade Beryl to let me challenge Tuxedo Mask for the Crystals, and then I'll let him win."
He reached over to hug her. "Don't worry. I won't really let him hurt me. I'll just put on a good show. Don't you know I'm an excellent actor?"
She laughed against his shoulder. "Too good, sometimes, I think."
* * * * * * * *
"Queen Beryl-sama, I--this is an outrage!"
"Are you questioning my decision, Zoisite? I'm getting tired of your insubordination."
The youngest General was shaking and red-faced from anger. Kunzite stood behind him, his arms folded, a stormy look on his face. "But, Queen Beryl-sama--" Zoisite said.
"Enough, Zoisite. Nephrite will battle Tuxedo Mask for the Rainbow Crystals. As he pointed out, he has the strength, along with the knowledge of Tuxedo Mask's strengths and weaknesses to ensure that we will win."
"But, Queen Beryl-sama," Kunzite said, "are you certain enough of Nephrite's loyalty to allow him to do this?"
Beryl smiled coldly. "He wouldn't dare betray us, with you and Zoisite monitoring the fight."
Damn, Nephrite thought. He had been afraid that Beryl would assign the other two Generals to keep an eye on him. He would have to make his 'loss' look completely convincing, as well as figure out a way to keep Kunzite and Zoisite from intervening and taking the crystals.
Zoisite gave a quick, stiff bow. "As you wish, my Queen." Then he stalked over to Nephrite and spoke directly into his ear, or as close as he could get, being so much shorter. "I know you're up to something, Nephrite, and as soon as I find out what it is I'm going to make you pay for this. Beryl may trust you, but I don't."
Nephrite didn't deign to even glance at the tawny-haired General. "So who's running things around here, Zoisite? You or Beryl?" He laughed as Zoisite walked back over to his protector. Putting the little rat in his place was always satisfying.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 11
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury