by Moon Momma
* * * * * * * *
A week later, Naru skipped school again, and borrowed a substantial "advance" on her allowance from her mother's purse, enough to hire a taxi and buy a few bags of groceries. She was going to be on detention for the rest of the year, and probably grounded too, but she didn't care. Nephrite was being released from the hospital today. The taxi stopped at the hospital, and Naru asked the driver to wait while she went in to meet Nephrite.
He was waiting for her in the lobby, with her backpack and gym bag, which she had left with him to keep his things in. He stood up, looking thin, pale, and unsteady. Smiling, she walked over to him and took the gym bag from his right hand. She gripped the hand that she had freed, pretending that was why she had relieved him of the bag. "Thanks for coming for me, Naru-chan," he said. His voice was finally back to normal, but he sounded tired.
In the taxi, Naru gave directions to the mansion, while Nephrite leaned back in the seat and closed his eyes. He didn't speak or move during the whole trip; he might have been asleep. He finally stirred when they arrived at his house. Naru and the driver gathered up the bags of groceries and followed Nephrite inside.
While Naru paid the driver and started putting the groceries away, Nephrite went upstairs. He came back down after the driver had left and pressed some bills into Naru's hand. "For the groceries and the cab," he said. "I need to be alone for a while, Naru. I'm tired and I need to think about some things. You can put away the stuff you brought, but then I think you'd better go." He turned and left the kitchen.
Naru stared after him, stunned. She let the money fall from her hand to the floor. Feeling cold and sick, she continued taking things out of the bags without even noticing what she was doing. She was holding a bottle of juice when the full implications of what he had said hit her. He didn't want her around. He didn't love her after all.
The bottle slipped from her hand and shattered on the floor. She fell to her knees, doubled over at the pain of her realization, and started crying. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself, and rocked back and forth as she cried.
"Naru-chan!" He pulled her away from the mess of broken glass and spilled juice. "Naru-chan, what's wrong?"
She was still curled up tightly against her heartache. It was almost impossible to speak through her sobs. "You don't love me, you don't want to see me, I shouldn't have come, I'm so sorry, I'll leave, I won't bother you any more."
"Naru-chan, what makes you think... Oh, damn." His arms went around her. "I'm so damn stupid, Naru-chan. That isn't what I meant at all."
"What did you mean?" she sobbed against his shoulder.
"I love you, Naru. But I'm in a bad situation. They won't just let me walk away from the Dark Kingdom. I'm in danger, and so are you. I have to think about what to do, and it's hard to think clearly around you." He took her face between his hands and made her look at him. "I may decide it would be best if we didn't see each other, for your own protection. I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you. Do you believe me?" His sapphire eyes held hers for a long moment.
"I don't know. How do I know when to believe you, Nephrite?"
A look of pain crossed his face. "Naru-chan. I swear to you I will never lie to you again." He shifted her weight against his left arm, and kissed her. As the kiss went on, his tongue teased at her lips. Involuntarily, her lips parted, and he invaded her mouth, tasting, exploring, claiming her. Naru stiffened in surprise, but his left arm held her firmly and she gradually relaxed against him.
Finally, he pulled back, struggling to catch his breath. "Now do you believe me?"
She looked into his eyes, feeling breathless herself. "Yes."
"I won't lie to you any more, so I can't make any promises. Right now, I just don't know what's going to happen. Just remember, no matter what happens, I love you. I always will. And I'm sorry for how I treated you. I'm not used to... being cared for."
"It's okay." Naru rested her head against his chest, then looked at the mess she had made. "I'm sorry, Nephrite. I'll clean this up before I go."
"Don't worry about it. I'll call in Dusty. My cleaning-youma." He kissed her, and gave her the phone so she could call for a taxi.
* * * * * * * *
"You let him kiss you like THAT?" Usagi yelled. "Why--I mean, what were you--I mean, well... wasn't it kind of gross?"
"Not at all. It was nice." Naru and Usagi were in Naru's room late that afternoon. It was a nice, private place to talk when Naru's mother was working in the jewelry shop downstairs. Naru sat on her pink-covered bed, her knees pulled up to her chest, and Usagi was cross-legged on the floor.
"And he's telling you he needs time to think? That jerk. Naru-chan, don't you see, he as good as dumped you, he was just getting a thrill first. He's just plain bad."
"Then why'd you help me save his life?"
"You know, I really don't know. I'm starting to wonder if it was such a great idea."
"Usagi-chan! You don't mean that. And he isn't bad. He's good now, or trying to be. He wants out of the Dark Kingdom, but he knows they'll try to kill him again to keep him from leaving. That's what he needs to think about."
Naru and Usagi stared at each other for a moment. "You've changed, Naru-chan, and I don't like it," Usagi finally said. "I feel like you're not my friend anymore."
"I'll always be your friend, Usagi-chan. But I have changed. I feel old. Ever since that night..."
"You should try to think about other things. You know, Umino really likes you, and it's just killing him the way you ignore him. I know what a nerd he is, but he's really sweet, and I think you'd have a lot of fun with him. You should give him a chance."
"That's not fair. I know how hung up you are on Motoki. What if I said, 'Oh, Usagi, poor... um... Mamoru likes you so much, you should give up on Motoki and go with Mamoru.' "
"That isn't the same thing, Naru, and you know it."
"It is too the same," Naru insisted.
"Is not. Motoki isn't dangerous the way Nephrite is. And Umino's really nice, but Mamoru is the world's biggest jerk. So it isn't the same."
"It isn't fair to ask me to pretend I don't love Nephrite just because Umino likes me. Don't ask me to do that, Usagi-chan. And don't make me choose between you and Nephrite."
"I just don't want you to get hurt."
"I'm tired of people telling me they don't want me to get hurt!" Naru shouted. "Everyone's trying to run my life and make decisions for me so I won't get hurt. That's exactly what Nephrite said, and that's what my mother keeps saying. I just wish everyone would leave me alone to... to follow my heart."
* * * * * * * *
Almost a week went by without a word from Nephrite. Every afternoon after detention, Usagi and her new friends Ami, Rei, and Makoto, along with Umino and, on occasion, Rei's boyfriend Mamoru surrounded Naru and whisked her away to the library or the ice cream shop or the videogame arcade. Naru knew that they were trying to make her forget about Nephrite. She resented it, but was too worried about what Nephrite would decide to put up a fight.
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite lay on his big bed beneath the skylight. It was so good to be able to look up and see infinity, instead of the ceiling of a cavern or a hospital room. He was trying to think about how to make his break from the Dark Kingdom, but his mind kept coming back to Naru. It had been stupid and wrong of him to get carried away and kiss her like that, but he found he could not quite regret what he had done.
He knew he loved her. He had known nothing of love over the last thousand years, but this was unmistakable. He had been willing to die to protect her. When she called to him, he had chosen to go to her rather than stay and fight the Dark Kingdom's archenemies. He had committed treason for her, and he would gladly do it again and again, just to see her smile at him. He would even give up the stars just to be able to hold her safe in his arms, though he knew that she would never ask that of him.
He loved her--what was he going to do about it? He and Naru were in danger, and he was forced to admit that he couldn't protect both of them. Zoisite had nearly killed him once, and had tried a second time--Nephrite had been semi-conscious during the fight in his hospital room, though unable to say or do anything. Next time the vindictive little bastard would be careful to make sure the job was done right. Even if he tried to distance himself from Naru, Nephrite felt certain they would still try to use her to get to him. He had made it very clear, that night, where his true loyalties lay.
Thankfully, Zoisite and the rest of the Dark Kingdom's minions had been leaving him alone lately. Dusty reported that they were concerned with collecting the Rainbow Crystals that had been formed when the Silver Crystal was shattered. When he learned that he had nearly died over a crystal that didn't even exist, Nephrite let loose with a string of swearing that could have peeled the paint from the walls. He wished, not for the first time, that Queen Beryl would be more careful about verifying her information before setting her plots in motion.
He wasn't stupid enough to think that Beryl and Zoisite had forgotten about him, though. Much as he hated to admit it, he was going to need the Sailor Senshis' help. Maybe he could convince them to protect him and Naru in exchange for his help against Beryl and the Dark Kingdom. Sanjouin Masato knew a thing or two about making deals. And, after all, the Senshi had helped Naru save his life. That had to mean that they weren't completely against him. Even if they wouldn't help him for his sake, surely they would for Naru's sake.
It would also help if Beryl thought he might still be useful after all. If he made it look like he was associating with the Senshi so he could get information about them for the Dark Kingdom, Beryl might not be so eager for his death. But he would have to make sure the Senshi knew he wasn't really double-crossing them.
It was a less-than-ideal plan. It depended too much on other people--on the Senshi, and on Naru having enough courage and discretion to play the game without giving anything away. He didn't doubt her courage, not after she had faced down Moon's Tiara for his sake, not after she had refused to leave him during the attack by Zoisite's youma, but he wondered if she was really capable of understanding what was going on and what the stakes were.
He thought and thought, and couldn't come up with anything better. He just wasn't going to be able to protect Naru himself, especially not in his weakened condition, and he wasn't all that eager to die, not when he'd finally found a reason to live. And if he could help the Senshi bring down that demon Beryl, then so much the better.
* * * * * * * *
"Come on, hurry up!" Usagi said as they were leaving school one afternoon. "I can't wait to try out the new Double Chocolate Overdose sundae! Hurry up, Naru-chan!"
Naru was dragging her feet, several paces behind Usagi. She didn't want ice cream. She just wanted to see Nephrite, but ten days had gone by without a word from him. If she couldn't see him, she just wanted to go home and be alone. But as soon as she stepped outside the door of the school, Usagi, Ami, Rei, Makoto, Umino, and Mamoru swarmed around her and started dragging her away. "Hey, stop," Naru protested. She looked over her shoulder, following their glances, and saw why they were so eager to get her away from the school.
He was waiting for her, halfway down the block. His red Ferrari was parked at the curb and he stood, leaning against it, arms folded across his chest, watching her and waiting to see what she would decide. He wore jeans and a dark-colored silk shirt, and looked so handsome it took her breath away for a moment. He should be against the law, she thought.
Umino and Rei grabbed Naru's arms again. "Come on, Naru-chan, you promised we'd all go try that new sundae together," Rei said.
Naru jerked away. "I didn't promise anything. You guys are the ones who decided."
Rei made another grab at Naru, but Usagi shook her head. "Don't force her." She looked at Naru. "Naru-chan, please listen."
"Usagi-chan." Naru started backing away from the group, towards Nephrite. "I told you not to make me choose."
"Naru--" Even with Umino's thick glasses, Naru could see the dismay on his face.
"I'm sorry, Umino, you guys. This is what I have to do." Then Naru turned and ran to Nephrite. He straightened up and she ran into his arms. He lifted her up and kissed her, and she clung to him, returning his kisses.
He set her down, rubbed his bad shoulder, and opened the car door for her, then went around to the other side and got in. They drove to a nearby shopping area and parked in front of the cafe she had told him about, the night he nearly died. Naru looked at him, beaming. "Nephrite, you remembered!"
He smiled back at her. "Did you think I'd forget?"
"No, I guess not."
With a light touch at the small of her back, he guided her into the cafe. They got a table for two by the front window, and Nephrite ordered a large chocolate parfait with two spoons, coffee and almond biscotti for himself, and sparkling juice for Naru. The waiter brought the parfait, tall and glorious with chocolate mousse, whipped cream, dark cherries, and shaved chocolate. Naru started to dig in, then became self-conscious. It wasn't exactly the pig-out queen Usagi sitting across from her; it was Nephrite, her handsome, sophisticated, older boyfriend. An adjustment in manners was needed. She discreetly scraped about half the contents of her spoon back into the glass and delicately ate what was left, then looked at Nephrite. "Well? Aren't you going to try it?"
"Okay." He took a small amount in his spoon and ate it. "You're right. It is good." But he didn't eat any more; he mostly toyed with his spoon while he watched her. Naru finally put her spoon down. "Is something wrong?"
"No. Go ahead. I want to see you enjoy this."
So she enjoyed it. He dunked the biscotti in his coffee, chewed on them, drank the coffee, all without taking his eyes off her. She finished the parfait and started to scrape the sides of the glass with her spoon, then stopped, feeling self-conscious again. "Go on," he said, smiling a little. "It would be a shame to waste any of it." So she scraped the glass clean, licked her spoon, and wiped her mouth with her napkin. Then she sat back with a contented sigh. "That was the best chocolate parfait I've ever had."
"The best one I've ever had, too."
"You hardly had any! Besides, I think it's the first chocolate parfait you've ever had."
"You're right, but it was still the best. I think it's the best one I'll ever have."
They smiled at each other in silence. Naru felt all warm and sparkly inside; she felt like she would burst into a shower of gold confetti. Then Nephrite reached into the pocket of his shirt. "I wanted to give you something to show you how much I appreciate everything you've done for me, and to help you remember how I feel about you." Out of his pocket he pulled a delicate golden chain with an openwork gold heart pendant hanging from it. One curved edge of the heart was set with half a dozen small diamonds. He let the chain and heart pendant dangle from one finger. "For you."
"Ohh." Naru held out her hand to touch the lovely necklace. Nephrite held her hand palm up and let the heart and chain settle onto it. "It's beautiful, Nephrite," she said. "Thank you." She opened the clasp and started to put it on, then Nephrite reached over and fastened the necklace around her neck himself. The heart rested just above the bow of her school uniform.
"That came from your mother's store," he said. "I told your mother that I intend to see you as often as possible."
"What did she say?" Inside Naru, more golden sparkles were bursting. He wanted to go with her!
"She said that if she tried to prevent our seeing each other it would just make you more determined to do it, so she won't actively stand in our way. That is not to be mistaken for approval. She also said she trusts me to behave like a gentleman."
"But you are. You're a perfect gentleman--" Then she remembered how he had kissed her, that day at his house. "Well, mostly."
He lifted one eyebrow at her, ever so slightly, and smiled a little. She blushed. Then he took something else out of his pocket, a folded piece of paper. "Would you do me a favor, and give this to Usagi? Tell her it's for Sailor Moon."
Naru stared at him, her eyes widening a little. Then she smiled. "I'll make sure she gets it."
Nephrite watched Naru tuck the note for Sailor Moon into her school satchel. She had passed the test; though she must know that they both knew who Sailor Moon was, she hadn't said anything. She was smart and discreet. She would have to be both of those, as well as brave, for his plan to work. If things went wrong, he might still have to separate himself from her, for her own protection. He had already figured out how he would do this with the least amount of hurt to Naru, but it was strictly a last resort. Hopefully Sailor Moon would listen to him and trust him. Damn it, was it so much to ask, that he and Naru have a chance together? This had to work.
* * * * * * * *
Late the next night, Nephrite waited on a deserted overlook along a coastal road outside the city. The moon was a narrow sliver in the sky. He was trying not to be nervous; he was just hoping that Sailor Moon would show up more inclined to listen to him than to go throwing her Tiara around.
"All right, Nephrite, what do you want?"
He turned, startled, at Sailor Moon's voice. She stood on a small outcropping on the cliff across the road. Silently, he cursed his slow reflexes, one of the many lingering effects of the damage that Zoisite's youma had wreaked on his body. She could have Moon Tiara'd him before he even knew she was there. "You're alone, as I asked?" he called to her.
"Yes, but the other Senshi are ready to come if I need them. So don't try anything."
"What did Naru say when she gave you my note?"
"She just said it was from you and I would know who to give it to."
"Good." Smart Naru. He was impressed.
"So what's this all about, Nephrite?" Sailor Moon challenged him.
"I want to make a deal with you. I want to leave the Dark Kingdom, but they don't let anyone leave alive. I want the Senshis' protection for myself and Naru, until the Dark Kingdom is defeated. In return, I'll tell you exactly how you can get into the Dark Kingdom and what you need to know to destroy Beryl and Metallia."
"The demon Beryl serves. The source of her power."
"Rats! There's a demon too?" Sailor Moon was silent for a moment. "Why should I trust you?" she finally asked.
"Because I love Naru. I don't want her world to be destroyed."
"It seems to me that if you really cared about her, you'd stay away from her so she wouldn't be in danger."
"If I were a better man than I am, I probably would stay away from her. But, as I am right now, that's not an acceptable option. I'm selfish--she's the best thing I've had in my life in more years than you can imagine. Now, do we have a deal or not?"
Sailor Moon jumped, and landed next to him on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea. They eyed each other warily, aware of the long drop to the wave-swept rocks at the base of the cliff. "Let me make sure I've got this straight. You want us to protect you and Naru, and in exchange you'll give us information? Seems like it's me and the Senshi doing all the work, Nephrite."
"All right. I'll help you against the other Generals when I can, without making it obvious that I've turned against the Dark Kingdom. I'm going to need to make it look like I'm still useful to them."
"What other Generals? How many more of them are there? I mean, I know about Zoisite, but are there others besides him?"
"One other. Kunzite. He's the most powerful. Zoisite is his student, and his lover. Between Kunzite's strength and ruthlessness, and Zoisite's cunning and sheer vindictiveness, they are a very dangerous combination."
"Kunzite," Sailor Moon said, mentally filing away the name. "What else can you tell me about them, or what they're going to do?"
"No more free samples. Do we have a deal or not?"
Sailor Moon chewed her lower lip, trying to decide. Her face began to take on a softer expression, which he thought boded well for him.
"Excellent work, Nephrite!" shrieked a voice from the cliff where Moon had been standing a few minutes before. Nephrite and Sailor Moon both looked up, startled. A blue, over-muscled, cadaverous-looking youma stood above them. One long-taloned hand was extended, ready to attack. "Sailor Moon, we've got you now!"
Sailor Moon and Nephrite both dove to the rocky ground to avoid the shower of energy darts that shot out from the youma's hand. Before Nephrite could summon the power of the stars to destroy the youma, Sailor Moon had her Tiara in hand and flung it at the monster, shouting "Moon Tiara Magic!" The youma shrieked and dissolved into gray dust.
Nephrite and Sailor Moon stood up. Nephrite was trying to steady his breathing. That had been close; the top of his head stung from where one of the darts had grazed him. Sailor Moon turned on him. "You two-faced, lying, sneaking sleaze! I should have known this was a trap! No deal, Nephrite." She spat out his name, then jumped up to the outcropping where her Tiara had landed. She wound up to throw the Tiara at him.
Nephrite teleported. He hadn't teleported since the night Zoisite tried to kill him, and he was feeling nauseated and weakened by the youma's dart, but he certainly wasn't about to hang around and see if Sailor Moon could throw her Tiara accurately twice in one night. He landed on his big bed beneath the skylight, then staggered into the bathroom to be sick.
He went to the sink and rinsed his mouth, then touched the top of his head. His hand came away with blood on it. It was a brownish color, a mixture of green and red, but redder than it had been when he had cut himself shaving at the hospital. He tried to remember how many units of human blood he'd been given. Seven, eight? A lot, at any rate. Had the transfusions actually changed his physiology? Or was it his breaking the oaths he'd sworn to Beryl and Metallia?
Damn, he thought, thinking back on the night's events. That had failed spectacularly. He had been prepared for Sailor Moon to want to talk with the other Sailor Senshi and even Tuxedo Mask before agreeing to his deal, or to even refuse him outright. But he had not expected that a youma would show up to make it look like he was still with the Dark Kingdom. Sailor Moon evidently had not noticed that the attack had been directed at him as well as at her. All she would take away from the meeting was that Nephrite had asked to meet with her privately and a youma had ambushed her. He thought he had been careful; how had the Dark Kingdom known about this meeting?
It must have been Zoisite, the little snake. Nephrite briefly wondered why he even bothered with setting Guards. Zoisite was the Dark Kingdom's equivalent of a cat burglar and expert safecracker combined. Security was going to have to take top priority if Nephrite was going to have any hope of keeping his secrets safe.
He thought about the method he had devised for separating himself from Naru if things got too dangerous, and decided it wasn't time for that yet. Tonight had been a grave setback, but maybe he could find a way to convince Sailor Moon and the Senshi that he hadn't been behind the youma's attack. He didn't want to have to give Naru up, not when there was even a slight chance of making things work.
* * * * * * * *
return to Index / go to Chapter 5
The Nephrite and Naru Treasury