by Moon Momma

Chapter 9

* * * * * * * *

Nephrite lay awake on his sleeping mat, trying to think about something other than Naru asleep on the other side of the room. The only escape he had found from the cold, poisonous atmosphere that lay heavy over the Dark Kingdom, and from his fear and worry over their situation, had been in her warmth and sweetness as he lay with her their first "night" in the Dark Kingdom. And he couldn't let it happen again. Under the law--he had looked it up once, telling himself that he was just curious--she was old enough to consent to sex, but just because something was legal didn't mean it was right.

A strange thought, he reflected, for someone who not so long ago hadn't cared about legal or illegal, right or wrong, but only about advancing the Dark Kingdom's interests and staying in Queen Beryl's favor.

Regardless of how he saw her, regardless of the law, regardless of his memories of that time before, Naru still had a way to go before she would be considered a grown woman in the world she lived in, the world that he wanted to live in. He had already warped her life far out of the shape it should have taken; though the damage had already been done, he could make sure not to do any more.

So he lay on his thin sleeping mat on the far side of the room from her, and tried to think about the youma he was training instead of about her face as she gave him the comfort he had yearned for that first night.

It was no use. Nephrite sighed and got up. He began dressing, trying to do so silently so he wouldn't disturb Naru.

"Where are you going?" she asked. Apparently she hadn't been able to sleep either.

"The youma were all excited about something yesterday," he explained as he dressed. "I want to figure out what it is. I think Zoisite's on to something. I may need to go outside for a while, too. You go back to sleep."

"Okay." She rolled over and was silent.

In truth, he had a good idea what was going on. Zoisite had been successful in his attempts to find the Rainbow Crystals, and the Dark Kingdom was now in possession of the first six. Tuxedo Mask and the Senshi had nearly gotten away with one each, but Zoisite had managed to ambush them and take their crystals at the last minute. Rumor had it that he was about ready to go after the seventh crystal. If he captured it, the Dark Kingdom's victory was all but assured. Nephrite wanted to be in Beryl's hall when Zoisite consulted the Black Crystal to locate the seventh Rainbow Crystal carrier.

Nephrite walked to Beryl's throne room and blended in, as well as he could with his height and hair, among the masses lining the edges of the hall. Zoisite stood before Beryl's throne, being congratulated on his success. Nephrite ground his teeth at the sneaky little weasel's smug self-satisfaction. Then Zoisite cast the Black Crystal into the air and commanded it to show him the seventh Rainbow Crystal holder. An image appeared, a little girl holding an enormously fat blue cat. Zoisite laughed. "That sweet little girl? It'll be like taking candy from a baby!"

The image disappeared, but Nephrite continued to stare at the space where it had been, thinking. Then he teleported to the lower levels where the youma, divided into work crews, were beginning the job of making their caves fit for habitation. As Nephrite walked among them, giving directions and offering encouragement, he casually asked whether any of them had ever seen the Black Crystal reveal any of the other Rainbow Crystal carriers. From the first-, second-, and third-hand information he got, he realized that this was the first time the Black Crystal had shown more than one potential target. He left the youma to their chores and teleported to his mansion.

* * * * * * * *

It was late night in Tokyo. Perfect for what he needed to do. It would be best if Sanjouin Masato lay low for a while, so he was going to have to put together a new disguise, and he already knew what that would be. Dusty had brought in that morning's newspaper, and Nephrite looked through the classified ads until he found what he wanted. A few minutes on the Internet revealed the address that went with the phone number in the ad, and, after sealing a large amount of cash in a manila envelope, he teleported to the address.

It was a magnificent bike, a Harley-Davidson just like the one he'd promised himself when the Ferrari crashed. There was nothing polite or tame about it; it would certainly never be associated with sophisticated, urbane Sanjouin Masato. He left the envelope containing three times the asking price in cash, along with a mental suggestion that it really wouldn't be necessary to call the police, then, with some effort, teleported himself and his new wheels back to his mansion.

He took more cash, then teleported to a store he had noted when he had toyed before with the idea of getting a motorcycle. He needed the clothes to look the part. He already owned some black jeans, so he picked out heavy black boots, black gloves, some black t-shirts bearing menacing-looking rock band logos, and a black leather jacket with lots of zippers. Finally, he picked out a black helmet with a dark visor that could be raised and lowered, and a second helmet, white with turquoise trim. This would be Naru's helmet, when the day came that she could ride with him. Once again, he left behind enough cash that the store owner wouldn't feel robbed, and a psychic nudge to not notify the police.

Back at his mansion again, he changed. The hair was a problem, if he really wanted to go incognito. He experimented with putting it in a ponytail, then rejected that. Too much like pretty-boy Zoisite. He decided on a braid, which he would tuck inside the jacket. With the helmet, no one would be able to see the distinctive color of his hair.

Then he found an envelope and addressed it to Tsukino Usagi. On a piece of paper he wrote, "Sailor Moon: It's the cat." Beneath the words, he drew a quick sketch of the enormous cat and a jewel. He hoped Usagi wouldn't figure out the note was from him; she wouldn't trust it, if she did.

He put on boots, jacket, gloves, and helmet, tucked the note in its envelope into a pocket of his jacket, and went out to the bike. He straddled the seat and started the engine. A thrill went through him at the power he held in his grasp. After a few practice turns around the house, he was ready for the road.

Speeding through the city, he could only think of how much Naru would love this. He vowed again that Beryl would be destroyed soon and Naru would ride behind him, her arms wrapped around him, laughing at the sheer joy of the machine's speed and power.

He paused in front of the Tsukinos' house just long enough to slip the envelope into their mailbox, then headed home. No, not home--Naru wasn't there. To his house. He wanted to go back to Naru; she would enjoy seeing him in his biker persona. But time in the Dark Kingdom could be slippery, and he didn't want to miss the attempt to get the Rainbow Crystal. The tricky part was, the Sailor Senshi were going to have to allow Zoisite to remove the crystal from the cat, then they would have to attack the General and take the crystal from him. Nephrite hoped the advance warning he was giving them would give them enough of an edge to succeed, but he was prepared to intervene if necessary. He hoped he wouldn't have to; revealing himself would mean certain death for himself and Naru. But there were other, larger matters at stake. If Zoisite won the seventh crystal, the Dark Kingdom would win the war, meaning certain death for himself and Naru, and everyone else.

Back at his mansion, in the main room, he centered himself and called upon the stars' power. "Show me where the fight for the seventh Rainbow Crystal will take place." The familiar warmth bloomed in the center of his forehead, and he knew that the mark of his power had appeared. The link with the stars was complete. Then the vision came--a stretch of concrete embankment along a river. He carefully noted the buildings and other surroundings, memorizing them so that he could find the place later.

He had some time, and the stars had been cooperative, so he finally made up his mind to ask something else, something he'd been wondering ever since the night Naru saved him from Sailor Moon's Tiara. He centered himself even more deeply and repeated the invocation, "The stars know everything. What of Naru and me?"

There were a lot of questions rolled up in that simple inquiry. Is it right? Can it work? Is it meant to be, or do we have a choice, or are we making a mistake?

The stars on his magical chart began to rotate, then they seemed to slowly spiral down to surround him. They went faster and faster, weaving streams of light around him until he felt suspended in space and time... Time itself began to weave ribbons around him, then he saw--

All possible pasts, presents, and futures, infinite possibilities, in all of them he was bound to Naru. Sometimes there were others--he was amused to see a few possibilities in which he was paired with one or another of the Sailor Senshi--but these were mistakes. Always, always, it was Naru who held the key to his soul, who completed him, whose fate was entwined with his and who made his own destiny work itself out properly. They were two halves of one whole, who met in a binding so complex and intertwined that no other possibilities could come close to matching its perfection.

The strands of time and space returned to their proper weavings. Nephrite was left standing in his great room, filled with an unfamiliar combination of emotions: awe, gratitude... joy. For the first time that he could remember, Nephrite was brought to his knees by the power of the stars.

* * * * * * * *

It was hard waiting for Nephrite to come back, knowing that he must have gone outside but not knowing what he was doing or if he was all right or when he would be back. Naru tried to sleep for a while after he left, but couldn't. Being alone in the Dark Kingdom was unsettling, even though Nephrite had promised that she would be safe in their room and that Dusty would be along sooner or later.

Naru sighed, looking around the dim, eerie cavern. This was her home now, for how long? At least she was here with someone she loved, who loved her. She got up and put on a pink denim skirt and cropped pink and white striped sweater. After eating breakfast, she tidied up the food, arranging it on some shelves formed out of the stone walls. She straightened out the bedding, shaking out and neatly spreading the furs and blankets across the bed where she slept, then did the same for Nephrite's sleeping mat and blankets. Even if she wasn't sleeping there with him, she could still make it nice for him. What happened? she wondered. This certainly wasn't where she had imagined she would be even a few months ago. She didn't understand why her life had taken this direction, but she couldn't, wouldn't, allow herself to have any regrets.

The few chores done, Naru looked around at her and Nephrite's home. Maybe it was just her imagination, but the cavern seemed a little less dim and cold than it had before.

* * * * * * * *

When daylight came, Nephrite went back out on his bike and located the place that had been shown him in his vision. He spent the day discreetly staking out that stretch of embankment, moving around so that his presence wouldn't draw too much attention. Finally, in mid-afternoon, his watching was rewarded.

He heard shouts coming from far to his right on the opposite side of the embankment. Three of the Sailor Senshi, Moon, Jupiter, and Mars, were running along the sidewalk at the top of the concrete slope. Sailor Moon was in the lead, holding out a brightly-flashing stick topped with a crescent moon. Moon abruptly stopped, and the other two crashed into her. All three of them went down in a heap. After a great deal of yelling, they got themselves straightened out and looked down the embankment.

Two cats burst out of one of the drainage openings at the bottom of the embankment. One was the fat blue cat that the Black Crystal had revealed, the other was a small black cat--Luna, Nephrite guessed. The cats tore along the walkway along the river, and the Senshi ran after them. A few seconds later, from the same opening, came a flood of dark gray furry creatures. Rats. Thousands and thousands of rats, it must have been. Nephrite thought he might be looking at every sewer rat in Tokyo. In the center of the mass of rats was a tall bump... roughly the height of a person. Nephrite grinned, suddenly guessing at who was under the mountain of rats. He started the bike and slowly cruised along, following the whole parade--cats, Sailor Senshi, rats, and the poor, unfortunate soul in the midst of the rats.

The rats and their accompanying person caught up with the cats. The rats fled, gradually revealing Zoisite, who held out the Black Crystal towards the cat. A yellow light radiated from the crystal, revealing a violet crystal in the cat's chest.

The violet crystal flew into Zoisite's hand. The Sailor Senshi prepared to attack him, and Nephrite poised himself to rush to their aid if necessary. Before anyone could move, though, a red rose shot past Zoisite's hand, forcing him to drop the crystal. Tuxedo Mask leaped down from the top of the embankment opposite from where Nephrite waited, grabbed the crystal from the ground, and ran away. After a stunned moment, Zoisite ran after him, shaking his fist and swearing. But Tuxedo Mask was gone.

The Sailor Senshi stared at where Tuxedo Mask had been, as did Nephrite from across the river. He didn't know how Tuxedo Mask fit into the whole puzzle, and his guess was that the Sailor Senshi didn't, either. At least the crystal wasn't in Zoisite's hands, and he doubted that Tuxedo Mask would willingly hand it over to the Dark Kingdom. The Earth was safe for another day. Nephrite revved the motorcycle and drove off into the maze of streets on his side of the river.

Time to be getting back to Naru. Nephrite wondered what she had been doing all day. He hoped Beryl was leaving her alone. She must be bored... Riding slowly through one of the shopping districts in this part of the city, he passed a store that sold stereo equipment and CDs. Now there was a thought. He picked out a portable stereo and added about two years' worth of batteries. Then he stared at the displays of CDs. His own tastes in music had turned out to be highly eclectic, but he had no idea what Naru would like. Finally he settled on one each of the top twenty pop CDs.

The young man at the cash register, whose face was decorated with a great many bits of metal inserted into nearly every piercable segment of flesh, gave Nephrite some strange looks as he rang up the CDs. Nephrite arched one eyebrow slightly and asked, "Is there a problem?"

"Well, um, I was just thinking, aren't these kind of... bubblegum?" The clerk gestured at Nephrite's black leather jacket and rock-logo t-shirt.

"They're for my girlfriend." His tone of voice dared the metallic clerk to say anything more.

"Oh. Whatever, dude." The clerk finished ringing up Nephrite's purchase. Nephrite set more than enough bills to pay for the things down on the counter and walked out without his change.

The CD player was too bulky to fit in the motorcycle's storage compartment, so he made a pocket of negative space for it. Then he headed for his mansion, anxious to get back to Naru. He wondered if she would like the presents; the heart necklace he'd given her was the first present he could ever remember giving anyone, and that seemed to have been a success. She wore it constantly. Maybe he would turn out to be good at giving gifts. It felt strange to care about pleasing someone simply for the sake of making her happy. It felt... good.

At his house, he stashed the Harley in a large pocket of negative space in the exercise room--he didn't need the authorities finding the bike on Sanjouin Masato's property--and picked out some of his own favorite CDs to take with. He kept the biker outfit on, with sunglasses to complete the effect, and left the gray uniform he'd been wearing for Dusty to launder. Then he gathered up the portable stereo, the batteries, and the CDs, and teleported back to the Dark Kingdom.

Naru was lying on her stomach on the floor, looking through a pile of manga which Dusty must have brought for her. Nephrite made a mental note to give the youma another raise. Naru looked up, startled, then smiled as recognition dawned in her eyes. "Nephrite!" she said happily, and stood up. She examined him from several angles, then took his hands and looked up into his face. "You look awesome," she said, then reached up to take off his sunglasses. "Did you get a motorcycle like you wanted?"

He kissed her before answering. "Yes. I'm not going to be able to use the Sanjouin Masato disguise for a while. This seemed different enough that no one would recognize me." He kissed her again. "You look cute."

"Thanks." She smiled, looking down at her outfit, then back up at him.

Nephrite kissed her yet again, then looked around at the room. "It looks different in here."

Naru shrugged. "I just tidied up a little."

But that didn't quite explain the difference. "Never mind. Here, I brought you something." He removed the CD player from the box, tore open a package of batteries and inserted them, then poured the CDs out of the bag onto the floor. Naru crouched down, sorting through the CDs and exclaiming with delight. "Oh, I love this one! And this! This one, too. Nephrite, how did you know?"

"Lucky guess," he said, taking off his leather jacket. "I'm glad you like them." He was starving after the past night and day's work, so he fixed himself a bowl of granola and milk, and cut up a peach on top of it. He poured a cup of orange juice, tasted it, and frowned. He'd have to remind Dusty to get a better brand of orange juice next time. The bowl of cereal tasted a bit off, too, but he was so hungry he ate it anyway.

Naru had put in one of the CDs and was sitting in front of the player, bouncing along with a song. Watching her, Nephrite suddenly realized how exhausted he was. He pulled off his boots and jeans, freed his hair from the braid, and crawled into his bed in his t-shirt and shorts. Naru turned the music down, and sat down beside him on top of the covers. "You must be exhausted," she said softly. "You haven't been sleeping much, and you've had such a long day, or whatever."

"It was near midnight in Tokyo when I got there, and five in the afternoon when I came back here. Plus working with the youma before I went outside."

"Were you awake the whole time?"

"Awake and working." He gave her a quick summary of his activities.

"So you kept the Dark Kingdom from getting one of these crystals they need?"

"I don't know if my own actions had anything to do with it, or if Tuxedo Mask would have gotten it anyway. I'd like to think that my warning to the Senshi helped."

She smiled. "I'm sure it did."

Nephrite reached up and brushed his fingers across her cheek and lips, then pulled her down into an embrace. "Also, while I was at my house," he said softly, "I asked the stars about us. You and me together, I mean."

"What did they say?"

He tried to find words for what he had learned. "You and I... we... belong. If we're together, that's one small thing in the Universe that's right."

She smiled. "I already knew that. You didn't have to ask the stars."

He laughed a little, and held her closer as he fell asleep.

* * * * * * * *

Nephrite was trying to wake her up, but Naru just couldn't move. "Come on, Naru-chan, I want you to help me with the youma today. I had an idea."

"Uhh," she groaned, sitting up. "I just wish it would get really dark here sometimes. Maybe then I could sleep better." It also didn't help that she had been lying half on his sleeping mat, half on the floor.

"I can do that, no problem," Nephrite said. "Put on something nice."

Naru chose a flowing blue skirt and lace-trimmed white blouse, and went into the bathroom to change. When she came back out, Nephrite had her breakfast ready. She ate a spoonful of cereal and milk, and nearly spit it out. It was awful. She swallowed it because she couldn't possibly spit out the mess in front of him. "Nephrite, I hate to tell you this, but you were wrong about the milk not spoiling." Then her stomach heaved, and she ran to the bathroom to be sick.

This time when she emerged from the bathroom, she saw that Nephrite had pushed aside his own bowl. "That shouldn't have happened," he said. "I've never had anything spoil here. Maybe it was already partly spoiled when Dusty bought it. I'm going to have to talk to her. The orange juice was poor quality too..." He trailed off, eyes narrowing. "I'm going to have to think about this. Come on, Naru-chan. It's time to go brainwash the youma. You can send Dusty out for some more food later." He held on to her as they teleported to the youma caverns.

"What do you want me to do?" Naru asked.

"It's easy. Just look pretty, smile at them if you can, and say something nice."

"Okay." She followed him into a vast hall teeming with gray, slouching, somewhat human-like creatures. They all turned to face the dais as Nephrite strode onto it, leading Naru by the hand. Nearly half of the blank, dull faces lit up at the sight of Nephrite. These youma stood a little straighter than the others, and seemed to unconsciously arrange themselves and their neighbors into more or less even rows.

"Good morning," Nephrite said to the assembled creatures, though the entire concept of 'morning' was irrelevant, possibly even unknown, in this place. "You have been making excellent progress. I have brought my consort, Lady Naru, to see how well you are all doing."

Naru looked down at the sea of gray, stupid faces, and managed a tentative smile. Then she remembered Nephrite telling her that most of them had once been humans, swept up by Metallia without even knowing what was happening. Pity filled her, and she smiled more sincerely. "Lord Nephrite tells me you've been working very hard. We're both proud of the progress you've made." She smiled again.

Nephrite smiled also, just to himself, as he looked out over the faces of the youma. He had gained a few more to his side; slightly more than half were looking at him and Naru--Lady Naru, who had smiled at them so kindly-- with expressions that said: Him they would obey, her they would die for.

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return to Index / go to Chapter 10

The Nephrite and Naru Treasury