by Moon Momma
* * * * * * * *
Nephrite stood in the girl's darkened bedroom, studying her body in the penetrating light given off by the Black Crystal. His theory was wrong; there was no crystal inside the girl.... Nephrite called the Black Crystal back to him and withdrew his vision from Naru's body. But he continued staring at the sleeping girl in her orange-and-green pajamas, curled up beneath the pink bedspread.
He didn't understand. The Black Crystal kept reacting to her, but he was finally forced to conclude that she had nothing to do with the Silver Crystal. After all of his investigations, his research into her family, his surveillance of her mother's jewelry shop, his asking Naru outright for the crystal, and now this search through her body, he was no closer to the Silver Crystal than before he ever made the Black Crystal.
Quietly, he walked around the bed, looking down at the girl. Intellectual curiosity combined with his desperate situation kept him from letting the problem go. How had his magic gone wrong? Why wasn't the Black Crystal doing what he had made it to do? How could Naru's feelings for him, strong though they were, be powerful enough to turn his own magical creation from its purpose? He had been so certain that he was destined to find the Silver Crystal --
Nephrite stopped pacing. His destiny. He had used the power of the stars to create the Black Crystal, thinking that he was making it to help him find the Silver Crystal. But the stars had known that he was really seeking his destiny. And that was what they were showing him, through the Crystal he had created for that purpose.
He looked at Naru again. That small, silly, naive schoolgirl -- his destiny? How could that be? It was ridiculous. But as he studied her face, he remembered her courage as she faced down the Sailor Senshi for his sake. He remembered his instinctive action to protect her when the youma Yasha attacked her, while she was holding the Black Crystal. He had even cried out Naru's name as he unleashed his attack at Yasha; his thoughts had been for the girl, not for his crystal. Nephrite asked himself yet again why he had reacted as he did when Naru was threatened. It had been a treasonous act, attacking a Dark Kingdom youma to protect a human. Queen Beryl might very well put him to death for that; she had executed many others for lesser offenses. So why had he done it?
Nephrite looked at the girl's face, and tried to imagine it torn, bloodied, devastated by Yasha's talons --
A fierce pain gripped his chest. His mind slammed down a barrier over the imagined scene. He could not bear to think of her being harmed. Just as she had felt, he realized, when she threw herself between him and the Moon Tiara, for love of him.
"Naru," he whispered. He walked around to the other side of the bed, the side she was turned towards. He knelt beside the bed and looked into her small, sleeping face. Could it be that he loved her? If he had ever known anything of love, he had long since forgotten it. There was no love in the Dark Kingdom, unless that strange combination of lust and neediness that Zoisite and Kunzite shared could be considered love. Nephrite wondered if he were even capable of loving anyone. "Ridiculous," he muttered.
Still, he remembered walking beside her the other night, his arm around her shoulders. Though he had intended to do whatever it took to find out what she knew about the Silver Crystal, it had been... pleasant walking with her like that. For a few seconds he had forgotten Beryl, forgotten Zoisite, forgotten the Silver Crystal, and just enjoyed having Naru at his side.
He wanted to know that feeling again. "Naru-chan," he whispered again, and reached his fingers towards her face.
"Hmm?" She stirred. Nephrite jerked his hand away from her face, jumped to his feet, and took a step back. Naru sat up, rubbing her eyes sleepily, then saw him. "Sanjouin-sama?" she gasped. "What are you doing here?"
He could only stare at her. For the first time that he could ever remember, he was at a complete loss for words. What was he doing here? He'd better think of something fast, before the girl called for her mother. "I..." He looked at the Black Crystal, which had started glowing again in his gloved hand. Was he going to make up more lies, to keep trying to find the damned Silver Crystal and impress Beryl, or was he going to have faith in what the stars were telling him? He feared and hated Beryl, but he had never feared nor hated the stars. They had never given him cause. He made up his mind. "I've come here to tell you the truth, Naru-chan."
"All right." She sounded doubtful, but she settled herself sitting up in bed, and looked at him out of big, innocent, trusting eyes.
The truth... That was good. What in heaven's name was the truth? Nephrite decided to start with something simple. "First of all, my real name isn't Sanjouin Masato. That's just my disguise. My real name is Nephrite, and I am a Lord and warrior of the Dark Kingdom, which is trying to destroy the Earth."
"So what Sailor Moon said the other night is true?" Naru asked.
"I see." She looked down at her hands, then back up at him.
Why didn't she scream or cry or act afraid? Nephrite wondered. Was she too naive or stupid to be afraid of him? Or maybe she knew, no matter how evil he might be, he couldn't bring himself to harm her, not now. "Another truth is..." He took a deep breath. Sorting out truth from lies was so difficult. "I've been lying to you in order to find something called the Silver Crystal, which is something the Dark Kingdom needs to accomplish its purposes. A few weeks ago, at the ball, and the other night in the park, I was using you and your feelings for me in order to find this crystal."
"I -- I understand." Tears swam in her eyes. "So that means the nice things you said to me, that my eyes are like the stars, and you liked dancing with me, and you're glad you met me and you wouldn't want me to get hurt -- those were all lies?"
Nephrite opened his mouth to say "Yes," but what came out instead was "No." He stopped in surprise, hearing himself. "Those things were true. I was telling the truth without even meaning to."
"Oh." She smiled despite the tears that had spilled onto her cheek.
Suddenly he longed to be closer to her. He couldn't help it. Even the few feet between them was too much distance. He sat down on the edge of the bed, turned sideways to face Naru. "Another truth is that I came here tonight determined to do whatever it took to find the Silver Crystal, and to trick you into revealing Sailor Moon's identity."
"Sailor Moon? But, Nephrite-sama, I don't know --"
"She seems to know you very well, and to regard you as a friend. I thought you might know who she really is."
"If one of my friends is really Sailor Moon, I don't know who it could be --"
She seemed distressed. He laid his gloved fingers against her cheek. "It's all right, Naru-chan. I'm done with lies and trickery and deception. Even if you did know, I wouldn't ask you now to betray your friend." All at once he realized the direction this was taking him -- away from the Dark Kingdom, away from Beryl. He started thinking about all the things he had said tonight that could be considered treasonous. He couldn't be honest with Naru and serve the Dark Kingdom at the same time; it was going to have to be one or the other. I must be crazy, he told himself. Beryl would never let him just walk away. He was a Lord of the Dark Kingdom; how could he turn his back on all that could mean for him -- the power, the knowledge that could be his -- after the Dark Kingdom's victory?
He didn't want Beryl and Metallia to win. It would mean the destruction of Naru's world. Naru's destruction. It was unthinkable.
"Something else that's true is that I've decided to leave the Dark Kingdom. I can't work for them anymore. I don't know what's going to happen after this. I don't think I would live very long if I openly fought against them.... "
Naru took his hand, the one that had touched her face, and gripped it in both of her small, soft hands. "Nephrite-sama, if you're in danger, I'll do whatever I can to help you. Please let me help you."
He looked at her small, sweet, earnest face. A tiny warmth flickered inside him, in a place that had been so cold and dark before. He felt himself smile, then before he could help himself, he laughed a little.
Naru looked confused. "What --"
"Oh, Naru-chan," he said, still laughing. "I've never known anyone as brave as you. If there were any help you could give me without endangering yourself, I would gladly take it. But I couldn't bear to see you harmed."
He had to leave. He had been here too long, and he risked drawing attention to Naru if he stayed any longer. He didn't want to leave her. His future, his very survival, were suddenly uncertain. But at least he could give her something she might value, the only gift he had to give her right now. "Naru-chan, there's one last truth I have to tell you before I go. And I have to tell you now, because I don't know what's going to happen to me or if I'll ever be able to see you again."
"I..." The words stuck. Dammit, he told himself, don't be a coward. He took a deep breath and started over. "I love you, Naru-chan." Her eyes went wide and she covered her mouth with her hands. Had he said something wrong? But it was true, and he had decided to tell her the truth. "I'm still not entirely sure what I mean by that. But it's the only way I can think of to describe how I feel and what I've been thinking."
More tears ran down Naru's cheeks. She sniffed, and wiped them away, and gave him a trembling smile. "Oh, Nephrite-sama, I love you too."
"I know," he said softly. He brushed his fingers along her cheek, her tears dampening his gloves. Kiss her, you fool, said a voice inside his head. He slid his hand down to cup her chin, then tilted her face upwards. Naru's eyes widened, then slowly closed as he leaned towards her. Her lips parted slightly, and he gently touched his mouth to hers. It was a careful, tentative kiss -- he didn't want to scare her, and he wasn't entirely sure what he was doing. But she held on to him, her hands tangled in his hair and clutching at his shoulders. He must have been doing something right.
After a moment he drew away. Naru smiled brilliantly, though a few tears still trickled down her cheeks. The small, warm feeling inside him grew even bigger, driving away thoughts of Beryl, of danger, of evil. He put both arms around Naru and pulled her close. He sought out her mouth again in a kiss that was anything but careful and tentative, trying to share with her the warmth and light within him, the feeling that he didn't have words for. Naru clung to him, eagerly returning the kiss, her mouth warm and soft against his.
Finally he pulled away again, feeling rather short of breath, and cradled her head against his neck. "Oh, Naru-chan," he whispered. "Oh, my love. How did this happen?"
She didn't answer, she just held him, her arms wrapped around his shoulders and back.
He kissed her cheek, close to her ear. "I'd better go now, Naru. I've been away from my duties too long, and I don't want Queen Beryl to grow suspicious of me. No one has ever left her service alive before, and I'm going to have to plan very carefully. I don't know when we'll be able to see each other again."
She held on to him even more tightly, then sighed and loosened her embrace. "I wish you didn't have to go, Nephrite-sama, but I guess I understand why you do. Please be careful."
"Of course I'll be careful. I want to see you again." He smiled down at her, and she tried to smile back despite the fear that showed in her eyes. Once more, lightly and gently, he kissed her, then went to the window he had entered through.
Suddenly he felt a strong shock from the Black Crystal. He summoned it into his hand. Within its depths he saw -- youma, terror, bloodshed, death. His death, possibly Naru's. He recognized the three youma, bizarre plant-women creatures. "Zoisite," he hissed.
"Nephrite-sama, is something wrong?" Naru asked anxiously.
He looked at her, then peeked through the gap in the curtains. Zoisite was out there, with his three youma, on the roof of a building across the street. "Naru, if I leave this room tonight, someone will die. Perhaps me, perhaps you, perhaps both of us."
She gasped, a small, scared sound, and clutched at the bedcovers.
"Zoisite knows I'm here, and has set a trap. He must -- he must have guessed how I feel about you."
"Who is Zoisite?"
He looked at the frightened girl, trying to gauge how much to tell her. She was courageous, and he owed it to her to give her the knowledge she would need to protect herself. Still, he didn't want to push her beyond what she could bear. "Zoisite is another of the Lords of the Dark Kingdom. He looks upon me as a rival, for some reason. He's really nothing but an annoying little rat, but it seems the annoying little rat has suddenly become dangerous."
"What will he do?"
"I don't know." Nephrite looked out the window again. Zoisite was still out there, talking to his youma. Nephrite could have sworn the little rat looked impatient; he stood with his arms folded, staring at Naru's window. Well, he could just wait all night. "Naru-chan," Nephrite said, still keeping his eye on his rival General, "you lie down and go back to sleep, and I'll keep watch."
"Don't worry, I won't let anything happen." He glanced at her and smiled a little, trying to reassure her.
"All right." She didn't sound completely convinced.
He watched her settle herself back under her covers, feeling a tenderness in his heart that was almost painful. She was so innocent in all of this and, despite her courage, so helpless. She needed his protection. It felt good to be needed that way. It made him feel strong in a way he had never felt before.
Nephrite pulled the curtains all the way back, leaving him fully exposed in the window. Zoisite saw him; the two of them stared at each other across the distance for a moment. Then Nephrite let the curtains fall closed again. Now Zoisite knew he was there and that he knew Zoisite was up to something. The sneaky little weasel wouldn't dare strike now. Nephrite walked over to Naru and looked down at her soft, young face. An ache gripped his heart at the sight of her. He wondered how this lovely young girl had come into his life and fallen in love with him and changed him in so short a time. Holding his hair back so it wouldn't fall onto her face, he bent over her and kissed her cheek. Though her eyes were closed, she smiled, and reached up a hand to touch his hair.
There was a pretty white desk in one corner of the room, with a rather spindly-looking chair. He pulled the chair around so he could see both the door and the window, then sat down, hoping his size wouldn't be too much for the chair to handle. It settled a bit, but didn't threaten to collapse.
The night was quiet. Naru slept peacefully, shifting and turning every once in a while in her sleep. A few times, Nephrite got up and looked out the window. Finally Zoisite left, though the three youma remained. Nephrite stretched his arms, looking from the small, uncomfortable chair to the ample few feet next to Naru on her bed. His legs, seat, and back ached from sitting in the little wooden chair for so long.
He took off his belt, jacket, gloves, and boots, and sat down next to Naru, leaning against the headboard, his long legs stretched out in front of him. Naru's thick, wavy red hair looked so soft, spread out on the pillow. Nephrite ran his fingers through it a few times, carefully so as not to wake her, then let his hand rest gently on her head while he sat awake, keeping watch.
After a long time, Naru stirred again, but this time she did not fall quiet immediately. She grew restless, turning about beneath the covers. Soon she began to whimper, then suddenly sat up with a cry. She stared straight ahead, trembling, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Nephrite put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. "Naru-chan, Naru, my love, it's all right. It's only a dream."
She looked around, then her eyes seemed to finally focus on him in the moonlight. She sagged against his chest and started crying. "Oh, Sanjouin -- Nephrite-sama, I dreamed -- A monster stabbed you with giant thorns, and another one made all these explosions, and -- and you died --"
He held her while she cried. "It's all right. I'm all right, you see, I'm here, everything's --"
"Naru-chan?" It was Mrs. Osaka's voice, followed by a gentle knocking at the door.
Naru looked up at Nephrite, her eyes wide with panic. "Mama!" she whispered.
Almost as though he had made a habit of disappearing from young girls' bedrooms on a second's notice, Nephrite swung his legs off the bed, grabbed his jacket, gloves, and boots, and made himself invisible just as Mrs. Osaka opened the door a crack and peeked in. "Naru-chan, are you all right? I heard you crying."
"I'm okay, Mama. I had a bad dream, but I'm okay now."
"You're sure? Do you need me to sit with you?"
"No, thank you. I'll be all right."
"All right, then. Good night, baby. Come get me if you need me."
"Good night, Mama."
Mrs. Osaka closed the door, and her footsteps padded off softly down the hall.
Nephrite rematerialized. He and Naru looked at each other, then Naru gave an embarrassed little laugh. "That was close."
Nephrite laughed a little, too, and sat back down beside Naru. "Everything's all right now. You see I'm not hurt. You don't need to be afraid. Go back to sleep now."
"Okay," she said, and lay down again. Then she rolled over to face him. "Nephrite-sama, by any chance do you have green blood?"
He froze briefly. "Yes. How would you know that?"
"It was in my dream. I don't mind what color your blood is, but there was so much of it..."
"Naru-chan," Nephrite said thoughtfully, stroking her hair, "I think you dreamed about what would have happened if I had left here tonight."
"I'm so glad you stayed." She clasped his hand in both of hers, holding it against her cheek, and fell asleep that way.
* * * * * * * *
Dawn came. Nephrite had dozed off; now he started awake. It took him a moment to remember where he was, and what had happened during the night. Naru had let go of his hand at some point, and now lay curled up with her back to him. She looked so young, like a child, asleep like that. He got up, stretched, and pulled his jacket, gloves, and boots back on. Then he knelt beside Naru.
She was associated with him, and he was a traitor. She would need protection, and he couldn't be with her all the time. He passed a hand over the full length of her body and called upon the power of the stars. The magic responded eagerly. He put the strongest Guard spell he could on her without risking attracting Beryl's attention.
That done, he gently shook the girl's shoulder. "Naru. Naru-chan. Wake up; I have to leave now."
She moved a little, murmured something, and opened her eyes. They were soft and heavy with sleep, and Nephrite vowed that one day, if it were at all possible, he would wake up to those lovely eyes every morning.
"Come." He took her hand and led her, still wobbly with sleep, to the window where the sky was beginning to pale. He made her face him, and put his hands on her shoulders. "Naru, I don't know what I'm going to do. I can't possibly go back to the Dark Kingdom; perhaps I can find a way to fight it without revealing myself or endangering you. I don't know what's going to happen, I don't know when or if we'll see each other again. I won't lie to you anymore, so I won't make any promises. But I will do my best to come back to you."
She nodded, meeting his eyes, and rested her hands on his chest. "I know you'll come back to me one day."
Nephrite closed his eyes briefly, wondering how she could have such faith in him. Then he looked into her eyes again. "I'll do my best. No matter what happens, though, always remember that I love you, my Naru-chan. I love you, and I always will." He bent down and kissed her, a long, soft, deep kiss that was going to have to last them for who knew how long. Finally, reluctantly, as the sky began to brighten, he pulled away.
"I'll always love you, Nephrite-sama. And I'll wait for you, no matter how long it takes."
He crushed her against him one more time, wishing he had something to leave her. Briefly he thought of the Black Crystal; he could disable it. But it still might be dangerous to her, if Zoisite was obsessed with it. Something else...
"Naru-chan." He pulled off his gloves, pressed them into her hand, and folded her fingers around them. "Keep these for me, all right?"
She held the gloves against her cheek. "I know you'll be back for them. I'll keep them safe for you."
He smiled. With her faith in him, how could he not come back? "Good." He kissed her once more, quickly, and teleported through the window.
* * * * * * * *
Naru stood still, holding Nephrite's gloves against her face, for a few moments. The night had to have been a dream; it couldn't possibly have been real. Sanjouin -- no, Nephrite-sama had said that he loved her. He had kissed her, and sat beside her all night to protect her from harm. How could that not be a dream?
But the gloves she held were real enough. She pressed them to her lips, and tucked them under her pillow. She would keep them safe for him, and he would be back.
* * * * * * * *
When Naru met Usagi at the corner on the way to school, she was nearly dancing with excitement over her secret. "Naru-chan, what's gotten into you?" Usagi asked.
Naru couldn't contain herself any longer. "He loves me!" she said in a loud whisper.
"Who loves you?" Usagi sounded slightly irritated. She was currently suffering from two unrequited crushes, on Motoki at the arcade and the mysterious hero Tuxedo Mask.
"Sanjouin-sama!" Naru spun in circles as she walked, flinging out her school satchel so that Usagi had to jump out of the way.
"What?" Usagi turned red. She looked like steam might begin to pour out of her ears. "Naru-chan, are you out of your mind? Don't you know how dangerous he is?"
"I know a lot more about him than you do. I know he used to be dangerous, even more dangerous than you think, but he doesn't want to be that way any more because he loves me."
Usagi sighed. "Come with me, Naru-chan." She grabbed Naru's arm and dragged her around the corner. They detoured from the route to school and came to the small park where Naru had faced down the Sailor Senshi and Nephrite had protected her. The two friends found a secluded bench and sat down.
"Naru-chan, I know a lot more about... Sanjouin Masato than you think. He's an evil Lord from a place called the Dark Kingdom, and his real name is Nephrite --"
Naru stared at her. "How do you know all that?"
Usagi sighed again, heavily. "Naru-chan, I have to tell you... I'm Sailor Moon. See this brooch? That's why I have it."
Naru started to laugh -- her crybaby friend Usagi, the brave heroine Sailor Moon? Then she stopped. Of course. The hair. Naru's world shifted, then settled into this different reality. Her best friend was Sailor Moon. Well, that did explain a lot of things. "So you know all about Nephrite-sama. But I swear, Usagi, he isn't dangerous any more. Last night --"
"Last night?" Usagi clipped the words short.
"He came to me last night, and told me the truth about himself, and told me he loves me. He said he had wanted to trick me into revealing who Sailor Moon is, but when he realized he loved me he knew he couldn't ask me to betray my friend. Even though I didn't know then who you were."
"He loves you?" Usagi sounded thoroughly skeptical, a rarity for her.
"Yes." Naru felt herself blush. "He said that because of that he doesn't want to work for that evil kingdom any more. He didn't know where he was going to go, or what would happen, or when we'll see each other again. He said we might not ever see each other again, but I know we will."
Usagi sighed yet again. "Oh, Naru-chan. I'm worried about you... Come on. We're going to be late."
As she and Usagi left the park, Naru was certain she saw, out of the corner of her eye, a tall man with long auburn hair, wearing a light-colored suit, watching her and smiling. She smiled too. They would be together again. She knew it.
* * * * * * * *
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