Disclaimer: Sailor Moon and all the wonderfulness that comes with it does not belong to me.
A/N: This is an Au setting that takes place in the Neo-Crystal Kingdom. Characterizations are a meshing of the manga, anime, and live-action series, so please no flaming in regards to that. Nor to the offbeat pairings that may develop. This is merely my take on what could happen in a post-Chaos world.
And Then Came The Knock
When the knock came at the door, it was soft and timid. Nephrite craned his neck to study the door from where he sat on the sofa, uncertain. He had been expecting more force than that. And more yelling. Mina had certainly sounded angry enough to do both, unless Andrew had managed to calm her down between the temple and Nephrite's apartment.
The knock sounded again, causing Nephrite to sigh. If he didn't get up to answer it then it would probably only get louder. He cast a glance toward the bed where Rei had fallen back asleep. Pushing himself to his feet he ambled over to the door and took a deep breath before opening it. He blinked in surprise at who he found on the other side.
"Andrew called me," she said softly, tucking a strand of blue hair behind her ear. "I think he's trying to take the long way here to give Mina time to calm down. But just in case, he asked that I come by, too."
Nephrite had to give Andrew points for being a quick thinker. Of all the girls to call, Amy would have been his pick, too. She was usually a rational person even in the most chaotic of times, and she was likely the glue that held the girls together when they weren't getting along.
"Can I… come in?" asked Amy after a moment. Nephrite started, opening the door wider for Amy to pass through. He hadn't realized he had just been standing there thinking.
"Yeah, come in," he said. Amy nodded her thanks, slipping past him as quietly as a mouse. Nephrite closed the door behind her, giving her time to spot Rei on her own. It only took a couple of minutes for Amy to see her, giving the room a cursory glance before spying the sleeping figure beneath the covers. Nephrite thought he heard a sigh escape Amy's lips, but in relief rather than fear. He wondered how quickly that would change when she realized Rei was still only wearing a shirt. His shirt.
Nephrite turned to watch Amy approach the bed, leaning against the wall beside the door. He thought about leaving the girls alone, but there was a part of him that didn't want to. It was his apartment, after all. If anyone should leave, it should be Amy and Rei. But the thought of Rei leaving bothered him more than he had thought it would, so he stayed by the door to give them space instead.
Amy didn't say a word as she lowered herself onto the bed, a hand going up to Rei's forehead to brush the hair off her face. It was a maternal instinct as far as Nephrite could tell, and he found himself smiling at the thought. No wonder the girls went to Amy for advice and sound reasoning; she took care of them like she would a patient, or a parent. That was probably why she was studying to be a doctor still. Nephrite knew Serenity had offered Amy a place in her newly formed government as an advisor of some sort, but Amy had turned it down in favor of continuing the plans she had made for herself before she had become a Sailor Soldier. He couldn't blame her. She had made a life for herself without knowing the past she had led on the moon so long ago, and to give all of that up just because it was her destiny to protect the queen…
Well, Nephrite wasn't sure he could have done it. His own life had been disrupted as well, and he was picking up the pieces of it in his own way. In some respects he hated Serenity for that – for the way his life had turned out on the moon, how it had turned out on earth several times over, and for the way he it had turned out now. But in the end it wasn't really her fault. It had been a series of events that had led them all to be where they were now, and all they could really do was figure out their new places.
He bet things had been harder for the girls, having gone from princesses and soldiers to civilians with no memories, back to soldiers again. They were still soldiers now, but to what degree? Serenity had yet to really define the new order of the kingdom, and how it would be run. She clearly wanted a place for her friends to resume their old posts at her side, but there was small fact that each of them had made their own lives in the rebirth, and those lives still existed even as the old ones had been found again. They were all living as two people – a Sailor Soldier and the civilian form they had been living as before Beryl had woken from her slumber.
Rei stirred in her sleep, and Nephrite lost his train of thought. He froze for a moment, watching with bated breath as she seemed to rouse beneath Amy's touch. Her eyes flickered open, hazy with sleep. "Amy?" she murmured.
"How are you feeling?" replied Amy softly.
"What are you doing here?" She sounded only half awake, and seemed even less so as she tried to move into a sitting position. Amy didn't say anything, allowing Rei a moment to collect herself. With her back to him, Nephrite couldn't see the look on her face, but the way she held herself made him think she probably looked concerned about her friend.
"Well?" Rei sounded more awake this time, her eyes flickering to Nephrite briefly before returning to Amy again.
"Mina," stated Amy softly, giving the barest of shrugs.
"I'm fine. You can tell her I'm fine," stated Rei firmly. "She's just making mountains out of molehills again."
"You worried her."
"Well she shouldn't have kept nagging me."
"You know what I mean. She wanted to talk about it, and… I just don't have time to sit down and spill my guts with her, okay? That's not what I do." Rei looked away from Amy, a troubled look on her face.
"We're all worried about you," said Amy after a moment. "You were close with your grandfather, and we know it has been difficult for you –"
"So let me deal with it in my own way. I know you guys mean well, but honestly? I don't want to grieve in front of you. I want to do this alone. I don't need you, or Mina, or anyone else around all the time. It just makes me angry, and I don't know why. But I need my space."
Both Amy and Rei turned toward the door as it burst open, surprising the hell out of Nephrite. He opened his mouth to say something, but the look on Mina's face told him it would be better to stay quiet. She shot him a dark look before storming across the room toward the bed. Nephrite frowned and leaned back against the wall again, his mood darker now that the blonde had arrived. He didn't bother to spare Andrew a glance as his friend came into the apartment as well, closing the door softly behind him.
"I tried to take as much time as I could," he said apologetically, "but she threatened to pull out her chain and choke me with it."
"She still might," replied Nephrite with a snort. "She's not human half the time."
Mina shot him a dirty look as she stood over the bed, both her hands on her hips. "You had me scared to death!" she stated to Rei. "I thought something had happened to you!"
"As you can see, I'm fine," stated Rei sharply. Her eyebrows had narrowed upon Mina's entrance, and she stared straight ahead, refusing to meet Mina's gaze.
"You call this fine?" demanded Mina. "Rei, do you even know where you are? This place is a dump!"
"She doesn't really mean that," confided Andrew to Nephrite. "She's just… overcome. She was really worried about Rei this morning. I thought she was going to break my door down when she showed up to drag me to the temple."
Nephrite didn't say a word as he studied the girls. He supposed he understood where Mina was coming from. She was worried about Rei, probably more than she realized, and it had probably scared her to not know where Rei was… just as it probably scared her that she didn't know how to go about helping Rei through this ordeal. Of course, Mina was really bad about expressing that, and she came off as being a bit high strung over Rei's minor disappearing act. He wondered if Rei knew that, but was refusing to let Mina know that she knew.
"Girls are complicated," he muttered finally. Andrew gave a soft chuckle.
"I heard that!" snapped Mina without looking their way.
"God, she has ears like a cat. She really is un-human." Pushing himself away from the wall, Nephrite moved over to the couch and plopped himself atop it. His apartment had been invaded, and he was beginning to feel out of place in a place that was his.
"I'm glad you're safe, Rei," said Mina after a moment, directing her attention back to the dark haired woman on the bed. "Let's get you back home, though. I'll stay with you for the day, and Lita and Serena are making plans to come over tonight –"
"No." Rei's words cut Mina off mid-sentence, causing everyone in the room to glance at her. She was still staring ahead, but her face was resolute.
"What?" Mina sounded confused, which was just how Nephrite felt. He had half expected Rei to give in and leave, although now that he thought about it, he wasn't sure why he had thought that at all. She had clearly been avoiding Mina the last few days, along with the rest of her friends, so why would she simply give in and do as they wanted now?
"I said no," repeated Rei. This time she raised her eyes to look Mina squarely in the eyes. "N. O. No."
"Rei," interjected Amy, but Rei shook her head before Amy could say anything more.
"No means no. I'm not going back to the temple."
"Then we'll stay at my place, or Lita's," said Mina in exasperation.
Rei continued to shake her head. "You aren't listening."
"Yes, I am. You said you don't want to go back to the temple, so we'll hole up somewhere else."
"I'm not going with you," stated Rei firmly. "I want to be left alone."
"What, here? You're not alone here, Rei. What's-his-face is here."
"I have a name, you know," muttered Nephrite, but not loud enough to actually be heard.
"Does it matter where?" asked Rei. "I just need some space."
"You can have an entire bedroom at my place."
"I want space away from you. And Lita, and Serena, and Amy – space, Mina. Things have been a mess since Serena defeated Chaos, and I haven't exactly figured out how to balance the two different halves of my life. And every time I try to get a moment to think, you're there, or Lita is there, or someone is there. And now this… I need time, okay? The temple was all I had with my grandpa, and now that he's gone, I don't know what to do. But I can't figure out what to do if you're asking me a million questions, or sketching my future out however you see fit."
"And what is that supposed to mean?" Mina seemed to be directing her full fury at Rei now, and Nephrite had to sit up to take stock of the whole situation. She had been angry before, sure, but now she seemed to be taking everything that was being said as a personal slight.
And I thought Rei was supposed to be the one with the short temper, he thought to himself.
"Guys!" Amy was on her feet now, trying to keep between the feuding pair. But neither Rei nor Mina paid her any mind, both glaring daggers at the other. It was a far cry from what Nephrite had seen earlier that morning. There was more fire in her eyes now, but he didn't think it was a good thing. There was something about that fire that told him there was something deeper going on between the girls.
"It means," said Rei, "that if anyone is going to plan my life, it's going to be me. Not you, not Serena, not my father – me."
"And when have I ever tried to run your life?" asked Mina furiously.
"Just because our parents are dating, Mina, doesn't mean I need you to come by the temple and try to point out all of my father's so-called 'good qualities.' If you think he has some, well good for you. But I'm not interested in getting to know him now, okay? He made a choice when my mom died, and he can live with that choice. Nothing has changed in our relationship – if he wants a daughter, and if you want a father, have at it. I really don't care."
Nephrite wasn't sure who looked more surprised by Rei's words – Amy, or Andrew. Both were looking between Rei and Mina like they were seeing them for the first time.
"You always have to be so stubborn, don't you, Rei? This isn't about our parents – this is about you. You've been acting reckless since your grandfather died – since he got sick. You've been ignoring all phone calls and text messages we send you; the temple has been closed indefinitely for over two months now. And now… this. Rei, we just want to help you."
"I don't need your help! I just want to figure things out on my own, without everyone throwing in a suggestion and trying to convince me that it's the right one. Open the temple again, take up training a military – these are things you guys want for me. None of it is anything I want for me."
"What do you want then?"
"I don't know! That's the point. I haven't had time to think it through without someone trying to pressure me! That's why I want space. I can't think with you hovering around me all the time!"
"I'm your best friend, Rei! You can't just shut me out!"
"I'm not shutting you out forever, Mina. I just need time to myself. That's how I work."
"Alone? This isn't alone. This is you avoiding the world like always. You don't want to face your father, so you shut him out; you don't want to talk about how our parents are this close to getting engaged, so you push me away; and you don't want to commit to anything related to the new government because it'll lock you in, which you hate. But damn it, Rei, you have to face reality some time. You have to learn to talk to your dad because he's missing your grandfather just as much as you are. You have to accept the fact that things have changed with him, that our lives now that Chaos is gone, means rethinking everything we thought we knew! Stop trying to bury it all inside!"
"Mina…" Amy placed a hand on Mina's arm in an effort to calm her down, but the blonde shook her off.
"No. We've all said it before – Rei shuts us out when things get bad. She doesn't let us in when she needs us the most. She thinks she needs to be strong and independent, but what she really needs are her friends. We've been through hell and back together, and what, none of it matters now? Chaos is gone, we're no longer fighting evil, so now we can go back to the way things were before we met each other again? No! I'm not letting that happen!"
"Enough!" All eyes turned toward Nephrite as he stood up. "Enough." His gaze was on Rei now. She was staring down at the bed, her fingers wrapped tightly around the bed sheet. Each new word had seemed to strike a blow, and maybe those blows hadn't been visible enough for Amy or Mina to notice, but Nephrite had. Mina was striking all the right chords, and Nephrite couldn't just sit and watch anymore. Rei was floundering, and if Mina wasn't going to stand back and try to see things Rei's way this time, then Nephrite was going to put a stop to it.
"Get out," he said, moving toward the trio at the bedside.
"Excuse me?" replied Mina sharply.
"You heard me. Get. Out."
"Fine. Rei, get your things and let's go. We'll finish this somewhere else." Mina reached down to grab one of Rei's arms, but Nephrite had anticipated something like that happening. One of his own hands shot out to grab Mina's arm, jerking her away from Rei.
"I'm trying," snarled the blonde as she wrenched herself free.
"I mean you, Mina. You, and Amy, and Andrew – out."
"Wants to be left alone, so leave."
Mina blinked, her jaw locking together. "You think I'm just going to leave Rei here with you?"
"Are you afraid I'm going to do something to her?" hissed Nephrite as he stepped closer to Mina. Her eyes flashed dangerously, but Nephrite refused to back down. It was plain to see what she thought of him; he'd never really cared what she, or anyone else, thought about him. He had only ever tolerated them because of his friendship with Andrew, and even with Darien.
"Mina," said Andrew gently. He had moved into the fray, a hand coming down on Mina's shoulder to tug her away from Nephrite. "Mina, let's go."
"I don't like you," Mina stated coldly.
"Yeah, well, the feeling's mutual," replied Nephrite with a smirk. "So get out."
Andrew gave Nephrite a nod, casting Rei a quick glance as he continued to tug Mina toward the doorway. He reached another hand out to cup Amy by the elbow, ushering her towards the door as well, and little by little, Nephrite watched the three of them near the exit. The door opened, and Amy exited first. She looked back at Rei as if she wanted to say something, but a look at Nephrite seemed to chase the words away. Mina, on the other hand, looked as though she could say volumes if given half the chance. But Andrew didn't let go of her as he pulled her through the doorway, shutting it after them.
Nephrite crossed the room in a few quick strides, tugging the lock into place with a satisfying click. He didn't doubt he'd be hearing from Mina again about this. But for now she was gone, and there was welcome silence in the apartment again.
A minute ticked by before Nephrite turned around. Rei was sitting on the edge of the bed, one leg hanging off it as she studied him. It was hard to say what she was thinking; there seemed to be a mixture of emotions in her eyes. Relief, anger, pain…
A beat passed, and then Nephrite was moving across the room toward Rei. His hands cupped her face as he leaned in for a kiss, capturing her lips between his own. This time, as she responded back, her hands reaching up to grip his shirt as she pulled him down on top of her, he was sure of it. She definitely tasted like vanilla.