Usagi dropped the pink sack containing her bento casually on Naru's desk and poked her head into the conversation that had just started as the lunch bell rang.
"But I can't go today, Naru, I have cram school," Umino said, shoving his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
"Oh, but I really want to see this shop," Naru said with a sigh, though she brightened upon seeing Usagi. "Oh! You'll go with me, won't you Usagi-chan?"
"Of course," Usagi smiled, then tilted her head to the side and fiddled with one of her pig-tails. "Um, which shop exactly?"
"The new occult shop a few blocks from my mother's store," Naru explained. "I saw them moving in with their merchandise last week and just this morning I heard on the radio that they're finally open! I saw all the trunks they were bringing in, all carved so intricately with gold leaf details! It was all so eccentric and mystical," her eyes went glossy, as though her mind had begun to drift off into thoughts of ancient amulets and enchanted seals that must be lurking within the trunks.
Usagi was fully drawn into the description, clasping her hands in front of her. "I wonder what kind of charms they have?" she nearly squealed.
Umino, for his part, rolled his eyes at the girly discussion. "Isn't that kind of childish?"
But his question went unanswered as Ami approached the three, a book in hand.
"You'll go, too, Ami, right?" Usagi turned to her urgently.
"Although I would join you, I'm afraid I can't," she said pleasantly, though with a definite air of polite regret, "I have cram school, too. But I just wanted to remind you not to forget about the study group at Rei's."
"Aww, I'm sorry you can't come," Usagi pouted, but nodded, "I promise I won't be late!" she pledged, throwing up two fingers in salute.
Ami laughed softly. "Just make sure you aren't, or you'll never hear the end of it from Rei."
"I know," Usagi bit her lower lip, looking to Naru.
"I'll make sure we don't stay too long, Mizuno-san," Naru added dutifully.
"It's good you have such a responsible friend, Usagi," Ami said, and though of course she meant no ill-will by it, Usagi's ego crumpled up a bit.
"N-Naru-chan is great that way," she finally choked out, and Naru tried to stifle her own giggles with her hand.
"Anyway, have fun!" Ami told them before she made her way back to her seat.
With only a few minutes of lunch remaining, Usagi turned to her bento with grave determination and began to stuff her face.
Naru and Umino simply exchanged looks. Every lunch period always seemed the same, that is, when Usagi managed to remember her lunch in the first place.
The school day was finally over. Naru and Usagi walked out into the open, the afternoon sun warm on their faces. Usagi twirled around with her school bag.
"This is going to be so much fun," she grinned, "Shopping! Charms! Oooh, I can't wait to see what they have. Maybe a loooove charm," she giggled maniacally as her cheeks went pink.
"Usagi!" Naru half-seriously scolded. "You have a boyfriend already!"
"Mamoru, Mamoru, oh, my Mamo-chan," Usagi hugged herself, "But that's not to say it wouldn't hurt for him to love me even more, if possible."
"You're shameless!" Naru laughed.
The girls wound about the streets of Juuban, through crowds of loitering students and housewives running errands. They even made it past the temptations of the confectionery shop and arcade, though not without Usagi lingering in front of both for a few moments more than she should have. They trudged on, however, and soon they were in front of the occult shop. The window decorations alone sent thrills up their spines. Brooches were pinned to the fanciful shirts of the display dummies, and rings of all types of precious gemstones adorned the fingers of plastic mock-ups of hands.
The door jingled as the girls walked into the shop, a darker sort of sound than traditional cheery bells or chimes, but it seemed fitting. The lights were rather dim, and it was as though the proprietor had brought along copious amounts of dust along with their wares when they had moved in. Still, the shop was enchanting all the same, maybe even due to the strange atmosphere. Usagi's eyes were wide, taking in all of the varieties of blessed jewelry, while Naru was investigating a long ream of aged parchment. The place even smelled of musty old spellbooks.
"May I help you?" an ethereal voice from behind startled them, but only for a moment. When they turned they saw what had to be one of the employees, or perhaps even the owner herself. She was swathed in scarves of all colors and fabrics, some muted while others were quite flamboyant. In a few spots the red cotton of her blouse could be seen, especially just above the waist band of her skirt. The skirt itself was full and hung from her hips in a cupcake-like arch, patched in several places and trailing the floor. When the woman moved her arms, bangles upon bracelets upon impossibly more bangles jingled together and almost gave the impression of a wind chime.
Naru caught her breath and smiled politely. "We, uh, we were wondering what sort of charms you carried?"
Usagi nodded enthusiastically, as if to back up the question.
The gypsy woman contemplated the request. "Girls like you, you must be looking for romance charms..."
"Ye-" Usagi began but was cut off in short order.
"No, not exactly," Naru seemed embarrassed, and shot a look at Usagi before going on. "Just charms in general. Maybe something for... studying?"
The saleswoman smirked. "Are you sure you didn't come for love charms?" She seemed to doubt them, though Naru thought that perhaps she was just having a bit of fun at their expense. "Oh, well it doesn't matter, all of the charms are in the same spot, anyway," she beckoned the girls to follow her. The gypsy swished through the short aisles stacked high with empty jars here, incense there, until finally they came upon the section that was labeled 'Charms.' She gestured extravagantly toward the selection of items. "I'm sure you'll find something to your tastes," she turned to walk away. "I'll be happy to assist if you need help finding anything else," she said over her shoulder before going off to assist another small group of customers.
Usagi and Naru surveyed the charms. The shelves were lined with all sorts of different ones. Some looked like traditional Japanese charms that one might get at a temple, others looked like braided-thread friendship bracelets, while yet a different variety looked very much like the brooches that had been in the window, though far less detailed and lacking gems. The prices told them why; they seemed to range from 500 yen to 2000 at the most, clearly these were aimed at students their age, and didn't allow for expensive embellishments.
Usagi, of course, was looking through the love charms exclusively. Naru had been more or less truthful about what she was looking for herself, and she browsed every shelf, looking at each sub-label – there were indeed charms for studying, and the traditional ones for luck, money, and success in part-time jobs, but there were also charms that claimed to make you appear prettier, or ensure you had a good hair day as long as you carried it with you. It was astounding how specific some of them were.
"Naru-chan, how does this look with my uniform?"
Naru turned to Usagi, and saw she had pinned one of the charms to the collar of her fuku. "It looks nice! What kind is it?" Naru edged closer and cocked her head nearly upside down to read the little tag that was still attached to the brooch by a string. "'To heighten passions' – Usagi! Let's just hope you only wear it around Mamoru-san... oh my," Naru went red as she realized other implications of what she had said.
"Hehe, are you getting a little perverted on me?" Usagi teased, unpinning the charm.
"No! It's just that... that it seems dangerous to walk around heightening the passions of other guys, that's all," she fumbled.
Usagi waggled her finger at Naru. "You have Umino and you're still looking at charms," she reminded.
"Yes, but I'm not looking at love charms!" Naru stammered.
"Well, I'm getting this one," Usagi said happily. "What about you?"
"I haven't really found one that's called to me," she sighed.
"So look around some more," Usagi said, putting her hand on Naru's shoulder encouragingly. At that angle, however, she could see her own watch. "It's 4:30 already!?" she cried, nearly deafening poor Naru.
"It's fine, Usagi-chan, I can look by myself!" Naru assured Usagi, who was now looking hurriedly through her school bag for money.
Usagi moaned helplessly. "Naru-chan, when we got those plum buns after school, was that this Monday, or last Monday?"
"Um... this Monday, I think," Naru said slowly. "You... you don't mean..."
"That was the last of your allowance?" she blinked.
"I forgot," Usagi huffed. "But they were sooo delicious," she swooned, while Naru shook her head. They were both silent for a few moments after that. Then it was broken by a very sycophantic "Naru-chan~" and Usagi looking up with kitten-eyes.
"You need to borrow money, then?" Naru asked flatly.
Usagi nudged her toe against her other shoe and nodded again. "800 yen."
"All right," Naru reached into her bag, but something caught her hand. Surprised, she looked to the side, though for the clanging of bangles she didn't need visual confirmation on who had grabbed her.
It was the gypsy saleswoman, and she was smiling. "Now, now, girls," she waved her hand, and dropped Naru's. "For such a pretty one like yourself," she gazed at Usagi, who instantly flushed light pink, "I think I can allow you to have that one on the house."
"Really?!" Usagi was incredulous. "Thank you, thank you! Wow, that's so nice," she beamed, "What a nice invective to make a girl want to come back to the store."
"I think you mean incentive," Naru managed, though she was relieved but just as surprised at the generosity of the saleswoman.
"Of course, that's how I see it," the gypsy agreed. "And, as I understood, you were late for something?"
"Oh!" Usagi glanced back at her watch. "Man, Rei is going to be mad..." she said through gritted teeth. "I really have to go, bye Naru! Bye ma'am. And thanks again!" Usagi was out of the store in a whirl of blond pigtails.
"And as for you," the gypsy turned to Naru.
For some reason, the way the words were spoken made her feel cold. And that look... but Naru shrugged it off. She was only being polite, only trying to be a good saleswoman, to endear the shop to them. That had to be it.
"As for you, I don't think you've found anything you wanted yet, have you?"
"No, ma'am," Naru admitted.
"So you really weren't after a love charm," the gypsy mused. "Well, then, come with me. I think I have something that might well meet your heart's desire."
"My heart's desire?" Naru repeated, stunned. "What do you mean?"
"Come along and I'll show you."
Naru followed the gypsy through a beaded curtain to another part of the shop. This room was lit even more poorly than the main floor, and smelled of herbs and stale smoke as opposed to must. The saleswoman slid behind a counter and placed a glass bowl down, then began to pinch here and there from bags of herbs and powder and mix it all up in the bowl.
Naru wondered if the woman was making some sort of personalized incense... something based on her body chemistry? She had heard of things like that, but she didn't want to seem impolite. She wasn't really a fan of burning incense.
The woman seemed involved in mixing the ingredients together until suddenly she struck a match and set the bowl ablaze. It was a most intriguing fire, Naru thought, burning royal blue to violet with each lap of flame. "What are you doing?" she finally asked.
"Trying to confirm something," the gypsy said vaguely. "Ah, yes," she said after a moment of careful consideration of the flame. She extinguished the fire in one smooth motion with an ornate silver candle snuffer. "Yes, that's what I thought. I knew I felt it when I touched your arm earlier," she nodded, "and now I know for certain. Your heart aches, young lady, it has a pain that it yearns to be set free from."
Naru was beginning to feel uncomfortable, intrigued though she was. "I don't know what you mean," she frowned, "my heart doesn't ache. I have a boyfriend. We're happy," she said shyly.
"You may have a boyfriend," the gypsy's eyes bore into her own, "but still your heart aches nonetheless."
"You must be mistaken, I-"
"No, no I'm quite sure of it. My instincts rarely wrong, and the divining flame? Even less likely to be in error," she said seriously. She began to rifle under the counter for something, but as it wasn't a glass case counter but one made of wood, Naru hadn't the slightest idea what she was looking for.
She felt that she needed to take a breath, and as she did, she realized her hands were trembling. It was impossible for someone to think she had some sort of pain in her heart. She was happy, after all. She had friends, her family, and Umino. Her grades were fine and she wasn't in trouble in any other respects. But even with all of that, Naru knew there was something hidden deep in her heart, something she had finally been able to forget about most days of the week.
Admitting it to herself, here in the this shop, after so much time spent trying to forget? And being successful for the most part in forgetting, in leaving the pain in the past? It dredged up old feelings, and Naru realized that she was in pain, and it scared her. It scared her more that the gypsy could somehow sense that, when even those closest to her thought she had been better for ages now. Thought she had gotten over it.
But she had gotten over it, her mind insisted. Only she had never expected to have to deal with it again, deal with those feelings again. Maybe the saleswoman would have something that would completely rid her of the pain. Maybe it was good that she had sensed that old wound in Naru, because if just mentioning it could bring up the pain so clearly, then it was possible that it could have happened some other time, some other place. Yes, Naru knew that she had to get rid of the pain for good, to not let even a sliver of it remain within her heart.
The gypsy had brought out a small box and was opening it.
"Do... Do you have something that can rid me of the pain?" Naru asked softly.
The gypsy smiled. "Ah, in denial no longer, are we?" She removed a ring from the box. It was beautiful. A pale blue gem was set into a plain silver band, but Naru fell in love with the design almost immediately. It was as if she could feel the healing powers just by looking at it. It was simple, noble, and it would soothe her. "Try it on," the woman held it out to her.
Naru took it without question and slipped it onto her right ring finger. It felt loose, and she was about to speak up and ask if the saleslady had one with a smaller band, but when she tried to take it off to show her, she found that it was actually comfortably snug on her finger.
"I knew it, a perfect fit."
"Oh," Naru said dumbly, feeling silly for having thought it didn't fit, but also feeling quite relieved that it did. She felt attached to this ring, although part of her wondered just how expensive it was. "I don't know if I can afford this," she ventured timidly. "This seems a lot more expensive than the charm Usagi-chan wanted," throwing in her doubt that this could possibly be a free sample as well.
The saleslady shushed her. "It's true, I don't just give away merchandise in this particular range," Naru felt her stomach drop at those words, but it was premature, "but don't worry, you can afford this."
"How much, then?" Naru made a move for her bag. She had started to feel rather tired all of a sudden, and wanted to pay and head home as soon as possible. It must have been the shock of thinking of Nephrite so much for the first time in ages, and maybe the smokiness of the room irritating her eyes.
"No, no," the woman shook her head, black curls falling into her face. "I don't mean money. You've already started to pay for it."
"Huh?" Naru was truly confused, and a bit too tired to be as polite as she had been.
"Don't worry yourself over it, my dear," the woman told her, "But do come back if there's anything else that you desire."
Naru nodded, and was about to thank the woman when a dizzy spell came over her, and then the room dimmed to absolute darkness. Then she blinked, and the room was as it had been, and though the dizziness was less it was still there. "I don't feel so well," Naru mumbled.
The saleswoman looked concerned. "Oh my, I think perhaps the heat of this room has given you a spell."
That sounded reasonable to Naru, though in truth the heat had never made her faint before. There was a first time for everything, though. "Thank you, ma'am, for everything," she finally said, as she had meant to earlier, and made her way out of the store.
All she wanted to do was to get home and lay down for a while, and hopefully this feeling would pass.
"Usagi! You're late?!" Rei's hands were on her hips. Decked out in her Shinto shrine maiden clothes, she stood at the front of the shrine with the others behind her. Usagi always thought Rei looked more intimidating in that outfit. "Even after I told Ami to make sure you wouldn't be? I can't believe you!"
She jogged the rest of the way to where the group stood and slumped against the cement railing, huffing. "I'm sorry, Rei," she apologized, going through her bag, "but I was at the new shop-"
"And shopping is more important than our meetings?" Rei's wrath was truly brewing. Usagi slumped a bit more.
"Oh, Rei, she's not that late," Minako interceded, hoping to smooth over the situation. "What did you buy, Usagi?"
"That's the great part," Usagi smiled as she withdrew the charm brooch from her bag, "I didn't even have to buy it! They gave it to me for free," she showed it off.
"Some sort of charm?" Makoto asked, her arms crossed.
"Yep, a love charm. To make Mamo-chan more passionate," her eyelids fluttered.
Rei rolled her eyes, "Childish," she said, though she kept sneaking envious glances at the brooch.
"Wow," Minako moved closer to investigate. "Do you think I could get one? Free?"
Usagi nodded. "Probably. It's a, a sort of, um, incentive," Usagi finally found the correct word.
"Well I think it's suspicious," Rei harrumphed, "What sort of a shop gives its merchandise away for free?"
"The new occult shop, apparently," Usagi said.
"Ooooh, we should go check it out," Mina said, excitedly imagining getting a love charm for herself.
"We don't have time for that," Rei reminded them.
"Rei's right," Makoto agreed. "But maybe we should go some other day... um... just to check it out," she said quickly, noting Rei's hard stare.
"Another time, indeed," Luna said, hopping down from the fence, trailed by Artemis. "You girls really should get to your studies," the cat reminded them, then began to groom her paws.
"We would have started already if Usagi hadn't been so late," Rei said as she opened the sliding door.
"Hey! You could have started without me," Usagi said indignantly as she followed Rei inside, flanked by the others. She really didn't feel like studying on such a nice afternoon, but such was life.
Over the next week, Usagi and the others began to feel that something strange was going on. In school, they all had shared accounts of classmates who fell asleep at their desks, most were the sort you'd never expect that kind of behavior from. It was odd. Then there were girls that fainted seemingly at random, only to snap out of it moments later. Some students were even missing from classes for stretches of days, again these were the types who had never cut classes before.
Naru was absent one day, and Usagi and Ami spent that lunch period together. "Things have just been getting worse these last couple of days," Ami said softly, trying not to arouse the interest of anyone nearby.
"You're right," Usagi yawned and picked at one of her rice balls, "Something sure is weird."
"I wonder if it's something we need to investigate," Ami said seriously.
Usagi shrugged. "You never know. It could be some kind of flu or something going around."
"Maybe," Ami sounded doubtful. "Still, I think I'm going to suggest to Luna this afternoon that we look into this. Maybe Rei will be able to feel something about it that we can't."
"You think it's some kind of evil energy making everyone like this?"
"It could be. Then again, I just want to be safe," Ami interlaced her fingers.
"That's a good idea, you're so smart Ami-chan!" Usagi said as she rested her head on the desk.
"Usagi, did you stay up too late last night?" Ami raised an eyebrow.
"I had to," she whined, "I had that awful math homework."
"But we worked on that at Rei's!"
"Well," Usagi opened one eye, "I sort of read the new manga Rei bought while we were over there."
"Oh my goodness," Ami shook her head.
"Anyway, this isn't about me!" Usagi mumbled. "You said we should talk to Rei about... the evil..."
"Yes, right," Ami nodded. Her affirmation was greeted with the sound of snoring. "Oh, Usagi," she shook the girl's shoulder. "You can't fall asleep now, lunch is nearly over."
It was futile.
Naru tossed in her bed. She had been sleeping more than normal, coming straight home from school and crashing, only to find that her morning alarm clock came so soon. She fainted one morning at breakfast and her mother had become worried. She held her home from school that day, thinking she might be sick and in need of more rest before she could get better.
Naru didn't feel sick, only sleepy. She slept but the dreams that filled her mind were anything but restful. Her eyes were marred with dark circles, evidence of the nights spent sleeping in vain, for how could she really feel at peace when every dream she had was of him?
He was on her mind constantly now, each day the thoughts had grown more and more distracting, until finally she had stopped trying to think of anything else. When she woke in her bed, she would look down at her ring, brush her fingertip over the pale sapphire, and wish for her pain to go away. But it seemed it was too great for even the charm to do away with.
She had been better, she had spent several terms feeling fine, upbeat, normal. She had fallen for Umino's persistent wooing, she found him sweet and an escape from the thoughts of Nephrite. Only now, she simply felt guilt. She had grown distant over the last few days, and today, she hadn't spoken to him at all. He had called once he realized she hadn't shown up at school, and he called when he arrived home. She told her mother to tell him she didn't want to talk. How could she keep thinking of Nephrite when she was with Umino? It was such a betrayal. She couldn't go on doing it any longer, but she also knew she couldn't stop the thoughts, or the dreams.
She closed her eyes and tried to will herself back to sleep, knowing that she wouldn't find much rest. But she would go to school tomorrow anyway. Yes, she had to. She would go and she would talk to Umino, she would end it and then, maybe then she could at least have the weight of guilt off her shoulders, even if her heart still ached for the love that she had lost.
The next day at school, Usagi was feeling much better about things, despite the fact that she had accidentally left her charm brooch at home. That was just a little inconvenience, because after all, Naru was back in class! Furthermore, only a few people nodded off during lessons. Maybe they had been worrying for nothing, maybe this whole thing would just blow over. At the end of the day, she was eager to head to the arcade and play some games, get back to normal and de-stress. She looked around the grounds for Ami, but didn't see her. She probably had to go to cram school anyway. Naru and Umino would be around for sure, though, she knew it. She waded through the other lingering students, standing on her tip-toes to see if she could spot her friends.
The benches. She saw the two of them sitting together on a bench under a willow, and she made her way toward them with a definite bounce to her step. It was only as she got closer that she realized Naru and Umino were engaged in a rather heated discussion. She wasn't close enough to hear the words, exactly, but she could see their faces clear enough, and the strained way that Naru was hunched over as she spoke. Umino's hands were fidgeting nervously.
All at once, Naru grabbed her bag and stood, looked like she was about to say something else but instead she ran off. Usagi called out to her, but it was ignored. That was so unlike Naru. Usagi quickly made her way to the bench.
"Umino, what happened?" she sat next to him.
"I... she... she dumped me," he said. It was as if he had been stunned by a physical blow more than words.
"What?!" Usagi couldn't believe it. Naru had never mentioned anything about wanting to break up with Umino, in fact they had always seemed to be the perfect couple. Sure, he was pretty nerdy... but she knew that Naru loved how sweet, and how smart, he was. "Are you serious?"
"Did she say why?" she pressed urgently.
Umino nodded slowly. "She feels guilty. She's in love with someone else."
That truly shocked Usagi. Who else could there be, and how could she not have known? It was insane, it was so unlikely. "Who?"
He shook his head.
"This is not like her, not like Naru-chan," Usagi felt a torrent of emotions run through her, concern for both of them, but concern that something was wrong with Naru. This had just come clear out of the blue.
"I know, but..." his voice started to shake, "but she said she had to do it. I believe her. But it hurts," Umino took his glasses off and looked away. "I need to go, Tsukino-san," he said, abruptly and far too formally. Usagi let him leave without a word. Everybody dealt with these sorts of things in their own way. She knew she couldn't comfort someone if they didn't want it.
But still, Naru hadn't even looked at her when she ran away, Umino at least talked for a little while. It was all so weird. Usagi resolved to check on Naru later, she probably needed some time to cool down from her emotions anyway, it was clear she didn't want to talk now. Usagi got up to leave the school grounds, but found that she no longer felt like going to the arcade. She felt rather depressed for her friends. With a heavy sigh she made her way to Rei's, at least this time she would be early.
Naru went through the next few days at school like a zombie. She could hardly hear the teachers giving their lessons, had no focus during tests and even less attention for her homework. She avoided Umino but that was easy enough because he made no move to speak to her either. She was short even with Usagi and other students, though she supposed they'd chalk that up to the breakup. She hoped that they would. There was no way she could ever possibly explain that her problems were due to these incessant thoughts of Nephrite.
It might have been better to stay home from school altogether, her marks were suffering anyway. At least if she went, though, she could put up some facade of normalcy. Usagi would worry less. Her mother wouldn't think she was ill. It was easier when people weren't overly concerned and hounding her. There was less to explain that way, it was safer.
Naru tried to deal with the thoughts as best she could. She didn't try to stop them, that only made them more intrusive. She daydreamed of him instead, even dared to doodle him in her notebook. That long, auburn hair; those broad, strong shoulders. He had been so handsome, so amazing. Even though Sailor Moon had told her he was dangerous, she knew in her heart that even if at one time he had been a bad man, he had ultimately been redeemed. In a way, it made her happy to think of him. Only very briefly, though, because with the thoughts was the knowledge that he was gone. Dead. He was never coming back, he lived on only in her memories.
She twisted her ring around on her finger, staring at it absently during an English lecture. She was so far behind, it wouldn't have done any good to listen even if she could have paid attention. Half of the vocabulary made no sense to her. So she stared at her ring, and wondered. What did she want? She wanted to be free from the pain, though now she could see she didn't want to be free from Nephrite. This ring was supposed to have made her forget entirely, but the memories had proved too strong for it, at least that's what she reasoned. Maybe it was wrong to try to forget him. At least it could be less painful, though, less intrusive. She knew she would have to get back to her studies sooner or later, and after the breakup became less fresh in everyone's mind, they'd start to wonder about her behavior and what must be causing it. She decided to go back to the shop. After all, the lady had said to come back if she ever wanted anything else. And now she knew she did, and it was the same thing as before.
Naru desperately needed something to ease the ache in her heart, now more than ever.
Somehow the musty smell comforted Naru as she walked into the occult shop. The saleswoman spotted her almost immediately and smiled, walking toward her. It was uncanny, almost as if the lady had been expecting her.
"Good afternoon my dear," the gypsy drawled, "is there something I can help you with?"
"Yes," Naru said, the pain evident in her eyes as she looked up at the woman draped in ridiculous fabrics.
"I knew you would be back," she said as she once more lead Naru to the back room.
"How did you know?" Naru asked, less skeptical of the woman's insight than before, but still curious.
"Ah, I could see it in your heart from the first time you were in here," the gypsy explained as they walked under the beaded curtain. "I could see that the pain you felt would need something more complicated than just a charm to soothe it."
"More complicated? Then why did you sell me this in the first place?" Naru wrenched off the ring and held it out, almost accusingly. "It didn't work at all!"
"Well," the gypsy said carefully, "I was trying to be optimistic. You can't just jump straight into these things, you know, you have to follow a certain plan..."
"Jump into what things?" Naru let the ring clatter onto the countertop.
"Why, the solution to your dilemma, of course," the gypsy said, as if that was supposed to explain anything. Naru still didn't know what the solution was. It was more complicated than a charm? Maybe it was an even bigger, more expensive charm?
"But I have no idea what that is," she said helplessly. "I keep thinking about him, I can't do anything else! My grades are in the gutter, my friends think I'm acting strange, I broke up with my boyfriend because I just couldn't handle it, and... and..." Naru's lower lip quivered. She felt dangerously close to sobbing.
"There there, my dear," the gypsy reached over the counter and squeezed Naru's shoulder. Her grip almost hurt, but Naru couldn't find her voice to speak up about it. "I know it all. Your lost love... that's all you can think about, because that's what your heart desires."
"But-but I thought my heart desired freedom from the pain of his memory?" Naru sniffled.
"Yes, but you would be free from the pain if he was here to hold you, isn't that right?"
Naru was confused. "That's not possible," she said, "I'm in such pain because I can't have him, he's dead! It's not like he dumped me and I can use some love charm on him to get him back, he's dead! He's never coming back," the tears began to roll down her face, but the gypsy didn't take her eyes off of her.
"I know, my dear, I've told you. I know it all. And I can bring him back."
Naru stared at her. Once again, she felt cold all over. She couldn't have heard the woman right, saying something like that was ludicrous! It was impossible, insane, and suddenly she felt like she was being toyed with.
"Don't be cruel," Naru pleaded, "you can't possibly... don't promise such things," she rubbed the back of her hand against her cheek, trying to brush away the tears.
"Oh, I'm not being cruel, I mean what I say," the gypsy was very serious. "You still don't believe me, even after I knew about him? After I found it in your heart of my own power you still doubt me?"
"Being psychic, if you are even psychic, is a little different than being able to... able to raise the dead," Naru croaked.
"I suppose," the gypsy smiled. "But I would have thought I had proved myself, and my generosity to you by now. I can only hope you'll believe me, dear girl, believe that I can truly help you. Otherwise, your suffering will go on unabated."
Naru didn't like the sound of that. What choice did she have, anyway? If she let herself think without the skepticism for a moment, it was true that the idea of bringing Nephrite back was more than appealing. She wanted it desperately. If he was back, she would be free from the pain, and they could be together again! But the skepticism told her that what the gypsy was promising couldn't possibly be fulfilled. Still though, how could she turn that down? If it didn't work, she'd be in the same position as she was now... she'd lose nothing. And if it did work, well then she would have everything to gain.
"All right," Naru said after much consideration. "I want it. I want you to bring him back."
The gypsy clasped her hands together and looked quite pleased. "Wonderful. I only want to help you, you know," she said, "so I'm glad you've made the right choice. There are two things I will need from you to perform the ceremony, however."
Here it was, Naru thought. The kicker. The price, and what it if was out of her range, after she had gotten her hopes up so? "Tell me."
"First, I will need something that once belonged to him."
Naru shifted uneasily. She had only one thing that belonged to Nephrite, and that was the tourniquet she had used on him the night she died. It was nothing more than a bit of torn clothing with his blood on it, but she had kept it all this time, hidden away in the depths of her closet. It was the one thing she had. But she supposed it was worth it. "And?"
"The second thing I will take from you at the ceremony," the gypsy said cryptically. "You only need but to be there."
Naru found that odd, but in a way she was relieved that the woman hadn't asked for an exorbitant amount of money or something. Naru had been suspicious of the catch in the offer, but it seemed that the gypsy was on the up and up. If it was a scam, Naru assured herself, she would have asked for money.
"I'll go get the first thing," Naru said. "Should I come back tonight, or-"
"Yes," the gypsy said, "Come back after the shop closes and we shall embark upon the ceremony."
Naru's heart was pounding as she left the shop. She could barely believe it. If it all worked, if it was in any way possible, through some sort of magic and the power of her love, tonight would give her something she never dreamed she would be able to have.
Tonight she would resurrect Nephrite.
Naru searched madly through her closet, throwing her clothes about haphazardly. Her mother called her to dinner but she couldn't eat. She had to find it. Soon enough, she did. Tucked under an old shoe box, she found the cloth she had used on Nephrite's wounds that fateful night. Before the last few weeks, that night had felt so long in the past, but now, unfolding the cloth, hugging it close and smelling it for the first time since she had hidden it, it felt like that night could have been just yesterday.
Naru waited until evening fell. She sat at the dinner table with her mother but only picked at her food. Time felt like it was moving so slowly. She watched her mother clear the table and wash the dishes. She got up and helped dry them and put them away. She moved mechanically, thinking not of her actions but of what was to come. Her mother seemed worried that she hadn't eaten, but she didn't say anything. The phone rang, but neither of them moved to answer it. Naru was relieved that her mother ignored it as well, she didn't want to talk to anyone right now. When the dishes were done, her mother retreated from the kitchen and Naru was left alone. After more agonizing waiting, the clock struck eight. The shop would be closing now.
Naru went to her room and stuffed the cloth into the waistband of her skirt, then rushed out of the house and into the rapidly falling dusk. She ran all the way to the shop, her feet hardly seemed to touch the ground, but they propelled her on her way. Standing outside the darkened storefront, she clutched her side and tried to catch her breath. This was it.
She went inside. It was even darker than it had looked from the outside. She felt her way through the aisles, her fingertips grazing over bottles and bracelets, until her hands ran over the familiar beaded curtain. She walked through and could just barely make out a shadowy figure.
"I have it," Naru said simply.
"Good," the voice of the gypsy cut through the darkness. Soon there was a bit of light to illuminate the place; the gypsy had started a fire right in the center of the room. Naru stepped back, almost afraid that the flames would overtake the shop. The gypsy noticed her movements and laughed softly. "Don't worry, I know what I'm doing."
In the light, Naru could see her beckoning her. She approached, and handed out the cloth.
"Yes, I can feel his spirit within this," the woman said, poring over the cloth with her palm. Naru shivered. "Come closer."
Reluctantly, Naru took a few steps closer to the woman. The fire smelled of foreign wood and rich herbs, but even through that, Naru could smell the woman – it wasn't exactly body odor, but some combination of magical poultices and sweat. She began to feel faint again, and the gypsy's harsh hand reached out, took her by the arm, and drew her closer still.
She began to chant, holding the cloth up in one hand, gripping Naru tight with the other, her voice rising up and growing louder with each syllable that Naru couldn't understand. The fire burned brighter, seemed almost to crackle in time with the chanting. Naru's head was spinning. The light in the room was increasing but Naru's vision was dimming, and it seemed the only thing keeping her upright was the woman's grip on her. As her sight faded to blackness and her body went into limp unconsciousness, the last thing she saw was the gypsy leaning in to her, opening her mouth. It seemed like she was looking at her neck... but then it was gone.
Naru's head snapped up as though no time had passed. Her body ached, though, and her neck burned. She inspected it gingerly with her hand. It was tender, maybe bruised. She looked wildly around the room until her eyes fell on the gypsy. "What did you do?" she could barely whisper.
"My price," she almost hissed, her bloody mouth contorting in a grin so wide as to be grotesque. Naru was frightened but she hadn't the energy to do anything about it.
"Did... did it work," Naru mumbled through her stupor.
"Indeed, it was successful," the gypsy wiped at the corners of her mouth with one of the scarves adorning her arms. "A success in all things."
"Where is he?"
"Ah, yes, of course you would ask," the gypsy crossed the room and handed the cloth back to Naru. "It's not as though he would simply appear before us, that's not how these things work."
Naru felt betrayed. What had really gone on? She felt her neck again and started to feel anger rising within her. "You... you bit me and... and he's not even here?!" it was something between an accusation and a question.
The gypsy sashayed to the counter, plucking up a bag of sand and sprinkling it upon the fire. "No, he's not. But as I said, the ritual was a success. I got what I wanted, and as for you... your lost love will resurrect upon the same spot as his demise."
Though she would have preferred to have all the details from the start, Naru felt relieved nonetheless. She hadn't been duped... well, not much anyway. The gypsy was certainly some sort of unearthly creature, feeding on her blood like that, Naru shuddered at the thought. But she hadn't lied. Nephrite would be where he had died, in the park, under the moonlight. Naru staggered to beads. "When?"
"It's not an exact science, but soon. You should go-" there was a noise in the shop and the gypsy's head snapped up with a snarl. Footsteps. She stalked forward, and Naru slumped to the side, out of the way. "Someone's here!" The gypsy looked mad with rage. It was a terrible sight, seeing her face shrivel and wrinkle as no human's should.
Naru's body simply couldn't take it. She blacked out again.
Luna and Artemis were outside the occult shop, pretending to meander aimlessly as normal cats but keeping within sight of the display window.
The girls had met earlier that afternoon, and Ami had pressed the issue of the strange happenings in Tokyo. Usagi tried to change the subject, she felt like everything was getting slowly back to normal, but under question she admitted that Naru's behavior was still strange, even if she was back at school. The rest of them shared more stories of classmates acting weirdly and more of them being oddly fatigued. Rei said she had felt evil energy, but couldn't place its origin. Their conversations kept coming back to the new shop in town. It seemed like almost every one of the strange-acting students had been there, though Usagi was quick to mention that she wasn't any different than normal.
"Just because you sleep in class all the time anyway doesn't mean you're still not being affected!" Rei said matter-of-factly.
So they had decided to investigate it up close. They thought it would be safer to go after closing, when the eccentric saleswoman couldn't interfere, so they played board-games at the shrine until evening came. Usagi asked to make a phone call before they went. If something evil was lurking in the products of the shop, she had to warn Naru somehow. But Naru didn't pick up. The others assured her that they would look after Naru after they had done some checking up on the shop, and then they set off.
It had been odd to find the door unlocked; Makoto had been well-prepared to kick it in but that was unnecessary. And now they were inside, with Luna and Artemis watching the entrance dutifully.
"Suppose it isn't the shop," Artemis offered as the foot traffic around them died down and they could talk somewhat more freely, "what leads do we have then?"
Luna arched her back against the bricks. "I don't know," she said, "maybe it is as innocent as Usagi thinks."
"You have a point," Luna said with a sigh, "Usagi's critical deduction skills could use some work."
"I don't know, I just—" Artemis started, but he was cut off by the sound of shattering glass. Both cats leapt toward the shop, shards of glass littering the street and only jagged remnants of glass left in the sill. The jumped through one after another into the dark shop, their sharp eyes quickly honing into the scene.
"Transform!" Luna commanded, able to make out a malevolent form beyond the five girls in the darkness. The shop was unnaturally hot, but she didn't have much time to dwell on that she nearly missed dodging a blast of energy sent her way. She pounced behind some shelves, and Artemis too sought shelter.
The five girls were quick with their transformation rods and soon the Sailor Senshi were assembled in the room. "What happened?" Luna cried out from her hiding place.
"Monster," Sailor Mercury began to explain breathlessly, while Jupiter lunged toward their attacker, "After we came in, Rei could sense the evil energy abounding in this place," she ducked a row of falling glass jars, "I started to analyze the charms and amulets with my computer but-"
"But that thing heard us!" Mars finished, rushing to Jupiter's aid and focusing her energy. "Fire Soul!" The beast lunged out of the way of the flames but wasn't fast enough, she was struck anyway and stumbled about. "Only it wasn't a thing at first," Mars wiped the sweat from her brow, "Sailor Moon recognized it as the saleswoman. Then it changed to that," she sounded disgusted.
Boots and shoes clamored and scraped over the debris on the floor as the monster knocked shelves over to get to them, and they struggled to get out of the way. It could aim energy blasts, but not in rapid succession, which was fortunate, because as the window could attest to, they were quite devastating.
There was a yelp of pain and Luna hopped up onto one of the shelves that still stood, trying to get a better look of the battle that was playing out. Venus had been knocked down and Sailor Moon was tending to her, keeping her out of harms way and trying to get her to her feet. Meanwhile, Jupiter, Mars, and Mercury were coordinating their attacks as they tried to keep themselves out of the aim of the monster.
"You brats are ruining my shop!" the monster screeched at them before sending another blast out, this one connecting with a row of incense that exploded and dusted the room in ashes.
"And you're ruining lives!" Mars countered indignantly.
A crackling ball of lightening zipped through the room toward the monster, but it managed to dodge again, much better than before.
"Damn," Jupiter shouted, kicking over a small display of velvet pouches in her anger.
Luna continued to observe the fight, and it seemed the monster was sufficiently distracted so as not to target her. She looked to Venus; Artemis too had come out of hiding and was at her side as she rose to her feet. Sailor Moon moved to a more tactical location and reached for her tiara. It was then that another figure caught Luna's eye. Something was shuffling out through another room, hunched over and moving very slowly. Another monster?
"Sailor Moon, over there!" Luna called out, and Moon's hand dropped to her side and she too saw the figure. While the others fought, she crept toward the figure.
"N..Naru-chan?" Moon cried in surprise, rushing to the girl's side as soon as she recognized her.
Luna wondered what the hell she was doing here. "Get her out of here, Sailor Moon, you have to get her to a safe place."
She was already on it, though, but there seemed to be some protest. "Come on, you have to leave," Moon could be heard through the din, "I have to get you out of here."
The girl shook her head and seemed to be mumbling, but whatever it was, Luna couldn't hear. "Hurry!"
Jupiter broke off from the team as Venus sent out her Crescent Beam Shower. She ran to Sailor Moon, and hooked her arm around Naru's waist. "Here," Jupiter heaved the girl over her shoulders. "I'll get her outside," she said, dodging through the chaos toward the exit.
Jupiter set Naru onto the sidewalk outside, kneeling beside her crumpled form. She tapped her cheek, trying to get her conscious again. Naru's head lolled on her shoulders but soon steadied, and her eyes opened in the moonlight. "What..."
"You're safe, if you can get up, get out of here!"
Naru cringed in pain as she rose to her feet, but soon she was walking, then running. Jupiter was satisfied, and jumped back in through the open window.
"Sailor Moon, the rod," Mercury yelled. The monster had been hit with her Shabon Spray and was stalled by the frozen attack.
Sailor Moon rushed to the center of the room and produced the Moon Rod, thrusting it powerfully into the air. "Moon Princess Halation!" Light spilled from the rod as it charged, then a burst of energy shot forward, straight for the monster. It was a perfect hit.
The monster wailed and writhed, until finally it crumbled to dust before them. The amulets and charms littering the floor began to burst open and turn black, releasing the vanquished souls of whatever evil spirits they had been enchanted with.
Sailor Moon fell to her knees. The other senshi surrounded her. Mars held out her hand, and Sailor Moon took it gratefully. "Is... Naru...?" she asked as she stood.
Jupiter nodded. "She got away. She ran off," she put a hand on Sailor Moon's shoulder. "By the looks of it, it's all over now." She nudged a broken charm at her foot as indication.
Sailor Moon laughed softly. "At least I didn't have to pay for the one I had," she sighed. "But I should look for Naru. She might be injured," she walked to the door and the others followed.
"We're all going," Venus said. "We still don't know what she was doing here, and why the saleswo... monster... was alone with her when we got here."
Luna joined them. "It is suspicious."
"Very," Mars agreed. "Mercury, are you getting any readings?"
Mercury pressed a spot on her tiara and her visor covered her eyes. "Nothing now," she said after the computer analyzed the room. "Nothing that can tell us anything about what was going on before we arrived."
"Then let's go," Jupiter said, holding the door open for them. "We'll find out the old fashioned way."
The senshi made their way out into the night, splitting up to look for Naru.
When Naru found that she could run under her own power, the pain and dizziness seemed to fade away. Everything she had been through was confusing enough without the haze of those things clouding her mind. She wondered how long she had been out, and if she had missed Nephrite. What would happen if she wasn't there? Would he still have come? Would he have wandered off alone? Would he even know why he was alive again? There were too many questions, she hoped she would get there before she had to worry about any of them. She hoped it hadn't been too long.
And what about the fight she had escaped? Or rather, been rescued from by Sailor Jupiter. There was a monster, and the shop had been a mess. All she remembered before that was the gypsy having heard intruders in the shop. That must have been the senshi. Then, did that mean that monster was...? God, it was too much to consider. Sure, the gypsy had strange, dark powers, but she couldn't have been a monster! Naru remembered the wound on her neck. That seemed like something a monster would do, all right. But why would such a thing help her? Naru knew she would never get the answer, not now.
Anything that went up alone against the Sailor Senshi would be defeated. She had seen them in action enough times to know their skills. And they only fought evil, so it had to have been the right thing to go after the gypsy. Tears were streaking down her face again. It wasn't as simple as good and evil, right and wrong, black and white. Nothing was that simple.
She pushed the latest events to the back of her mind as she reached the park. She took the straightest path she knew to the spot Nephrite had perished, stumbling over rocks and walking through bushes, thorns scraping at her skirt and legs. She just had to get there, she had to know. What if he didn't come back because of what the senshi had done? Naru was worried but there wasn't anything she could do but wait. Oh God, tonight had been so full of waiting and each time it turned her stomach and sent her anxiety into overdrive. This would be the worst, waiting to see Nephrite in the flesh.
She found the spot, she knew it so well even though the landscaping had changed slightly. The tree was still there, but there were flower beds off to the side and the hedges were different. She settled under the tree, cradled comfortably between its roots. She pressed her back to its thick bark, watching the same spot where she had seen him die and fade to nothingness right before her eyes. It was the strangest feeling, being in such a sad place, a place full of such terrible memories, and waiting for something amazing to happen.
She didn't know how long she had been there, but her eyelids began to drift shut. The rhythmic chirping of the cicadas didn't help to keep her awake, nor did the flowery earthy smells all around. It was too comforting, and she was exhausted. She tried to stay awake, but every so often her eyes would close involuntarily and then she'd snap awake, only to repeat the process once again. The moon journeyed across the night sky, round and full and casting shadows all around.
She felt a hand on her face. So warm... she forced her eyes to open out of sheer will and she gasped. He was sitting beside her. Wavy auburn locks and those eyes, oh wow, those eyes were looking straight into hers and it was as if she knew what it was to truly feel alive for the first time in her life.
"Masato-," she shook her head, blushing, "Nephrite. I can't believe it..." she threw her arms about him, and she noticed that he wasn't wearing the clothes he had died in but a sort of uniform. Charcoal grey with gold piping and regal epaulettes; he looked like a general.
"Nor can I," he admitted. Hearing his voice again stirred a fire within her. Such raw emotion welled up within her, tempered by her exhaustion and what she had been through to get here. She wanted to cry but she was too overjoyed. "I'm not quite sure what happened."
Naru struggled to speak again. She wanted to tell him everything, to spill the tale of how she had gone about and gotten him resurrected, but the words didn't come. It was too complicated.
She leaned forward and kissed him, her lips pressed hard to his and his moved against hers. They felt so soft, but masculine all the same. The sensation made her body tingle all over, she had wanted this so badly and now here she was, locked in a kiss with the love she had thought lost forever.
Nephrite broke the kiss, but still he caressed her cheek.
"You're back, you're back and that's all that matters," she whispered urgently. "Oh God, I hope this isn't a dream."
"Well, Miss Osaka, I don't feel like simply a figment of your dream," Nephrite smirked.
Naru laughed. "Of course this is real. It has to be real. Oh, just hold me," she quivered against him, and he wrapped his strong arms around her. It was the comfort and intimacy she had desired since she had first fallen in love with him. She sighed deeply and squeezed her eyes shut.
The crunching of twigs from far off caused her to look up. In the distance, Naru could see the approaching figure of Sailor Moon. The silhouette was unmistakable. She clung tightly to Nephrite, buried her face in the fabric of his uniform and luxuriated in his embrace, his familiar scent. She had no idea how she would explain this to Sailor Moon, she had no idea if Sailor Moon would try to fight him. Naru just wanted this moment to last forever, this is what she had wanted, what she had needed, for such a long time, and now she finally had it. She couldn't bear to think of it being ruined.