Nephrite was dying before their eyes, and Naru was screaming, crying in a raw, torn voice Usagi had never heard before.
“There has to be something we can do,” she whimpered, looking to Ami, who was intently scanning with her handheld computer.
“He’s rapidly losing his morphological integrity,” Ami reported, then, with an apologetic glance, “He’s going to disappear.”
"Rei – Sailor Mars! Can’t you, you know, evil spirits begone him? Like a seal?”
Rei shook her head, placing a steadying hand on Usagi’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. That’s not how it works.”
“But we’re supposed to be heroes,” Usagi cried. “There has to be something we can do!” She felt something brush against her calf and looked down to see Luna, panting from the run to the park. “Luna! You know what to do, don’t you?”
The black cat looked troubled. “I’m not sure you’re ready for this.”
“He’s going to die! Look what this is doing to Naru-chan! I’ll get ready. Please, Luna!” She crouched down closer to Luna’s height, hitching back a sob.
“Oh…” Luna wrestled with her doubts a moment more, then sprang into the air. Something bright and heavy dropped into Usagi’s hands, and when she blinked away her tears she saw it was a kind of wand or sceptre, a golden crescent set on a smooth pink rod.
“It’s the Moon Stick,” Luna said. “The spell of healing is Moon Healing Escalation. And I have no idea whether this will work, mind you!”
“Thank you, Luna!” Usagi sprang to her feet. Holding the wand, she somehow knew how to move, as a warm power moved through her, and the magic words rang out clearly.
Waves of light flowed over Nephrite’s body. At first nothing seemed to change, and then the cluster of thorns piercing his shoulder quivered and shattered, their fragments shattering again into dust that blew away with a cold gust that flapped the girls’ skirts and tugged at their hair.
“The readings are changing!” Ami exclaimed, unnecessarily. For a moment there was a gaping hole in Nephrite’s body, the grass beneath him visible through it, and then it was growing closed with astonishing rapidity, until the skin of his chest was whole again. Only the tatters of his undershirt and the greenish bloodstains on it remained to show that he had been injured. He drew in a great gasp of air, choked slightly, coughed, and breathed again.
Naru was still weeping, but now she sounded almost hysterical with relief, calling Nephrite’s name again and again as she hugged him.
“He’s – I can’t explain this, but he’s reading now as a perfectly ordinary human being,” Ami said.
“The aura of evil is gone, too,” Rei said. “Like a possessing spirit dispelled. Usagi! Cut it out, anyone would think you were the one who was wounded!” Usagi had dropped to her knees, blubbering.
“I’m just so gla-ha-had!” she sobbed, wiping her eyes with her gloved hands.
Naru had passed out from sheer exhaustion, lying curled on the grass next to Nephrite, who seemed to be either deeply asleep or unconscious.
“His pulse is strong,” Ami reported, kneeling beside him and holding one wrist. “He really does seem to be completely healthy.”
“There’s just one problem left,” Luna said with a sigh.
“What problem?” Usagi asked, looking up from stroking Naru’s hair. “Everything’s fine now. They’re both going to be okay.”
“She means,” Rei said, “what are we going to do with him?”
“We can’t take him to the hospital,” Ami said. “He’s not even injured any more, and how would we explain all this?”
“And I can’t go dragging random men home to the shrine,” Rei said, shrugging. “Your parents might not like it either, Usagi.”
“Oh.” Usagi gave an embarrassed giggle. “I guess that would look strange. I can’t disguise him as a stuffed toy.”
“We can take Naru-chan home, but we can’t just leave him here,” Ami said. “I would try to get him into our condo, but the lady next door is so nosy. She pops out every time I come and go. She’s trying to keep an eye on me for Mother while she’s overseas for this conference, and she’d be sure to tell her.”
“But what else can we do?” Usagi asked plaintively.
“Don’t worry,” Rei said, flipping her hair back over her shoulder as her transformation fell away, leaving her in her miko’s robes. “Take Naru-chan home, Usagi. As usual, I’m going to save the day.”
Mamoru was in his bath when the phone began to ring, and he considered staying there until whoever it was gave up. What got him out of the water on the third ring was the consideration that it might be Motoki, or, though he always tried to remind himself that kind of thing only happened in Dickens novels, a long-lost relative who had just traced him and wanted to meet – someone who might fill in the voids in his memory.
Towel-wrapped and dripping, he reached it during the sixth ring. “Hello, Chiba residence.”
“Mamoru-san! Hello! It’s Rei-chan. I’m sooo sorry if I woke you up.”
“No, that’s okay,” he said, wedging the receiver between his head and shoulder while he re-tucked the slipping towel more securely. “Uh, what’s up?” She wasn’t going to ask him out for tiramisù at this hour, was she?
“Well, I really hate to trouble you, but I have a friend who’s in a pickle, and I thought maybe you could help. I’d never have bothered you if I could think of an alternative, but we’re really kind of stuck.”
“That’s okay. What’s the problem?” Much as he wanted to get back in the bath and soak himself until he was ready to sleep, he couldn’t very well turn her down; you weren’t supposed to say no to friends who asked for help, especially girls.
“Could you hide a passed-out guy at your apartment?”
He pulled up outside the park gates, letting the car’s engine run a moment longer before committing to this decision and shutting it off. He took the emergency flashlight from the glovebox and made his way beneath the shadows of the trees to where Rei was waiting, sitting on the ground with a friend whose name he couldn’t quite remember – the really bright girl who went to school with Bun-Head. The turf was torn up and scorched as if there had been a pitched battle here not long ago. That was only the second strangest thing. The first strangest was the man in torn and stained clothes, lying flat on the grass. It was the same man, the strange one from the doll exhibition, with the auburn hair and the ice-blue eyes. A shock of unplaceable déjà vu rushed through him. Never mind not letting Rei down – there was no way he could pass up this possibility of a real clue.
Rei had told him the mystery man’s name was Masato Sanjouin, though Mamoru had his doubts about that. He put the still slumbering Masato, for lack of anything else to call him, in his own bed and went to sleep on the couch.
When he woke, Masato was sitting in the armchair opposite him, hunched over with his elbows on his knees and his chin on his interlaced hands, staring at him intently. Judging by the light, it was still morning. He struggled up to a sitting position, feeling defensive and wary. For a long moment they watched each other like cats at opposite ends of an alleyway.
Mamoru decided to take the initiative. “My name is Mamoru Chiba,” he said firmly. “This is my apartment. I brought you here unconscious last night. And you are?”
“I… I’m not sure,” Masato admitted. “I’ve looked at myself in the mirror, and I don’t recognise myself. I have the name Masato Sanjouin in my head, but I also know that it’s not my real name. I just can’t remember what my real name is.”
Mamoru nodded, carefully. “I have some experience with amnesia myself. It can be… disconcerting.” He hesitated, then went on. “We may as well call you Masato for now.”
“All right. Mamoru.” Masato looked quizzical. “Why do I think that’s not your real name either? Or at least, that you used to go by another?”
“I don’t know. But perhaps the two of us can work that out together.”
A little later in the morning, as they were cleaning up after breakfast, the phone rang again, and once again it was Rei.
“How is he, Mamoru-san?” she asked. “Did he regain consciousness?”
“He did, and he seems fine physically – but listen, Rei-chan, he doesn’t remember anything about what happened. He has amnesia about almost everything in his life.”
“Oh,” said Rei, sounding a little taken aback. “Well, there’s someone he should talk to. Someone who can fill him in on a little of that. Can you bring him to the café above the arcade at four-thirty this afternoon?”
This was really more Mysterious Teen Girl Business than Mamoru could handle. When he and Masato, who had borrowed his salmon shirt and grey slacks, arrived at the café they found a tired-looking red-haired girl sitting at a table, with Rei, Bun-Head and the very bright one (Ami! That was it, she was called Ami) arrayed around her in a kind of protective phalanx. Bun-Head, well, all right, Usagi, was halfway through a large plate of spaghetti, which she finished with unseemly haste when she saw them.
“We”ll be waiting for you downstairs, okay Naru-chan?” she said, wiping her mouth on a napkin and giving her friend’s arm a squeeze.
“Okay. Thanks, Usagi-chan.”
As the three girls headed for the door, they shepherded Mamoru away from Masato.
“Wait, he might need me to help him,” he objected.
“You are not the kind of guy who should be around during a sensitive, emotional conversation,” Usagi said haughtily. “Now come downstairs and play video games like a civilised person, if you can.”
Masato sat down facing the red-haired girl. She had shadows under her eyes and looked a bit pale, but she had quite a pretty face. She smiled tremulously at him, a sunshower smile with tears in her eyes.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“Yes, thank you.”
“They told me you can’t remember anything.”
“I’m afraid that’s true.”
“Well, I can tell you. I’m Naru Osaka, and I probably know more about you than anyone.” She began to spill forth an incredible tale, that his real name was Nephrite, that billionaire playboy Masato Sanjouin was his secret cover identity, that he belonged to some kind of supernatural evil organisation that was trying to take over the world by finding a magical silver crystal. That he had said and done things that made him cringe to think about them. He had very little idea of his own personality. All he really knew, and had known as soon as he got into Mamoru’s car to come here, was that he loved cars, especially fast cars, especially red ones. It was a deeply uncomfortable experience to find out that he was capable of this kind of thing.
“And that’s as much as I know,” Naru finished. “Does it jog your memory?”
“I’m afraid not. It sounds like a story about someone else. I’m sorry. I believe you’re telling the truth, but…”
“Oh.” Her smile faltered and faded. “I was hoping we could kind of… pick up where we left off.”
Masato looked at his hands on the tabletop, as if they might offer answers. “I don’t think that would be a very good idea.”
“We could get to know each other again…”
“Naru-san,” he said carefully.
“I wish you would say Naru-chan. You called me Naru-chan before.”
“Naru-chan, before I treated you very badly. I lied to you about my own feelings. I took advantage of your kindness and your faith in me. I don’t know my exact age but it’s clear that I’m – significantly older than you. I should have known better – or I did know better and I didn’t care. It was dishonest, and sleazy, and I’m ashamed.”
“I don’t mind,” she began, but he cut her off.
“Please don’t say that. You should value yourself more. Your story shows me that you are an exceptionally kind, brave girl. You deserve honesty, and kindness in return. I’m grateful that you’re not angry with me, but it would be very, very wrong for me to go back to acting as if – well, as if I could be your boyfriend.”
“Is that how you really feel, this time?” she asked softly.
“It is. All I could offer to be is your friend.”
Naru looked down into her lap for a moment, sniffed hard, and then looked up with a bright smile. “Okay. Thank you for telling me the truth. But you know, before, you made me a promise, and I’m going to hold you to it, even if you were lying when you said it. We’re going to have chocolate parfait together.”
“Is something wrong?”
He leaned across the table and admitted “I don’t know what that is.”
It turned out that a chocolate parfait was a fancy dessert consisting of a tall glass filled with layers of chocolate sauce, whipped cream, ice cream and chocolate mousse, topped with curly chocolate shavings and a little chocolate crown. Naru carefully set aside her chocolate crown to save for last, so Masato did the same. The parfait was pretty good at first, but after a couple of layers he had had enough sweetness and he wasn’t sure he would make it to the bottom of the glass.
He was still turning it all around in his head. The name Nephrite seemed familiar but also foreign. He found that he knew it was a type of stone, jade, but not why he had been named after it. He tried to remember his parents and had nothing. He tried to think who had called him Masato, or whether he had chosen that name for himself, and that was also a blank.
Naru was talking to him about her mother, and how she wanted to do something nice for her to make up for how she’d been behaving lately. It made him feel guiltier still, and even less able to cope with the parfait, to think that he had influenced this good-natured girl to steal from her own mother. He hoped she couldn’t see how desperately he wanted to get away from her. That was cowardly, anyway. He alternated spoonfuls of parfait with drinks of water and agreed that making dinner for her mother tonight would be a good start.
At long last, Naru set down her spoon and popped the chocolate crown into her mouth. That felt like permission for him to stop eating as well.
“So,” Naru said ruefully, after she had dabbed her mouth with a napkin, “I guess I won’t be seeing much of you from now on.”
“I think that would be for the best,” he said gratefully. “We both have a lot to do. You need to get your life back to normal, and I need to work out what would be normal for me in the first place.”
“I don’t want you to worry,” Naru said, putting her hand over his and giving it an encouraging squeeze. “If the bad guys come after you again, Sailor Moon will protect you.”
In his muddled state, it hadn’t even occurred to him until now that Nephrite’s enemies might still try to attack him. It felt unfair when he couldn’t remember why they were enemies to begin with, and he wished he could talk to this Sailor Moon character about it to see if she knew any more. She seemed to be very much a behind the scenes figure, though, mysteriously appearing to save the day and vanishing with equal mystery afterwards.
Naru paid the bill, since Masato had no money, and together they went downstairs to the video arcade. Mamoru and the other girl, he thought Naru had called her Usagi, were deeply involved in a two-player fighting game, which on her side was evidently extremely personal. She was slamming at the controls ferociously, growling “Take that!” and “I”ll punish you!” while Mamoru laughingly dodged and parried her attacks, telling her to calm down, which only infuriated her more. He looked as if he was having a good time. The other two girls were standing back watching, the one with short hair intent on some little palmtop computer, her long-haired friend staring intently with her arms folded in a failed attempt to look nonchalant.
Naru hurried over to either cheer her friend on or remonstrate with her for fighting so savagely; Masato wasn’t quite sure because at that point he was intercepted by the two spectators, who had peeled off to converge on him from either side, backing him into a corner between Double Dragon and RoboCop 2. They both looked intensely purposeful, and indeed, the one with short hair looked pretty mad.
“Er, hello,” he said, trying to get some measure of control, at least by speaking first. “I don’t think we’ve been introduced. I’m Masato Sanjouin, and you are?”
“Rei Hino,” said Long Hair.
“Ami Mizuno, Nephrite,” said Short Hair, her tone leading him to wonder if at some point in his misspent past he had run over her cat or kicked her grandmother in the face.
“I hope you realise I don’t remember being Nephrite,” he was trying to say when Rei cut him off.
“We talk, you listen,” she said imperiously. “We’re friends of Sailor Moon and she told us to give you a message. What you and Naru talked about stays between the two of you. You don’t tell anyone about your real name, about the Dark Kingdom, any of it.”
“I couldn’t tell them much anyway,” he protested. “Can I at least tell Mamoru?”
“Especially not Mamoru!” Ami snapped. “He’s not involved and it could be dangerous for him to know more than he has to.”
“Then why did you leave me with him?” Masato asked, baffled.
“We didn’t have a lot of choice,” Rei said, shaking her head impatiently. “This isn’t an ideal situation for any of us, and we’re all having to improvise. Sailor Moon saved your life, and if you want to show your gratitude, start by keeping this entire thing strictly under wraps.”
“All right, certainly,” he said, and didn’t even count it as a lie because agreeing to transparently unreasonable demands from angry girls who ganged up on you in a video arcade surely wasn’t binding. “My lips are sealed.”
“They’d better be, because we”ll be keeping an eye on you,” Ami said sternly, “despite the considerable inconvenience and detriment to our study schedules.”
“Thank you?” he ventured.
“Right,” said Rei. “We”ll be in touch.” She turned, flipping back her hair, and walked off. Ami lingered a moment longer, looking over her shoulder as she walked away, and to Masato’s astonishment, actually pointed to her eyes with forked fingers, then pointed sharply at him before turning her back. He had to bite his lip not to laugh. Clearly whatever she was angry about was very real and important to her, and for all he knew Nephrite really had been an ass to her, but the effect was about as menacing as being hissed at by a kitten.
Mamoru was calling to him, a cheerful “Oi!” and a wave of the hand. “Come here, I want you to meet someone!” He hurried over and found that another young man about their age had joined them, wearing an apron with the crown logo that the arcade and café seemed to share.
“I don’t know what you’re so cheerful about,” Usagi was saying, “considering that I just kicked your butt.”
“Only because Motoki came along and coached you, Bun-Head,” Mamoru smirked.
“Thank you, Motoki-onii-chan, for making sure that truth and justice prevailed,” Usagi/Bun-Head said haughtily. “Come on, Naru-chan, let’s head home.” She took her friend’s arm and towed her towards the door, Naru giving Masato a sheepish goodbye wave.
“Next time, best out of three!” Mamoru called after her, before turning back to Masato. “Hey, I want you to meet Motoki Furuhata, my best friend. Motoki, this is Masato Sanjouin. He’s my new roommate.”
“Nice to meet you. Isn’t Masato Sanjouin some kind of big shot businessman?” Motoki asked.
“The name is a coincidence,” Masato said quickly. “I get a lot of his phone calls.”
“I thought your place only had one bedroom,” Motoki said, turning to Mamoru.
“He’s temporarily crashing on the couch,” Mamoru said. “He got kicked out of his old place, through no fault of his own – psycho roommate issues.”
“Tell me about it, that’s why I still live at home,” Motoki said, rolling his eyes. “Well, any friend of Mamoru’s is welcome here – just try not to peeve off the girl customers as much as he does, okay? I’m really trying to integrate the place a bit.”
“I only peeve off one girl customer,” Mamoru said. “She’s special.”
“Mamoru, you know how we agreed I’d tell you when there was something social you really weren’t getting?”
“Yes,” said Mamoru, crestfallen.
“There’s a difference between friendly teasing and being mean. I know Usagi-chan’s funny because she’s so hyper and goofy, but you’re really going to hurt her feelings if you don’t tone it down. She’s also a really sweet kid and I don’t want her to be upset.”
“She started it, throwing garbage in my face,” Mamoru mumbled.
“Well, that was a while ago and you could try to be the bigger person about it. Especially since you’re literally the bigger person.”
“I”ll try, but I can’t promise anything,” Mamoru said, sticking his hands in his pockets. “She always pushes my buttons.”
Motoki laughed. “You push each other’s buttons like you’re game machines.”
“And you’ve seen how she beats up on game machines!” Mamoru jerked his head towards the scuff marks on the fighting game’s cabinet, which looked very much as if someone had been kicking it. “Mortal Kombat is the real victim here.”
“Be nice and Uncle Motoki will get you a candy bar.”
“Okay, okay,” Mamoru said, grinning again. “Anyway, we’d better get going. Gotta go shopping so Masato doesn’t have to keep wearing my clothes.”
“Really psycho roommate,” Masato said, feeling something was required of him.
“Please take good care of our little Mamoru,” Motoki said, making a mock parental bow and pushing Mamoru’s head with his hand to make him bow too. Mamoru pushed him back and they had a brief chummy scuffle before patting each other on the shoulder and parting ways.
“That was friendly teasing!” Motoki called out as they went through the sliding door.
“Yeah, yeah,” Mamoru replied, waving without turning his head. “Sorry you had to see that, Masato.” The encounter seemed to have cheered him up, though. As they walked back to his car and drove towards a department store, he chatted happily about how he had met Motoki as an anxious and unsure freshman, a rare grade-skipper who felt out of place among the older college students. Motoki had taken him under his wing and put him at ease.
“He’s just a really kind guy,” Mamoru said. “I know I couldn’t be as patient as he is.”
“With Usagi, for example?” Masato ventured.
“Er, yeah.” Mamoru rubbed his nose sheepishly. “I mean, when she’s not around I can see that I go too far and it’s really not cool to be enemies with a junior high kid. Then when she is around it’s like I go into asshole mode before I realise it. And Motoki’s right, she can be sweet. She really cares about people – for example, she was worried sick about a friend of hers who’d fallen for a guy who was really bad news.”
The chocolate parfait made a repeat appearance at the back of Masato’s throat and he swallowed unhappily. “Yeah, I think that guy was me.”
“Really? Hold on, what’s this?” Mamoru pulled over to the kerb opposite a large building. People were standing around outside it in attitudes of bafflement. “That’s the store where I was taking you, MS. Sit tight, I’m going to find out what’s going on.”
He was gone for some time, during which Masato began to feel so ill that he had to get out of the car, discreetly puke into a litter bin, get back in and help himself to some of the chewing gum in Mamoru’s glovebox to get the taste out of his mouth. Evidently, parfaits did not agree with him.
Mamoru returned, frowning. He got back into the driver’s seat and sat drumming his fingers on the steering wheel for a moment before he spoke. “That’s really weird,” he said at last. “MS only opened recently, but up to yesterday it was a really busy, successful store. Great menswear section. This morning, the whole place was empty. Completely empty, no stock, no staff, no nothing. Nobody can even find anyone who used to work there. It’s not unusual these days for businesses to open up and then just disappear, but they’re usually small local places.” He shook his head. “There is so much just plain weird stuff going on, and I’m trying to understand, and I feel like I’m in the dark about everything. It’s infuriating and it’s scary.” He glanced over at Masato and half-smiled. “Well, you know what that’s like, don’t you?”
“About that,” Masato began. He explained what he had been talking about before. He repeated everything Naru had told him, and Ami and Rei’s warnings to do no such thing. His stomach kept churning the whole time he was talking, but by the time he got it all out he had a sense of relief. Mamoru simply listened, nodding, occasionally asking a clarifying question. He didn’t get angry or seem shocked or disbelieving. When the whole tale was told, he fastened his seatbelt and keyed the ignition.
“We can go to Uniqlo instead,” he said, looking over his shoulder for traffic before pulling out from the kerb. The fingers of one hand were still drumming against the steering wheel, and he looked like he was in deep thought. “Sailor Moon is important. I know it, I just don’t know how.” He glanced over at Masato again. “To me, I mean. Maybe to you too. It sounds like Ami and Rei know more than they’re saying. I don’t know what to think about Rei now. She’s never mentioned any of this when we’ve been out together.”
“You’re going out with Rei?”
“Semi,” Mamoru said, looking embarrassed. “She kind of steamrollered me. I couldn’t figure out how to say no without being rude. Ha. Wouldn’t have that problem with Usagi. Ha! Like Usagi would ever want to go out with me.” He shook his head, dismissing the thought. “I’m so glad you’re here now. I mean, I’m not glad any of this is happening to you, but it helps so much not to be alone any more. I hope I can make you feel better that way, too.”
“You do,” Masato admitted. "Thank you for not thinking I’m some kind of monster.”
“I’m in no position to judge,” Mamoru said. “I don’t even know who I am. I have these crazy dreams and I – sometimes I have blackouts.” His face reddened and his hands tightened on the wheel. “I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing at those times, and it could be bad. I’ve been wanting to ask you to keep an eye on me. Follow me and see what happens. Stop me if I’m going to do something wrong. I know that’s a hell of a lot to ask from someone who’s only just met me.”
“That’s all right. You’re giving me a place to live, and you’ve only just met me.”
“Doesn’t feel like it,” Mamoru said, relaxing and smiling a little. “That’s weird too, but it’s a nice kind of weird, right?”
“Come on, let’s get you some affordable yet stylish leisurewear.”