Neither Friend Nor Foe

Date: 2016-01-30
Pose Count: 26
Makoto Kino 2016-01-30 04:06:47 25618
By Friday afternoon, the massive storm that's building out over the Pacific is pouring rain over Tokyo in thick, wind-gusted sheets, from a sky so dark with clouds that it's almost as though evening is falling early. It's a miserable day to be anywhere but safely indoors, and anyone with sense is hurrying to get in out of the weather as quickly as possible.

Makoto wouldn't have gone out at all, but Walpurgisnacht looming ever closer and the storm turning worse and worse, she came to the unhappy conclusion that she'd better go out and pick up a few emergency supplies before the other shoe dropped. Now, holding her bag close to her body and hunkering her shoulders underneath her long pink coat, she's forging her way doggedly homeward through the downpour under the dubious shelter of a large green umbrella.

When an especially fierce gust catches her umbrella hard enough to nearly jerk it out of her hands, Mako bites back a swear. The feeling of voices almost audible in the wind has only grown stronger as the storm has worsened - by now she can almost pick out words, a nigh-hysterical clamor of warning.
Nephrite 2016-01-30 04:16:34 25620
A figure, blurred through the sheets of rain, slumps against the wall of a building. There is something familiar in the way the tall man leans, but the dark brown hair sticking to his face in wet tendrils makes it difficult to tell. Before she can get a clear look at him, he stumbles around the corner, a hand clutching his side, into a narrow alleyway.
Makoto Kino 2016-01-30 04:26:41 25623
In the midst of wrestling with her umbrella as it does its best to metamorphose into a kite, Makoto catches sight of that indistinct figure just in time for him to duck out of sight into the alley.

It stops her, but only for a moment. The faint sense of familiarity might be a trick of the rain and her own preoccupied thoughts, but there was no mistaking the way that he carried himself, even in just that brief glimpse, as anything but distress.

Someone in need of help? Or a predator feigning weakness? Either way, there's no way that she can leave it alone.

Getting a firmer grip on the handle of her umbrella, Makoto moves forward toward the alleyway, concern and caution warring with one another on her face and in her stance as she comes around the corner of the building for a look.
Nephrite 2016-01-30 04:44:24 25626
Nephrite sinks to the muddy ground. The rainwater soaks through his navy blue Bottega suit (not his most expensive suit by far, but not his least--he can hardly be considered a credible actor if he is unwilling to destroy something of value), which is already torn and bloodied in places.

He can sense Kino's energy through the rain--somehow, in fact, it feels amplified in this storm--and he has to hope that she will take the bait, and that he did not just sit in a mud puddle for no good reason.

There are many riddles that Nephrite is seeking the answers to. Not the least of which is why Sailor Jupiter, of all people, could be concerned for his wellbeing. He suspected, before his extended stay in the witch's labyrinth, that Makoto Kino might have had some connection to his enemies. He had planted the seed of using her to get to them before he left. Perhaps that seed had come to something. Perhaps there was still some use he can get out of her, after all this time.

The asteroid Astraea is in Leo today, hovering close to Regulus. A feeling of injustice, hovering close to a star that could represent success--or ultimate failure. Nephrite likes his odds.

He curls into a ball, clutching at his side, which looks convincingly bloodied. As Makoto nears, he lets out a small, piteous moan.
Makoto Kino 2016-01-30 04:56:57 25628
The small noise of startled dismay that leaves Makoto at the sight of him is half lost to the rain; all caution forgotten, she crosses the remaining distance between them in a quick flurry of steps. The umbrella tips forward to shield him from the rain as she kneels down at his side and tries to gauge the severity of his injuries through the mess. "What happened? Hey, can you--"

Whatever she was going to ask is cut short in a sharp intake of breath - she's finally close enough to recognize him, and her face is, briefly, a study of complicated emotions. "--Sanjouin-san."

This is not at all how Mako had vaguely imagined that this meeting might go.
Nephrite 2016-01-30 05:05:03 25629
He tracked her here. Five months in hell, and he still knows the feel of her energy signature as surely as the back of his hand. Nephrite could spend all day wondering why he finds her so memorable, but he would rather spend that time making use of his knowledge instead.

He blinks up at her, speaking through shaky breaths. "Kino-san? Fancy meeting you here."
Makoto Kino 2016-01-30 05:21:12 25632
Makoto stares.

Rain hammers down on the umbrella, splashing all around them while Mako kneels there, momentarily speechless, the undescribable expression on her face shifting into a look of wide-eyed incredulity when he tries for a casual greeting. Her mouth works once or twice before she actually manages to come up with anything to say.

"...what the hell."

A second later her breath hisses out through her teeth. Ever since her encounter with Kunzite she's been half anticipating and half dreading seeing Sanjouin again, reminding herself over and over that she can't trust him, that he's Dark Kingdom, that he lied. All of that wars now with how utterly pathetic he looks, drenched and muddy and looking rather like he's been mauled by something large and vicious. She can't reconcile it.

Beware, howls the wind; beware, beware.

One thing's for sure - they can't stay out here. Mako's hand comes up to press over her eyes for a moment, and then she lifts her head, coming to a decision. "How bad is it?" she asks. "Do you think you can stand?"
Nephrite 2016-01-30 05:34:12 25635
Amusement, creased with pain, crosses his features. "That pleased to see me?" He laughs weakly before stopping with a wince. "I suppose I deserve that."

His eyes are a warm brown as he looks at her, all amusement dying. "I can stand, but... perhaps it would be best if you do not concern yourself with me. I have caused you enough distress already."
Makoto Kino 2016-01-30 05:45:12 25639
"Don't be ridiculous." Makoto's reply is immediate, unreasoned. "I'm not just going to leave you here to get washed away. Come on."

It takes a little bit of fussing to rearrange the shoulder strap of her bag, but soon enough she has an arm free, and tucking the umbrella's handle briefly into the crook of the other she makes to help him onto his feet. For all the wary reserve on her face, she's trying to be careful of his injuries.

"...besides," she adds presently, voice a little quieter, "there are some things I need to say to you."
Nephrite 2016-01-30 05:55:08 25641
Gratefully leaning against her for support, he stands, slowly. He leans his weight on her, just a little, to give her the sense that he is actually in need of help, and is surprised to note how strong she seems, for a human.

"I suppose you have questions. I... am not certain how much I can answer for you. But I will do what I can. It is the least I can do for you, Kino-san."

The ghost of a smile crosses his lips. "Do not think I have forgotten the eclairs.
Makoto Kino 2016-01-30 06:09:40 25643
Indeed, Makoto has no real difficulty supporting as much of his weight as he's willing to lean on her, even with her shopping bag and the umbrella to juggle. She straightens up onto her feet as he stands and she waits, squared and steady, until he seems to have gotten his balance enough to walk.

"Not right now," she says with a little shake of her head, carefully not looking at him as she steers him out of the alley. Conflict is written all over her face as she glances along the street, one way and the other, thinking hard.

She can't trust him, she reminds herself again. Even if he's really in as bad a shape as he looks, she should still be careful.

--well, realistically if he wanted to know out where she lives there are about three different entirely mundane means he could use to find it out, probably. Coming to a decision, Mako starts walking, guiding him along with her. "This way." Her apartment's not far.

This is, she thinks with a feeling of sinking certainty, not remotely what Ami would consider 'being careful'.
Nephrite 2016-01-30 06:20:54 25645
She is right, of course. Nephrite could have just as easily shown up at her apartment door, but such a direct method would certainly have put her on edge. People are so much more cooperative if they believe they are giving something of their own free will.

He walks beside her, a slight limp on the side that he's clutching hindering him slightly. "This is incredibly kind of you, Kino-san. Perhaps kinder than I deserve."
Makoto Kino 2016-01-30 06:35:34 25646
This time, Makoto doesn't answer, doesn't say anything else at all during the relatively brief, rain-swept walk to her apartment building. Fortunately hers is a first-floor unit; at the front door, she once again has to fumble with managing to keep hold of her umbrella and her bag and the injured Dark Kingdom agent who she has for some insane reason decided to bring home with her, in order to fish out her key and unlock the door.

Inside, the apartment is warm and tidy, its neatness and the potted plants all around making it somehow airy despite the relatively small space. Makoto pauses in the entryway long enough to put down the umbrella and toe off her shoes, and then steers Nephrite across the living room area to the kitchenette. "Sit," she says, still quietly, pointing him to a seat at the kitchen island that does double duty as kitchen table and extra counter space.

And then she drips her way off across the apartment to the bathroom to get some towels, trying to make some kind of order out of her thoughts.
Nephrite 2016-01-30 23:02:27 25649
Nephrite frowns as she vanishes down the hall. The Makoto Kino he knew before the witch trapped him seemed ready to fawn over him at the slightest hint of charm. Now he is in her kitchen, offering her the best romance novel setup he can think of, and her reception of him feels icy at best.

Of course, he has given her plenty of reason to be suspicious of him. That part where he led her to believe he is secretly Tuxedo Kamen was certainly a ruse that required a deft hand at the best of times--and being absent for five months is hardly what he would call a deft hand.

But clearly Makoto would not invite him into her kitchen if she had lost her faith in him completely. Nephrite runs his hands through his hair, arranging the damp locks in an appropriately rogueish manner, and sheds the ruined navy blue Bottega blazer. The white shirt he wears underneath is slightly see-through from the rain, and torn in places. He lets it fall open a bit at the chest. Never underestimate the value of an artfully torn shirt.
Makoto Kino 2016-01-30 23:15:04 25652
When Makoto comes back from the bathroom, she's without her own coat - left in the bathtub, it's got blood on it. With a stack of clean bath towels folded in her arms, she stops at the edge of the carpet where the living room gives way to the kitchenette and for a moment she just stands there taking in the sight of Nephrite, there in her kitchen looking like the most tortured kind of Byronic hero.

She'd expected to be angry. She'd intended to be angry, confrontational, to take the offensive, but seeing him like this drains all the anger and confrontation out of her. What's left is mostly hurt, raw in her eyes as she watches him.

But still, there are no questions, no accusations. Not yet. What she says, as she steps forward to offer him a towel, is: "I have a first aid kit, but if you're very badly hurt it probably won't help much." Her voice is quiet.
Nephrite 2016-01-30 23:27:44 25654
Nephrite reads the hurt in her eyes. A different person, a person whose values are not twisted up in darkness, might feel some sort of remorse at the sight. Nephrite, General of the Dark Kingdom, is pleased. Hurt means that she cares. Hurt is something he can work with.

He drops his gaze to the kitchen island, a movement that could easily be read as remorseful, or perhaps merely pained at seeing that look in her eye. "You are too kind, Kino-san. I only need to rest for a moment. I was... careless, when you found me. I should not have been so far from safety."
Makoto Kino 2016-01-30 23:41:02 25658
"...I see." She tries for noncomittal, but mostly only manages awkward. Whether he takes a towel or not, she sets the stack down on the open countertop of the kitchen island and then stands uncertainly, hands hanging empty at her sides, damp hair straggling around her face.

A dozen questions flash through her mind one after the other: where has he been all this time? What's brought him back now, here? What did this to him, and is it still out there?

"Sanjouin-san..." Makoto hesitates, swallows. "Why did you lie to me?"
Nephrite 2016-01-30 23:54:41 25659
The laugh that escapes his lips is short and bitter. "You get right to the point, don't you?"

He glances up at her, and is briefly stricken by the way her damp curls frame her face. How pretty she is, in addition to being so useful. "Because I am not a good person, Kino-san. I think you know that by now."

He takes one of the towels, but just absently holds it between his hands. "I lied because I was ashamed to tell you the truth. That I work for some very bad people, and... I could not allow you to get wrapped up in that. I already allowed you to get too close, and... that was my fault. I should have distanced myself from you before it came to that."
Makoto Kino 2016-01-31 00:08:26 25661
The worst part is, she wants to believe him. But can she? should she?

Does 'should' even matter, if she can't make her heart stop wanting to believe?

"That's why you led me to believe you were Tuxedo Kamen?" Unable to stand still, Makoto turns away and blindly reaches for her tea kettle, to begin filling it from the kitchen tap. "To keep me from getting involved?"
Nephrite 2016-01-31 00:24:12 25664
"If I told you I was absolutely ordinary, would you have believed me?" Her hair is even more magnificent from behind, a sort of strawberry brown that looks even more curly after being out in the rain. "When you came to me, I panicked. I knew I could not keep that much from you. But if I told you nothing, maybe you would have kept investigating, gotten too close to people who would do real harm to you if given the opportunity."

"I did not know much about Tuxedo Kamen, but he did not seem dangerous. If you chose to investigate him further, surely he would not pose a danger to you. And I thought I would have the chance... to come back to you and tell you the truth."

He twists the towel in his hands, a pathetic tortured lump dripping all over Makoto's kitchen floor. "But it seems I made a mess even of that."
Makoto Kino 2016-01-31 00:37:25 25666
Would she have believed him... "Probably not," Mako admits in a murmur, her back still turned toward him. Only after the kettle has gone onto the stovetop to heat does she turn to study his face, eyes searching for some way to tell the difference between what's true and what she only badly wants to be true.

"...Why the Dark Kingdom?" she asks after a few moments of hesitation. Maybe there's no point even in asking, but she needs to know. To understand. "That's who you really work for, right?"
Nephrite 2016-01-31 00:47:40 25669
His eyes widen in alarm. "How do you know that name?"

He is actually curious. How /does/ she know? But if Jupiter went to Kunzite about him, then certainly she is aware that he is somehow connected to them. Clearly, if there is a link between him and Jupiter, Makoto must be it.

"It doesn't matter why I joined in the beginning. What matters is there is no leaving now that I am in." Nephrite is more or less hugging the towel now, sagging on the kitchen chair. "It does not matter how unimportant I am to their cause. How low on the chain of command. Once the Dark Kingdom sinks its claws in, it does not let go."
Makoto Kino 2016-01-31 21:51:05 26014
When he asks how she knows the name of the Dark Kingdom, Makoto looks away, unable to keep meeting his eyes. That's a question she has no intention of answering, but it doesn't make her feel any better about it.

"I think you're wrong," she says instead. "Why matters a lot. But if it's something you can't tell me, then I'd rather you didn't tell me than lie to me about it. So it's all right."

Her hand reaches over the counter, hovers indecisively over tea canisters; hesitating, she looks back toward Nephrite, brows drawing together. "There's something else you're wrong about too, Sanjouin-san." Her face is serious, certain. "It's not impossible to escape the Dark Kingdom. It's just hard."
Nephrite 2016-01-31 22:10:17 26021
Real amusement crosses Nephrite's face. Is this girl naive, or does she think that making up stories will help her case? "Is that so? I have never known anyone who did."

He stands, his damp shirt falling loosely over his frame like he belongs on the set of a Jane Austen film. He crosses the kitchen slowly, and moves to lean against the counter beside her. "I suppose there is a first time for everything. When you say it, you almost make me believe it could be possible."

His eyes turn sharp, serious. "I may not be able to tell you everything, but I will not lie to you again. I can promise you that. I have hurt you too much already."
Makoto Kino 2016-01-31 22:24:22 26025
"Two that I know of, so far." Makoto watches him steadily, unwavering. "A lot's happened while you were gone. You should ask somebody about Apatite sometime, if you think they'll tell you the truth."

She goes quiet as he comes toward her; her hand comes to rest on the countertop and she looks down, color rising in her face, far too aware of his nearness and how handsome he looks even after being dragged in from the rain under circumstances that would leave most people looking like a drowned rat. Herself included.

When Mako smiles it's a small, pained, wistful thing. "...I don't know if I can believe you," she says. "But..." She dares to look up at his face, a little hesitantly like she's not sure what she might see there. "I do want to help you, if I can."

This much, Makoto is sure of.
Nephrite 2016-01-31 22:52:47 26032
It is just a few seconds that the small tic of uncertainty crinkles Nephrite's careful mask. Just how much has he missed? What else has Kunzite not told him?

But it is only a few seconds. His friendly smile returns. "I suppose I could not know everything, being a mere underling. Perhaps there is hope, after all." He rests his arm on the counter, casually leaning so close that they are almost touching, chocolate cinnamon eyes meeting hers. "You know so much. If anybody knows how to help me, it must be you. If I were to leave, I wouldn't know where to go or who to turn to, but you..."

Pushing his luck, Nephrite takes her hand in his. Despite the rain, it is perfectly warm. "I believe that you could save me, Kino-san."