A/N: My goal was to finish this story in July. But then I decided on a whim to buy a house, so then I had to move, and then I had to reinvent schools… so I've been crazy overwhelmed. But I will tell you that I actually never really stopped working on this story. I always squeaked out a hundred or two words here, a hundred or two words there! It's not my fault that the friggin' chapter almost broke the 10k words threshold!

Written for Starling Sinclair! I hope this story was worth the wait.

Please enjoy!

Chapter 5: Home

It was a morning seemingly like any other. Mamoru sat in his usual stool. The seat next to him remained empty, waiting for Usagi to come and warm it with her bubbly presence. Synthetic music from multitudes of arcade games overlapped to create a cacophony of sound behind him as the waitstaff moved around between the handful of early morning guests.

To the external observer, it looked like Mamoru was just following routine - the same routine he and Usagi had followed for the last two months since they had started "dating". Only this morning felt completely different. He couldn't sit still; he was constantly shifting his feet and his arms, wanting to jump out of his own buzzing skin. Even his palms were sweating.

He hadn't bothered trying to study for his upcoming midterm, but he had tried watching the news Motoki always kept playing on an old television mounted to the wall near the ceiling. Mamoru hadn't been able to follow the complex political scandal.

No, despite his best efforts, he could place his attention on exactly one of two places: watching the door for his "girlfriend" to arrive, or the analogue clock that hung behind the employee work area. This had to be the tenth time in the last five minutes that he checked the time.

8:45.

He had at least twenty more minutes to wait, but knowing Usagi, it would probably be another thirty.

He swept his hands through his hair, trying to settle the tension in his gut. It didn't work. He wanted to see Usagi so badly. He needed to see her. He needed to talk to her. That she was Sailor Moon made him feel even less worthy of her time and attention. But it didn't matter. He wasn't expecting her to reciprocate his feelings. If they were going to continue this charade, she had to know what he was thinking. Assuming he could even figure it all out himself.

He glanced towards the door again. No Usagi.

He tried resting his hands on the countertop in front of him. They stayed there for maybe five seconds before he moved them to his lap and clutched at his pant legs without thought in an attempt to dry his damp hands.

He glanced at the clock again.

8:47.

Time could not pass any more slowly. When he had been pacing at home agonizing over what exactly he was going to say, he thought he would just come to the Crown routine, and the familiar ambiance would be enough to distract him and set him at ease.

Instead, he had doubled his wait time for Usagi by arriving early, and confined himself to the space of the bar stool instead of his entire luxury apartment.

"Morning Mamoru-kun!"

Mamoru started at the address. His blue eyes flew to Motoki's warm smile from the other side of the counter.

"You're here early," his oldest friend observed.

Mamoru checked the time again.

8:50.

He nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I woke up early, and my mind was buzzing too much to go back to sleep."

Motoki poured him his usual hazelnut blend of coffee into a white ceramic cup and placed the steaming beverage in front of him.

"So, what's got you all twisted up?" Motoki asked.

Mamoru sighed and looked up at his friend's patient green gaze. Mamoru wasn't sure he was ready for this conversation, but on the other hand, it would definitely be distracting. "You were right," he admitted.

The other man grinned, poured himself a cup of coffee, and quickly came around the counter and took Usagi's regular seat. "Oh, I'm completely aware."

Mamoru frowned. "Do you even know what I'm talking about?"

Motoki's grin somehow expanded. "You're talking about your feelings for Usagi-chan," the blond arcade worker chimed in immediately.

Heat bloomed across Mamoru's neck and face. "H-How did you know?"

Motoki just kept grinning even as he took a sip of his steaming mug. "Mamoru-kun, you liked her before all of this. Getting to see her up close just solidified things for you."

"But… how did you realize it before I did?"

His friend laughed. "You're always the last to realize what you're feeling. But don't worry," he assured with a soft pat on the back. "I'm sure Usagi-chan finds that endearing."

Mamoru took a sip of coffee, stalling for time. "Do you think she feels something for me?" he asked casually, trying to disguise the desperation with which he needed to know.

Motoki glanced at the ceiling, his lips pursed in consideration. "Well, I don't know her quite as well as you," he finally offered. "But I think even you would agree that she cares about you a lot. I don't think she'd have agreed to this fake dating thing for just anyone."

Mamoru wasn't so sure.

"I think she'd be willing to give it a real shot," Motoki said, his gaze coming back to his friend. "Especially since she's gotten a chance to go for a test drive and seems to be enjoying it. And you're still in one piece, right?"

One of the waitresses ran up. Mamoru didn't recognize her, so she was probably new. "I'm so sorry to interrupt, Furuhata-san," the girl spoke rapidly, her voice shaking with nerves. "Table 8 wants to speak to a manager. I don't know what I did wrong."

"Shhh. It's okay," Motoki soothed. "Please, calm down. For all you know they want to give a compliment, and even if it's not, this is your third day. You're still learning, so don't worry about it. I'll go talk to them."

He turned back to Mamoru. "Apparently, duty calls. My advice to you is just to be honest, Mamoru-kun. Usagi-chan will be ecstatic, or she will be gentle. Promise," he winked and was gone.

Mamoru glanced at the clock again.

8:59.

His shoulders slumped. Even his Motoki distraction had only earned him nine minutes! It would be at least another six minutes before there was even a chance of Usagi walking through the double doors of the Crown. And honestly, ten to fifteen was more likely.

What was he even going to say to her, he asked himself for the millionth time that morning. He wanted to tell her how she made him feel, but how did one even go about doing that? He hadn't really ever had feelings worthy of a confession before. And would Usagi even be open to the idea of entering a real relationship with him? He had no idea how much their interactions came from genuine affection, and how much came from pretending. Maybe Usagi didn't like him at all. Something about him seemed to make her light dim, and for the life of him, he could not figure out what he was doing wrong.

Perhaps he was too stoic, or too brooding - too melancholy for someone like Usagi.

He feared she had only agreed to be his fake girlfriend because she was kind. Despite Motoki's claims, Mamoru was fairly confident she would have done it for anyone. There was no way that Usagi saw anything in him.

He stamped down on that line of thinking with a shake of his head. It didn't matter if she wasn't interested. He wasn't confessing because he expected anything in return! He needed to do it so that she knew that there were feelings behind his actions. She had to know that his smiles and touches were more than pretending for him. She needed a chance to back out if that made her uncomfortable.

Which brought him right back to where he started. What was he going to say, exactly?

Mamoru started for the second time that morning when a steaming hot chocolate covered in mounds of whipped cream was placed in front of him. Usagi's regular order. His head whipped up to the door (still no Usagi), and then the wall once again.

9:17.

Mamoru gave the waitress a grateful smile, trying to hide his sudden unease at Usagi's continued absence.

His hands itched to call her, but she had made it clear yesterday that the hovering and worrying irritated her immensely. And rationally, he knew he was being ridiculous. Ami had said Usagi was healing nicely. She had been able to carry on conversations with all of them just fine. Plus, she would likely be there any minute.

He watched the door like a hawk, his palms once again damp and his stomach writhing in anticipation of all the things he needed to say.

9:20.

The nervous butterflies in his stomach started to twist into something more anxious, more sour, more nauseous. She should have been here by now.

9:22.

He pulled out his phone, and typed out a quick text.

Saving you a seat. He added a picture of her untouched beverage sitting on the counter. There, that wasn't too overbearing was it?

He stared at his phone, as if glaring daggers at the device was enough to will a response into existence. But the screen remained black. Normally, she responded immediately to his texts. But time kept passing, and there was still no sign of her.

9:23.

His waitress stopped by his table again, clutching an empty tray to her chest. "Usagi-chan not joining you today?" she asked. "I didn't mean to presume." She pointed to the untouched hot chocolate. "I can refund that if you like."

"She's just running late," he told her, trying to remain calm. "She should be here any minute," he continued, praying the words would be true.

They were not.

9:29.

His fingers tapped the counter in agitation. He texted her again.

Where are you? Are you okay?

Still nothing.

9:35.

He broke down and called her. It went directly to voicemail. Which meant her phone was off.

Perhaps, her phone had died last night, and she didn't have a back up alarm.

Despite the reasonable explanation, anxiety continued to churn in his gut. Usagi had experienced a head trauma yesterday, and then proceeded to go into acrobatic combat like it was nothing. His coffee settled into his stomach like a stormy sea. What if her concussion was worse than Ami had realized? Or if she reinjured herself falling out of bed, or stumbling off of a curb?

9:41.

He tried Minako at that point. Her phone did ring.

Only to go to voicemail.

Neither of them were answering. Were the senshi in battle, off fighting an impossible monster somewhere on Tokyo's streets while he just sat here drinking coffee?

9:44.

"Mamoru-kun!"

Every hair on his neck and arms stood on end.

"It's been a while!" Natsumi's sickenly sweet voice greeted enthusiastically. "Fancy running into you here."

He turned to face the woman that he honestly hadn't seen in weeks. The woman he thought he had been rid of until Usagi had enlightened him the day before.

She glanced at the untouched chocolate and frowned before taking Usagi's usual seat. He tried not to react. He didn't want to show any fear.

"Did somebody stand you up?" she asked gently, placing her hand over his consolingly.

He pulled his hand away, and allowed it to rest on his leg, fighting the urge to ball it into a fist.

"That's awful," she cooed. "This girl clearly doesn't know how to appreciate you."

"Usako's just running late," he told her stiffly. "I would appreciate it if you would relinquish her seat."

She didn't move. "Mamoru-kun, I want you to know that I would never have left you here waiting on your own," she told him softly. "I don't think that anyone who actually loves you could do that to you. Maybe Usagi doesn't love you at all."

Usagi doesn't love you at all.

Her words struck him like a knife to the chest. They shouldn't have. He already knew that Usagi didn't love him.

It doesn't matter, he reminded himself once again.

He leaned forward towards his unwelcome seat partner. "Natsumi-san, I need you to understand something."

She moved forward eagerly, her teeth pressing into her low lip that curled into a slight smile of a person anticipating their next meal. The expression made his skin crawl.

He ignored it.

"Usako could dump me tomorrow, and I still won't be interested in you," he told her bluntly. He rose to his feet, placing several bills on the counter. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I am worried about my girlfriend."

He stepped past her, but her arm shot out like a viper's strike, and held his wrist in a vise-like grip. Her maroon eyes narrowed into serpentine slits.

"Be careful, Mamoru-kun," she hissed. "You don't want to be on my bad side. I would hate it if something happened to your precious girlfriend. Next time, I won't be so gentle with her."

His discomfort with her presence and her hand on his arm suddenly seemed trite, insignificant. Now, his pulse seemed to throb painfully through every vein. His stomach twisted in anxious fear. His throat closed off and he couldn't breathe.

"Next time?" he croaked out through the blockage of fear in his windpipe. What did she mean next time? When was the first time? His heart leapt up into his throat, pounding so hard the bustle of the arcade seemed far away, like there was a wall between him and the environment.

Natsumi smiled easily. "Wasn't she caught up in an attack yesterday? The way that monster threw her! My heart stopped. I do hope she's okay," Natsumi crooned sweetly. "Like I said, I would hate for anything to happen to her. "

He saw red at the implications. "Are you threatening my girlfriend?" he growled, internally debating between tearing away from her and tearing her apart.

Her lips stretched into a demure smile. "Of course not, Mamoru-kun. Today, I was just trying to console a friend who was stood up. I just wanted you to know that I love and care about you even if she doesn't."

He laughed harshly. "You think you love me?" he spat out in disbelief. She was still latched onto his arm - her nails digging into his forearm like the teeth of a bear trap.

"I do, and eventually you will realize that your love is mine as well."

Her words crawled along his skin like an unwanted rash.

"Love is not something you force, Natsumi-san. It's something you give. And when you give it, you care more about the other person being happy than yourself. I love Usagi." The angry words flew from his mouth, unable to be contained. He was disgusted with how easily the words left his tongue, disgusted that Natsumi knew how he felt before Usagi herself. But there was nothing for it now. He had already said it. "I care more about her well-being and her being happy than I do about her being with me. Because I want the best for her. Can you really say you feel that way about me?"

Natsumi sat unmoving, her eyes wide with surprise. She uttered no falsely sweet comebacks, no declarations of love or possession. It was almost like he had actually thrown her for a loop.

"You follow me everywhere, and my words and my wishes mean nothing to you. You want control and possession. I'm like an animal that you're hunting. That's not love!"

His phone rang. His stomach dropped as he frantically reached for the device with his free hand.

His stomach twisted when he saw it was Minako instead of Usagi. It had been months since Minako called him directly. He knew it meant nothing good.

"Where's Usagi?" he answered, incapable of a proper greeting.

"It's okay. She's okay."

He breathed one sigh of relief before he realized Minako hadn't given him any grief for the way he answered the phone.

"What happened?" he barked.

"She was attacked this morning. We're at the hospital now. Usagi-chan says you work here?"

His fear-induced adrenaline pulsed through his veins, threatening to overwhelm him. Attacked? He wanted to ask a million questions. Was it a Cardian? How was her head after yesterday? But one glance at the brunette in Usagi's seat, and he swallowed all of it. "I'll be right there."

He ended the call. "You're going to let go of me right now, Natsumi-san," he told her without sparing her a glance.

To his surprise, she instantly released him. He didn't waste another second.

It took him only twelve minutes to get to the hospital. They felt like hours.

He marched straight to the nursing station on the general floor.

"Dr Chiba, good mo-"

"I need the room for a Tsukino Usagi," he interrupted.

The dark-haired man pushed a pair of glasses up his nose as he turned rapidly to his screen. "Uh… of course. Give me a second."

Mamoru's fingers tapped out his agitation as he waited for the nurse to find him a room number. He itched to go flying down the corridor.

"Tsukino, Usagi. I have her in PCU 314," the nurse reported. "Do you need anything else?"

But Mamoru had already bolted from the desk like a runner off a starting block. He tore through the hospital using his badge to cut through other care units, flew up two flights of stairs because he could not handle waiting for an elevator, and barged into Usagi's room, startling the resident that was leaning over his blonde girlfriend.

Usagi whimpered at the sudden movement. Mamoru bit back a displeased growl.

The petite women in dark blue scrubs turned to him with a scowl. "Dr. Chiba, it is customary to knock and enter a patient's room slowly," she chastised.

He didn't care that she was correct. "You gave her ibuprofen for her pain," he criticized coldly. He was bluffing, but the resident didn't know that. Mamoru had been in too much of a rush to get to Usagi's side to take the time to log into the system to see her chart. But if Usagi had neglected to mention her head injury, it should work. Dr Fujita was pretty good at following protocol.

"The patient is allergic to acetaminophen. That is a standard replacement," she countered, her brows furrowed in confusion.

Usagi shook her head at him in warning. He ignored it.

"But she suffered a concussion yesterday! Ibuprofen is contraindicated for a concussion as it increases chances of bleeding and exacerbating concussive symptoms."

"I saw no mention of concussion in her chart," the resident defended.

"Did you interview the patient yourself?" Mamoru challenged, trying to keep his face impassive. This was the weakest point in his case. "Or did you assume the nurses had captured everything in the chart?"

The resident paled.

Mamoru wanted to smile in victory, but he didn't. He maintained his poker face. "I can take over from here," he insisted. Usagi shot him an amused smirk, but she was shaking her head in exasperation. Seeing her act so normally put him at ease for the first time that day.

"Dr. Chiba, this is highly irregular. I don't think... "

"I can take it up with the chief resident if you prefer," he interrupted, not feeling an ounce of remorse for the undeserved threat.

"I uh… thank you for covering for me, Dr. Chiba. I will update the patient's chart, if you can finish wrapping her wrist to prepare for casting."

"No problem, Dr Fujita," he said smoothly with a friendly smile, as if he was actually doing her a favor.

The resident departed quickly and silently with only a slight frown in his direction. Mamoru turned immediately to the blonde sitting with her legs dangling over the side of the patient cot with her own glare in his direction.

"Mamo-chan!" she scolded. "Was that really necessary?"

He ignored her concern, striding to her bedside in two steps. His hands immediately cradled her head, feeling for the hematoma from the day before. "Are you okay?" Mamoru asked even as he continued his examination. Her skull felt impossibly smooth considering how swollen it had been the day before, so he moved onto her wrist.

"She's probably totally panicked that her senior just blackmailed her! How is she going to work with you in the future?" she continued indignantly, her blue eyes flashing in displeased righteousness.

"Usako," he pleaded, as he stretched the gauze gently around her wrist, careful not to jostle the injured joint.

She huffed, her blonde bangs puffing upward with her breath. "I'm fine. Just a few scrapes, bruises and a broken wrist," she lifted the injured arm into his face.

"Hold still," he directed, his voice clipped and stern.

She sighed, her shoulders slumped, but she did as he asked. It was silent. He used a butterfly clip to attach the final edge of the bandage to what was already there. Having completed his task, his hands rested on her shoulders.

"What happened?" he asked into the silence. "Was it a Cardian?"

Her forehead fell against his chest, her gaze fell solidly onto her dangling feet. "Uh… no," she mumbled into his shirt. "It wasn't a Cardian."

And then she didn't say anything else. Her sapphire eyes refused to rise up to his face. She didn't want to tell him.

His heart plummeted into his stomach at the realization. She didn't trust him.

"Usako," he whispered, trying to keep the hurt out of his voice, but failing. "Please tell me what happened."

Her eyes shot up, and she stared at him for several seconds, still not saying anything. Her teeth pressed into her bottom lip as she fidgeted under his hands on her shoulders.

"Please?" he begged.

She nodded. "It was… uh… please promise you won't freak out!"

He shook his head in agitation. He would promise no such thing.

She sighed, and continued anyway. "I swear it wasn't a big deal. I was on my way to breakfast with you, but I was cornered before I got there."

His throat constricted at her words. "You were mugged?"

Usagi shook her head rapidly, still biting her lower lip. "No… it was Natsumi," she admitted.

His stomach did more than flip at her pronouncement - it twisted in on itself writhing in agony, his pounding pulse burned through his veins, and his hands tightened into fists.

Natsumi had been sitting right next to him, having the gall to tell him Usagi's absence meant she didn't love him.

When his eyes fell to her lap, to her wrist halfway bandaged and limp, his anger faded as fast as it had come. It was his fault Usagi had ever fallen into Natsumi's line of sight in the first place. He had kissed Usagi out of the blue, had never even asked for her consent. If he had been strong enough to stand up to Natsumi himself from the very beginning as he just had thirty minutes prior, none of this would have ever happened.

He cradled Usagi's wrist in his hands, his eyes suddenly swelling with tears.

"I'm so sorry," he choked out. "This is my fault. I never should have involved you in any of this."

Usagi's lips turned down into a frown as she rapidly shook her head no. She inched forward on the bed, and caressed the side of his face with her left hand - the good one. "Mamo-chan, this is not your fault. And it's not even a big deal. I can deal with Natsumi."

"She attacked you!" he objected.

Her cerulean eyes searched his own. She pressed her lips together before they parted to speak. "Please, don't worry about it. I said I would do anything to protect you. I meant it. I've suffered way worse. You have no idea." And there was pain behind those eyes. And he hated it.

"How many fights have you been in?" he asked softly.

"Too many to count," she admitted, looking down into her lap.

Which was worse than knowing a number.

His heart broke for the burden she bore on her slim shoulders with very few to support and understand her. He cradled her face with both hands and pulled her gaze upwards.

"I'm still sorry that I ever asked you to do this. And I'm sorry that you got hurt because of it."

She shook her head. "I'm not. If I hadn't, who knows where you'd be right now. We all clearly underestimated Natsumi. What she is willing to do and what she's capable of."

"Exactly," he agreed. "That's why I never should have put you in danger."

Her blue eyes narrowed at him. "I can protect myself."

He pulled his hands away in agitation. "I know you can!" he told her heatedly. "But you shouldn't have to! And it doesn't mean that I like it! You got hurt! Because of me! And I wasn't there!"

"Mamo-chan," she reached for his hand, but he pulled away. He didn't deserve her reassurance.

"I was drinking coffee while you were attacked by my stalker. I would do anything to protect you, too!"

He still hasn't said what he wants to say, but he's praying that she can hear the meaning behind his words. But part of him hoped that she missed them completely. She was too kind, too good. She was wasting her time and apparently risking her life on his nonsense. She was Sailor Moon! She had better things to do.

"I don't need you to protect me," she said again.

His hands tore through his hair in frustration. This girl was going to drive him mad.

"Usako! Don't you see? You have to be okay. You protect all of Tokyo. I'm not worth it!"

She slapped him with her injured hand. Her right hand. She whimpered, crading the wrist up against her chest.

He was too shocked to react. The room fell silent, except for the hissing of the oxygen line behind the patient bed that was always on ready.

Her mouth opened to speak several times, her mouth curved into a frown.

"Mamo-chan," she finally hissed, her left hand stabbing a finger into his chest. "I'm only going to say this once."

He braced himself for whatever condemnation she was about to unleash. Whatever it was, he promised himself he would accept it. He had to, because he owed her the moon.

She spoke slowly, over-enunciating every word. "Don't you ever talk about the man I love like he's worthless."

And it was like she had sucker-punched him. He thought he had been prepared for anything, but now, all the air had been sucked from his lungs.

She continued to glare at him, waiting for him to speak.

He licked his lips and cleared his throat. "W-what?" was all he managed to force out, all his brain was capable of forming.

She didn't bother to respond to his eloquent and articulate question. Her blue eyes glistened with unshed tears, even as she continued to glare angrily at him. He was lost in the swirling depths of the blue pools before she looked away. His pulse roared in his ears.

She loved him.

"You love me?" he asked softly, warmth blooming in his chest at the revelation.

She loved him.

Why hadn't he already said it back?

She loved him.

Usagi wilted at the question. Her shoulders slumped, her gaze fell to her knees, but he could still see the single tear that slipped down her cheek. "I always have," she admitted softly. "I was never pretending."

She was never pretending?

Shit.

Her fingers picked at the edges of the new bandage on her wrist, unraveling the frayed edges before she risked a glance up at him again, her teeth pressing into her lower lip. "When you first kissed me out of the blue in the arcade, I was overjoyed. Because I thought you felt the same."

His gut shriveled in on itself. How could he have ever played with her feelings this way?

"And it's been hard having this with you. It's so much better than I ever thought it would be, and yet it's so much worse because it's not real."

His heart threatened to beat past his ribcage with each word she spoke.

And yet, her eyes remained glued to his chest, her eyes remained unfocused like she was looking through him, her fingers still unraveling the white gauze. "And yet, I can't stand the idea of this ending, and not even having at least this much."

He understood completely. It terrified him how well he understood. And he had only been feeling this way for a little over a week. Maybe two. Usagi had felt it through the entire ruse.

His heart stuttered in his chest as a second tear joined the first. He cupped either side of her face, and brushed them away with the pad of his thumb.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered. "I didn't know. I never would have asked this of you, had I known."

The top of her head dropped to his chest, and to his horror she shook silently, her arms hugging herself tightly. "Th-That's why I didn't tell you," she managed through her tears. She never looked up. "I was serious when I said I would do anything to protect you."

Her words washed over him, promising warmth and joy in his future. But they didn't quite reach him. They felt faraway and surreal, too good to be true, and he just couldn't quite believe it. He pulled her into his arms, and rested his cheek atop her golden head. He needed to tell her his own feelings. He had been trying since the previous afternoon, but there was always something in the way. He needed to bring an end to her tears, to her pain. He needed her to know that there was nothing unrequited between them.

But one nagging thought held him back.

"Why do I make you sad?" he whispered.

She tensed in his arms. "W-what do you mean?"

He pulled away just enough to look into her eyes. Her eyebrows scrunched together in confusion over her trembling blue orbs. This close to her, Mamoru noticed the silver flecks in her irises for the first time.

"We were friends for awhile. You were bright and sassy. You teased me about having a bad memory and terrible social skills. And then suddenly, you... stopped."

He paused, watching her face for hints of how she was reacting, but she gave nothing away. Her expression didn't waver.

"You were sad and distant and I hated it," he continued. "I asked Motoki-kun about it. I was worried something had happened to you, but he didn't know, and I realized that you only got sad when I was there."

Her eyes widened, and her good arm latched onto his forearm.

"I-is that… is that why you started avoiding me?"

He nodded. "I hate seeing you so sad. And since we've started fake dating, I've seen glimpses of it. Like for a second you're riding sky high, and then you're lower than low. And I don't understand what I did wrong."

Her head shook furiously. "You did nothing wrong!"

"But then, why? Why did things change so dramatically almost over night?" he demanded, not realizing until that moment how much he needed to know.

Usagi's eyes dropped back down to his chest. "It's difficult to explain," she whispered.

"Please, Usako," he begged through the sudden dryness in his throat, his hands pressing into her shoulders. "Please try."

She fidgeted under his hold, still not meeting his gaze, and every moment of silence filled him with more dread.

What was it that she wasn't telling him? What was so bad that she couldn't tell him?

"Usako?" he finally prompted.

"I-I don't know if I should tell you," she finally managed.

All the air in his lungs abandoned him and he couldn't breathe. The tiny walls of the patient room loomed in around him.

She loved him.

But she didn't trust him.

And that hurt.

But she wasn't wrong. What had he done to prove himself?

"O-of course," he stammered, pulling himself away from her hold, rapidly fleeing to the corner of the small room. "I realize I haven't yet earned your trust."

Her blue eyes snapped back to his all at once, spinning with intensity he couldn't read before she leaped off the bed and ate up the space between them in an instant. "Mamo-chan! Of course I trust you!" she snapped, her foot stomped furiously on the hospital floor. "I trust you completely with every fiber of my being. I would have told you everything the moment I could if I thought you would have believed me!"

Every part of his body felt warm at the admission. She trusted him.

His eyebrows furrowed together in his continued confusion. "Why do you think I won't believe you?"

She laughed, smiling up through her glassy eyes. She cupped his face with her good hand. "You're very grounded and sensible, Mamo-chan. I…" she trailed off.

Her fingers slid off his face into her lap, and her eyes followed a second later. "My story is too fantastical. Without knowing me as well as you do, without knowing I'm Sailor Moon, you wouldn't have believed any of it was true at all. Let alone something that you had experienced firsthand."

He felt the air evacuate from his lungs. Did she know something about his missing memories?

He didn't want to go there. Hope was dangerous.

"Plus, I don't want to force you into anything. You deserve to choose your own life," she told him emphatically, her eyes glassy with barely concealed emotion.

He pressed his lips to her forehead. "Usako, what is wrong?"

Her tears overflowed at his actions. "I just… I wish you could remember."

Even though he half suspected already, he still went rigid. She did have knowledge of his missing memories.

And she had kept them from him.

"Usako, what don't I remember?" he asked, desperately trying to disguise the urgency that he needed to know. But the tightness in his voice and his shaking hands no doubt gave him away.

Her eyes were puffy and red at this point as she continued to cry. She sniffed inelegantly, and under any other circumstances he would have laughed or pulled her into his arms.

But she was still silent.

"Were you not a hospital volunteer? Were we together in my missing month?" he guessed.

She kept shaking her head, even as silent tears continued to fall from her chin. "I was a volunteer. As far as I was concerned, I had just met you then at the hospital. I didn't remember then, either. The magic made us forget. But then Sailor Moon was needed again, and I had to remember."

She looked up at him, her blue eyes glassy and her nose red from crying. "I remembered everything, and then I saw you. And you didn't remember me," she glanced away. He could hear the accusation in her voice though she was trying to hide it.

"Not the way I can remember you," she continued in a whisper. "And it was so hard."

He swallowed, trying to clear his throat, but the painful lump of emotion stayed lodged solidly in his windpipe.

"We were together," he croaked. It wasn't a question.

She nodded and then bit her lip. And again, she wasn't looking at him.

"There's more," he concluded.

She nodded again, her gaze still locked on his chest.

"Tell me," he requested softly, urging her face back up. His thumb brushed away the tear trails on her cheeks. He felt calm and at peace for the first time in months. This wasn't about regaining part of his memories or himself. He wanted to know because she needed him to know.

She didn't look away. "It will sound unbelievable."

He smiled gently, caressing her now dry face again because he could. "Your life seems pretty unbelievable."

"Yours was, too," she confessed, her eyes now clear and free of tears.

"It was?"

Her good hand threaded through his. "I was Sailor Moon, and you… you were Tuxedo Kamen."

"Tuxedo Kamen?" he repeated. "That's a dumb name."

She giggled, her face bursting in sudden nostalgic joy. "I thought you pulled it off well."

And she regaled him with tales of a boy and a girl who did not get along. Who hurled shoes and insults at one another. Of paranormal vigilantes that fought off impossible creatures that drained ordinary people of their life's energy. And of a dashing knight that never failed to pull his princess away from mortal peril.

And finally, of a moment of remembrance of a past life.

But the story wasn't over. He clung to her tighter as she told him that he had been turned against her and fought for chaos. How she had only emerged victorious when she had impaled him with a sword.

And his heart broke that he had ever put her through that.

And yet… he was strangely proud of her, too.

"And so, seeing you again, alive and well, knowing that I could have another chance," she said, curled against his chest, fiddling with the hem of his jacket.

"I wish I could show you a picture, but Ami said that alternate timeline never happened."

He still didn't remember any of it, but it stirred something in him. When she told him of her first nights as a heroine, he ached for how alone and terrified she must have been. When she told him of Jadeite's defeat, he felt a stab of melancholy, though the feeling did not make sense. And the more she told him, the more right it felt. Like he was finding that missing piece of his psyche that he had sought for so long.

She fell into silence, her hands still fidgeting with the edge of his jacket. She glanced up with her teeth pressed into her bottom lip, only to look straight back down. "I… do you believe me?"

He started. It had never occurred to him to doubt her. "I do."

She sagged in relief against him.

"You don't owe me anything," she mumbled into his chest. "You're not obligated to have anything to do with the Senshi."

His arms wrapped around her more firmly, more determined than ever to support her in every way that he could. "I don't deserve you."

She looked up at him and he was lost. "I think you deserve the world."

Her lips curled up into a hesitant smile, her sky blue eyes shone brightly, sending warmth cascading through his whole form. What good deed had he ever done to have earned her love and affection?

"Do you want to stop pretending?" he asked.

She wilted and pulled away, her gaze once again distant.

No no no. She didn't understand.

She tucked a flyaway hair behind her ear. "If you really want to. I know I can be childish and a bother. I still worry about you, though. Natsumi is still out there."

He ducked down into her line of sight. "That's not what I meant. I meant…" he cupped the side of her face in his right hand. "Do you want to stop pretending to date… and date for real?"

Her eyes shot up, light flooding back into them. She bounced up onto her toes, and he thought she was going to kiss him again, only for her to pull back at the last second. "I… You don't owe me anything."

He laughed. "Usako, I'm pretty sure I owe you everything. But that has nothing to do with this." He smiled softly, his thumb brushing the side of her face. "I always liked you. I felt a connection to you. You turned what could have been the second worst day of my life into a treasured memory because it was the day I met you." And then he shrugged. "Or that I thought I met you."

"And if I wasn't already in love with you," he continued. "Which I'm not totally convinced that I wasn't, I definitely fell in love with you while we were fake-dating. Turns out, I'm really bad at pretending. And I want to date you for real."

Usagi's lips parted in a soft gasp. Her eyes sparkled in wide-eyed wonder. "Really?" she breathed, as if not daring to believe it.

His lips curled up into a soft smile. "Really," he paused. "I keep bumping into Minako's rules all the time, and even though I know we've always been terrible at following them, I felt like I should have been trying harder to respect them. But I want to reach out and hold you when no one else is there. Maybe especially when no one else is there. I want to feel you in my arms and know that you're there. I want to be there for you when you are hurt or when you cry."

She was crying now. Tears streamed down her cheeks, but she didn't look away. But he gently brushed her face dry, and then basked in the sensation of his thumb on her smooth soft skin.

"I want to be able to introduce you as my girlfriend and it not be a lie. I want the world to know you are mine. And most importantly," he paused, letting another smile stretch across his face. "I want to be able to tell you I love you every single time the thought crosses my mind instead of having to hold it back like some shameful secret."

"You've th-thought it before?" she choked out through her sputtering sniffles.

He laughed. "Too many times."

She pulled on his shirt with her good hand, forcing him to get even closer. "Tell me," she demanded.

Her eyes were red and puffy from crying; she was dressed only in a hospital gown. Her blond hair flew wildly in every direction. But she had never looked more beautiful to him.

"Right now," he told her. "I'm thinking it right now."

She broke into sobs and buried her face into his chest, as her hands fisted into his jacket.

"I love you, Usako," he spoke softly, resting his cheek into her hair.

"I love you, too," she mumbled.

They stayed that way for several minutes. He closed his eyes against the harsh fluorescent lighting of the patient room and allowed himself to just be in that moment with her with her warmth pressed to his chest. Her occasional sniff punctuating the silence, as his fingers immersed themselves in her golden tangles.

This was way too good to be true.

She pulled away. "When was the first time?"

"The first time?" he repeated, confused.

"The first time you thought that you loved me," she clarified.

He cocked his head in thought. "I think the first time was on our first date. The one where we got ice cream?"

Her jaw dropped. "That early?! No way!"

"Yeah." It shocked him how easily the admission came from his lips. "It was when you told me you were there and that I wasn't alone. I wanted to say something right then. I put my hand on your face."

"I was certain that was just for show. I cried about it with Minako."

His smile faded as her words struck him painfully in the chest. "I'm sorry I made you cry. I never…"

She silenced him with a finger to his lips. "It's fine. We were both idiots. But now, we can be together… i-if you still want to."

He seized her mouth in a kiss. And for the first time in months, he could relish the soft skin of her lips on his, the tingles that shot down his spine in response to her teeth on his bottom lip, he could cling her to him without an ounce of guilt.

"You're nervous," she said as they exited the elevator into her hallway.

It wasn't a question. She knew how to read him that well. And it was still disconcerting that she could see past his stoic mask. Mamoru wondered what gave him away. Was it the slight sweat in his palm? He didn't think that was it. Their fingers were lightly laced together, but she wasn't actually touching his palm. Maybe it was the tension in his shoulders? Was he walking a bit stiffly? Some microexpression in his face?

"A little," he admitted.

She laughed, the sound joyous and resonant like bells. "Don't worry. I keep telling you. They already love you."

He nodded, accepting her words. But they weren't enough to soothe his anxieties. He had interacted with all of her friends before and after the fake dating ruse. But that was before he knew that they were the senshi. Before he knew that they all remembered things about him that he himself did not. Before he was actually dating their best friend after making her miserable for months with a fake dating scheme.

She pulled him forward gently and pushed open the door without hesitation. She did live there, he mused.

Four faces all looked up at their faces in the doorway as Usagi finished guiding in over the threshold.

"Hello everyone! Thank you all for coming today so last minute. I really couldn't wait to introduce you all to my boyfriend!"

There was whooping and whistling.

Heat rushed to his cheeks.

"It's about bloody time!" Minako interjected into the cheers.

Makoto literally dropped the mixing bowl she had been holding and leapt towards them. He gasped as her arms wrapped solidly around him, squeezing out all the air from his lungs before mercifully moving to Usagi to give her the same attention. "I'm just so happy," the brunette squeaked.

And he was overwhelmed with her immediate acceptance. His eyes actually burned, but he blinked back the emotion.

Minako was smirking at him. "For the record, I gave you so many hints even before the Natsumi problem! So many opportunities! What took you so long?!" the blonde demanded, exasperation pulsating from every inch of her form.

He blushed again. "I guess I just never thought someone as amazing as her would look at someone like me." He glanced over to his actual real life girlfriend, and she was smiling at him fondly. Once again, he felt like he couldn't breathe.

Then Minako cleared her throat.

His gaze shot back to her. "Anyway, thank you for looking after Usako. We… uh…" his free hand thread through his hair even as Usagi leaned into his side. "We weren't very good at following your rules."

Minako smiled. "Oh, I am well aware. But you know, I think half the point in making those rules was to make sure you knew when you were breaking them. How else would you know that you'd fallen for her for real?"

"Thank you," he said, enunciating the words slowly trying to convey how much he meant them. They didn't feel like enough.

She patted him gently on the shoulder, mockingly, like she was placating a small child. "I'm truly happy for you Mamoru-Kun, but for the record, I do everything for her."

He nodded, understanding the sentiment far too well. "Leave him alone, Mina," Makoto interjected, before shoving a plate overflowing with food into his free hand. She grinned at him again and squealed happily before she made her way back into the kitchen. He eyed the plate filled with hibachi fish and vegetables with homemade strawberry mochi and two bars of chocolate on the side. These were his favorite foods.

Before he could even say thank you, she had retreated back to the kitchen, her face hidden behind a vase of blooming white roses that sat on the high bar style counter.

"I'm going to get my own food. You should go sit down," Usagi pointed to the living room. Ami and Rei sat on opposite ends of the couch in the living room, sharing tea. They both waved to him with bright smiles of their own when Usagi told him to sit.

He bit down the urge to ask her to come with him and joined the two more reserved girls in the living room. So far, Usagi had been correct. The girls held only affection for him. Instead, he made his way to the living room and took the end seat across from Rei with Ami on the other side of the couch.

Rei poured him a cup of tea and held it out with a bright smile. "Happiness suits you, Mamoru-kun."

He was struck speechless by the warmth in her tone for a moment.

Then she frowned. "Do you not want the tea? I know you like something to balance out all the sweets."

He carefully placed his plate down on the low table and took the tea with a slight bow of his head. "Thank you, Rei-chan. For both the sentiment and the hospitality."

She acknowledged his comment with her own nod, and took a careful sip of her own tea.

Ami moved over to fill the blank space between them. "Mamoru-kun," she greeted kindly. "I'm excited that we will be seeing more of you. I have missed your company and your insight."

"I hope to be able to live up to your expectations."

The blunette scoffed and waved her hand dismissively. "You've nothing to worry about, Mamoru-kun. We're not here to evaluate you. We're your friends."

Friends. He glanced towards the dining and kitchen area as Usagi and Makoto both burst out laughing about something while Minako just rolled her eyes. Rei had her eyes closed as she continued to savor her tea, and Ami sat with her legs crossed, leaning toward him slightly to give him all of her focus and attention.

He had never had so many friends. Let alone ones as amazing as all of Usagi's friends.

What did one talk about with new friends?

Ami seemed to sense his self-consciousness and spoke first. "So, has your residency helped you decide if you want to be a general hospitalist or go for the specialty in neurology?"

Mamoru latched onto the familiar and comfortable topic of conversation. "I would like to pursue neurology, but we'll see if I get into any fellowships."

She shook her head. "What do you mean, if you get in? I think you're selling yourself short."

Mamoru shrugged. "I have always erred on assuming the worst… Wait! How did you know about neurology? Did Usagi mention it?" He turned toward the center of the room, eyebrows furrowing. Had he even ever mentioned neurology to Usagi?

She smiled sheepishly. "No… ah, you told me yourself. We talked about it a lot actually."

His tea froze on its journey to his mouth as her words hit him. She knew him. She wasn't just offering friendship out of some sense of obligation. She remembered parts of his life that he could not. He glanced around the living area a second time. Usagi had a full plate now, but she was still deep in chattering conversation with Minako. Makoto was pulling a pie out of the oven, but she definitely threw in some comment that sent the two blondes into hysterical laughter. Ami and Rei both had their eyes locked on him in concern.

"You all remember me," he breathed.

Ami frowned slightly. "I thought Usagi-chan told you as much."

He nodded. "She did, but…" he trailed off. It hadn't really registered as real. He hadn't really considered the implications. "Minako-chan has been protecting me through this whole thing not just for Usagi, but because she knows me and considers me to be a friend. Makoto-san keeps making me food not just because she wants to be nice to Usagi's boyfriend, but because she cares about me. She knows what all my favorites are. You know all about my past and my life goals..."

"And you and Rei-chan even dated!" Ami interjected teasingly, her blue eyes flashing across the couch to the shinto priestess.

"Ami!" Rei objected.

Ami didn't look remotely apologetic.

Mamoru though, was once again in mental freefall. He hadn't thought he had ever dated anyone. Now to find that he had a history with not just one girl, but two? They almost seemed to know him better than he knew himself.

Rei had been able to read him so well at the festival when he had felt swallowed by the crowd. And she was so pleased to see him happy now.

He turned towards his seating companion, feelings swirling too fast for him to identify any of them. "You all really know me. You all care about me."

"Of course we do!"

His eyes burned, but he didn't cry. He wouldn't cry.

Ami leaned forward and placed a soft hand on his knee. "Would you like to remember, Mamoru-kun?" she asked softly.

And that was all it took to overpower years of carefully crafted defenses. Tears overflowed, but Ami only smiled kindly.

Usagi was at his other side out of nowhere, her fingers curling soothingly around his own as she sat on the arm of the couch right next to him.

He nodded rapidly in response to the question, unable to form words around the brick lodged in his throat.

"It's not all pleasant, just so you know," Ami warned, her voice both warm and concerned.

He shook his head. It didn't matter. Restoring lost memories was something he had never been allowed to hope for. "I have to know."

Usagi traced meaningless comforting patterns onto the back of his hand with her thumb, grounding him into the moment.

Ami's smile expanded. "Excellent. I have some hypotheses about your memory loss and am eager to see if I can figure it out."

"Hypotheses?" he repeated.

Ami reached into her pocket, flipped out a blue device. "Yes, yours is different than ours," she reported, her nose looking at the lit up screen of scrolling data. "We all lost a year, but the crystal essentially reset everything, so that year never really happened. But you have a month gap in your memories in this repeated year."

"Perhaps, it's just normal cranial trauma," he argued. The simplest explanation was often the correct one.

She bit her lip. "I mean, I guess that's possible, but I don't think so. I think that some part of you was trying to give yourself a sign."

His eyebrows furrowed together. "What do you mean?" He pulled Usagi's reassuring hand to his mouth, and placed a kiss of acknowledgement on the side of her hand.

"Like, your subconscious mind was trying to give you a reason to look, to search for what was missing," Ami explained. "Your lost year, your love, your past life."

The explanation appealed to him. Like some part of his soul remembered Usagi and was trying to force him to obsess over his missing time, so he would be more likely to find her. He allowed his fingers to caress her own, turning to look into her smiling eyes.

Looks like it had worked.

"I don't know if Luna's mind meld will work on you since you are not a senshi," Ami continued. "But we can try. And if that doesn't work, I'm sure we can find something in the Mercury database."

"Luna?" Mamoru questioned, turning towards his girlfriend. "Isn't that your cat?"

The black cat jumped onto the table in front of him. "Not exactly a cat," it told him.

He started. Hard. Usagi almost fell out of his lap and off the side of the couch.

The girls all laughed.

"I'm clearly dreaming," he concluded out loud. "All of this was already too good to be true. And a talking cat just seals it. This is not possible."

The dark cat smirked at him.

Could cats even smirk?

This one could! That's clearly what she was doing.

"Is this too overwhelming? We can tone it down," Usagi offered.

"No!" he objected, pulling her more into his chest. "I want to know everything. I want to be part of everything. Because I love you."

Usagi turned a delightful shade of pink.

"Awww!" the girls are squealed excitedly.

Usagi let her head fall onto his shoulder, but her eyes never left his. "I love you, too, Mamo-chan. I always have."

Mamoru started for the second time when a series of high pitched alarms all went off simultaneously throughout the room.

Usagi wilted against him, even as the girls all groaned.

Ami flipped open what he had assumed was a wristwatch revealing another feline face looming large on the little screen - this one white. "What do we have, Artemis?"

"A Cardian at the main market in Minato-Ku."

And then everyone moved all at once. Usagi kissed the side of his jaw and Ami patted his shoulder comfortingly, before both girls leapt to their feet. Flashes of colored lights assaulted his senses, and the girls were rapidly replaced with the guardian senshi.

Two seconds later, they had all vaulted off the balcony like it was nothing, leaving him alone in a room with abandoned tea cups and plates of half eaten treats.

His whole form twitched, wanting to go after them. But he remained unmoving and overwhelmed, feeling more useless than he had ever before in his life.

He jumped in startlement, as Luna rubbed up against his ankles purring. He pet her head absently, and she leaned into the caress before sitting primly on her haunches.

"You know, you probably don't need to remember anything in order to join them. Your powers didn't come from your memories."

"I… have powers?"

The cat nodded. Like actually nodded. "Yes, you do.

Hope burst within him.

She bounded away towards the kitchen and leapt onto the counter. "We just need a rose."

"A rose?" he repeated.

Luna fished out a pristine white rose from the full vase with her claws. With the flower safe between her teeth, she leapt into the air with a summersault, and sparkling polychromatic lights.

She landed neatly right at his fit and proffered the rose up to him.

He crouched down and took the flower from her. "What am I…" but before he even finished uttering the question, a shimmering energy spread over his form, and in its wake left him clothed in loose fitting smooth and flowing white linens. The cloths felt so light on his shoulders, like he wasn't wearing anything at all.

He rushed over to the balcony and leapt up to railing, feeling lighter and swifter than he ever could remember, like he was tasting freedom in the form of movement.

Mamoru hesitated, looking down at the city below. Could he really just leap?

Luna jumped up to the guardrail next to him. "Well, go on. She's waiting for you."

He nodded with new courage.

And then he leapt into the sky.

A/N:

Guys! We did it! We got there! I'm not going to lie. This one was hard to finish! I was banging my head against the wall so many times for this chapter. I really really hope that it doesn't show.

Two things though:
1) Mamoru really did try to say "I love you" in that first date. He and I fought about it. So him saying that to Usagi in the hospital scene was a subtle breaking of the fourth wall in my head. Haha!
2) My beta, TinaCentury pointed out a continuity error in this chapter. That previously in the story Mamoru was a med student, and in this chapter I made him a second year resident. (Because I have him as a resident in another story and I just didn't think enough about it clearly). I BEG you to ignore this. If I fix that continuity error I was going to have to rewrite the whole hospital scene, and I could NOT handle that. But Tina was right. And I hope you don't find that too detracting.

Special thanks to FloraOne for literally guiding me by the nose to get all those non-dialogue pieces in there during the confession.

And special thanks to TinaCentury for listening to me complain about being stuck in this story. For her encouragement and patience and understanding.

And most importantly to Starling Sinclair, for sending me the one line about what she liked in fic that led to this beautiful story. I'm quite proud of how it turned out. And I really hope you enjoyed it too. Thank you for taking this journey with me. And for waiting so very patiently for all my updates. We're well beyond April 15th at this point.

I'm now going to start banging my head on the wall to finish Cravings for Chocolate Milkshakes! Wish me luck!

Reviews/Comments are love!