Title: Innocence

Author: Lisa

Rating: G

Author's Notes: Hello! I know I should be working on my many other unfinished stories, but this idea came to me one night, and I just had to write it! This isn't my typical storyline...it follows the scene where we first meet Chibi-Mamoru and Usagi. I changed some things around; Mamoru is eight, Usa is five. This is in Mamoru's p.o.v and shows the friendship between the couple as children. I hope you'll enjoy this longer story, and as always, I'd love to hear from you! Also, major angst ahead...

Disclaimer: Sailor Moon and the others don't belong to me, but this story does.

The last thing that I remembered was riding in the car with my parents. We were going out to eat for dinner, as we oftentimes did. The road was strangely empty that particular Friday evening. As we wound our way through the maze of twists and turns, our headlights piercing the thick blanket of fog, I looked out the window. Through the transparent glass panes, the night appeared damp and cold. There was hardly a breeze, and ominous clouds—heavy with rain—loomed overhead.

My father made a comment about the impending storm, but I listened to his weather briefing with only half an ear. No matter how hard I tried to concentrate to the deep hum of my dad's voice, to my mom's twinkling laugh, I couldn't. Something stirred in the pit of my stomach, and I wrapped my arms around myself and tried to ignore that unsettling sensation. When it finally subsided, I shifted my attention as the first raindrop splattered against the window. I stared at it as it slid languidly down the smooth glass, leaving a thin wet trail in its wake. More drops joined the drop until I could no longer differentiate their paths. The sinking feeling returned, much to my annoyance. This was just dinner with my family, I reminded myself. So why did it feel so different this time?

My name was Chiba Mamoru. I was eight years old and lived a happy life with my parents as an only child (though I still clung to the hope of having a sibling some day). If someone were to ask me to describe myself, I'd say that I was an average boy—or as normal as anyone could be—with friends, a loving family, and excellent grades at school.

Little did I know, this was all about to change.

The feeling grew stronger and stronger, and my best attempts to repress it failed. Then, without warning, my father made a sharp turn around the cliff. Our car skidded off to the side and ran straight into the metal baring on the side. Time seemed to stand still, as if I were watching the scene unfold from afar as our car slammed through the railing. Darkness grasped at me, pulled me under, and I surrendered to its overwhelming influence. I hardly remembered screaming and grabbing onto the back of Dad's seat with wild hands as the car toppled downward. We fell...and fell...then...nothing...then…darkness.

I had always feared the dark.

The light was blinding. As I slowly regained consciousness, I became aware of my surroundings: a bleak hospital room. The fluorescent lighting danced upon the whitewashed walls of the too-cold room. The room reeked of medicine and sterility, a nauseous combination. I was drowning in a sea of snowy blankets and covered head to toe in heavy bandages. Voices, urgent and rushed, resounded from all around me.

"Doctor, he's coming to!"

"My, what a strong boy he is! And lucky!"

Lucky was the last word I would use to describe my current condition. My eyes stayed closed; intense fear prevented me from opening them. The pillows, soft and plump, cushioned my throbbing head. My body ached all over, and ribbons of pain shot through me every time I made the slightest movement, drew in each raspy breath... I sighed softly, clenching my teeth to prevent myself from screaming. My hands grasped at the blankets that engulfed me and crushed the fabric into small balls.

I welcomed the pain. It was something I could feel at least.

"Is he awake?" A foreign voice entered the scene; it was deep but uniquely comforting as I lay passively upon the wood-hard bed. The bed tilted upward, sitting me up. I grimaced, keeping my eyes shut in bleak anticipation.

"Yes, Doctor." A moment later, coarse fingers caressed my face and gently stroked a prominent bruise that marred my cheek. The doctor was silent, and I heard him sigh deeply, as if lost in thought.

"Can you open your eyes for me?" His voice seemed distant. I complied, opening my eyes a fraction to meet his sympathetic gaze. His smile was bittersweet. I didn't return it and instead stared blankly into his chocolate eyes.

"Can you speak?" I wasn't sure but nodded anyway.

"All right...tell me your name."

I swallowed nervously. My eyes darted about the room as I took in the surroundings. Numerous machines, as I grimly discovered, were hooked onto my body. The heart monitor to my right beeped rhythmically. Two nurses accompanied the doctor: one a tall brunette, her face kind and her arm loosely clutching a clipboard, and the other with black hair and deep eyes that pierced into me. I drew in a shaky breath and tried to remember my name.

A minute passed, then two, then three. Tears sprang to my eyes and threatened to overflow. Desperately, I racked my brain trying to find some piece of information regarding my identity. My name, my age...anything. But I was found nothing. A fat tear rolled down my cheek. "I don't...know…" My voice was hoarse; I cringed at the sound. The doctor noticed my condition and signaled the black-haired nurse to fetch me a glass of water. She returned a moment later, and I grabbed onto the cup with trembling, bandaged hands. I downed the entire glass and dropped it onto the sheets, watching it roll across the bed before the nurse picked it up and placed it on the table. More tears streamed from my eyes, an endless river. "I don't...remember..." I realized in that instant that I possessed no memory whatsoever. I shivered involuntarily and regarded the doctor with panicked eyes.

"Please...Doctor...I...please help me!"

His eyes were sad and compassionate as he raised a hand and laid my shaking form onto the bed. I grasped onto his white overcoat, throwing myself at him. His arms enveloped me, and I sobbed unceasingly. The doctor's embrace wasn't as soothing as I'd have liked. It was warm, and I felt somewhat safe but nothing extremely comforting. I wanted nothing more at that moment than to be in the arms of a family member.

"Young man...your name is Chiba Mamoru." Hours had passed before I was calm enough to listen. Or...perhaps it was only a few minutes. Time went by in a daze for me now. There was no clock in my room, but judging from the high afternoon sun, it was safe to assume that it was around three or four. Gradually, my cries quieted, and I resorted to sniffling once in a while. Mamoru...I rolled the name around in my mind to see if it triggered any memories. To my disappointment, it didn't. "Mamoru..."

"Hai..." He paused, pausing as I absorbed the information. "You're eight years old."

I nodded absently. "You have amnesia...you and your parents were in a terrible car accident."

Parents... That was the only word that registered in my mind. A smile lifted the corners of my lips. So I did have a family of my own. I yearned to see their kind faces and to draw my strength from them. They would help me get through this, I knew they would. But before I asked to see them, the rest of his sentence came to hind. I gasped sharply. It couldn't be...it couldn't... I grabbed onto his large, callused hand.

"Acc-accident? Are...are they...?"

He shook his head slowly. "Mamoru..."

"They're...they're all right, aren't they? I can...I can see them soon, right? And we...we can be a family again. I'll try hard to regain my memory, I promise! Everything can return to normal. It can, I know it can!" It almost diminished the growing fear inside me. My parents...my mother and father...they had to be alive. They just...had to be, I decided firmly. There was no way they would leave me here, all alone...could they have? No, I couldn't believe it…I couldn't…

"Mamoru...I'm sorry..."

As soon as he said those deadly words, I froze. My body stiffened. No...no, no, no...please, no...

"No, Doctor! It's not true!" Tears formed in his eyes, and I regretted yelling at him. He had shown nothing but kindness to me. It pained him to see me in this condition and to have no power to make it all better. I looked away and began to apologize, but the words stuck in my throat. I kept silent in fear of bursting out in tears again if I opened my mouth to speak.

"Mamoru...they're...your parents...they're dead." My mind shut down. "They did not suffer...much...they were killed almost immediately. I realize how much you have lost, and at such a young age..."

"Please, stop...please..."

The doctor nodded knowingly. How many times had he been forced to deliver such heartbreaking news?

"Just...try to get some rest, if you can. It'll all work out, my boy." I wasn't listening and he knew it. My doctor left without another word, leaving me to wallow in misery. Yet his words rang in my head. 'It'll all work out...' But how could it? They were gone...and I was alone in this world.

For countless hours, I lay there emotionless. Before long, anger began to consume me. Why couldn't I have died happily with my family? I wasn't needed; there was nothing special about me. I wanted to scream at my parents for not being more careful, for being so careless. I wanted so badly to take back that day. If I knew that this was going to happen, surely, I thought, surely I could have prevented it. What if I was the reason we were all in the car? What if I so selfishly wanted something and made my parents go and buy it? I felt guilty, guilty that I was alive and they were not…guilty that I would be able to see the sun rise and set, to breathe, to...live. They were not given that chance, so why was I? Why did I get a second chance? I didn't wish to live a second longer.

But I knew that I had no choice. Tears formed for the thousandth time that day and poured from my swollen eyes. I had to live on...for them...

That night, I dreamed of my parents, of my blurred past. It was a blissful vision filled with laughter and light. When I awoke, the sun had risen, shining brightly like always. To the world, it was just another day; to me, however, the sun no longer brought joy to my heart. I sighed and rubbed my bloodshot eyes as I lay against the pillows, staring hollowly out of my window. People below me in wheelchairs were being pushed to and from the hospital. Ambulances whirled to a sharp stop at the building's emergency entrance. Children skipped happily toward the exit, their small hands clasped firmly into their parents'. I looked away. The world was in its daily routine…without me. The window drew me to it for some unexplainable reason and I glanced out to see a small girl being pushed into the hospital. A part of me wanted her to suffer, to feel the pain that I felt, but I immediately regretted the thought. It wasn't fair, but life just wasn't fair, I guess. I sighed again, cringing at the excruciating pain from the simple movement of moving my head.

The brunette nurse from yesterday came in a few minutes later, carrying a plate of food on a tray. I turned away to avoid meeting her sympathetic eyes. I didn't want her to see that I'd been crying all night long. She set the tray gently upon my lap, sat down on the chair next to my bed, and exhaled tiredly. I pushed the tray away, though the aroma of the food reached my nostrils. My stomach growled loudly. I blushed, embarrassed, and stubbornly pushed the tray even further away, despite my body's protest. I had forgotten how hungry I was, or how delicious food smelled.

"I'm not hungry."

The dark-haired nurse smiled. "You should try to eat a part of it. You need it to regain your strength." Her voice was soft and calm. I wondered if my mom's voice was like hers.

"No."

"Mamoru..."

"Please, just go away!" I pushed at the food until it almost toppled over the edge of the bed. She sighed before she stood up and set the tray on the small desk beside me.

"All right, I'm leaving." She turned but made no movement to pick up the food.

"I'll be leaving this with you in case you change your mind."

"Leave me alone."

I clutched the sheets, spilling silent tears on them. She gave me another glance before departing. As soon as she left, I gave into the consuming hunger and grabbed onto the plate with shocking fervor. The food was devoured in mere minutes' time. I felt much better once my hunger was satisfied. 'But my parents...they will never be able to eat anything again...' The thought haunted me until it proved to be too much. I pushed away the tears forcefully and swallowed the last of my milk. Shivering, I grabbed my throbbing head with both hands. The pain...I couldn't stand it...I broke down again, sobbing so violently that my whole body shook from the impact.

"Please...don't cry..."

My head shot up, my problems momentarily forgotten when I heard the soft voice. I searched for the owner of such a sweet voice, only to come face to face with a young girl with rosy cheeks. I watched wordlessly as a bright smile graced her pink rosebud lips. She was a few years younger than I, with sky blue eyes and golden ringlets that adorned her head. An unpleasant cast was wrapped around her injured right arm. Her eyes gazed inquiringly into mine; the warmth and kindness of her stare frightened me. Why did she look at me that way? I made a strangled noise in my throat and refused to speak. Wiping the last of my tears away, I was embarrassed that a girl, especially this girl for some reason, had seen me cry. Turning to my side so that my back faced her, I said forcefully, "Go away!"

Silence lingered thickly in the air. I was sure that she had gone. A small part of me regretted letting her go, but I shook that thought away. I didn't another person offering sympathy to the pathetic, hopeless creature that I had become. I started with shock when I felt a tiny hand wrap around my bandaged one and reacted immediately by pulling away from her grasp. I turned burning eyes to her. The girl was seated at the foot of my bed in the visitor's chair. That same smile played on her lips. How could a person be so happy?

"Why are you still here?" Was that my voice, so raspy and broken? I hardly recognized it. I continued despite the pain that I felt from speaking. "I thought I told you to leave."

She seemed to ignore my unwelcoming words. "You're sad. I don't want anyone to be sad," she said quietly and eyed her bandaged arm. "I was sad when I hurt my arm. Why are you sad?"

"You wouldn't understand."

"Why?"

"You just—I—I don't feel like talking."

The room was draped with silence yet again.

She put her small hands around my arm then brushed soft fingers across my forehead, carefully examining my wounds. "Does it hurt?"

I nodded slowly. "Yeah. It does...a whole lot." Her sky blue eyes displayed genuine concern. I was shocked. She was a complete stranger, but I could see that she cared for my pain.

"I'm sorry," she replied in a small voice. "Is that why you were crying before? Because it hurts?"

"No..." I looked away. I wasn't exactly willing to disclose all my problems to her, but something compelled me to do so. I felt drawn to this little person, lured by her compassion, by the innocence that I had once possessed. "I'm sad because I'm all alone."

"Alone?" She seemed confused. "But you're not alone. Everyone has a family to love them."

How was I going to explain reality to her? That life was not one big fairytale in which everyone lived in perfect happiness? That some people were left all alone, with no one left to care? I chose to keep silent in fear of hurting her with the truth.

"It's nothing."

"What's your name?"

"The doctor says it's Mamoru, so I guess it is Mamoru."

She giggled. "You guess? You don't know your own name?"

I stiffened and turned away from her laughing eyes, feeling a wave of shame wash over me. The girl seemed to pick up on my embarrassment and regretted what she had said. "I'm sorry..."

I didn't want her to feel guilty and tried to look casual, as if her words hadn't stung.

"It's okay."

Realizing that I hadn't learned her name, I asked, "Now that you know mine, what's yours?"

"I'm-"

"Usagi! Usagi, where are you?"

The girl stood before I had time to blink. She gave me a smile; I wanted to badly to return the gesture but found that I could not. I had nothing to smile about anymore.

"My mommy's calling me," she, who I learned was called Usagi, informed me. "I have to go."

A weird feeling washed over me then; I recognized it as panic. I didn't want her to leave, but it didn't seem fair to keep her all to myself. Her family might get worried.

"Will you come back?"

She turned toward me at the doorway, paused briefly, and pondered my question with adorable intensity.

"Mommy says I'll be staying here for a few days, so of course I'll see you again! Bye!"

I heard her small footsteps running down the hospital's tile floors.

"Usagi, where were you?" A woman, who I assumed was Usagi's mom, asked. Worry was laced in her voice.

"I was visiting someone, Mommy," she answered bluntly. "And I think I made a new friend."

"Oh, really? Why, that's wonderful, Dear. Now, let's get back to your room. The doctor is here to see you..."

Their voices faded until I couldn't hear them despite my best efforts. I settled back onto the pillows with a heavy sigh and looked at the chair that Usagi had occupied a few minutes ago.

"Friend..." The word seemed alien to my lips. Friend...she wanted to be my friend? I tried to suppress the joy at the thought of having my own friend. It didn't work. The day suddenly seemed more bearable.

"Mamoru...I—I don't know the best way to tell you this..."

It wasn't going to be good. Judging from his tone of voice, I feared the worst. Yesterday, 'my' doctor had decided to take the liberty to go through my records. He had firmly told me that my life would continue after my release from the hospital; he would make sure of it. He was going to find any known relatives that could take care of me. When I asked what would happen if I didn't have other family members, he refused to answer me. I held onto only a small strand of hope, afraid of stark disappointment if the doctor carried bad news. It looked like I was right. My last shred of expectation gone, I bravely met his eyes.

"What's...what's going to happen to me now?"

He sighed, took off his glasses, and rubbed the lenses distractedly. In that moment, I, yes I, began to sympathize for my doctor. He had to go through so many painful situations during his career. The aging man genuinely cared for his patients. He felt their pain, and his heart went out to them. I was lucky to have him as my doctor.

"I'm sorry...I'm afraid...I'm afraid...that we'll have to send you to an orphanage," he replied after some hesitation.

My heart sank. An orphanage? Though I had never been to one, I knew what it was—a home for parentless children who held little hope for the future. And now...I was going to one. I was that homeless child with no one to love.

"Oh." Bitterness, it seemed, had become my new friend.

"Mamoru, I know this is hard to digest," began the doctor. I turned away and raised a shaky hand to silence him.

"I understand it all right, Doctor." I was angry, but not at him…I didn't know who I was angry at anymore. "You said that I would have a future! You told me that my life would continue! But it can't…it never will be the same. Just…just go away!"

I didn't really mean those harsh words, yet it felt right to say them. I was at least feeling something, not just the numbness that consumed my life ever since that fateful night when I lost my identity. He understood and offered me a shaky smile instead. Tears welled up in my eyes.

"It's all right to cry sometimes, Mamoru. Just get it out, and you'll feel better." I ignored him and sniffled. "I promise...it'll get better."

Silence. He stayed with me for as long as he could before being called away to attend to other patients. I closed my eyes, allowing a troubled slumber to overtake me. Anything was better than staying awake.

I saw Mom that night. She was a lovely woman with dark curly tresses that washed down her back and sparkling eyes filled with warmth. I was also given an image of my dad. His eyes seemed to dance with joy.

"Mamoru, your birthday is coming up soon," he said, his voice deep and smooth.

"Hai."

"Any particular presents that you would like?" My mother asked, smiling knowingly.

"You know what I want," I heard myself say happily. They both chuckled.

The night was beautiful. A full moon illuminated the empty highway, casting a pale stream of light to guide us in our path. I sighed, closing my eyes as my mother sang lightly. I loved the sound dearly...

I sat up and wiped at the sweat that covered my forehead. Was it a memory, or perhaps an illusion on my part? Had I been so desperate to grasp at some kind of memory that I had made it up? No...it was real. It had to have been real. I remembered my mother, her kind face, and my father. The family I had once belonged to. The family I had lost. I cried out unknowingly to release the anguish I felt deep inside me. Shivering, I pulled the blankets around my body to capture some warmth to soothe my aching soul. It hurt…it hurt so much. I wanted so badly to run into my mother's arms, to feel her lips against my cheek, to hear her whisper into my ear as I listened to her steady heartbeat. I wanted my family back. Oh, how I wanted them back.

I suddenly became aware of a presence beside me. Turning quickly, I faced the unexpected visitor, half expecting it to be a nurse checking up on me. Instead, I found Usagi sitting on the chair, biting her lower lip nervously. She appeared frightened...

"How long were you there?"

She didn't answer, just wiped at her teary eyes.

"Are you still sad, Mamoru?"

I managed a half-hearted smile but chose to ignore her question. I would always be sad.

"I'm glad you came again."

Usagi seemed pleased to hear those words and brightened immediately.

"Mommy came to see me earlier," she said. "She's happy that I found someone to talk with here." Despite the pain of hearing her say that endearing term, I tried to focus on the latter part.

"That's good. I need..." I stopped. "I need a...friend to talk to."

There was a brief pause before she gingerly touched my bandaged arm.

"Does it still hurt?"

"Where?" Where, I wondered, my body or my heart? The physical injuries, I knew, would heal in time. The aching in my heart, however, I couldn't say. She simply gestured to the arm.

"A little," I replied softly. "It'll go away soon."

"Good." I was again graced with one of her too-bright smiles.

A thoughtful silence fell upon us before she finally spoke. I loved the sound of her voice. It was soft, like ringing bells.

"Mamoru, do you have a brother or sister?"

I turned to look at her and grimacing at the pain in my neck. "No...why do you ask?"

"Because...my mom's gonna have another baby soon. A baby boy."

She seemed uncertain. Usagi stared down at her small hands as they awkwardly fumbled with the fabric of the hospital gown.

"That's..." I didn't know what to say. "That's wonderful."

"But…I'm scared Mamoru."

She broke down, covering her face with her hands while she shed crystal tears. The girl came to me, rubbing her tear-stained cheeks against my shirt as I patted her hair soothingly. Her behavior scared me. In the time that I had known her, I had never seen like this before, so sad, so…helpless. I embraced her tightly, temporarily setting aside my own issues. Right now, I was the one who needed to offer her comfort.

"What's wrong, Usagi? You can tell me."

Her expressive eyes gazed into my own.

"What if…" Her voice was hoarse from crying. "Do you think Mommy will still love me? After my baby brother comes? Do you?"

But that was so easy! If only all my questions could have such simple answers. She had nothing to fear. Maternal love ran deep, and judging by the way Usagi was brought up— polite and compassionate—I could only imagine her mother to be a kind, caring lady as well. She would surely love Usagi just as much even with an addition to the family. Of course, Usagi would never receive the same attention that she had as an only child, but she would always be loved.

Usagi stared intently at my face, searching for an answer...or perhaps reassurance. Well, I would give her both.

"Oh Usagi...is that all?" She frowned, misinterpreting my reply.

"I want my mom to love me still." Her pout was so cute that I restrained myself from smiling.

"Of course she'll still love you, Usagi! How can you doubt that? She'll always love you."

"Really?"

"Hai."

We laid there on the bed in comfortable silence, enjoying each other's company. Her soft hair cascaded on the pillows as she stared at the ceiling in obvious contemplation. I wondered what was going through her small head. Was she still doubting her mom's love? Did the idea of having a new sibling to take care of excite her? Was she thinking about going home, of seeing her friends again? I looked away, swallowing nervously. Every time the thought of Usagi leaving came to mind, I found myself changing the subject or dropping it altogether. It was too hard. I didn't know what I was going to do when it would be time to say goodbye.

After some time, I wasn't quite sure how long, she rose and flashed me a huge grin.

"I have to go. See you soon, Mamoru!"

I answered with a single nod of my head, and she skipped off. I didn't say goodbye. I couldn't. I looked out the window and sighed. The sun was setting over the horizon, casting an orange glow over Tokyo as it slowly descended. An odd sense of peace washed over me for a moment, a brief, sweet moment. Usagi would be back. That was all I needed to know.

"But Mommy, I don't wanna go to school!" I tugged the fabric over my head once more, willing it to protect me. I knew she was smiling even though I couldn't see it.

"Come on, Mamoru." Her hands pulled the blanket away. I squeezed my eyes shut.

"No!"

"Mamoru..." She looked away and picked up a photograph, trailing a finger down the side of my grinning face in the picture. "Oh, my boy has grown up so fast…"

I peeked at her from half-opened eyes. "I'm scared..."

"Everyone is scared of their first day of school," she said. "But once you get there and make new friends, it's not so scary anymore."

A friend? I had many friends—my neighbors across the street, the mailman, with whom I loved to talk with whenever he stuffed letters into our mailbox, and my next-door neighbor's son to name a few—so the idea of gaining even more friends appealed to me.

"Really, Mommy?"

She nodded once. "Really."

I was about to agree when the thought of being away from mom struck me. I wouldn't be able to see her for hours! As a last attempt to stay home, I feigned a loud yawn.

"I'm still tired." Another faked yawn followed my fib.

"You've slept for nine hours already," she laughed. "Now, come on."

I looked straight into her dark eyes, into those orbs that held so much love for me.

"It's time to wake up now, Mamoru..."

I awoke from the dream with a smile on my face. No, it wasn't a dream but a memory of my past, of that I was positive. It hurt knowing how happy I was then and realizing that I probably wouldn't ever be that content again. The smile soon disappeared and turned into a frown as a nurse entered. I hadn't seen this one before. She was a middle-aged lady of average height. Her auburn hair stood out against her pale nurse uniform and was neatly pulled back into a loose ponytail. Green eyes complimented her fair face, and a light smile played on her lips.

"Good morning, Mamoru." Her voice was cheerful.

I didn't reply and looked away.

"Are you hungry?" She set the tray down on the desk beside me and took a seat. Her attempts at conversation failed miserably, and her sunny façade melted away into the silence.

"Mamoru, I know it hurts. I know what it feels like...to love someone and then lose him."

Anger boiled inside me and compelled me to break my silence. How dare she? She didn't understand; no one did. No one ever could. To feel such loss, such utter despair. To have been robbed of love...peace. Not a single person in the world could comprehend that, to experience what I have. All I wanted was love. Was that too much to ask?

"No! No, you don't!" I angrily spat. "Don't you tell me that you understand. I don't want your sympathy! Not from you, from anyone! You hear? From anyone!"

Unshed tears glistened in her eyes; her gaze burned into my soul. I shivered.

"Oh I do, Mamoru, so well...so well."

"How?" The word was whispered. I knew that I was behaving childishly. But wasn't I a child? Wasn't I supposed to be spoiled and self-centered? An innocent child...? Yet...I was no longer innocent, was I? It had vanished when I lost my family.

"How can you?"

She faced me, overwhelming grief etched into her features, and continued. "Because...I lost my husband a couple years ago."

Taken aback, I opened my mouth to speak; she hushed me by raising one hand.

"Mamoru, hear me out. It…it hurt so much. I know now...the more you love someone, the harder it is when they are gone. And I loved him so very much."

A tear ran rolled her face and dripped off her chin. She didn't bother wiping it away.

"I'm sorry." Was else was I supposed to say?

"He...he was fine. Then one day he got sick...and...I watched him die. The last word he said was my name. I watched him take his last breath. I never felt so…alone, empty. And I know you feel the same way, Mamoru."

I was speechless by the end of her story. Judging from her outward demeanor, I would never have guessed how horrible her life had once been. She seemed so content... The pain was still there, though, buried underneath her cheery mask. It must be hard, I realized, to lead two completely different lives.

"What did you do?"

"For a while...I didn't know what to do. I shut my friends and family away. I...I was so cold." She looked down at her hands, as if regretting her previous actions. "I mourned. I thought it would never get better. Every time I saw something, it reminded me of him. It felt as if I was ripped apart... Months had passed before I finally realized something." A thin smile lifted the corners of her mouth. "I hadn't lost him."

I didn't understand. "But he was gone!"

"No..." Her smile widened as one hand covered her chest. "He's here, with me, in my heart. Always. He'll never leave. Once I came to that conclusion, my life got better. I started living again, Mamoru. I knew that he'd want me to be happy again. My husband will always love me, and so will your parents. You'll never lose them; they'll always have a place in your heart."

Her words stayed with me. 'You'll never lose them...in your heart.' I closed my eyes, trying to picture my mother and father. A vague illustration came to mind. Could her words really be true? Were they smiling down upon me now? My thoughts drifted to Usagi. Maybe I could ask her; though, I already knew what her answer would be. I wanted so desperately to see her again. With her, my problems seemed to subdue.

"The doctor says that I should be able to leave soon," Usagi informed me happily. My heart froze. I didn't want her to leave me...ever. I kept the selfish thought to myself and smiled weakly. She was so cheerful. Who was I to take that away from her?

"That's good, Usa."

"Yeah...I don't like hospitals." She smiled then inquired, "When will you be able to go home?"

I wanted to remind her that I didn't have a home. I rather chose to shrug casually like I wasn't falling apart, agonizing piece by piece, inside.

"I don't know...weeks, probably."

"Oh."

She was quiet, unconsciously twisting ringlets of her golden hair between her fingers. I watched her intently: her small face scrunched up in thought, her lips pursed. She remembered something just then, and her face lit up like a lamp turned on. "Mamoru, I have something for you!" Usagi jumped up from the chair and bolted from the room before I could think of a response. I laughed. It was a strange but welcoming sensation.

Usagi reappeared merely seconds later with something hidden behind her back.

"What's that, Usa?" I turned my head to look at the treasure to which she clung with both hands.

"It's a present."

"For me?"

She nodded eagerly. "Can I see?"

She giggled and walked up to the bed before presenting me with her gift: a perfect red rose.

"A friend of Mommy's brought a lot of them when she came to see me. I wanted you to have one."

Usagi handed it to my outstretched hand and was still as I examined the delicate bloom. Its lush, red petals were soft against my cheek as I inhaled its heavenly scent. The thorns, I noted, were carefully plucked off, leaving only a long green stem. I played with it before thanking Usagi.

A playful "You're welcome!" was spoken before she ran off to get me a cup and some water in which to put the flower. I chuckled; Usagi never ceased to amaze me. A sense of peace ran through me once more, all because of her.

"Mamoru?"

"Hmmm?"

"Remember when you told me that you were all alone?"

I stiffened in my seat beside her at the window. "Yeah, why?"

"Well, why did you think that?"

I didn't want to answer her, to destroy her innocence, but her eyes implored me for the truth.

"Bad things happen, Usagi," I spoke, carefully choosing my words so that she could fathom them.

"Like what?"

"Like losing someone you love."

A look of confusion marred her face. "I don't understand..."

I patted her hand compassionately. "Someday, you will. Not today." Her pout was so cute that I could not resist brushing a kiss to her head. "Someday...when you're older..."

"But..."

"Usagi? Usagi!"

I grimaced. "Your mom's calling for you," I said.

She smiled and got up from her spot. "See you tomorrow, Mamoru!"

I didn't answer. Goodbyes, even impermanent ones, were too hard to say.

The nurse, who I still hadn't gotten a name from, came to my room again the next morning. I figured that she wouldn't after all the pain I put her through yesterday, but she did. This woman was a true fighter. I respected her strength and wished I could have some of my own.

"And how you are?"

"Fine," was my answer.

She smiled tentatively. "Mamoru...the things I said yesterday...I meant them, every word."

"I know."

"They're with you, even if you can't see them."

I looked at her with watery eyes. "I wish I could. It...it would be easier, to be able to see them again, to tell them one last time that I love them."

Her eyes were so understanding; I lost myself in their depths. There was no sympathy in her eyes, of that I was thankful. She didn't feel sorry for me; she understood me. A fine line ran between the two. Sympathy, I did not need. Understanding, however...oh, it felt great, knowing that someone else could relate to the myriad of emotions that racked my brain.

"You just did."

I couldn't come up with a diligent response. Her words comforted me almost as much as Usagi, although in different ways. She helped me deal with my pain. Usagi, on the other hand, taught me how to live, and love, again.

She stayed with me as I ate and for some time even after I had finished, recounting blissful memories of her life with her husband with me. I noted how she seemed to glow when she talked about her love. Would I too no longer feel piercing pain whenever I thought of my family someday?

She finally got up and took the tray from my hands. "I'll be back," she promised.

"Nurse?" I cringed. It sounded so formal, but I still had yet to learn her name.

"Hai?"

"Thank you." She just stood there, staring at my stiff form.

At last she whispered, "There's no need to thank me, Mamoru," and left. That was enough. I smiled faintly. No, she was wrong; I had every reason to thank her.

The day passed by quickly. I spent most of the morning staring out the window, watching the bustling life outside the hospital walls. Everyone seemed so selfishly wrapped up in their own lives, as I was in mine. Oftentimes, I found myself wishing that I were a bird, much like the ones I had seen many times before. Carefree, soaring high in the bright sky...the rush of wind against my face...then I would never feel the pain that I felt now. I shook my head, clearing my mind of dreamy contemplations. Usagi walked in, a big grin on her face. Had I ever seen her not smiling when she walked through that door? Did I ever want to? No, I responded mentally, never. An enormous part of Usagi's charm came from her innocence. I would never want to see her unhappy and would give everything to protect her from harsh reality.

Her small hands held a hardcover book. She presently presented it to me with pride, her eyes shining brighter than the most ostentatious stars. Her mood must've rubbed off on me; before long, I was grinning beside her. She gingerly dropped the book to my awaiting hands, her lips pursing adorably. I took a moment to examine the cover. It was colorful and adorned with beautiful illustrations. In the middle, a girl—perhaps a princess—was dressed in a snowy white gown and stood with her head held high. These books were the types of things that I was supposed to be reading, the things that I would do had I not lost my family. My heart pounded painfully in my chest, yet I managed a smile for Usagi on the outside.

"Mamoru, do you like it?"

"Hai, I do."

"Daddy gave it to me," she announced loudly, "as a present. He's been away these past few days. Now he's back, and he brought me a book!" Usagi finished her story with a firm nod of her golden head.

"That's nice."

"Mamo?"

We lay there on our bed in comfortable silence, as we were accustomed to, and stared at the ceiling.

"Uh-huh?"

"Will you...read it to me?"

I plopped up on one elbow and studied her flushed face intently, my eyes trained on her fair features.

"You can't read?"

"Not very good..." She seemed embarrassed and looked down at her hands. I didn't know why; it was natural for a person her age to have only begun learning to read.

"Oh Usa...I'm sure your dad didn't expect you to read this all by yourself. Of course I'll read it to you. I'd love to."

"Yay!"

She snuggled against my shoulder as I cleared my throat and read in my best unwavering voice. The story was simple and sweet. As I reached the halfway mark, Usagi yawned, licking her lips and looking at the pages sleepily. Before long, her eyelids began to grow heavy. I gently tapped her shoulder. She awoke with a start, and we continued with the book.

"And they lived happily ever after..."

Usagi looked up at me with a satisfied expression. "Of course they did," she stated simply. "Everyone always lives happily ever after..."

I bit my bottom lip to refrain myself from commenting. How was I supposed to break the notion that not everyone was happy for as long as they lived to her? The fairytale world, the world where everything was perfect, was long lost to me. There was no longer a happily ever after, no longer a dream world where every wish was granted. But Usagi didn't have to know that...not now.

"That was a great story, right Mamoru?"

"It sure was."

"Maybe we can read it…again...some–" She drifted off, muttering incoherent words as she slept. I tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and watched her sleep, drinking in her chasteness. I wondered...was I even that innocent, even before the accident? Usagi seemed so peaceful, a smile playing soft on her lips. Was she dreaming, and of what? I wrapped my arms tighter around her waist and tried to let sleep claim me as well.

Soon after, a man, whom I assumed was Usagi's father, walked in. He took a look at his sleeping daughter, a look of fatherly love glowing in his eyes, and smiled.

"You must be Mamoru," he said. It was more of a statement than anything. "Usagi talked about you the whole time I was here." He bent down and scooped a warm Usagi from my embrace. "I'll take her to her room," he murmured quietly, brushing a kiss upon her soft cheek.

I nodded. "Yes, Sir."

"Take care, Mamoru. It was nice meeting you."

"It was nice to see you too."

A good fifteen minutes later, I realized that Usagi's book was still sitting in my lap. I had forgotten to give it to her father when he came in. I was torn between giving it to her myself and waiting until tomorrow, when she would surely come. Finally, I pushed myself from the bed. A shiver ran down my spine as my bare feet touched the floor's cold tiles.

Usagi was fast asleep in her room among bouquets of flowers, numerous cards, and streaming balloons. I was awed at how many people loved Usagi. It, however, didn't shock me. What did I expect from the girl who had touched my heart in ways no one else could have? She deserved the care.

The room was empty and quiet. A warm breeze blew in from the open window. The shades were drawn, allowing much sunlight to enter the room, in contrast to mine, which was mostly dark. It reminded me of how different she was from me. I set the book on her bedside and tiptoed out her room.

Once again lying on my own bed, I sighed. Looking back, the last few days seemed more like a blur to me than anything. In one moment, I had lost everything; but through that terrible loss, I gained new insight into being human. I learned to deal with grief, to at least control the pain for little while. I made a wonderful new friend: Usagi, who I...loved. Yes, I admitted, I loved her. For her beauty, her light, her ways of cheering me up when nobody could...for her warmth, and most of all, for her innocence. She had what I lost. At times, I envied her for it, but I admired her more. I couldn't describe the bond we shared. Usagi was the one who made me feel at peace, if momentarily. She was the one I could be with and still feel comfortable. I knew that it was best if I stayed away from her because I could destroy her innocence. At the same time, I couldn't stay away even if I'd tried. I couldn't imagine a life without Usagi...her smiles, her voice...her eyes, her laugh. The excitement she felt at every little thing. I could not picture a day going by without seeing her. Soon she would be ripped from me. Could I let her go? Would I? I chose not to answer those questions and forced myself to sleep.

"Mamoru? You still haven't answered my question."

I looked into her imploring eyes. I knew what question she was going to ask but decided to play clueless anyway. "And which question would that be?"

"Why do you think you are alone?"

"Usagi...I don't have a family..."

"What...what do you mean?" She was thoroughly confused.

"My parents...they're dead."

She grabbed my hand and squeezed it. "I'm sorry..." Her eyes welled up with fat tears. "But you're not alone," Usagi whispered finally.

"Usa...I just told you...they're gone. They'll never be back."

"Daddy told me...when my cousin Keiko died...that she was still with me. She still loved me, even though I couldn't see her." A tear rolled down her cheek. I caught it with my finger and felt its wetness against my skin. "I believe Daddy."

After all this time...all the sheltering I had done to protect Usagi from death...she knew? How it felt...to lose someone you love? I couldn't believe it. At her young age, few understood death; Usagi was one of the unlucky few. What surprised—and relieved—me the most was that she had retained her innocence. She still believed in a perfect world, even when faced with death. Could I ever be like that again? Looking at the precious girl in front of me, I knew the answer was no. I had experienced too much to ever turn back. Darkness would always be a part of me now. But that didn't mean I couldn't put the past behind me...to move on...for my parents. It would be a slow, tortuous process, but one day I knew I had to let go.

"They..." My voice cracked, "they still love me?"

"Mamo, they'll always love you. You're not alone…never will be."

Those words, coming from Usagi, overwhelmed me. She really, truly understood, and I believed her. A great weight seemed to be lifted off my shoulders then. I felt as if I could breathe easier. For the first time, I gave Usagi a genuine smile. It wasn't reserved or forced like many of my previous ones, but pure. I wanted to show her how much her words had meant to me, and she returned the gesture readily. We embraced warmly afterward, my silent thanks given in the hug. For the first time, I was truly at peace with myself. It lasted longer and stayed with me even after Usagi had gone back to her room.

The dreaded moment had come. Just hours after our conversation, I sat stiffly by the window, pretending that Usagi's small footsteps weren't rapidly approaching my room…that she wasn't going to say goodbye. Being with Usagi these past four days had been amazing. I never thought I could open up to her, or to anyone, for that matter. Only I did, and there were no regrets. She was my light, the one in whom I could confide. My friendship with Usagi had broken barriers that I had built around myself in fear of being hurt again. I didn't want to care when she came to me at first, but I did. I always would. I couldn't help but wonder...maybe this was meant to happen. Maybe Usagi was my destiny (if there was such a thing), and my parents' deaths had brought me to her—their parting gift. Did all things happen for a reason?

I had yet to find out.

"Hey," her soft voice rang in my ears. I closed my eyes, drawing in a shuddering breath. Could this really be the last time I'd listen to the sound of her voice?

"Hi." The cumbersome cast on her arm was replaced with a small, more fitting covering. As always, a smile graced her face. I smiled back tentatively, muted by our impending separation. The silence was thick and suffocating.

"So, you're gonna leave me now, huh?" I tried to joke, to lighten up the mood, to do anything except to grab onto her small form and hold her and never let go. It didn't work. Usagi's smile faded into a frown, and she took hold of my sweaty hands.

"I'll miss you." Her arms wound themselves tightly around me. I hugged back with equal force, stroking her gold locks blindly.

"Me too, Usagi." More than you'll ever know...

So this was it…this was goodbye. It hurt more than I'd imagined. I reluctantly broke our embrace, and she turned her back to me and began walking toward her awaiting parents. I closed my eyes again, exhaling a breath that I didn't know that I'd been holding. I had to let her go; I knew that now. But there was one thing I needed to know before I did.

"Usagi?"

She turned to face me, and I saw tears in her eyes, threatening to overflow. I realized then that I had tears in my eyes as well. I choked down the tears, overcome by emotion.

"Are we still friends?"

Usagi paused briefly, faltered, and dread cast its iron grip upon me. Did she not want to see me again? Would she forget about me as soon as she left, while I would forever cherish our time together? She giggled suddenly. It wasn't the response I had been aiming for, and I started with surprise.

"Silly Mamoru," she said playfully, "always!"

Relief washed through me as I shared my final laugh with her.

She then turned again, took hold of her parents' hands, and walked away. We didn't say goodbye. I was glad. I stayed still, straining my ears until I could no longer hear the soft pattering of feet. The room seemed to grow darker and colder in an instant. The darkness taunted me, compelling me to build barriers around my heart once more. Only one thing kept me from falling into despair's grasp: "Always." She had said always, and she had meant it…I knew she did. I smiled, despite the utter loneliness that I felt inside, at the mere memory of her body next to mine, and how we'd keep each other company for hours. And her beautiful smiles...

I may or may not see Usagi again, but the memories would always remain. They would keep me comforted during the bleakest days, the coldest nights. I closed my eyes, trying to picture her small frame pressed against my own skinny figure. It helped to ease the pain a little. In my heart, I was positive that I would never forget her, even if I tried. She was my friend...my angel.

Well, my friends...I am finished! Wow...I haven't written a long piece in ages! Even though this story took forever, I had fun toying with poor Mamoru's mind. I'm sorry if the story seemed a bit unreal for the characters. It was very angsty, in my opinion, but I especially loved the Usagi/Mamoru interaction in it. Ah, this is a story I am actually pretty proud of! Surprise, eh? Anyway, tell me what you think! I would love your thoughts and comments. Feedback is always welcome! Please feel free to take a second of your time to review at the bottom, or send me an e-mail. Thanks!
This story was completed April 2003 and posted June 2003.