"Same Rose, Different Promise"
A Sailor Moon fanfic
By Bill K.
Sailor Moon and all related characters are ©)2005 by Naoko Takeuchi/Kodansha and Toei Animation and are used without permission, but with respect. Story is ©)2005 by Bill K.
As always, for those only familiar with the English dub:
Finally, Haruka and Michiru are NOT cousins.
For continuity buffs, the first part of this story takes place between episodes 77 and 78, while the rest occurs after episode 88. I have also placed the first Sailor Moon movie between 77 and 78.
The battle with the Kisenian Blossoms had been won. Fiore had been freed from their influence and, though he died, he died a free man. Earth was no longer threatened by the corrupting shadow of this floral menace. The world was free to enjoy the last warmth of middle October.
Using their last bit of energy, the senshi teleported themselves and Mamoru to Earth from the chunk of the Kisenian meteor that was even now burning to ash in the upper atmosphere. From that point, after saying their good-byes, Ami and Makoto walked each other home, while Rei and Minako headed off in another direction. Luna and Artemis no sooner greeted their return and heard their report than they were off checking on Nemesis. Just because the Kisenian threat was gone didn't mean Earth was safe. Esmeraude was still lurking.
Usagi chose not to dwell on that just yet. One crisis at a time was her motto.
So Usagi walked home, arm in arm with Mamoru while four year old Chibi-Usa walked ahead of them, Luna P floating by her side, and gave them the occasional suspicious glance over her shoulder. The child was clearly jealous of Usagi being on the arm of "her Mamo-chan", but chose to keep silent about it for once. Normally such suspicious, selfish behavior would aggravate the future queen no end, but at the moment she had larger concerns.
"Mamo-chan?" she ventured timidly. "What is it?"
Mamoru gave her an embarrassed look. By this point in their relationship, Usagi recognized it. He was embarrassed at being caught deep in thought, caught being troubled by something. And though Usagi knew she wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, she was sharp enough to cut through any pretense he might throw up to cover himself.
"Just thinking about what happened," Mamoru conceded, for he knew she was on to him. "Thinking about - losing Fiore. Thinking about how close I came to losing you."
Usagi swallowed. She hadn't believed it until Ami had told her she had been clinically dead for nearly two minutes on the chunk of rock entering the atmosphere. Luna had warned her that if she asked the Silver Crystal to do more than her spiritual energy could cover, the results might be fatal. It had been fatal once, undone only by a dying wish. Usagi shivered involuntarily. It was still hard to believe now that she'd come that close to dying again, and so soon after Beryl and D-Point.
Chibi-Usa glanced back at them, but her expression was one of sympathy rather than suspicion this time.
"I'm sorry I worried you, Mamo-chan," Usagi whispered. She snuggled against him, trying to comfort him as best she knew how. Unfortunately at fourteen, she wasn't terribly experienced at how to comfort a man. "I'm sorry about Fiore, too."
"So am I," Mamoru whispered.
Usagi glanced up at him. What kind of relationship had he and Fiore had? She refused to believe the implications they'd all seen. Perhaps Fiore wanted it to be something more, but simple friendship was all it was to Mamoru. He loved her.
Didn't he? It was hard to tell sometimes, given the rocky road their relationship had traveled the past months. If so, why was he so sad? It wasn't that long ago that he'd been trying to drive her off.
The girl shook herself and tried to liken it to her friendship with Naru. What if Naru had suddenly died? The imagined grief she felt gave her a new sympathy for her beau. Respecting his mood, Usagi fell silent. But she didn't relax her grip around his waist.
the gate to the Tsukino residence, Usagi and Mamoru lingered outside
Usa scampered in, clutching Luna P. Usagi looked up at Mamoru. He stared down at her intently, seemingly in turmoil. It seemed like he wanted to say something, but couldn't. Rather than press him, Usagi just waited, silently telling him that anything he told her would be all right. Finally he just bent down and kissed her.
Usually Usagi would be too awash in her own racing pulse to notice anything else. However, this time she felt the yearning and the desperation behind his kiss, emotions bred by his near loss of her. This puzzled her for a moment until she remembered that Mamoru was orphaned and had no one else but her now. Touched, she kissed back not with passion, but with warmth, trying to communicate the security her love offered him and would always offer. Only when they parted did either one notice Ikuko standing by the gate. Chibi-Usa stood behind her, peering wide-eyed around her right leg.
"I had a feeling this was why you were late." Ikuko said, mildly peeved and at the same time happy for her daughter's budding romance. "But it doesn't condone you missing school, Usagi."
"Well," Usagi began. How would she explain this to her mother? The battle had taken most of the day and apparently she'd been missed. What she needed now was a smooth, nimble cover story that would explain away everything. But, as usual, the moment she looked up into her mother's withering stare her brain chose to evacuate, leaving her stranded.
"There was an - emergency," Mamoru chimed in. "It was my fault, Mrs. Tsukino. It involved - an old friend of mine. Usagi and Chibi-Usa just tried to help."
"I see," Ikuko replied, eyeing him critically. "Is 'your friend' all right?"
"No," Mamoru responded, struggling to hold in his emotions. "He - died."
"Oh," Ikuko softened. Her anger washed away when she saw just how much this was a tragedy for Mamoru, a man she truly liked. And she knew how sensitive her daughter was to violence and death, how much death in any form upset her. "How terrible. No wonder you both look so haunted."
Ikuko gathered Usagi in and hugged her protectively. Then she glanced back at Mamoru.
"Were you very close friends?" she asked perceptively.
"Once," Mamoru answered. "A long time ago."
He looked back at Ikuko and could see the sympathy for him as clear in her face as it was in Usagi's and Chibi-Usa's.
"Would you like to come in?" Ikuko offered. "I can set an extra place at dinner."
That would be nice.
"Thank you," Mamoru smiled, "but no. I really have to get home."
"It isn't any trouble, Mamo-chan," Usagi prodded.
"Pre-Med doesn't allow for much of a social life," Mamoru grinned sheepishly. "I've been away from the books too long. But thank you."
Turning before they persisted - because they were Tsukinos and they would - Mamoru headed home. It would have been nice - to have dinner with an actual family in an actual family setting - something he hadn't had in nearly twelve years. It would have been nice.
But it was too soon. He had new memories to sort out - and one in particular that just couldn't possibly be true.
The chill air of late November in Tokyo did nothing to deter Usagi and Minako from hitting the retail district with the force of an incoming gale. With yen burning holes in their pockets - wheedled from indulgent fathers due to the approaching holiday season - and lists of gifts to buy, the twin golden terrors were ready, willing and able to attack their latest mission with anticipation and verve.
Ami timidly declined, citing studying that needed to be done. She actually knew what shopping with Usagi and Minako was like and didn't want to spend ten hours on her feet. Makoto was visiting her grandmother, while Rei dismissed them with a gruff refusal and a critical eye toward their self-indulgence.
Didn't stop them in the least.
"Mina-chan, can we rest?" Usagi whimpered. "These bags are heavy!"
"You've got no stamina," Minako smirked.
"It probably costs too much," frowned Usagi and Minako wasn't sure she was joking. "Besides, it's after twelve and I haven't eaten since breakfast!"
"True. I guess we can take an hour off and rest up. Got a preference on where we eat?"
"No. They're all delicious."
"Great! I know a place that sells the absolute best curry rice!" Minako clamped onto Usagi's wrist and dragged her down the street.
Inside the restaurant, a modest shop tucked in a corner, Usagi and Minako sat with their bags in a booth. The restaurant was run by Sri Lankan immigrants and made actual Sri Lankan curry rather than the Japanese approximation. After her first bite, Usagi expressed surprise at how much hotter it was compared to the curry she was used to.
But it didn't stop her from eating.
"So who was that bracelet for?" Minako asked between bites. "Me, perhaps?"
"I'm not buying your gift on this trip!" Usagi howled. "Then you'd know what you were getting!"
"And?" Minako asked.
Usagi scowled at her.
"The bracelet's for Rei," Usagi told her. "I hope she likes it."
"I hope she likes what I got her, too. Buying a gift for her has been tough. She's kind of hard to figure sometimes. But then, you've known her longer than I have."
"A few months," Usagi shrugged.
"So what are you getting Mamoru?" Minako grinned, then remembered recent events. "Or are you two on the outs again?"
"We patched that all up after the Promise Bracelet thing. He said he was a jerk and asked me to forgive him," and Usagi blushed, "and of course I did. Actually, he's been even nicer to me than ever the last two months," Usagi remarked. "I don't understand him sometimes. It's like he loves me, but he was always afraid to love me - like he thought he could do better or something."
"Don't sell yourself short," Minako offered.
"Well, think about it, Mina-chan. He's older and more sophisticated - he's in college! And he wants to be a doctor! And I'm this silly little fourteen year old girl who gets 30s on her tests and can't run without tripping. He uses big words and drives a sports car and my idea of sophistication is wearing red lipstick instead of pink. I'm always so afraid that one day he'd wake up and realize that I'm just a little girl compared to him - and leave."
Minako looked on sympathetically.
"But now he's very nice and very considerate. He doesn't push me away like he used to. He actually talks to me instead of listening to me babble. It's like he's not - reluctant anymore. Before it was - I don't know how to explain it - like Tuxedo Mask was in love with Sailor Moon - but Mamo-chan wasn't in love with me. Or he was looking for someone else and didn't want to be in love with me."
"But now he's different?"
"Ever since the Kisenian thing. I guess losing Fiore was more of a shock to him than I thought."
"Maybe," Minako nodded. "What kind of relationship did those two have, anyway?"
"Why?" Usagi asked.
"Well," Minako posed, "Fiore seemed awful jealous of you being with Mamoru."
"That was the Kisenian Blossom working."
Usagi stared at her. "Mamo-chan's not gay, Mina-chan."
"OK," Minako replied with that maddening 'I know something you don't' look.
"OK, he's not," Minako replied. Then she leaned her chin on her palm and stared, smiling, directly at Usagi. "Care to relate any stories that prove it conclusively?"
Usagi blushed. "You have a very dirty mind."
"I know," Minako smirked. "It's one of my strong points."
Still blushing, Usagi resumed eating.
"Well I'm glad you and Mamoru are doing better," Minako continued. "Believe me, there's nothing as great as being in love - unless you can't trust that the guy's feelings are genuine. That can be pretty rough."
Minako glanced at Usagi and found her staring.
"So I hear," Minako hastily added. "Hey, I heard there's a place selling Christmas gifts at half off!"
"Half off?" Usagi gasped. Then she sobered. "I wonder what the quality's like."
"Won't know until we look," nudged Minako.
"It's probably crowded with bargain hunters."
"We've faced worse," Minako grinned, "in and out of costume."
"You're going to badger me until I go, aren't you?" Usagi said.
"Hey, if you don't want to go, we don't have to go," Minako replied, throwing up her hands. Then she added with a sly look, "But you know you want to go."
Usagi responded with an embarrassed smirk. Sometimes talking to Minako was like talking to a mirror image - or a long lost twin sister.
"Everything in the store half off the regular price!" shouted the woman on the stand in the center of the store. "Please buy as much as you can afford and thank you for your business!"
She was a comely young woman with long wavy black hair and striking features, wearing a Santa hat and a tailored Santa jacket that opened to reveal a hint of cleavage. The coat was cinched tight with a wide black belt, accentuating her slim waist and hemmed extremely high on her thigh, revealing long glamorous legs shod in holiday red high heels. Mamoru instantly recognized the type of person she was - an actress or a model grabbing a quick payday that required nothing more than looking sexy and exhorting the crowd to spend. He'd done a job or two like that himself a few years ago.
The tall, dark-haired man glanced down at the merchandise on the counter. Several shoppers bumped and buffeted him, unnoticed. He simply stuffed his hands into the pockets of his black leather jacket and frowned.
"I don't know why I came here," Mamoru thought.
Of course, he did know. He, like everyone else, was lured here by the enticement of half priced merchandise. Though he had money left over from his days as a male model and the estate of his dead parents, most of that was socked away for college tuition. He only drew from it for living expenses - and his new sports car - and his motorcycle - and Usagi's extravagant tastes.
That last thought made him smile. Once he would have sneered derisively at her immature desire to want everything she set her eyes on. Now - now he wanted to give her everything under the sun and knew it still wouldn't be enough. To see her smile at him and stare up at him with those big blue eyes, eyes that told him that he wasn't alone, was worth any expense. He'd always thought it would be hard loving Usagi, that she was too immature, too high maintenance. For a time, it was. That was different now. It didn't seem nearly as hard as it used to be - and now he knew why.
To think he'd almost thrown it away in a misguided attempt at selflessness. If they ever selected the king idiot of all time, he knew he was sure to be in the running.
"Everything in the store is half off the regular price!" the woman, operating under the cute trade name of "Jingle Belle", exhorted. "The perfect solution to your Christmas shopping needs!"
Mamoru picked up the bottle of perfume from the display table and examined it more closely. It wasn't nearly as cheaply made as he'd expected it to be, given the selling price. But it just didn't seem good enough for her. That was the trouble - now nothing was good enough for her. Every gift seemed inadequate compared to the gift she'd given him. Of course she'd love it. Usagi was easily enchanted by material things. But mere material things just didn't seem to be enough.
"Thank you for shopping here!" Jingle Belle continued. "Please look around! Everything is half off! If you don't see what you want, please ask a sales associate!"
"You're trying too hard," Mamoru mumbled to himself, setting the perfume down. "Just get her something nice. As long as it's shiny and from you, . . ."
Suddenly he felt it. The buzz in the back of his brain that told him Usagi was being threatened. And it was so strong. She had to be close. Turning around, Mamoru searched past Jingle Belle through the throngs of shoppers crowding the storefront. Seconds later he spotted her. Usagi was across the shop from him, with Minako. The two girls were fighting through the pack of bargain hunters, trying to get to a section of children's toys. At first Mamoru thought she was the target of a criminal in the crowd, or else the claustrophobic density of the crowd itself was the threat she faced. But as she reached for a toy horse, he saw it.
"USAKO!" he yelled over the din of the shopping throng. People around him turned to stare curiously. They didn't see. Even Usagi and Minako turned to the sound, recognizing his voice, Usagi's delicate hand lingering close to the boxed toy horse. They didn't see, either. As her hand neared the box, the box took on a faint black glow.
Even Jingle Belle had stopped exhorting the crowd and stared curiously at him. The black clad figure shoved through the crowded store, trying to part the sea of people between him and - her. Cries of alarm rang out while others stared in surprise. He seemed to appear out of nowhere. What did he want? Who was he? Was he part of the store's personnel?
The tuxedo and cape looked vaguely familiar.
"Tuxedo Mask?" Usagi whispered in shock and trepidation.
Minako was instantly alert. She searched the area for trouble, because Tuxedo Mask didn't appear without reason.
"Please ignore him!" Jingle Belle called out to the patrons. "Please go on with your shopping! Everything is half off!"
"NO!" Tuxedo Mask yelled. "Don't touch anything! The gifts are all contaminated!"
Usagi snatched her hand away from the toy horse. At that moment she saw it: the faint crackle of black-tinged electricity from the box. The same effect she'd seen on the Promise Bracelet weeks ago. She looked back to Tuxedo Mask
"Usagi, get down!" Minako cried, shoving the girl to the floor.
Some of the other patrons hadn't been as lucky. Instantly black electricity seized anyone holding one of the gift items and began drawing the life from them. They howled in agony while the unaffected patrons panicked and stampeded for the door, further impeding Tuxedo Mask.
As she plummeted to the floor, Usagi caught a glimpse of Tuxedo Mask. He was fighting his way toward her and didn't see that Jingle Belle had turned toward him.
Or that Jingle Belle's smooth skin had turned to a gleaming metallic ice blue. Or that her eyes had become glowing red and pupil-less. Or that her hand was up and pointing at him.
"Tuxedo Mask!" Usagi shrieked in terror.
"JINGOBU!" roared the droid, invoking her name as her power phrase. Gift-wrapped boxes began firing out from the baggy sleeve of her Santa coat like projectiles. They struck Tuxedo Mask in the back and continued to batter him until he was knocked to his knees.
"Venus Star Power Make Up!" Minako called out, heedless of whether Jingobu or anyone else saw her. Her transformation galvanized Usagi into action.
"Moon Crystal Power Make Up!"
By the time she had transformed, Venus was already two steps ahead of her.
"Venus Love Me Chain!" roared the senshi. Her chain shot out and wrapped around Jingobu's torso, pinning the droid's arms to her sides. Thinking Venus had the situation in hand, Sailor Moon ran to the fallen Tuxedo Mask.
"JINGOBU!" bellowed the droid. Planting her feet firmly, she twisted her torso. Venus was pulled off of her feet, still attached to her chain, and sent flying against a glass showcase. The jarring impact staggered the senshi and severed the chain, which Jingobu easily burst.
"Venus!" wailed Sailor Moon. Only Tuxedo Mask's hands on her shoulders kept her from running to her friend's side. Pushing her aside narrowly kept her safe from the second volley of present projectiles fired by the droid.
Sailor Moon scrambled to her knees in time to see Tuxedo Mask act. More swiftly than the eye could see, the hero flung a rose that embedded stem first in the droid's forehead, right between the eyes. The droid fell back as if shot, flailing her arms.
"Now, Sailor Moon!" Tuxedo Mask yelled.
Summoning the Moon Scepter, Sailor Moon stood straight and tall amid the fallen patrons and scattered gifts, the ruins of the hope for a happy holiday. Her jaw tightened as she looked at the droid Jingobu, struggling even with Tuxedo Mask's rose in her forehead to mount another offensive.
"Moon Princess Halation!" she called out and the scepter acted. Jingobu was battered with energy from the scepter until she transformed into dust and ash, then disintegrated.
Venus watched with satisfaction. Then she was seized by Sailor Moon, concern and worry etched on the face of the princess.
"I'm OK," Venus said, cutting her query off. "Wasn't expecting her to be that strong. You'd think someone with my experience would know better." She got to her feet with a grimace, helped by Sailor Moon.
Then Sailor Moon was turned around by powerful hands. She looked up into the eyes of Tuxedo Mask, eyes dripping with concern and dread and the unspoken fear of losing her and being alone, a fear that had always been there, but was now more noticeable than before. Sailor Moon looked up at him, dumb-struck and in awe.
"Nope, I guess they're not having anymore problems," Sailor Venus smirked to herself.
"Sailor Moon," he gasped, the thought of her touching the box and being corrupted and lost to him running over and over in his mind. Or was it the vision of her lying dead on the remnants of the Kisenian meteor haunting him again?
"Thank you," Sailor Moon said, trying to reassure him that he had saved her yet again and he didn't have to worry anymore.
"Uh, I'm fine, too," Venus interjected. Tuxedo Mask continued to stare as if he hadn't heard her.
Then, to Sailor Moon's surprise, he bent in towards her. In shock, she realized he was going to kiss her. She went rigid, then at the last moment realized that he was going to kiss her and it was something she would enjoy. Her mouth bent up to his. Their lips touched and the electricity of passion and longing passed through them both, just as it had for a while now - ever since the Kisenian incident. Then Sailor Moon's mind went blank, overwhelmed by pleasure.
"OK, I'll just be going then," Venus ventured as the embracing couple ignored her.
She wandered over, fading back to Minako as she did, and retrieved her bags. Turning back, she found Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask still kissing.
"Lock up when you're done, huh?" she said as she passed by them on her way to the door.
When she reached the door, Minako looked back. They were still locked in a passionate embrace. The girl sighed.
"I've got to get a man of my own," the girl scowled. "Maybe Santa will finally give me one for Christmas."
"And this proved to be a major crisis for the new Meiji government why, Usagi?" Ami asked. She glanced up at Usagi, sitting across the table from her between Makoto and Minako. The four and Rei were having study group in Ami's penthouse apartment. "Usagi?"
"Hmm?" Usagi said suddenly, realizing Ami was speaking to her. Her gaze left her school satchel and met Ami's.
"Usagi, if you don't want to study, please say so," Ami grimaced. "I could be catching up on my calculus right now."
"I'm sorry, Ami-chan," Usagi groaned.
"I didn't know you were taking calculus?" Minako marveled.
"I'm not. Actually it's more bedtime reading than anything," Ami shrugged. Minako stared at her like she was an alien.
"Let me guess," smirked Makoto. "You're preoccupied with the box of Valentine chocolates for Mamoru that's in your satchel, right?" Usagi blushed.
"You haven't given them to him yet?" Ami asked.
"I haven't had a chance to catch up with him!" whined Usagi. "For some reason that I just can't figure out, they insist on having school on Valentine's Day! And Mamo-chan's got a late lab tonight and he doesn't get out until nine!"
"I'm amazed you haven't eaten them yet," jabbed Rei.
Usagi blushed again.
"So this is the second box of chocolates, huh?" chuckled Makoto. Usagi tried to shrink into herself while the others laughed.
"You have no control," Rei scowled.
"Said the girl who asked for one of my boxes because she couldn't resist the box she'd gotten for her grandfather," Minako murmured much too loudly, glancing at the ceiling.
"SQUEALER!" Rei fumed, kicking Minako under the table. That elicited another round of laughter.
"Wait, what do you mean 'one of your boxes'?" Makoto said. "How many did you get, Blondie?"
"Enough to qualify for a bulk discount," smirked Minako.
"How many boyfriends do you have?" gasped Ami.
"Well, nobody at the moment," Minako scowled. Then she perked up. "So I gave one to every studly guy in my grade level. I figure ONE of them has to hit." More laughter filled the room.
"So Usagi, what's it like knowing that you're destined to marry Mamoru and have a daughter?" Rei asked.
"Wonderful," Usagi said with a silly, romantic grin. "Although I've got to remember to teach my daughter better manners."
"Don't you have to learn them first?" Rei needled. Usagi shot her a tongue.
"That's got to be weird, though," Makoto said. "Finding out the four year old girl that was living with you was actually your daughter from the future."
"I suppose," Usagi mused. "I still haven't really gotten used to it."
"Do you miss her, now that she's gone back?" Ami asked.
"Yes. I wish I'd gotten to know her better. Maybe if she hadn't been such a brat, I could have. But yeah, I do."
"How about Mamoru?" Minako inquired. "How's he taking the whole 'destined family' thing?"
"Yeah, some guys don't like having marriage and family seem like an inescapable future," Makoto added.
"He misses her as much as I do," Usagi said with a small, wistful smile. "Maybe more. I think it's the whole 'family' thing."
Her friends looked at her curiously.
"Family is really important to him. I think it's always been important to him, but it's really important now."
"Because he's an orphan?" Ami asked.
Usagi nodded. "Before Chibi-Usa left, Mamo-chan insisted we get a picture taken of the three of us together. He was really insistent." Usagi's mouth turned up. "He gave me a print of it. It was a real good idea, thinking about it now."
"Finding out that we're destined to marry, and that he's destined to have a daughter - it's changed him," Usagi mused.
"Changed him how?" Rei asked.
"It's," Usagi hesitated, searching her feelings, "given him something to live for. Something to look forward to. He never had that before. He told me that he was always searching for his place in the world, searching for where he fit in." She grew self-conscious. "Mamo-chan and I talk a lot more now. He seems a lot more comfortable talking about his old life. He never wanted to talk about it before."
"Yeah, I remember," Rei nodded. Usagi shot her a wary glance. "Oh, pull your horns in! I'm not going to make a play for him!"
"I think I know where he's coming from," Makoto admitted. "There was a while there when I was searching for where I fit in - after my parents were gone. I hit a few rough spots along the way." Then she draped her arm over Usagi's shoulder and brightened. "Lucky for me I found my place."
"Well I'm glad for both of you," Ami smiled.
"Hey, Usagi," Minako interjected, looking at her watch. "It's about twenty until nine. If you leave now, you can probably just make it over to Mamoru's apartment and give him his chocolates."
"ACK!" Usagi gasped.
Wildly she stuffed her books into her satchel. She got up, caught the table with her hip, spilling Rei's drink, stumbled over the pillow she was sitting on, staggered to the door, waved to everyone, bumped her nose on the opening door and staggered out. Her four friends struggled to suppress their laughter.
"I guess study group's over," Makoto grinned.
"Actually it was over about twenty minutes ago," scowled Ami. "I'm just the last one who realized it."
"And not a moment too soon," Minako replied, shoving her books into her satchel. However she also pulled out a flat white box and put it on the table. Inside were chocolate valentine candies. "Chocolate, anyone?"
"Oh, I'll get fat!" gasped Makoto - as she nabbed a piece.
"Why you wonderful person!" grinned Rei, scooping up two. "I take back half of the nasty things I've thought about you."
"Weren't you going to give this to someone?" Ami asked.
"He," Minako began, then mentally switched gears. "I, um, bought one too many. You know, bulk discount. And if I took them home Artemis would just pig out on them and who wants a fat cat?"
"Thank you, Minako-chan," Ami replied, selecting a piece. Minako saw her sympathetic expression was mirrored on Rei and Makoto. A timid smile crept onto her face.
"'sides, who better to give them to than friends," Minako added, nibbling on a chocolate miniature heart.
"Happy birthday, dear Shingo!" the boy's three other family members sang - one agonizingly off-key. "Happy birthday to you!"
"How's it feel to be twelve, Shingo?" Kenji asked him proudly.
"Depends on what you gave me!" Shingo beamed.
"Well, we tried to get Sailor Moon, but she's a hard lady to track down," Kenji joked.
"And she's probably the only girl he'd be interested in," Usagi interjected slyly, "unless it was his girlfriend Mika."
"SHE'S NOT MY GIRLFRIEND, GODZILLA-BREATH!" Shingo roared. Usagi smiled sweetly at him. In response he pulled down his eyelid and stuck out his tongue. Naturally Usagi had to respond with her tongue.
"All right, you two," Ikuko sighed. "Shingo, I've talked to you about calling your sister 'Godzilla-breath'."
Just then, the front door buzzed. Kenji got up and went to see who it was. Shingo unwrapped his first birthday present while Usagi glared at him with her arms folded across her chest. To think she'd actually gone soft and bought a present for this little pestilence . . .
"We've got a guest, Dear," Kenji announced. The three looked up and found Mamoru following behind him.
"Mamo-chan!" Usagi squealed. He nodded an acknowledgment of her, but continued up to Shingo. The girl looked on, perplexed.
"Bought you a present, Shingo," Mamoru smiled. He handed the gift to the surprised boy while Kenji and Ikuko looked on. It was a nice gesture by someone who, to this point, had shown no interest in the "other" child of the Tsukino household. Ikuko noted that even Usagi was surprised, so she hadn't put him up to it.
Then she noticed a long, thin box in Mamoru's other hand. The woman smiled to herself, for she had a feeling she knew what was in the box and just who it was for.
"Thanks, Mamoru!" Shingo said, astounded. This only confirmed to him that Mamoru was an all right guy who just had lousy taste in girlfriends. The boy ripped open the wrapper. "Wow!" he gasped.
Inside was a maquette figurine of Sailor Moon. Sailor Moon and the senshi were beginning to grow in popularity in Japan and the newly minted collectible figurines of her and the four inners - plus a bonus figurine of Sailor V - were popular items on the island.
"Somebody mentioned that you were a fan of Sailor Moon," Mamoru replied, glancing at Usagi. She shared a conspiratorial smirk with him.
"It was very generous, Mamoru," Ikuko smiled at him. "Please join us. Would you like some cake?"
That would be nice.
"That would be nice, Mrs. Tsukino," Mamoru nodded.
Mamoru joined the family at the table. The party and birthday meal continued on, though Usagi was only partly aware of it. Her mind was occupied with the questions of why the normally reticent Mamoru had joined in the celebration and why he had even come. She was glad he was here - she'd been trying to get him to stop by for months. And yet, now that he was here, she couldn't help feeling curious as to why his attitude had changed - and disappointed that he wasn't spending the entire time with her.
Ikuko sensed her daughter's silent questions and her barely restrained desire to get Mamoru by himself. She knew Kenji sensed it, too. Kenji she could handle. For the sake of her son, who was the birthday boy, she waited until dinner was over to act.
"We loved having you, Mamoru," she told him as she started to remove the dishes from the table. Shingo had already vacated to play with his newfound wealth. "Please don't worry about the dishes. Kenji and I can handle them. I'm sure you and Usagi would like a few minutes to yourselves."
"Thank you, Mrs. Tsukino," Mamoru nodded gratefully.
"But?" Kenji began anxiously.
"Come along, Dear," Ikuko responded gently, but firmly. Usagi and Mamoru quickly adjourned to the next room.
"I notice you got another box with you," Usagi remarked coyly as they entered the room.
"Yeah, it's a little hard to hide," Mamoru said.
"And since you didn't give it to Shingo, it must be for someone else," Usagi grinned.
"It is," he grinned back.
"Oh, I wonder who it could be," she said, sing-song. Then her eyebrow arched. "And you'd better say 'me'."
Smirking, Mamoru handed her the box. Greedily Usagi ripped it open.
"Oh, it's lovely," she cooed, removing a long-stem rose from the box. "And it's so 'you'. Anymore whenever I see a rose, I automatically think of you."
"Given what day this is, I figured I'd just return the favor."
Usagi looked up at him, puzzled.
"You don't get the connection, do you?" Mamoru grinned, mildly surprised.
"Connection?" Usagi asked.
"Today's our anniversary," Mamoru said.
"Mamo-chan, we haven't known each other that long!" Usagi replied. "It's only March! I don't think it's even been a year!"
"That day in front of the Crown," Mamoru recalled. "I can't recall what shocked me more: Being hit in the head with a crumpled up test by an uncouth girl or the fact that it had so many red marks on it." Usagi's jaw jutted out. "That's not our anniversary, Usako."
Usagi got that puzzled look again.
"I've been in love with you for twelve years, Usako," he persisted.
"Mamo-chan, I'm only fourteen!" Usagi protested. Mamoru's hands closed on her shoulders. She looked up into his loving eyes, hopelessly confused.
"Usako, what were you doing twelve years ago today?"
"Twelve years? I can't even remember yesterday! Besides, I was only two!" At his silent urging, Usagi searched her memory. Mamoru could see it was quickly proving fruitless.
"What's today?" he prompted.
"Shingo's birthday." She saw him nod and furrowed her brow. "Twelve years ago? I guess I was in the hospital, visiting Mom. But it's so vague."
Usagi's voice trailed off. She looked down at the long-stem rose. Her eyes grew to saucers. She looked back up at Mamoru.
"That boy in the hospital!" Usagi gasped. "That was you?"
"Yes," Mamoru smiled warmly.
"I remember giving you the rose. I wanted to help you - because you were so sad."
"My parents had just died a couple of weeks before that," Mamoru related. "I couldn't even remember them. I couldn't remember anything - except that everyone important in my life wasn't there anymore - and would never be again. As soon as the doctor said I was fit to go, they were taking me to an orphanage. I'd - even found a friend, only to have to say good-bye to him."
Usagi stared up at him, tears forming around her wide blue eyes.
"I was - so alone. I wondered why me? Had I done something in the life I couldn't even remember that made me deserve such isolation? I wondered if I'd ever see Fiore again - if I'd ever find anyone else who'd want to spend their life with me. I wondered if I'd ever know anything but misery and loss for the rest of my life. I wondered," he began and stopped, taking a moment to compose himself. "That's a lot for a six year old boy to deal with. And then, just when I was at life's lowest point, this delightful little blonde cherub walked into my life and brought the light back into my darkness. I've always remembered so vividly how I felt at that moment, even when the details blurred. Her sweet smile came to mean hope to me. Her big blue eyes came to mean charity to me. Her simple gift of a rose and her wonderful words of encouragement told me that - that I wasn't alone. That I wasn't doomed to a life of misery and loss. That someone still cared, even though I was a stranger."
Usagi fell into his arms, holding Mamoru tightly as she pressed her face into his chest. Gratefully Mamoru folded his arms around her.
"From that moment on, I had a dream girl," he whispered to her. "For years I thought of nothing but beautiful blonde angels with radiant smiles and the bluest eyes man could ever know. As I grew older, I ended up comparing every woman I met to this little cherub who had saved me from a lifetime of despair. But no one could ever measure up. I was always left wondering what she was like grown up and would I ever meet her again. After a while, I gave up. I figured she was gone forever, so I buried myself in my car, my job and my studies. By the time we met again, my little cherub was as forgotten as Fiore was - and I was a desperately cynical and disappointed man."
Usagi squeezed him more tightly.
"Of course, my memory's never been the greatest. Even after you plunked me with that test, I didn't really recognize you. But seeing Fiore again made me remember that day," Mamoru told her. "Once I remembered those eyes and that smile, I realized you were her - that I'd accidentally fallen in love with my dream girl without even realizing it. So today is our anniversary, Usako, because it was twelve years ago today that we met - and twelve years since I first fell in love with you."
"Oh, Mamo-chan," Usagi whimpered, crying on his shirt.
Listening from the kitchen, Ikuko sniffed and wiped a tear from her eye. She felt Kenji touch her arm and turned to him. He wore a sheepish smile, that darling little gesture of his that told her that she was right and he surrendered. In this case, after overhearing the two in the next room, he was finally abandoning his suspicion of Mamoru.
"I told you so," Ikuko whispered. She leaned in and kissed him.
"What's with her?" Shingo asked, peering into the next room and seeing Usagi crying on Mamoru's chest. "They're not breaking up again, are they?"
"She's just happy," Ikuko told him.
"Figures SHE'D have it backwards," the boy grumbled.