by Alicia Blade
Inspired by "As Lovers Go" by Dashboard Confessional. This is the sans-lyrics version. To read the lyrics version (which probably makes more sense, esp. with the title) check it out at Aria's Ink.
My fabulous editor, Stormlight-chan, brought to my attention that there was a story written a few years back with a similar idea concerning candy hearts. I assure you the plot for this story was completely contrived by my own attention-hungry muse, though it was heavily inspired by a Clairol hair color magazine advertisement (which is SO cute. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about). But if you happen to know the author or story that Storm was referring to, please let me know. I'd be very interested in reading it! (Edit: I did find the story Thanks to those who told me about it! It's "Conversational Hearts" by Eternal Angel, and very cute and sweet, though not very much like this story, after all. Anyhow, read it if you're in the mood for a short V-Day fic.)
With that said, all normal disclaimers apply.
Happy Valentine's Day! I wish the best of romance, friendship, and sweets to you all!
A Valentine's Special
"E-excuse me?" Usagi stammered, her throat suddenly dry, her heart pounding abnormally fast.
Mamoru cleared his throat, his blue eyes staring into her. His hands were clasped together nervously on the table, his tongue desperately stuttering out the words.
"I said, I... I think I might... I... I'm in love with you." Inhaling sharply, he pursed his lips and watched her, hoping, waiting; wishing he could crawl into some deep, dark hole for the rest of his life rather than stare at her bewildered and disbelieving face for another moment.
For a moment—a fraction of a second—he considered taking it back. Laughing. Pretending it was a joke. But he didn't. He couldn't. He'd already decided he was going to tell her, and this was, after all, the time of year to confess these types of things. He just wished she would SAY something. ANYTHING.
"Ha! Is it April already?" she burst out suddenly, searching the room for a calendar.
Mamoru blinked in confusion. Okay, maybe not anything. "April?"
"Yeah, April Fool's, right? Whoa, you really had me going for a second there."
Mamoru ran his fingers through his hair. "Usagi-chan, it's February twelfth."
She looked at him, her eyes whirlpools of doubt and nerves. Then, in a momentary blink, they dimmed to anger. She leapt up from the table, toppling her chair behind her, her fists balled at her side.
Gasping at the quick movement, Mamoru reared back, nearly toppling over himself.
"You are SUCH a jerk, Mamoru!"
"I always knew you were mean, but this is a new low. I never thought you would be so cruel and... and... Gah! I hate you!"
He could think of nothing to say. His mouth hung open in shock as he gawked up at her.
"You know I don't have a boyfriend! You know I don't have a date for Valentine's! So you try to play some heartless joke on me? That is the cruelest... most horrible..." Tears began to well up in her eyes.
Mamoru stood, reaching his hands out toward her. "But..."
"Don't say anything!" she screeched, ignoring the people in the small café that were beginning to stare. "I never, ever want to see you again!" Just as the first tears swept down her cheeks, she turned and dashed from the restaurant.
Part of Mamoru wanted to chase after her, but his knees wouldn't allow it as he collapsed back onto his chair and buried his face in his hands.
All of the wonderful fantasies of that morning were wiped clean away. Dreams of her big eyes glowing up at him, her eyelashes fluttering as a smile lit up her face, before she threw herself into his arms, squealing, "Me too! Oh, I love you, too!"
He could have kicked himself. He'd been so sure... after so long of watching her, wanting her, pining for her, he could have sworn she felt something, too. Despite the fighting. Despite the teasing. They'd had moments. They'd shared secret smiles. He'd felt it, but had he only imagined that she had, too? Had his heart gotten so carried away that he'd begun to make something out of nothing?
But if she had disliked him before, she must truly have hated him now. She believed that he...
'But it wasn't a joke!' he screamed inside his head. It was possibly the most honest, heart-felt thing he had ever said. And she didn't believe him.
But what could he do? She'd already made up her mind about him. Perhaps they were destined to be enemies, after all. Which left him only one choice.
He sighed, hating the option. Hating this trapped feeling. He knew that he should be holding her right now, but instead she was off crying somewhere, because of him, as it always would be.
Tomorrow, he would go along. Pretend it was a joke after all. A horrendously terrible, stupid, heartless joke, because that was the kind of horrendously terrible, stupid, heartless jerk she imagined him to be.
With an irritated sigh, his intense blue eyes landed on a little bowl on the table, filled with candy hearts. They were set all over the little dessert parlor, their pastel charms tempting passersby to take a sample, chuckle at the saying, nibble on them in between bites of banana splits and parfaits.
Closing his eyes, Mamoru reached into the bowl and picked out a heart. Opening his eyes again, he read the saying on the tiny green symbol of love.
He frowned. "A hundred and one different romantic sayings and this is what I get? No wonder I'm so hopeless." The candy heart seemed to smile innocently back at him and he sighed, setting the hardened sugar onto his tongue.
A chipper voice sounded from a booth and he glanced over to see Minako, one of Usagi's best friends, giggling at a young man. A pink shake with two straws sat between them.
He crunched down on the heart and it shattered into little sharp bits in his mouth.
"Wise Up," he muttered.
Who was he to deny the advice of one of the season's greatest hallmarks?
Standing, he went to interrupt the blonde's date as the last bits of sugar melted on his tongue.
Usagi sulked into her classroom with her bag dangling limply from her fingers.
Twenty-four more hours and it would be Valentine's Day. Another holiday of romance and love that she would spend alone. Her fifteenth Valentine's Day alone. But at least in forty-eight more hours it would be all over and she could move on through the next 364 days with the gusto she usually had. She just wasn't ready for it this year.
And she'd tried to tell herself that the holiday celebrated all sorts of love, and love itself was definitely one thing she was not lacking. She had her parents, her brother, and all of her great girlfriends. Who needed a boy to share it with?
But it didn't help much. Necessity aside, she wanted a boy to share it with.
And then that Mamoru! That stupid, obnoxious, egotistical Mamoru had had the nerve to "confess" such a horribly wonderful thing to her, only two days before the holiday of love and romance. What a dirty trick. She scowled as she sluggishly approached her desk, feeling nauseated just with the remembrance. Had he really thought she would fall for such a cruel joke? And why did he find it so important to go out of his way to make her miserable? Didn't he see how she was suffering already?
But the part of it that really made her disgusted wasn't the joke he had played or the obviously false admission. It was the giddy tumbling she had felt in her stomach when he had first said the words.
"Usagi-chan, I love you."
The quickening of her heartbeat, the flushing of her cheeks, the sweating of her palms.
"Usagi-chan, I'm in love with you."
The desire, the passion, the strong urge to throw herself at him and let him kiss her and hold her and say it over and over again.
"Usagi-chan, I love you, I love you, I love you."
All over that jerk! She could hardly contain her anger at herself.
Her silent seething came to a sudden halt as she reached her desk and looked down at the surface. Her breath caught. She looked around. It was the right desk, right?
There was a small, truffle-sized box sitting in the middle, wrapped in gold with a red ribbon, smiling in the early morning sunlight.
Why was it on her desk? Who did it belong to?
"Tsukino Usagi, would you please sit down? I'd like to begin this lecture sometime today."
She gulped and sank into her seat, apologizing to her teacher beneath her breath. As Haruna-sensei began to prattle on, beginning with the lecture she had cut short the previous afternoon, Usagi risked a glance at Minako who sat in the seat beside her. Minako was grinning at her with an ear-to-ear smile, her big blue eyes darting between her friend's stunned expression and the little golden box.
"From you?" Usagi mouthed.
Minako shook her head, then gestured for Usagi to open it.
Biting her lip, she did so, tearing the paper as slowly and quietly as she could. She pulled a lid off of the box. Inside was a little mint-green candy heart. Just one.
"Magic," it read.
She pulled it out with a little smile and sat it down on the desk. Then she noticed a note that had been tucked beneath it. She reached in, took it out, and unfolded the tiny white paper.
You bring magic wherever you go. You charm me with every smile. You bewitch me with every word. There are few enchanted places in this world, and yet when you are in a room, it is filled with the magic you emanate—with your beauty, electricity, and power. I bid you go to grace another place, the Cherry Hill Temple, with your own magical presence this afternoon. Something waits for you there.
It had been the slowest day in the history of school. During lunch, Usagi had shared the note with Minako, Ami, and Makoto, who all swooned delightedly, though it appeared to Usagi that none of them seemed nearly as surprised as she was to have received a special love letter and gift. She had read and reread it until the words were ingrained in her memory. She had folded and unfolded the paper until its creases began to rip. She did not dare to eat the candy heart, but kept it safely in the box.
It wasn't until the lunch hour was almost over when she suddenly remembered her conversation with Mamoru and told her friends all about it. But when she began to rant about how mean and cruel he had been, they exchanged wary glances with each other. They tried to support her, but even she could tell that they didn't completely see her side of things. Their eyes were filled with sympathy, and she actually thought it might be for Mamoru, and not for her. She was almost—almost—grateful to go back to class.
When finally the last bell rang, she sprang from her seat and was the first out the door. She barely took the time to wave at Ami, who was in the same class with her. She knew that her friend would understand. She had something waiting for her at the Cherry Hill Temple.
She ran all the way and was tomato-red and heaving for breath when she finally stumbled up the stairs that led to the temple where another close friend lived and worked. In the courtyard she took a moment to catch her breath and look around, but could see nothing out of place, and there wasn't anyone around. Inhaling deeply, she made her way through the numerous dojo and into the temple, but still saw nothing extraordinary. Frowning, she finally went to see Rei. Perhaps she had noticed something odd and would have an idea of what Usagi's mysterious note had meant.
She found the raven-haired priestess in her bedroom, lying on her stomach on her bed, reading a sappy manga and twirling a long lock of hair around one finger. Her violet eyes looked up when Usagi entered, still flushed. Her grin widened.
"What took you so long, Odango?" she said teasingly and thrust a thumb over her shoulder. "It's on the vanity."
Her mouth drying, Usagi looked where Rei had gestured and her eyes immediately fell on a little golden box. She looked back at her friend who was already immersed in her comic again.
"Rei-chan?" she asked nervously. "What is it?"
Rei looked up at her and shrugged. "Why don't you open it and find out?"
Nodding and sucking in a long breath, Usagi walked toward the desk and picked up the little box. She opened it as gingerly as she had the first.
Inside was another little heart, this one pale yellow.
She also found another note. Shakily, she sat down at the foot of the bed. Rei flopped over to watch her read it, so she cleared her breath and read aloud.
I try to study and I try to focus, but since you came into my life, my thoughts have been filled only with dreams of you. I dream of holding you in my arms. I dream of kissing your pretty lips. I dream of touching your golden hair. I dream of your enticing smile one day turning on me. Even in the library, where one should be able to concentrate on one's schoolwork, I can think of nothing but you. But go there, and perhaps you will find something more worthwhile.
She looked up at Rei, who was smiling mischievously. "Someone's got it bad."
Usagi laughed and put the note and heart back into her bag. "The library! I have to go to the library!"
Rei nodded in understanding. "Go get him, Usagi-chan," she said with a wink. "He's immensely gorgeous."
Usagi froze half way out the door and turned back to Rei who had a twinkle in her eyes.
"What? You've seen him? You know who he is?"
She nodded, but held up a hand to silence Usagi's advancing questions. "But I'm not telling. You'll just have to find out for yourself. Now, get yourself to the library. You do know where that is, right?"
Rolling her eyes in fake annoyance, Usagi spun around and dashed from the temple.
Usagi had never been so excited to go into a library. Her heart was pounding as she entered and she worried that people would hear it in the unbearable silence. It smelled like paper and ink and leather and the only sounds were the turning of pages, the creaking of spines, and the scratching of pens. Usagi bit her lower lip as she made her way down the isles of books, looking for another golden box, but also eyeing every boy she saw, wondering if any of them were her mysterious admirer. Perhaps he would meet her here? Even the library began to take on the strange aura of romance, surprising Usagi.
Her heart fell a bit when she reached the back of the library and had seen no boxes and very few handsome men—none of which had glanced her way. Turning, she made her way to the brightly lit study room. Peering through the door, her eyes swept over the room and landed on a head of short blue hair. She grinned. Perhaps Ami had seen something unusual.
Tip-toeing toward the table and ignoring the raised eyebrows that her caution got her, she made her way toward her friend and silently sat down in the chair beside her. Ami looked up, not even a hint of surprise on her features, and grinned. Tapping a pencil to her lips, she reached her hand behind a stack of books on the table. When it reappeared, a little golden box was clutched in her fingers.
Usagi stifled a squeal of delight and took it with trembling hands. Ami peered over her shoulder as she opened the gift.
A little blue heart read, "Angel."
She sighed dreamily and held the note toward the light so that Ami could read it at the same time.
If ever an angel was sent to live on this earth, it is you. No other girl has such a heavenly presence or giving heart or tender adoration for her loved ones. Watching you from afar, it is impossible not to think of you with swan wings and a crystal halo, and your smile is all the light of Heaven in my eyes. I have sometimes termed you my Arcade Angel, because it was at Crown Arcade that I first found myself falling for you. I hope you will fall for me there as well.
She beamed at Ami, who smiled lovingly back and reached over to give her a one-armed hug. "Good luck," she whispered in her ear.
Usagi stuck the box in her bag and skipped from the library.
She felt a tingling all over her body as the arcade's familiar doors slid open and she paced inside, reveling in the sounds of the game machines and the delighted chatter of children and teenagers. Almost immediately she recognized Makoto's tall, lithe form leaning over the counter as she flirted shamelessly with Motoki. Desperately trying to take in steady breaths, Usagi approached the pair. When Motoki saw her coming, he stood up straight and smiled his smile that used to make her weak in the knees. Now it held more brotherly affection than anything else, but she still loved that smile.
"Hello, Usagi-chan! Hot chocolate? Shake? Banana split?"
"Not today, thank you. Actually, I came to see if… well, either of you know if anyone… left something for me."
The two exchanged sly looks and Makoto tossed her brunette hair over one shoulder.
"Something?" she asked teasingly. "Gee, I'm not sure if anyone left something here for you. What do you think, Motoki-san?"
He scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Hm, nothing that sticks out in my memory. Nothing that would seem important, at least."
"No, not important. And certainly not romantic. Or sweet."
"Nothing sweet in the slightest."
"Guys!" Usagi wailed, gripping her hands over the edge of the counter until her knuckles began turning white. "There was something, and you know it!"
Makoto laughed. "Don't blow a gasket, Usagi-chan! Although, now that you mention it, I think I do remember something, vaguely. A little gold something?"
Motoki's eyes twinkled. "Now that does sound familiar! But wherever did we put that? It was so small, I hope it didn't get thrown away."
Usagi's face turned crimson. "That's not funny!"
The two co-conspirators laughed in unison.
"Sorry, Usagi-chan, couldn't resist," Motoki said with a wink and reached beneath the counter, pulling out another golden box.
Usagi grabbed for it and tore the paper off. Inside, a white heart sat charmingly on another bed of paper.
She gulped and read the note, to herself, though the others stood hovering over it to see.
Perhaps it is an impossible fantasy. Wishful thinking, and nothing more. Perhaps I don't stand a chance. But I have dreamt and hoped and wondered so many hours, so many long nights, that I must ask. I am desperate for your kiss. I can imagine your taste and your touch, but it is not you, only figments of my imagination, and it is you, Usako, that I long for. Please, come meet me in the park by the lake. I will be waiting, willing, and ready to love you, if you will but give me one kiss to ease my frantic heart.
She raised cerulean eyes to her close friends and found herself blushing furiously.
"You go, girl!" Makoto cheered.
Motoki laughed and shook his head. "Whoever would have thought," he mused to himself.
"He wants to kiss me," Usagi whispered breathlessly, clutching the note to her chest.
"Lucky you, and just in time for the holiday of love, too," Makoto admonished.
"What if I don't like him?" she asked, and was surprised that this was the first time the possibility had entered her thoughts all day.
Makoto and Motoki shrugged at each other. "There's only one way to find out. Get thee to the park!"
Mamoru found himself pacing along the shore of the lake again. At every sound—every far off giggle, every chipmunk's chatter, every runner's footsteps—he jumped, turned to face it with a rigid back and shaking hands, and waited. When the girl didn't show up, again, he inhaled a long breath, tried to calm himself, ran a hand through his hair, and resumed his pacing.
He didn't know what to do with his hands. Should they be casually hidden in his trouser pockets? Or perhaps with teasing fists on his waist? Or maybe folded haughtily against his chest to give himself stability and confidence? At his sides felt so limp. Behind his back felt so unnatural. Out in the open left them to wide, obnoxious gestures that only increased his nervousness.
Ah, but nervousness hardly seemed to do this emotion justice. He was terrified. He was shaken completely to the core. Yesterday he'd been nervous, scared, and worried. But he'd also been excited and filled with elated anticipation. He'd had more hope—that she felt the same way, that she loved him back, that she would at least give him a chance.
But that had been squashed with her anger and resentment.
Now, he not only had his confession to dwell on (besides, wasn't that part over with?), but he had to prove himself to her. He had to prove he had meant every word. He had to prove his love and devotion. He had to make her see that she was everything to him. He had to make her give him a chance—just one chance. He knew he would never waste it. He needed her.
And in just a few minutes, she would come running down that path and he would tell her all that, just as he had less than twenty-four hours before.
This time, he needed her to believe him.
It seemed as though she'd been running all day and now that this scavenger/treasure hunt was finally coming to its end, Usagi's feet were beginning to feel like lead. The park's trail loomed in front of her, empty save the tree's stretching shadows and strips of the sun's pink light shining through. For a moment, she stopped walking completely and just stood in the chilled winter air. Her heavy breath left her in gasps of fog. She clutched her arms around her body, wondering why she had refused to take her coat that morning.
That morning seemed like a hundred years ago. So much had happened. So much was about to happen. She couldn't help imagining who it would be. She kept scrolling through all of the boys that she knew, all of the boys that she hoped it would be.
Rei had said he was attractive. All of her friends, even Motoki, seemed to have high opinions of him. They all thought it was sweet and romantic. And she trusted their opinions. They wouldn't lead her astray. But who did she know that was close enough to her best friends to have them help with this masquerade? Who did she know that they would so adamantly approve of?
And no matter how hard she tried not to think of it, her thoughts kept coming back to Mamoru, and his confession that she was still convinced was a joke. But she kept seeing his eyes, boring holes into her, hiding so much, and yet wanting to reveal even more. She hadn't let him. She hadn't given him the chance to reveal anything.
She shook her head roughly. This was not about Mamoru. Someone liked her. Really, truly liked her. And she was not going to let thoughts of that jerk ruin the most romantic thing that had ever happened to her.
Clenching her fists determinedly and raising her chin, she trudged forward. The path curved and a corner of the lake came into view. Her eyes darted each way, but she could see no one yet. She continued forward, her knees wobbly beneath her.
"Hey there, gorgeous."
Gasping, she spun around at the comment, almost losing her balance in the process.
A man stood beneath one tree, with wavy brunette hair and dark eyes and a crooked smile. She took a step back, feeling uncomfortable with the way he looked at her. But he was handsome.
Was this him? She didn't recognize him at all. If this was indeed her secret admirer, he'd been very adept at keeping the secret.
"Do… do I know you?"
He laughed, low and rumbling. She didn't like that, either. "No, doll. Would you like to?"
She took another shaky step back as he came closer, feeling her heart plummet. This was him. Her romantic prince charming. The sweet, adoring man that had filled her heart with so much hope and anticipation all day long, and she was immensely disappointed. She wanted to run away from him more than she wanted to kiss him. She shuddered at the thought.
Trying to fake a smile, she tilted her head up toward him. Perhaps her instincts were overreacting. She was just nervous. She wet her lips. What should she say to him? What was he expecting from her?
"Er.. thank you," she mumbled, diverting her gaze to analyze the dirt path.
He laughed again. "Oh, you're so welcome, darling," he said sarcastically, and reached forward, grabbing her around the waist.
A startled scream pulled Mamoru from his thoughts. His eyes looked off toward the trees, sure he had recognized Usagi's squeal. His heart quickening, he thought he saw two shadows by the path, one the form of a tall man, and the other—
Gasping, he sprinted toward them, anger and outrage coursing through him. His hands balled into fists, a growl escaped his throat.
The man had wrapped his arms around Usagi, who was struggling adamantly against his advances. He grabbed her chin with one hand and forced her face toward him, muttered something angrily at her, then moved to force his lips onto hers.
Mamoru took a breath to yell something chivalrous and furious, but the words clogged his throat as he watched.
Usagi's eyes, filled with horror a moment before, became suddenly livid. One arm escaped the man's grip and she pulled her elbow back, clenched her fists, and swung at him. Her knuckles collided firmly with the man's jaw, shocking him into releasing his grip, and, with grace that betrayed her, Usagi jumped away, braced her feet firmly apart, and held both fists in front of her face, glaring viciously at the stunned man.
Mamoru blinked in astonishment, his furiousness melting away to surprise, and a little bit of pride. The man stumbled back, reaching a hand up to his chin and cursing loudly as Usagi backed slowly away, her expression losing its toughness and returning to fright.
"You little brat! I'm going to..."
Usagi squealed, her nerves shot, as Mamoru emerged from the shadows and placed a protective hand on her shoulder, but her fear quickly dissipated as he stepped in front of her, his body a wall as he glared the man down.
"If you touch her again," he said in a low, menacing tone that stopped the man in his tracks, "that punch is going to feel like a mosquito bite compared to what I'll do to you."
Usagi gulped, feeling comforted as Mamoru became a barrier between her and the man. She gingerly peered around his arm, watching as the man debated whether to stand up for his pride or flee while he still had the chance. Judging by the tone in Mamoru's voice, he was not one to be messed with at this point, and she was secretly glad that she didn't have to see his eyes at that moment. She could only imagine the ice that loomed inside of them as he glared at her attacker.
The man harrumphed and turned away. "She's not worth it!" he grumbled and stalked off, a little too quickly to retain any sense of masculinity.
When the man was out of sight, Mamoru instantly turned around and grabbed onto her shoulders, his blue eyes peering with fear and worry into hers. She gasped, startled at the amazing change of countenance. "Are you alright? Did he hurt you? Is anything broken?" he stuttered, the words flying from his mouth as he looked her up and down.
"Fine. I'm fine," she answered quickly, her heart fluttering from the looks he gave her. "I'm only a little shaken, that's all."
He gulped, his eyes roving over her once more to make sure she was all in one piece, before he slowly inhaled a deep breath and took his hands off of her shoulders. They stared silently at each other a moment, but just before awkwardness could set in, Mamoru burst into laughter.
Usagi looked at him in confusion. "What?"
"That's some right hook you've got there!" he answered, still chuckling. "I doubt I could have done much better myself."
She looked down at the ground, the beginnings of a blush covering her face. "Well, a girl's got to look out for herself."
His grin turned to one of softness and compassion, though she didn't notice, too engrossed with the dirt beneath her sneakers. Slowly, he wrapped an arm around her shoulder and turned her back toward the road. "Come on. I'll walk you home."
"No, you don't need to. I'll be fine."
"After that? Are you joking? I'd be sick with worry if you were walking home alone! Even though I do have a bit more confidence in your self-protection skills now."
Her blush deepened at the gentle teasing, which carried a very serious ring of truth. "I really don't need you to, Mamo..."
"Usagi," he said sternly, forcing her to look up at him. "Please. Let me walk you home. I swear it will be more for my sanity than your safety."
She gulped, having a sudden desire to be wrapped up in his arms, to be held and comforted, petted and soothed after the frightful event. Somehow she knew that if she were to ask, he would comply willingly. Maybe... maybe... even happily. After all, things had changed. And he had said...
Taking a deep breath, she forced herself to look away. "I suppose. But only for your sanity."
They began walking toward her home and she felt a hint of disappointment when Mamoru didn't try to put his arm around her shoulders or reach to grab her hand. She craved touch: a gentle, comforting touch, and found herself desperately wishing for Mamoru's assurance, but Mamoru made no move toward her. He instead thrust his hands into his pockets and Usagi's heart sank. She no longer understood what he was thinking or feeling, but even less, she couldn't figure out her own emotions. Two days ago she couldn't stand him, right? Two days ago he couldn't stand her. Right?
But she wasn't so sure anymore. And since his confession, she'd remembered all of those moments in their daily interactions when she had felt a moment of hesitation or confusion. What did that smile really mean? Was that last comment an insult or a compliment? Did she just catch him staring at her?
It had been easy at the time to pass such things off as her mind playing tricks on her, but now… But it had been a joke! Hadn't it?
"So, any plans for Valentine's?" she asked, feeling a pressing need to fill the silence—and her own head—with conversation. But she could have smacked herself for the choice of topic and momentarily considered taking it back or trying something else, but she didn't get the chance.
Mamoru's eyes were glued to the pavement as he walked. "No," he answered plainly, gulping to wet his throat. "Are you cold?"
Instinctively, Usagi's wrapped her arms around herself. "I'm fine."
But Mamoru had already taken off his jacket and draped it over her. "It's the middle of February. Don't you have a jacket?"
She shrugged and slipped her arms into the sleeves. The jacket was warm and heavy and smelled good and almost made up for the physical touch she was missing. "I forgot it today. Thank you."
"So why don't you have plans?" she asked, flinching even as the words left her. Couldn't she think of anything else to talk about? But she felt almost as if she was looking for proof, but proof of what she wasn't sure. Perhaps that she was right and his confession had been a joke; and yet everything he had said and done today told her that it wasn't. Why couldn't she let herself believe it?
Then perhaps she was looking for proof that it was true.
Mamoru cleared his throat uncomfortably. "The girl I wanted to spend it with was adamantly uninterested."
She lowered her eyes, feeling a sting of guilt at her own cruel words. If he had been serious, then she had been so mean. But could she really be blamed? After all, up until that point all he'd ever done was point out her faults.
And yet, somehow, he always had a way of making her feel good about herself, in a strange, backwards sort of way. Like when he called her Odango Atama, he was making fun of her hairstyle, but, at the same time, commenting on her uniqueness and originality and making it obvious that he had noticed such. That wasn't so bad, was it?
"How about you?" he asked with a distinct reservation in his voice. "I'm sure there are tons of boys who have asked you out for the holiday."
She snorted, disappointment stinging her heart. Less than half an hour ago she'd been filled with dreams and fantasies of spending the day with one perfect man. How badly that had turned out. "Yeah, right," she muttered bitterly. "Nobody likes me."
Mamoru gulped, forcing himself not to groan in frustration. "I can think of one guy who does."
"Mamoru, stop. It isn't funny," she whispered, her heart twisting in her chest.
"Usagi," he stopped walking and grabbed her hand, forcing her to look up at him. "I understand that you don't feel the same way. I know you want nothing to do with me. I know there are a million other guys you wish had feelings for you, and that I don't stand a chance, and that you can do better. I know that. But... have you considered, even for a moment, that what I said was true? Usagi, I... I do love you. Whether you want to believe it or not. I know nothing will come of it. I know you don't feel anything for me, but... please know that there will always be someone who cares for you. Who wants you."
Her lower lip trembled as she stared into his prodding eyes, stormy and dark and... completely transparent. She gasped and knew, in a sudden, world-shattering moment, that he was telling the truth. Her voice left her as her palms became clammy. Her heartbeat pounded furiously in her head. She barely even noticed the tears filling up her eyes as she looked up at him, reading his mind, his heart, his very soul in those intense, beautiful eyes. They were her proof.
"Oh, Usako..." he mumbled, releasing her hand. It seemed for a moment he would reach out and hold her, or stroke her tears away, or even kiss her, but instead, he took a slow step back. "Please, please don't cry because of me anymore. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to change anything, or hurt you. And I know you wish I was something more, and someone more. But please don't cry anymore." His voice broke and he stopped talking, taking another half step away.
Her voice trembling, Usagi managed to stutter out, somewhere from the back of her head, "This... this is my house."
He gulped and nodded.
"Thank you for... walking me. And for the jacket."
"Wait, before you take it off…"
She stopped with it hanging off of her shoulders.
"Check the left pocket. There's something for you."
Pursing her lips, she nervously reached into the pocket. Her fingers found something small and square and she pulled it out, her eyes meeting with a small gold box, like all the others she had seen that day. Her jaw fell. Mindlessly, she took off the jacket without removing her gaze from the box. She could hardly breathe.
He tried to smile as he took the coat. "Goodnight."
"G-goodnight," she muttered, feeling like there were a million other more important things to say, but she couldn't think of a single one of them, and knew she wouldn't have words to express them if she could.
Slowly, unsteadily, she made her way up her driveway, feeling her feet grow heavier with each step. She wanted nothing more than to turn around and throw herself into him, and make him say those words again and again, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. The emotions were so foreign, so strange, so all-encompassing, that her heart and body were at continuous odds, wanting both to be near to him and to run far, far away. She let herself into the house without looking back at the man on the sidewalk. Once she was inside, she forced herself to inhale a very long, very deep breath, and she took the lid off of the box. There was no note this time, only a heart. A pale pink, perfect little heart.
"I Love You."
She sprinted up the stairs to her bedroom. Without turning on the light, she leapt to her window and peered out from behind the curtain. He was slowly retreating away beneath the orange glow of the streetlights, his shoulders sagging, his head lowered, not looking at all his normally cocky, arrogant, confident, charming self. The jacket was still clutched, almost cradled, in his arms.
Shakily, she reached for the phone on her dresser and dialed a familiar number without removing her eyes from him.
"Eh... moshi moshi?"
"Minako-chan?" she asked, her voice wavering.
"Usagi? Do you know what time it is?"
"Mina..." She sobbed. "It wasn't a joke. Mamoru is in love with me."
Mamoru slumped down at the arcade's counter. "Oy, Motoki," he said, failing to ignore the huge, goofy grin on the clerk's face. "Coffee?"
"How about a triple chocolate shake instead? In honor of the holiday of love. On the house."
Mamoru glared skeptically at the drink as it was placed in front of him, but then began drinking it with a shrug. Free chocolate was, after all, free chocolate. "Since when are you such a romantic?" he asked suspiciously.
Chuckling, Motoki finished making a banana split and passed it off to a waitress. "Oh, sometimes the season just gets to me."
"Big plans with Reika tonight?"
"I have something in mind. How about you? Swept that crazy Odango off her feet yet?"
Mamoru sighed, playing with his straw. "It's hopeless. She'll never feel anything for me other than hatred and contempt. She still thinks I was lying to her."
"Aw, don't feel so bad, chap. You'll find someone else!"
Glowering up at his friend, Mamoru took another drink. When the straw fell from his lips, he let his glare settle a bit. "I don't want anyone else."
Unphased, Motoki blurted in his all-too-chipper voice, "Well, that's too bad. 'Cause someone else wants you."
"What are you talking about?"
Reaching behind the counter, Motoki pulled out a green coffee mug filled with pastel candy hearts, all wrapped up in cellophane and tied with pink and red ribbons. His smile growing, he set the package down in front of Mamoru, who stared at it in curious shock.
"Please tell me that isn't from you."
"Of course not. It was delivered this morning. Look, there's a card."
Sure enough, there was a small construction paper card, cut into the shape of a heart and backed with lace. Mamoru slowly unfolded it, looking down at the carefully scripted words.
Sweets for the sweetest man. Please be my Valentine. Now and forever.
Your Secret Admirer.
Sweets for the sweetest man. Please be my Valentine. Now and forever.
He blinked. It almost looked like her handwriting, but... With a sigh, he closed the card. "No matter. It can't be from the only girl I wish it was from."
"Oh? Are you so sure?"
Mamoru raised his eyes to meet Motoki's proud, glimmering smile. "You know who it's from?"
"Maybe I do," he said, his grin becoming so wide that it looked like he was about to burst with some wonderful, unspoken secret. "But then again, maybe I don't."
Mamoru knew that look. It distinctly told him that he wanted to know who the gift was from. But Motoki wouldn't play with such information, unless... "Motoki?"
"And if you're really nice to me, I might tell you. But then again, I might not."
"And you just might like the answer. But then again, you just might not."
Reaching across the counter, Mamoru grabbed the straps of Motoki's apron and pulled him close, their faces inches apart. "Motoki! Is it from Usagi or not!" he yelled.
The smile that had fallen in surprise slowly spread over Motoki's lips again. "Why don't you ask her?" he said with a quirk of his head.
Gulping, Mamoru slowly looked back over his shoulder to where Motoki had gestured, his gaze immediately falling on his pretty Usako, still dressed in her school uniform. He let go of Motoki's apron and ignored the soft chuckling behind him as he turned to face her. "Er... uh... hi," he stammered, trying to will away the blush that overtook his face.
Usagi pursed her lips to keep from laughing, her blue eyes glinting in the arcade lights. "Happy Valentine's Day," she said, the words falling as if she'd been practicing them all morning.
"Happy..." Mamoru gulped. "Happy Valentine's Day." He continued to stare at her, but when it seemed she was not prepared to say anything more, he tapped the side of the coffee mug gift. "Is this from you?" he asked, his heart clamping behind his ribs.
She lowered her head slightly, peering at him through her thick eyelashes. "H...hai."
He felt a tidal wave of air seep into his lungs. He hadn't realized he'd been holding his breath. "Arigatou," he whispered. "But... I'm so sorry."
She raised her head, her eyes instantly filling with doubt and fear. "Why?"
"I thought if I got you a gift, you would only get angry with me again, so I have nothing to give you."
Her eyelashes fluttered, the fright melting away as she laced her fingers together and took a careful step toward him. "But... Mamoru, I... I was hoping you would…" She cleared her throat.
His heartbeat sped up as he saw her hesitate. He watched her lick her lips with yearning. Reaching into a pocket, she pulled something out and held up a little pink candy heart between her fingers. He managed to remove his stare from her to read the little printed words. "Be Mine."
"Mamoru, would you…"
The words never escaped her, though, as he stepped forward, wrapped his arms fully about her slim body, and pressed his lips onto hers.
Usagi gasped at the sudden warmth, but slowly let her eyes close as his mouth pressed adoringly against her, months of love and passion rushing into her through the kiss. Her thoughts spun as he bent her back, crushing her against his chest and stomach, holding onto her like a raft in the middle of an ocean storm.
She moaned softly once he pulled away, her cheeks flushed, her tiny hands grasping desperately at the lapels of his jacket, the heart lost in her own grip.
"Yes!" he breathed against her and she opened her eyes to meet with his hopeful, elated, enchanting smile. "Yes, yes, Usako, gods, yes."
Her startled surprise instantly turned to ecstasy at his words. Giggling, she ran her hands up his chest and tied them around his neck, kissing him once more, gently, as her fingers buried themselves in his silky hair.
"See? You did get me a gift after all."
He sighed in happy agreement.
"Oh, and Mamo-chan?"
"Huh?" he stammered at the endearing nickname, trailing an absent finger down her back.
"I love you, too."
Hope you enjoyed!