The Gift of Giving
Many thanks to those who reviewed the first part! Your words meant a lot to me. :) As promised, here's the second and final part of the story (which is sort of a Christmas gift from me to you...) I hope you'll enjoy it (and perhaps pop me a review to let me know your thoughts), and have a wonderful Christmas!
Dedicated to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (composer of The Nutcracker ballet), without whom I would never be the person that I am now, and without whom this story would be non-existent.
Mamoru thanked the cashier and took his purchases with him. He checked to confirm that he hadn't accidentally lost one of his plastic shopping bags, and was relieved to find there were five in total. He withdrew from his front jacket pocket the list he made the night before, and was pleased to see only a trip to the bookstore was required to purchase the remaining gifts: the book on opera, an adventure novel for a 10 year-old boy, an unspecified book for a lady, a picture story book for a 4 year-old girl, and a shoujo manga for a teenage girl.
He slowly made his way to Kinokuniya, glad that he had left sufficient time to do some browsing for himself. His basket grew heavier as the clock ticked on, filled with titles he spent quite a while pondering about. He hoped the boy would find the Chronicles of Narnia adventurous enough for his tastes, and smiled at how he adored the series when he was young. Having immensely enjoyed absorbing the detailed world of geishas painted by Arthur Golden, he concluded that a lady would receive the same pleasures from Memoirs of a Geisha. Mamoru spent quite some time in the music section, finding a few titles of composer's biographies that interested him, before settling on a book that told the stories behind some of the most famous operas written. His time in the shoujo manga section, however, was extremely short – Mamoru simply grabbed a renewed edition of Sailor Moon and abruptly left, trying to ignore the giggles of the teenage girls who lingered among the shelves.
Mamoru then slowly made his way to the nearby children's section, and headed toward the rows of picture books. Ever since he first saw the little girl's request, he knew without question what his gift would be. Mamoru hoped his choice would give the girl as much as he had received when he was little, and that she would love his gift as much as he still loved his own copy.
It didn't take him long to spot the familiar colourful cover depicting a scene from the Land of Sweets. He reached for it without hesitation, and found himself unable to tear his eyes away when he finally held it in his hands. He carefully turned the cover and flipped through the pages, unable to prevent himself from sliding helplessly into the enchanting world.
"Whatcha looking at?"
Mamoru's shoulders tensed and he shut the book closed, pivoting on his heels to face the intruding voice. He had instantly recognised the voice as Usagi's, but seeing her inquisitive face was a different matter, and Mamoru narrowed his eyes, knowing all too well that Usagi's dancing blue ones meant trouble.
"Just doing some last minute shopping, Odango," he replied, and noticed with slight disappointment that the girl did not react to her hated nickname. Was he losing his touch...?
"I didn't know the great Mamoru-baka had a secret love for picture books," she teased, trying hard to keep her voice light in the hopes that she could fool him. Usagi had seen the soft appreciation and wonder that had softened his face only moments ago, had found it difficult to breath as a result. Strange and impossible as she knew it was, Usagi had briefly considered that look as one of captivation. She peered at him again, and knew his current expression meant trouble, at least for her.
"Sorry, did you say something?" she asked, and heard him sigh. "Care to repeat it?"
"I said..." He trailed off, and Usagi recognised an internal struggle of some sort. "Oh, nevermind. It was only an insult you won't understand anyway."
"Yea, and that wasn't an insult?" she retorted.
"I never said it wasn't."
"Oh, you...!" Usagi paused, and looked around her, the bright colours of the children's section instantly extinguishing her temper. "This is kind of silly..."
Mamoru used her sudden distraction as an opportunity to return the book in his hands back to the shelf. "You mean, you're silly."
She giggled, a giant grin on her face. "Why, thank you!"
Mamoru blinked, momentarily dazed. Did the Odango just take that as a compliment...? He had a feeling it was a question he'd be better off not investigating...
"Did you like that book?"
He turned to her, and saw that Usagi was all seriousness now. Well, more serious than he had ever seen her before... His mind reeled and he instantly conjured half a dozen sarcastic and witty responses to her question, but something in him paused. What kind of harm could a little bit of truth do?
"Yes," he said softly. "I like it, very much."
She smiled at him, and Mamoru could see the distant look in her eyes, a look that was mirrored in his own. "It's a wonderful book, and so very pretty!"
He ignored her childishness, his expression one of surprise. "You know it?" Mamoru silently berated himself, realising he was appearing to be a fool. "Of course, picture books are probably the only things you can read apart from shoujo manga, so you probably own several copies of it."
Usagi's eyes filled with longing at his words, and Mamoru was surprised by her reaction.
"No, I don't really have a copy," she whispered, "well, sort of. I do, but it's not really mine anymore."
"Ah, your brother's?" Mamoru had heard enough complaints about Shingo to account for knowing the boy himself, and he was proud to make such a conclusion, which had a high probability of being correct.
"No, that little brat wouldn't be interested in such wonderfulness, even if he gained half a brain. It's... complicated."
Mamoru raised an eyebrow, his curiosity now sparked. He watched the way the blonde was now shuffling her feet and looking around her, as if she was trying to find a subject of distraction without wanting to appear blatantly rude. His heart softened at her attempts – especially since he was the last person on earth to deserve her courtesy – and an idea came to his mind, one that he spontaneously voiced.
"Do you want to go for a drink? Consider it my Christmas present to you."
Usagi looked surprised at his offer, but Mamoru clung onto the hope that she would accept. Then she frowned and Mamoru found himself strangely disappointed...and hurt.
"But I haven't gotten you anything yet," she mumbled. Mamoru's heart leapt, and he mentally kicked himself for his paranoia. After all, he was certain that Odango wouldn't turn down a free hot chocolate, even if it was from her mortal enemy.
"I'll consider your company a suitable present," he replied, instantly grimacing at what he was implying, hoping she wouldn't interpret his words as an indication that he found her captivating. He saw, to his horror and delight, the blush on Usagi's face that suggested perhaps she had realised, and quickly tried to cover his mistake. "Oh come on, don't be so indecisive. Besides, all this shopping has made me incredibly thirsty, and I'm sure you would know the places with the best hot chocolate!"
"Hot chocolate?" Her eyes suddenly lit up. "I'm sure it wouldn't hurt, even if I'm having one with Mamoru-baka..."
"That's the spirit!" Mamoru lifted his bags, and started toward the cashier. He stopped when he realised Usagi wasn't following him. "What's wrong?"
"Aren't you going to buy that book?" she gestured at The Nutcracker he had earlier returned to the shelf.
"Yes... Thank you for reminding me." He had barely taken a step back when Usagi pulled the copy out for him.
"You've already got a handful," she said softly, holding the book to her chest. Mamoru nodded, his heart suddenly warm at such a little gesture that meant so much to him.
They eventually reached the cashier, after spending some time queuing, and Usagi quietly observed his purchases, her eyes widening at the volume of Sailor Moon manga. Mamoru smiled at her surprised glance in his direction, and too amused by her reaction, he stopped himself from giving her an explanation – he was sure the Odango could come up with something inventive without his input.
"Is that all?" the girl at the register asked, her eyes on Usagi and the book she was clutching. Mamoru watched as the blonde reluctantly gave up her hold on the book, her eyes full of longing as she placed it gently on the counter. Intrigued by her strange behaviour, Mamoru resolved that he would somehow get to the bottom of the girl's attachment to the book.
The cashier scanned the item and provided Mamoru with the total, prompting him to extract his credit card from his wallet. His cheeks reddened slightly, and he somehow felt embarrassed at the fact that Usagi was with him. The blonde, however, made no comment and was politely studying the small range of bookmarks near the counter. The transaction was soon completed, much to Mamoru's relief, and he reached out for his bagged purchases. Usagi beat him to it.
"You're already carrying half a dozen bags," she said again. "Besides, this makes me feel useful."
Mamoru knew if anyone else had said such a thing to him, he would see it as an insult to his masculinity. Coming from Usagi, however, he realised she was genuinely wanting to be helpful, and he found himself appreciative of her efforts.
"Alright then. It's only a short walk anyway."
"Where are we going?"
"To dump all this into my car." He smiled at her, a twinkle in his eyes. "You're rather eager to get your dose of cocoa."
"Hey, that's not fair! I was just wondering, is all..."
"If you insist," he replied in a joking tone that implied he was determined to have his own way. "It won't be long."
Usagi made a disgruntled noise, and they eventually found their way to the car park. Mamoru transferred his shopping to one hand, and retrieved his keys from his pocket, pressing a button that caused the lights of a red sports car to flash twice.
"Here we are." He opened the front passenger door and deposited his bags behind the seat before reaching for the ones Usagi held. She dutifully handed them to him, jumping slightly when their fingers brushed. Her eyes flicked to him, but Mamoru's back was turned to her as he put the bags into his car. Usagi looked down and bit her lip, knowing she was making too much out of something so little.
When he finished closing his door and locking his car, Mamoru's expression was indiscernible. Then he softened, and a small smile made its way to his lips.
"Lead the way to your favourite café," he said.
"Are you sure you're still okay with this?" Usagi asked. "I mean, you really don't have to..."
Mamoru frowned. "Are you trying to go back on your word? That's not particularly nice of you..."
"No, I mean..." Her protest trailed off, as she struggled to find the words to express her feelings. Which wasn't very successful, considering how Usagi had no idea why she was hesitating...
"Do you have other plans?" Mamoru asked suddenly, feeling stupid for assuming the blonde had time to spend with him, of all people, on Christmas Eve. "Am I keeping you from something?"
"No... Well, I did have other plans today, but..." Usagi avoided Mamoru's gaze, uncertain again. "I was sort of on a mission to find out what to get you for Christmas..."
Mamoru's heart skipped a beat at her soft words, and he looked at her incredulously. He warmed at the thought that this one little girl – though she could hardly be called that, as his eyes unconsciously drank in her curved figure, evident through her thick winter clothes – had deemed him worthy of a Christmas present. Not just any generic present of chocolates and a card, which was what Motoki gave him every year, but one that she had obviously put a considerable deal of thought into, that she was still putting thought into. And it amazed him that this was all coming from his Odango, the girl who had haunted his thoughts ever since they first bumped into one another.
"You probably think I'm weird or stalking you or something," Usagi started blabbering, her nervous voice cutting through his thoughts, "but I just really want to give you something you'll cherish, that's all..."
He smiled at her, a genuine smile that he hoped conveyed all the gratitude and endearment he couldn't put into words. "Thank you, for trying, for thinking of me. It means a lot." He paused, unsure of whether to continue, not wanting to scare her off. But one look at the girl, her soft, caring expression and attentive eyes, and he was once again overwhelmed with the need to be honest. "And it'll also mean a lot to me if you could come and introduce me to some good quality hot chocolate. I must admit, I have a rather soft spot for chocolate myself..."
Her eyes immediately brightened, and Mamoru knew he had said the right thing. "Well, if you put it that way..."
"Excellent!" He clapped his hands together, smiling. "Now please lead the way, Chocolatier Odango!"
She giggled at the nickname, and Mamoru was delighted at the sound she made, so different from her usual complaints when he called her Odango.
"I promise you won't be disappointed!" She grinned at Mamoru and skipped off, an amused Mamoru trailing behind her.
"Wow, this stuff is surprisingly good!" Mamoru took another sip of his hot chocolate, the appreciation evident on his face. They were seated opposite one another at a small round table in a café that was hidden in one of the smaller streets of Tokyo.
"I'm glad you like it," Usagi smiled, spooning the whipped cream that was on her beverage. Despite their past differences, Usagi felt some sort of connection with the man, and it took quite a bit of pondering before she decided to share this secret place with Mamoru. The café had been one of her lucky discoveries, and not even the girls were aware of its existence.
"Miss Odango, I have something to ask you..." Mamoru internally smiled with relief at the lack of negative reaction to her hated nickname. He had realised that the girl didn't seem to mind the name, provided he had a friendly approach to it. "It's about that book..."
Her eyes softened, and Mamoru wasn't sure if he should continue, afraid that she might be uncomfortable with the topic. He waited for an indication that he could continue, and found it in the form of a nod so tiny he wasn't sure if she had even moved.
"It's something special to you, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is."
The distance look was back in her eyes, and Mamoru realised that she might have been unwilling to tell him because the answer claimed a particular spot in her heart, a private matter she didn't want to share.
"It's not much really... You'll probably think I'm very silly if I told you." She looked at him expectantly, almost as if she was waiting for him to confirm her fears. Well, he had crushed her self-esteem too many times in the past to make that mistake again.
"Whatever it is, I'm sure it's not silly. In fact, the reason why I really want to know is because that book is very special to me, and you're the first person I know who seems to share the same sentiments."
Usagi nodded again, this time a defined movement that warmed Mamoru. Understanding and acceptance was as simple as that to her.
"When I was little, mummy used to take me to the library and read me all the picture books." Mamoru leaned closer to hear her soft words, his attention fully on the girl. "There were many stories that I liked, but my favourite was The Nutcracker – I think it was a combination of the story and the pretty pictures. It came to a point where I would want to go to the library everyday just to go through the book over and over again. When Christmas came, I begged and begged my parents to buy me a copy, because I loved it so much."
She paused, and looked apprehensively at Mamoru. "I don't remember much of what was happening around me at that time, but I think we weren't very well off. Shingo had just been born, and daddy was still working as an assistant reporter, so it took a lot of convincing for them to agree. So on Christmas Eve, mummy took me to the bookstore and bought the book for me."
Something in her expression changed, and Mamoru wasn't sure if the girl was in the present anymore. "I don't really remember exactly what happened, but I think Shingo was making a fuss, and mummy had to go and look after him. So she told me to wait by myself as she took Shingo to the bathroom. I sat on one of those benches in the shopping centre, and was more than happy to just hold my book and sniff in the pretty smell of the paper. Mummy was taking a while, and a Christmas tree caught my eye – it had lots of paper ornament things, with words written on them. I started trying to read them, but I couldn't really recognise many of the words. Still, I could read one of the tags, that had 'boy' and 'book' written on it. So I took the tag off the tree and asked one of the ladies at the concierge desk to explain it to me... The paper ornament was from the 'Tree of Joy', where people with no homes or families would write down something they really wanted for Christmas, and kind people in the shopping centre were supposed to take the tag and buy a gift for those people.
"But this little boy's tag was still unclaimed, and I became really sad when I thought about how he might not be getting a Christmas present at all. I tried to imagine how it would feel if I wasn't able to convince my parents to buy the book, and it was really horrible... so I asked the lady to help me write a card, and I gave away my book."
Usagi let out a sigh and took a sip of her hot chocolate, finding solace in the rich creaminess. She focused her gaze on the table, not wanting to meet Mamoru's eyes, too afraid that they might be mocking and silently laughing at her naivety.
Mamoru, on the other hand, was finding it hard to breathe. His mind was still trying to interpret her words, and it could only draw one conclusion – Usagi was the one who gave him The Nutcracker. The mysterious benefactor he had been puzzling over for years was right in front of him – and she was completely clueless about how the selfless act had planted the only seeds of hope and joy in his heart.
And it was at this moment that Mamoru realised the blonde's true importance to him: she had been the only one who was able to affect those seeds within him, and she would be the only one who would be able to grow and nurture them.
If only he could somehow express that to her.
An idea started forming in his mind, and Mamoru knew his budding plans required immediate action if he wanted them to work. Abruptly he slid his chair back, startling Usagi with the scratching noise.
"I'm sorry, but there's something I have to do," he said, wincing at the surprise and slight hurt on her face. He dug into his wallet and pulled out a few notes, placing them hurriedly on the table. "Thank you very much for introducing me to this wonderful place, and for telling me that story."
"That's okay..." Usagi sounded stunned, and Mamoru hated himself for not being able to provide a proper explanation.
"You're free tonight, right?"
The girl's confusion increased, and this time it was tinged with alarm. "Um, well..."
"I'll see you tonight, okay?" he said, not waiting for her answer. Mamoru desperately hoped that she was free that night, and he regretted the urgency of departure. Another quick look at how utterly lost she was only made it more difficult for him – he didn't want to leave her like this. "I'm very sorry, but I really have to go now... I'll call you!"
With that, he stood up and disappeared outside, leaving Usagi in a whirlpool of emotions she couldn't comprehend.
"Usagi-chan? What's the matter?" Makoto had instantly sensed that something was wrong with the girl who had only just entered the arcade, and the brunette's look at the other girls confirmed that they were also worried.
"I'm not quite sure..." Usagi sat down on her chair with a thump, resting her head in her hands.
"Did something happen?"
"I... well..." She sighed. What was she supposed to tell them, when she herself didn't know what was going on? "I think I won't be able to make it to the party tonight..."
"What?!" Usagi winced at Rei's loud exclamation, and the priestess immediately lowered her voice. "Why can't you come? Something happened, didn't it?"
"You're not being very comprehensible, Usagi-chan," Ami said. "Perhaps you should try to calm down a bit. Minna, let's give Usagi-chan some space before launching more questions at her."
"Thanks, Ami-chan," Usagi replied, smiling at the girl. "But the thing is... I sort of don't really know what's happening... or what's happened... and, well... what's happening either... I mean, it's just... argh...!" She buried her head into her hands again.
The girls exchanged looks, and Minako moved to place an arm around Usagi's slumped figure.
"This isn't because of some emergency, right?" Minako asked, squeezing Usagi's shoulder. "Is everything okay at home?"
"Yea, it's fine," she mumbled in reply. Usagi shook her head at her own strange behaviour, and tried to convey things to her friends. "But this is just really complicated, and someone said that they'll be meeting me tonight, so I suppose that means I'm supposed to make myself free, and that means I can't make it to the party..."
Rei raised an eyebrow at the blonde, and she relaxed considerably. "Sounds like a boy to me."
Usagi's head instantly shot up, her confused blue eyes meeting Rei's violet ones. Whatever protest she was about to make faded, and she slumped down again, this time making pitiful noises that resembled moaning.
"What am I going to do...?"
"At any rate, you're excused from the party," Makoto said kindly. "Only that means you won't be able to try out my latest experiments... but I suppose you're bound to find more opportunities for that."
"Mako-chan's right," Minako supplied. "And I don't really know what's going on, but good luck with whatever's happening with whichever boy you're meeting tonight!"
"Thanks, everyone..." Usagi was still looking unconvinced, causing Rei to shake her head in mock anger.
"Get yourself together, Usagi!" Rei said, slamming a hand down on the table, making the blonde jump and look at her. "This last minute date you're having must be something important to you, so you'd better make the best out of it and commit every little detail to memory so you can share all the details with us afterwards!"
Usagi nodded, encouraged by her friends' smiles. "I'll try my best! And I think I'd better start heading home now, and wait for that elusive phone call..." She disregarded the fact that Mamoru probably didn't have her phone number, but she told herself that he would find a way to remedy that. Despite how apprehensive and doubtful she was about his intentions, something about Mamoru's earlier flustered state told her he was indeed in some kind of panic, and Usagi knew she had no choice but to trust him.
"You're home early today," Ikuko commented when Usagi entered the house. "Weren't you going to have a party with the girls tonight?"
"There's been a slight change of plans," Usagi replied, "but I'll still be going out tonight... I think."
"Does this have something to do with a certain person by the name of Chiba Mamoru?" her mother asked lightly, causing Usagi to miss a step and nearly fall.
"How... what... eh...?!"
"I just received a phone call," Ikuko explained, a smile on her face. "The gentleman will be picking you up at seven, and he advises you to have a sufficient meal beforehand."
Usagi's eyes immediately flicked to the clock, and she calmed upon seeing it was not yet five.
"I've got two hours," she said under her breath.
"But would that be enough, my dear? Shouldn't you shower and change, and still have a good-sized dinner as well?"
"Shower and change...? But it's not really a date... is it?"
"Honey, the boy is going to be picking you up from your house on Christmas Eve, and you will be spending at least five hours together, alone. I'd say it constitutes as a date."
Usagi paled. "Five hours...? What on earth does he have planned?"
"I'm sure you'll enjoy it."
"You know, don't you?" Usagi felt slightly betrayed when her mother nodded, a cheeky smile plastered on her face. "Oh mum, please tell me!"
"It's a surprise," was all her mother said.
"Fine, have it your way," Usagi grumbled. She took a moment to consider her situation, and butterflies suddenly sprouted in her stomach at the prospect of spending a considerable amount of time with Mamoru, alone, at what her own mother thought of as a date. A date. The realisation of which presented yet another problem...
"What am I going to wear?!"
The doorbell rang at a few minutes before seven, and Usagi felt her anxiety rise within her again. She clenched her fists, willing herself to appear placid and in-control, and opened the door.
All her previous mantras and attempts to remain calm immediately flew out the door when she saw the man standing before her. It was Mamoru, but not Mamoru: his beautiful ebony hair seemed to shine under the lights, (Usagi had a feeling the look was probably due to the aftermath of a shower); he was clad in a white turtleneck and a very well fitting trench coat that provided a very good definition of his figure; and his eyes, usually lit with quiet humour and a hint of aloofness, was now dark and intense, almost tinged with uncertainty.
Usagi swallowed and tried to keep her eyes fixed on his face, despite how much they wanted to roam across his body. "Hi there."
"Good evening," he replied, his voice soft and slightly husky. "You look nice."
Her heart leapt at his simple compliment, and Usagi tried not to think about the agonising decisions she had to make before she settled with her current outfit. "Thank you. You too."
Mamoru nodded, and shifted his stance. "I'm about the abruptness of this entire situation," he said, "and I hope I haven't distressed you too much as a result. There are just a few things that I... well, you'll see."
Usagi tried not to show her confusion, though she had still no idea what he had planned. "That's okay, I think..."
"Sorry," he said sheepishly, "but I must admit that my male ego refuses to simplify matters and tell you what's happening, because ultimately, I'd like it to be a bit of a surprise to you."
The blonde nodded, and she refrained from voicing all the questions she had been silently asking ever since this incident first began.
"Let's just get going," Mamoru said, feeling the uncomfortable silence building around them, "and I'll provide an explanation later. Are you ready?"
Usagi ducked back into her house briefly to retrieve her bag before she stepped out of her house. "I am now."
Mamoru gestured to his red Ferrari, opening the passenger door for her when Usagi approached it. He waited until she was comfortably seated before closing the door and making his way to the other side.
They rode in silence. More questions were flying through Usagi's mind, but she kept them all to herself. They drove through streets that were not unfamiliar to her, until Mamoru slowed down, approaching a building that she recognised but couldn't quite name. He made a smooth turn into the parking area, and stopped in a space that was marked as 'reserved'. Usagi made no comment about the sign, but waited until Mamoru turned off the engine before getting out of his car.
They made their way to the building, and Usagi couldn't help but ask, "Where exactly are we?"
"The New National Theatre," he replied. Usagi immediately felt stupid for not having realised earlier, but the smile he gave her was not mocking. She found herself relaxing. "I take it you haven't ever been here before?"
The girl shook her head. "I've heard about it on the news and all that, but no, I've never been inside... Are we here for some kind of concert?"
"I suppose you could put it that way..." Mamoru hesitated. "Just wait a bit longer. You'll see."
They walked to an area that was filled with men in suits and ladies in skirts, and Usagi looked down, feeling underdressed. Mamoru seemed to sense her discomfort, and lightly placed a hand on her arm, making her jump slightly. She could feel the warmth of his hand through her clothing.
"Don't worry about what everyone else is wearing," he said softly. "I just want you to enjoy yourself, and that's going to be hard if you're worried about whether you belong."
Mamoru led her up a set of stairs, and nodded to the usher who bowed deeply to him. "And you would be Mr Chiba, I presume?"
"Yes, I am." Mamoru withdrew a pair of tickets from a pocket in his coat, and handed them to the man, who checked them briefly before returning them to Mamoru.
"Thank you very much. We hope you will enjoy the ballet." He held open the door, and bowed deeply again, gesturing for Usagi to make her way in. "Miss."
"Thank you," she said, blushing slightly at the formality of the situation. She tried to keep her steps slow and light, but found herself in a hurry to escape from the constant bowing that seemed to be directed her way.
It took her a moment to realise exactly where she was, and Usagi found herself suddenly breathless. There were only two seats in the box, and directly ahead of her were crimson curtains that would surely reveal the polished wood of the stage that would gleam under the spotlight. The ceiling was high, decorated with pieces of carved wood that was painted in gold. The general lighting around her was dim, and as her eyes roamed, Usagi saw the hundreds of small light bulbs that provided the soft illumination that frame the theatre. She heard the door close softly behind her, and Mamoru's hesitant footsteps approaching her.
At that moment, she couldn't care less about what they were going to see, for the grandeur setting and the company she had was more than enough for her. But somehow, she knew that all this breathtaking beauty was only an overture, that Mamoru had planned something far more amazing for her to imagine.
She took one of the seats in the box, and waited for Mamoru to settle himself. The lights around them started dimming, and Usagi vaguely heard an announcement that informed the patrons the show was about to start. But she was focused on Mamoru and Mamoru only, and a part of her already knew that he was paying her the same single-minded attention.
"What are we watching?" she asked, her soft voice demanding an answer.
The lights went out almost completely, but Usagi could still make out Mamoru's silhouette, could still see those dark blue eyes penetrating hers. Music not unfamiliar to her resounded through the theatre as the curtain started rising, revealing a scene that she had seen countless times before; only it was so much more real, because they weren't just colours from a book but tangible items on the stage, and because she could see the same appreciation and absorption of the navy blue and glistening white reflected in Mamoru's eyes.
And then she knew the answer without having him answer, knew the next few hours would hold a special place in her heart without having to build upon another part that had claimed her heart so many years ago.
Usagi surveyed the sky, her heart brimming with emotions at the countless stars that managed to shine across the darkness to reach her. The ballet had finished, and she was taking a stroll with Mamoru, though neither had uttered a word ever since they started walking. Usagi was initially content with the lack of conversation, for all she could hear and see were the beautiful melodies and dances of The Nutcracker and she wanted nothing more than to ensure those moments would be forever preserved in her mind. But as time drew out and the immediate magic receded until it became a lingering sense of wonder, Usagi was reminded of the one person who had made such an experience possible for her. As she tried to find the words to show him how thankful she was, her pace slowed and she became more self-conscious.
The clouds shifted slightly, and Usagi saw the crescent moon's radiance outshining the stars in the night sky. She tilted her head slightly and met Mamoru's intense gaze, his features softened by moonlight. It became so very difficult to breathe.
"I don't know how to thank you," she whispered, unable to tear herself away from his eyes. "The ballet was... It was amazing. And I wish I knew I could find a way to thank you, and... Thank you," she finished almost inaudibly, her eyes still locked with his.
"I'm the one who should be thanking you," Mamoru replied after a moment, his voice as soft as hers. He slowly lifted a hand, only to drop it again, this time breaking their eye contact. "I'm sorry... you're too beautiful."
Usagi drew in a sharp breath, unable to believe what he had just said. Her eyes searched for his, but he refused to meet her look again.
"There's something I need to tell you," he said, sending Usagi's heart racing wildly. He tried to find a way to somehow soften his statement, but knew there was none. "The boy you gave your book to...was me."
Time stood still, and Usagi took forever in a minute to realise the full impact of his words. All that happened in the past day – and all the days that preceded – suddenly made sense to her: his lonely, sheltered life; his indifferent exterior; his need for something wonderful and alive to captivate him. And the sudden knowledge about his past tumbled through her like pieces of lit coal, burning her until the tears spilt over.
"Usagi?" The slight cracking in his voice caused more tears to stream down her face, and there was nothing she could do but stand before him and cry the tears that he had shed when he was alone.
"I'm sorry," she said through sobs, "I'm sorry I didn't know. I'm sorry you had to go through all that by yourself."
And she grabbed the hand that he had lifted only moments ago.
Mamoru stilled at the unexpected contact, watching as she held them between both her small, shaky hands. He closed his eyes briefly, enjoying the soft feel of her cool skin, and found it hard to keep in the tears himself.
"I like you, Usagi," he said.
She looked at him through wet lashes, tightening her hold on him. "I'm sorry I didn't know that. And I'm sorry I didn't tell you my own feelings earlier."
Mamoru raised his other hand to her face, hesitating for a brief second before he placed it on her cheek, his thumb wiping away her tears. He felt her tilting her head slightly to lean into his palm, before her fingers brushed against the back of his hand.
They stood there for minutes, hours, years, hands touching, before Mamoru took a step forward, and wrapped his arms around her. Usagi instantly melted into his embrace, sliding her own arms around his neck, and they held each other with a tenderness and desperation that was foreign to them both.
They were interrupted by the distant echo of celebratory cheers that marked the beginning of a new day, and Usagi pulled back reluctantly. Mamoru only tightened his hold on her, and the girl smiled, more than happy to return the hug with zeal.
"Merry Christmas, Usagi," he whispered in her hair.
"Merry Christmas to you too, Mamoru." She suddenly stiffened and drew back from the surprised and confused man. "I still haven't gotten you a present though!"
Mamoru laughed at her serious expression, shaking his head at her words. He pulled her body close to him again, his hands idly running through her hair.
"I think it's about time to admit that the one thing I find more captivating than my book itself, is its original owner." He could feel the breath she was holding, and smiled at how he wanted to hold that same breath. "I have all I ever want... Usako."
"Tree of Joy?" the little girl asked, peering inquisitively at one of the ladies who worked at the concierge. "What is it?"
"It's a special tree for special people," she answered. "People write down something they would like for Christmas, and other kind people will grant those requests."
"Like this one?" Usagi handed the tag she was holding to the lady. "Is this what someone wants for Christmas?"
"'A book for an eight year-old boy at the local orphanage'," she read out. "Yes, this is somebody's Christmas wish."
"What's an... orphanage?" Usagi asked, struggling to pronounce the word.
"It's a place for children with no mummies or daddies," she said sadly, seeing the little girl's eyes widening.
"Will he get his book then?" the little girl asked hopefully, as if the fate of the little boy would determine her own.
"That depends on whether anybody is going to get it for him," the lady replied. "Unfortunately, there are many people every year who don't have their wishes fulfilled, and it's already Christmas Eve, so his chances are rather slim..."
Usagi frowned. "So he might not be getting anything at all?"
"That seems to be the case..."
"Well..." Usagi looked down at the book she was clutching, and thought of how much she loved it and how long she had wanted it. She then thought of a little boy somewhere, without a mummy or daddy, who might end up getting nothing at all for Christmas. That decided her. She showed her brand new copy of The Nutcracker to the lady. "I have a present for him."
The lady looked surprised, and she gave Usagi a questioning look. "Are you sure you want to do that? You seem to be very fond of your book."
Usagi nodded decisively, placing the book onto the counter. "Yes, I'm sure." She stopped to consider something for a moment. "Can you please help me write a card for him?"
"Of course," the lady replied, reining in her surprise at the little girl's giving nature. She took out a list, scanning it until she found what she wanted. "The boy's name is Mamoru. I'm sure he'll appreciate your book."
Usagi looked at the lady with serious baby blue eyes. "It's not my book anymore. It belongs to Mamo-chan now."