The first thought in her trouble filled mind was of him. She couldn't help it; he was an addiction that outweighed common sense. The thrumming in her head didn't dissuade her imagination as he stood before her in all his perfected glory. The sunlight glinted in his hair like onyx stone, his eyes were warm and comforting. She frowned to herself, only unhappy that her head hurt too much to truly enjoy his splendor in this particular daydream. He approached, eyes curious as she felt her legs finally give out beneath the pounding fissure of agony erupting in her head. The images faded in response to her fall, and she found herself awake once more.
Her throat closed off a moment later, head pounding with a pain so intense it could only be described as hell. Her arms, though weak and difficult to move, covered her head as she began to sob helplessly. She felt nothing other than the blinding burden, heard nothing as the humming in her ears grew louder with each pressured heartbeat. Her only thought was the hurricane of pain, the heady weight of her hands in her stiff hair, the feel of her heartbeat thudding behind her eyes. Her whole body racked with the force of her sobs, thrashing to find any relief from the burning, aching throb that snuffed at her very consciousness.
Her breath was coming in short, painful gasps, farther and farther apart, causing her already agony-filled mind to feel light and unbalanced. The fog surrounding her was overflowing with that oppressive golden sunlight, the musty smell of dried blood, the unsteady feeling that soon she would pass out and the pain would subside…but a voice called to her, a cool hand stroked her shoulder, her forehead.
The pain slipped a little from her mind at the introduction of this new touch. At a brush of a hand against her temples, the throbbing subsided. A sweep against her cheek caused the breath to even and slow. The dark shadow across her form blocked out the penetrating sunlight. She gulped against a swollen throat, afraid to open her eyes and see who was standing over her. Heavy, gasping breath rasped and whined in her dry throat as she waited. Fingers trailed across her face comfortingly, causing the pain to drift into the corners of her memory.
The fingers teased at something gauzy wrapped around her head. She had no intention of opening her eyes, though; too afraid whoever was helping her would stop the heavenly touches. With each gentle pressure of fingers, the pain would wither away like scraps of paper in a fire. The touches were loving and sweet, though they did not bring to mind those of her mother. She couldn't quite give a name to the distinct difference, and realized that to do so she would have to open her eyes and put a face to the feeling. The overwhelming fear forced breath from her lungs as finally her eyes opened to reveal the mystery.
She was not prepared for the answering gaze. Soft eyes the color of a murky cobalt sea were focused completely on her, rimmed with charcoal black lashes and defined, thick brows. They were the eyes that had haunted her even in her sleep, steeped in guarded sorrow and always lonely. It had been her fatal mistake when they'd met; to look into those eyes. Their depths had both burned and chilled her to the core; the sweet sorrow had tugged a hollow point below her heart. His white dress shirt was unbuttoned at the top, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. Where it not for the dark crimson staining his hands and cuffs, she would have placed the image as another illusion her heart had conjured up. She'd been captivated, sucked down into the gentle darkness and lost.
The young girl had never looked at anyone as a man before. There had been friends and older men that reminded her of her father; but none of them had inspired wild fantasies that caused even her to wander sleeplessly night after night. There were countless images of his arms around her, the heady feeling of him holding her close…. Too many times, she'd won a heavy detention sentence when daydreaming of the handsome, yet equally removed upperclassman. She had often wondered what it would be like if he could return those affections. Such things only happened in fairytales and novels, though. She knew a man of his caliber and perfection couldn't possibly care for a scrawny, simpering girl more than 5 years his junior.
She forced her lower lips steady, but the tears came anyway. Blinking back her earlier thoughts, she turned her gaze away from those gentle, sleep rimmed eyes and reminded herself that it was impossible. She should never have looked into them to begin with, she should have pushed herself harder to forget or to move on –anything but be trapped by him. Perhaps the most painful thing of all was the memory of his touch against her face, how she had never felt so safe and cared for. The familiar weight of the tiara was a heavy clue as to why he was being so kind. He, just like every other guy in Tokyo, was probably madly in love with the short-skirted Senshi.
"Oi, Usagi-chan," he murmured, hooking her chin as both eyes flew open in shock and horror. "Are you alright?" Worry clashed against panic as they stared blatantly at each other.
"B-but I…" she gulped against her dry throat, feeling the gloves at her hands and the hem of the ridiculously short skirt. It definitely wasn't what she'd been wearing to talk to him, that was for sure. "I…I'm trans…"
"I know." He continued reassuringly, "Are you alright?"
Usagi's terror-stricken mind barely registered the repeated question as it flittered about the corners of her thoughts feverishly. Her eyes swayed, pulled to the unfamiliar surroundings and the alarming proximity of him. The gentle masculine scent was completely numbing as she felt it invade every inch of her. His soft grin was slightly ironic, though not without the heavy touch of care and concern. He did not seem surprised at all. Her mind began to churn now, quickly taking into account the medical supplies on the living room table, the freshly used gauze with blood –her blood all over them. She gulped, forcing herself to focus on him again.
"How long have you known?" The whispered question barely made it past her lips, so scared she was of his answer. He breathed heavily, still touching her face in thought. In any real world situation, he would be pacing and grumbling at how inadequate she would be as a Senshi. In any real world, he would not be watching her so closely. She gulped painfully as his fingers continued to tease her skin.
He said nothing. With every gentle touch, though, she felt it was all a dream anyway. Blinking, fighting back the tears as they came, she began to wonder if she'd asked the question at all. Golden sunlight seemed to refract and sparkle just at the corner of her vision. The pain, though not as intense as it had been when she woke, still persisted somewhere in the back of her mind. All of this was not real. Mamoru was not kneeling in front of her. She was not laying on his couch. He was not looking at her as if he cared.
Tears began to soak the heavy material of the dark couch below her soggy face, impeded by a wrapping of some sort. No doubt he had done that, too. The hot tears squeezed from her tired eyes in rivulets as the shame and self-pity bubbled up from her heart. First Tuxedo Kamen had risked life and limb to save her, then some dark prince had saved her from a nightmare too horrifying to be real, and now Mamoru had bound her wounds. Her shoulders rippled involuntarily as she sobbed. Perhaps the most horrifying was that he hadn't used her Senshi name…. After everything that had happened, she didn't want to dream anymore.
"Usagi-chan!" Mamoru was half yelling by now, concerned that she hadn't hardly taken one look before burying herself into the cushion. She wasn't listening, he could tell. She must have realized something was off, because the pain should have been gone by now. He reached out cautiously, afraid that he had hurt her too much to be a comfort now. His own shame coupled with her sobs was enough to crush the life from him.
The tears flowed freely now into the cushion. He had called her Usagi, he had known the whole time…. The weight in her chest increased a hundred fold and she felt herself curl into a ball, trying her hardest to block out his smoky soft voice. The sobs were already causing her shoulders to shake uncontrollably. How could he have known? Had Kamen given away her secret while she slept? How… how could he bear to think the legendary soldier was nothing more than the stupid weakling he teased every day? Let alone the one who…who had given up all hope…
"Usa-chan?" He whispered again after her tears had subsided and most of the shaking had stopped. She didn't turn to him, no doubt too embarrassed after her initial reaction. Mamoru glanced down at himself, grimly taking in his white tux shirt stained red with her blood, mask and jacket discarded in the wake of the emergency. She would have seen straight through the glamour as if it never existed, especially for how she felt about him. He sighed, running a hand through his already unruly dark locks. He'd spent all that time last night thinking about her, and yet hadn't considered how he was going to explain himself.
"Go away, Mamoru-san." She whimpered finally, her voice echoing defeat. He thought instantly of her kneeling on the dirty ground, the shimmering waves of golden hair losing its shine. The memory burned. Grimly, but with every ounce of gentleness he could, both arms closed about her shuddering form and lifted her easily from the cushions.
"What the?" She squeaked, feeling the couch suddenly fall away as she was deftly spun in mid air and placed back down to face him. Her face was twisted in shock and horror as it finally came into view, only augmented by the red-splotched gauze wrapped around her head. Mamoru smiled grimly as he settled back down on his haunches before her, hands already reaching for the useless wrapping.
"Sh, I need you to look at me for a second, Usagi-chan." His voice was soft and pleading as his fingers tentatively pulled at the gauze. Her eyes were clouded with pain and submission as she closed her mouth obediently, staring at the floor. His finger hooked beneath her chin softly as the soft cotton finally gave way. The gentle pressure against her chin made tears pour into Usagi's eyes. It would have been so much more bearable if he would just act like he didn't care. She fought the urge to shudder and sob as her face was turned to the side for his examination of the wound. Though it was still sore, her mind easily jumped from the pain to his probing fingertips against her face. "It's not so bad. Hold still."
Hot tears sprung to her eyes and her chest tightened painfully at the butterfly-winged touch of his finger pads against her eyebrow. Sudden flashes of refracted golden light blinded her vision from that side, causing the tears to pour helplessly down her face as she held her breath in agony. Why did he have to do that? The gentle touch flared the pain back to life, then quickly soothed it away in the same moment. She gulped in air by the mouthful, confused at the stark difference from moment to moment. It didn't make sense! This whole dream didn't make sense!
The sight of her wet cheeks brought a strangled cry to his lips and he tore his fingers away quickly. He'd hurt her! He didn't mean to, the psychometry was supposed to be helping and instead it had done nothing but make her shudder and bite down a scream. The pain must be unbearable. He'd brought her soul back from the underworld, and even now could see the shadow of it across her. She probably had no idea what it was exactly that caused such unbearable pain. But psychometry was the only thing he knew that could help fend it off.
"Sh, Usagi-chan, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you…" His words could not have been more painful to her ears as she realized what he'd said. She closed her eyes tight, till even the tears could not break through, hating that her whole body was shaking. Worst of all, she hated the fact that his soothing hands against her face meant nothing to him. All she wanted to do was disappear and pretend this whole thing had never happened.
"Please, leave me alone." The frail, trembling tone of her voice betrayed her weakness then. Mamoru swallowed thickly, feeling her pain and vulnerability then. She was still so weak from the attack, and he had the distinct feeling that this was not the only battle she was fighting now. This time, he wouldn't just sit back and watch her suffer, though. This time, his fingers trailed across her face to rid the pale skin of its salty intruders, his jaw locked determinedly, and he bent forward to press a firm kiss against her newly healed eyebrow.
"Never." Golden blond lashes fluttered open, hardly seen were it not for the sunlight beaming directly into the room. He smiled grimly at her open shock, hands retreating from her quickly blushing cheeks to drop on either side of her knees. "I hope you know what you've gotten yourself into, Usagi-chan," he breathed before shaking his head foolishly. "Eiie, Usako."
Visions of what had to have been Hell itself flooded her mind with darkness and hatred. Her gasping throat choked off the air supply as the memories flooded back. The only alleviation had been…that name. The dark prince had shimmered golden, had called that name through the fog… and Mamoru…. Her hand feebly raised to cover her mouth as the shadow dark image of her savior spread itself across his grim face. Both blue eyes shot open wide, her jaw slackened to render a startled moan.
Usagi gaped in horror at his tuxedo shirt- THE tuxedo shirt she must have gripped a hundred times, spotted in her own blood. Behind him on the coffee table lay a jumbled mess of medical supplies and two pristinely white gloves, minus that rusty dark glimmer that marred their gentlemanly perfection. The dark prince had taken her home, had changed into Tuxedo Kamen, who in turn was Chiba Mamoru.
"I'm sorry." He said finally, dark blue eyes turning down in grief. A pile of rusty gold hair dripped lazily down the side of the couch, encrusted with blood and dirt. He couldn't help but touch a lock, feeling the hard blood scabbing across what had once been incredibly soft tresses. "Usagi-chan. I should have said something. I know. I'm so sorry."
He pressed his forehead against her knees tiredly, the curve of his shoulders pressing down toward the floor. She gulped. He had always been a pinnacle, an unmovable force that stood bleakly against the horizon. He looked so tired and worn down. He looked so exhausted. She couldn't help but wonder if he'd stayed up all night working on her. She couldn't help but feel guilty for it.
"Usako," he paused. Usagi felt her heart flutter achingly in her chest at the way he spoke the nickname, but waited patiently for him to finish. "I've been keeping secrets from you. I thought you were too young to understand. I didn't want to pressure you…" His voice faded for a moment before both haunted blue eyes rose to meet hers. "I-I'm not very romantic, but…"
It was all there. Usagi felt as if her heart was tumbling and rolling to break free of her chest and quickly reminded herself to breathe. He was so close, knelt down in front of her with his hands once more resting on either side of her legs. He bent, lightly brushing his lips along the jagged scabs of her knees. Golden sparks crackled to life, following every move of his mouth on her aching wounds. Though the pain had flared horribly when he began, in the wake of the strange glitter-like sparkles, all of it quickly ceased as her flesh mended together. Her wonder was trapped in the sizable lump in her throat, effectively cutting off whatever objections could have been raised as his gentle ministrations followed to the other knee.
It wasn't his proximity that caused the sudden bursting feeling in her chest. It wasn't the fact that he'd just kissed her breathless without even touching her mouth. It wasn't even the things he was saying. It was all in his eyes, everything he obviously couldn't find the words to express. It was in the way he nibbled nervously at the corner of his mouth, and how he was obviously forcing himself to breathe as well.
"Mamoru-san…" Usagi murmured, aching to brush to bangs back from his face. She was hesitant at first to touch him, afraid it had all been some cruel game only he would be sick enough to play on her. She stopped short, the thought causing her to wither away from him. "You don't have to say it, I understand…"
"Yes I do!" His outburst rang in the small room, shocking the small girl as desperate hands sought out her face. "Don't you understand what happened? I almost lost you completely because I was too stupid to say it!"
By the end of his rant, that deep, perfectly self confident voice was thick and raw in her ears. And though it pained her to see him so vulnerable and sad, it stoked that soft flame growing in her chest to hear him talk about her like that. Even though the fear that it was all a joke still lingered in the back of her thoughts, the look he gave her now was so convincing.
Who would have thought that the great Chiba Mamoru, who could make girls swoon with a single glance, had his own fanclub, and could easily spend the rest of his life with a different girl a night was talking about her as if she were the only other person in the world, as if he had spent just as much time pining for her as she had for him. Usagi couldn't help but gawk at the thought as he continued vehemently.
"I wanted to tell you everything. I wanted this to be so perfect for you, but I can't! Usako, I'm not romantic. I hardly even feel human most days, but, kami-sama, Usako, I love you." At his statement, she felt for sure this time she would pass out. "I-I wanted to say it better, more like you deserve, but I just…"
Now, tentative fingers did reach up to touch the hands on either side of her face. The dark blue orbs before her ducked toward the touch, as if craving it. Hesitantly, and not without a great deal of fear, she reached forward to touch his face. If this was all some cruel joke she would never, ever forgive him.
His eyes matched those of the dark prince from Hell, the one that had carried her away from that horrible torture. It was difficult to imagine Mamoru within that savior. He had never said anything kind to her. And now, as if something drastic had changed him in a bare moment, now he was speaking like he had loved her all along. It just didn't make any sense, and she fought against the need to accept it at face value.
"I don't know..." His eyes cracked open finally, seeing the war being fought in within the twin blue eyes. He couldn't blame her. It had been a stupid idea to push her away like that. Even more stupid now, he amended, to let her think it was all because of outlying reasons. He honestly loved her –Usagi. He would never make that same mistake again.
"Wait." He pulled away, just enough to see the doubt and horror spread across her features. "I just wanted to set things straight between us. What happened at the arcade was just wrong. You should never have done that." He scooted back a little bit, just enough to be out of arms reach. Her face filled with horror and regret, she shied away from him in every way as he moved. Almost like she was afraid of him, he thought bitterly.
Both hands reached downward to grip her naked feet as he bent forward. Each were given a swift and gentle kiss before he bent forward to press his forehead against the blood-stained carpet. "This is how it should be, Usako. I surrender to you. Everything I am is yours. Forever."
And he meant it.