Good heavenly gods. There is, after all, some justice in this world. After nearly five years, in which tempers were thrown, writing ruts were sunk into, and an indecent amount of trees were not spared because I had to print every single darn word in order to make it work, Notebooks is finally finished.
Really, who would've thunkit? Don't say you would have. I know I had my fair share of doubts, and really, who would have blamed you if you had called shenanigans long before this?
That being said, however, my wit has run dry—and this opening delay has been far too long as it is. So here it is, to all (or any) of you who stuck it through until now—after five years in the making, the completed "Notebooks, Not Love Notes."
Notebooks, Not Love Notes
The wind screamed in my ears. I knew nothing except exploding stars against rushing darkness and the sickening sound of the ground stretching open its quivering jowls.
Something solid slammed into me. My head hit something unbelievably soft. The world spun crazily on its axis for a moment, and then stopped spinning altogether. Time held its breath.
I opened my eyes.
The barely visible outline of a tall building towered over my head, reaching its concrete arms to snatch at the night sky. My numb fingers fumbled for purchase and encountered something silky. Damp. Familiar. The word swam through my head, eluding capture, until all at once it snagged like a fish on a hook.
Grass. That was the word.
My thoughts struggled through the cake-like haze that shrouded my mind. That was right. This was a lawn. The thoughts came rushing in now. The yawning building was Mamoru's apartment complex. I was lying on the lawn outside of Mamoru's apartment building. I was lying here and somehow, I was alive.
Through this murky realization, a voice seemed to float into my ear.
"…okay? Are you hurt?" Radio static. Then, again. "Usagi, talk to me."
I felt my head turn towards where I thought the voice was coming from and found Mamoru's face mere inches from mine.
"Thank God," I heard him breathe in an oddly muffled way, as if I was hearing him through a layer of thick foam.
A groan involuntarily issued from my lips as I tried to push myself up onto an elbow. My arms felt like two large splinters, stiff and painful, attached to my shoulders.
"I've got you," I heard Mamoru say in the same distant way and feeling a warm hand press against the small of my back. The next thing of which I became aware was the unfamiliar pressure on my feet—I was standing.
"Can you walk?"
At once, I felt my legs begin to move mechanically, almost as if of their own accord. I had the strangest sensation that they belonged to somebody else, and I was merely taking them out on loan. The steady thud, thud of feet on the pavement felt strangely soothing, and I allowed myself to be led without thinking.
The next thing I knew, I was being helped into a bright and warm place.
"Come on. Sit down."
I struggled not to squint under the blinding lights.
The Crown Arcade swam into focus. Mamoru pulled out one of the plastic red chairs and helped me into it before sinking into the seat opposite me. The checkered table propped up his elbow, his elbow propped up his hand, and his hand propped up the weariest, most sobered face I thought I had ever seen.
The words that had not come during the seconds, minutes, maybe hours we had been walking now struggled to the sticky surface of my mind.
The eyes in that worn face raised themselves slowly to meet mine. Mamoru seemed to consider me for a moment, searching for something that existed beyond this florescent-lighted room, and his expression softened a little.
"You fell." Pause. An almost involuntary shrug. Guilty. "I dropped you."
That was right.
"But you saved me," I said, still not understanding.
"Because you're Tuxedo Kamen."
This time, Mamoru's eyes no longer strayed across the room. He looked straight at me. "No."
I fought not to give in to the sudden indignation, the sudden overwhelming sense of being completely wronged that burst inside of me like an overfilled balloon. Mamoru, however, seemed to read my thoughts, because he suddenly shook his head.
"I mean yes, I am—" He drew in a deep, almost denying breath that seemed to shake his entire frame, even though I was also completely sure that he did not so much as flinch. "I am Tuxedo Kamen, but that's not why I saved you."
It seemed wrong, in light of everything that had happened, to feel the next words that flitted unbidden to the tip of my tongue but refused to be swallowed back into oblivion.
"Then why…did you do it?"
He glanced up at me again and his eyes revealed something I had not expected to see there—surprise. The question that followed betrayed no guile, not even hesitation…only real concern. A question that needed answering.
"Usagi, do you really think I hate you that much?"
I opened my mouth to answer and closed it again, biting my lip.
Did I think that he hated me?
Yes, I did. No. Had. The memory of the words I had flung like sharp arrows at him back in his apartment suddenly turned and flew, snarling, straight at their archer, and I shivered.
Somehow the realization that I was in love with Mamoru had seeped through my veins like a silent poison. The thought that he didn't love me back had been unbearable, but the hope that he might—just might—feel something other than the contempt that he showed me when we were together had seemed impossible.
Now, however, sitting under the harsh lights across from Mamoru, who was looking at me with such intensity that we could have been the last two people in the world, the poison seemed to slow a little.
"I don't think you hate me anymore," I said at last.
A small smile twitched at the corner of Mamoru's mouth, and I hurried to answer his unasked question.
"I don't think you hate me anymore," I repeated, "but I did think you did before. And it didn't make sense to me why you would want to save somebody that you obviously…didn't want around."
"And that's why…?"
"That's why I was a complete and utter irrational jerk, yes," I finished for him, watching with a mixture of exasperation and amusement as a shadow of a grin flitted across Mamoru's features.
"And you thought that I'd let you get blasted into smithereens because we happen to be dubbed mortal afternoon enemies?"
A few words mumbled themselves out of my mouth, none of which were remotely coherent.
Mamoru really was grinning now. "Then you really do have meatballs for brains, Odango. What did you think this was, a drama or something?"
A couple more words dribbled out and shriveled up in the deaf air.
"Things like that don't happen in real life," he said, still chuckling shaking his head.
At these words, the coherency regulator on my voice box seemed to rev back to life. "People in real life don't have hidden superhero alter egos, either," I pointed out, with such bluntness that Mamoru actually looked taken aback for a moment.
"I guess not," he said slowly. "I'd never really thought about it that way. It was always just something that was, you know." He shrugged. "Just there."
I nodded. "Speaking of which…" I waited until he met my gaze again and then steeled myself to ask the question that had been nagging at me ever since I had been able to form coherent thoughts again. "If everything you're saying is true and you don't hate me, then why didn't you transform into Tuxedo Kamen back when all those things were happening?"
I held my breath. In the deafening silence that followed, I could hear a clock ticking like a time bomb somewhere behind me.
"Erm," Mamoru said at last, at the same time that the faint flush of his cheeks screamed volumes of unpleasant explanations at me. However, I stared at him until he finally wrenched his eyes away from mine. When he did speak, he spoke determinedly at the salt shaker sitting in the middle of our table.
"I presume you're familiar with all the rumors about the relationship between…Tuxedo Kamen and Sailor Moon?" he asked the salt, choking, in spite of the clear lack of judgment on the part of his inanimate listener, on the last two names.
At this unexpected reference, flames instantly shot up in my face, too. If the latest tabloid reports were any indicator—and I'm not confirming or denying any of this—the two superheroes were doing things in places of which I definitely had no recollection.
"Y-yes," I stammered at last, for lack of anything better to say.
We graced opposite walls of the arcade with our awkward stares. Mamoru cleared his throat.
"Anyway," he said, looking—well, sounding, since I still hadn't quite worked up the nerve to look at him again yet—determined to keep this conversation as platonic as possible. "After you revealed your identity to me, and in light of the feelings of, er, animosity that you seemed to be feeling towards me at the time—"
I blushed, if possible, even harder.
"—I just thought that it wouldn't be, well, prudent to associate the one person Sailor Moon lo—that is to say, likes, with someone that you hate as much as…"
There was a general gesture of arms towards his own person that quite clearly expressed what he meant but that he did not seem quite willing to put into words. In the meantime, I had spent the past minute or so tugging rather uncomfortably at the collar of my shirt. Was it just me, or was it getting hot in here?
"So," I said at last, with the slowness of somebody speaking through a sea of gelatin, "let me get this straight. You thought I'd rather die than be saved by somebody who you heard through rumors that I lov—er, liked, but who also turned out to be in civilian form my worst enemy?"
"And you say I watch too many dramas," I added, more for lack of anything better to say when he did not say anything than because I felt like being a clever one.
"That's not the only reason," Mamoru said suddenly, fixing me with such a steady gaze that I found I could not tear my eyes away from him.
Unfortunately, the moment would have been much more dramatic if I actually knew what the man was talking about. Seeing as I hadn't the faintest idea, however, I ventured a guess.
"Not the reason you…watch too many dramas?" I said, somewhat stupidly.
We both paused. I waited for him to jump in with a ready explanation, and when he simply sat there staring at me with all the forthingcomingness of a stone statue, I could not resist blurting, "Reason for what?"
"Why I didn't transform."
"Oh," I said again. "And so—" The words caught in my throat, digging their gnarly fingers into my tongue and the roof of my mouth and anywhere they could to prevent themselves from being uttered into existence, but I fought until I finally spit them out.
"So if it's not just because you were worried that I wouldn't like to know that you and Tuxedo Kamen were the same person…why didn't you transform?"
My words leapt from my lips and latched onto Mamoru's, tugging rather wryly at the corner of his mouth so that he almost seemed to smile.
"Because I wanted there to be a part of my identity that you could almost…well, almost love."
The room trembled under the weight of his words, which ran over me ten times like a runaway steam engine. Then they chugged back and ran me over a few more times for good measure.
"Mamoru," I said, trying to ignore the steadily sense of tremor that made the linoleum floor beneath my feet tremor, as if our table had been built on top of a pair of railroad tracks and the steam engine really was coming back for a twentieth taste. "Mamoru, I—"
I don't know what I intended to say next—what does one say in response to an arch-enemy's out-of-the-green-and-magenta-skies confession that he wouldn't mind being the object of your affection? But it definitely wasn't the next words that popped out of my mouth.
I looked down at my shoes to buy some time when I noticed a crumpled napkin sitting there. And there was no doubt about it. It was moving.
In fact, the whole room was shaking like a volcanic magma beast ready to erupt.
So I just said it.
Screamed it, more like, actually.
"Oh my God, they're com—"
And that's when the room exploded.
"I don't—something's wrong with the Alethia-o-meter—"
"I don't know—I can't control it, I try to act and it doesn't respond—"
"You mean…you mean they're down there on their own?"
"Oh, gods. Please tell me you called off the terms of the wish before this happened. …You did cancel the wish like you said you would, didn't you?"
"Thoth, please—if I ever did anything like you told me to, would we be in this mess right now?"
"Who's down there with them?"
"No, during the Silver Millennium—yes, right now!"
"Yes. Well, all of Tokyo, anyway."
"And you realize the danger the two of them are in if the transformation ban you set up is still in place while they're being attacked by all the love fiends of Tokyo?"
"This is our future king and queen that we're talking about!"
"Yes, yes, I know."
"…I told you this would—"
"Yes, Thoth, I am quite aware of what you told me—but now would be a much better time to tell me what to do about it!"
"You know as well as I do that there's not a damn thing we can do about it. Unless…"
"The only way this will end…is if they fulfill the contract the Alethia-o-meter set out for them. On their own."
"Oh, gods. …Selenity save us all. Save them."
My first instinct was to run. My second instinct was to stand my ground and fight like the true Sailor Senshi I was.
"What are you doing, you idiot?" Mamoru screamed when he saw me standing there with my knees bent, legs apart like a rhino ready to rampage. "Run!"
Well, they always do say to trust your first instinct.
We both whirled around, looking for an escape—but there was none. In the five seconds or so it had taken us to register what was happening, what seemed like all of Tokyo had appeared in the windows, at the doorways—and they didn't look like they were here for a milkshake.
"Here," Mamoru said, shoving something into my hand as I gaped at an eighty-year old nanny brandishing a pair of knitting needles at me through the window. She was mouthing obscenities that, though I couldn't hear them, made themselves pretty clear.
"Oh, too much info," I said, wrinkling my nose in disgust as I caught the gist of her last silent epithet and turning to look at Mamoru. "Did you see what that old lady just said she wanted to do to you?"
Something in Mamoru's unamused look told me that he probably did, and certainly did not want to discuss it.
"Okay, fine, killjoy," I muttered, flipping the steel dustpan—which was what Mamoru had stuck into my hands moments earlier—over a few times. "Just trying to start a conversation."
"In case you haven't noticed," he replied, teeth tightly gritted, "we should probably be thinking about a lot more than conversation right now."
"Oh, come on. They're out there, we're in here. What's the worst that could happen?"
We looked at them. We looked at each other.
"You mean that?"
"Er, yeah. That."
Mamoru shifted his grip on the mop he held, warrior-style. "Well, I guess it's a damn good thing we're both fully certified superheroes, eh?"
And those were the last words I heard before the locked doors came crashing down, followed by the roaring thunder of heels and estrogen.
Mamoru and I instantly turned, back to back, as the horde descended on us. A particularly ugly secretary-type brunette rushed at me from the front. The observation sprang up on me even under the mounting pressure that she was sporting a pair of unsightly fishnets under her violent red suit-and-skirt that looked like they had been dragged down from an ancient crow's nest rigging.
"Eeeyahh!" she shrieked, rushing at me with a lethal-looking ledger raised over her head.
"Urgh!" I squealed, squeezing my eyes shut as I slammed her across the head as hard as I could with the dustpan. It made contact with a satisfying clang! and I opened my eyes just in time to see the devil lady went spin like a top to the linoleum floor.
"Ha! That's one for me!" I yelled over my shoulder as I applied my weapon with renewed inspiration to a fifteen-year old rendition of Malibu Barbie.
"Can—we—just—focus—for the—moment?" Mamoru flung back at me, accompanying each word with an emphatic swipe of his mop that brought another victim to the ground. I looked at the rapidly swelling pile at his feet. He was already swimming in a sea of downed pantyhose and cashmere cardigans.
"Grump," I muttered just as something slammed into me from behind and nearly sent me flying across the arcade.
I whirled on it, but it was only—
"Mamoru?" I shouted.
"Shit," he said, and I saw him holding up the splintered remains of his mop. "Ugh!"
"Don't yell, I'm right behind you!" I snapped, taking a magnificent swing with my dustpan that made contact with an arthritic-looking lady's knees. "I can hear you just fine!"
"Fine, fine—what?" I said, swatting away the manicured nails that were creeping up my sleeve. I spun around on the spot to face Mamoru, only to find him already being dragged halfway across the room by a particularly gleeful looking bunch of seventh-graders.
"Oh," I said, pausing in my swiping rampage to stare at him. "Ahoy there, matey."
"Give me—argh! Give me something!"
"What?" I said, blinking stupidly at him. "Give you what?"
"Anything!" he roared from beneath the swelling masses of prepubescent faces that threatened to engulf him completely.
I looked around, my hand snatching at the first thing within my reach, and chucked it as hard as I could at the rapidly-closing black hole of uniforms. From somewhere in the midst of it, Mamoru's hand burst out of masses like a flying squirrel out of a rosebush and grabbed the flying object.
Even from inside of the growing girl-glob, I heard his muffled—but distinctly indignant, voice shouting at me. "A banana? Really?"
"Either deal with it or risk losing your own!" I shouted back over my shoulder as I bowled over an entire line of waitresses dressed in camouflage.
I think he got the point, because the next thing I saw was the entire group of girls running for their lives and Mamoru bursting out from the fray like a Greek god covered in golden banana bits. To this day, I still don't know what he did with that banana to make them shriek and fly that way—and frankly, I'm not sure I want to know.
Anyway, at this point I was busy enough dealing with what remained of crowd control without having to worry about a man who could evidently take very good care of himself. I vaulted the counter as a flying napkin dispenser exploded over my head on the wall. Mamoru landed next to me only seconds later, looking distinctly harried.
"Gee, thanks for not much back there," he spat as he brushed the remaining banana pieces out from his hair.
"On the bright side," I said, pulling the stem off the cherry I was holding and chucking it over the counter a la grenade before finishing, "if you'd been eaten alive, you'd have become a martyr and maybe everything would've gone back to normal. It would've been a win-win."
A much more effective bucket of cleaning supplies went flying in the wake of my makeshift cherry bomb and Mamoru, who had thrown it, rolled his eyes at me with (I thought) unnecessary sass.
"You know, I can't help but notice that in spite of the fact that we're the only two sane—well, relatively sane people left on earth right now, you're maintaining a surprising level of hostility towards me."
"Pray tell," I said, groping around for another object I could use as a missile-projectile.
"Whoa there, tiger!"
I suddenly felt a warm pressure on my wrist and looked up to see Mamoru's hand wrapped around mine. I had somehow managed to wrest my brooch from my shirt without even noticing and had apparently been intent on hurling it over the counter. "You might want to hang on to that, okay?" he said, gently wresting it from my clenched fingers and placing it safely on the floor behind us.
Imagine your heart beating as a warm touch lingers on the back of your hand. Imagine the intensity of the gaze that prevents you from blinking, from breaking that suspended moment in which your eyes meet his and it seems almost as if there is the chance—the hope—that something will happen, that he will lean in, that he might just kiss you…
Now imagine that scene being promptly shattered by about the few hundred Amazonian women leaping off of arcade machines and chucking various jukebox parts what part of your head is exposed behind a countertop.
"Bye bye, Sailor V," I said sadly as the coveted game machine went crashing to the floor beneath a stampede of shiny stilettos.
"Looks like we're up for round two, eh?" I looked up just in time to catch Mamoru's rueful grin before he leapt to his feet again.
'Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb!' I berated myself as he somehow managed to keep the swarms at bay above me. I remained where I crouched on the floor for another minute or so, beating myself over the head (as inconspicuously as I could) with a rusty spatula. 'Pull yourself together, Usagi! Even if he was interested—"
"Uh, not to rain on your parade down there or anything, but…a little help here, please?"
"Oh! Right," I said as Mamoru helped me scramble to my feet. "Manic horde. Forgot."
Mamoru's eyebrow did a skeptical little jig at me.
"Wha-at?" I said defensively. "It's been a long day, okay?"
"I had no idea," Mamoru smirked, rolling his eyes.
I grinned back at him, but I felt my smile slip as I turned to look at the crowd now congregated in the arcade.
Did I say congregated? I meant swarming. Festering. You name it, they were probably doing it.
From every corner and single inch of open space in the arcade, a thousand or more contorted faces roared, snarled, growled in all of their lip-glossed glory. Somebody had torn the "MAXIMUM CAPACITY: 47" sign from its usual post and piled it onto the stack of debris with which to load a trebuchet. High heels clicked, hairspray swirled, and a familiar-looking apron in the corner waved—hang on, apron?
"Oh my god, baka," I gasped, pointing, "Look—it's Motoki!"
"What? No way! Where?"
I stood on tiptoe, scanning the crowd so anxiously for another glimpse ofthe telltale blond hair that I hardly felt the tugs at my sleeve that grew progressively more urgent.
"Mm?" I said, still craning my neck over the masses and swatting away the occasional set of bared teeth with a stainless steel saucepan that had somehow found its way into my hands.
I spun on Mamoru with, I admit, something more than a readiness to employ my new weapon on him out of irritation. I stopped, however, when I found him staring into the opposite corner of the arcade by the now debilitated jukebox, his eyes as wide as if somebody had clothespinned them open that way.
"I don't think Motoki is our biggest concern right now," he said in a hoarse voice, still staring.
I faintly discerned a spark of lightning leap up from the corner at which we were now both ogling and shuddered.
A flash of fire lit up the side of Mamoru's face as he turned his horrified eyes towards me, and we both mouthed the doom-laden words at the same time.
"The Sailor Senshi."
We both stood there gaping at one another, ignoring the shrieks that rebounded from every side of the arcade now as the Senshi cleared a path towards us.
"Well," Mamoru croaked.
"Well," I echoed.
"Looks like, erm, they've found us." I heard the same hopelessness I was feeling sink into his voice.
"Yeah…" Then, glancing over at the flaming Senshi at the front of the four, I said rather weakly and only half joking, "Got any more pucker-up left in you, Prince Charming?"
The change was barely noticeable, but Mamoru's eyes suddenly seemed to fix on me more intently than before.
"And what's that supposed to mean?" he said quietly.
Next to us, the frenzy and shouts grew louder.
I had already decided that if wasn't going to own up to it, I certainly wasn't going to spell it out for him. The same feeling of constriction I had felt at Mamoru's apartment filled my chest again, but I would rather have swallowed my tongue at the moment than say it out loud.
"You know what I mean."
"No." His blue eyes were boring into me, I was sure, even though I continued to glare resolutely at the floor. "I wouldn't be asking if I did."
I mumbled something that must have made me sound about as articulate as a horse eating peanut butter.
"Usagi." I forced myself to meet his gaze which, although steady, seemed so much more searching in spite of it. "Look, if you have something you want to tell me…"
He trailed off as a blinding flash of light flared, and I knew from the uproar that Venus had used her Love Chain somewhere close by. The Senshi were almost upon us.
"—now might be a good time," he finished, with a rather strained glance in their direction.
I took a deep breath. It was now or never. "Mamoru, if we live through this, I just want you to know that it doesn't matter to me who you kiss or what you feel like you have to say to justify it. Just do what you have—I mean, want to."
Well! He couldn't have looked more stunned if I had announced that I had given birth to the great Scandinavian monster Grendel himself.
"Remind me again what that has to do with anything?" he said, sounding like he had suddenly come down with a bad head cold. He even looked like he had one; his hands went up to his temples and he squeezed his eyes shut as if he couldn't keep them open a second longer.
"Well," I said, feeling a flutter of confusion settling on me, "back in the apartment, you seemed—I mean, when you, you know—"
And I trailed off and shot him a meaningful look as if he really did know.
"All I 'know,'" he said, "is that you went berserk on me back there, and I still can't figure out for the life of me why."
"Hey, don't—don't try and blame this on me!"
"I'm not trying to, but—" His hand ran almost frantically through his hair. "You can't expect me to read your mind, and you're certainly not making this easy!"
I hesitated. My eyes flickered unconsciously to Sailor Mars, who was fighting through the last wall of girls towards our counter, and I immediately wrenched my gaze back to Mamoru's—but he had seen me. I watched with growing desperation as the pieces clicked in his mind.
"You're telling me," he said slowly, "that you were angry because I kissed Sailor Mars—I mean, Rei?"
There was an explosion behind us. Pieces of dusty debris fell from the ceiling.
"I am," I said, trying to gather my thoughts as the room seemed to spin around me and Mamoru's eyes widened, "I mean, I was, but—"
The next thing I knew, I was nose-to-nose with the slick linoleum tiles again. A sharp jet of water blasted into the wall right over my head, leaving an ominous-looking dent where my face had been just moments earlier.
"Always with the interruptions," I grumbled, dusting my shirt off and allowing myself to be pulled to my feet by Mamoru, who was already standing facing the four angry Senshi. It seemed as if they had finally managed to fight their way across the room to us.
As I struggled to find my balance, I looked around and found us standing in the far corner of the arcade.
We were trapped.
"You're telling me you were angry because I kissed Rei?" Mamoru said as if nothing had happened, abruptly wrenching me from my thoughts of impending doom.
My eyes roved among the four familiar faces in front of me. Each one had hardened into unyielding granite, not a trace of friendly recognition left. I could literally see sparks flying from Sailor Mars' fingertips. And the man was really trying to continue this discussion now?
"Erm…can we save this conversation for later?" I asked, pointing rather skeptically at the heaving, slightly singed Senshi in front of us. "You might not have noticed, but we're kind of, you know, about to die."
"You idiot," he growled over his shoulder, still standing between us, "you still think there's going to be a later?"
He had a point, but I was too busy watching Sailor Jupiter's menacing gloved hands preparing another lightning bolt to figure out what that was.
"Wh-what—fine!" I threw up my hands at what I was sure would be the last thing I would ever live to see—the back of Mamoru's head, the only thing separating me now from my four fellow Senshi, whose merciless eyes flashed death at me as they approached. "You want to know why I was upset? I don't even know myself. Sure," I said, my voice rising as I glared at the statue standing stock still in front of me, "I was angry because you'd kissed Rei. I was so mad I thought I'd tear somebody's hair out. I thought I'd like to tear your hair out. And I was angry because I didn't know how somebody who I thought I hated so much—somebody who hated me so much—would ever, could ever—"
His voice interrupted me so quietly that I barely caught the words fluttering over the sound of the sputtering, half-broken fan above us.
"Could ever what?"
The two words caught in my throat pounded in my head, pounded in my chest, pounded in my heart, but did not find voice.
My eyes flew up to Sailor Mercury—up to those intelligent, bright eyes that used to wink at me when I would get a problem wrong and she would say, laughing, "Oh, Usagi-chan—you're hopeless!" My gaze traveled slowly to Sailor Jupiter, who only last week had helped sneak me out of detention by phoning the principle and telling him I had a highly contagious case of avian flu. I found my eyes gradually roving over to Sailor Mars—her haughty expression always in place, but hardened now from what I had remembered it could be, that softened look when we sat down and talked about our uncertain futures. And then there was Sailor Venus, her blonde shock of hair cascading over her shoulders, her deft fingers toying with the love chain that had saved me so many times, and that would now be the end of both Mamoru and me.
My eyes landed on the man standing with his back still facing me, his body unmoving. And I felt the words crept to my lips again.
"Could ever what?" he asked again, so softly this time that it could have been as much my thoughts as the sound of his voice that spoke to me.
I watched, as if through someone else's eyes, as Sailor Mars' mouth formed the words for the final blow. Watched as Mamoru stood there in front of me, unflinching, as her a steady flame grew in her hands and lit up the entire room.
"Love me," I whispered.
All of a sudden I felt a pair of strong hands gripping my shoulders—I felt a searing heat engulfing my entire body in its fiery blaze—saw—no, couldn't see—through the blinding flash of light—felt something warm and sweet and gentle press against my lips, and then—
It started as a tiny buzz in my ears, like the kind you sometimes hear when you're next door to a room where somebody has turned the television on. Then it began to grow into a low hum, as if somebody was whispering into my ear from all sides. It was when it became a distinctive murmur of voices—the sound of an entire crowd of people murmuring from every corner of the room—that I opened my eyes—and found myself still firmly and undeniably kissing Chiba Mamoru.
I felt him smile against my lips. He pressed in for one final moment before he pulled away slowly, and I watched hazily as those familiar blue eyes met mine again.
Nothing was burning. Nobody was dying.
"What happened?" were the first words that left my lips when I found that they had stopped tingling enough for me to speak.
"I haven't the faintest idea—and to be honest, I have a feeling we're probably not going to find out anytime soon," Mamoru said, grinning as I gazed around us, feeling slightly bemused. "But then again," I heard him murmur as my eyes swept the room, "when did any of this supernatural superhero business ever make sense?"
In the midst of everything around us, one thing was certain, for which I was somehow grateful—it hadn't all been a dream. The entire place still looked like a complete mess; it looked as if there had been a killer tornado, and Crown Arcade had been right at the heart of its destruction path. The only sign that the ultimate apocalypse hadn't actually hit were the people—dozens of them lying on the floor, and probably hundreds more visible outside on the sidewalk, too—who, it seemed, were unharmed but just beginning to stir.
"What happened…?" I heard one girl mutter as she pushed herself off the floor.
"Where are we?"
"What are you wearing?"
"What are you wearing?"
"Is that a trebuchet?"
"Why do you have C.M. tattooed on your forehead?"
And a familiar voice from the other side of the room, "What happened to my arcade?"
Mamoru chuckled as I turned back to face him.
"Do you think…?" I began, raising my eyebrow at him.
"Do I think what?"
I cast a quick glance at the rousing crowd. "Do you think they, you know, remember?"
He glanced thoughtfully over at the group of seventh-graders who had so recently attempted to asphyxiate him by sheer numbers, and were now arguing over which of the latest Sailor V trading cards was worth the most. He shook his head with a smile.
"I guess not."
He showed every intention of ending the conversation right there, but I held a finger to his lips—not that I wasn't all for some nonverbal communication, if you know what I mean, but I wanted some answers while I could still get them, too.
"What happened, Mamoru?" I asked, pushing him slightly away from me.
"Your guess is as good as—"
"I mean, before everything went flambé," I finished pointedly.
"Oh." He stopped. For the first time in my memory, his face turned a visibly deep shade of pink. "Yeah. That."
"Come on," I wheedled, grabbing his shirt with a grin as he scratched the back of his head rather uncomfortably. "What happened?"
"Erm…well, when you said—
"When you said, you know, what you said, I sort of…lost it."
"And?" I prompted, pulling him closer.
"Aw, come on, you know what happened!"
Okay, maybe I did know—but really, it gives a girl's ego a boost to hear a man say it!
I gave him a look that I meant to say, Either you can tell me now or you can tell me in front of these few hundred witnesses when they all wake up.
I'm not sure if my look said exactly that. Either way, though, I think he got the point, because he stopped running his hand through his hair and sighed.
The prolonged stare combined with continuing silence on my part replied in the affirmative.
He let out another long breath, shaking his head at me with a sheepish sort of grin. "Fine, I completely lost it and thought that we were all going to get engulfed in a giant fireball anyway and so I gave in to what I've been wanting to do for over a year now and kissed you, okay?"
Okay? Hell yes, that was 'okay'!
"Maybe," I said, suppressing a smile. Then, before he could lean in again… "We've both done some pretty stupid stuff these past few days, huh?"
"You're telling me," Mamoru muttered, pulling me closer to him—almost unconsciously—as the murmur in the background grew louder. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Rei, Minako, Makoto, and Ami rubbing their heads and sitting up, looking around them with dazed eyes. I felt myself grinning once more in spite of myself, and a second wave of gratitude that they wouldn't remember anything washed over me as I turned back to face Mamoru again.
"Well," I said, tilting my head back to look him in the eyes, "since we've acknowledged that, there's just one more thing I've been thinking about…"
"How do you think—do you…think…"
"Think what? Usagi…?"
But something else had caught my attention. A heavy and familiar-looking object that had not, I was sure, been there only a few minutes before, was now sitting on the edge of the counter.
"Usagi?" Mamoru repeated when I didn't respond. "What's wrong?"
"What?" I shook my head, staring at the thing. "Nothing. It's…"
He followed my gaze towards the black notebook sitting there, whose gold-embossed symbols caught the light with a somewhat dull-looking cast. Then he blinked and looked down at me again.
"Isn't that…" he began. Then he stopped, looking slightly confused, as if he had been on the brink of remembering something but had suddenly forgotten.
"I think…" I said—then I stopped, too. That same feeling of familiarity tingled somewhere in the back of my head, but I couldn't pinpoint it any more than I could have found a book in the national library.
We gave each other one long look—then, at the same time, we both shrugged.
"Eh," he said, grinning at me.
"Best idea you've had all day," I said, grinning back. "Now where we again?"
The last thing I heard as Mamoru leaned in to kiss me again was the shrill sound of Rei's voice in the background, demanding to know why nobody had thought to tell her about Mamoru and me, and whether or not the whole world was going to end now that we—the universe's unlikeliest couple—had finally gotten together.
She had no idea how close she had been to being right…but of course, I thought as Mamoru's lips met mine, I wasn't going to tell her that.
Mystical beings work in strange ways. Up high in the nighttime sky, on that glowing pearly orb we call the moon, a pair of angelic inhabitants gazed down on the happy scene far below them. A soothing calm floated through the atmosphere, sending down a stream of shimmering light that reflected off a set of now-faded gold symbols. And if you looked closely at the full moon that night, you could almost make out the silhouettes of two sprites, their translucent hands intertwined, smiling the very faintest of smiles.
Note from Ala:
I guess this end note is where I get to really play the sentimental sap, but I've actually come to realize that I don't have that much more to add, except maybe a paltry excuse about that roller coaster known by some as Life Outside of Writing, and by others as a Sorry Excuse for Not Writing. For those of you who don't already know, I have just started a doctoral program in English Literature and am, in some ways, writing more than ever these days—just not necessarily within the fandom. So it still feels like a miracle that these last pages worked out the way they did, considering that I've been off the creative writing block officially for over a year now.
For those of you who are still active in the fandom—or for those of you who are revisiting it for old times' sake—or for whatever number of reasons you've found yourself at this end note, I just wanted to send out a huge, humongous, blimp-sized thank you. THANK YOU! Times about a googleplex. I still very much remember just how much I depended on all of your support, positive comments, and general awesomeness to get me through those dark and dreary days—you know, those best of times, and worst of times…you get the point.
If I find time, I'll still try to keep up my writing every once in a while. It might be long in coming, but hopefully it will be rewarding as well. In the meantime, don't be afraid to keep in touch! Old and new voices alike. That's one of the things I miss most about the writing for the fandom, to be frank, and I can't say enough how nice it feels to touch base every so often with familiar voices.
See you on the other side, and until next time!