Originally written for the Aria's Ink Valentine's Day 2010 Challenge
Genre: Romance, General
Prompt: Valentine's Day is coming up and Mamoru really wants to ask Usagi out, but he doesn't know how to tell her he likes her or to even go about doing it. He's awkward with this kind of thing, so he asks a bunch of people for advice, but what works for some people just fails terribly for him. Just have fun with it!
Three Things: Disney songs, a crazy love letter, a boat ride
He still had the handkerchief.
Mamoru casually leaned his forearms on the worn Formica counter of the Fruits Parlor Crown, doing his best to broadcast indifference and attract the same. He prided himself on the ability to be completely forgettable. Not every man can strut around in a tuxedo in broad daylight and not be remembered. In his line of work, anonymity was a must-have.
Only one person seemed immune to his carefully-crafted aura of mediocrity. That was, of course, the owner of that nagging scrap of cloth.
Time after time he ran into her, always at the most inopportune of moments. Avoiding her only seemed to increase the chances they would collide—often literally. And oh, she remembered. She held a grudge for every snide remark or teasing comment. It had gotten to the point where little effort was required on his part; she managed to be offended by a simple greeting. Not that she kept any record of the times he was nice to her.
Come to think of it, had he ever been nice to her?
Of course he had. He supported and encouraged her when she needed it the most. More than once he had intervened to save her life from a monster. They had danced together at Princess D's party, on that night he stole a kiss in the moonlight. Except, all of those time he was safely behind a mask.
Because in his line of work, anonymity was a must-have.
Someone plopped onto the stool next to him, jarring him out of his reverie. He looked up to see a sandy-haired man with gentle green eyes and an easy smile.
"Good morning!" the man greeted him. A slight nervous flicker in his eyes indicated that he knew Mamoru's face but couldn't quite recall his name.
Mamoru nodded in reply. "Morning, Furuhata-san."
"I've seen you around here before, haven't I?"
"Mmhm," Mamoru grunted.
It was true, he was spending a lot of his time here these days. He wasn't really a gamer, though he was a fan of the parlor's chocolate milkshakes. His real reason for wandering around the arcade was the peculiar energy he sensed coming from the building. He had yet to pinpoint its source, but it seemed stronger in the area around the Sailor V game. The fact that Odango Atama spent most of her afternoons playing Sailor V definitely had nothing to do with it.
At least, that's what he would have said, before he knew she was Sailor Moon.
"If you don't mind my asking, why the long face?" Motoki asked, startling him again.
"Just thinking," said Mamoru, hoping Motoki would leave him alone with his thoughts.
No such luck. Motoki gave him a knowing grin. "Ah… girl trouble?"
"What would give you that idea?" Mamoru replied too quickly.
"It's two weeks before Valentine's Day, you're sitting at the counter looking forlorn and staring off into space, and that sure doesn't look like a man's handkerchief in your pocket," Motoki pointed out, ticking off his observations on three fingers.
Mamoru grimaced and tucked the cloth out of sight.
"The thing to remember with women is, they're all about feelings. How you say something is as important as what you say. Sometimes more important."
"As if you knew the first thing about a woman's feelings, Furu-chan."
Motoki looked up to see a pretty brunette standing in the doorway. "Oh, hi Reika-san!"
"Everyone's going to see a movie. Want to come?" Reika offered.
Motoki shrugged. "Sure, why not?" He winked at Mamoru on his way out. "Hope everything works out for you!"
Mamoru sighed and went back to nursing his mug of (now lukewarm) coffee. He had almost forgotten about Valentine's Day. In general, he dreaded holidays, because he usually ended up spending them alone. At least this one carried the perk of occasional free chocolate. He usually got one or two small boxes from girls in his class, but they were gifts of politeness, never anything special. In fact, he'd never spent the day with a girlfriend before. None of his relationships ever lasted that long. He was, after all, completely forgettable.
Silly holiday, he thought bitterly. So much drama, for what? Because some ancient priest got his head chopped off.
The bell over the doorway of the Fruits Parlor jingled as a noisy trio of teenagers entered. Mamoru didn't spare them so much as a passing glance… until he realized that he knew their voices.
Usagi twirled in a circle, her giddy laughter spiraling around the room like a cloud of bubbles. "I just can't wait for Valentine's Day!" she declared. "Aren't you guys excited?"
"Hardly," Rei snorted. "I don't need a man."
"Did you know it was originally a Roman fertility festival?" said Ami, ever the font of information. "In the fifth century it was co-opted by Christians, and in the twentieth century by candy companies."
"Well, I think it's romantic," Usagi insisted. Her blue eyes sparkled as she clasped her hands in dreamy ecstasy. "Maybe this year I'll meet someone… someone just like Tuxedo Kamen or nii-san at the Game Center."
"You shouldn't go looking for a relationship just to have one," Ami advised.
"But I wanted some candy on White Day!"
Rei rolled her eyes. "Is food all you ever think about?"
Usagi stuck her tongue out at Rei and skipped over to sit at the counter, laughing and chattering all the way. Mamoru watched her out of the corner of his eye with guarded fascination. That smile was foreign to him. All she ever showed him was an indignant glare. It was like watching a tiger bathe her cubs.
Then she caught sight of him, and her smile vanished. They stared each other down for a few seconds. She wrinkled her nose and turned away.
Mamoru sighed and flagged down a waitress. "Check please."
Knowing what he knew now, maybe it was better that she didn't like him. Maybe it would be better if he didn't like her.
If we're after the same thing, then maybe we're enemies…
"I'm going to kill that little Martian weasel and her friends if it's the last thing I do!"
Zoisite rocked back and forth, clawing at a pillow in frustration. Across the room, Kunzite lounged in a chair, calm as ever.
"You didn't even like Jadeite," his silver-haired companion reminded him.
"That's beside the point." Zoisite threw down the pillow and shot to his feet. He began pacing the floor, gesturing wildly with his hands. "We were the Four Heavenly Kings. And now we are three. Does that not move you at all, Kunzite?"
The Middle Eastern commander fixed him with a steely gaze. "I will be moved when I am ready to move. For now, we bide our time."
"Hmph. You're always so cold," Zoisite sniffed, and stalked out of the room.
No sooner had the door creaked shut than a shadowy form materialized before him.
"Nephrite," Zoisite said with a faint sneer. It was no secret that he thought little of the brash, churlish North American commander. But this time, Nephrite spared him the usual exchange of insults.
"For one I'm with you," the brown-haired king snarled in a hushed voice. "Those little brats killed my best friend, and they're going to pay."
Zoisite cast a furtive glance back at Kunzite's door, then nodded. "I have a plan. It's almost Valentine's Day, and every girl in Tokyo will be giddy with dreams of romance. We'll use love letters to draw them out and ambush them." His mouth curved in a mirthless smile. "I want to see the look on their faces when they realize their fairy tale is a lie. I want to break their hearts first."
"And then carve them out of their chests," Nephrite added.
Zoisite's lip twitched. "Fine, but you do the carving. Too messy for me. Now, the letters."
"I'll handle this," said Nephrite, grasping a tendril of shadow and forming it into a pen. "I know what women like to hear."
Selling funnel cakes at a half-deserted theme park on a Sunday afternoon wasn't exactly Mamoru's ideal job, but considering the state of the economy, he wasn't complaining. He idly rearranged the fried snacks on his cart and watched the trickle of visitors meander between the rides. Ah, Disneyland. The place where dreams come true.
On his left, Donald Duck lined a group of children up for a photo shoot. He watched them with a faint smile. When he was a child the orphanage had gone on a trip to Disneyland once, thanks to a grandiose charity gesture by the chairman of the DLP. For a few glorious hours, he had embraced childhood, believed he could be anything he wanted to be, and all he needed was faith and trust and pixie dust. On that day, Chiba Mamoru was someone special. That was the last time he could remember being carefree. These days, the pixie dust had him sleepwalking through the streets at 2 AM, fighting monsters from Hell and chasing after a girl with no face, and he had the distinct sense that destiny didn't really care who he was or what his dreams had been.
Mamoru realized he had a customer. And not just any customer.
"Hello, Odango Atama."
"Chiba-san. Nice hat you have there."
He adjusted the miniature paper cap perched above his raven locks and pretended to have some dignity. "Thank you. Care for a funnel cake?"
She looked disappointed for some reason. "I'll take two."
He gave her a little smirk as he sprinkled powdered sugar on the cakes. "You know, you'll get fat if you keep eating this much."
"For your information, I didn't have lunch today."
"Oh? Did you eat it all during class?"
He knew it could cost him his job if she decided to complain. He knew he should be more mature than this, exchanging banter with an eighth grader. He knew better, and he pushed her further anyway.
Usagi's shoulders tensed up and she let out a high-pitched growl that was more cute than threatening. "Chiba Mamoru, you are a complete jerk!"
Having thus chastised him, she turned and stomped away.
"Excuse me, ma'am," he called after her. "You forgot your funnel cake."
Snarling at him as if he'd done something wrong, she returned and snatched the pastries from his hand. As he watched her storm off a second time, it suddenly occurred to him that he couldn't wait to see her again.
The following afternoon found Nephrite hunching over his laptop, tracking their three targets.
"Any luck?" Zoisite asked, peeking over his shoulder.
Nephrite grimaced. "Not exactly. I delivered the love letters to their school lockers without incident, but… Mercury went into anaphylactic shock when she found hers. As for Mars, well, see for yourself."
On the screen, the furious priestess crushed the unopened envelope in her fist, a murderous glare marring her features. The paper burst into flames.
Zoisite sighed. "I suppose we change our tactic."
Nephrite's monitor now showed an image of Usagi, who was opening her letter. As she read it, her eyes grew wide and a rosy flush tinted her cheeks. She tapped her friend on the shoulder excitedly. Soon every girl in the room was jumping up and down and squealing as Usagi read the letter aloud.
"What did I tell you? I know what women like to hear."
Zoisite offered some grudging praise. "Nice work. I'll take it from here."
"Shame I can't join you," said Nephrite. "Queen Beryl is sending me out to gather more energy." He chuckled darkly. "I've got half of Juuban convinced that the bridal shop by the entrance to the shopping district is haunted."
"Hmph," Zoisite snorted. "Have fun with that."
And that was the last time they saw each other.
Furuhata Unazuki twirled across the fruit parlor on roller skates, delivering orders as she glided by. Tea and a melon for Takeda-san, grape soda for little Yoshimi-chan, a chocolate milkshake for that guy in the green jacket sitting at the end of the counter… she knew his name, didn't she? Chiba something. She really should remember. He was becoming a regular lately.
Something about him was different today. For one, he was actually looking at her. She gave him an exuberant smile as she served his drink. "Anything else I can do for you today?"
"Can I ask your advice on something?"
He looked as surprised as she felt when he realized what he'd said. She grinned and leaned across the counter. "I love giving advice! Shoot."
"Suppose, hypothetically, that a certain guy…" He trailed off with an I-can't-believe-I'm-saying-this look on his face. After a few seconds he drew a deep breath, combed a hand through his hair, and started over. "All right, the guy is me. There's this girl… we aren't exactly friends. Actually, I'm pretty sure she hates me. But I was thinking, with Valentine's Day coming up, this might be a good chance to make peace with her."
"You like her."
"That depends what you mean by 'like,'" he stammered.
"I mean you want to ask her out. Right?"
There was a guilty pause. "Not necessarily."
"Don't over-think it," Unazuki told him. "No need to put on an act for her. If you ask me, I'd rather be with someone who acts natural around me. Just be yourself!"
If being myself worked, I wouldn't need to be asking for advice, Mamoru thought bitterly. Besides, in order to be himself, he would have to know who he was, and lately that was a matter of some debate.
Across the room, someone waved at Unazuki for a refill.
"Sorry, gotta run!" the young waitress said. "Good luck, Chiba-san!"
Mamoru sighed and sipped his milkshake. He had a strict policy against relying on luck. Fate had let him down too many times before.
The next day at school, Mamoru posed the same hypothetical question to his classmate Asanuma Ittou. Though Asanuma was not exactly the most experienced young man at Moto Azabu, he knew how to keep a secret. Mamoru liked that about him.
"Well," said Asanuma after a moment's consideration, "if you really want to do something dramatic, how about an aerial Valentine?" His fists balled up in excitement. "You could write it on the ground in huge letters, and then take her up in a plane to see it. It would be so awesome!"
"Like a crop circle?" Mamoru made the mistake of saying.
"Crop circles are different!" the younger boy fervently insisted. "The first crop circle was reported in 1678, centuries before the advent of the airplane. Although skeptics have tried to argue that they're merely an elaborate prank, true UFO enthusiasts know that they can't be made by human hands, because the nodes in the plant stalks are bent in such a way…"
Mamoru quickly remembered something he had to do on the other side of campus.
Mamoru didn't like to think of himself as a procrastinator, and least of all with communication. If you put off saying something, you might never get a chance to say it. Yet here he was, staring up at the blank ceiling of his apartment on the night of February 9, with his feelings tied up in knots and still no idea how to approach the Usagi Problem.
He wasn't even sure what he felt for her. It wasn't exactly that he was captivated by her. She wasn't his type. Not that she was unattractive, but she wouldn't have caught his attention in a crowd (peculiar hair notwithstanding.) She was neither the siren of his wildest fantasies nor the boring, highly compatible housewife of his more carefully laid plans. No, Tsukino Usagi was a splash of cold water to the face. Every time he saw her he woke up from the long and tedious dream of life, and the boy in him was running through Disneyland again.
Her voice repeated in his head. Chiba Mamoru, you are a complete jerk! Funny, how an insult from her did more to lift his spirits than every smile or greeting or word of advice he received from anyone else. She gave him the one thing he needed, the one thing all the kind strangers had never understood. She knew his name.
If only he could hear her say it without such venom in her voice.
Desperation had led him to do something rather drastic. He shifted on the lumpy couch and tuned the radio dial to a local talk show. A cheesy jingle played over the tinny speaker as a middle aged woman greeted her listeners.
"Good evening, everyone, and welcome to Hanasaki's Love-Love Advice. Tonight's program includes 'Planning the Pefect Honeymoon' and 'I Caught my Boyfriend Kissing my Therpaist.' But first, we have a letter from a Mysterious 2098 Face-san."
What on Earth possessed me to pick that alias? Mamoru wondered to himself. He listened, increasingly mortified, as they read his letter on the air, and prayed to every deity he could name that no one ever traced it back to him.
"Well, 2098-san, a mistake I often see young people make is coming on too strong. Don't try to plan your whole future together on the first date!" the host advised.
"I'm not-" Mamoru started to shout at the radio. He clamped his mouth shut, feeling ridiculous. "Not like I'm asking her to marry me," he grumbled under his breath.
"A man should embody both the samurai ideals: bold, strong and silent, and the modern virtues: dashing, sensitive, and charismatic." the host continued. "So this Valentine's Day, ask yourself: What would Tuxedo Kamen do?"
Mamoru did what was known in Internet subculture as a facepalm. A soulless groan escaped his half-parted lips. "That's it," he muttered. "I give up."
It was raining in Fantasyland.
Mamoru tried to balance an umbrella in the crook of his elbow and fish dough out of the fryer without getting burned, succeeding at neither. Business had been slow all day, even though it was Valentine's Day, and now near closing time it was nonexistent. The nasty weather suited his mood.
And then he heard the sound of skipping feet on the wet pavement, followed by the humming of a familiar voice, and then…
He spun around with a thoroughly puzzled expression, and there was Usagi, hunched under a pink rabbit-print umbrella that had seen better days. Tucked under her arm was a large white box wrapped in ribbons.
"Chiba-san?" she repeated, sounding astonished.
"Yes," he replied hesitantly. She did know he worked here, didn't she? If nothing else, she could probably have figured it out from the fact that he was wearing an apron.
To his amazement, she held out the box to him. "Well, this chocolate is for you, I guess."
You guess? he thought, confused. Aloud, he managed a stiff thank-you.
He wondered if she would buy something, but she just stood there, hopping nervously from foot to foot, as if she were waiting on him to do something.
"So, um…" he began after a long silence.
"Come on!" she said suddenly, grabbing him by the wrist. "Let's go on a boat ride!"
"Well, my shift isn't quite over—uh!" Mamoru grunted as she took off, dragging him down the path. His mind tumbled in confusion. Where was she taking him, and why? Boats? He couldn't think anymore. The soggy landscape passed by in a blur. Her hand was warm on his wrist.
Perched in a tree above the abandoned funnel cake stand, Zoisite watched his quarry depart and swore under his breath.
Usagi led Mamoru under a pastel-painted awning and into one of the rides. They ducked under the deserted queue lines and got into a little plastic boat. Mamoru was still wondering if this wasn't all some crazy dream.
We aren't going on the Tunnel of Love, are we? No way. I don't think Disneyland even has a Tunnel of Love. Besides, Tsukino-san would never go with me on that kind of ride…
"I'm surprised," she said, cutting into his panicked thoughts. "I never figured you for the romantic type."
"Uh… neither did I?" It came out sounding like a question, which in a way it was. What in the world was she talking about?
She laughed. He stared. His heart was trying to leap out of his chest.
The boat started moving, and Usagi leaned forward in excitement. They sailed under a giant archway. For a moment all was dark, but strains of cheerful music reached Mamoru's ears. He knew that song from somewhere… Then they passed into a room full of colorful dancing dolls, and suddenly he realized exactly what ride Usagi had dragged him onto.
It's a small world after all, it's a small world after all…
And Usagi was singing along. Mamoru groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. Now he would never get that tune out of his head.
The little boat glided past a candy-coated version of the Taj Mahal as the theme song looped for the nineteenth time. Usagi had stopped singing, but her eyes still sparkled with excitement. Mamoru, meanwhile, had fallen into glum silence, because he had finally figured out what was going on.
He had, however unwittingly, hijacked someone else's date. Usagi must have a secret admirer who had invited her to meet at the park. Either she had been early or whoever-it-was had been late, and she mistakenly believed Mamoru was the one.
Which meant that someone else had put those stars in her eyes. Someone else had the eloquence and the nerve he lacked.
This, of course, left Mamoru with a moral dilemma. He could accept the hand that fate had (for once) graciously dealt him, keep up the charade, and Usagi would probably never be the wiser. Or he could do the conscientious thing and clear up the misunderstanding. Then she would think he wasn't interested in her at all and go off to live happily ever after with her silver-tongued sweetheart. And maybe, when she had someone special in her life, she wouldn't waste her time bothering Chiba Mamoru anymore. If they met again, she would merely nod a greeting as she passed him, and eventually she wouldn't remember his name. That would be akin to making peace, which was what he had set out to do in the first place.
So why did he feel so empty?
He gave his head a firm shake. It didn't matter how he felt. He knew the right thing to do. He opened his mouth to tell her the truth.
Suddenly, the whole ride shook, sloshing water out of the narrow channel, and the lights went out. A dark shape rushed past Mamoru's head, and Usagi screamed as she was knocked overboard.
"Tsukino-san!" he shouted, fumbling toward her. The sounds of a frantic splashing echoed in the dark. There was someone else in the boat, holding her under the water.
Mamoru lunged at the mysterious attacker, knocking him over the side. By the time they hit the water, he wasn't Mamoru anymore. His work uniform morphed into a dashing tuxedo and top-hat, complete with a billowing cape lined with scarlet satin. It fluttered behind him impressively for the span of half a second, before he plunged into the cold river.
Usagi surfaced with a gasp. Tuxedo Kamen and the stranger grappled in the water, until the masked warrior finally threw their mystery assailant onto the concrete shore of fake-India.
Tuxedo Kamen climbed up after him, summoning the steel-tipped cane that served as his weapon. He could see the stranger's silhouette more clearly now. The man was on the short side, with a slender, almost feminine figure that belied his unnatural strength and speed. Too late, Tuxedo Kamen caught the glint of the pair of crystal blades in his hands.
The man flashed toward him, weapons aiming to kill.
"Moon Twilight Flash!"
A brilliant beam of light streaked down from above, and Zoisite staggered back, covering his face. Sailor Moon struck a pose on the highest dome of the wooden Taj Mahal. Tuxedo Kamen watched in mute awe as her power illuminated the room with a magical, iridescent-silver glow that Disney's best engineering could never hope to rival.
"Sailor Moon," Zoisite said with a sneer. "You stood me up."
Tuxedo Kamen watched her face progress through a very familiar series of emotions: bewilderment, then shock, then disappointment and anguish. "You… you wrote that love letter?" she choked.
Zoisite cackled, and her cheeks flushed in fury and embarrassment. Her gloved hands clenched into trembling fists, and tears welled up in her eyes.
The dark king's laughter broke, and he scowled at Sailor Moon. "Actually, I didn't write it," he hissed. "One of my associates did—the one your little friend Jupiter just barbecued. His name was Nephrite, in case you're wondering. But don't worry, he didn't love you any more than I do."
He stalked toward her with a predatory leer. "Do you want to know what I really think of you, Sailor Moon? You're a fat, ugly, gutless imbecile and you're nothing but a burden on everyone around you."
She winced with every word, and Tuxedo Kamen's heart wrenched. She couldn't honestly believe him. She had to know that wasn't true.
Ordinarily, he would have prepared a beautiful and corny speech about how a man who mocks a girl's beautiful heart doesn't deserve to call himself a man, et cetera. Today he was rushed and in a bad mood, so he just thumped Zoisite on the head with his cane.
"Leave her alone, asshole!"
Zoisite whirled, brandishing his twin blades. "Why, you insolent—"
Behind him, Sailor Moon pulled off her tiara and formed it into a deadly disc of energy. "Moon Tiara…"
Zoisite suddenly realized that he didn't have time to stab Tuxedo Kamen and still save himself from Sailor Moon's attack. Outnumbered and stripped of the cover of darkness, he opted to retreat. He summoned a dark portal and vanished.
Usagi sat alone on the steps of Cinderella's castle, munching on the box of chocolates she'd bought for her so-called secret admirer. Mamoru had left them behind in the confusion, and there was no sense in wasting good candy.
She couldn't really blame him for running off. If anything, she blamed herself for putting him in danger. Come to think of it, he might be out looking for her right now…
Then again, maybe not. She must have scared him off by being so aggressive. Now he would think she was a freak and never talk to her again. That shouldn't really bother her since all he ever did was make fun of her.
She shoved another chocolate in her mouth and tried not to cry.
Tuxedo Kamen watched her from behind a clothes rack at a nearby gift shop. He took a step toward her, and wavered. A gloved hand reached for his mask. Tuxedo Kamen might be her enemy, but Chiba Mamoru…
No, he told himself. The man and the mask were one and the same, whether he liked it or not. And he had to do what was best for the girl who was the best thing in his life.
The sound of his footsteps made her look up. She leapt up with wide eyes, wiping chocolate from her lips. He said nothing, but made a courtly bow, extending one arm toward her in invitation.
As she took his hand, Disney lent them a little magic with uncanny timing. Strains of fanciful violin music started to play from some hidden speaker near the castle. It was the theme from "Sleeping Beauty." Tuxedo Kamen swept Usagi into a spiraling waltz, and they twirled across the plaza.
"Did I manage to cheer you up?" he asked as the song drew to a close.
She nodded, still enraptured. "Dancing with you… it's like a dream."
Slowly, reluctantly, he let go of her hands. "That's all I'll ever be. A dream."
A hint of sadness darkened her azure eyes, but she didn't try to protest. He was telling her something she already knew. They hovered there in the rain, halfway to embracing, too close and too far and too late. Then she looked up at him, and her smile was filled with serenity. He leaned down and planted a kiss on her forehead.
"I wish you all the love in the world, Tsukino Usagi-san."
He forced himself to take one step back. A deep, longing ache swelled in her chest as she watched him disappear into the shadows of the castle.
…with her handkerchief in his pocket.