Disclaimer: I don't own them. If I did, there would have been even more angst in Sailor Stars.
Summary: Sometimes even the strongest of rocks get set adrift.
AN: This, or something similar, has been circling my cranium for a good long while. Far longer than Truthful Child. I finally managed to get it written out, yay me! Odds are I won't continue, because I am currently unaware of how to continue, but it works well as a stand-alone.
He remembered dying.
Death had not been a new experience for Mamoru. He had died before, been reborn on a wish, and the memory of his end had always been as fading as a soon forgotten dream.
This last time had been different. With stark vividity, he remembered the white hot light piercing his body and tearing out his soul. Mamoru had struggled with what he knew was coming, would have known even without past experiences that he had seen Usako for the last time. Even still, he had felt the hope that she would fight this new woman to the end, and that even without him by her side, she and the others would once again put a stop to the end of the universe.
The trill of the phone broke through his melancholy as water glided down his body. His shower was starting to chill as he wondered just how long he had been standing there. He finished, but not in time to answer the phone. They left no message either, so it must not have been important.
A nice cup of tea, a book to read, music in the background. Normalcy. He could do that, maintain a façade and go through motions that ached in its deception.
A knock on the door broke through the dreaded silence between songs. A glance at his watch told Mamoru that it was about the time that Usako had said she would be there, but the soft rapping of knuckles against paint and wood lacked her usual exuberance.
Mamoru placed a bookmark between the pages of whatever novel he had been attempting to read as he stood, curiosity piqued over what other visitor would drop by. Since Motoki had left, and Saori and Kobayashi had begun testing the new ventures in the changes of their relationship, his regular visitor list had dwindled to one. His most important one, to be sure, and as long as she kept coming, he would have no problem if it stayed that way. Even if she remained as she was now, though he wished for her exuberance once more, he would gladly accept the small yet significant list. Usako may not keep the nightmares away, but she made waking up feel that much less like dying.
There was another knock, softer than before, and the hollow resonance held a tone of finality and defeat on the last note. He was close to the door by then, and it was not long before confusion met the empty archway. Opening the door wider, Mamoru slipped his head out into the hallway.
He caught sight of her, shoulders hunched forward and small fingers twitching spasmodically at her sides. Normally these would be barometric indicators of her anger, easy cues that he had once learned to map just to see how far he could annoy her back when there was no Endymion and the princess only existed in lonely dreams. It was the other signs, though, that he had later learned – the hitch at the end of each breath, the shaking of her knees – and he knew in just a step or two she would break down.
Mamoru knew they wouldn't be the cries she had once given on a regular basis, both dramatic and loud. These would be the tears that he could never be immune to.
Her body jerked upright at the sound of her voice as she gasped and spun around. Before he left, there would have been a radiant smile on her face as she rushed forward, not the look of panic on her pinched features.
Mamoru took a step back. Not to escape, but to brace for the impact that occurred. Her arms were tight around his waist, popping his spine and squeezing his ribs. What he noticed more than these, though, were the slight tremors coursing through her body.
He wished he could live forever in moments such as this one. Not where she was terrified of something, but when all that existed for even a split second were her hugs. He was not an expert on hugs, such embraces were from a time before he remembered, but even in the early days where he felt awkward and clumsy with his attempts at returning them, one from her made up for the lifetime of their absence.
He looked down to discover that she had not burrowed her face in the folds of his shirt as she usually did. This time she stared up at him with large eyes, brows creased high together as she did not even blink.
"What?" he asked.
Usako opened her mouth to respond before closing it again. When she finally answered, she was studying the open button at the collar of his shirt. "I was just wondering if…you planned on changing your answering machine message."
Damn. That must have been her that had called while he had been in the shower. He had meant to change the message a few weeks ago but could never seem to get around to it. Until now, there had been no need. Whenever she would call, he was at the phone well before it was in any danger of reaching the message.
"Sorry," he said quietly as he brushed her bangs aside. "I'll change it when you go home, okay?" Knowing her, she would try to insert commentary during his attempts. Maybe even voice out her kidnapping of him. He did not particularly mind, but professors and employers tended to frown at such displays of unprofessionalism.
She nodded and then, finally, buried her face among the folds and creases of his shirt, her sigh reverberating down to his toes.
"Come on, let's get you inside."
It was not the easiest of tasks, maneuvering through the open door and into his apartment, but dealing with a clinging girl was a talent he had nurtured over the years. Often times he had to face more, as another, much shorter girl clung at his waist.
"Would you like some cocoa?" he asked as he slid the bolt in to place, effectively locking the outside world away.
After a moment she nodded before pulling away. The places where she had been pressed against him were cold, bereft. He walked into the kitchen, hearing the soft sounds of her slippers falling as she followed.
The monotonous motion of making his coffee and her cocoa set his mind at ease. There was still something he could do right.
"Mamo-chan?" she asked as she kicked her tiny feet from her perch on his counter.
"Hmm?" The coffee brewed, filling the small space with a comforting bitter aroma as he pulled out the tin of cocoa.
"Are you okay?"
The spoon paused in the canister as he looked at her. He wanted to tell her. How sudden flashes of light would force the air from his lungs and his body to freeze, or how he slept facing the window at night so he could still see light when he closed his eyes instead of what he remembered. Then there were the dreams filled with a nothing so tangible that it drowned out all of his senses. "I'm fine."
"You could tell me, you know," she mumbled as she focused her eye on her knees. "If you weren't."
He could. He knew that beyond a doubt that he could tell her what was wrong, and she would listen. But he was supposed to be this girl's rock. She, who faced more death and devastation in one day than most would ever see in their entire lifetime and could still giggle at jokes and argue with herself the merits of one stuffed animal over another afterward, deserved something solid to cling to when her laughter and cheer failed her.
"I know," he said instead, and it was enough. He could tell her, if he had to, and that was enough for him.
He had left enough room in her mug for a generous handful of marshmallows – just how he remembered she liked it – and offered his hand to her. Accepting it, she hopped off the counter and held out her hands.
With a smile he handed her the mug of cocoa and grabbed his own coffee before following the bouncing girl toward the living room. Only she wasn't a girl anymore, not as much as she had been before he left. Then, she had just turned sixteen. Now, though, her seventeenth approached fast, still months away but closer than it had any right being. He had missed time, lost out on it to a megalomaniac's desire for galactic conquest.
It was in large part the reason why he could not refuse her when she asked to come over. He knew her time would be better spent studying, and sometimes she even brought over her books for all the good they did her. But there had been so much he had missed out on already, too much, and it was this act of selfishness that forced him to say yes whenever she called. He never once extended the invitation, knowing that if he did she would spend every day there. As it was, he was surprised he had received no phone calls from either of her parents. He was not sure which would terrify him more; an over-protective father's threats of disembowelment, or a nurturing mother's affection and understanding.
Usako sat first, leaving him space beside her as she set down her mug, ignoring or just forgetting to use a coaster. Not that he minded, she rarely used them and his coffee table was in no danger of being ruined.
When Mamoru was settled in, she curled beside him, head resting on his shoulder. She played with his free hand, running curious fingers along lines and contours, tickling the tips of his fingers with the slight barely there touch. The sensation of touch eked up through his arm and settled in his brain like a thick blanket.
"Mamo-chan?" she started again, tickling his palm in small semicircles.
"What all do you remember?"
He opened his mouth to respond, and then closed it. He remembered everything. Every moment that existed between the time he died and the time he woke was ingrained in his memory. He could not see, could not smell, could not hear or touch, but he remembered the vast and never ending black of nothing that had kept him cocooned for months. This world he woke to was too bright, yet not bright enough to chase away the nightmares where nothing existed.
It would be easy, perhaps too much so, to lose himself in her to where nothing existed but taste and sight and sound, living through the sensations coursing through fingertips and skin. It would be so easy to forget that nothing still existed deep in the recesses of his mind, always there, always threatening to come back out should he keep his eyes closed for too long.
"Nothing." Could she hear the lie through the truth? He wanted her to, wanted to wash away what he knew and didn't, keep the insanity at bay through her strength. He couldn't do it, because he was her rock, and even though he was being swept away in a current he needed to find a way to anchor himself. Otherwise, neither one of them would have anything left to hold on to. "I remember nothing."