In Maria, Mamoru sees things that he loves, and hates, and wants to be. The things he loves far eclipse the things he hates so it's like they're not there, blockaded by all the things in her that he wants to make his own. She is his sun, his moon, his stars; she is the earth he pads barefoot on and she is the blue sky that he stares up and smiles at. She is fire and ice, and alive but frozen. He can see it in her eyes sometimes, cold as the rain that freezes to his skin in the evenings of autumn, and he feels it in the way her fingers squeeze around his wrist like a clamp. Her fingers are warm and her nails are dainty, and they leave crescent-shaped moons on the inside of his forearm.

He would burn for her if only she would let him.

"People are stupid, brainless pigs, Mamoru," She says as she rests her head on his shoulder. She's fighting something that he can't see, shaking but not crying and furious but as calm as the silence before thunder. "They take more than they need and give nothing to those who need it, you see. Never be like them, Mamoru." She instructs him, suddenly folding in on herself and straightening up all at the same time. She plasters a pretty smile across her lips that doesn't reach her eyes, never has, and greets Saki with a disarmingly charming tilt of her head. She possesses the grace of a wounded gazelle and the shapeless emotion of a china doll. Saki is nothing near as lovely with her wide-eyed naivety, wondering at the world and blushing when Shun stands close to her. Maria never blushes and she doesn't wonder because she's already seen it all. Her body is always very still, quiet and elegant, and she's never been as clumsy as the others are.

He models himself after her and tries to imitate her gentle fluidity but never gets it quite right. He's a shrinking violent and grace looks like effort on him, and that's not what it should be. If he's not paying attention to himself he leans toward Maria, orbits around her like a comet to the sun, and whatever he emulates is swallowed up by her brilliance. He tries anyway because he wants what she has. He wants her propriety and her beauty, her wisdom and her command, and he wants her like he's never wanted anything else. He wants her to lean on him, to kiss him and to push him away; he wants her to be frustrated with him and show him things she hasn't shown anyone else. He wants to be her support like she is for him.

Mamoru wants to reach out and take her hand, protect her from the world that she's seen and he hasn't, but she might never speak to him again if he does. He knows well that her weaknesses are kept to herself and sometimes he's privy to her sad little breakdowns. No one else sees them like he does and he never takes pride in that. He can't afford to because the moment he does the one thing of Maria's that she has shared with him will disappear.

The way she acts around Saki and the others is a sickening shadow of what she is. Maria is a tiger lily in full bloom, alive and vibrant and strong against all manner of winds when she's with him. With the others, she shrinks a little and lets them take charge. She's a violet around them, never the one that shrinks because that's his eternal duty, but she's not who she is with the others. She's so much more intelligent, more beautiful, and more impressive when she's with him, and they should all appreciate her like he does but they never do. He's quietly furious when Satoru slights her, or Saki ignores her, or Shun disregards her opinion. She's so much more than them and their circle of lies, deceit, and confused love.

She never says anything although he wishes she would. She smiles complacently and pretends she doesn't care but Mamoru sees it; Mamoru knows.

They get a little older and he sees the way she leans into Saki with a cute smile. He wonders how he missed it before. She's only ever been so affectionate with the amber-eyed ingenue, she's never been so tender with him and that stings his heart. Saki never shrinks away but she never reciprocates either, not the way Maria wants her to. Her eyelashes will flutter and she presses a hand against Maria's sloping back, smoothing out her hair and the creases in her uniform, but it's not what Maria wants. He's seen those peachy-pink lips he loves so much pressed against Saki's throat, and he's caught glimpses of Saki's hands trailing down Maria's ribs. He's seen the blooming bruises against her collarbone and the sweat sticking to her brow when she and Saki come back from a 'walk'.

The other boys don't even know and they're so stupid because they think Saki's still wrapped around their fingers. They're so focused on Saki, or on each other, that they don't even see what their selfishness is doing to Maria. Precious, lovely Maria, wilting under a sun of desires she can't fulfil on her own.

He stews in his own rage because Maria deserves so much more than Saki's distracted hands. She deserves love, even if she can't offer any back.

"I can't love." Maria tells him one day. It's summer and the sun is bright and warm; stifling. She's standing with her back to him, facing out over hills turning cherry-red as the sun sagged out of the sky like the clouds were too much weight to bear. Her back is straight; rigid, like someone was pulling her up by the last vertebrae of her spine. She's so tense and wound up, and he wants to soothe the tension out of her shoulders, but he knows she doesn't want to let go of whatever is bothering her. She never likes letting go, she says it isn't in her genetics. She told him once that it hurts more to let go than it does to boil in her anger, and that she would rather cause herself less pain. He agreed temperately but thinks to himself that she would be so much happier if she would just let someone help.

He wishes she would let him help because no one else would do it right.

"Mamoru," She says, suddenly drooping and the cracks in her armour shatter all over, "Mamoru, I can't love."Her voice cracks and she's on the ground on her knees, folding over herself like a dying anemone flower. Her shoulders shake under his fingertips and her ribs quake where his arms wrap around her midsection, holding her together. She makes no noise at all. The world is silent, devoid of life and noise and clamour. All he can hear is the sound of her tears dropping onto the dirt and his heart breaks for her. He thinks her heart was broken long ago, shattered into disrepair and he hates the one who did it. Whoever it was, why ever they did it, he thinks he wants to kill them. And if they're already dead, he wants to spit on their grave.

He only catches a glimpse of her face, she does well to hide herself away, and he sees chapped lips and flushed cheeks and her eyes are the most vibrant blue they've ever been. He thinks she's beautiful, even with watery eyes and undignified streaks of makeup strewn down her cheeks, and he wants to warm her. He wants to kiss her, but he doesn't at the same time. He wants to reassure her and love her quietly, but she stands up and it's all over.

There's nothing left of her and Mamoru wants to keep crying for her because she's dying deep down. She's probably already dead, finished by the world and the people who don't love her and the people she wants so badly to love but can't.

"Love me, Mamoru." She instructs him, sounding like the old Maria who used to tell him stories about bad people and what comes for them. "Love me, because no one else will."

When he hugs her, slides his arms around her neck and stands as close as he possibly can, she lets him. She even drops her arms around his waist and holds him tightly, and he thinks he might die. He loves her so, so much. She can't love him back but he's always known that. One way or another, he was never going to have Maria. It isn't in the cards for him, and happy endings don't suit either of them. So he settles for comforting her with all his might and he doesn't care that he's just a coping mechanism. He needs her and she finally needs him and that's all he's ever asked for.

And he'll be damned if he's ever going to let anyone take it away from him.