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took a faithful leap

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*

He’s coming off of a thirty-six hour shift in the emergency room. The sun is too bright for winter, harsh against the grey that pervades everything. It makes him even more tired, on edge. Ducking his head against the sun, he takes a hard left towards the coffee shop rather than a right to his empty apartment. Coffee is all he has on his mind; he doesn’t want to sleep.

“Oof—“ someone says as a soft body plows into him, a cloud of silver-blonde hair floating around him.

“Watch it,” he snarls, peeling away towards the curb. He rubs a hand over his eyes, glancing over to the other side of the sidewalk.

A petite blonde woman stares him down with her hands on her hips, pale against the black of her skirt,. Her mouth curves down into a frown. A surge of familiarity hits him right in the gut.

“You might want to open your eyes when you take corners, buddy,” she says evenly. Her eyes, deep blue against the white of her blouse, catch his gaze.

“Or you could not rush pell-mell around corners yourself,” he shoots back. His nerves are frayed from three deaths on his shift and dreams of death and times far past haunting his every sleeping moment.

Slowly she smiles and it brightens her whole face. “Pell-mell? It’s a little early for that kind of vocab.”

Gritting his teeth, he tucks into his jacket and starts to walk away. His heart beats a strange tattoo against his ribs, his neck flushing.

“Nice running into you!” she calls from behind him, voice soft and lilting. When he chances a glance back, she is gone.

It isn’t until he has had his coffee and is in his staid, bare-walled apartment that he thinks of her face, the exhaustion lining her mouth. She had covered it well.

Mamoru sleeps fitfully, and dreams of miles upon miles of silver hair.

*

“You’re not on for another hour,” Ami scolds Mamoru as he walks up to the nurses’ station with his hands tucked into his lab coat pockets.

“You do know that I’ve been here longer than you,” he says, fixing a hard look at his colleague. “You look awful.”

Ami flutters a hand in his direction. She leans against the counter, patient files stacked before her. A sweep of otherworldly bluish hair falls into her eyes. “That’s rather quaint, coming from you. Did you sleep at all?”

He doesn’t answer, merely taking a few files from the nearest nurse and beginning to flip through them. Sleep has never been high on his list of priorities. “You’ve got blood on your coat. What happened in here?”

“Nothing,” she says easily, pushing her glasses up the bridge of her nose with her index finger. He peers at her; an odd sort of tension radiates from every movement she makes. “Just the run of the mill accidents. One drunk driving accident, but everyone involved was all right.”

“And the blood?”

She sighs. “Mamoru-san, blood happens,” she says crisply. “You’re an hour early for your shift.”

He shrugs and tilts his head up towards the ceiling. The sterility of the hospital feels more like home than anywhere else; his first memories are of hospitals, clean and cold. “I thought I could relieve you.”

Ami lays a small hand on his forearm. He looks at her, at her friendly smile. He hadn’t known what to make of her when they first met, as she came to the hospital for her residency. She’s a second-year now, and exhibits more sense and calm under pressure than many of his fellow doctors. Quiet and reserved as he is, they match up well. He likes having someone else to rely on.

“Why don’t you go down to the cafeteria? Get something to eat before your shift? I’m really quite fine.”

Her gaze is full of concern and pity; two things he has no use for from anyone, even Ami. Tightening his jaw, he steps away from the counter and her hand falls away. “I’m going for coffee. Would you like anything?” he asks, all cool politeness.

She shakes her head, pale and drawn around the mouth under the harsh hospital lights. For some reason, he thinks of the girl from two days ago, a warm bullet of blonde-silver hair against his chest and a tired mouth. He nods at Ami and turns for the elevator, his fists stuffed in his pockets.

*

The cafeteria is quiet at this time, right before the beginning of the overnight shift. The few nurses and doctors skirt around his table, merely nodding but never stopping.

Mamoru doesn’t mind. He likes his silence, the quiet before he moves into the melee that can be the emergency room. His reputation here is one of talent and reticence. It had been the same throughout all his levels of school, and now he wears it as a favored coat, long and comfortable and only attractive to him.

He sits at his favorite table near the rear corner, cup of fiercely-hot coffee cupped between his hands. His mind skips from patient to case to women with blonde hair and catching smiles. All he wants is to throw himself into his shift, keep his mind busy for twenty-four hours; another twenty-four hours down.

“Hey, pell-mell!”

Looking up from his black coffee, he meets sharply blue eyes and a wide smile, and hair that went on for miles. His heart thumps off-beat. “Hello,” he says finally, dumbfounded.

She smiles, a Styrofoam cup curled to her sternum in one hand as the other lays on her hip. Her hair, dull in the flat light, hangs down her back like a thick smooth curtain, her bangs curved into the center of her brow. She sways slightly from side to side, her navy skirt rippling with the movement. “Hi. Mind if I sit?”

Before he can say anything, she’s settling across the table, rounded pink fingernails plucking at the cardboard sleeve of her cup. Her white blouse falls open at the throat; he catches the glimpse of a silver pendent, glowing against her pale skin. “You looked lonely,” she offers as he continues to stare at her.

“Perhaps I like it that way,” he retorts.

Wrinkling her nose, she props her chin on one of her hands, her elbow on the smooth table top. “That’s just sad,” she says.

“What are you doing here?” he asks.

She shrugs. “Waiting for a friend to get off work.”

“Are you following me?”

For a moment she just stares at him, mouth opening and closing like a fish. It makes him smile, slightly. “No! I don’t even know your name! I wouldn’t know the first place to start,” she sputters. “I was only trying to be friendly. After all, I did run into you.”

“With quite a bit of force,” he says wryly, touching his chest lightly. For hours after, he had thought he could feel the imprint of her cheek, the warmth of her skin still on his.

Scowling, she waves a delicate hand dismissively. “If I caused that much damage, you’re a lot weaker than I thought.”

How he has ended up fighting with a woman he doesn’t even know is mind-boggling. “You were running. When an object is coming at something with velocity, there will be impact, and it will leave a mark.”

“Do I look like I need a physics lesson?” she retorts, brow furrowing. “I’m trying to be nice to you. You’re making that very difficult.”

“I am sorry for inconveniencing you,” he drawls, smiling again at the spark in her eyes and mouth. He wants to reach out and touch her, feel her energy against his fingertips for guidance. It’s part of why he became a doctor; he can read people more easily with his hands on them, the shift of muscle and blood under his touch.

She sits back in her chair with a huff, sipping at her beverage. “I’m Usagi, by the way,” she says after a moment, meeting his eyes with something like a challenge in them.

“Mamoru,” he says, after just a moment’s hesitation.

Smiling, she stretches a slim pale hand out to him. “Nice to meet you. Again.”

He takes her hand in his. A jolt skims through him, right under his skin. It makes his breath catch hard in his throat. Her fingers are small, but he can feel calluses under his fingertips and her grip is strong; the dichotomy intrigues him.

“So you’re a doctor,” she says, slipping her hand from his. Her cheeks have the faintest hint of a flush.

He nods shortly. “As you see.”

“Well, you could be disguised as one. You never know,” she says with an easy shrug.

Brow furrowing, he finishes the rest of his coffee. “Doesn’t that seem a little fanciful?”

She smiles. There’s joy in it, but also something secret, hidden in the curve of her mouth. “I bet you don’t have much fun, do you?”

He curls his mouth around the rim of his cup and says nothing. Sighing, she turns her head and glances back towards the entrance. “Oh, there she is,” she says, waving as Ami walks in, dressed in loose street clothes.

Mamoru stands when Usagi does, checking his watch. “Time for my shift,” he says curtly.

Her mouth twists, her fingers curled delicately around her cup. She stands with her hip pressed against the edge of the table, lengths of hair falling across her shoulders. “Have fun. Twelve hours?”

“Twenty-four,” he says immediately.

Usagi tilts her head, eyes darkening as she watches him. “That’s a long time,” she says as Ami approaches. The softness catches him right in the chest.

“I’m sorry you had to wait,” Ami says with a smile as she walks up.

“No problem! You know me, just making friends,” Usagi says brightly.

“If you’ll excuse me,” Mamoru says, inclining his head towards both of them before he moves past them and walks towards the doors.

“How do you know Mamoru-san?” he hears Ami ask, all curiosity.

“Just ran into him one day,” Usagi replies. He can hear the smile in her words.

The sound of her voice doesn’t leave him for hours.

*

“How do you know Usagi?” he asks Ami when he sees her next, four days later when they’re on the same nighttime shift. He can’t shake the familiarity he felt with her, the lingering ache in his chest. In his relatively empty life, there are few moments and people that have stayed with him. She is one of them.

Ami’s pen pauses just briefly on the patient record she’s holding before she answers. “We went to high school together and have stayed close ever since. Once she’s in your life, she doesn’t leave,” she says with a warm smile.

Mamoru leans against the wall, blinking into the harsh fluorescent lights. He thinks Ami might be right.

After a moment, he notices her just watching him. “What?”

She adjusts her glasses and looks back down with a smile. “Nothing.”

*

Mamoru sees her face in the newspaper, after that; that familiarity he sensed on their first meeting is crystal clear to him now. Usagi Tsukino, rising star in the political world, is busy pushing a new set of crime laws aimed directly at Tokyo’s mob underbelly. She’s bright and charming and she always knows the right thing to say when it’s time for a big speech. He tries to match that to the slightly clumsy, overly curious and sometimes flustered woman he’s met on two occasions, and has a hard time with it.

In the little free time he has between the hospital and restless sleep, he begins looking into her, and her team. They are all female, a rarity in politics. There is never less than three of them with her in public, and yet he has met her every time alone.

It becomes something of a hobby. He tracks her events and speeches on Twitter and on political blogs. For the most part, she is revered by the public, but there are rumblings from the seedier edges of the city. When he sleeps, he dreams of her. It’s a welcome respite from the emptiness, but it leaves him longing when he wakes, a faint ache reverberating into his deepest consciousness.

After two weeks of this, he’s had enough.

*

This time, he searches her out at a public event. It’s the first time he’s ever gone to something like this, or done something even resembling this. It’s at a small arcade, one of her typical personal events. She likes to talk to constituents one-on-one, and the smaller town-hall-esque events organized by her team are perfect for that kind of interaction.

It’s a bitterly cold day, weak sun peeking out behind the grey clouds; the air smells of snow. He bundles up tight in his usual dark green jacket as he sets out. He has two days off in a row from the hospital, a rare occurrence. But his supervisor is concerned that he’s working too much, and to argue would only prove him right. So, Mamoru decides to make good use of the time, as opposed to rattling around his sterile apartment.

He arrives near the tail-end of her talk, slipping into the Crown Arcade Parlor (he thinks he might remember it from university as a hang-out spot) and keeping to the rear. The space is packed to the gills with people of all creeds, children with milkshakes stuffed into the booths. Usagi, relaxed and bright in jeans and a deep blue blazer, stands behind the counter. She must be on a box of some sort, to be seen by everyone. Behind her, three women in dark suits have their watchful eyes on the crowd.

As he listens, he can’t help but smile, something softening in his middle. She is earnest to a fault, and he can see why anyone would vote for her. There is something inspirational in her. He finds himself wanting to believe, as bitter as he is about the politics of the land. She has a natural bent towards leadership, at least in this arena.

At one point, her eyes find his, all the way in the back of the arcade. He straightens and a smile blooms across her face, her cheeks flushing prettily. It’s just a beat and then she’s back on track—but he can feel the eyes of her team go right to him. It’s intimidating, especially from the tall brunette directly behind Usagi.

It’s only another few minutes, and then Usagi thanks them and steps away from the counter. He mills in the back, allowing people to pass to the exit as some linger to speak to Usagi in person. Two of those lingering are older men, all in black leather and too muscled for their own good. Alarms go off in the back of his mind; his fists clench at his sides, with no real purpose.

He wonders, briefly, if he does need to sleep more.

“Dr. Chiba?”

Startled, he looks to the side to find a blonde woman of medium height, her hair swept half-up from her face. Golden bangs fall crisply into her blue gaze. She could be Usagi’s sister, if he didn’t already know who she was: Minako Aino, Public Relations and Publicity Director for Usagi’s office.

“Yes?” he says after a moment.

Minako smiles politely, smoothing her suit jacket down her middle. “Usagi would like to speak to you, if you have a moment.” She’s guarded, toneless; her eyes skirt over him, especially his face.

Swallowing hard, he nods briefly, and follows her through the thinning crowd towards the front of the arcade. It’s only staff in this area at this point. Mamoru’s gaze keeps moving to the men in black who remain stationary.

“Who’s stalking who now?” Usagi says with a smile as he approaches.

“Stalking who what now?” the tall brunette says, eyeing him suspiciously. He can see her flexing her fists at the sides of her sharp earth-brown suit.

Usagi waves a hand at her. “It’s fine, Makoto. Will you guys make sure we haven’t left anything in the back?”

“One of us should stay with you,” the other woman says. She’s of medium height, with sleek jet-black hair and a suspicious gaze.

“Well, could you stay a little farther back, Rei?” Usagi says, a hint of impatience in her voice.

With a nod and a small wink, Minako grabs Makoto and heads into the back. Rei steps back and begins to do a slow circuit around the emptying arcade. He can feel her gaze on them the whole time.

“They’re overprotective,” Usagi says after a moment, leaning against the counter with a sigh.

“Rightfully so,” he says, eyes moving to the pair of men in leather. As Rei nears them, they seem to inch towards the exit. “You’re something of a troublemaker.”

“I do what I have to,” she says, serious for a moment. “I always do.”

He watches her carefully, struck by her intensity. “You could try doing it more quietly.”

Her mouth twists slightly, her fingers drumming against the edge of the counter. “That’s not really my style. So, what brings you here, Dr. Chiba?” she asks.

“You know, I didn’t tell you my surname,” he says, startled.

She smiles and shrugs. “Oh, yeah. I asked Ami. Or, really, I nagged her about you until she gave in and gave me a few details that she couldn’t feel guilt for because they’re public record.”

He cracks a smile, running a hand through his hair. “What kind of details?”

Giggling, she holds out her hand in front of her, palm facing him. He resists the urge to grasp it in his. “Last name; birthday; occupation; marital status,” she says, ticking them off with her raised fingers one by one.

“Marital status?”

Dropping her hand, she flushes and bites her lip. “It seemed useful,” she murmurs, and there’s that other side of her, the one he’s encountered. She is part eagerness and youth, part dedication and ferocity. He likes both sides of her. It’s an entirely frightening and exciting realization.

“So what does bring you here?” she asks again, looking up at him with very blue eyes.

Mamoru glances from side to side for a moment; he thinks he spots Minako and Makoto peering at them through the little porthole set in the swinging back doors. Rei is making her way back towards them. The arcade is just about empty, except for young kids coming in after school for games and ice cream.

“I came to see you,” he says after a long moment.

Usagi reddens but smiles so widely that it nearly weakens his knees. “That’s a really good answer,” she murmurs after a moment.

Oh, what the hell, he thinks before taking a step towards her. He hadn’t remembered how small she really was; her constant energy made her seem larger than life. “Would you like to have dinner with me sometime?” he asks. The nerves thrum through his fingertips; he hasn’t been this nervous since his last year of high school, when he asked a girl in his calculus class to the winter dance. That had not ended well.

But Usagi is grinning with the exuberance of a teen girl and nodding, her hair swinging in long streams with the movement. His heart lifts with it. This is not that time, that moment. “Oh, yes,” she says, slightly breathless. “Are you free tomorrow night?”

They make plans to meet at a small quiet bistro midway between both their houses. She apologizes in advance for the need for some of her team to be there, and he could care less. As he leaves the arcade, he’s nearly positive he hears low squealing in the back room.

He goes home actually looking forward to that second day off.

*

“I don’t usually do this,” Mamoru says over two glasses of white wine and the bread course. They’ve done the preliminaries of schooling, family (though he was curt with his, as usual; they weren’t there yet, and even so, they may not ever get there. No one ever had.), and have settled into something comfortable past the awkwardness that always accompanies any kind of date for him.

Usagi pauses in the midst of buttering one half of her third roll. Her hair is partially pulled back into two buns on either side of her head; the rest streams down her back in two long tails. She is pale and lovely in a soft pink-rose colored dress, the cut of her neckline scooping low past her collarbones. “Watch women eat bread?” she asks after a moment, knife poised elegantly in her fingers. It’s comfortable there, as if she could wield it easily.

He raises his brow. “Well, no. But watching you eat is certainly a treat.”

She wrinkles her nose. “I have to get the bread in while I can. Ami is always on me for my diet.”

“So this is a dessert night?”

Laughing, she sets her knife down along her bread plate with a gentle clink. “You read my mind.”

Her smile is infectious; he can’t remember when he’s smiled so much in his life. He glances away from her, out towards the rest of the quietly bustling restaurant. Two of her handlers, Makoto and Rei, sit three tables away. Still, he is compelled to lean closer to her, even with eyes dead centered on his back watching his every move. “I meant I don’t go out very often.”

She tilts her head, chewing thoughtfully on a piece of bread. “No kidding.”

“Hey,” he says, stung.

“I’m sorry, Mamoru-san—I didn’t mean anything by it,” she says with a hurried smile, covering his hand on the table with both of hers. Her touch is warm, sparks curling right through to his gut. “I kind of figured as much, though.”

He leans back in his chair, but keeps his hand on the table. He likes the feel of her touch. “Oh, really?”

“Or wheedled it out of Ami. Either way,” she says brightly.

Shaking his head, he takes a long sip of wine. “You’re quite something.”

She ducks her head and slips her hands from his, reaching for the bread once more. In the restaurant’s soft light, her face is caught in shadow. “In a bad way?”

“No, not a bad way,” he says softly.

Smiling, she sips her wine. The candlelight plays along the curve of her throat and the silver of her pendent distractingly. “Oh, good. She didn’t tell me anything weird—in fact, she didn’t know very much in the first place, and she’s known you for over a year.”

He shifts, glancing away out the window. “I keep to myself, that’s all.”

In the abrupt silence, the waitress comes and goes with more wine and their bread plates. He’s just about to give up on the whole enterprise, and then there’s a gentle touch on his hand, her fingers sliding into his. Looking at her, he swallows hard. Her face is all openness and brightness, blue eyes wide and searching.

“I won’t ask,” she says softly. “I just—I’m curious. I want to know about you.”

“Why?” he asks out of sheer defensive instinct, sharp icy claws shuddering around his chest.

Her fingers curl into his. “I don’t exactly know. But if you hadn’t found me first, I was going to find you,” she said, determination in every line of her body.

He thinks on his dreams, his meeting her in these strangely serendipitous ways, his decision to seek her out. For some reason, she feels like a beginning to him. “I know,” he says slowly, his fingers curling against hers.

A flush blooms across her cheeks. She smiles, leaning in towards him. Her hair falls silver-gold across her bare arm. “You were kind of mean when we first met.”

“I was tired,” he says immediately.

She laughs; the sound is clear and light in his ears. Now, their fingers are intertwined. It sends a hot shudder right down to his bones. “I liked it.”

They linger for three hours, until Usagi gets one too many knowing looks from Makoto and the restaurant has cleared out. He walks her back to her apartment, which is not entirely out of his way. She says he doesn’t have to, but he insists. Makoto and Rei (the former is an excellent cook; the latter grew up in training to become a Shinto priestess; Usagi told him all about them during dinner, as proud of them as she is bashful about her own accomplishments) walk ten paces behind them in the cold dark evening.

He takes Usagi’s hand in his, small and cool, as snow flurries begin to fall around them. She gasps and ooohs, smiling brightly. She is glowing in the dim evening, snow catching in her hair. “I love it when it snows,” she says, sticking her tongue out to catch flakes.

Watching her, he can only shake his head. “You’re interesting, I’ll say that much,” he says, slightly befuddled still.

She laughs and curls into his side, her cheek pressing against the hollow of his shoulder as they turn onto her street. “I try not to lose the child at heart, that’s all. Or, that’s what I’ve been told to say in public. Really, I’m just silly,” she teases, looking up at him with her chin on his chest.

He can’t help it. He stops walking and slides a hand into her long smooth hair, leaning down. Stumbling into him, she recovers and reaches up with her face. He shuts his eyes as their mouths meet, startlingly warm in the cool air. Her fingers curl tightly into his as her free hand grasps his coat collar, holding him still. Her mouth is sweet and open, her body a line of heat against his.

Behind them, he hears a bit of a stumble and a scuffle, and a delicate cough. Usagi pulls away just for a moment, her face flushed and her mouth wet in the soft streetlights overhead. “Do you all mind?” she asks breathlessly.

“We’ll just be over here,” Makoto calls as she drags Rei a little further away down the sidewalk.

Sighing, Usagi looks up at him. “Sorry about them.”

“No—I’m sorry, I didn’t want to be too—“

She cuts him off with another kiss, stretched all the way up on her tiptoes with an arm wrapped around his neck. He slides his hand from her hair and down her back to anchor her at the small of her back. Their other hands still entwined at their sides, he kisses her, whispering her name against her mouth and trying not to buckle as she shifts against him.

Finally, he pulls back only slightly, their mouths breaths from each other. “I have to work the morning shift tomorrow,” he murmurs, regret lacing every word.

She sighs and smiles, still pressed right up to him. “I know. Me too. I wish for the days when I can sleep in again,” she moans.

Chuckling, he slips his arm from around her waist, taking a step back. “I figured you for a late sleeper.”

She sticks her tongue out at him, which only amuses him further. “With my hours? My job?”

“If you didn’t have an army running your schedule, I think you’d sleep as late as you could,” he says.

Lamplight catches on her hair and the pale white of her winter coat. “You could be right. Maybe you’ll find out for yourself one of these days,” she teases, edging back towards him.

His fingers get caught in the sleeves of her coat, tugging her close. She smells soft, like vanilla and flowers. It leaves an odd choking sensation in his chest. Swallowing hard, he leans down and kisses her again. She tastes like chocolate and wine. Her fingers curl at the chest of his jacket as she breathes out against his mouth.

There’s a cough again, from a distance. Usagi turns her head and his mouth skims her cheek and jaw before he straightens. “I should go,” she whispers.

“I’ll call,” he says, and means it, blinking flurries from his eyes.

She smoothes her hands across his chest gently. In the soft yellow streetlight, her cheeks are flushed. “If you don’t, I know where you live. And I’m a politician. I’ll track you down,” she murmurs, mouth wet and shining in the light.

They look at each other for a long moment. There’s a bubble of warmth in his chest pressing out as he watches her, unfamiliar and unsettling. Finally, she smiles and moves out of the pool of streetlight and away, towards the two women waiting down the block for her. She doesn’t look away until they turn the corner, and neither does he.

He walks home, and each step feels like a start forward.

*

Mamoru stays out of the politics and the public eye at first. He doesn’t want to be any more of a public face than necessary. Usagi teases him, says he ought to find a mask to wear when taking her to events. He says he just won’t go to any events. Then she pouts and whines and curls her mouth over his, climbing over him on her sofa. Her hair envelopes them, warm and soft and sweet-smelling, and he can’t remember after a while what he was saying no to in the first place.

Then he hears the floorboards creak just down the hallway, and he remembers that they are never really alone.

The politics and the events, it’s her job. She thrives in the midst of it, even when it’s hard. There’s a resilience to her he wouldn’t have expected, a calm strength radiating from every move of her mouth when she’s onstage and in the spotlight. Sometimes, when he’s off from the hospital and caught up on paperwork, he will slip into her events incognito, just to see her in action. It’s inspiring.

Once, three weeks after their first date, she is speaking at a university, in a hall to seat hundreds; it is packed, standing room only. He hugs the nearest exit, listening just for the sake of the sound of her voice.

“Did she know you were coming?”

He glances to his left and finds Rei at his side, sleek and elegant in her black suit. He hasn’t had much time alone with any of the other women, Rei least of all. When they are in a room together, he can feel her eyes always on him, appraising him.

“No, she doesn’t,” he says after a moment, in a short breath between applause and Usagi’s next words.

Rei’s face remains smooth and unreadable. “She’s different when she knows you’re here.”

“I don’t plan it that way. And she’s just as good either way,” he retorts coolly.

“No. She’s better when she knows,” she says quietly, leaning towards him. Her hair, sleek and black, slides against his coat sleeve and the dark red of her blouse.

He swallows hard, curling his fingers into fists, and says nothing. An odd sort of heaviness lingers over them with her last words, even through the bell-like qualities of Usagi’s voice. Rei, Ami, Makoto, Minako; they know Usagi better than anyone else could, both personally and professionally. This kind of statement means more than he knows.

“Did she always want to do this?” he asks abruptly.

Rei laughs shortly. “God, no. She entertained visions of being a pop star for the longest time. Really, she would have been happy to be paid to eat ice cream for life.”

He can’t help but smile at that. “Why this, then?”

Brushing her hair back from her shoulders, she looks at him, her dark stare otherworldly. “She was always meant for something more. It just took her time to accept it.”

Glancing out across the crowded hall, he finds Usagi at the podium, a bright flare of light and energy. Most of the time, he can’t picture her anywhere but there. He knows though, in the quiet moments of which they have had few and far between, there is a secret desire in her to curl under the blankets and never leave her bed, sleep away the day. The dichotomy is intriguing.

As another round of applause lingers and dies in the hall, he feels a light touch on his arm. “Would you come with me for a moment, Mamoru-san?” Rei asks.

Nodding, he follows her as they duck out of the hall and into the lobby. There, in a corner near the security check-in, is Makoto, rocking back and forth on her sharp green heels. “Is this a trap, or something?” he asks under his breath.

Rei walks a step in front of him. “Or something,” she says evenly.

“We’ve looked into you, Mamoru-san,” Makoto says, her thick dark ponytail swinging from side to side as she moves towards him.

The bluntness of it startles him for a moment. “There isn’t anything to find,” he says finally, voice cold.

“It’s a security precaution. You understand, of course,” Rei says. Something lies underneath her voice that keeps him on edge.

“Your parents died in a car accident when you were five, is that right? You were the only survivor?” Makoto cuts in.

He grits his teeth and looks out towards the street. Security is tight, police everywhere; it’s suffocating. He doesn’t know how Usagi presses through it with a constant smile. “We—I haven’t—I haven’t told her yet,” he says through his teeth.

“Your records indicate amnesia from the trauma, from which you’ve never recovered—“

Stop,” he says harshly, stepping back from the three of them as he cuts Makoto off mid-sentence. Blood floods his face, his fists clenched at his sides. He can feel his pulse beating in his temple. “I will not discuss this.”

Rei steps towards him, face set in fierce pale lines. “It’s our job—“

“It’s my life,” he retorts fiercely. “She doesn’t—she doesn’t know yet. We aren’t there yet. I’m not there yet.”

“But you will be,” Rei says flatly, tall and full of a steely grace. Her eyes flash dark in the pale sunlight. “We have to be prepared for anything.”

He stares them down in turn. “If you find something, ask about it. But I will not sit here and relive it with you,” he says, clipped and cool.

The two women watch him in silence as he turns and stalks out through the main lobby doors, into the bitterly cold afternoon. Emptiness curls through his middle, a hard sort of longing; he has never been good at letting people know him as more than the doctor, the student, the reticent boy with no parents and no place to go.

Sometimes, he thinks that’s all he is.

*

The next day, as he sits in the cafeteria of the hospital on his lunch break with charts and papers and a gnawing feeling in his stomach, the chair across from him slides out with a hard screech. He looks up as Usagi sits across from him, a to-go cup in each hand. The lines of her face are serious, her eyes dark with something he can’t name. His mouth goes dry, a flush creeping along the back of his neck.

Silently, she slides the cup in her right hand over to him. He can smell pure black coffee, tastes just the hint of sugar when he sips it. It’s perfect. “Ami?” he asks. It makes sense; she comes looking for him, and Ami would send her down. Ami is part of the team, after all.

“Ami,” she nods. “You’re not eating anything,” she says after a quiet moment.

“Not hungry right now. Some of us aren’t always hungry,” he says, eyes turning back to his paperwork.

Her fingers flick against her cup’s sleeve; the sound rattles through him. He knows her habits, as she knows how he takes his coffee, and how it happened this fast, he doesn’t know. “Rei told me, about yesterday. They tried to talk to you about some things.”

“Ask them about it,” he says sharply.

“I don’t want to. I want you to tell me. When you’re ready,” she retorts without heat. She sounds tired, stretched too thin.

He looks up again, suddenly weary. She watches him with a sad sort of smile. Her hair is pinned back. He wants to loosen it with his fingers, pull her close and keep her safe. “They have my back. They always have. They have mine and I have theirs, and it’s the reason I am where I am,” she says simply. “But they’re overzealous. I’m sorry.”

Biting her lip, she ducks her head, looking down into her tea. The bright lights leave her paler than usual. Swallowing hard, he sets his pen down and covers her hand with his. “I understand.”

When she meets his gaze, her eyes are edged with wet and shining; it chokes him right in the chest. “You’re the first thing—person, anything—in a long time that’s just mine. I like it that way,” she says, voice remarkably steady. “So they’ll be around. But it’s really just us. Okay?”

Her sincerity strikes him; so does this brief flash of naiveté. It could never be just the two of them. He will always be alone, if they part, but she will always have her team, the women who do so much for her.

But he feels home when he touches her, feels light and warmth and an urge to push everything aside for her well-being and her safety and her life. He wants to keep it.

“Okay,” he says after a moment.

Her smile is blinding, and all for him.

*

After a month or so since the beginning, Makoto shows up at his apartment door with Minako trailing behind them. He’s just been home an hour after a twenty-four hour shift, and feels off-kilter as he answers the door in broad daylight without looking through the peephole first.

“Do you check that before you open the door?” is the first thing out of Makoto’s mouth, before a hello or anything. She jabs a finger at the peephole.

Mamoru stands there in his rattiest shirt from university and the jeans he forgot to take off before collapsing on the couch and stares at them. It’s the first he’s seen of the two women since the event at the university. “What the hell is going on?” he finally manages.

Rolling her eyes, Makoto pushes past him and into the apartment. Right behind her, Minako sighs and bows her head slightly in greeting. “I’m sorry, Mamoru-san. But we need to sweep your apartment and secure it,” she says as she slips past him.

He shuts the door after a moment and turns around. Makoto is nowhere to be seen, but he can hear her prowling in the other rooms. “What for?”

Minako waves a hand in his direction. “Usagi wants to come over here, but we need to do a security check first. She was supposed to warn you,” she said as she strolls towards his bookshelves and peers at the contents. Her gaze always slips back to him, though.

Rubbing his face, he thinks back, and—yes, she had said something two nights ago, the last time they had dinner together. “I thought I’d get a little more of a warning. I just got home from the hospital,” he says flatly.

“It’s the only time Mako-chan could spare. I really am sorry,” Minako says, still exploring his book collection. “You have a lot of books, huh? Not much else? No art?”

“Are you redecorating as well?” he snaps, his nerves frayed by lack of sleep and keeping his guard up constantly.

She glances back at him, pale brows raised. “No, we’re not. Relax, Mamoru-san. We’ll be out of here soon.”

He crosses his arms and stands stiffly in the middle of the living room, jaw tight. “Fine.”

“You can sit. I won’t touch anything,” she says breezily. “It’s so clean in here.”

“Is that a problem?” he asks archly.

“Nope.”

Stifling a yawn, he glances out the window, out onto the cityscape and the sunny afternoon. “What exactly is she doing?” he asks after a moment.

Tapping her nails on the bookshelf, she made a thoughtful sort of sound. “Hmm. Well, checking for wiretaps, or any sort of sign of intrusion. Then she’ll secure each window and the door. And she’ll give you a panic button, so that we’ll be notified of any issues.”

“It’s a three-room apartment. There aren’t a lot of places to get in,” he mutters.

“We can’t be too careful.” The way Minako says it is cutting and crisp, a sharp difference from the easy, charming woman he knows from brief interactions and her press outings. He looks at her; she stares back at him unflinchingly, gaze icy-blue.

“It’s that serious,” he says after a moment.

She crosses the room and sits on his chair (black and leather, to match the sofa), her legs crossed at the ankles. “It’s the mob, Mamoru-san. We aren’t taking any chances with her, or you. You’re important to her,” she says.

Clearing his throat, he moves towards the window. The apartment is quiet, apart from the tinkering and shuffling sounds from the hallway and the back rooms. “We haven’t—we don’t talk about it,” he says haltingly.

“From what I can tell, you don’t need to,” she says, all soft amusement.

He glances back at her. “Are you an expert?”

Her smile widens. “Close enough, for the both of you.”

The room seems too close around him, his discomfort level rising. He turns his head and keeps silent, staring out onto the street. Behind him, Minako taps away on her smart phone and hums to herself, a pleasant steady tune.

Soon enough, they leave him to his sleep and his empty apartment. Both Makoto and Minako go over in detail the plan of action, should something occur while Usagi is in his apartment, and with another not-so-gentle reminder to check the peephole before opening the door for anyone, they are gone.

He sleeps restlessly, and finds himself thinking of conspiracies and tinted windows, the dull shine of a gun barrel in sunlight. Their visit reminds him of the dark cars with tinted windows that are sometimes waiting outside the hospital when he leaves, or circle the three block radius around his apartment building. It could be nothing, or it could mean anything. He thinks they don’t know where he lives quite yet, and he wants it to stay that way. It leaves him cold all over, a heavy foreboding in the pit of his stomach.

Later, as he makes a simple pot of ramen and more coffee, with a night of charting ahead of him, there’s a knock at the front door. He makes sure to check the peephole first before answering; he wouldn’t put it past Makoto to come back in an attempt to test him.

He opens the front door a large crack, smiling slightly in surprise. “Hey.”

Usagi rocks back and forth on her toes and heels, smiling widely. Snow melts in her hair, loose and lovely around her face and down her back. “You’ve received the Makoto stamp of approval,” she says cheerfully, holding up a take-out bag from a nearby sushi restaurant. “I thought we could celebrate with dinner.”

He takes the bag and moves aside to let her pass into his apartment, suddenly nervous. “You don’t have one of the girls with you?”

Usagi shrugs off her cream-colored coat and hangs it up on the coat rack, slipping off her shoes near the door. “Well, Rei and Makoto dropped me off. I imagine one or both of them will camp out in their car until I come out unscathed,” she says flippantly.

“And when will that be?” he asks, brows raised.

She smiles slowly, padding over to him and lifting up onto her tiptoes. “I think that might be up to you,” she teases before pressing a kiss to his cheek and moving into the kitchen. “All you were going to eat is ramen? Geez!” she calls from beyond.

Shaking his head, he follows her and moves to the counter nearest the sink. “I thought you had a dinner function tonight.”

“I did. Already went. Can’t you tell?” she says, gesturing at her jeans and oversized neon-blue sweater.

He smiles and turns his eyes to setting out the sushi. “So you must have already eaten.”

“There’s always room for sushi.”

“You said that about ice cream last week.”

“Well, what can I say,” she says with a laugh. “Food gives me feelings.”

They eat in the living room, with just the sound of the winter breeze against the windows for company. She rattles on about the fundraiser, and he tells her about a man who came into the emergency room with a spoon stuck up his nose. That makes her snort with laughter; the sound, endearing and warm, catches him in his gut.

Later, he skims over patients’ charts and makes small notes as she stretches out on the opposite end of the sofa, her feet pressed to his thigh. “You have a lot of books,” she says after a moment.

Adjusting his reading glasses, he glances over at her. Her hair spills across the dark leather of the cushions and armrest, a sharp contrast of silver-blonde. “Minako-san said the same thing.”

“It’s funny—this seems like a very you place. She didn’t think so, but when she described it… I don’t know, I could see it,” she says slowly.

Stiffening, he looks back down at his paperwork. “Empty?” he asked flatly.

She shifts and moves towards him. Her fingers curl into his hair as she frames his face in her hands, turning it to hers. Her body radiates warmth, her touch gentle and easy against his skin. “The important stuff isn’t what’s hanging on your walls. It’s in here,” she says softly, a hand falling to his chest. “And I like it.”

Mouth curling slightly, he leans in and kisses her just for a moment. “Not all of us can have Hello Kitty posters on our walls,” he says quietly, as an apology.

She smiles against his lips, her fingertips hovering near his glasses. “I love that poster, and I will keep it up no matter what,” she says as she slides his glasses from their perch on his nose and sets them on the coffee table. The hand on his chest curls, fingers curving into the thin cotton of his t-shirt.

“Am I done with charting?” he asks, their mouths breaths apart. He sets the folders of paperwork on the tabletop.

“I think so, Mamo-chan,” she breathes out before he’s slanting his mouth across hers and pressing her back into the cushions. Her mouth is wet and warm and open, and her legs skim along either side of his. Smooth lengths of hair are everywhere, catching between them and keeping vanilla and flowers in his nose as he kisses her, mapping the lines of her mouth with his tongue. He would fight for her, he thinks as she licks into his mouth and finds his bare skin with small searching hands. He has no weapons, has no hope of success, but he would lay it all down for her in a breath.

It’s later, as he kisses along the length of her neck in the warm cocoon of his sheets, that she sighs and curls an arm around his neck. “I want to stay,” she murmurs, gaze heavy-lidded. She is all silvery shadows in the winter darkness, cold moonlight etching along the curves of her face.

He lifts his head, leaning on one elbow. His other hand curls into her hair as it slides through his fingers like silk. “You should, Usako,” he says, heart hammering hard against his ribs.

The endearment slips off his tongue as a habit. It hangs between them for a thick moment before her face breaks open with a smile. She rolls onto him and presses him onto his back, her mouth familiar and searching on his. “I’ll call them and let them know,” she giggles between kisses. She is all smooth skin under his hands.

She takes a sheet and wraps herself in it with some sort of bizarre modesty as she hunts for her cell phone, as if he hasn’t just peeled her clothes from her himself. He watches from bed, and smiles into the darkness.

*

Winter breaks its grasp on Tokyo, and Usagi curls her way into the cracks of his life.

He likes waking up with her in his bed, her hair forming a cocoon for just the two of them. She forces him to eat breakfast by demanding he makes it for her when they wake up in the mornings together. After weeks of pleading and whining and manipulative uses of the shower and his couch, he finally agrees to attend a few functions with her. He has a tuxedo from various hospital dinners, and he might as well get some use out of it.

The first one is a fundraiser for a children’s charity. They do not arrive together; the press, and any sort of attention, makes him extremely uncomfortable. So, he finds himself waiting at the bar in the massive ballroom nearly a half-hour before Usagi is to arrive, sipping at a scotch on the rocks when Ami slides up next to him, resplendent in blue.

“Your first event, is it?” she teases.

Mamoru grimaces, rolling the ice in his glass. The condensation is slick against his fingertips. “At least it’s for a good cause.”

Ami smiles and sits, adjusting her wrap over her bare arms. The dress shimmers like water in the soft lighting. “All of Usagi’s causes are good. That’s what’s inspiring about her.”

He sips his drink slowly, glancing out over the half-full ballroom. He recognizes the mayor; a few high-powered businessmen; even a few members of the hospital’s board of directors. Nerves tingle through him, getting the best of his steady grip. Something malignant lingers low in his middle, a sixth sense of foreboding. “Thank you,” he says after a moment, glancing over at Ami.

She raises a brow, gaze clear. “For what?”

They don’t speak of Usagi at work, and so he has never had the chance for this. He takes it now, because he is grateful for the chance. “For… I don’t know. For whatever you said to her about me, back then,” he says slowly.

Sighing, Ami touches his arm gently. Behind them, the orchestra swells gently, strings high over the horns. “I didn’t say anything. She decided for herself. You have your merits without any help from me, Mamoru-san.”

His mouth quirks into a small smile. Ami pats his forearm gently and moves away from him, towards a tall sandy-haired gentleman who could be her companion for the evening. Mamoru finishes his drink, sets down a tip, and moves out towards the foyer to find Usagi.

It’s much later, after the dinner (“sub-par,” Usagi bemoans as Rei rolls her eyes and the other girls hide grins) and the speeches, when he finds himself alone in a darkened corner of the ballroom. He holds a fresh drink in his hand, sipping it slowly as he watches Usagi. She’s speaking with the mayor, hands moving in measured gesticulations, her face animated and bright. Rei hovers nearby; Minako is flirting with some rival politician’s aid, and Makoto is at the table, eyes moving with purpose around the room as Ami dances with her date. They form a sort of protective barrier around Usagi, ready at a moment’s notice to pounce.

He meets Usagi’s eyes from across the room. She tilts her head, raising her brows knowingly. Smirking slightly, he moves between the tables and drops his glass on a spare corner before stepping up to Usagi’s side. “I’m so sorry, sir. May I?” he asks smoothly, his hand resting on the small of Usagi’s back.

The mayor nods and smiles. He and Usagi exchange one last round of pleasantries before Mamoru moves her onto the dance floor. “I’ve been making the sign for two minutes now,” she murmurs under her breath. “I must have looked ridiculous.”

“More so than when you were eating that cake earlier?” he teases as her hand fits into his, her other arm sliding around the nape of his neck. He presses his arm to the small of her back as they begin to sway in time to the music.

She wrinkles her nose up at him. “It was the best part of the meal. I had to enjoy something tonight.”

Smirking, he smoothes his fingers along the jut of her hip. The soft silk of her dress, jet black tonight, slips under his fingertips like water. “The night’s still young.”

Cheeks flushing pink, she presses her mouth shut on the laughter he can feel rattling in her chest, pressing against his. “You are too cute sometimes, Mamo-chan.”

Abruptly, they are jostled from behind. “You should be careful,” a deep voice, smooth as silk, curls into his ear. “Rabbits are easy prey.”

Mamoru’s stomach turns. He drops Usagi’s hand and turns around on his heel, staring directly into the eyes of a tall, sallow-skinned man with a scar running across his cheek and a fierce strength in the hard lines of his face.

Behind him, Usagi curls her hand into the back of his jacket, a hard grip; a warning. “Don’t,” she breathes out against his shoulder, her breath warm against the nape of his neck.

“Can we help you?” Mamoru asks coldly.

The man’s mouth curls into a cruel smile. At his side, a petite pale woman with a shaky gaze shrinks back. “Just watch your step. That’s all.”

A hot pit of anger flares in Mamoru’s middle. “Perhaps you should watch yours,” he snaps back.

“Is there a problem here?” Minako asks breezily as she appears at their sides. Her hands rest on the hips of her pale orange gown, her knuckles white.

The air thickens between them, hard and electric with tension. Mamoru has never been so inclined towards violence before, but he knows—he knows this man is trouble. His fists clench at his sides, nails digging into his palms.

After a beat, the other man steps back, his face a hard set line. “No problems whatsoever. Have a pleasant evening,” he says, tugging his companion off the floor with a hard grip and disappearing into the darkness of the ballroom.

Mamoru slowly breathes out as Minako looks between him and Usagi, who is still gripping his jacket. “Makoto will have an i.d. on him in a moment,” she says under her breath.

“You think he’s—“

“He said you were easy prey,” Mamoru cuts in over Usagi, every muscle in his body tense. “If that wasn’t a threat—“

“We’ll take care of it, Mamoru-san,” Minako says evenly, all business. “Why don’t I have Rei ask for the car, and the two of you can go home?”

Usagi finally relaxes her grasp on his jacket and leans into him, huffing out a laugh lacking in amusement. “Are you handling me, Mina?”

“You know it,” Minako says a little too brightly as she guides them off the floor.

They go to his apartment, as they were always going to do. Makoto secures the apartment before leaving them for the night. Usagi moves through the apartment as if it’s a normal evening, putting on water for tea and cocoa, pouring him a small drink. Mamoru hovers near the doorway of the kitchen, distracted. There’s the thick coating of bile in the back of his throat, the adrenaline shooting through his veins every so often, and he feels as if he can’t catch his breath.

“Mamo-chan.”

She’s watching him from the middle of the kitchen, a stark contrast of black silk and pale skin under the faint light. Somehow, her hair is pinned up in curls.

“It’s okay,” she says after a heavy moment.

It’s not, he thinks, watching as her fingers twitch nervously against her dress. For the first time, he wishes he had something else to offer her other than his hands, his mouth. He wants a weapon to wield in her name.

“Really, it is. It happens. The vote is close, and—“

He moves towards her and kisses her quiet. She shakes under his hands, her mouth trembling and wet. Her hands reach behind them to click off the stove before he lifts her against him and presses her back to the wall. It’s only when she’s in his arms that he remembers just how small, how delicate she can be. For all that she is bright and larger than life, she is just flesh and blood, and vulnerable.

Fingers loosening her hair, he slides his tongue along the line of her mouth, the sweet aftertaste of chocolate lingering there. Her hands fall to his tuxedo jacket, pushing it off his shoulders. Mouth at the edge of her jaw, he breathes her name as his fingers slide the hem of her black sheath up her legs, touching bare warm skin underneath.

“Right in the kitchen? That’s so unsanitary, Mamo-chan,” she teases breathlessly, her hands at the belt of his pants.

“Stop,” he says hoarsely against the thin skin of her throat. He’s tired of the humor, of the deflection; it’s her safety net. Tonight is not the night for it.

Her hands frame his face, bringing them eye to eye. Cheeks flushed and hair a blonde mess of curls around her, she is beautiful and fragile. His chest is tight enough to burst, a mess of love and fright and overwhelming everything.

“Okay,” she says, soft and serious, before kissing him and hitching her thigh across his hip.

It’s nearly silent after that, as he presses her to the wall and slides his fingers under the black silk and into her, and her hands rake through his hair and down his back and touch him in turn. She shakes and whimpers into the long line of his throat. All he can do is touch her, kiss her; words he’s never said to anyone are now lodged at the base of his throat, stuck hard and fast.

“Sometimes, I wish it wasn’t me,” she later whispers in the quiet darkness of the bedroom he now thinks of as theirs.

Sometimes, he wishes that too.

*

It is hour eight of his twelve-hour shift, and Mamoru is tired. His fingers are shaking a bit, and the coffee refuses to kick in. He has blood on his scrubs from a double homicide that both died on the table, and the police are waiting for his statement out in the hall. It’s just hit two in the morning.

He’s in the on-call room, sitting on one of the bottom bunk for a moment of stillness and silence. The lights are out; a faint pale trickle of early spring moonlight sweeps across the floor. He presses the heels of his hands into his eyes and rests his elbows on his knees. The scent of blood and gunshot residue is heavy in his nose. He wants to go home, to find Usagi in his bed and forget about the last two hours, forget about the emptiness and the lack of light that shaped his entire youth.

It takes death for him to think back to the accident and the loss of everything he cannot even remember now. A young woman dies, and he thinks of the mother he never knew, the gaps and cracks that reach into every aspect of his life until now. An older man comes in with chest pains and he wonders if his father would still be here, and would he have heart problems as well.

Tonight on his table it was a girl of no more than twenty, petite with a thin face and dark eyes he thought he could see universes in. She was too pale, too slim, with short hair too dark against her skin. She bled out under his hands, warm and flush, but she died with a smile on her lips.

He couldn’t help but think of Usagi. His stomach roils at the thought.

The door creaks open and shut then. There is a palpable shift in the air, the scent of vanilla.

“Mamo-chan.”

Raising his head, he meets Usagi’s gaze. She is haphazardly dressed in jeans and one of his sweatshirts from university that she must have snitched from his wardrobe the last time she was at his apartment. Her hair is pulled back into two long ponytails, the style he sees her in most often. In the moonlight, he can see her eyes are puffy and red. She looks younger than he’s ever seen, and it’s a little frightening.

“What are you doing here?” he asks, voice rough and low.

She sighs and moves to sit next to him, pressed from shoulder to hip to knee. He can feel her tremble against him. “The double homicide. Their names are—were Hotaru and Naru. They were my people,” she says, voice shaking just faintly. “Volunteers in my office from the summer.”

Bile rises in his throat. He reaches out and curls a hand over her wrist, fingers resting on her rapid pulse. She relaxes into him, pressing her cheek to his shoulder. “They think it’s meant as a message,” she whispers.

He turns his head, pressing his lips to the top of her head. “Do you think so?” he asks, stomach knotting.

She nods and he slides his hand down to curve into hers, their fingers curling together. “I know so,” she says softly. “The threats, everything. We knew it was coming. I just assumed it would be me they tried for. It should have been me.”

No,” he says roughly, his mouth hard against her hair. “No.”

She chokes out something, a half-laugh, half-huff. He can’t tell exactly, but it cuts into him deeply. “Mamo-chan, I’m trying to take down the mob. I think we knew this was going to happen. I just… damn it, they were teenagers,” she says thickly. When she speaks, she makes him feel every syllable of her loss. Her fingers squeeze his tightly as her other hand settles on his thigh. She thumbs at the blood flecked into his scrubs.

A cold shiver runs down his spine. “I know. I’m sorry.”

Tilting her head up, she meets his eyes with a glassy gaze. Everything about her is softened in the shadowy room, her lower lip trembling slightly. “Now you know what you’re getting into,” she says softly. “Maybe you should run.”

“I’m not running,” he says fiercely, framing her cheek with his free hand. His fingertips drag along her skin, catching the dampness lingering there. “I don’t run.”

She smiles faintly, tears sliding across her skin and his. “Okay. Good. Because I need you around.”

Swallowing down all the fear rushing through his veins, he shuts his eyes and kisses her gently, tasting the salt on her mouth. “We should get out there,” he murmurs against her lips.

Taking a deep breath, she nods and stands, slipping out of his grasp. “Yeah. We should,” she says quietly, swiping at her eyes and cheeks. But she does not move forward, even as he stands and takes steps towards the door.

He moves to her, placing a hand at the small of her back. “You ready?”

Looking at him, she nods after a moment. “Will you stay close?” she asks faintly.

“Of course,” he says. She smiles unevenly, and they go back into the blinding hospital wing side-by-side. His hand remains an easy pressure on her back, and her fingers curl at his hip every so often. This is all he can give her; he wants to give much more.

*

It happens so sharply, so swiftly.

The vote comes and goes, and Usagi is successful, slamming down a hard strike across the mob and their profits. When the vote passes, Mamoru breathes out and relaxes for the first time in what seems like years, although it has only been three months since Usagi has come into his life. Makoto makes a family-style dinner, with dish upon dish; it’s the first time he feels at least mostly comfortable with all five of them together, and not as a complete interloper.

Now, with spring creeping upon them, and a new sort of relief in everyone’s eyes, they settle. He begins to think past the next day and the next towards the future, and sees it with Usagi.

It’s when he thinks ahead that it all turns to shit, really.

*

“Don’t rush off after your shift,” Ami says one afternoon in March. The sun is bright and strong through the windows, promising warmth sooner rather than later. “Usagi-san is coming by.”

Mamoru frowns at the last of his charting, setting it aside for the nurses to file. “Did she say why?”

Ami shrugs with a small smile. She looks happier lately. He wonders if it has to do with her date from the function all those weeks ago; Usagi says his name is something bizarre and foreign that starts with a Z, but Ami won’t tell them anymore than that. He knows it’s killing her inside not to know, and that amuses him. He refuses to feel bad for that.

“She just left me a message, that’s all. Wait for her, she’s coming by.”

That’s how he finds himself outside the main doors of the hospital, enjoying the last gasps of sunlight before sunset. Usually he’d wait inside at the nurses’ station in the ER, but he’s stir-crazy today, in need of fresh air. He leans against the building, hands stuffed into his coat pockets. There will be cherry blossoms soon.

To his right, the main doors slide open. “Mamo-chan!” Usagi exclaims, moving towards him.

He pushes off the wall and catches her for a quick kiss. “Just wanted some fresh air. How did you beat me inside? I didn’t see you come in.”

Her mouth is turned down, eyes narrowing. “I called looking for you, and Ami said you were already outside.”

“Yeah, she gave me your message,” he says, pushing one of her ponytails back from her shoulder.

“I didn’t call her,” she presses. “I didn’t leave a message.”

It’s then that he sees the dark car with the tinted windows, rolling across their horizon.

Instinctually, he grabs for her as the windows roll down. The shine of gun barrels glint in the fading sunlight. Usagi’s fists curl into his jacket as pops ring out, echoing in the hollow parking lot. Mamoru pushes her to the ground and covers her with his body even as she screams for him to stop, stop, stop.

Adrenaline curls through his veins; he knows he is hit, more than he feels it.

Somewhere above him, there is more screaming, more pops echoing in his ears, but all he feels is the dampness against his chest, the trembling body under his. He shuts his eyes and holds onto Usagi for as long as he can, before blackness creeps over him.

He is weapon enough, now.

*

“What do you think you’re doing?”

Mamoru stills, hand outstretched for the kettle. He glances back to see Usagi glaring at him from the kitchen doorway, hair spilling down her shoulders and back. Sunlight glances gold and silver through the thick strands.

“Nothing,” he says after a moment, edging away from the stove.

“You were going to make coffee, weren’t you?” she asks, entirely without amusement.

“I can have coffee if I want to.”

“No, you can’t,” she says, stalking towards him and wagging a finger. “No caffeine, not for another week. It’ll do something weird to you.”

“It’s a suggestion,” he mutters.

“From Ami, who is a doctor. You’re a doctor too, remember?” she says, taking him by the arm and dragging him back to the couch. “I leave you for one hour for a meeting, and you go rogue. What’s next, getting kidnapped from your own apartment?”

He sits gingerly, his side still tender from the gunshot wound. It had been minor enough, but still warranted a two-night stay in the hospital, a firm scolding from everyone involved, and three weeks of sick leave and careful monitoring from Usagi and her team, which was sometimes more monitoring than he really cared to enjoy. “Please let me have just a little bit of coffee.”

“No,” she says primly, settling next to him and handing him the newspaper.

“This is cruel,” he murmurs.

“I do what I do because I love,” she says breezily as she curls up in the opposite corner of the sofa. Her feet land in his lap and he covers her ankles with one large hand instinctively.

Swallowing hard, he sets the paper aside and glances over at him. “I love you,” he says, the words catching and stumbling over his tongue. He’s said them before, in the velvet darkness of sleep and in the morphine haze of the hospital, but it feels precious each time.

Usagi’s mouth curls into a soft smile, just for him. He sees the future in it.

*