Mamoru drops her hand as she moves towards the park, where they had seen the girls wake up.
She looks back, a sudden emptiness stealing through her bones. In the beginnings of a blue-purple dawn, his face is drawn and wan, but there’s that something of a small smile, that she knows is just for her. “What is it?” she asks softly.
“It should just be the five of you right now,” he says, voice ragged. “I don’t want to intrude.”
“You wouldn’t,” she blurts out, reaching out and slipping her gloved hand into his.
He ducks his head towards his, brows raised. “Usako, come on,” he says quietly, his fingers twining gently into hers.
The endearment still catches her off-guard, a slow sweet tug in her middle. She knows he’s right, hates that he is—she can’t help but think that he’ll disappear again if she lets him out of her sight. “Well—okay. Are you going to be all right?” she asks through the lump at the base of her throat.
Passing a hand across his face, he nods. “Yes. I’ll be just fine. You, though—you need to get rest,” he says firmly. There’s blood streaked on his white shirt and throat, dried rust-red in the faint morning light. “Promise me you’ll get sleep.”
“I will,” she says, shifting her weight from foot to foot in a sudden bout of nerves.
They watch each other for a long heavy moment. She so wants to stay, to sink into every nook and cranny of him, to help him parse through the memories that will soon overwhelm him. The girls had been there to help her, but he will have no one, all alone in that vast apartment.
Abruptly, he leans down and kisses her briefly, mouth a cool relief against hers. His free hand slips down the line of her neck and shoulder, fingers catching in her tangled hair. “You rest. I’ll see you soon,” he murmurs.
She squeezes his hand for a moment, nodding. Then, before she can change her mind, she drops his hand and starts off towards the park. Her boots click on the sidewalk, grating to her ears.
When she glances back, he’s still there, watching. She has a feeling he will watch until they are all safely home.
Then, she sets off at a run for her friends.
Morning fully dawns on the five of them as they are a tangle of limbs and tears in the park. Usagi is caught in the middle of them all, tears cutting sharp paths down her face. For a moment there is nothing but the joy of life, the grateful collective inhale of breath.
And then her knees buckle.
“Oof,” she murmurs as she grasps onto Minako’s arms, struggling to stay upright. She shuts her eyes against the sunrise.
“Still clumsy after all this?” Rei says with a choked laugh. Usagi would normally try and retort, but she’s so tired and so happy to see them alive that she doesn’t care, not right now.
“Are you all right?” Ami asks from her left, all teary concern.
Usagi wants to say no, I just healed an entire planet, of course I’m not—but these four girls died for her. Nothing she can say overcomes that.
“I’m fine,” she says instead, forcing a smile.
Makoto’s hand falls on her shoulder, steadying her. “We’re all tired,” she says cheerfully.
“What day is it?” Usagi asks after a moment, her fingers falling to her brooch. It’s still warm, pulsing with energy. It reverberates through her body in waves.
“Saturday,” Luna pipes up from their feet. She and Artemis sit side by side, beaming. Funny; Usagi wouldn’t have known cats could beam until just a few short months ago.
“No school, thank god,” Usagi murmurs. The tiara cuts into her forehead; she can feel the beginnings of a headache at her temples.
“All of you, go home. Rest. We can discuss what’s next later,” Artemis says, and Usagi is all too happy to comply. They part at the street corner between all their homes; she sneaks into her room through her window.
Alone, she shuts her eyes and lets the transformation release. It’s then, oh, that she feels it, all the aches and strain, and her fingertips are red from the power of the crystal. Whimpering, she curls into the bunny pajamas still strewn across the floor from—was it only yesterday?—and ducks under the covers. She is a hero, a princess; but today she just wants to be a girl too sick to get out of bed.
Hours later, her mother is convinced she’s sick and leaving her be. It’s the first full block of sleep she’s gotten in what feels like weeks, and for the first time, she doesn’t dream of death. In her sleep, she’s putting the disjointed pieces of the puzzle of her past together with the recent events of her present.
She wakes up with a start. She is alone in her bedroom, the sun pale through her curtains. It smells of summer, just around the corner.
“She knew,” she whispers.
Sunday morning, Luna tries to insist on going to the temple for a meeting with the other girls, but Usagi waves her off.
“It’s been a day, Luna,” she grumbles, fingers shaking as she dresses and puts up her hair. “I can’t—I can’t talk about it yet. Besides, they need time to be with their families, to heal. We did just save the planet, you know.”
“Well, we can’t be too careful. There’s always the possibility of more trouble,” Luna grumbles, padding back and forth along Usagi’s bed.
Her fingers freeze on her buttons of her blouse. Pain lingers in all her muscles today, but she’s thankful she can get out of bed, at least. “I’m not thinking about that right now.”
“What on earth else could you have to think about?” Luna bemoans.
A hard cherry pit of frustration pulses in her middle. Usagi finishes with the last button and glances at herself in the mirror. She’s too pale, too tired around the mouth and eyes; she looks older than she should. But at least she’s alive, she thinks with a thin sort of smile.
“We can do it tomorrow, after school. Or some other afternoon this week. Okay? It won’t kill us all to have a weekend to ourselves,” she says finally, and her tone brooks no argument. Sometimes, she thinks she might be a decent leader in moments like this.
“Where are you going?” Luna asks as she moves towards the door.
“I’ll be back. I have my communicator if you need me,” Usagi says, waving her purse at her stupefied cat before shutting the door behind her.
The path to Mamoru’s apartment building is ingrained into her memory. When he was missing, she had walked it over and over, trying to find his window in a sea of glass, remembering that one shared moment in the dusk of his bedroom. It catches at her still, the picture of him in the doorway, his tuxedo shirt unbuttoned at the neck. She had thought to find a light on, a sign that he had returned or released or escaped; and then he did come back, as a brittle empty shell, and she couldn’t walk past any of the places that reminded her of him again.
The doorman is distracted with an old woman and her groceries, so she slips past without notice. She doesn’t want Mamoru to know she’s coming; she still isn’t sure what to say. Words tumble on the tip of her tongue; nonsensical, accusatory, of love. She needs the time in the elevator and in the corridor outside his door to gather her thoughts.
When she finally does knock, there’s no answer. Sighing, she leans against the wall next to his door, rubbing her temple. Her headache from yesterday still lingers, a reminder of a past life hovering in the back of her mind, memories still to be unlocked and sifted through.
Down the hall, the elevator pings, and the doors slide open. She looks up just as Mamoru steps out. At first, she can’t place him without his tuxedo, or his armor; but it’s him, tall and lean in his favorite jacket, and dark slacks. Her pulse quickens and she pushes off the wall, standing up straight with her purse held in front of her.
He stops when he sees her, a small smile curling the corners of his usually somber mouth. “Funny finding you here,” he says as he walks towards her.
“Why?” she asks, tilting her head up.
He pulls out his keys and unlocks his apartment door, a series of soft clicks. There are three locks in total. “Because I just went to your house to find you.”
A flush creeps over her throat. “Who did you talk to?” she says, suddenly apprehensive.
“Your little brother. Your parents weren’t home. And then as I walked down the block, Luna cornered me and told me you’d gone out but hadn’t said where.” He opens the door, watching her expectantly. “Want to come in?”
Wetting her lips, she nods, and walks inside. He follows close behind, and locks the door as she slips her shoes off. “Are you okay?” she asks, twisting her fingers in front of her skirt.
He pauses in turning the padlock, glancing back at her. “Yes,” he says after a moment.
“Even with the memories?” she presses.
“I’ve had a hell of a headache for about twenty-four hours, but yes. I’m okay,” he says gently, turning to face her.
Here, he had first called her Usako. Before any of it, before the princess and Minako—he had picked her. Flushing, she lifts her chin and meets his gaze. “Minako was going to pretend to be the princess, until I was ready,” she says, drawing out the last word with a curl of her mouth. “Would you still have picked me? If you thought she was the one with the crystal—“
“Wait, wait,” he interjects, taking her hands in his. “Where is this coming from?”
The touch of his bare skin against hers is electric, a spark skimming right under her skin. She moves in towards him and fits her cheek to his shoulder. His arms fit around her automatically. He presses his cheek to the top of her hair. “I think she knew everything,” she says after a moment, face hot against his cool jacket. “Not just about me, but about you. Whenever she saw you, she just—she had the weirdest look on her face, I remember. And she was going to pretend—“
“What she was going to do doesn’t matter. I—it’s been you, always,” he says into her hair. His hands smooth up and down her back, catching in the long tails of her hair.
Relaxing into him, she shuts her eyes and sighs. “I just wanted to see you,” she murmurs, her fingers curling into the lapels of his jacket.
“Me too,” he says softly.
She tilts her head up, resting her chin on his sternum. “Do you remember everything? Are you still fuzzy?”
He cracks a slight smile. The dark circles under his eyes have faded some, from a night of rest. He doesn’t look so weighted from the world, and she likes it better this way. “Oh, I remember. The Senshi—they weren’t so fond of me back then.”
“It was their job to protect me. So that’s what they did, no matter what or who I wanted,” she says with a small laugh, bits and pieces of silvery memories slipping to the front of her mind.
Mamoru makes a soft thoughtful sound in the back of his throat, looking at her carefully. “Do you want to stay for a little while?” he asks after a moment. “Or do you need to go?”
She shakes her head, hair falling askew across her shoulders and back. “I don’t have to go.”
They end up on his couch in the living room. He makes her hot cocoa, and coffee for himself. For a long time, they don’t talk about the Senshi, or the past. He’s already told her about his parents, his amnesia, in the barest of ways. But he is still guarded about a past that left him lonely, and she doesn’t want to press too hard too fast.
So she talks instead, and he listens, his eyes never straying far from her. The afternoon wanes onward; her communicator beeps three times, but she ignores it every time. She talks about how annoying her little brother is, how school really isn’t that boring, and it’s not that she’s bad at anything, but that she has had more important things to worry about for the last few months, hence her grades falling. Well, she is bad at math, but no one really likes that—
“I like math,” he says, mouth curling at the rim of his mug.
She rolls her eyes, propped against the arm of the cool leather sofa. “Of course you do. Bet you’re good at it too,” she mutters. Her feet lay across his lap, toes curling and uncurling absently.
“I am, yes,” he says, laughing. She likes his laugh; it’s deep and low, and she knows it’s a rarity. She won’t mind being one of the only ones to make him happy, she thinks. “But I want to be a doctor. So I have to be good at it.”
“You want to be a doctor?” she asks, setting her empty mug on the coffee table.
He nods. His free hand settles over her bare ankles, fingers skimming along the gentle jut of bones there. Shivers curl through her body, up and down her spine. “Always have.”
His gaze darkens, and she bites her bottom lip gently, watching him from beneath her lashes. She tries to picture it, the utter loneliness of his entire life, with just the promise of memories in dreams, and can’t. The teenager in her says press on, dig it out of him; the senshi advises patience.
“We’re not the same people they were,” she finds herself saying after a moment, finger plucking at the folds of her pink skirt. It’s a compromise between her warring selves. “From what I remember, you were quite the ladies’ man.”
He huffs at that, setting his coffee aside. “I can’t imagine it, but yes. Apparently I was.”
“And I… I think I was less… silly,” she says with a shrug.
“I think that it doesn’t matter very much,” he says seriously, brow furrowing. “Because I’m who I am, and you are who you are, and that’s all that matters to me.”
She leans back with a sigh. “It doesn’t feel like it was even a life, sometimes. Just a very vivid dream with a lot of pretty dresses and an unhappy ending,” she says softly, tracing the patterns of shadow and light across the ceiling.
His weight shifts, and suddenly his hands are at her waist, tugging her gently into his lap. A blush crawls over her cheeks. They’ve said I love you, and died for each other, and saved the world together; and yet, the simplest contact sets her skin on fire. She wants to duck her head, but he fits his palm to her cheek, looking at her steadily. “This time, it’s our story,” he says quietly.
She smiles. Her hair, loosening itself from her pigtails, cascades between them. “Can we keep the pretty dresses part, though?” she teases after a moment, brushing his hair back from his brow.
Instead of answering, he leans in and kisses her. It’s not the chaste kiss of yesterday, or the hurried kiss from the battle with Kunzite; this is slow and wonderful and melting her down to the bone. His mouth is warm and gentle. She sighs into him, an arm slung around the nape of his neck; she can taste the coffee, bitter on his tongue.
From her purse on the table, her communicator beeps. He stills under her, pulling back just the slightest. “Fourth time in three hours,” he murmurs, his mouth just a breath from hers.
In answer, she kisses him again, fingers curling into the crisp softness of his button-down shirt. His hands land on her waist, fingers digging into still tender flesh. She hisses softly into his mouth, her hand curving to the strong line of his jaw. Her name falls from his mouth and she swallows it down; her name, her name, not anyone else’s or any past self.
And then, in the kitchen, his phone rings.
It cuts the moment harshly. She sits back on his thighs and sighs. Mouth twisting, he looks at her. “They have my phone number?” he asks, almost amused.
She wrinkles her nose and shifts off of his lap, smoothing her blouse and skirt as she rises. “Might as well talk to them now,” she says.
He gets up and follows her to the front door, his fingers catching on the bare skin of her forearm as they walk. “You mean talk to Minako.”
Pursing her lips together, she looks up to the ceiling for a moment as he unlocks the door. “Yeah, I do.”
He leans down and kisses her cheek, his hand covering hers for a moment at their sides. “Want to meet after you’re done with classes tomorrow?”
She smiles. “The Arcade?”
At his nod, she pushes up onto her tiptoes for a moment to kiss him full on the mouth. Then, with a smile and a wave, she slips out of his apartment and down the hall. Her heart is light the whole way down.
“I thought the phone call might get your attention.”
Minako’s voice startles Usagi from behind. She has just turned the corner from Mamoru’s apartment building, the communicator sitting in her palm. Stilling, she turns around.
Just steps behind her, Minako waits near the lamppost, hand propped on her hip. Her hair falls long and smooth across her shoulders, glinting gold in the sunlight, a red ribbon holding it back from her face. She looks rested and well.
Usagi curls her empty hand into a fist at her side. “How did you find me?”
“Where else would you go?” Minako says, walking towards her. “I know you, Usagi.”
The pit of anger in Usagi’s middle flares, catching hot in her chest. “Or do you know the princess?” she asks coolly.
“I know you both.”
“We aren’t the same person,” Usagi retorts.
Brow furrowing, Minako stops just a few steps from her. “I know that—“
“You—you were going to pretend to be the princess? Until when?” Usagi cuts in, tossing her communicator into her purse and settling it across her shoulder.
Minako opens her mouth, then closes it once more. A warm spring breeze curls between them, rippling through their skirts. Usagi crosses her arms and waits, nerves tingling through her.
“Until you were ready,” Minako says after a moment.
“And who are you to decide that? You and Artemis? It’s—this was my life, and his life,” Usagi snaps. “Did you know who he was?”
Face even and placid, Minako nods. “Yes. I did. Do you think I would have let someone get that close to you without knowing exactly who they were?”
Usagi looks away, out onto the street. Traffic is slow in this area of the city, especially on a Sunday. “And you were prepared to pretend to be the princess, and let him think it too,” she says flatly.
“I only know the prince, Usagi,” Minako says after a quiet moment, with nothing but the breeze and the smell of cherry blossoms between them. “And I didn’t trust him then for a very long time. I don’t know Mamoru-san. So I wanted to make sure you wouldn’t get hurt. So, I was willing to pretend, and to lie, yes. That’s my job.”
Smoothing stray strands of hair from her neck, Usagi looks at Minako once more. “Minako, I’ve been in love with him for longer than I’ve known about the prince and the princess or even Tuxedo Mask. You really think I would have been relieved to stand by and watch you two pretend to be something you aren’t, only to find out it was supposed to be me the whole time?” she asks, voice softening and thickening.
Minako watches her, the corners of her mouth trembling. “I didn’t know that. I—I was only trying to keep you safe,” she says, hands balled into fists at her sides. “I can’t apologize for that.”
The anger dissipates; tension slides away from Usagi’s shoulders. Because of Minako, of Mamoru, because of all of them, she is alive; because of her, they are alive. However it worked it, it doesn’t matter now.
Sighing, she closes the distance between the two of them and wraps her arms around Minako’s shoulders, hugging her loosely. “I know,” she says quietly. “Just—I don’t know, can we try to keep the lying to the princess and prince to a minimum?”
Minako laughs against her hair, hugging her back. “I’ll do my best,” she says.
Usagi pulls back, and links her elbow into Minako’s. “You also have to try to be nice to Mamoru,” she says as they begin to walk. “I think he might be worried you’ll threaten him.”
Smiling, Minako shrugs. “I’ll talk to him.”
“In a nice way?”
“Nice enough,” Minako says, and Usagi sighs. “But he’s done a good job in helping you so far. There may be hope for him yet.”
They turn the corner, walking in the direction of Rei’s temple. “I guess that’s progress,” Usagi grumbles.
Minako giggles. Usagi tucks her arm closer into Minako’s, and is content.