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Chapter Eight

BIIIIIG thanks go to Lelu for helping me work out the kinks and giving me the inspiration I needed so much.

- - -

and only if
but never yet
to touch the dawn
to kiss the night
to talk of love
to embrace the pain
but only if
and never yet

- - -

Hokori had been right. One call to the number on the card and Mamoru suddenly found himself surrounded by every amenity he could ever need for the company banquet. He personally thought Hokori had overdone the whole thing, but who was he to argue when it was already paid for?

Mamoru didn't have the heart nor the desire at the moment to break the news to Usagi. He figured she would find out eventually, seeing that the banquet would be taking place in two days. Briefly wondering about her reaction, he chuckled lowly and went over his mental to-do list once more.

He frowned slightly as he stared at himself in the mirror. He wasn't quite used to dressing so formally. The tuxedo Hokori ordered and had custom made for him was perfect, right down to the classy cuff links. Mamoru turned to the side and looked at his profile, finally deciding that he wasn't too bad looking.

If this banquet was going to be a success in the eyes of the company, then he and Usagi were going to have to attempt being cordial to one another, at least while they were under the scrutiny of the public's eyes. What no one knew was that the separation and fighting with Usagi day after day was literally tearing Mamoru apart. He loved her so much that he couldn't bear to see her hurt, and he certainly didn't want to be the source of her pain.

Perhaps this was his chance to redeem himself for all of his previous mistakes. Mamoru knew that he couldn't force Usagi to love him, so he would have to do his best to show her all of his good qualities.

Tugging on the lapels of the tuxedo jacket, Mamoru gave his reflection one more glance and grinned. The night of the gala was certainly going to be a night to remember.

Less than 48 hours later, Mamoru found himself standing outside Usagi's apartment, armed with a single pink rose. No sense in overdoing things tonight. He took a deep breath, praying that tonight would go smoothly. Knocking once on the door, he braced himself for the inevitable.

Instead of Usagi answering the door herself, her voice echoed from inside. "Come in," she called, "I'm still getting ready." Mamoru let himself inside the apartment and stood in the entryway, feeling as nervous as one might on a first or blind date. He tried to shake off the feeling, but the nervousness just wouldn't go away.

"Mamoru, you can sit down, you know. Nothing is going to jump out and bite you," Usagi said from the other room. He blinked in surprise. "How did you know it was me?"

Her laughter trailed down the hall. "I've known about tonight longer than you have. I don't know why Hokori waited so long to tell you." Usagi emerged from the other room, slipping a thin gauzy wrap around her slim shoulders. She stood in the middle of the living room, modeling her dress. "Well, what do you think?"

Mamoru was speechless as he stared at Usagi, unable to take his eyes off her. A small smile appeared on his face as he watched her twirl around in her gown like a little girl with a brand new dress. Light blue material delicately hugged her figure, then softly billowed out from the waist. Her hair was stylishly piled on top of her head with a few stray curls framing her face.

He could barely hide his delight. "So you finally decided to show your true identity to me."

"What do you mean?"

He pulled out the rose from behind his back and offered to her. "The only person I see before me is a beautiful goddess." Usagi giggled and blushed. "And I must say you're looking quite the gentleman tonight."

Mamoru stepped closer to her, taking her hands in his. "Usagi," he began, trying to choose his words carefully. "I know we've had times that we haven't gotten along. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if you hated me for some of my recent actions. I want you to know that just because we're attending this banquet together, I don't expect it to disappear like it never happened. But I also don't want it to affect whatever future we may have together."

Usagi placed her hand on the side of Mamoru's face, and smiled tenderly. "I never hated you, Mamoru. I want tonight to be wonderful too. So let's start over. I forgive you, Chiba Mamoru."

He looked surprised. "For what?"

"For all the times you were a jerk. I know sometimes you tried to mean well, and maybe I didn't help the situation. One day I hope you'll be able to forgive me too."

Mamoru leaned forward and gently kissed Usagi on her forehead. "There's nothing to forgive," he replied, offering her his arm to escort her out of the apartment. "Let's give everyone something to talk about, shall we?" He teased, and the hallway filled with Usagi's laughter.

"Mamoru, Usagi-san! I was beginning to think you two weren't going to come!" Hokori greeted the two as the entered the ballroom. Usagi smiled. "After the ultimatum you gave us, how could we not?" She then turned to Nagisa who was standing next to her husband. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Chiba-san. You must have your hands full trying to keep these two in line."

Hokori and Nagisa laughed while Mamoru tried to act hurt. "So you're saying that I'm a handful?"

"More than I can handle," Usagi retorted while giggling. Nagisa reached out to take Usagi's hands in hers, smiling warmly. "Mamoru didn't tell me just how beautiful and special you were. Please, call me Nagisa."

"I'd like that Nagisa-san." Usagi beamed and the two of them walked away from the men to talk.

Mamoru approached the two women a short time later, a big smile on his face. He held his hand out. "May I have the pleasure of this dance, milady?" Nagisa laughed and took his hand, leaving Usagi to admire their dancing. Expertly joining the others out on the floor, Nagisa followed Mamoru's smooth lead. "Well, this is a surprise. When did you learn to dance so well?" He just smiled. "I picked it up somewhere along the way."

She caught a glimpse of Usagi standing along the side, then looked up at her son to discover he was staring at the blonde as well. Nagisa smiled. "Have you told Usagi yet?"

Mamoru switched his gaze to Nagisa, still somewhat distracted. "Have I told her what?"

"How you feel about her, of course. It's so obvious by the way you keep looking at her."

He shook his head. "I haven't found the right moment yet. Maybe later."

"Mamoru, if you keep putting it off until later, it's going to be too late."

"Well, what would your reaction be if someone suddenly blurted out that he was hopelessly in love with you, couldn't take his eyes off you, and would go to the ends of the earth and back just so he could make you happy?" An edge of sarcasm slipped into Mamoru's voice. Nagisa raised an eyebrow. "Is that how you truly feel about Usagi?" His gaze dropped to the floor and he nodded. "Sometimes I can't even express everything I feel for her into words."

Nagisa gave Mamoru a gentle shove in Usagi's direction. "Then go tell her." He looked at her incredulously, but she only smiled back at him with a 'mother knows best' look on her face.

Gathering all the courage he could muster, Mamoru began to approach Usagi, who was still standing on the sidelines, engaged in some small talk with her co-workers. Suddenly a hand caught him from behind, and he stopped, thinking it was Nagisa with something else to say.

The tall brunette hanging onto his arm certainly wasn't her. It as a fellow co-worker who worked on the same floor as he and Usagi, but he didn't know her all that well. "Chiba-san... I was wondering..." she took a deep breath, "I was wondering if you would dance with me."

Mamoru gulped, eyeing the distance between his position and Usagi, disappointed that he wasn't close enough. "Well, I..." The girl beamed, slipping her hand into his and placing the other on his upper arm. "Oh, I'm so glad! I've been waiting to dance with you all night!"

"Now hold on a min--" But the girl didn't listen, taking the lead and dragging him back into the crowd. Mamoru caught one last glimpse of Usagi, still talking to the others, not seeing his trouble before the dancers swallowed him up again.

Thankfully the dance was a short one, though he didn't pay any attention to the obvious disappointment on the girl's face. He grimaced as he pushed his way through the crowd, feeling the pain in his feet where she had stepped on them.

It was now or never. Mamoru approached Usagi from behind, placing his hand on her waist to get her attention. She whirled around, clearly surprised, but smiled when she saw him standing there. "Hey, stranger," she said with a grin, "I was wondering when you were going to show up."

"I'm here now," he replied. "Wouldst the lady be so kind as to grace me with the pleasure of having this dance?" Usagi laughed and took his proffered hand. "Remind me to tutor you in Shakespeare." They glided out onto the ballroom floor, gracefully dancing along to the swells and strains of the live orchestra.

"You never told me you were such a good dancer," Mamoru commented, readjusting his grip on her waist, bringing Usagi's body closer to his. Usagi cocked her head and smiled impishly at him, causing his insides to melt. "You never asked."

He laughed. "I should have remembered that from the last time I danced with you, ne? I can't forget everything else from that night..." He leaned down and buried his face in her sweet-smelling hair.

"Mamoru," Usagi murmured quietly, enjoying the attention he was showing her, but made no mention of it to him. "If you keep this up, people are going to think we're something more than what we really are." He grinned lazily, focusing his gaze upon hers. "Let them talk."

Usagi found that she couldn't look away from Mamoru's eyes. The blue depths captivated her, as if she was looking into the sea, longing to see the mysteries below. As the music swirled around the couple, everyone else in the room seemed to disappear. His hand came up and rested beneath her chin, holding it carefully like one would a fragile doll. Mamoru bent his head closer, swiftly closing the space between their lips.

He just couldn't get enough of her. And at that moment their lips touched, firing up a passion and hunger deep within Mamoru that he hadn't realized had existed within him all along. But what surprised him even more was that Usagi was responding to him with equal enthusiasm.

Mamoru didn't care if people were watching them, or what they thought of the scene. If the world ended at this moment, he could care less. All that mattered was that Usagi was in his arms, gladly responding to his attention.

But then the music ended, the lights came up, and the fantasy was over. Mamoru and Usagi separated and stared at each other, her cheeks flushed and eyes slightly glazed over. He spoke first. "We'd better find our table." She nodded. "Let me run to the powder room quickly, and then I'll join you." He smiled and kissed her on the cheek, wishing he could re-create the previous moment. "I'll wait for you right here."

He watched as she walked away, a small smile tugging at his lips. Leaning against the wall, he closed his eyes and let his mind wander. Unfortunately, it went down the wrong path. He thought of Usagi. Not the one that he knew now, but the one from his previous 'life'. The one that had laughed and joked and smiled with him through everything. And had supported him. The one who had understood the need to be alone after the photo album incident. The one who had been insecure. The one who had needed him.

Dimly, he wondered if it would ever be the same for the Usagi of this life. The one who seemed dependent on herself and herself only. The one who had displaced herself from the rest of the world. The one who he had just passionately kissed less than 5 minutes ago.

'My I forgetting my other life?'

Shocked, his eyes flew open. 'What if...What if I can never...return other life?'

But the bigger question that tugged at his mind, even though he tried to push it away, was...'Would I mind if I never returned?'

Little by little he had gotten used to having Hokori and Nagisa around. The parents he had always wished for as the other Mamoru, but had never been able to have. Through all the harsh comments and critisicms, he had come to love them. But it was still odd. He couldn't bring himself to acknowledge them as his parents. He didn't know why.

'I'm still holding onto my other I want to? Do I want to leave it so easily? Do I want to stay here? Could...could I ever be happy?'

Usagi leaned over to inspect herself in the mirror, then applied a small amount of powder to cover up her flushed appearance. She had let herself get carried away back there... she couldn't let that happen again, no matter how right it felt. But the way he held her in his arms... so protective and warm... it was like coming home.

She had never let herself feel like this towards anyone before; she never had the time to devote to a serious relationship, nor had she found the right person whom she was willing to open up to and completely trust... until now. Perhaps now it was time to hold on to what she had right in front of her.

As she walked around the corner to exit the powder room, she caught wisps of the other ladies' conversation, but didn't care to hear what they were saying, until her name was mentioned. Eyes wide, Usagi stopped moving so she could hear better.

'Did you see her with the president's son out on the dance floor? I couldn't believe my eyes! They were going at it like there was no tomorrow!'

'Well, I've heard other stories from the girls who work on the same floor. They say Chiba-san completely gone on Tsukino. He's practically been stalking her and causing arguments on purpose just so he can get closer to her.'

'I'm surprised that the president hasn't caught wind of this already. I heard that he was planning for his son to meet someone from a fellow corporation in order to create a friendly merger.'

'I don't think Chiba-sensei would do that to his only son. Besides, isn't he already involved with another woman? Rika-san works on their floor; I thought she mentioned something like that to me once.'

That was the last straw. Usagi stormed silently out of the restroom and back into the ballroom, where Mamoru was waiting patiently for her to return. He smiled as she walked up to him. "Hi," he said pleasantly, "I was beginning to think you got lost in there."

Her hand connected with his cheek and lucky for them, it wasn't loud enough to create a large scene. "I almost trusted you," Usagi hissed, tears streaming down her cheeks. "I thought you were finally going to be different, but you really are just like all the others. All that charm you threw at me was just a lie."

Mamoru covered his cheek with one hand, shocked at whatever had brought this on. He reached out to take her hand. "Usa, I don't understand. What's the matter?"

She jerked away from him. "Don't you ever call me that again! And don't ever come near me again. You stay the hell away from me, Chiba Mamoru. I don't care what I have to do to get away from you, but heaven help me, I'll do it." She spun on her heel and fled the ballroom, leaving Mamoru and a few other bystanders in shock.

Standing there in silence, he suddenly took off after Usagi, giving no explanation for the surprising scene.

He couldn't lose her again.

- - -

*walks away, whistling innocently*