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Chapter Nine

I must thank Megs, CP and Lelu for inspiring me in little ways that made this possible. I couldn't have psychoanalyzed the confusing character of Chiba Mamoru without their help. ^_~

- - -

Fallen horizon
Of a bright darkness
That leads me to my doom
I close my eyes
In wonderment
Bedazzled by the beating
Of our entwined hearts
Once, forever,
Constantly behold
The etching forever
That leaves no worry
Only a single hope
Of a beautiful dawn
Touched by you and I

- - -

After searching half of the building, Mamoru finally caught up to Usagi waiting outside on the curb for a taxi. Without a word he walked up behind her and took her by the arm, forcing her to look at him.

"Let go of me!" she screeched, struggling to get out of his grasp. "I told you to stay away from me! What part of that did you not understand?"

"And you think I'm going to let you go without an explanation? That idea has about the same chance as a snowball in hell," Mamoru retorted, his temper flaring up. He grabbed both of her arms, holding her tight. "You have been nothing but trouble for me from the very beginning, but I don't care. I am not about to let you walk out of my life, Tsukino Usagi."

She gave him a bold look. "You think you're going to stop me? Give me one good reason why I shouldn't step off this curb and away from you forever." Mamoru tried pulling her closer, but she managed to wriggle out of his grasp. He gasped as he noticed the tears streaming down her face. "Whatever you say to me is not going to change things. After what I heard in there, I can't bring myself to believe you ever again."

Mamoru's body stiffened. "What did you hear?"

Usagi wiped her eyes, but it did no good. "I overheard some women in the powder room first I didn't pay attention, but then they mentioned my name, and your name... one of them said you were seeing another woman, and I didn't want to believe it, but when I saw you dancing with someone else..."

"And you actually believed them?" Mamoru laughed bitterly. "I never thought you were that gullible, Usagi." Then he ran one of his hands through his hair. "As for the 'other woman,' she intercepted me with I was trying to ask you to dance. I don't even know her name." He leaned over and whispered in her ear. "I didn't know you were watching me."

She turned away from him, feeling guilty, angry and frustrated all at once. "I was even more confused after our 'exchange' while we danced... I didn't know what to think." She shivered as a cool evening breeze blew by, causing her thin wrap to dance about her arms.

Immediately Mamoru had removed his jacket and placed it about Usagi's shoulders. She smiled at him gratefully, a few tears still trailing down her cheeks. Reaching into his pocket, Mamoru pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed gently at her cheeks. Then he took her by the arms and gazed firmly into her eyes. "I want you to look at me now and tell me straightforward that you still can't believe a word I say."

Usagi stared at him in silence for what seemed like an eternity, then she suddenly began sobbing loudly, covering her face with her hands. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry Mamoru!"

His hands encircled her in a protective embrace. "You had every right to act that way, considering the circumstances. I'm just sorry that you had to overhear all of that."

"How can you stand there and forgive me for the hell I've put you through these last few weeks? Anyone else would give up and walk away," Usagi blurted out, still furious with herself. Mamoru only smiled. "I thought you would have realized by now that I'm not just anyone." He took Usagi's hand in his and gave it a slight squeeze. "Do you want to go back in?"

"Not really. Not after all that."

"Neither do I. I'll go call a taxi and let someone know that we're leaving." He started to walk back inside, but turned around again. "You'll still be here, right?"

Usagi laughed for the first time since their argument, a sound that was music to Mamoru's ears. "Yes, I'll wait for you to come back." Her response was all he needed as he went inside.

After driving around the city for an hour, they finally ended up at Mamoru's apartment. He quickly exchanged his tux for some more comfortable clothes and rummaged up a sweatshirt and a pair of too-small pants for Usagi. She flopped down on the couch while he entered the kitchen to prepare some tea.

"You know," she began, not really talking to anyone in particular, "this is the first time I've ever come to your apartment, Mamoru. It suits you."

Mamoru smiled stiffly as he pour the water into two cups. 'You said the exact same thing the first time you came here -- but it wasn't same you.' He sighed. 'I can't make her remember me because the Usako sitting on my couch is not the one I've spent the last five years with. No matter what, I'll always love her, though she may never know it.'

He set the cups on a small tray and carried them out to the other room, where he set it down on the table in front of the couch. Usagi picked up one cup gratefully, blew on it, and then sipped at it. Her eyes widened. "This is delicious, Mamoru! How did you learn to make it?"

"My mother taught me." The words slipped out before he fully realized what he said. Choking on his tea, Mamoru struggled to breathe and Usagi worriedly stared at him. "Are you all right?" Waving her off, he replied, "I'm fine, I'm fine," while trying to catch his breath again. When he finally calmed down enough to speak, he said, "Now where was I?"

"You said your mother taught you to make this."

Mamoru flinched. How could he have said that so easily? As he thought long and hard about it, he truly could not remember such a memory, though it seemed so logical and true. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of a photograph sitting on the table next to the tea tray. Picking it up, he stared silently at the three figures within it, the shortest of them being him at 6 years old.

Those faces... for the first time, he could see them clearly. He knew this photo with his eyes closed.

These were his parents.

It was the younger faces of Chiba Hokori and Nagisa.

He sat back on the couch, still clutching the frame. Usagi leaned over, took one look at the picture, then looked into his face. "Are you sure you're all right?" A few moments passed, then he nodded. "I just realized something very important, that's all." A slight smile came to his face, then without warning, Mamoru scooped Usagi into his arms, crushing her body to his.

"Mamoru!" Usagi squealed in surprise, but he didn't let go. "Promise me you'll never leave me alone, Usagi," his muffled voice whispered.

"What are you talking about?"

"Just promise me, please."

Finally her arms came up and she held Mamoru like she would a frightened child. "Hai, I promise. Now what is this all about?"

He took a deep breath, and searched for the right words. "Have you ever felt like the life you were living wasn't real?"

Usagi pulled back and looked at him strangely. "I don't understand."

Shaking his head, Mamoru placed his hands on his face, rubbing gently at his eyes. Looking up at Usagi again, he then proceeded to tell her the entire story, starting the night of the photo album incident and then describing each day as it happened, portraying his feelings and thoughts to a point where even he couldn't believe them. By the time he finished, Usagi couldn't help but stare at Mamoru with sadness and a little bit of confusion shining in her eyes. "Oh, Mamoru..."

He turned away. "I know you don't believe me, Usagi. I'm finding it hard to believe my own twisted memories myself. In all honesty, I can't tell the difference between reality and fantasy anymore. One moment I'm begging myself to wake up, then the next minute I'm convincing myself to accept this strange new life."

Mamoru quickly brought his head up and locked gazes with Usagi, taking her hand in his. "Having this chance to know my parents completes what I've been missing all along. I've watched others accept love into their lives and I wondered why it wasn't that easy for me. But I think I've finally realized why. No one was there for me while I was growing up, so I didn't understand how to give and accept real love. Even when you -- the other you, I guess -- came into my life and offered your love, I wanted to respond to you so much. But I was forcing myself, and now I see what I was doing wasn't real.

"So now I want you to know one thing. No matter what I've been through, I need you with me. It doesn't matter if you can barely tolerate being in the same room with me for 5 minutes. What's important is how I feel about you, Tsukino Usagi. I don't know if you've noticed lately, but I find awfully hard to be without you. I know I've hurt you unintentionally, and more than anything I wish I could erase that." He sighed, unconsciously playing with her hand and locking their fingers together. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that I love you too much to let you go."

Usagi's blue eyes widened, tears trailing down her cheeks. She inhaled deeply. "Mamoru... I have to be honest. I never thought of you that way. You were just a co-worker, and that was as far as I was willing to let it go. But," she continued before he had a chance to interrupt, "that was before your attitude changed, and now I know why. You showed me another side to myself that I hadn't seen before. I know I was difficult towards you, that will probably never change," she said with a laugh. "But what I do know is that you showed me there was more to life than just work." She placed her free hand on his cheek and smiled tenderly. "You showed me how to live. And for that I will always be grateful."

He leaned into her hand, willing his emotions to stay in check. "Usa... do you even know how much you mean to me?" She shook her head, smiling through her tears. "Not nearly as much as you mean to me." Mamoru gasped and swooped Usagi into his arms, afraid that if he let her go now she would disappear. This was what was missing from his other life. He loved Usagi, and she loved him in return, but there had always been an emptiness where the reassurance should have been.

Now he knew.

And he wasn't about to give it up.

"So what did she say when you finally told her?" Nagisa pressed, her eyes following Mamoru as he sat down at the table with two cups of tea.

"At first she didn't say anything, so I thought she had gone into shock or something," he answered, setting a cup in front of her. "She was somewhat uneasy with the knowledge that I loved her in this other life of mine, but then we started talking and didn't stop for the next 4 hours. It was amazing. I don't think I've ever done that before. Not with Usagi."

Nagisa smiled. "So you cleared up everything?"

For a moment he was silent, staring into his teacup. "I know you're going to think this sounds strange, but the fact that I was able to know you and Hokori is what made everything fall into place for me. From the beginning, this life has seemed like just a dream, so I didn't bother to understand you or anyone else's feelings. But now...? I don't know where to begin."

Reaching across the table, Nagisa laid her hand on top of Mamoru's. "You're right, I was very confused in the beginning, but now I think I'm beginning to see why all of this happened." She smiled thinly, trying to grasp her emotions. "Ever since the day of the accident, I've looked at life much differently. If I had known that you remembered that day so clearly, I would have told you this sooner."

He raised an eyebrow. "Told me what?"

"Your father and I realized that we didn't have our life in order after that close brush with death, but ironically before it happened, we decided to organize all of our possessions and made sure everything was seen to accordingly. Now if something should ever happen like that again, you will be taken care of."

"But nothing's going to happen for a long time," Mamoru started to protest. Nagisa held up her hand. "You don't know that. I don't know that, and neither does your father. So just think of it as 'just in case.'" She then pulled out an envelope from her coat pocket. "Of course you're old enough to understand all this, and this letter explains it all. Please keep this in a safe place, Mamoru."

"You keep it. If I ever need it, then I'll know where to find it," he replied, not wanting to deal with this sort of information right now. Nagisa frowned slightly, then slipped the envelope back into the pocket. "All right. But just remember that you'll see this again, whether you like it or not." She sipped the last of her tea and stood up from the table, Mamoru standing up with her. "I shouldn't have come over so late. You need your rest after such a hectic weekend." Reaching over, Nagisa pulled him into a warm embrace. "I'm proud of you. Don't you ever forget that."

Mamoru hugged her tightly. "I know. Arigatou..... Mama." Nagisa pulled back, tears shining in her eyes when she heard the term of endearment come from her son's lips. "Oyasumi, my son."

"Oyasumi," he replied, shutting the door after her. He stood there for a moment, lost in his thoughts, then made his way to the bedroom where he flopped down onto the bed and immediately closed his eyes.

Sleep came rather quickly that night, and soon Mamoru entered the dream world. Tonight a familiar scene haunted his dreams, since he had been thinking about it so much recently.

He was six years old again, excitedly sitting in the back seat of the car while his mother and father up front were animatedly talking about what they had seen during their trip to the country. Mamoru's face was pressed up against the window as they rounded the bend of the mountain. So many things to see... he wished he could take it all with him.

"Hokori!" his mother suddenly screamed. "Look out!" Mamoru pulled away from the back window just as his father swerved the car to avoid an oncoming car that was driving down the wrong side of the road. His body tumbled against the padded seat, and he cried out in pain as his head smacked the door.

He couldn't stop the pain. Then there was nothing to hold onto.

He was falling...