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Chapter Ten

Reach out
Feel the heat
The aching
Of nothing

Brush against the reality
Of what we cannot see
A broken link, a dream forever
Only to fail to fall within our hearts
And so instead we

Reach out
Feel the heat
The aching
Of nothing

Ignore the breaking of reality
It doesn't matter, no matter how loud it is
But instead dream of nothing
Dream of everything, and then stop
Forget it all and just

Reach out
Feel the heat
The aching
Of nothing

The shattering of our hearts
Ignore it, please, don't care
For caring pushes us too far, does us too little
Because we just know, no matter
How much we touch the dawn -

We break anyway.

Reach out
Feel the heat
The aching
Of nothing

- - -

Mamoru bolted upright in bed, chest heaving up and down at a rapid pace. Releasing his firm grip on the blanket, he stared groggily at the opposite wall, trying to make sense of that bizarre dream -- or nightmare, what ever it was. He blinked to clear his vision, then blinked a second time.

He hadn't dreamt of the accident for many years, but every time it happened, he remembered it perfectly. The last time had been nearly 10 years ago, when he was still living at the orphanage.

Orphanage...? Why had such a memory crossed his mind all of a sudden?

Wasn't he...?

Didn't he...?

Mamoru shook his head. It couldn't be. After all that time getting used to new people and a new way of living, he was whisked away from it. One more glance around the room confirmed his suspicions.

There was no doubt about it.

He was home.

Leaning against the kitchen counter, Mamoru silently sipped at his tea and stared out into the torrential downpour. It was one of those days that was only good for two things: lying around the apartment or cleaning like a madman.

Of course, Mamoru chose the latter.

He spent all morning and a good part of the afternoon re-organizing his bedroom, coat, and linen closets, arranging objects that had fallen or been misplaced since the last time he cleaned. Mamoru wasn't a neat freak, of course, he just liked things to be in their place. At all times.

But it wasn't until he came to the last shelf of the linen closet that he slowed his pace. At the back of the closet was a medium sized box, slightly worn with age. His fingers brushed over its lid, telling its life story with just a single touch.

Taking the box delicately into his hands, Mamoru set it on his lap and opened it carefully, as if it were the one belonging to Pandora. The only memories of his past remained alive inside the box, and he wasn't about to let any of them escape. Papers and mementoes as well as other odds and ends he had collected during his younger years lined the cardboard walls, resting in their familiar positions until the time came when he moved them again.

He brushed a few yellowed papers aside, smiling slightly while recalling the few and tender memories that were attached to them. The only thing that Mamoru really regretted about his 'memory' box was the lack of pictures. School assignments, projects and letters could only do so much. There was so much more that he wanted to have, but couldn't.

Then a flat object resting against the side of the box caught his eye. An envelope Mamoru had never seen before inside his memory box. But as he turned it over and observed the handwriting on the front, reality suddenly caught up with him.

In an all-too familiar scrawl, his name was the only thing written on the envelope, but he didn't have to guess where it came from.

It was the writing of Chiba Nagisa, his mother.

He was on his fifth cup of tea. It was all he could do to keep himself occupied and keep his mind off that envelope - the same envelope he saw in Nagisa's hands just the day before.

'Had it only been a day? It seemed like a lifetime ago...'

It lay untouched on the coffee table. Mamoru just couldn't bring himself to open it. He didn't know why, though somewhere deep in his mind he believed that once he knew what was inside, the past would finally connect with his present and possibly affect his future.

He wasn't sure if he wanted that.

Placing the kettle on the stove, Mamoru started to prepare another cup of tea, while the rumbling of the thunderstorm continued to dampen his mood. Simultaneously, there was a loud crash of thunder, a sharp crack of lightning outside and a knock at his door.

Surprised to have visitors in such bad weather, Mamoru crossed the room to answer the door. The moment he opened it, a wet blur of yellow and blue rushed at him, whimpering softly. He was shocked, to say the least. The damp bundle clung to his arms, shivering slightly as the rain dripped from the ends of her long blonde hair.

"Usa..." His mouth could barely form the words as he held her trembling form. Sparkling blue eyes peered out at him from beneath her soaked hood. "I know it's late, but I wanted to see you, and then the storm started...." she trailed off, a sheepish grin on her face. "And you know how I am during storms."

Mamoru just stared at her, taking her presence in all at once. Then he swept her up into an enormous embrace, paying no attention to the fact that she was dripping wet.

"Mamo-chan?" Usagi replied, "You're awfully quiet. Are you still bothered over what happened last night?"

Her words vibrated throughout his entire body, nearly sending him into shock. 'Last NIGHT? Everything that had happened over the last few weeks for him, was nothing more than a few hours here?' It was unreal. The numbness overcame his body and he stumbled over to the couch with no explanation.

Usagi followed Mamoru's every move, clearly worried about his state of mind. He didn't seem like his usual self. She reached for his arm, on the verge of crying. "Mamo-chan...?" His body flinched at her sudden touch but he didn't move away. She bit her lip. "What did I do wrong?"

He covered his face with his hands, trying desperately to suppress his feelings but failing fast. "Don't ever think you did anything wrong, Usa..." Mamoru whispered, squeezing his eyes shut. She stared at him in silence, her lip quivering while she attempted to keep her own emotions in check.

Then out of the corner of her eye, Usagi caught sight of the thick white envelope sitting on the edge of the table. Picking it up, she examined it slowly, turning it over and seeing the handwriting on the front. "Mamo-chan, what's this?"

Mamoru's head whipped up and his eyes widened when he saw Usagi handling the envelope. He sighed deeply, regaining his composure. He couldn't keep this from her any longer. He gathered Usagi into his embrace, burying his face in her sweet-smelling hair. "It's from my mother."

Usagi stiffened. "Your mother? But how is that possible? Why did it take you all these years to find it? What's in it?"

He placed a finger on her lips to quiet her. "I'm not really sure, I didn't know about it until recently, and I don't know." Taking the envelope into his hands now, Mamoru focused his gaze, almost as if he was willing it to open on its own. "I've been afraid to open it."

She smiled tenderly, placing her hand over his. "Why don't we read it together?" Mamoru visibly relaxed. The amount of love he felt for this woman sitting next to him was well beyond his understanding. Usagi pulled the envelope open, removed a folded paper and started to read.

"'For our dear Mamoru,

As much as I hate to think about it while I write this, I know that you'll only be reading this if something happens to your papa and me. I can't even begin to think of not being there for you when you will need us, but the gods determine our fate.

Your papa and I love you, Mamoru. I never want you to forget that. There are times when the loneliness will seem overwhelming, but as long as you carry the warmth in your heart, it will never consume you. That same warmth will someday guide you to your destiny.

Never be afraid of your feelings. I know that you will want to hide your true self after all the pain you will experience, but sometimes the pain can be the greatest teacher. My heart breaks as I think about your future, because we won't be there when you need us the most. Don't shut other people out of your life when they try to help. Building a wall around yourself will only bring you to a dead end.

We love you, Mamoru. You have a special place in our hearts, and no matter where we are, that will never change.

Love, Mama and Papa.'"

Usagi silently re-read the letter several times before looking up, tears blurring her vision. Finally she glanced over at Mamoru, who had his eyes closed and tears running down his cheeks. "Mamo-chan, are you all right?"

He swallowed hard and nodded. "I thought I knew how they felt. But I really had no clue. All this time, I thought that no one had ever truly wanted me. But my mother and father really loved me. I was loved."

Usagi ducked under Mamoru's arm and snuggled against him. "You still are." Something else peeking out of the envelope caught her attention. "What else is in there?"

Mamoru grinned. "Baby pictures." Usagi squealed and snatched them out of his grasp. "Now it's my turn to see Chiba Mamoru in diapers!" Jumping over the arm of the couch, Usagi darted out of the way as Mamoru lunged for her, but missed, only catching a few strands of her long hair in his fingers. The sudden movement caused him to lose his balance, and he landed on his stomach on the sofa, then slipped and crashed on the floor. Moving quickly, he scrambled to his feet and grabbed at her as she giggled and flew to the other side of the room.

After ten minutes of chasing each other around the apartment -- Usagi giggling loudly and Mamoru doing a poor impression of a stalker -- they ended up back on the couch, breathing heavily. The photos dangled limply from Usagi's fingers and this time, he was able to snatch them away from her. Laying her head in his lap, Usagi listened quietly as Mamoru showed her the pictures one by one, mentioning stories she had never heard him talk about before. It was like seeing a completely new side to Mamoru, one that only deepened the love she had for him.

When they had seen all the pictures, Mamoru finally began to relate his experiences that had taken place the night before, though it still felt like weeks to him. He spoke of the difficulties he had with the 'other' Usagi, how hard he tried to get her to like him, and at the end when she finally realized the truth.

Usagi looked up at Mamoru, her gaze full of love. "I'm glad you came back to me, Mamo-chan, even though you were never really gone. In the end, even though you could have had someone more perfect than I could ever wish to be, you still chose me. When I met you, I knew that I was strong inside, and that I could live my life, even if you weren't always by my side. But I would never want you to leave me... because I need you."

He looked down at the girl laying in his lap, smiling tenderly. "All that really matters is that I'm with you, Usako," he said quietly, placing a gentle kiss on the tip of her nose. "The love I have for you will last forever, from day to night, dawn and dusk. Before I was afraid to show you how I felt. But not anymore. Knowing that I had always been loved opened that last door that I had always been afraid to unlock. It led to my happiness, which will always lead to you."