"Mamo-chan?" He glanced down to the blonde at his side absently. "Do you love me?"
What an odd question coming from her. "Yes."
Why was she pressing this? "Why so suddenly?" he had to ask.
Her eyes went slightly wider but a lot more pleading. "Please, like how?"
Something had to be really bothering her for her to be so pushy. All the same, after all she'd been through lately, she deserved an honest answer. "Let's see... It feels wonderful to be with you."
A tremulous smile touched her lips, star-bright tears hovering in her eyes. "Mamo-chan..." she again whispered brokenly.
Worry shot through him, cold as ice in his veins. "What's wrong, Usako?"
She sniffed, rubbing at the tears before they could fall. "I think... I think I don't love you like I used to, Mamo-chan."
Somehow, the first words that wanted to escape his mouth were "Is that all?" He held them back, though, and instead questioned, "Why do you think that?"
Usagi was silent for a long moment, till she finally mumbled a single word answer: "...Seiya."
He reached up to hold her shoulders. "You love him, don't you?" She sniffled then nodded. "Why didn't you say something before he was gone then?"
She shook her head. "There wasn't time, and Fighter is needed back on Kinmoku. How could I ask Seiya to stay?" She lifted watery blue eyes to meet his. "You're not mad at me, Mamo-chan?"
He offered her a small grin. "Of course not." He leaned down to kiss her cheek. "No matter what happens, we're always friends."
A faint smile touched her lips. "Thank you, Mamo-chan. You're so good to me."
He could suddenly find it in himself to hate Seiya, maybe just a little bit, for not being here to make this girl happy. "You've been my best friend for years, Usako. Maybe we shouldn't have pushed to make it a relationship because of what Endymion and Serenity had all those years ago."
The smile exploded into something very similar to her old ones, if a bit restrained and more mature. They were really one day going to have to discuss what happened after Galaxia took his Star Seed. It had been a month already. Why hadn't they broached the subject yet? At least he knew, though, that was what she'd been trying to get across in her own Usagi ways. "Exactly," she agreed. "Destiny isn't written on stone, after all. I guess the engagement's off then, isn't it?"
"I guess so." His watch beeped the hour, and he glanced down at it. "It's getting late. Want me to drive you back to your parents' house?"
She shook her head. "I moved in with Haruka-san and the other Outers a couple of days ago. I wouldn't mind a ride out there, though."
He stared at her in utter shock. "Why did you do that, Usako?"
He gaze dropped to the ground, and she fidgeted in silence a moment before finally speaking. "I'm... pregnant." She sighed, finally speaking. "Papa would never allow me to keep her... him... the baby, so Haruka-san and Michiru-san offered, and..."
A baby? That's what all this was about, Usako having a baby? He placed a finger under her chin and lifted it, looking into her eyes. There he saw a fiery determination like he'd never imagined before. She was determined to have this child, consequences be damned. "Seiya's the father?"
She nodded. "He is. That's why it wouldn't be fair of me to call him back."
Had Usako always been this self-sacrificing and noble and he'd just missed it till now? Still, he couldn't leave matters like this. It wasn't right. It wasn't fair to Usako or her child for this to happen. "You don't have to do either of those, Usako."
"What do you mean?" she whispered, a hint of confusion bleeding into her voice.
He look a deep breath and released it as a long stream of words. "We could go ahead and get married like we planned. No one knows about us calling it off anyway. We'll say I'm the baby's father if anyone asks."
Fat, glistening tears rolled down her cheeks. "You don't have to do this, Mamo-chan. I'm not -- I wasn't asking you to do this."
He pulled her closer to him in a gentle hug. "I know. I want to do this, Usako. This whole situation isn't fair to you or your child. I want to help and this is the only way I see how."
She was silent another long moment then whispered reluctantly, "It won't be ChibiUsa."
"That doesn't matter one bit to me," he declared, feeling a bit of the tension leave her body at his words. He held her a moment longer then pushed her just far enough back so he could meet her eyes. "So, do we have a deal?"
"This isn't fair to you either, Mamo-chan."
"It's my choice. Do we have a deal?"
She nodded once slightly. "We do." She half-glanced away then looked back at him. "The Outer Senshi know the truth though."
"We'll ask them not to say anything. I'm sure once Haruka-san understands this is for your benefit, she'll make sure it's never mentioned again."
She laughed softly. "I'm glad to have such a fierce protector as Haruka-san. And one so devoted as you, Mamo-chan. How can I - we - ever repay you?"
He didn't even hesitate before answering. "Be happy again. Maybe not today or even soon, but I want to see you happy and shining again one day." She nodded once, and he fixed penetrating blue eyes on her. "I mean it, Usako. If you have a chance to be happy, I want you to seize it. If Seiya comes back and asks you to leave with him, I want you to do it. Can you do that? For me?"
"This is so not fair to you, Mamo-chan," she began. He opened his mouth to rebuke her statement; she covered it with her slim fingers and pressed on. "But if it's what you want, I'll do it. For you, I'll be happy again someday, but I want you to do the same for me. I want you to take every chance you can to be happy too."
"Okay," he agreed. He all but released her, though he didn't relinquish his grip on her hand. "Let's go get this over with."
* * * * *
Ten'ou Haruka had to half-smile at the sight of the couple approaching her and Michiru. She didn't really care too much for Mamoru, Endymion or not, but at least it wasn't that Seiya guy. She'd disliked the long-haired man immediately, but that was before this latest revelation. Now, she was fairly sure she hated him.
Koneko had left a few hours ago to break the news to Mamoru. She couldn't help wondering what had happened since he was coming back with her. When they were close enough, she questioned, "How'd it go? Better than you'd expected?"
Koneko looked a bit abashed as Mamoru glanced down at her, an amused on his face. "Much better," she answered quietly.
"Haruka-san," Mamoru jumped in, turning his gaze on her, "I wanted to thank you for putting Usako up these past few days. I appreciate it." He glanced past them, and she half-turned to see Setsuna and Hotaru walking up to them. "I'm sorry for any inconvenience it may have caused."
"It was no trouble," Haruka answered, as if she hadn't sat up with Koneko the past two nights while the younger blonde cried like her world was ending. She put a teasing expression. "So are you joining in this little conspiracy of ours?"
"Not really. I have a new conspiracy for you."
"Oh really?" Michiru intoned.
Koneko touched his arm once then began to speak. "I'm still leaving school, but... We're going to tell everyone the baby is Mamo-chan's." Setsuna gasped softly. "We're getting married."
For a full moment, she could only stare at the pair of them. When she could speak again, she asked, "Are you sure about this?"
Koneko nodded. "I am."
Mamoru wrapped a friendly arm around the blonde girl's shoulder. "We both are."
"When?" Michiru asked.
Koneko looked up at Mamoru, who shrugged and replied, "The sooner, the better, I think."
There was silence again, then Setsuna spoke. "I can have a wedding gown and tuxedo ready for you in a month," she stated.
She and Michiru exchanged a loaded look. Finally they both nodded. "We can arrange a wedding in a month," she declared.
Now it was Koneko and Mamoru's turn to communicate silently. "A month will be good," Mamoru agreed.
"We should go tell the Inner Senshi everything," Koneko stated. She paused. "Our version of everything."
"Mamoru-san? Usagi-san?" They all looked down at Hotaru. "Can I be the flower girl at your wedding?"
They all laughed, tension they hadn't realized was building now dissipated, and Koneko leaned down to hug the girl. "Of course, Hotaru-chan. I'd be honored."
* * * * *
Luna hadn't been at the Tsukino house for the fallout; she and Artemis had been staging a congratulatory party for Minako's big break into the idol world; but she'd been present for some of the aftermath. Tsukino Kenji had been alternately speechless and blustering in his rage. Ikuko was still sobbing now, three days later. Shingo seemed torn between indifference and worry for his missing sister.
Of course, Luna could ask none of them what had happened, so she went to who she considered the next-best source on Usagi-chan: the Inner Senshi. All that they could report, though, was that Usagi-chan had asked Makoto and Rei if she could stay with them for a while, for unmentioned reasons. When they both had had to say no for their own reasons, she'd simply nodded, thanked them, and walked away. That had been three days ago, right after the family fight, and none of them had seen her since.
Other than that, the Senshi were completely clueless. Perhaps Mamoru-san might...
"Hi, everyone!" Usagi-chan's voice chirped. As one, they whirled to find her standing behind them, Mamoru-san and all four Outer Senshi surrounding her. She stated at them curiously. "Is something wrong?" she asked guilelessly. There was something missing from her ditz act, it seemed though, Luna thought. Usagi-chan grinned, and that's when it struck her: her eyes. Her smile didn't reach her eyes; they seemed perhaps a bit dead and completely un-Usagi-like.
Given the protective stances Uranus-san and Mamoru-san were making next to the blonde, the black cat could only assume they had seen what she had and perhaps knew the reason.
"Usagi!" Rei was scolding, "where've you been? You've been gone for days! We've been worried!"
"Really?" Haruka cut in, sarcasm dripping off the world like venom.
"You never checked if she was with us," Michiru finished, her voice sugary sweet.
Usagi-chan turned to them, pouting slightly. "Haruka-san, Michiru-san! That was mean!" Neither looked a bit ashamed. Usagi made another pouting face and turned back to the Inners. "Yes, I've been staying over with them the past few days."
"But why?" Luna asked, climbing to her feet. "What happened with your family?"
Mamoru-san's arm went around Usagi's shoulders protectively, and she leaned against him. "Papa and Mama didn't take the news well, so..."
"What news?" Makoto jumped in, suspicion etched on her face.
"I'm dropping out of school," Usagi stated bluntly. "Mamo-chan and I are getting married next month."
There was a collective shocked silence as all the Inner Senshi and both the cats stared at her. Finally it was Ami who found the words to speak. "Why now? Why get married now? Why don't you wait till you graduate at least?"
"I'll be kicked out soon enough anyway," she continued to speak with even candor. "I'm pregnant."
* * * * *
A month passed with alarming celerity, and she stood on a stool, allowing Setsuna
to do a few last minute adjustments to the dress. It was taking every bit of willpower
she possessed not to fidget with the rose-trimmed off-shoulder neckline again.
Finally, Setsuna stood back, examining her work. "You're done," she declared.
"Thank you, Setsuna-san," the blonde replied, stepping down to look over her reflection in the full-length mirrors. They stood in a semi-comfortable silence till she spoke again. "Are we doing the right thing? Mamo-chan and me, I mean? I know we've probably destroyed Crystal Tokyo, but -"
"You're creating the Crystal Tokyo timeline now," she replied, unable to hold the words back. "All the timeline cares about is that you marry Mamoru-san." She paused a second to sort through the myriad times in her mind then continued, "There are no effects to it that I can see."
Usagi-chan's hand fluttered towards her stomach. "ChibiUsa?"
Setsuna shook her head. "Even I can't see that yet."
A knock sounded on the door, and two figures entered, one clad in a pale dress and the other in a tuxedo. "Yo, Koneko!" Haruka greeted.
Michiru was smiling. "You look stunning."
"Yeah. Instead of handing you off to Mamoru, I might have to keep you for myself."
Even though she had to know Haruka was teasing, Usagi-chan blushed. "It's all thanks to Setsuna-san's hard work." Her eyes shone as she smiled up at Haruka, Michiru, and Setsuna. "Thank you all so much for what you've done for me. I can never begin to repay you."
"How about don't trip when we walk down the aisle and we'll call it even, Koneko?"
Usagi-chan laughed easily at the other blonde's words. She seemed about to speak when there was another knock at the door and Makoto's head appeared briefly. "Five minutes, Usagi-chan, Haruka-san."
"Oh my!" Michiru gasped. "We need to get to our seats, Setsuna!" Despite her words, she paused long enough to start to fuss over Haruka's jacket. "You remember your lines?"
The tall blonde laughed. "Of course, Michiru. It's not like I have that much to say." She stopped the other woman's hand on her lapel. "You'd better get to your seat and keep the crowd in line, especially those girls."
Michiru smiled. "I'll see you soon," she whispered as she slipped out the door, leaving the other three alone in the room.
"Are you sure about this, Koneko?" Haruka asked, concern darkening her expression.
"I'm positive. This is what is right for me and my baby." She smiled, and it was a bit sad. "Now, at least we know why King Endymion and Neo Queen Serenity only have one child."
Setsuna nodded. "This is correct."
Haruka's face eased into a smile, and she held her arm out to Usagi. "Well then, shall we?"
* * * * *
One last scream echoed through the room, then silence - then pandemonium. Usako was put under further sedation while doctors tried to stop the bleeding, and moments later, a white-bundled object was carefully laid in his arms.
Red eyes stared back into his own.
"Did you have a name picked out?" a nurse standing by asked.
He nodded mutely, staring into eyes he'd seen so many times before, eyes he'd believed would belong to his own daughter. "Her name is Usagi. Chiba Usagi."
Original Draft: 30 August 2004
Revision: 19 October 2004
Well, "Picture" is finally done! You have no idea how happy I am to have it done. This story is my attempt to rationalize out a few things: why Endymion and Serenity only have one child; why ChibiUsa bears no resemblance to Mamoru whatsoever; why I like Endymion and Tsukikage (and to some extent, Mamoru) but not Tuxedo Kamen - and certainly not with Usagi - at least in the traditional sense.