A/N: Hey everyone, sorry it's been so long between updates. College stuff has been hectic lately, though I'm trying to keep it going. I promise I'll update my Heart of Crystal Tokyo fic no matter how many ideas clamor in my head for new stories. Anyways, I'd like to say thanks for everyone who's reviewed my stories – it's really helped me out a lot :) Please review this story – I think it's one of my better ideas. It's completely naked – I just wrote and posted. Any comments, suggestions, or comments? Please let me know!
Serenity-hime (I have a new email at serenity.hime. please feel free to email me!)
Te wo tsunaide
Soba ni ite
Mukashi atta ano shiroi muun
When Masks Come Off
Usagi stood with the wind blowing gently around her, looking out over the river. Her hair was lifted from her body and trailed out behind her, glittering like gold in the last light of the setting sun. A smile crossed her slightly parted lips even as tears ran down her face, dripping onto the front of her uniform. She closed her eyes and her hands released their grip on the rail. When her eyes shot open in terror a second later, she knew it was too late. She had really done it.
She couldn't find the air to scream. She felt like her stomach had just fallen out. Horror filled her to the core and she was cold, so very cold. Why? Why had she been so foolish? How was it possible? Her mind screamed at her and her heart wailed in desperation. She shut her eyes tight; not wanting to watch what was coming. Needless to say she was quite shocked to feel warm, strong arms reach out and wrap around her waist, snatching her from the brink.
She gasped as she was lifted into the air and held in a warm, somehow familiar embrace. She nuzzled into the warm, firm chest of the man holding her and she caught the faint scent of roses.
"Tuxedo Kamen-sama," she murmured. It was barely audible over the traffic on the bridge. The man tensed.
"Usagi-san?" Usagi looked up into the stunning blue eyes of…Chiba Mamoru? She blinked slowly. "Are you ok?"
Memory came rushing back like a runaway freight train without brakes and she began to shake. Tears fell and she buried herself in his chest, sobbing. His arms once more were wrapped around her, though slightly more uncertain this time. Not quite knowing what to do, he just stood there on the sidewalk, holding this sobbing girl that he had just saved from what he was slowly coming to realize might not have been an accident. She felt so frail in his arms, like if he squeezed her too tight she would shatter into thousands of pieces.
After a few moments the tears slowed and the sobs became a little shallower. The shaking continued but she didn't seem to be quite so overcome with tears that she almost choked on them. Usagi felt the warm arms around her tighten slightly, and she again realized who she was clinging to with such desperation. She rocketed backwards, smacking into the railing. His arms shot out to catch her should she stumble.
An awkward moment passed where he had his arms wrapped around her shoulders and she was looking up into his face with wide, tear-filled eyes that were becoming red and puffy. Then he let go of her and stepped back, unsure of what to do next. He cleared his throat.
"Are you alright, Usagi-san?" What a stupid thing to say. He felt useless, standing there like some kind of nimrod. Of course she wasn't alright. A slow, fake smile crossed her pained features.
"Yeah, I'm ok. Don't worry about me." Now he was really worried. Was this the same Usagi he ran into every day? Was it the bright, happy little ball of sunshine who he constantly teased, if only out of his distant adoration of her? He saw those suffering eyes and knew that it couldn't be. He reached out and gently grabbed her shoulder before she could walk away. She turned back toward him; the same cheap smile was plastered on her face.
"Usagi-san, why don't we go sit down somewhere for awhile?" She looked doubtful. "I'd like to talk with you for just a bit. Besides, I'll buy you some hot chocolate." She pondered. Seconds passed. Then she nodded, and he motioned for her to follow him.
His first thought was of the Crown, but he knew that it was likely her friends were there; he also knew she was in no condition to see pretty much anyone she knew at the moment. Instead he took her to a small coffee shop downtown that he knew, sat her down at a booth in the corner, and ordered some hot chocolate for both of them. He sipped at his as she pushed her blob of whipped cream with a coffee stirrer.
He watched her over the rim of his cup, studying her tired, pinched face and wondering what could possibly make such a happy girl so sad that she would try to throw herself off of a bridge. He wanted to comfort her, to help take away her pain and sorrow, but he wasn't sure how. Unfortunately his save-the-day tactics never seemed to work in emotional situations. He cleared his throat again.
"Is the hot chocolate good?" She looked up from her cup, letting the little red stirrer fall into it. She blinked.
"Um, yeah." She sipped at it timidly. "It's great, thanks." She looked back down into her cup, blushing slightly. He found himself watching her again as she sipped at her hot chocolate. Silence stretched out between them. He didn't know what to say, but he knew that he had to say something. He opened his mouth when she spoke again, without looking up.
"I didn't thank you earlier. I'm sorry." She paused. "Thank you. For…for saving me." She looked off to the side and said very softly, "I'm sorry if I've been any trouble." She sucked in a deep breath and for a moment he thought she was going to burst into tears again. He reached across the table and gave one shoulder a gentle squeeze. When she looked up, her eyes were shiny with tears. He gave her the most reassuring smile he could muster.
"Don't worry, Usagi-san. It wasn't any trouble at all, I promise." She sniffed. "I'm just glad I was there to help." He paused. This was it, if there was ever a time. "Do you want to talk about what happened?" She frowned, chewing her bottom lip before looking up at him.
"Why are you being so nice anyways?" He blinked. That wasn't exactly what he had expected, but at least she wasn't being hostile about it. "You've always been so mean to me anyways."
"Just because I tease you doesn't mean I don't care about you." She looked up sharply. He could feel the heat creeping across his face. Did I really just say that? "I mean, I couldn't just stand around a watch, you know?" Nice recovery. "Besides, I don't like to see anyone hurting like you are now." Still chewing on her lip, she nodded.
"I guess I can buy that." Another long pause as she kept chewing away at that lip. Then a small sigh and she looked up into his eyes again. Had he ever noticed how beautiful those cerulean eyes were? They seemed as deep as small oceans. 'I don't know who else I can talk to. I've tried to talk to the girls, but they just don't understand at all. And Luna is just…Luna." He blinked. Her cat? She gave him a deeply serious look. "Can I trust you, Mamoru-san?"
Suddenly he was feeling overwhelmed. What exactly was going on here? That girl that he'd had such a crush on was sitting across form him in a coffee shop asking for his word on his trustworthiness after he'd just saved her life from…well from herself, and after all of that she was talking about talking to her cat. He was starting to wonder if he was going insane.
"Of course you can trust me, Usagi-san. Don't be afraid to talk to me." He smiled the friendliest smile he could, and he felt warm to see even a hint of a genuine smile on her lips.
She must be crazy. Why him? A small voice in the back of her mind piped up. Because you don't know who else to turn to. She frowned, knowing that the voice was right. Who else was she supposed to talk to? If only she could just tell him everything – the real, full truth. How to start?
"Mamoru-san, I know this is all weird to you." He shrugged. "I guess I probably haven't been acting normal lately. I supposed I've just been preoccupied…distracted. I can't really talk about everything, but I've just been under a lot of pressure lately." She looked out the window at the eerily sunny day; almost as if it were mocking her pain.
"Is it school?" She looked back over at him. He was leaning forward on his elbows and watching her intently. She gave him a wry smile.
"It's school, my family, the girls, and…well it's just everything. I'm a lot different form most girls my age, Mamoru-san. Mamoru-kun, I suppose." At this she smiled faintly, and he smiled back. If only she knew how he had longed to be considered even her friend. "I know that a lot of girls say that, but I honestly mean it. It's not some teen angsty thing. I have this…problem, you might say, though I've been told I should think of it as a great gift. Sometimes it feels more like a punishment honestly." She paused, running the tip of her tongue over her lips, catching the sweet aftertaste of chocolate as she stared absently at people walking by outside. After a moment she turned back and smiled at him.
"Of course I have everyday problems too, much of it related to that one that looms over my life. I never have any time to study because duty calls, so my grades have been falling. I can't talk to my parents about it so they like everyone else," she gave him a pointed look, "think I'm just a flunky. They've yelled, they've grounded, they've even tried to bribe me into better grades but they just don't understand. No one does. Even the girls think I'm stupid." Her eyes were bright with unshed tears, yet she was still smiling, even if it was bitter. He reached out as if to take her hand, but he let his hand fall short. He didn't think either of them was quite ready for something so bold, even if it was only a friendly gesture. Instead he motioned for her to continue.
"I guess everyone just thinks of me as a ditz. Maybe it's true, but I don't really think so. Most of the time I just act that way because I don't want them to see what's inside of me. I don't think I could bear their pity." She looked at him hard, seeming to scrutinize every aspect of his face. "At least I don't see pity in your eyes. Let's go for a walk since it seems to be such a nice, sunny day." She stood up, stretched, and picked up her bag.
They walked through the gardens, taking in the deep scent of the flowers and enjoying the beauty of spring. When they came to a small section devoted to the roses, Usagi wanted to stop there. She guided Mamoru over to a bench and they both sat amongst the roses, enjoying their light scent and variety of colors. Usagi plucked a red one, mindful of the thorns, and breathed it in deeply. She spoke with a voice so soft at first that he almost couldn't hear her.
"There used to be someone…" She trailed off, and for a moment he thought his heart would too. Did she have a boyfriend that he didn't know about? "We weren't really close, but I used to feel I could count on him when I needed him most. I didn't really know him, but he was always there for me." She looked at him and smiled, somewhat warmly. "Kind of like how you saved me earlier from myself and how you're here with me now. It really matters to me a lot." He smiled back at her. All he wanted was to reach out and squeeze her hand, but he knew he shouldn't. She still seemed too delicate; though talking to him seemed to be helping a lot. Maybe all she needed was someone to talk to awhile – to just let some of it out. Almost as if reading his mind, she continued, "I don't ever really get to talk with anyone about how I really feel. Most people are too busy with their own problems, and apparently they don't think I have any of my own."
"So, what happened to the mystery guy? Doesn't he listen to you?" he asked, trying to keep her going. She was doing well so far, working things out in her own way. At this point she frowned, almost puzzled.
"I don't really know what happened to him. He never really stuck around to talk anyways, but one night he told me that I had some growing up to do and he just disappeared. I haven't seen him since then." A light came on in Mamoru's head. His eyes had grown wider as she spoke, and she completely failed to notice as she stared out at the sea of roses in front of her almost hypnotically.
"Sometimes I just don't understand. My life completely changed, I get put in charge of something I don't understand, sent on this stupid quest thing to find someone and something I don't think I'd recognize if they were shoved in my face, and I'm the one who gets told to grow up. I've had to do so much growing up in these past few months and no one seems to care." Her voice was growing steadily, getting closer to becoming frantic, and tears had begun to stream down her face. She seemed almost oblivious to Mamoru's presence, shocked though he was. Her hands held the rose in a tight grip, and he could see droplets of blood falling onto her pleated skirt from where the thorns bit into her soft skin.
"They just don't get it! The other girls act like it's perfectly normal, but then they all have ways to cope with it. Everyone else thinks I'm just dumb and lazy and a crybaby, but they just don't get it! They expect me to run out and save the day, but how could they understand it at all? I'm a teenager! I'm not supposed to deal with all of this! I'm not supposed to know what it's like…" her voice dropped from a fevered pitch to a hoarse whisper. "I'm not supposed to know what it's like to kill." At this she began to sob, hiding her face in her hands as the tears fell more and more.
Mamoru instinctively reached out, pulling her towards him and wrapping his arms around her shaking shoulders. He felt so utterly stunned and helpless. He had never thought about how her job must make her feel. And how could he possibly comfort her, or understand what she was going through? He barely understood what was going on himself. This girl he used to fight with and tease constantly was in his arms, crying with everything she was. And she had admitted something to him, something profound that had blown his mind; he didn't think she even knew.
He held her, and she cried. It seemed like hours upon hours went by. He was beginning to wonder if her tears would ever stop when she finally started to calm down. Her head lay weakly against his shoulder as she sniffled and hiccupped, scrubbing at the last few tears. He continued to hold her, now stroking her hair gently and murmuring comforting noises as the shaking subsided and her breathing slowed down. Soon enough he realized that she had fallen into an exhausted sleep.
Usagi woke up with her head pounding, feeling confused and groggy. She didn't recognize the bed she was laying in, or the room around her. As she sat up the sheets pooled around her waist and she rubbed at her tired eyes. She blinked against the late-afternoon sunlight streaming in through the window. Pulling the sheets back, she swung her legs carefully over the side of the bed and noted that her shoes had been removed for her. She stretched and took in the room, trying to ignore how awful she felt.
The room was fairly simple and so clean that she felt she should turn around and straighten the bed. Aside from the bed and a plain dresser, there was only a mirror, a small bedside table with a lamp and a couple books on it, and a chair with a man's bag sitting on it. Upon closer inspection she noticed the corner of something sticking out of it, and went over to investigate.
Her fingers pulled open the bag the slightest bit to reveal a small white mask. Her heart started pounding so hard she thought it might break her ribs. The mask sat on top of a good portion of black material. Her heart leaped when she realized what it was and she knew. She looked over at the door. All she had to do was open it. Before she realized what was happening her feet were moving and her hand was reaching for the knob.
The hallway was a blur. He wasn't in it, so it didn't matter. Her feet kept walking and she came to what seemed to be a living room, but it didn't matter either. The man in the adjoining kitchen did, and he spoke with his back to her. As he did, her eyes grew wide and her knees grew weak.
"I called you mother, don't worry. I told her, well I had a friend of yours tell her that you weren't feeling well and were going to stay over with her. I didn't think she'd appreciate you staying with a strange older man." Mamoru turned around and looked deeply into her eyes. "I'm sorry for telling you that you needed to grow up. I was wrong. I didn't know how much you were hurting inside."
Memories slammed into her, causing her to wonder just how many times she had tried to forget what had happened earlier that day. Images flooded her mind – Tuxedo Kamen soaring off into the night, the mask hidden in the bag, her crying on Mamoru's shoulder, the water swelling up below her as her hand let go of the railing, her telling him about her last meeting with Tuxedo Kamen, and the rose biting into her hands. It was almost too much. She began to sway, fighting to stay conscious. She heard his footsteps and fought harder. She began to fall, and not for the first time that day she felt those arms wrap around her; those arms that were becoming all too familiar.
She opened her eyes and saw two deep, ocean blue eyes staring into hers. If he wasn't holding her up, she would have fallen. He was so close that she could feel his breath brushing her face like soft down feathers. She was startlingly aware of how close they were; she could feel the electricity sparking through every part of her, especially where their bodies were touching. For a moment, the world paused. All she could hear was her heart pounding, all she could see was the blue of his eyes, and all she could feel was him. She barely had time to wonder why he was acting this way all of the sudden when he leaned forward and kissed her.
Bolts of electric heat burst through her. Her mind whirled as his lips softly brushed hers. His arms pulled her closer, trapping her within his kiss. She couldn't breathe. Her heart had stopped. Everything stopped. Have I felt this way all along? Has he? The little voice piped up again. Were you really so sad earlier? And does that even compare to this? Usagi didn't think so.
When Mamoru pulled away, she looked up into those eyes again and saw the same astonishment she felt. He cleared his throat.
"I've always wanted to do that." He released tight grip on her waist and she stumbled backward a bit. Her fingers rose to her lips and she stared wildly at him.
"Mamoru, I…I don't know what to say." She paused, for what seemed an eternity. "I guess I never knew you felt that way about – well about me in general. And to think that you're…you're…Wow." He smiled at her as she sat down on the couch. She chewed on her bottom lip a little while before continuing. "I guess maybe I've been looking at the wrong side of things…there's more to life than the bad things…it's just so hard and I'm so confused. I never know what I'm supposed to do or how I'm supposed to be." Mamoru walked over, knelt beside her, and placed his hands on her shoulders.
"Usagi-chan, don't be anything but yourself. If you try to be something else, it'll be artificial. You're beautiful inside and out, and if you try to change that you won't be the person everyone cares about." He seemed so serious until he smiled at her, and she couldn't help but smile back. "I care about you a lot. Don't worry about who to talk to or how you're supposed to feel, just feel the things your heart guides you to. As for someone, you have me, and I'll always be there for you. No more hiding, no more running away, and no more masks." He drew her toward him, wrapped his arms around her, and kissed her deeply. Her arms rose up and wrapped around his neck, and she smiled into his kiss.
Take my hand in yours
Stay by my side
A little longer
Look up there
From so long ago, that white moon above
A/N: Did you like it? I hope so. Please let me know what you did or didn't like. Oh, and yes I kind of did the identity-discovery-thing like in the manga sort of on purpose. It just came out that way lol. You should re-read the end and listen to "Romance" from the Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon (the live action) soundtrack. I was listening to it while I was writing – it makes it mushier hehe.