July 2008

Disclaimer 1: Sailor Moon is property of Naoko Takeuchi and this is her sandbox - I'm simply destroying the sandcastles

Timeframe: Set during the Anime during the infamous "breakup" period. Angsty and slightly unbalanced perhaps... Ages are taken from the Manga - Usagi is 15, Mamoru is 18, the rest is anime. Oh, and this is AU.

Author's Notes: Originally called "The Best of Intentions" this evolved into something I hadn't expected it to. Enjoy.

Summary: Spurned love isn't always logical...

--

Midnight Obsession

By Jade-Max

It started innocently enough - with the urge to see him.

Just see.

Their separation at his behest was something she couldn't fathom or accept and it was slowly killing her inside. The need to have some kind of contact - any contact beyond his rescues of her in uniform - drove her to do something rash... something she'd never have considered before. Something no one would ever have expected; something that would have shocked her friends and guardian into a stunned silence.

She broke into his apartment.

As if break and enter was bad enough, but repeated break and enter dulled her senses to the illegal aspect of it. After all, who would accuse Sailor Moon of being a cat burglar? Not just any cat burglar, but breaking into the apartment of the man who saved her on an almost daily basis - Tuxedo Kamen. Only her senshi might believe her and even then, they'd have thought she was joking - initially anyway.

Unfortunately, she was not.

It was almost a compulsion - an obsession - driving her to see him night after night in a desperate bid to quell the feeling of slowly being sucked of all purpose and intent; to stifle the feeling of being half of a whole that would never be complete again. The full force of that soul splitting agony struck her hardest at night when her barriers dropped and she tossed and turned, dreaming disturbing dreams that left her more restless than rested.

And so she'd hatched her plan.

To her credit, she left when called to battle - before he would wake to find her there. If no threat presented itself, she made a point to leave before he rose to go to school, or just before dawn - whichever came first - and it did nothing to improve her grades, disposition or punctuality. She often sneaked into her room just after sunrise to find her guardian still sleeping - blissfully unaware that her charge had not spent her night wrapped cozily in her bed.

Luna slept like the dead - much like Usagi once had. And for that she was grateful. No one seemed to notice how Usagi was slowly wasting away, eating little and sleeping less. What sleep she did get had her waking not long after Luna had curled herself to rest, waiting in the moon drenched darkness of her room for the guardian's breathing to even out. If she was really lucky, Luna was asleep when she woke and she didn't have to wait to continue her nightly absolutions.

Her obsession was all consuming. A need to be near, even silent and unseen, as close as she possibly could. It had led to the first night or two being spent on his balcony, unseen and unnoticed as she observed him through the window. The following nights she'd grown bolder, prying open his balcony door with a prize knife she'd won in some small change machine. She'd lost her nerve once the door had slid open to do more than step inside that first time, but the subsequent nights had seen her grow bolder - bold enough to finally settle herself on the edge of his bed.

It was how she'd discovered his nightmares - and how her touch could soothe them into nothingness. She didn't yet know of what he dreamt, only that for the first few minutes they always started the same. He whispered her name... and not just Usagi, but Usako - his name for her - with a smile. The dream was obviously pleasant enough when it began and she loved to see his lips curve into that smile; the smile he'd used to save just for her and now only existed in his dreams. It never lasted though. Somewhere in the middle of the dream, things went degenerated into Mamoru screaming about lies, her name becoming an anguished cry on his lips.

The first time she'd been caught off guard and nearly been exposed when he'd suddenly bolted upright, grasping his chest. Using the speed the Sailor Senshi were known for, she'd made it to the balcony in time to peer back around the curtains... only to find him holding his head in his hands, a film of perspiration shining on smooth, muscled skin. His words were soft, but she clearly heard his confused and broken tone.

Whatever he was dreaming about, didn't allow him to sleep for the rest of the night and she'd been forced to abandon her vigil. Shaken by the intensity of his nightmare - despite not being able to share it - she'd spent that night on her parent's roof watching the moon until it disappeared into the pre-dawn, aching for him because of the obvious agony the dream put him through.

The next night she'd been more careful, stroking his hand when the nightmare started. He'd seemed to calm under her touch and she'd grown bolder, whispering to him when the nightmare appeared to be coming back. The sound of her voice had helped - she didn't know how or why, but his hand had clung to hers and, unconsciously, she willed him to sleep peacefully. The wish, the desire to see him at peace, was so strong that it affected the Ginzuishou and the crystal responded.

There was no flash of light as she'd come to expect from the Crystal whenever it reacted to her, in fact, she didn't even realize she was pulling on its power as Mamoru's breathing suddenly hitched and then stopped, only to resume - this time deeper and more even. He'd drifted beyond the rem-sleep into the realm of dreamlessness.

Sailor Moon had sat beside him, holding his hand, and watched him sleep the first peaceful sleep he'd had in weeks. That, come morning, she knew he wouldn't know of her involvement made her heart ache, but she was glad he would sleep peacefully. Her nights changed after that point. She would touch him, caress his hand and cheek when the nightmare began to intensify, talk to him and try to bring him a measure of peace and when it failed she willed him to find the sleep his nightmares denied him.

And so her life continued.

Mamoru looked far better - no longer the drawn and uptight college student who didn't appear to sleep - but he treated her no differently. He avoided her, going out of his way to ensure their paths didn't cross and left the arcade before she could arrive. She knew because his cup was still sitting on the counter to be taken away by Motoki when she arrived after school, breathless and eager to see his well rested face.

He was never there.

The Senshi continued to plague her, demanding she get more sleep and take care of herself, so Usagi used the Disguise Pen to alter her appearance. It was a simple command - make me look refreshed! - and did nothing to drain the pen's power. A quick look in the mirror proved that it hid the bags under her eyes and the lack of luster to her hair. Upon seeing her improved appearance, the concern of her friends ebbs to a mild, far away one that they didn't address or comment on when her eyes would follow Mamoru's form across the park.

Despite her ingenious deception, Usagi's sleepless nights continued, grabbing no more than an hour or two and she spent more of her nights ensuring that Mamoru slept well. Only when Luna refused to sleep was Usagi forced to stay in bed. And those nights - thankfully - were few and far between. Usagi could do little more than toss and turn on those nights, wondering if all her hard work would be undone by Luna's insomnia.

And some days, it seemed as if it had. The nights she wasn't at Mamoru's side, he was harsh to her the next morning - but she could see beyond that facade now. She could see how much he hurt because of something he dreamt - she wasn't stupid and connecting the dots was easy enough despite her perpetually exhausted state. Only when he had his nightmares did he lash out at her - did he push her away.

So she made a point of being with him as he slept to avoid more heartache of her own. Through experimentation, she would he responded to the touch of her bare skin far more easily and readily that that of her gloved hands. She discovered she could kiss him - and have him kiss her back - if she kept it light and indistinct. A near discovery during an intent and involved kiss had taught her further caution.

Mamoru's expression the day following that kiss had been intent and she'd felt him looking at her - really looking - for the first time in weeks. Flustered and excited, she turned to find him staring, a question in his gaze and she'd looked hastily away before making a fool of herself. She wanted nothing more than to run over and throw herself into his arms.

But she couldn't.

As much as she wanted to, there was a silent query to his look she found unnerving - as if he knew something or suspected something - about her midnight visits. It was preposterous of course - he hadn't yet caught her in the act - but she knew better than to submit to his questions. He was too intelligent not to figure it out if he should speak to her.

For the first time, she walked away from him and his piercing stare had almost made her falter... almost as if he could see through her disguise and through to the exhaustion that marked her every moment. It was as ridiculous a notion as the thought he knew of her visits.

Despite the knowledge, she'd been unable to bring herself to visit him that night and instead took a night to strategize - and deal with the Dark Moon's latest ploy. Surprisingly, she'd foiled them without the other Senshi or Tuxedo Kamen and she was almost sorry she had - anything to feel his arms about her once more.

Once again, following her absence from his beside vigil, his look had closed the next morning and the nightmares had driven him back. It was almost as if he blamed her for their resurgence - and in a way she supposed he did. Unconsciously, when she was with him, he knew she was there. She often wondered if he woke with the same impression but had never stuck around to find out. Instead she flitted away like a ghost, leaving him to wake without her. It hurt, knowing she couldn't watch him wake, knowing she couldn't be with him - that she no longer had the right to ask about his nightmares; or any reason as to why she would know about them.

It hurt that he refused to confide in her.

So days slipped into weeks and weeks into a month. The senshi tried to keep her spirits lifted and despite the Pen's power, they could tell she wasn't her normal self.

If only they knew.

Usagi didn't dare confide in the senshi or Luna for the simple fact that she knew with absolute certainty they'd try and stop her. Luna would no longer sleep during the night, but watch her avidly. The senshi themselves would likely conspire with her to ensure she was never left alone. And she couldn't risk it.

Without her nightly, clandestine visits to Mamoru's apartment, Usagi knew she would die. Slowly, agonizingly, as if her soul was being shredded bit by horrifying bit. Only his presence, his reactions to her while he slept, kept her focused. They fueled her the way food once had, giving her the strength necessary to make it through subsequent days.

Until she was caught out by an unexpected source...

--

A showcase on the senshi one night almost six weeks from her first midnight visit to Mamoru's drew her attention to the television as Shingo turned up the volume. Tempted to blast him for it, she opened her mouth to do just that when what the announcer's words cut through her brain and stilled her tongue.

"-till unconfirmed sightings of one of the senshi in Juuban have led us to believe that one of them may in fact either live or know someone in one of these buildings."

Usagi whirled towards the television set, paling when she recognized the block where Mamoru lived. Footage of her, dressed as Sailor Moon - and obviously taken by an amateur - rolled across the screen and Shingo gave an excited shout. There was no mistaking the long hair - or the hairstyle - and Usagi's heart sank.

"Sailor Moon!"

The cry was lost as Usagi focused on the announcer's voice, tuning out her brother.

"The footage was obtained by an avid stargazer who claims to have several instances from the past several weeks of this same senshi - believed to be the heroine Sailor Moon - moving through this block. It is unknown if she lives in the area or is only passing through and eye witness accounts state that while the senshi is frequently sighted, her destination is unknown. No reports of -"

"Hey, baka! I was watching that!"

Usagi placed the remote control back on the side table, casting her brother a dark look, and darted away. She was shaking - that broadcast had likely been mostly about the Dark Moon family and their flying saucers - and none of the senshi or Mamoru would have missed it. Mamoru would most certainly recognize his own area of town and draw... what conclusions exactly?

The date on the video of her silhouette was a day there had been no attacks. Chibi-Usa had been tucked safely in her own room - Usagi knew because she'd checked before leaving - and it had been the perfect opportunity to slip away. Trembling, she closed and locked her bedroom door, sliding down to the floor as she stared at the darkened interior without seeing it.

Her communicator beeped, making her flinch, and she pulled it from her pocket slowly. Only the desire to avoid having her family as what the noise was kept her from throwing it across the room and ignoring it. Hino Rei's face appeared in the view screen as Usagi flipped it on.

"Usagi!"

She flinched at the accusation in Rei's tone. "Hai, Rei-chan. Did I miss a battle?"

"Iie - but you've been keeping something from us."

The call was obviously not about a new threat. "Luna will have you head for using the communicator for something that's not senshi business, Rei-chan. Try the phone; it's not so obvious."

Rei's astonished expression disappeared as Usagi shut it off. The beeping began almost immediately, this time the symbol of Mercy lighting up. Usagi flipped it on and off immediately, rotating through the symbols of her friend's planets one after another as they each tried to call her. Finally, after several minutes of off and on and off again, the symbols no longer lit up and her friends gave in.

Knowing they would come looking for her next, she glanced about to ensure Luna was nowhere around and called out her henshin phrase. She'd discovered early that the volume of the phrase did nothing to diminish the rush of power as the transformation took her and the whispered words barely passed her lips.

Leaping from her bedroom window - and leaving her light off - she was careful to avoid detection. She'd grown careless over the last few weeks and there was video evidence to prove it. Leaping mightily, she used her senshi speed to avoid being seen, heading for the business district of Juuban. Leaping to the top of the skyscrapers in leaps and bounds, she headed for one of the tallest buildings, settling herself on the edge with a graceful twirl as she let her legs dangle over the side.

Staring out across the cityscape, she looked down at Juuban park; the sapphire of the lake glistened in its center. An ache filled her throat. After that broadcast, she didn't dare visit Mamoru again - not by that route - and because of it his nightmares would resume and any of the warmth she'd only recently began to see would once again fade. The longer his nightmares disappeared, the better he treated her.

There was a connection was there - his nightmares obviously had something to do with his cold shoulder routine - but she didn't know what. She'd never seen his nightmare, couldn't understand what he'd see or hear that would make him abandon her. And that was what she felt.

Abandoned.

After a thousand years of waiting for him, or knowing they'd be reborn to find one another, he'd broken his vow to her. He'd sworn as Endymion to never hurt her, never leave her - never let anything come between them. As Mamoru he'd done the same, vowing to protect her no matter what dangers they'd faced. Whatever the nightmare, it had to have been terrifying for him to break his promise.

Her shoulders hunched forward and the glamour of the Disguise Pen has dropped away when overridden by her transformation into Sailor Moon. The urge to cry was almost overwhelming, but her eyes remained surprisingly dry. She'd cried so much over the last weeks; it should have come as no shock that the well had eventually dried. The tightness in her throat as she stared at the setting sun was the only symptom that tears should be threatening and she swallowed to get it to leave.

No matter how much she wanted to cry, it wasn't going to happen.

"A little early to be star gazing."

Her head spun about with a dull sound as she cracked something, so quickly did it turn. Her hair flew into her face and she had to shake her head - despite knowing what she would see - to clear her line of vision.

Black.

A black tuxedo, black shoes, a black top hat; a black, red-lined cape - and a white mask.

"Tuxedo Kamen-sama." His name almost stuck in her throat and came out stuttered. Fear gripped her for the first time in his presence and she shifted on her precarious perch. It was the first time he'd come looking for her - if indeed he had - since their breakup. Discounting of course, his continued rescues in battle. "If this is your building, I'll leave."

The arch of one perfect eyebrow was visible over his mask. "I've no claim to it, Sailor Moon. Do you?"

"Iie." Her throat closed and the word came out a whisper. Pain rocketed through her system as she clenched her hands about the edge of the building. Something gave under that grip and she glanced down to see her fingers digging into concrete to the first of her knuckles. Ignoring him - she doubted he'd really come looking for her anyway - she did her best to displace the image looking at him had left burned into her retina.

He looked good - so good that only her grip on the building stopped her from making yet another fool of herself. She refused to give into temptation and throw herself into his arms. Now matter that she'd spent the last weeks as a silent shadow at his bedside so he could sleep, she couldn't deal with him awake anymore; she couldn't bear the pain of his biting remarks.

"I'll leave if you like."

There was no answer to her soft offer, but she knew he was still behind her. She always knew. A part of her was tuned to him so tightly - so accurately - she always knew when he was around. Watching her - there was something in the power of his gaze that made her body tremble under his intense looks. It was something magical and wonderful - and something she could no longer call hers.

"Is that what you want?"

His counter question caught her off balance and she responded without thinking. "It's what you want, isn't it?"

"Iie."

She stiffened at his soft admission. "Then what do you want - Chiba-san?"

Silence greeted her question. Did he know what he wanted? Bitterness drove her fingers into the concrete once more, digging deeper without realizing the strength of her hold. Of course he knew what he wanted. Chiba Mamoru - Tuxedo Kamen - always knew what he wanted... and it wasn't her.

"Formality is unnecessary - we are not such strangers, Usako."

"Don't call me that!" Whirling indignantly, she regained her feet with a powerful push of her hands and teetered on the edge of the building for a moment before stepping away from the edge to solid ground. "You gave up your claim to me when you pushed me away. When you said you don't... that you don't l-love..." Real tears threatened - the burning sensation behind her eyes as powerful as the closing of her throat as it choked off what she had to say - yet, her eyes remained dry. She really had no more tears to cry. Inhaling deeply, she pushed past the knot, forcing herself to say the words. "When you said you don't love me anymore. I didn't believe you then, and I don't - I won't - believe you now, but it's not fair to toy with me like this!"

"I am not toying with you."

She waved one had at him. "You're here - and you're looking as good as ever... and you're just going to say something to make me cry." A harsh laugh escaped. "Or you'll try."

"Making you cry was not my intention."

"And neither was breaking my heart, but you did that too, didn't you?" A sigh escaped and her anger drained away as she turned her back on him. "Just... just go away, Tuxedo Kamen-sama. I don't need your help right now and there is no danger here. Leave me in peace."

"Will you do me the same courtesy?"

Lifting her head, she stared at the fading rays of the now set sun as the sky began to darken to black. The moon had yet to rise and she silently wished it would hurry - she could use its bolstering presence. "I don't bother you."

"I saw the news, Sailor Moon."

Unable to dignify his implication with an answer, she didn't even try. Instead, she remained as she was, staring at the sunset without really seeing it. An abstract part of her mind wanted to know why they never viewed sunsets when they'd been romantically involved. A fist clenched, straining the fabric of her glove. The sight might have been romantic, but the context in which it was viewed made all the difference.

"What were you doing there?"

His question was soft, closer than before, and she had to straighten her spine in an effort to ignore him. Everything within her was screaming for release - any kind of release - be it a physical emulation of her emotions or otherwise. No matter, she couldn't - wouldn't - answer him. Remaining stubbornly silent, she continued to stare at the darkening sky.

The snap of the wind throwing his cape around caught her attention but she wouldn't turn to face him. Toeing the dust she'd created from her earlier grip over the side of the building she made a sudden decision. If he was just going to stand there, she had no desire to stick around.

Asleep, she could handle him; he was softer, inclined to be swayed by her charms and touch.

Here, with several feet between them, nothing she said or did was going to deter him from his way of thinking. Whatever he thought of her now wasn't going to be changed simply by a few words. Her explanation was weak at best and made her seem pitifully small compared to him. His ability to stay away astounded and confounded her; her own inability to live without him a direct contrast to his strength.

Without a word, she stepped forward and dropped off the edge of the building, catching a ledge several meters below with the heels of her boots before launching herself into an impressive jump. If nothing else, her clandestine activities had given her a newfound respect for her powers and taught her how to use them to her own advantage. If Tuxedo Kamen said anything to try and get her to stop, it was lost in the rush of wind and adrenaline as she caught a narrow ledge and pushed off in a completely opposite direction.

Running was futile - be it in civilian or henshin - and she knew it. He would find her - he always did - if he wanted to force the issue. She hoped he wouldn't - there was no logical way to explain her presence near his place of residence. As smart as he was, he'd be able to connect the days she'd been seen in the area to the nights the nightmares hadn't plagued him - or had been eased.

Would he thank her?

Strong hands suddenly twined about her waist, fingers digging into her sides as she was snagged mid jump. A squeak escaped her lips as she was upended mid-flight and turned into the cradle of his arms. "What are you-"

"Not a word."

Blinking, she snapped her mouth shut. Irritation and annoyance were prominent in his tone, only this time there was something else. Something she knew intimately from the last weeks - something his touch, even now, was chasing away to the far recesses of her memory; hurt. Regardless of what he'd done to her, she had no desire to see him hurt. In fact, she had no desire to cause him pain at all - or to see him in pain. It was one of two driving factors behind her midnight obsession.

The other - the purely selfish one to ease her own - might have been how it started, but it had become second to seeing him well rested and nightmare free.

Tuxedo Kamen didn't release her as he flew onwards, using speed and power to propel them beyond the edge of the city and into the surrounding mountains. Sailor Moon shivered in his grasp as the cool air brushed across her skin with the speed of their flight. They descended into a sheltered valley where he finally released her from his hold - only to take her by the shoulders instead.

His hat and mask were lost with an impatient flick of one wrist as he stared down at her. "Explain, Sailor Moon."

"Explain what?" She tried to wrench free of his grip, but he wouldn't allow her. "That you're going to bruise me if you keep holding on so tight?"

"Why were you in that part of the city night after night?"

Looking away, she was unable to meet his gaze. "I don't sleep well anymore so I do laps around the city."

"The truth, Usa."

It wasn't her pet name, but it was close - still, he'd heeded her request not to use his pet name for her and that was good enough for now. "Quid pro quo, Mamoru-san."

"Nani?"

Marshalling her courage, she found the strength to meet his searching look with one of her own. "Something for something - quid pro quo."

"Where did you learn that?"

Arching an eyebrow, Usagi had thought it was obvious. "Ami-chan; where else?"

A grin tugged at the corner of his lips, but disappeared almost immediately. "What do you want in return?"

"The truth - about why you really broke up with me."

His hands dropped away as if scalded, his expression closing. "I told you already-"

"And I don't believe you!" Something inside her snapped and carried through to her tone. "If I tell you what I've been doing, then you have to do the same. Quid pro quo, Mamoru-san, or I find my own way home, your protection be damned."

He glanced back towards the city. "It wouldn't be such a chore for you to find your way home; you can see the city plainly."

"It would be a chore if you chose to dog my steps." She couldn't keep the bitterness from her words. "Your answer?"

He remained impassively silent.

Pinning him with a long, piercing look, she turned her back and started walking towards the city lights. It would take her several hours to get home from there - the good thing was that it would hopefully wear her out and she might end up sleeping solidly for several hours. "I'll take that as a no. Goodnight, Chiba-san."

His hand closed about her upper arm, jerking her back and spinning her so she stood facing him - a half step brought her flush against his chest. "Quit calling me that!"

"What would you prefer I call you?"

"Anything but Chiba-san," his expression was dark. "It's too..."

"What - impersonal?" Jerking her arm free, she stepped away. "You've been nothing but impersonal since you broke up with me. Why shouldn't I treat you the same way?"

"I have never - not once - called you Tsukino-san."

He might have slapped her and had less of an impact. The rawness of his tone indicated just how badly the impersonal and formal address had hurt; and he was right. "Gomen, Mamoru-san."

A sharp nod was her reply. "I agree to your terms, Usa; I will tell you, if you explain to me why you have been in my neighborhood after hours."

Grabbing her broach, Usagi let the henshin fade until she stood before him as nothing but herself. No power of Sailor Moon to help hide her fatigue, no Disguise Pen magic to help her seem refreshed. Her haggard appearance was completely offset by the shine in her gaze - but it was his shocked step backwards that told her she'd affected him.

If it was the way her hair lacked luster - once a fine satin and now reduced to the color and texture of straw - or if it was the massive black circles under her eyes, or perhaps the obvious way her uniform hung off her body the way it hadn't in the past, she didn't know. Whatever feature shocked him most - or if it was a combination of them as a whole - she didn't know and she didn't really care.

She was wasting away and he deserved to see it, especially since it was all his fault.

"I told you, I haven't been sleeping well." Turning her back on him, she wandered a few feet away, wrapping her arms about herself to ward off the chill breeze that slid down from the mountains. "Why you no longer feel bound to me doesn't matter, only that I still am bound to you in ways I do not understand. Without you I feel lost, adrift - half of a whole that lacks purpose or direction. I feel myself slowly dying, fading... becoming a shadow of my former self."

Nothing Mamoru could have said would have changed her appearance or the evidence his senses left him with. She truly did look as if she were fading away - only her spirit refused to let her die.

Usagi shivered in the cold. "Your absence was the cause, Mamoru-san. Be you Endymion, Tuxedo Kamen or Mamoru, the need to be around you is overpowering. I realized about a month ago that if I did not see you, could not... could not touch you - even in passing - that I would continue to fade until there would be nothing left except the shadow I was starting to become. I find no joy in life, no purpose - even in protecting Chibi-Usa or the world. Without you..." she trailed off.

Warmth enveloped her and she clung to it gladly as she realized he'd slid his cloak about her shoulders, wrapping it tightly around her before stepping away once more. The fabric cut the chill to an almost non-existent whisper and the scent rising from it wrapped around her heart, making it ache as she wished the cape wasn't just his cape - but his arms as well. "I never intended to enter your apartment, Mamoru-san, but the balcony door was open and I couldn't bear to watch another of your nightmares."

"What do you know about those?"

Turning to face him, Usagi was unable to keep the echoed pain of his experiences from her posture. She didn't even try so tired was she in hiding it all. "I know I can't stand to see you hurt like that. The first night you had that... that dream I thought it served you right with the way you were treating me. That maybe it was your heart's way of punishing you for breaking up with me. I didn't know then that you dream the same dream every night - or that you wake up and argue with yourself. I knew before I came to your balcony that you were not sleeping well, I just didn't understand why."

"You stopped them."

Flinching, she looked away. "I couldn't bear to see you hurt like that."

"What did you do, Usa? How did you make them stop?"

Her gaze flew back to his. There was no condemnation in his, no anger - only curiosity and acceptance - an echo of the love that still simmered between them. A love he'd been denying and she still didn't understand why. "I held your hand."

"You touched me."

She nodded. "And I used the Ginzushou."

Mamoru's gaze intensified. "Why risk yourself like that?"

"I love you, Mamo-chan." Where she'd wanted strength, the words came out almost exhausted, wan and without vigor. She was too exhausted to give them the power they should have had and didn't even notice the use of her pet name for him. "The risk is no risk at all when I see my life without you."

"Is that all you've been doing? Breaking into my apartment and sitting with me as I slept?"

"Hai."

"I thought you were a dream." Mamoru stepped towards her then, one hand coming up to cup her face, his thumb brushing across her cheek. "I thought you were there in spirit, Usako, not that you truly sat beside me."

"I did it for me as much as for you, Mamoru-san."

"Mamo-chan," his correction was gentle. "Always your Mamo-chan."

"But you're not mine anymore, are you?"

"I'm yours. I always have been, I always will be. That nightmare is the reason I've been so cold, Usa - and you're the reason they've stopped."

"Only when I'm there," Usagi pulled away from his touch. "I know because the day after you've had one, you're always meaner - and even though you're mean, at least you talk to me."

Mamoru's hand dropped to his side, his gaze turning haunted. "I see you die, Usako. I watch as you're torn from my arms and have to hear you scream. You beg me to save you, to rescue you and there's nothing - not a damn thing - I can do about it. The dream is a warning in of itself, but there's always a voice that comes afterwards. It tells me to stay away, that to be close to you means your death."

"Immediately?"

He shook his head. "Soon after we're married."

Usagi stared at him, but there was something in his expression that told her he was telling the truth this time... that whatever he'd done, he'd done to protect her. "You've been cruel, said all of those hurtful things - just to protect me?" Extending one hand to him, she couldn't help but notice the tremble as tears - real tears - stung her eyes. "Mamo-chan..."

"My life without you, knowing you're alive and safe without me, is better than knowing you're gone for good. I can't bear the thought of your death."

"And I can't bear the thought of life without you. Don't you see? I don't care if I die if it means I can be with you!"

"Baka!" Mamoru's tone was sharp. "If the dream means what I think it means - your life is more important than everything. Without you, we can't defeat the Black Moon!"

"I don't care!" She lifted her arms, tearing his cape from her shoulders and flinging it at him spitefully. "I'm dying without you anyway, what does it matter if I die now or ten years in the future?"

"Don't say that." He made to grab her but she danced back, out of reach. "If I wanted you dead, I'd have continued on as we were!"

"And If I wanted you gone, I'd have ended our relationship myself!" She spread her arms wide, the wind whipping her too-loose uniform about her skeletal frame, showing a hint of her ribs under her shirt as it danced in the breeze. "You dream was right about one thing, Mamoru-san. You'll be the death of me."

"Usako!"

Turning, Usagi made to run, but Mamoru was on her in a heartbeat - she was no match for his henshined speed - and one moment she'd been stepping across snow covered grass, the next she was scooped up close to his hard, warm chest. His arms about her were like a godsend - her legs had been trembling so badly, she wouldn't have lasted more than a step or two.

"Never say that," he glared down at her, her words having drawn blood. "I'm only trying to protect you!"

"Hurting me is not the way to protect me." Meeting his gaze, Usagi lifted a trembling hand to his cheek. "End my nightmare, Mamo-chan - end it and I swear I'll help you end yours."

Mamoru crouched as he hit the ground, cradling her in his arms as their foreheads touched. Azure eyes the color of the midnight sky stared down solemnly into hers, his query ragged. "Promise?"

"Hai. I-"

Warmth and fire raced through her system as his lips smothered hers in a desperate caress. It was a promise and an apology all wrapped into one. He was sorry for the way he'd acted, sorry for causing her pain and swore from the bottom of his heart to never put her through anything like it again.

When he pulled back, the look in his eyes was everything she'd missed. Love shone from their depths tinted with concern. "Never again."

Clutching him tightly, she closed her eyes and curled close to his chest. "Can I stay with you tonight, Mamo-chan?"

"On once condition."

She'd have agreed to just about anything as he held her close and settled for nodding her head. "Okay."

Hic chuckle rumbled through his chest. "We do dinner – and you eat everything I put in front of you."

Laughing softly, she glanced up at him with a tumultuous smile and as their eyes locked, her world seemed to settle into the comforting rhythm she'd missed so much. Eating for him was something she intended to enjoy.

fin