These characters do not belong to me in any way. They are Naoko Takeuchi's creations, the credit for them is due to her.

(.033) too much

The sky was falling. The world was going to be swallowed in the terrible sky above her. That's what she was convinced of; she believed it more than anything else at that moment. The clouds above were a threatening color of smoky grey, black streaked the top of the sky as though smeared in paint by a massive hand, and every minute or so, a flare of jarring white would signal the strikes of steady lightning. She wasn't afraid, she was terrified.

It was a ridiculous moment for her, as droplets of water did not so much splatter as drench her in what seemed to be torrents of water. Shivering more from fear than cold, Usagi was shaking in an overlarge lime green raincoat, her yellow linen skirt soaking wet and clinging to her knees while she quaked in her mother's rain boots. Two very wet blond pigtails descended from within her green rain hood and dripped a cold trail of water down her back.

Usagi looked absolutely ridiculous, and maybe later, she'd have the time to make faces at what she'd pulled on before leaving her home in a rush. But at the moment, she couldn't find it in herself to care, because her heart was pounding too quickly, and her breath was coming too fast, and nothing seemed to matter very much anymore except for finding Rini, and then getting the heck away from this thunderstorm, because she hated them worse than anything else. Usagi would rather face a dozen monsters at any moment than wander around terrified under this storm.

For a moment below the fearsome sky, the blonde girl peered up at the heavens from underneath a pink umbrella. Eyes of glittering blue were cast upwards in wide, fear-filled stare. Just for a few precious seconds, the rain became soundless to her, the faraway flash of lightning slowed; the whole world seemed to stop as the face of the heavens looked down into the youthful face of a frightened girl. The sky eyed the moon child. She stared back in wordless fear, and for a moment, awe.

That moment ended resoundingly as the thunder roiled deeply before crashing in a deafening boom that she felt reverberate in the sidewalk below her feet. With a scream that was lost in the thunder, Usagi jumped into a sprint and dashed forward, unaware that her fingers had loosed and released the umbrella; she was busy tripping in her mother's clunky boots and praying the whole way…

Please don't let me die, please don't let me die, please don't let me die, please don't let me die.

Another crack of thunder kept her running for her life and sent the first wave of tears streaking down her face. The tears mingled with the rain water, and she could no longer see, but she was scared out of her mind and she could never run fast enough to escape this storm.

Just half a block away, she spotted it: a blurred figure under an umbrella, wearing a jacket in a truly hideous shade of green. She would have sobbed in relief had she any breath left, but she was breathless as she barreled toward him, landing in every puddle along the way but unable to think of anything but the roaring sky.

"Mamoru!" Usagi was barely aware of crying out his name, but the man ahead of her stopped and then turned to face her, just in time for her to slam into him running full-force.

Familiar eyes of midnight blue widened and seemed to grow darker at the sight of her.

"Odango?" She could hear the startled confusion in his voice, but she couldn't even look up, she was shaking so hard that she was embarrassed, but she was trying her best to keep from wailing outright, so she improvised by squeezing her face into his solid, warm chest and clutching her arms around him tightly. She was afraid of what he was going to say, but she was far too frightened to say or do anything without bawling her eyes out. Usagi could almost feel his hesitation, and he just barely touched her, unsure of what to do. She could feel him slowly put an arm around her, and his hand tentatively crept up to pat her damp hair. Quietly, Usagi sniffled and sank into his grasp, swallowing her self-consciousness as she tried to ignore the thunder, still growling like a wounded animal above them.

"Don't like storms, huh, Odango?" Mamoru broke the silence finally, but when Usagi made no reply, he let her go and held her back to look down at her. Usagi straightened under his gaze and eyed him warily. When she said nothing, he sighed, considering her the faintest of smiles before he held out his umbrella. Usagi looked at it, her mouth opening for a moment in surprise.

"You're giving it to me?" she blurted out in amazement, as Mamoru's smile became a smirk.

"Yes, that is the point of holding it out like this," he gestured to the umbrella sarcastically. "But this is the only time, Odango. I don't have enough umbrellas to give out to every dumpling-headed girl who runs out in the rain without one," he said, reaching out and physically closing her hand around the handle of his umbrella. Her stomach whirled at the warmth of his fingers on hers, and Usagi blanched, reeling from the sudden reaction to his touch, and so instead she reached out for the familiar irritation that she associated with him.

"Don't bother!" she cried angrily, her surge of annoyance overriding her fear momentarily. Usagi held out his umbrella in anger, refusing it like a stubborn child. To her chagrin, Mamoru began to chuckle at her antics, ignoring that it was his umbrella she brandished at him threateningly. As he laughed, his mouth quirked up into a cocky little grin, and watching him made her insides twist in a desire to laugh with him. Rage filled her, both at his laughter and at the pleasure she felt in watching him, and so Usagi dropped the umbrella and let it fall to their feet.

"Keep your umbrella and save yourself the trouble, you jerk!" she shouted at him. She noticed that his laughter had vanished, and he took a step towards her, a frown spreading across his face. Usagi backed away from him, finally in control of herself in the familiar stride of her anger. A familiar beeping sounded from her pocket, and Usagi turned to leave, still scowling. "And stop calling me odango!" she yelled over her shoulder as she broke into a run. As she ran, she could hear him call out her name, for once he had actually called her Usagi, but she had already sped down to the corner and out of sight.

By the time she had gotten most of the way into the downtown and transformed in a wave of colorful light, Sailor Moon could already hear the shouts and booms of an ongoing battle. As she raced toward the sounds, she could make out the voices of her fellow Sailor Soldiers, was able to distinguish the familiar pattern of alternately called out attacks and their warnings and encouragement to one another. Above her, she could still feel and hear the threat of the storming sky, as the rain fell in heavy sheets of water, but she tried to forget those fears, to focus on the present situation. As a particularly loud crash raked the street and sent people scattering fearfully past her, Sailor Moon finally reached the fight, and eyed the culprit with wary eyes.

The monster turned at once to face her, two frightening icy blue eyes locked with her own, narrowing into slits of displeasure as the unattractive feminine face twisted into a grotesque expression. Sailor Moon made a face of disgust as the monster moved impatiently in place, its body tensed and tightened in anticipation. As she gazed at the incisor-like claws that extended from each of the creature's hands, a sarcastic voice suddenly spoke from just behind her. "Could have gotten here a little sooner, couldn't you?" Sailor Mars asked abruptly before seizing Sailor Moon by the shoulders and dragging her roughly out of the path of the creature's unexpected attack.

"Hey, I'm here now, so cool it, Mars," Sailor Moon coolly replied as she pulled herself away from the fire warrior. The other three Sailors immediately leapt to their side; Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter aligned themselves beside them to face off against the beast, whose lips had opened to reveal a row of fangs, snarling and snapping violently at the five girls. Without warning, the monster's face pulled back into a hideous leer, and it flew forth so fast that there was no time to act, it raised its claws and swiped at Sailor Venus. Swiftly, the blond fighter moved away from the claws and she arched backwards into a back flip, landing squarely on her heels with such grace that Sailor Moon felt disgraceful. The other four had the skills and reflexes of finely trained warriors, whereas she was often sent reeling by the slightest attack, stumbling and just barely falling out of the way of harm. Who was supposed to be the fearless leader, after all? She disguised her feelings of inadequacies by striking a righteous pose. "You come out in the rain to prey on the innocent, but I stand for justice! You try to attack my friends, but I stand for love, and I will not tolerate your evil intentions! In the name of the Moon, I shall punish you!"

"Enough with the speeches, let's finish that monster," Sailor Venus suggested, glaring at the monstrous figure.

The blue-haired Sailor Mercury already had whipped out her pocket-sized computer for analysis, her fingers furiously pushing data into the keypad as she surveyed the monster with a frown. "There's no obvious weakness for us to attack," Sailor Mercury spoke grimly, "but if we all focus enough rapid attacks to distract it, the Moon Scepter should finish it off. Sailor Moon, can you get close enough to use the Scepter?"

At the words of her friend, Sailor Moon's heart thumped nervously faster, but she smiled determinedly and flashed a thumbs-up, unwilling to show her fears. "You got it! That ugly thing is as good as gone!" With that, her four friends scattered away to surround the monstrous form. With a tentative step forward, the monster opened its mouth wide and let out an ear-piercing shriek that Sailor Moon felt down to her bones; but as it moved towards her, Sailor Jupiter shouted and released a clap of thunderous energy that knocked the demon back onto its haunches. Drawing in a deep breath of air, Sailor Moon nodded gratefully to Jupiter before she took off barreling towards the felled monster. As she watched, Mars shot an array of fiery blasts onto the fiend, which screamed in pain and rage and attempted to raise its claws at the attacker, only to be encircled by a powerful golden chain that Venus held tightly.

"Now, Sailor Moon!" Venus shouted, but Sailor Moon needed no invitation. In her haste, she had run nearly past the creature as she twirled to cry out her attack.

"Moon…Princess...oh, no-!" The demon twisted back upwards, only to slash six-inch long claws at Sailor Moon's face. Not now, Usagi inwardly pleaded as she fell against the monster, just barely catching herself before those claws grazed her face. The beast growled and shrieked another unearthly wail. Even as she held the beast by the forearms and tried to force it away, the monster's scream continued, and the sound deepened, and for an instant, it seemed to rip into her, the sound tearing past her flesh and reverberating painfully within her. The seconds slipped past soundlessly for a moment, and Sailor Moon had time to observe the world around her moving slowly: Sailor Mars, Mercury, Venus, and Jupiter's mouth were open and moving in agitation, they seemed to be shouting but she could not hear them at first, while the squirming monster's screams were growing slowly louder before her…

Then suddenly everything burst back into life again, and the Sailor Soldier's cries erupted around her, screaming at her to move, to get away. The demon was still howling, its twisted face was alarmed and vicious before her eyes, and although she could feel pain as the long claws clutched over her shoulders and began to shred past her Sailor uniform, Sailor Moon found she was unable to move. Her eyes remained wide, and her hands did not budge from their grip on the monster; her body was completely immobile and unyielding to her desire to run.

"Run, Sailor Moon, goddamnit!" Sailor Mars yelled, but it was all she could do to flick her eyes at her raven-haired friend in horror, still pleading inwardly for rescue as the pain in her shoulders increased tenfold. Within moments, Sailor Mars had sprung to her side and attempted to tug Sailor Moon away, just as the others advanced on the monster, but their efforts proved to no avail. Sailor Moon could not be moved, but the monster reacted violently to the close proximity of the Sailor scouts. It wrenched out from Sailor Moon's grasp, and backed away, its shrieks ended, but its temper undoubtedly piqued as it stepped forward, snarling. The thunder crashed unpredictably from above as the rain continued to pour down.

As soon as the monster had pulled away, Sailor Moon crumpled like a doll, no longer rigid and frozen, but instead she lay limp and unmoving in the street, still unable to speak while Sailor Mars struggled to lift her away from the battle. To both their horror, the monstrous form burst mercilessly into their midst, and as it brought its claws down, the Sailor scouts dodged and ducked out of range, but Sailor Mars was half-carrying Sailor Moon and unable to avoid the assault. The other scouts shouted in alarm, but too late; the monster advanced on the two.

With a roar, the demon struck Mars first, raking her across collarbone and shoulder and throwing her down to the asphalt. Covered in her own blood, Sailor Mars feebly strained to defend herself and her friend, only to see the monster open its mouth and scream at her, yet again a terrible, otherworldly noise. Within moments, Mars fell back to the ground and stayed there, unmoving. Sailor Moon could not scream as it turned back to her, and just as it raised its claws to strike, a flash of deep color flew forth and embedded itself in the monster's chest. In pain, it shrieked and tore at the red rose.

A tuxedo and cape-clad figure was beside the fallen scouts within moments, but inexplicably, Sailor Moon found she could move again. As she raised her head, she saw Sailor Mercury, Sailor Venus, and Sailor Jupiter attacking repeatedly, the monster was howling in pain as they cried their attacks. Behind her, another voice was speaking urgently to her.

"Sailor Moon, here," Tuxedo Mask called from beside Sailor Mars. Instantly, she rushed to her friend's aide, but she paled at the sight of the raven-haired girl on the ground. Sailor Mars was trying to push away Tuxedo Mask's attempts to press a square of cloth to the wound, her face was white, but her suit was stained in vivid red blood that continued to stream from her shoulder.

"Oh, Mars," Sailor Moon said softly under her breath, and Sailor Mars turned her face to look at her steadily, her eyes seemed dark and large in her face. As Sailor Moon watched, Mars tried for her usual confident smile, not quite succeeding.

"Finish that thing," she finally said. Sailor Moon nodded, pushing away her panic for a moment. Tuxedo Mask turned to her for a moment, his blue eyes not on her face, but somewhere below it. Following his gaze, she saw red smeared on her blue Sailor collar from Sailor Mars.

"It's hers," she said, gesturing to Mars. He stood up, interrupting her thought patterns and disorienting her as he took a step closer. It took a moment for her to realize he had spoken.

"It's not," he said, and reached out to gently touch her shoulder. His gloved fingers came away red with blood.

"Oh," was all she could say. She had been barely aware of the pain, up until his gentlest of touches had grazed her. Now it was as though his touch had set her shoulders aflame. All at once, she gasped sharply in pain and looked up at him, and even though she was immediately lost in his deep blue gaze, she could still hear the shouts of her teammates, could feel the quake of the ongoing fight on the ground. There was still a threat to be taken care of, and so she looked away from him and hastily ran to retrieve her fallen Scepter. Feeling his gaze on her, she ignored the burn of her shoulders and the urge to look back at him. Scepter in hand, she ran to join the battle.

The monster was attacking as she reached the remaining three Sailor soldiers. After Jupiter slammed the monster into the side of a car with a handful of lightning, Sailor Moon called to the three of them. "Sailor Mars is hurt! Get her out of here and to a hospital, quick!" Jupiter exchanged looks with Venus and Mercury.

Sailor Venus turned to her, confusion and concern on her face. "But, Sailor Moon, the monster, we can't leave you!" She shouted, as Mercury and Jupiter gave similar cries, and Sailor Moon could see their willingness to stay and help, and felt braver.

"Go! Besides," she added in a quieter tone, "I won't be alone." The four of them looked together at Tuxedo Mask, and finally, they nodded to her.

"Hurry! Let's go!" Mercury cried, and the three of them retreated to the other side of the street. The monster made a move to follow, but Sailor Moon blocked its path, and tried to remember the courage she had just felt.

"Time to silence that monster, Sailor Moon!" Tuxedo Mask shouted, and was beside her in moments, peppering the beast with roses as it roared in anger.

"Right!" She brandished her Moon Scepter, and as lights flashed around her, she shouted her attack. "Moon…Princess…Halation!" Bright beams of light cascaded over the monster, which screamed for the last time before being reduced to a pile of dust and roses before their eyes. Sailor Moon lowered her Scepter. It was over.

Finally, she turned to Tuxedo Mask. "Thank you," she said. "Your rose saved us earlier…without you, we'd have died on the spot."

His eyes were midnight blue and unreadable. "Be careful, Sailor Moon. Your friends must be more careful as well." He stepped closer, and his eyes dropped to her shoulders momentarily. "Much more careful," he murmured, and as he gazed back to her eyes, he raised his gloved hand to her cheek. For a moment, she stopped breathing as she watched him, and slowly raised her hand to cover his own. Slowly, he dropped his hand from her cheek, and with a final indiscernible glance, he began to walk away.

"Good night," she called, just as thunder cracked above her. As the sky began to fall around them with thunder and lightning and relentless rain, he turned at the sound of Sailor Moon's sudden fearful cry, only to see the super heroine sprinting away, her hands protectively raised above her ponytails. Tuxedo Mask paused and stared after her.

"Couldn't be," he said, and he turned away in the rain to go home.

TBC...