Twenty Kisses
Rated T
Chapter Title: "Alive"
Setting: Any (pre-Crystal Tokyo)
Genre: AU

The black hole appeared out of nowhere, stretching a patch of periwinkle sky taut. It yawned wider and wider until, with a great gasp, a bedraggled teen was spat from the center of the abyss. The blonde- a girl, seemingly stuck in that awkward period between childhood and adulthood- toppled bonelessly onto the green lawn below, hardly moving as the dimensional rift slowly closed. The only indication that she was still alive, alive but battered, was the heavily labored 'in, out' motion of her chest as the unexpected newcomer choked for air.

For the longest moment she simply laid there, shivering as the faint sound of cackling faded away, but whether it originated from her mind or the depths of the inky, bottomless void of hell that had been her only scenery during the long journey back, the girl did not know. She was simply glad it was puttering away to nothing, that mad laughter so keen on haunting her every dream, leaving in its wake a merciful silence.

Grass prickled her nose as the teen in a shabby and ripped school uniform tried to roll over, to increase her flow of oxygen, but as the seconds tallied up she settled for simply turning her head into the dirt. Pressure built on her ear as it dug into the soft ground, but the familiar organic smell was comforting. It reminded her of times long past, when days were filled with sandboxes and the company of a bright-faced new friend named Naru who wanted to share her red shovel. When the most terrifying monsters could be chased away by Mama's stern finger-wagging under the bed. When she didn't have to fear that tomorrow would see her snatched off the face of the earth to endure yet another round of torture at the hand of her sadistic enemies...

Even the most precious moon-toy will break if you push her to the edge often enough, the chilling voice of only hours earlier mocked in the teen's memory.

The girl groaned, this time putting more effort into sitting up and greater concentration into forgetting them. Agony shot through all regions of her body, but just as she was about to give it up as futile, help arrived in a shriek that sang of both relief and horror.



Footsteps reverberated as a dull throbbing beneath her head, and then the teenager known as Usagi felt hands gently grip her shoulders, her waist, her legs. So many hands...

In the brief interim it took for them to ease Usagi upright, she fought off both dizziness and a wave of panic. Her brain had to remind itself that not all hands are bad; not all hands seek to bring injury...

As the blonde's vision cleared and the aching receded to a more manageable discomfort, she saw a multitude of faces swimming over her, framed by the tall white elegance of her childhood home. This in itself was not surprising in the least- they took great pleasure in always depositing Usagi in the same place after the usual... session.

Tired eyes sweeping over her friends and family, one by one, Usagi silently thanked each for their presence, for their fortitude, for their concern. She stopped on a pair of anguished blue orbs, blinking back at her desperately. Usagi reached out her arms.

"Mamo-chan," she croaked simply, and in that instant Mamoru was there, catching her weak form as it collapsed against his. She could feel him shaking as the girl clung to the fabric of her soulmate's shirt, muscles like quivering arrows on the precipice of release, and yet no tears colored his cheeks and neither did any appear on Usagi's. After a full two months of this endless uncertainty, this sick cycle of capture-torture-freedom, they simply had no more to spare. The same could not be said for Tsukino Ikuko, weeping brokenly into her apron, but everyone dealt with the situation differently. As for Usagi, resignation was the route she had decided to take, and at her insistence, the others were to follow suit. Until the Sailor Senshi discovered the Achilles heel- the one weakness to exploit to bring down their enemy- Usagi would be a slave to their adversaries' whims; a toy to play with at will.

It is what it is, she had once commented sadly during a rare hiatus of peace. That was what happened when the world knew your secret; when the name Sailor Moon became synonymous to all as a short, rather unimpressive young high schooler named Tsukino Usagi. When the global effect of the media was not lost on aliens hellbent on revenge...

"Are you alright?" Mamoru whispered against Usagi's ratty blonde locks, half escaping their normal odango. His lips roved through her hair; traced frenzied kisses down her temple and across her rough countenance. Usagi took a deep breath and pulled back from the safety of his embrace.

"No worse than last time," she answered solemnly, and Mamoru's response was a simple grunt. The frustration was clear in his features as the man gave his girlfriend a once-over, not failing to miss the dried bloodstains and varying degrees of healing bruises. Usagi sighed and caressed him on the cheek, watching out of the corner of her eye as her unconventional homecoming drew a crowd and, to her disgust, the usual smattering of paparazzi clicking away.

In that vulnerable second, ensconced in Mamoru's arms and still fighting the remnants of pain, Usagi experienced an intense rush of fury. How dare they. How dare they find fascination in her suffering... Didn't they know, she did this for them? That she refused to hide, to steal herself away from danger because she wanted to protect them, gawking insensitive onlookers that they were-

Stop, a little voice ordered softly from within Usagi, almost serenely but with an undeniable edge of authority. It was the voice Usagi imagined Neo-Queen Serenity would one day bear, but at this moment she did not know if it came from her own conscience, or some otherworldly and wise being who sounded uncannily like a Serenity. She did not question, only listened. Do not let yourself stoop to the cruelty of those you fight. Do not harden yourself. It is worth it. They are worth it.

But I'm tired, the abused, emotionally raw part of Usagi protested weakly. I don't know if I can do this anymore. I just... hurt.

Love. Hope. Dreams. Faith. Joy. Justice. Never forget that which you must preserve, Tsukino Usagi...

Usagi steeled herself, nodding inwardly. She inhaled deeply as she pushed the pervading anger from her heart, smiling toward her neighbors, her admirers, and her shutterbug followers.

That's right, I do this for you. I do this for all of you, for the world, and for those who will continue on when we are gone. Love, truth, and justice... I believe. I believe in it.

And as long as Usagi remembered that, cradling it like flickering flame to her chest, then the promise of peace would keep her warm, sane, and fighting throughout all the torment and darkness sure to come.

But most importantly, it would keep her alive- a gift Usagi never failed to undervalue with each breath that passed through her.

A/N: Yikes, that was a little angsty, huh? I was going for dark with just a touch of hopefulness; tender and sensual but with an overriding sense of suffering. Erm, not sure if that all came across... you decide! Thanks so much for all your patience, I really appreciate it as I'm just so busy right now and updating can be hard. But, I'm back, and hopefully can catch up on stuff I've missed. Really been enjoying yra's Sailor Moon epic, "Out of the Abyss" and its sequel, "Heart of Darkness". Normally I'm not a fan of big, complex stories like that one, because I get lost in the plot and all the new characters invariably created, but this- this just sucked me in! I highly recommend giving it a read, and a major plus- it kicked my muses in the butt and sparked this one shot!

I love all my sweet, loyal readers :) Kudos for some mind-bogglingly fantastic feedback guys: Red-Elephant, Henna Ryans, mae-E, Ashgeliton, StarryNight101, misako-princess, IceQueenBarbarian, PhinalPhantasy, Senshi'sBard, idfcv, CharmedSerenity3, Fiery Dancer, PrincessSerenity1976, Jenbunny, Jessie F. Babi, Usagi of Feudal Moon Era, Angel no Yami, and BeeDiddy. *HUGS YOU ALL*

Happy Holidays!

P.S. Anyone else having trouble accessing my profile? Internet Explorer shuts down when I click on it :/ Maybe my list of favorites needs shortened; could be the page just can't handle its length... hmm...

AngelMoon Girl