Okay, I have a lot to say. First off the disclaimer stuff. I don't own Sailor Moon. Clear? Now, the hard stuff: this story is quite disturbing and deals with suicide. I am in no way stating that this is a good thing to do. Also this form of depression is probably more typical of an individualist society such as North America, then Japan, but as I am from NA, I used what was familiar. I try to stress in this story that depression is not a simple process and that it was not 'caused' by Mamoru breaking up with Usagi. No depression works that fast – depression has a number of factors and can't be started by a break up and 'cured' by getting back together. I purposely change tenses and have Usagi contradict herself, in order to make it feel more like a stream of consciousness. I do switch from Mamoru's POV to Usagi's POV, and I hope make that clear. Last, I would like to say that this is not a cheery fiction but that it is also not typical of all my writing, so I hope I don't offend anyone to the point where you never read my stuff again. The song I use in this story is horrible so that should be enough to tell you it's mine (J). Please don't steal it! Enjoy!

24/2/01

Skin Deep

I awoke out of a deep sleep because of a horrifying dream, a nightmare that I had been experiencing every night for the past few months. God forsaken dreams, keeping me from her side, and making me hurt her so she'll stay away and be safe. Not for the first time, I wonder if I'm doing the right thing. I see her every now and then and it kills me to see how down she is. Her smile is forced, her movements slow, and her eyes… they're hauntingly sad. She drags her gold hair on the ground. But she'll get over me soon. She has too much going for her to let a break-up with a guy like me keep her down for long and she has her friends and family. She'll be better off, I think. Then again, how much do I really know about my angel? Most of the time I've been with her we've been involved in some world catastrophe or another. Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask have gone on countless missions and adventures together, but Usagi and Mamoru? As a couple, we have had very little quality time. Just those few blissful months after the doom tree fiasco, but before the dreams came… Since I have little to do nowadays but think about her, I've been wondering if there's more going on with Usako. I find myself wondering what goes on behind those big, blue, eyes of hers.

" Do you really want to know?"

Seeing as how I was in my own apartment, late at night, I was a little surprised to hear a voice. Make that petrified.

" Excuse me?" I managed to get out. There was a bright flash of green and red, and a figure stepped into my room. It was too bright to make out any features, but the voice was cool and female.

" Do you want to know what Usagi goes through, what she thinks and does?"

" I… uh, can you do that?"

" Yes. I make this suggestion to help you decide what to do about these dreams. I cannot stop the dreams from coming; they are not of my creation, so instead I offer you some balance. I can help you see the affect of your decisions."

" I'd do anything to get rid of these dreams but I don't understand what you're asking me to do", I said.

" I will open a portal, it will show you all the events and thoughts of Usagi starting with her appearance as Sailor Moon up until the present hour. You will be able to pause the 'tape' at certain times to think things over, but overall once you start, the show will not stop. I will place you in an area outside of the regular flow of time - that way you can watch without any time actually going by. But I feel I must warn you that this is not a proposition to take lightly. You may not like what you see, and because these events are in the past, you will not be able to have any affect over them."

How could it be a bad thing to find out all about my love? This offering was like an answer to my prayers, a chance to find out if I'd done the right thing by breaking up with her.

" I understand. When can we start?" I said.

" Whenever you wish. You have chosen then?"

" Yes, show me. I understand the risks, but I'll do this for her. I'd do anything for her."

" We'll soon find out if that's true", said the voice. There was another flash of green and then I blacked out. I woke up thinking the whole thing had been a dream. However, my bed was no longer in my apartment. It was floating in a featureless place – obviously the place where time had been stopped. I assumed that meant I too would not get older, or feel tired. At the foot of my bed was a whirling mass of smoke and flashy lights.

" Hey, maybe this is the portal", I mumbled aloud. Then I slapped my forehead because it was such a stupid observation. I'm not at my best in the morning. The vortex appeared to be two-dimensional since it was completely invisible from the side, as though it were a picture hanging in mid air or a tear in the fabric of space. After my initial marvelling, I became perplexed since I couldn't see how it worked. I was sitting on my bed staring right at it and nothing was happening except the aforementioned swirling lights and smoke. Okay, where was the on switch?

" Work, damn you. Abracadabra, hocus-pocus, moon power", I said hoping to activate it while at the same time feeling glad that nobody was around to see me. " Would you just show me Usako?" And suddenly the vortex spun into action, and before me I could see Usako, and I could hear her thoughts and all manner of things that should have been impossible. There were big glowing buttons at the bottom of the screen too, that read PAUSE and START and END. I hit the start key, relaxed on my bed, and watched her story unfold.

I can't believe I failed another test. I swear I studied for this one, but I bet nobody would believe me. Of course with a mark like thirty, I don't even believe myself. Either I'm incredibly stupid or I'm lazy, those are my options. God, either way it hurts.

" Arg!" I cried out in frustration as I threw the test paper away.

" Hey! Watch where you throw your garbage!"

Oh my God, I hit someone.

" Wow, I'm so sorry. I wasn't aiming for you I swear. Sorry", I babbled, while trying to get my test back. No need for anyone else to see my grade, but unfortunately I was too late.

" A thirty? Tell me are you stupid or just lazy?" My own words coming back at me, reinforced by a complete stranger, were even harder to hear.

" Shut-up and give me back my paper!"

" Sure, I mean who wouldn't want to hang on to such a great test? You must feel so proud", said the dark haired man sarcastically. He smirked and walked away. I was fuming mad but by the time I came up with a comeback he was long gone. Who was I kidding? Even if I got rid of this test and somehow got my mom to forget about it, there will still be other tests, and I'll fail those as well. What if I don't pass this grade? I'll be left behind and I won't even have Molly to make me feel better. Oh well, I'll worry about that later, after I've killed some time at the arcade.

I walked into the arcade, cheerfulness in place. I love the arcade. Nothing ever changes here, except maybe a new Sailor V game every now and then, and all your problems seem to fade into the background. Or maybe it's the food that does that, since I love food too.

" Hey Andrew", I said.

" Hey Serena", Andrew said. " Come to give that game another try?"

" You bet", I said. I sat down at the game console and worked diligently until it was game over. Glancing at my watch, I saw that I was going to be late for dinner, so I waved a quick goodbye to Andrew and took off running for home. I almost made it home without falling when my foot tripped over something and sent me sprawling. Since this happens on a daily basis, and because there was nobody around to hear me, I decided it wasn't worth crying over.

I looked around to see what had tripped me up and caused my skinned knee and saw a black cat with a funny bandage on her forehead.

" Hi there kitty, sorry about that. Clumsy me, just about squished you. Come here, and let me take off this thing", I said, and peeled off the covering since it was obviously annoying the cat.

" Hey! That's our cat, get away!" Shouted a voice. Three boys, probably about twelve years old, were running towards me.

" Oh, I didn't know she belonged to anyone." The boys all looked at each other and smiled nastily. The cat dodged behind my legs and hissed at them.

" Well now you do, so move it."

" Wait a minute, prove to me she's yours. She doesn't look particularly happy to see you", I said. I crossed my arms and tried to look threatening. However, I'm a scrawny, short, blonde girl of fourteen years, and they out numbered me, so I wasn't really scary.

" We don't have to tell you anything", said one kid, and he pushed me. I stumbled, but managed to regain my balance. As quick as I could I dropped my bag in order to pick up the cat, turned, and ran. They gave chase for a couple of blocks but if there's one thing I'm good at, it's running away from difficult situations. I arrived home breathless but triumphant.

" Serena, you're late, again! And what's that you have in your arms?"

I proceeded to explain, and though I thought my excuse to be a sound one, my mom thought something else.

" How could you just leave your bag? Do you think we are made of money young lady? And that still doesn't explain why you're so late."

" Sorry mom, I didn't think…"

" That's just it, you never stop to think things through. Oh well, I suppose it could have been worse, and the cat is pretty cute. You can keep her so long as nobody claims her and that you look after her properly. I suppose your math test was in your bag?"

I stupidly checked my pocket only to produce the ill-fated test. I had the perfect excuse but did I think to use it? Oh no. I leave behind my bag, with my lunch kit, my wallet (which was empty thank goodness), and my pens and pencils (no homework, because I'd left it behind this morning), but I had still managed to bring the test. I swear it's a conspiracy.

" A thirty!? You have got to be kidding me Usagi. When your father gets home… well I shudder to think what he'll say. You march yourself straight up those stairs and think about how you're going to fix this."

Dejected I headed up the stairs, the cat following at my heels. I got to my room and flopped on my bed, wondering what the punishment would be this time.

" Usagi, I have been looking for you a long time. We have to talk", said the cat. Frightened, I jumped off my bed and stared at the cat with the moon shape on her forehead.

" Did you just say something?"

" Yes, my name is Luna. I'm a guardian cat from the long ago moon kingdom, and you are my charge, Sailor Moon." I did the only thing a sane person would do in this situation: I fainted.

I woke up to the sounds of an irate cat, bemoaning her fate as guardian of such a meatball head. I've sunk to a new low - being looked down on by animals.

" What's going on? I made not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I'm pretty sure cats don't usually talk."

" If you would just listen instead of fainting, I can help", said Luna. Luna then did what she called a mind meld, and some of the questions I had were answered. She coaxed me into trying out my new identity.

" Moon Crystal Power!" I said and was enveloped in a dizzying array of flashing lights. In that first moment when I looked down and saw what I had become, all I could think was that this changed everything. Confusing images flitted through my brain, while fear, disbelief, and uncertainty, warred for supremacy. I didn't want to be this person – I wasn't supposed to be her. Somebody had made a mistake, what could I do? I couldn't even handle a regular life; the life of a superhero was even more out of the picture.

" This is your secret identity, Sailor Moon. Nobody will recognize you while you are in this form. It is essential that this remain a secret."

" What about my parents? I can't tell them?"

" Absolutely not. They would be in danger if your enemies thought they could get to you through them."

" Enemies?" I said, my heart sinking even further.

" Of course, that's why you're here."

I would have liked to have said more, I would have liked to have made it clear that I was in no way a fighter, I wanted to scream out the question Luna kept ignoring as though it were trivial; namely, 'why me'? Then I heard a voice, it sounded like Molly and she was crying out with fear.

" I hear something, my friend Molly", I said slowly. I might hate this but I wouldn't let one of my friends be hurt because I couldn't suck it up and do my job.

We took off towards the disturbance and when I entered the room, Molly was lying unconscious on the ground and standing over her was a monster. I couldn't help it, I freaked out. I didn't see how arriving dressed up as cheerleader was somehow supposed to give me the advantage over a very large monster. I was still only a fourteen-year-old girl, what could I possibly do? Then the monster hit me. I don't know I was so surprised but I was, and it really scared me to realize all the implications. I needed time to think but Molly was still on the ground and the monster didn't care that I was crying…

I tried to put my fears aside, and rose to my feet. My knees were knocking and I felt sick, but I felt like I had to do something. Then a rose hit the monster and for the first time all day I felt some hope.

" Don't be afraid, you can do this if you believe", said a man dressed in a tuxedo.

" Sailor Moon, take hold of your tiara and shout ' moon tiara magic'", said Luna.

Since I had followed everything else she'd told me, I decided this was no different. I completed the manoeuvre and the monster turned to dust. I looked up for my saviour but he was gone. I de-transformed and went to help Molly.

" Huh? What happened? Serena, what are you doing here?" Molly said when she awoke.

" I was walking by and heard you cry out. Someone named Sailor Moon saved you", I said. Already I was being forced to lie to my best friend.

" Oh, I wish I could have thanked her."

As the days went by I got used to running out on my family and friends at strange times to go and fight youmas. I got better at lying about my whereabouts and about why my appetite was greater then usual and my sleeping habits even worse. At school, things didn't change much. My teachers were accustomed to getting mediocre projects and half finished assignments from me so there was no difficulty there – except that I was doing twice the amount of work for the same result.

Molly and I were having some problems. Nothing much really, just a general drifting apart as Molly started thinking I was a flake for constantly breaking off our plans, and I hated lying to her so I tended to avoid her too. It still hurt.

" Hey, Usagi, did you hear? There's a new girl in class, from the brain farm."

" Really?" I looked into the classroom and sitting quietly at a desk was a petite, blue haired girl. She was pretending to read a book, but I could tell she was trying to avoid talking to anyone. No doubt because of the 'brain farm' rumours that were circulating about her. Well, as class clown and overall underachiever, it was my duty to help those with unfortunate labels.

" Hi, I'm Usagi. What's your name?" I asked.

" Um, it's Ami. Ami Mizuno. Nice to meet you Usagi."

" So my friends tell me you're really smart…" she blushed and turned away but I didn't want her to think I was teasing her. " But then most people are compared to me. I really love your hair, maybe I should get mine cut like that. I bet it's easy to take care of…" I rattled on and gradually Ami came around. She started giggling when I started to explain the trials of having hair as long as mine, like for instance getting it caught in bus doors and then having said bus drive away.

" Well, I wouldn't cut your hair anyway. It's very pretty", Ami said shyly.

" Oh, I can tell you and me are going to get along very well", I said with a laugh. Unfortunately, class started and Ami turned out to be just as smart as everyone said she was. I began to have my doubts about any developing friendship, since why would she want to hang around with me? She'd want some intelligent friends to talk with.

I later found out that Ami Mizuno was Sailor Mercury. It was during another battle and I was thrilled to discover there was someone else like me. Of course there was always that mysterious man in the cape, but I had no idea who he was. Ami and I became friends, and although she was incredibly kind and gentle, I always sort of wondered if my predictions regarding our friendship (that she would find better friends) would have come true had it not been for our Sailor status. Days continued to go on, and although having another scout around reduced some of my work, I also had to be doubly on the alert to assure she didn't get hurt. And there was the fact that Luna constantly compared me to Ami in less then favourable terms. I don't know why Ami adapted so much easier to the business then I did, but Luna just blamed it on me. Funny thing was, I was really desperate to prove myself to the cat. For her to have come all this way to look after me made me feel special, now if only I could make her proud.

It was a few weeks after the appearance of Sailor Mercury that we found ourselves at the Cherry Hill Temple Shrine on Sailor business. It seems people were disappearing from around that area and Luna had a 'feeling' about the priestess who worked there. The priestess was a girl our age with long, burgundy/black hair and violet eyes. Or maybe I should say violent eyes, as she hit me the very first time I met her when all I was doing was thinking about how beautiful she was.

" Evil spirit be gone!" yelled the girl as I approached. I wasn't really expecting an attack and her foot connected with my head. Next thing I knew I was waking up on a bed inside the shrine. " Oh good, you're awake. My name is Rei, I live here at the temple."

" And you hit me because?"

" Sorry about that. I thought you were evil." Well that makes me feel better.

" No problem, I guess. Still, my head really hurts!"

" Oh give me a break, I barely touched you!" She said. Unfortunately for me, this girl who seemed to take an instant dislike to me (and an instant liking to pointing out my faults) turned out to be Sailor Mars. So now there was another scout and Luna seemed to take an immediate liking to our little pyromaniac. In fact at the end of every battle Rei would tell me precisely what I did wrong and then Luna would say something along the lines of "Rei's right, you have to start taking more responsibility". Not that I minded really, but I was improving and nobody seemed to notice. They just saw how far away I was from being the 'ideal' sailor scout. Or maybe I'm being melodramatic. Lately, I've found that I've been spending too much time brooding.

" Snap out of it you moon brain! Me and Amy are going to the amusement park, and I suppose you'll insist upon coming along…"

I think Rei kept talking, but I tuned her out. An amusement park; I could act like a kid and nobody would be able to say a word about it being unbecoming for a young lady, or a sailor in training. Finally a day to just relax.

We got to the park and the first thing out of Rei's mouth was,

" I'm getting a bad vibe from this place". We decided to split up and look for anything suspicious. I'm not sure how it happened but I got stuck with Rei.

" The train will take us all around the park, what's the problem?" I asked. It had been my idea to ride the little train that takes you around the park. Because it was my idea, Rei thought it was stupid.

" You are so lazy, it's unbelievable!" she yelled. I didn't listen, but instead climbed on board. Again, don't ask me how it happened but part way through the trip, with Rei grumbling behind me, the train jerked to a stop and I slid into the person in front me of me. How embarrassing! And it didn't help that Rei was laughing her fool head off.

" I am so sorry, I didn't mean to hit you, it was an accident", I said sincerely to the man I had hit.

" Now that I believe, Meatball head, you've always been a walking disaster."

" Oh no, not you", I said, but it was. Mamoru, the same man I had hit on the head with that infamous test paper, was sitting in front of me smirking. Ever since our first meeting, I seemed to see him everywhere. Like Rei, it seemed he enjoyed making my life miserable. He teased me, he made snide comments; in short he made me want to avoid the arcade, my sanctuary, since he was almost always there.

" Meatball head? Why, that's the perfect name for her. I can't believe I never thought of it before, her hair looks like meatballs and she has spaghetti for brains. Meatball head!"

" Hey, I'd never thought about the spaghetti for brains idea, but you're right it all makes sense!"

" What is this? 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend'?" I screeched. I really did not like the idea of my two tormentors teaming up on me. This day was getting worse and worse – despite all my hopes that today I would be able to put things in perspective. I needed a chance to deal with things, but the battles just kept on coming. We defeated the enemy that day and when it was over, I felt so overwhelmed by everything that I didn't even stay to listen to Rei and Luna's play-by-play of my actions. I went home and I cried.

I cried because I was never going to be good enough. I cried because nobody understood, and nobody cared. Nobody had asked me whether or not I wanted to be a sailor scout; I was just expected to go along with everything people said. I cried because I had no control over my life and I didn't know how to get it back.

" Now why are you crying? Honestly, you're going to be fifteen soon, it's time you started to act your age", Luna said, coming into my room.

" I am!" I said angrily, before going in to the bathroom and slamming the door shut. Was there no place I could escape?

The next couple of days were harder then usual, but I don't know why. I just felt like I was tired or something, but it wasn't as if I was sleepy. More like I was worn out, depleted. I was thinking about my current lack of enthusiasm when I caught a whiff of the most heavenly aroma. My stomach growled, reminding me that I had yet again forgotten my lunch and that it was lunchtime. I followed my nose and it led me to a tall brown-haired girl, with startling green eyes and a pained expression. Melvin, the class nerd and gossip know it all, had already informed me that she was a new student who got kicked out of her old school for fighting. I wasn't afraid of her though, I mean, as Sailor Moon I fought all the time and I could only hope that people didn't judge my personality on that one trait.

" What do you want?" she said. Her voice was harsh but underneath that it was tremulous. Imagine coming to a new school and having people stare at you all day. I hate it when people watch me; it usually makes me have a klutz attack, which is why they're watching me in the first place. Quite a cruel cycle really.

" Hi! I'm Usagi; you must be the new girl, Maki… Mako…"

" Makoto. Makoto Kino."

" Yes, that's it. Sorry I couldn't remember, I'm a bit of a ditz. Do you mind if I sit here?"

" I guess not. Aren't you… aren't you afraid of me?"

" What? Why?" I asked, giving her my best wide-eyed innocent look. The girl smiled and the frown fled. She was really pretty I realized.

" Forget it", she said. Then my stomach growled. " Oh, do you want some of my lunch? I love to cook and always bring way too much."

" Really? Thanks! I thought I was going to starve to death", I said. The food was really good and I told her so.

" Thank you, it means a lot to me when people say that. You're welcome to share lunch with me anytime".

I realize now she was just being polite but at the time, I was so thrilled that I had a new friend. Someone to sit with during lunch while Amy was in one of her 'get ahead' classes. Makoto was a strong person. As I got to know her and found out all the horrible things that had happened to her during her childhood, it made me realize what a complainer I was. She had never had a stable home life and then she'd lost both her parents in a plane crash. After that she'd been passed around to various foster homes until she'd been allowed to live on her own. It made me feel guilty for ever having thought that I had problems.

When we discovered that Makoto was Sailor Jupiter, I was not as happy as I should have been. I guess I wanted her to be my friend without feeling she had to be, but now I would never know if her friendship was genuine. Still Jupiter was a great addition to our group and when Rei made her bid to be leader, Makoto stood up for me. I remember that scene very well.

I was walking towards the temple for our scout meeting, and I was early for once. As I approached the door, I noticed the girls were already gathered and it appeared like they had been there some time, as though they'd planned a meeting of their own…

" I just hate that I have to listen to that Meatball head when its clear she has no clue what she's talking about!"

" But she is getting better", Amy said gently, " you should have seen her when it was just her and I."

And I suppose all the monsters I destroyed on my own before either of you arrived were destroyed by pure luck?

" Luna, should we even be talking about this? I mean, she's Sailor Moon, she has to be our leader right?" Makoto said confused.

" I will not hold to tradition if it puts any of you in danger or if it creates too much tension. I admit, I too am wondering whether having Usagi in charge is a good idea", Luna said, breaking my heart. " But of course, we must not downplay her importance. She has much more responsibility and power then the rest of you, it is likely very hard on her."

" I'm sure it is and that's why I think I should be leader. I think I could handle it better – she'll get hurt if she keeps running around like a goof-ball. Don't you think so Amy?"

" I don't know, I think she deserves a second chance."

Second chance? When had I been given a first one? I hadn't realized how much they hated working under my leadership. I'd always sort-of seen us as more of a team anyway. I mean, if there was an important decision to make then we all made it together, like a democracy. We contributed by way of our strengths. Then I thought further and realized that was the problem. Amy was the smart one, she came up with plans; Rei was the courageous and insightful one; she always knew when something was going wrong; Lita was the strong one, the powerhouse. Me, who was I? I'm supposed to be their leader and yet what did I bring to the table? Nothing; I just waved a stupid wand and healed people. Not much effort required there except for the demanding energy resources of the crescent wand.

" I think Serena should remain our leader. I'm sure she'll prove herself soon", Makoto said.

" Well, maybe we should warn her that if she continues to act poorly, further steps may be taken?" Amy said hesitantly.

" The next time something goes wrong, I'm going to tell her to shape-up or else. Speaking of that, she's late! I can't believe that meatball head!"

I was still standing outside Rei's room in shock. Funny thing was, much as I hated the problems that came with being Sailor Moon, I didn't want them to take that away. It was the one thing that me special. There were moments when the monster would turn to dust, and the people it had attacked would raise themselves up and be so grateful that they were alive… I would miss not being able to protect people. I thought of going inside to the meeting, but eventually decided that I couldn't face them. I knew if I looked at them, I'd see the disappointment and frustration that was inside me, mirrored in their eyes. Or worse I'd start crying and be thought even less of.

I went to the park instead and wandered around. The light was fading as evening approached night and there weren't many people in the park. I saw Mamoru walking down by the rose bushes and quickly dodged behind a tree so he wouldn't see me. Unfortunately, he sat on a bench in front of the very tree I was behind, blocking off any escape. Since I was stuck there I took the chance to observe him. He was really good looking I had to admit, and I could see why Rei followed him around, but there was something about him this evening that really got my attention. His eyes looked so mournful, and his body language just added to the overwhelming sense of sadness I felt emanating from him. It made me feel bad for yelling at him all the time and for running into him. Of course, the latter was beyond my control. I couldn't walk twenty paces without tripping, especially if I knew he was in the vicinity. He made me nervous – I worried about what he thought of me. He sighed and then stood up, leaving a blood red rose lying on the bench. I picked it up once he had left, the smell delighting me, but I pricked my finger on a thorn and drew blood.

I went home that night and shut the door tightly. I ignored Luna's persistent scratching at my door; I wasn't in the mood for a lecture. I thought of my 'friends' who only seemed to see me in terms of what I contributed to the team, I thought of my family who thought I was ignoring them lately, I thought of Mamoru who would make fun of me if he knew that I was starting to change my opinions in regards to him. I thought of everything I was going through and wearily pulled the covers of my bed over my head. Sleep means oblivion, a respite from my thoughts; it didn't come.

" Good morning Usagi, I made you your favourite breakfast. Eat up, and I'll give you a ride to school", my mom said.

" Happy Birthday, Usagi", Shingo said unenthusiastically to me, when my mom started glaring at him.

" Oh yes, how does it feel to be fifteen?" asked my father.

" Fine", I said, stuffing my face with chocolate chip pancakes.

" Of course, we'll expect even more from you now that you're a full year older", my father concluded. He couldn't just wish me a happy birthday could he? Just had to put in that extra little dig.

" Usagi dear, I want you home for supper tonight. I'm making a cake and there are a few presents for you to open…"

" Sure, of course I'll be home, why wouldn't I be?"

Famous last words. I was just getting out of school, ridiculously upset for getting a detention on my birthday but cheered by the thought of being with my family this evening, when I heard screaming. It took me awhile to locate the source of the sound, but eventually I wound up down at the docks. The other scouts were already there and transformed, so I did the same.

" About time you got here", Rei said.

" I was at school", I complained.

" Only because you had detention", she replied.

I stuck out my tongue at her and then turned to see what our situation was. Hanging from a crane was… I? No, it was a Sailor Moon look-alike and I think we all knew it was a trap. What we didn't know was whom it was for.

" Come out, Tuxedo Mask, or your girlfriend gets it", said a man appearing in the sky. He had white hair and an evil expression.

" Hold it! I am Sailor Moon, the original if you don't mind. What's going on?" I yelled. Okay, definitely not my best speech, but I was angry. Nobody got to be Sailor Moon but me.

" Ah, the scouts. I'm Malachite, too bad I don't have time to get to know you better because you'll soon be dead", he said. With that said, we became trapped inside a black bubble type thing. Our attacks were useless against it and it kept growing smaller. I remember feeling very scared at that moment. The fake Sailor Moon turned out to Zoicite, another enemy, and it was all a set-up to make sure Tuxedo Mask arrived. Meanwhile I couldn't tell Tuxedo Mask this and so I felt responsible for his trouble. He always comes to save me, and now that had put him in danger. The shield got smaller and we all started to panic when suddenly the shield dissolved.

I looked around, and standing on a nearby building was another sailor scout. She had flowing blonde hair, a red bow, and a killer smile. I was very glad she was on our side. With all five of us scouts, our enemies didn't think they had much chance I guess and disappeared.

" Sailor Venus, is that really you?"

" Yep, I'm really glad to finally be meeting all you guys. And this is my cat Artemis."

A sleek white cat with a crescent moon on his forehead just like Luna's appeared by her side. Introductions went all around and then Sailor Venus had to leave.

" She was like, almost rude", Rei said in regards to the new scouts rapid exit.

" I think she's wicked cool", I said. She kind-of looked like me, or rather she looked like the best possible me. She had everything I was being criticized for lacking. I stared up into the night in the direction she had gone, the stars twinkling. Wait, stars? Oh God, it was past nine o'clock.

" Well you would, I mean you have no manners at all", Rei snorted. The rest of them laughed.

" Usagi, I hope you realized that because of your rash behaviour you put the whole team in danger tonight. I spent a week at Amy's hoping my absence would get you to think but obviously, nothing can get through to you. How have you been spending your free time?"

" Luna, I can't stay and listen. I'm sorry guys, but I really have to get going too. I'm going to be in so much trouble", I muttered. It wasn't the thought of getting punished, it was the thought of letting my family down that was making me upset.

" Why? Isn't your curfew at ten? You just don't want to listen do you?" Amy said.

" That's not it, I swear", I said. " My mom planned something special for me and my family. She specifically requested that I be home after school."

" Well, maybe she can delay whatever she had planned", Amy said in a gentler voice.

" But today's my birthday", I said quietly, before dashing off. I had to get home. I had to make this right with everyone. I hadn't missed a birthday in fourteen years and mom really loved these types of things. Once again, I had messed up.

" We waited for you."

" I know, I'm sorry… I tried to…"

" We waited until the special dinner I cooked for you became inedible. We waited thinking you would at least have the decency to call. I don't understand what's come over you lately, Usagi. I keep trying to convince my self that it's all a phase but… do you know your father specifically requested the night shift so that he could be home when you came home from school? He had to go to work not knowing where you were or why you didn't want to celebrate with us. Are you going to tell me where you were?"

Tears were welling up in my eyes. I wanted so much to just crawl onto her lap like I did when I was little. But I couldn't, and I on top of that I had to lie to her, again.

" The girls, they, uh… threw a surprise party for me. Blindfolded me and brought me to Rei's house. Makoto baked a cake…" I said, my voice breaking. Wouldn't it have been great if they had? Then I wouldn't be here sitting and feeling like the worst daughter on earth. Why did I have to be reborn if I was only going to be such a failure?

" I baked a cake too", my mother said, wiping away a tear quickly. " I guess I can understand that you'd want to be with your friends".

" No, that's not it. I just, I can't explain. But mom? Can I have a piece of your cake?" I said, wanting her to know I really appreciated all she did for me. She must have seen the tears that were threatening to spill over in my eyes because I saw her hurt dissipate a little. She pulled out a double chocolate cake with pink roses on it. Fifteen burnt out birthday candles were on top of it, congealing in their own wax. We both pretended not to notice, and we sat at the table silently eating our cake.

The next day at school, I got apologies from Makoto and Amy about missing my birthday. We were walking home after school and they had promised me the biggest sundae money could buy at the Crown arcade as a belated birthday gift.

" It's okay, it's not like I told you or anything", I said.

" Actually, you did a few weeks ago, but with all the running around and meeting Sailor Venus and all, I guess we just forgot. Anyway, we are really sorry and Rei has even promised to not tease you about your organizational skills anymore since… well since were obviously not much better", Makoto said.

" And I don't know why I said what I said. I'm frustrated we can't beat our enemies, and I think I might have been blaming you a little too much. Forgiven?" Amy asked.

" Of course, you both are. Besides, you know me. Nothing effects me for long", I said glibly. If only that were true, I couldn't help thinking. Imagine being able to forget the tears in my mother's eyes, and to forget the silence that my father had greeted me with this morning.

" Hey, watch it Meatball head", said Mamoru, as I walked into the arcade and collided with him.

" Sorry", I said. How often had I said that word in the past few days? Too many.

" Barkeep? Your biggest chocolate sundae! Chop-chop!" Makoto said, in a mockingly brisk voice.

" Yes ma'am!" said Andrew with a smile and a salute. He passed Makoto the sundae, which was then passed it on to me.

" Dig in, girl!" I did not need to be told twice. I plunged the spoon in quickly, artfully mixing the chocolate and ice cream in perfect symmetry and was just about to take a bite when,

" Don't tell me you're going to eat that whole thing by yourself?" said Mamoru. He sat down next to Makoto across from me. I could feel my face heating with embarrassment. He must think I'm such a pig. I couldn't eat with him sitting right there.

" Oh what do you care?" I said angrily, lowering my spoon. How come when he looked at me I saw none of that sensitive, tender, side that I knew existed, but only malicious intent?

" You're right, I don't."

" Oh, would you leave her alone? This is her birthday present", Makoto said, seeing her gift was being ruined by the intervention of Mamoru.

" Oh, it's your birthday? Happy birthday, Meatball head", Mamoru said.

" Actually, it was yesterday. She turned fifteen", Amy announced.

" So how did you celebrate?" asked Andrew, coming over to our table again.

" I, uh, nothing much actually", I said quietly.

" Ha, so little miss popularity got passed over on her birthday? Why am I not surprised?"

" Shut-up! You don't know anything about me! Nobody does! Thank you so much for the sundae girls, but I think I have a better use for it." I pushed the sundae across the table, where it slid off the edge and landed in Mamoru's lap. I didn't even stay long enough to watch his expression.

PAUSE

So that's why she did that to me. I remember that day, how could I not when all three witnesses said I deserved what I got? I'd forgotten how I used to tease her so badly, but at the time it did it because I thought she had everything, and yet wasted all that potential. She had a family, I didn't. She had lots of friends, I didn't. She was happy, I wasn't. For the first time in my life I was learning what it was like to live someone else's life and the experience was illuminating. Finding out about Usako in particular, however, was disturbing. So much pain, so much suffering, and uncertainty. She had a family, but she was forced to lie and hurt them. She had friends, but she thought they only liked 'Sailor Moon'. As for being happy… It was obvious she wasn't happy either. I realized just how easy it was to take her bubbly personality as proof that everything was fine, and to dismiss that hurt look that haunted her eyes.

I wanted to shake the Mamoru in the images. I wanted him to take her by the hand and tell her she was okay the way she was. I noticed that when we criticized her fighting skills that they got worse. If she did horribly, we would make her feel so bad that she was terrified of trying again; if she did okay, we would tell her to get better making her feel like a failure; when she did perfectly, we didn't say anything, making her think nobody cared.

I was beginning to understand the warnings that had come from the sender of the portal. It was so hard to see her hurt and to know that there was nothing anybody could do about this now, that these memories would always be with her. I almost wished I could stop watching, but from the way the pause button was flashing I knew there was more to see. Breathing deeply to calm my fears, I went back to watching.

END PAUSE

I wished later that I hadn't done that to Mamoru. Not because I liked him, although it was becoming apparent that I did, but because it was wrong for me to treat anyone that way. I didn't know what Mamoru was going through, it was possible he was having a worse time then I was, so it had been selfish to take my anger out on him. I'm sure it wouldn't have happened, if I could just get a decent amount of sleep. I was so tired.

I saw Mamoru walking ahead of me. I hadn't seen him since the incident last week, so I squared my shoulders back and went to apologize. I don't know what possessed me to slap him on the back and make a joke about there being a bee. Maybe it was because I didn't have a clue as to how to have a regular conversation with him.

" Thanks for getting the bee, Usagi, I hate those things. I have to go now, see y'a", Mamoru said. I noticed he was favouring his shoulder and realized I had just hit him where he was obviously hurt. In fact, my hand was red with blood. No wonder he called me Usagi - he's disoriented.

I followed him. If he was bleeding then it was obvious he needed help, and unfortunately for him, I was the only one around. I was right behind him when he turned on me and nearly hit me,

" Usagi? God, what are you doing following me around?"

" You're hurt", I said holding up my hand. " Believe it or not but I have some experience with injuries."

" Of course, with all the falling over you do. But look, I'm fine. Just get out of here." At that moment we were encased in a pink sphere of energy and brought inside a building. I awoke to find Mamoru arguing with Zoicite. Had they come after me and gotten us both by mistake? Then Zoicite disappeared and Mamoru shook me fully awake as things started to collapse around us.

" We have to get out of here!" he shouted. We made it to the elevator, but even as it started going up it began warping into this hideous Negaverse style building. It was also the slowest elevator I had ever been on.

" So Mamoru, why are you after the rainbow crystals? Oh, I guess that's pretty nosy, huh?"

" I want to know who I am", he said simply. He then proceeded to describe how he'd involved in a car accident when he was young, along with his parents. He had lived but with amnesia. His parents had died on impact.

" I'm sorry", I said sincerely. I knew there had to be some explanation for Mamoru's guarded ways, but I had never guessed it would be so tragic. " It must be hard not knowing who you are".

" I get clues", he said toughly. His pose reminded me of one of Tuxedo Mask's but I then dismissed the idea. Why would Mamoru spend his time saving me?

The elevator lurched to a stop and then started to sway dangerously. I must have screamed because Mamoru put a hand on my arm.

" Don't worry, I won't let anything bad happen to you", he said. I looked into his eyes and saw such sincerity that I knew I wasn't just warming up to Mamoru – I was falling in love. Nothing in the world sounded as good as having someone tell me they 'wouldn't let anything bad happen'. Someone to drown out my dreams and to keep me from thinking too much; that was heaven. The elevator shaft suddenly became ablaze with fire. In seconds the whole thing would crash down. I was going to have to transform. I looked at Mamoru, and just hoped he wouldn't laugh.

" Moon Crystal Power!" I shouted, and transformed. I got us out of there to find Zoicite laughing, thinking he had killed us.

" Takes more then a measly fireball to get rid of Sailor Moon, you should know that by now!" I said.

" Ha! It's not you I want, but your friend Tuxedo Mask."

" He's not even here", I said.

" Yes, I am", I turned and saw Mamoru transform into Tuxedo Mask. I blinked rapidly and yet the dream remained. I wonder if he's disappointed, knowing I'm Sailor Moon? As I was taking in these rather shocking events, Zoicite and Tuxedo Mask were gearing up to fight. I should have seen the crystal shard that Zoicite had materialized behind us. I should have been better prepared, just like Luna was always saying. Unfortunately, since I always seem to mess up when it matters, I didn't see the shard until it had flung itself deep into Mamoru's chest.

Everything seemed to go into slow motion. I moved towards him as his knees buckled and managed to be under him so that he wouldn't hit the ground. The mask tumbled from his eyes, and I knew when I was looking into his eyes, that things would never be the same between us again. It felt like I was seeing my future in the blue-black pools of his eyes. And my future was dying even as I watched. I couldn't stop the tears from falling, why do people have to die? Why did Mamoru have to die? Didn't anyone see how wrong the world was when things like this happened?

The tear on my cheek began to shine and all around me little jewels of coloured light began appearing. Gradually they formed into a beautiful silver crystal – THE silver crystal that we had been looking for since I started this whole crazy thing. We must be close to the princess I realized. My crescent wand rose to the air, and the crystal attached itself as though it was relieved to be back where it belonged. I don't know why but I reached for it and then my life got even more complicated – I turned into the moon princess.

I heard the scouts arrive and gasp when they saw me, I saw Mamoru's eyes focus once more on me and he smiled, having finally found his princess. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I wasn't her, that somebody in the cosmos had made a mistake. Then the memories began flooding in. Okay, so maybe I was she, but still, me, Usagi, a princess? Now how many people would I be failing when I screwed up? The way Mamoru looked at me though was enough to make me melt. I remembered clandestine nights on the moon, dancing under the stars. I knew what it felt like to be held in loving arms and to be kissed. I wondered if it could ever be that way again.

" Take a good look at your princess, it's the last look you'll ever get", said Zoicite vehemently. I raised the crystal and aimed at him. The damage was extensive. I winced as the crystals backlash hit me. No fooling, that crystal was one powerful weapon.

The rest of the events happened in a blur and then I passed out. I awoke later in time to hear Jupiter make a snide comment about my weight since she was carrying me. They informed me that Mamoru had been captured; they informed me that we were trapped in the building, and they informed me that I should stop my snivelling.

" But I don't want to be the princess! Do any of you understand that? I don't want to be a princess, or Sailor Moon, or anybody but plain old average Usagi", I spat out angrily. Didn't they see? Didn't they realize how hard it was going to be to live up to the expectations of a princess?

" Gotta say, never thought you were much of a leader", Rei began.

" Shut-up, Mars. I know you want to be leader, I know you hate me!"

" That's not true! Well, maybe at first, but now I know how strong you are. I'm glad you're our leader."

" Yeah, me too", said Venus. Well, I guess being the princess did have some perks. It instils loyalty if not friendship.

" Let's give her a break you guys, after all this is Usagi, and this is a very big deal", Amy said. You try turning into a princess, wielding a crystal that could destroy the world, finding out the guy you were crushing on is the same guy you loved a thousand years ago and that he has now been taken away, and then you tell me how normal you feel Amy. I thought I was handling it pretty well but then nobody asked me. " Here's the good news, I found a way out of here."

We headed for the exit but Malachite was blocking off our escape. I took care of him and finally we were free. Free to go back to normal. I was free to go back to being Usagi, Sailor Moon, and the princess. The thought of such 'freedom' almost made me laugh – it was all so ridiculous.

For the next month or so the Negaverse did not let up. Worst of all was the fact that Tuxedo Mask had been turned against us and was now working with the enemy. I was still learning how to use the crystal, but even so every time he appeared I was supposed to try and heal him. It was so hard trying to figure out how much power to use; too much and I would kill him, too little and it wouldn't work and I'd have to start all over again. Besides that the crystal hurt. It had to be powered by my energy and my emotions, but sometimes it seemed to reflect emotions as well. When I cured someone who was afraid, I took that fear into myself. When I tried to cure Mamoru who emanated hatred towards me… I would hate myself a little bit more afterwards. Disoriented, weak, sore, confused, I would come out of the attack and the first thing I would hear was 'you failed'.

Those were the days when I first started to think that I couldn't go on like this. Something was going to have to change or I was going to go crazy. My friends tried to cheer me up but they thought I was sad because I missed Mamoru. That was only part of the problem. How could I tell them that I had been trying to find myself for so long that I had forgotten why was I looking? There was no relief. I would wake up, sore and tired, to be greeted with sighs from my parents because I was late and still not taking responsibility for myself. At school, I would scramble to keep up with classes that were becoming increasingly foreign to me. Maybe I could have been doing better but to catch up I needed time, and I didn't have that. After school, instead of going home and getting some sleep and taking a break from the stress that was pulling me down, I had to go to scout meetings, where I was accused of not paying attention. Couldn't they see I was just too overwhelmed?

After meetings, I would rush home to be on time for dinner, which was sometimes good and sometimes… not so good. If I said little and ate quietly, then I could usually avoid more confrontation with my parents. However, sometimes I would see my mom looking at me with this sad look in her eyes and the food would stick in my throat. Sometimes I would have to show them my grades or get them to sign something, and then my dad would give me with this angry, disappointed look. At night, if there was no youma attack, I would shut myself in my room and do anything to keep myself from thinking. Then I would fall into a fitful sleep that was fraught with nightmares.

I said before that I thought something was going to change and in my optimism, I thought it would change for the better. What actually happened was a final confrontation with Beryl, Queen of the Negaverse. The ultimate in evil thus far and my greatest foe. Needless to say I was frightened and knowing that the guardian cats thought everyone was ready to fight, with the exception of me, was hardly uplifting. Of course, Luna did not expect me to hear that particular conversation. I can't put into words what happened to me when we arrived on that arctic tundra and began walking towards Beryl's black castle of power. How do I describe what it feels like when you watch your friend, the strongest of your group and the most supportive of you, die before your eyes? I watched Makoto give herself up to save me, saw the green flash of light that told me she was fighting, and heard her whispery words in my ear that told me she was dead. Still numb, I watched as Amy gave us time to escape while she faced the enemy alone. I never knew such courage and then she was gone too, just a last haunting vision of a girl in blue. I started to cry and I know it was hardly the time or place, but I couldn't stop myself. Why couldn't I have saved them? Why did I have to be as useless as everyone kept saying I was?

My weakness resulted in Venus, or Minako rather, getting caught also. I turned away, not wanting to see her sparkling smile and boundless energy brought to a halt. I knew she was dead too though, my heart felt her passing. Then it was just Rei and I, running across the snow swept fields, both of us knowing we were going to die, one of us thinking it wouldn't be the end. Her unswerving confidence and faith was something that had made me feel small in the past, but now I admired it. Hell, I admired her. And when she told me to go on ahead, I tried to be brave. I saw her blood flow out into the snow and thought she would have appreciated such a noble death. I turned away from the crimson snow and threw up.

I kept going somehow, intent on having their deaths count for something. Visions, thoughts, hallucinations… I have no words to describe it but suddenly I was seated in front of Beryl, and at her side was Mamoru, in his Prince Endymion incarnation. He tried to kill me. Fighting him was hard – I held back to not hurt him but he had no such compulsion. Torn and bloody, I used every weapon in my arsenal trying to bring him back. In the end it worked, and for one brief shining moment I saw him look at me with his real eyes. Then Beryl attacked and he left me… died again. I was alone. My friends were dead, my protector was dead, and inside I was dead. But I fought. I did not give up and I funnelled everything that was in my heart into that crystal. I did not matter, what mattered was that this evil was destroyed and I found strength in that. We did it, as a team through faith and willpower. Beryl was destroyed and we went back to earth, awaking without a single memory as to what had happened.