Skin Deep – part three. Like I said before, I wrote the song. If I could write music I'd give you the tune too but as of now it's only in my head.

END

The lights of the vortex suddenly went dim and I was left bereft of the knowledge that I so desperately needed. That was it? That's all I had to see? What happened now?

" You're up to the present day, the present hour now. You have finished seeing all there is to see. Did you find it useful?" said the voice, returning in the blinding luminance.

" No, I found it horrifying. Why didn't anyone help her? Why didn't you?"

" Why didn't you? You are her protector", said the speaker and for the first time she sounded angry. Then she sighed and continued on more sedately, " the fact is we all want to believe everything is fine with the ones we love. If we go looking for problems, we tend to find them. There is also only so much we can do for one another. In the end it is they who have to be strong and we can but stand by and pray they make the right decisions. But you did not answer my question. What are you prepared to do now?"

" The dreams tell me she'll die if I approach her. I know now that isn't a good enough reason to keep us apart. Nothing that says what 'might be' and what 'could be if' matters compared to what is and what's true. I love her – that's the truth. I need her and she needs me. Nothing else should have any sway over my decisions."

" You have learned a lot during your time here. Be sure to put it to good use. I will take you back now", she said. My bed landed with a soft thump on the carpet of my bedroom. I looked out the window and saw that it was nighttime.

" I thought you said no time would go by?" I said.

" So you missed one day. Time travel isn't an exact science you know. As far as the timeline goes, you left this morning and got back now. Before I leave, I want to say that I admire what you have you done. And I wish you luck. No doubt, you will need it."

" Wait, I feel I should thank you somehow. I don't even know who you are", I said. The light flashed and standing before me was a woman with long green hair and dressed in a black sailor suit.

" My name is Sailor Pluto, guardian of time. And you can thank me by saving my queen, my friend. Look after Usagi, she is important to so many", she said thickly, before stepping into a portal and disappearing.

I had to get to Usagi and stop her. I just hoped I wasn't too late. Pulling on clothes in a haphazard fashion, I grabbed my car keys and dashed down the stairs. I was slipping the keys into the car door, when I felt a familiar twinge. Sailor Moon? She was turning into Sailor Moon now? At least, she couldn't be dead if she was transforming. I turned myself into Tuxedo Mask and followed the sensations that always led me to her.

The battle was taking place atop a high skyscraper in downtown Tokyo. Even without my instincts as Tuxedo Mask, it would have been easy to find her since the sky was pitch black with a sole light shining like a beacon. She was already hard at work when I arrived. I stumbled over Mercury who was lying face down on the rough cement. Fearing the worst, I turned her over and was relieved when she immediately came to.

" What's going on?"

" Doom Phantom", Amy gasped out.

" Where are the others?"

" I think they're under that black tunnel thing", she said. She got shakily to her feet and used her visor. " I don't think she's going to have enough power even with the crystal".

" Then we're going to have to giver her ours", I said. Mercury nodded and together we fought our way into the darkness. I kept my eyes on the bright, white, light. I had to get to her, somehow, and let her know she wasn't as alone as she thought.

" Usako? Usako, where are you?" I screamed. The light seemed to great brighter for a moment and then it washed over me. I saw her standing with her eyes closed and the crystal upraised above her head. " Don't give up Usako, I believe in you, we all believe in you", I said to her. I don't think she even heard me but I stood by her. The scouts began feeding her their energy and the crystal grew brighter. She was in her princess form and this close to her I could see the scars in her bare arms. What was she thinking right now? I had gotten so accustomed to knowing her every thought that it seemed strange to have to ask myself how she was feeling. Drawing on the insights that I had gained, however, I imagined she was feeling that she would do this last thing. She would finish this last task for us and then she would seek her peace.

" You cannot defeat me!" said the voice from the clouds.

" Like hell we can't", I said back to it. Usagi's back stiffened and she cried out. A small rivulet of blood trickled from her mouth and I instinctively reached for her and tried to shield her from whatever was harming her. The white light began to make a dent in the Doom Phantom's column of darkness. With a scream, Usagi's threw the crystal up even higher where it gathered a pinkish glow and pierced a thousand holes in the black screen. Large cracks began to form and then it all smashed.

" No!" cried the voice as the darkness was washed away in a torrent of pure light. The crystal floated back down to rest in Usagi's outstretched hands. Her clothes returned to the jeans and T-shirt she had been wearing before. The sight of those clothes and what they were for made my mouth go dry.

" We, we did it", said Minako slowly.

" It's over. It's really over." Amy said wearily. I saw Usagi go over to Mars and Jupiter and whisper something to them, and then she started to walk away. I was about to follow her when Rei and Makoto intercepted me. So that's what she'd asked them to do – delay me so she good get away.

" You have a lot of nerve showing up at the last moment like that after what you did to her. Wanted some of the credit for defeating the big bad, is that it? Do you have any idea how awful she feels?"

Actually, I had a very good idea about how she was feeling but Rei was hardly in the mood to be placated. I didn't know what to do. I had to stop Usagi from doing something drastic, and time was running out. She could even be home by now. Worse, she was going to be drained and disoriented from the crystal, and my appearance had probably shaken her up still more.

" I'd love to explain this all to you in full detail, but I don't have the time", I said. I was stopped from leaving when Makoto clamped her hand down on my arm.

" So help me, I wanted to kill you when I saw how hurt she was. But she wouldn't let me even threaten you. What makes you think you deserve that kind-of loyalty?"

I've always liked Makoto. In many ways she is as much Usagi's protector as I am, and I would never do anything to hurt her, but I had to get to my Usako. I couldn't begin to tell them the depth of Usagi's sadness and, besides, I didn't think I should tell them. The last thing Usagi wanted was people coming to her with false sympathy in their eyes, trying to make her feel better. So, although I felt bad about it, I shoved Makoto hard and she crashed into Rei. Then I ran as fast as I could, jumping from roof-top to roof-top before arriving back at my car. I revved the engine and took off for Usagi's house.

Light was spilling out from the front room as I walked up to the front door. I could hear voices too.

" Did we do the right thing? I can't help but think we should have tried harder. She's just a little girl…"

" Ikoku, we've gone over this. She was tearing this house apart. Just look at us, we never used to yell at each other. Is this the kind-of environment we want for Shingo and Chibiusa?"

" I know, I know. Nothing we did seemed to get through to her, but she just seemed so sad. What happened to her, what changed?"

" I don't know. Maybe, this will be good for her. Maybe, this will teach her that life won't always just be handed to her on a silver plate", her father said softly. I banged on the door then, needing answers.

" Who are… you're the man Usagi introduced us to…" her mother began, but I brushed past her and headed up the stairs. Angry voices followed me as I burst into Usagi's room. It was empty and so was the bathroom. The scissors still sat innocently next to the sink. The relief I felt at not seeing Usagi in a pool of blood was short-lived however and I gave into anger. " Where is she?" I raged, as her parents followed me into her room.

" We're not about to tell you", said her father. I lost it. I pushed him roughly up against the wall while Ikoku started crying in terror.

" What did you do?"

" She's not here. I told her she wasn't welcome in this house anymore", said her mother desperately.

" How could you?" I said in disbelief, releasing my hold on her husband.

" She went out, moments after being told she had to remain here. We asked her where she had been and she refused to tell us. As responsible adults, we couldn't let her keep getting away with breaking the rules."

I might have laughed, had the situation not been so tragic. Imagine, Usagi had broken her parents rules in order to save the world, and what was her reward? Thrown out onto the streets and denied the comfort that was her right. However, I couldn't blame the Tsukino's for feeling as they did. In many ways, I'm sure they thought they were helping because they didn't know they owed their very lives to their daughter. I almost pitied them that – not knowing the greatness that resided in Usagi, but now I had to find her. She had nothing at all to cling to anymore.

" Do you know which way she went?"

" No. And we don't want to. We lost our daughter tonight, and we need to mourn that loss. Please leave this house."

I did leave and got back into my car. The rain that had been falling all day was now pouring down in sheets. Somewhere out there in the dark and cold was Usagi, the world's guardian angel. She deserved so much better then this. I drove around the streets with the window down, looking aimlessly for her. It was an impossible task but I didn't know what else to do.

How far had I walked today? How many hours had I stood under the rain and not felt the cold sting of water? At first, I'd been shivering like mad, but that had subsided so that I wasn't even sure if I was cold anymore. Cars whizzed past me on the road, churning up muddy puddles, and splashing my legs with the grime. I was numb in body and in mind. I had saved the world tonight and yet all I wanted to do was to step in front of one of those cars that were going past. It wouldn't be hard; the roads were slick, and they wouldn't be able to stop. I worried though that it wouldn't kill me straight off and I then I realized the danger I would be putting the driver in. The driver was innocent – I couldn't do that. So I kept walking and eventually my feet brought me to a great big cable bridge. A drop from this height into the waters below, surely that would work? My brain felt fuzzy and I couldn't quite grasp what it was I was about to do. I stumbled up against the railing and looked at the swirling waters below trying to clear my head.

I almost missed her as my car swept up the slight incline to cross over the bridge. She was so small, the rain making her blend in with her surroundings as though she was already more dead then alive. I slammed on my brakes, and fortunately the other cars behind me were alert enough to avoid me, although there were a lot of squealing brakes and muttered curses.

" Usako?" I said slowly. I didn't want to startle her. Considering her precarious balance on the rails I thought it best not to surprise her.

" I don't feel very well", she said strangely. Then I saw her eyes roll back in her head and I jumped to catch her before she fell. Fortunately, she tumbled backwards and into my arms.

" What have we done to you?" I whispered sadly, brushing the bangs from her forehead. She was feverish I noted, her forehead and cheeks hot to the touch while the rest of her was ice cold. " I'll take care of you, I promise. Just rest for a while", I said, more for my sake then for hers. I put her in the passenger seat of my car and headed back to my apartment.

For three days I watched over her as she tossed and turned in my bed. The fever raged in her small body and yet it seemed no amount of blankets could keep her warm. Sometimes she would cough so hard that I thought she would have to wakeup but she never did. She just rolled over and muttered.

I called her parents to let her know she was okay. Her father answered and said he was glad that she was with friends but that she was no longer his concern. He then hung up on me. I remember I stood staring at that phone for a full minute. My parents had abandoned me when they died; hers had abandoned her when she didn't meet with their expectations. How would she recover from that? I also called her friends; or rather I called Rei and told her to spread the news. I told her that Usagi and I were going to take some time off together to work things out. I didn't tell Rei that Usagi had nowhere else to go. Last, I called a travel agent and booked a cabin up on the coast. It wasn't a beach area but rather the kind with cliffs, and rugged shoreline where we would be relatively isolated. When she woke up, I didn't want her to have to deal with anything but getting better. I knew from having watched her that what she needed immediately was sleep, food, and time to think. After that… I wasn't sure if I could do anything to help.

I was eating breakfast and wondering what to do with my day. I had taken leave from work for the next month, and school was out for summer. Feeling that someone was watching me, I broke off from my reveries, and looked up.

She stood there, still in her jeans and T-shirt, with her hair down from its meatballs and flowing around her. Her arms were crossed protectively across her chest as she looked at me with a slight questioning look in her sad eyes.

" How are you feeling?"

" Confused. Tired", she said. She seemed to sway slightly on her feet and she was obviously still weak.

" Sit down and I'll get you something to eat. What do you feel like eating?"

" Nothing. I'm not hungry", she said. Like hell she isn't. She just doesn't want to eat in front of anybody because she's scared they'll make fun of her appetite. I made her some toast and a very large glass of orange juice. There wasn't a lot of food in my house because I knew we'd be leaving soon.

" You may not feel like it, but you should try to get this down. You've been out of it for three days and you need to replace your energy." I left her sitting at the kitchen table and went to take a shower. When I came back the table was cleared and the plate cleaned and in the dish rack. Usagi was also missing.

" Damn it", I cursed as I hurriedly got dressed and left the apartment. I found her downstairs in the lobby reading a newspaper.

" I was going to leave, but it's not like I have anywhere to go. But you knew that, didn't you?" she said quietly.

" Let's go upstairs, and we'll talk about this", I said. She followed me silently. I got her to sit down on the couch and for a moment I paced up and down, unsure how to start. Piece by piece I told her about the dreams I had been experiencing and why I had thought it necessary for us to stay apart.

" So how do you feel about me, honestly?" she asked astutely. It was easy enough for me to excuse my behaviour; it was quite another thing to convince her I had never stopped loving her.

" I love you."

" I don't think I believe you."

" Understandable. But maybe one day you will."

" You really are arrogant, aren't you? You just assume I even want you want you back. I was doing fine on my own, and I don't need you or anybody", she said angrily. At least, she was finally expressing some emotion.

" Yeah, you just need a good sharp knife. You think I didn't notice this?" I said, grabbing her arm and bringing it to her face. Her eyes fastened on the scars and I could tell I had just made a serious mistake. She retreated into herself, and halted all conversation. " I'm sorry, but you should know you don't have to hide things from me. I want to help Usa, I do."

There was no answer and her eyes were focused elsewhere. Running my fingers through my hair, I debated about what actions to take now.

" Let's get out of here", I said. I went and packed a bag with all the stuff I might need in the coming weeks. I came back into the living room where Usagi still sat, having never moved a muscle. I took her by the hand and pulled her unresisting body towards the door. She got into my car without a murmur of protest. We were almost out of town before I spoke again.

" I should have asked before, but is there anything you want from your house? We could probably sneak in and get it." I waited for an answer and eventually she shook her head no. " Okay, then why don't we stop somewhere and get you something to wear. I bet your sick of those clothes."

I parked the car at a mall parking lot on the outskirts of town. I got out of my seat but Usagi remained strapped in. I opened her door and crouched down so we were at eye level.

" What's the matter?"

" I… I can't go in like this", she said, her voice sounding scared. So her hair was down instead of in its usual meatballs, and her clothes were rumbled and dirty, was that really a big deal? But then I noticed how she was trying to pull her sleeves down over her arms. My heart hurt just seeing that unconscious gesture of guilt. I grabbed a sweater of mine and pulled it over her head.

" It will be fine and you'll feel much better in clean clothes", I said reassuringly. I took her hand again and she seemed to almost be hiding behind me as we walked into the first department store we could find. She was not in the mood to shop and from the way she kept looking around her I knew she was nervous. It took a lot of coaxing on my part, but we finally got three pairs of pants, all black and loose; four shirts, all long sleeved, close fitting and in shades of grey or white, and a pair of pyjamas.

" Mamoru I…" she began nervously. " I don't have any money but I'll pay you back, somehow, later".

" Don't worry about that now", I said.

" Can I… borrow some more then? I need a few more things", she said even more upset.

" Why don't I come with you then?" I asked worriedly. What if she decided to take that money and run? I might never see her again. Whether or not she cared to admit it, she needed me, or at least she needed someone, to look after her for a while. After my question, she blushed furiously.

" I know it's stupid, especially after all you've been through with me, but these are things I'd rather you didn't see".

Oh, now I could tell what she was getting at. What sixteen-year-old girl wants to shop for underwear with her ex-boyfriend? Well, certainly not this girl. I handed her some money without another question.

" Tell you what, I'll go pay for this stuff and meet you in the car in, say, twenty minutes?"

She nodded and walked away from me. I wondered as I saw her disappear into the store if I would ever see her again. I sat in my car and I waited as the minutes ticked by. The rain had started to fall again and I listened to its soft pings against the car roof. What had Pluto said; something about the hardest thing is when you have to let your loved one make their own decisions? I felt like this was one of those moments. I had set her free and if she came back it would be of her own free will, but if she didn't... If she came back: what a horrible feeling it was to not know if your heart would ever be whole again. Ten more minutes, and then restraint be damned, I'd be back in there and calling for her. I double-checked my watch when her twenty-minutes were up. Was this it? Had I lost her again? Was this to be my punishment for having left her when she needed me most?

I sat still as stone as another five minutes ticked by. My heart felt like lead and everything around me seemed to fade into shades of grey. Thirty minutes later, I climbed unsteadily from my car just as the radio began to play a haunting melody.

Don't be afraid

I'll dance in the rain

Through the gloom of the darkened parking lot I saw a vision approaching. Or at least, that's what it looked like to me. I could only stare, getting wetter by the second, as she approached the car.

" I couldn't remember where you parked and with the rain…" she said but didn't get to finish. I pulled her into my arms and held her like I was never going to let go.

" I thought you weren't coming back", I whispered tearfully into her hair. She wasn't holding me in return but I didn't care. None of it mattered because she had come back and she wasn't going to push me away. The song continued to play in the background.

And when I am empty, I'll come back again

When I'm wet, and I'm cold, and I'm shaking, but free

Then I'll let you hold me

My secrets you'll keep

This is what matters

The rest is skin deep

We got to our destination quite a bit later that evening. It was a simple little cabin with a main room and kitchen combined, a bathroom, and one bedroom. From the windows you could see the sea crashing upon the rocks far below us. The kitchen was stocked with a few canned goods and I decided tomorrow was early enough to go grocery shopping.

" Why don't you take the bedroom? I'll probably be up later then you tonight anyway. You look exhausted."

" If you're sure that's okay", she said uncertainly. She grabbed some of the shopping bags and went to change. Noticing that she had left one behind, I bent to retrieve it. It clanged and rattled, which puzzled me because I thought she had bought only clothing. I took a peek inside and saw things like a toothbrush and a hairbrush; things I should have realized would also be necessary. I was closing the bag when I saw a new pair of scissors resting innocently along with everything else.

" Oh, Usako", I muttered sadly, as I knocked on her door and handed her the bag. Now wasn't the time for another confrontation.

The next morning I awoke with the sun and wearily stretched. I decided to go for a little run and when I got back, Usagi was still sleeping. I wasn't going to but I couldn't help watching her for a moment as she slept. Unlike the feverished slumbers of the other few nights, this time she was peaceful. How such a small and fragile person could hold so much pain and goodness inside her; it was one of those mysteries that you knew would never be solved. I let her sleep, knowing how much she needed her rest.

The next few days passed if not easily, then at least they passed peacefully. Usagi began to realize that I would not criticize her sleeping habits or her eating habits so she gradually lost that guilty look when she got up at noon or when she made herself a sandwich. As she regained her strength, she began to sleep less of her own accord and even went for a walk with me along the cliffs. The tension was growing between us though and I didn't know what to do about it. I came back one day from the grocery store to find Usagi pacing the length of the kitchen.

Too much thought leads to nonsense

Denial brings the solace I seek

I'm scared of somehow losing my place

All the same I hate that I'm weak

Things are never black and white

So I live in perpetual day

One day I'll run out in the night

And then I'll have words to say

" Where the hell were you?" she screamed.

" I went and got groceries. I thought I told you", I said.

" Well, you didn't. I thought I'd been left up here and I realised I don't even know where 'here' is."

" You're right, that was my fault. I should have left a note."

" I'm not a child, you know. You can't just pretend like everything is fine so I'll think that it is. I know we're going to leave her some day and I'll have to face everything again. There will be a new enemy; I'll have to go back to town, and back to school. Oh God, I forgot about school. I'll have to be held back, I'm so stupid. How could I have thought…"

" Usako, don't. You're not stupid. You've had an amazing amount of stuff happen to you in the last little while – nobody would be thinking clearly. As for school, maybe you should consider some alternate forms of schooling, but for now, try and figure out what it is that you want to do."

" Ha, I have a choice? I was thrown out of my home, what am I supposed to do about that? Go to court and force them to take care of me? Sponge off you for the rest of my life, maybe?" she said bitterly.

" You're not taking advantage of me."

" Sure I am. I don't do anything, I'm practically useless, and the only reason you're doing this is because you feel guilty that I tried to kill myself. I appreciate it; I really do, but let's face it you're only going to be around until I'm able to look after myself properly. As soon as you can be sure I won't do something horrible, you'll leave me… just like everyone else. I don't want you here because of pity."

" Damn it, it's not pity!" I shouted at her. " Get this through your head. I love you. I always have and I always will. Having you here is as much for me as it is for you."

Silence greeted my words and except the sound of us steadying our breathing after the little outburst, everything was silent.

" What's going to happen to me?" she finally asked. I didn't know what to tell her. I didn't know what the future held in store for us. I wanted to tell her that she had nothing more to worry about, but that was a lie; there was only so much I could do for her. I wanted to say that everything would turn out fine because she was a good person and tried so hard, but I knew for a fact that bad things happened to good people. I wanted to go on living in this cabin forever and never share her with anyone ever again, but she was right; this escape from reality couldn't last forever.

" Why don't we take this one day at a time? We still have a few weeks here and you're still not completely healthy", I said. I turned to put the groceries away and Usagi stood up to help me.

" How about I make dinner tonight? I'd like to do something", she said.

" Okay", I said.

When the chores were done, I looked up to find Usagi staring at me once more.

" What?"

" Tell me again, why you're doing all this for me. Convince me I deserve to be here", she said.

" To start off with, I'm not doing it for you. I gave you up rather then face a life without you in it. Then, when I realized how stupid that was, I came to find you only to find out you were going to leave me this time. I can probably get through my life without you, Usako, but I don't know why I'd want to. I want to see you happy because that makes me happy. I want to see you enjoying life, because that makes me enjoy my life. I want you because I'm nothing without you", I said, and then I turned to her. I could see how much she wanted to believe what I was saying, but how hard it was to overcome what was engrained in her thoughts. I went to her and sat beside her on the couch. I took her arm in my hand and pulled back the sleeve. Light silvery scar lines traced down her skin and I very gently ran my fingers along them. I heard her gasp and looked straight into her despairing eyes. " When you cut yourself, it hurts me too."

She pulled her arm back and cradled it to her. " I'm sorry".

" I know you are", I said. She reached for me, putting her hands over mine tentatively. It was so brief a touch I hardly had time to react, but when she pulled away, I grabbed her hands and held them tightly. I pulled her in closer and kissed her very softly. It was a kiss unlike any other with so many other emotions in play that it was almost possible to dismiss the passion. She opened up to me and I put everything I wanted to tell her into that kiss. We broke apart and she said,

" You've never kissed me like that before".

" I'm sorry, I shouldn't have gone so fast…" she stilled my excuses by putting a finger on my lips.

" It wasn't a reprimand, just a regret."

" Then allow me to make it up to you", I said and kissed her again. She turned away then and left to prepare dinner, but we both knew that things had taken a step in the right direction. That night I couldn't sleep for thinking about her. So much depended on me getting this right and yet so much more depended on her. She was the one who had to figure out how she was going to find the strength to live her life.

Soon we had to get back into town. I had to get back to work and Usagi had to face her fears. We couldn't go on hiding anymore.

" Usako?" I asked when we were nearing the city. She was still too quiet for my liking. I hadn't heard her laugh in so long.

" Yes?"

" Move in with me?"

" Okay", she said simply. And that was that. Usako moved into my tiny apartment. I slept on the couch; she slept in my room, until one day when she realized that my feet hung over the edge of the couch. From then on, she slept on the couch instead of me, and I admit she fit there much better. The first day back at work, I couldn't wait to get home. I was a little scared at what I'd find but there she was calmly cooking in my kitchen. Our kitchen, I amended to myself.

" I'm going to see the girls tomorrow. What did you tell them, when we left?"

" I, uh, told them we needed some time to ourselves to sort things out. That's all I told them too", I said.

" Thanks", she whispered.

I don't know where I belong

I don't know how to fit in

I don't know where I went wrong

I don't know if I'll ever win

I don't how to play the game

But I hope to pay my due

If I find someone who feels the same

I'll know that I've found you

I went to work the next day and was actually optimistic about the future when I saw the mass amount of paper waiting for me on my desk. I was temping in a doctor's clerical office and I guess whoever had had my job while I was away, hadn't gotten around to this menial stuff. I worked all day and went I looked up, I realized it was much later then I had previously thought. My first thought was of Usako who would be worried. I dialled the number and let the phone ring for a long time before hanging up, grabbing my jacket and dashing out the door. I drove far too fast and was grateful that there weren't too many people on the road.

Sprinting up the stairs to my apartment, because I was too impatient to wait for the elevator, I thought of all the things that could have happened. I should just trust her and respect that she has a mind of her own, but I also couldn't bear the thought of losing her.

" Usako? Are you here?" I yelled as soon as I had the door open. No answer. She had made dinner again and it was stored neatly in the fridge. There was light coming from under the bathroom door. I knocked briefly, but when I got no answer I opened the door. There she was, sitting in the bathtub naked with her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms covering her breasts. She was glaring at me but I wasn't convinced. I grabbed her arms and turned them towards me so that I could see them. The scars were red and puckered from the bath but there were no fresh marks.

" I'm sorry, I thought", I began. Her face was turned away from me and she tried to hide her body from my gaze. " Damn it, why didn't you just answer me or get the phone when I called?"

" If you want to talk about this, can I at least have a towel? I'm not exactly comfortable like this", she mumbled.

God, I'm such an idiot sometimes. I turned around swiftly and left the bathroom. I ran my hands repeatedly through my hair, trying to regain a modicum of composure. I heard her step out of the bathroom and my eyes found hers. I didn't know if she was upset or anything.

" I'm sorry I was so late from work and that I didn't call sooner. And I'm sorry for walking in on you like I did", I said.

" I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later, considering we live together", she said. We both knew the real reason I had been in that bathroom, but neither of us felt like saying anything about it. She decided to lighten the mood a little saying, " Of course, if you really wanted to see my breasts there are better ways of going about it, I would think."

I smiled and I think I might even have blushed. " For the record? You really are beautiful."

I was lying awake that night in my bedroom, not thinking about much when my bedroom door opened. She stood there in the shadows, clutching a blanket to her nervously.

" Usako, is something wrong?" She nodded her head yes and came a step closer. " You can tell me."

" You were right" she burst out brokenheartedly. " You were right to break in on me tonight. I wanted to do it so much, and I tried so hard not to, but I might have done it if it hadn't been for you. I thought I was getting better, but it's so hard. Why can't I just get past this?"

I got up and put my arms around her. Her tears fell on my shoulder, making it wet but I didn't care. " At least, you're struggling. It means you haven't given up", I said as I smoothed her hair. I felt her arms come around me and hold on tightly. We fell asleep just like that.

Don't be afraid; I'll dance in the rain

And when I am empty, I'll come back again

When I'm wet, and I'm cold, and I'm shaking, but free

Then I'll let you hold me

My secrets you'll keep

You are what matters

The rest is skin deep

Following that incident, things were a little better between Usako and myself. She never went back to sleeping on the couch and instead we shared my bed, which was pretty easy since she was so small, and because she slept like the dead, I didn't have to worry about waking her up in the morning. She still didn't laugh, but occasionally she would smile. She also really liked to make dinner and keep house for me, which made me eager to come home in the evenings. One day I came home to find she had changed her black and grey clothes for some more colourful ones and that she was wearing a skirt. Her sleeves were pushed back while she did the dishes and she didn't seem bothered by the marks there. It was a small step, but I knew it had been a difficult one.

We talked frequently and she told me that she had been seeing the other scouts a little more frequently. I could tell she was still a little scared of being around them and all that they represented, but it was nice that she hadn't completely given up on them. We never discussed her family because I knew that it was a particularly painful subject. One day, she would be strong enough to go back and make amends, but that time wasn't now.

Mistakes I have made still haunt me

But forgiveness is my freedom

My shadowy soul forced me to see

How much I could overcome

I figured out where I'm going

I had to look from the other side

Thought at first I was drowning

But from you I could never hide

" I've been to see the specialist at my old school. I explained that I didn't think I could handle going back to school and she suggested a way of correspondence learning that would fit better with my… disability anyways. It's kind-of expensive, but since the hours would be pretty flexible, I thought I could get a part-time job or something. Well what do you think?" she asked, finally daring to meet my eyes. I was beaming at her.

" That is the best news I have heard in a long time", I said, sweeping her off her feet and into a hug. " And I think the best place for you to work is at the arcade. Andrew knows about our identities, did I ever tell you that?"

" You told him?"

" Actually, he caught Luna talking to one of the machines once and from then on he kind-of pieced things together. But it would be easier to work there, especially if you have to leave suddenly. No explanations would be necessary", I said.

" Yeah, it would be kind-of hard to run after an enemy all the time and not raise suspicions."

" Who said anything about an enemy? I meant me. I plan on stealing you away with me every once and awhile without a moment's notice."

" Mamochan, what am I going to do with you?" she said with a smile on her lips.

" You called me Mamochan", I said, surprised.

" That's your name, isn't it?"

" And don't you forget it, Usako", I said, and kissed her. I felt her sigh of content against my lips and deepened the kiss. We melted into each other until it was impossible to find where I ended and she began. She was my whole world.

I don't know when

I don't know how

I didn't know then

And I don't know now

I don't know why

But I feel like I'm new

If I can but try

I'll be true to you

'School' was going much better this time around for Usagi. Her friends were surprised that she wasn't going back with them but over all they were supportive. Simple tasks that took her longer then others to grasp still frustrated her, but she was also stubborn which helped a great deal. Her job at the arcade was perfect for her. She liked meeting new people when they didn't have any expectations about her except that she bring them what they ordered, and she was popular, especially with boys her age. I could have been jealous, but all I had to do was walk in the room and she would be all smiles for me alone. I don't want it to sound like everything was perfect; it wasn't. It was hard for us sometimes, seeing as we were going out and yet living together – things that should have been compatible but because of our unique situation often posed problems. Plus, I knew Usagi so well that neither of us could pretend when one of us was hurting. Sometimes she was up and sometimes she was down; sometimes I could help her and sometimes I couldn't.

I came home one night in the pouring rain. I got into my apartment and began shaking the water off of my clothes and out of my hair.

" Did you go out today? It is really coming down out there", I said to the air. Usually, Usako would come out at this point and welcome me home. However, the apartment was quiet. Surprised I looked into the kitchen and saw a note left for me. Probably, she was out with one of the girls. I got myself a glass of milk and started drinking while I read her note.

Mamochan,

How can I begin to thank you for all you've done for me?

I can only imagine how hard it's been for you and yet you've been

so solid and understanding. So, I'm sorry to do this, but there are

a few things I have to face on my own. I think I can do it this time.

Please remember that I love you and I hope you aren't too angry with

me. I just think this is something I need to do alone.

Yours always, Usako

I put the glass down shakily and read the note yet again. It was kind-of vague and

I didn't know if the ominous ring to it was because of my own fears or hers. I looked around the apartment, hoping that she would be there to explain what she meant. In the bathroom, everything was just as she left it only I couldn't find the scissors and I looked for them. I looked for those scissors as though they were the most precious things on earth but couldn't find them.

" Oh, Usako. This isn't the answer", I said sadly. I didn't know where she had gone but I went and got my car keys anyway. I drove around for a while and finally felt compelled to stop at the park. I got out of my car and took an umbrella before wandering around the grounds. She wasn't on the bench where we often met, and she wasn't in the rose gardens. I was about to give-up and go look somewhere else, when I finally saw her on the little bridge. The rain was still falling steadily but she was relatively easy to see. I stood there and watched, knowing that if I stopped her now it would only delay her, so I had to hope she made the right decision. I watched as she gave a shaky sob, and then pulled her arm back, and threw something silver and metallic into the water.

Then she started to laugh, thinly and with her fair share of hiccups, but it was genuine laughter.

" Usako?"

" I did it Mamochan. I did", she said. With her eyes closed, she did a little twirl, and let the rain slide down her upturned face. There was a smile on her face that had to be the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was perfectly serene.

So don't be afraid when I dance in the rain

For you are the water and I am the pain

When I'm wet, and I'm cold, and I'm shaking, but free

Then I'll let you hold me

And my secrets you'll keep

Love is what matters - the rest is skin deep

The rest is only skin deep

Skin Deep

I guess I thought I knew you

But then I thought I knew myself

It was something of a shock to find

I'm lost like everyone else

And if we're all so troubled

And since nobody knows the way

Who are you to tell me

Who I should be at the end of the day?

I don't know where I'm going

I don't know when I'll arrive

I don't know how the story ends

I don't know if I'll survive

I don't know which choices to make

But here's what I'll try to prove

If life doesn't cause me to break

I'll find my way back to you

Don't be afraid; I'll dance in the rain

And when I am empty, I'll come back again

When I'm wet, and I'm cold, and I'm shaking, but free

Then I'll let you hold me

My secrets you'll keep

This is what matters - the rest is skin deep

Too much thought leads to nonsense

Denial brings the solace I seek

I'm scared of somehow losing my place

All the same I hate that I'm weak

Things are never black and white

So I live in perpetual grey

One day I'll run out in the night

And then I'll have words to say

I don't know where I belong

I don't know how to fit in

I don't know where I went wrong

I don't know if I'll ever win

I don't how to play the game

But I hope to pay my due

If I find someone who feels the same

I'll know that I've found you

Don't be afraid; I'll dance in the rain

And when I am empty, I'll come back again

When I'm wet, and I'm cold, and I'm shaking, but free

Then I'll let you hold me

My secrets you'll keep

You are what matters - the rest is skin deep

Mistakes I have made still haunt me

But forgiveness is my freedom

My shadowy soul forced me to see

How much I could overcome

I figured out where I'm going

I had to look from the other side

Thought at first I was drowning

But from you I never could hide

I don't know when

I don't know how

I didn't know then

And I don't know now

I don't know why

But I feel like I'm new

If I can but try

I'll be true to you

So don't be afraid when I dance in the rain

For you are the water and I am the pain

When I'm wet, and I'm cold, and I'm shaking, but free

Then I'll let you hold me

And my secrets you'll keep

Love is what matters - the rest is skin deep

The rest is only skin deep

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