She leaned against the windowsill of the rented room and removed the mask one clasp at a time. Cool air brushed against her overheated skin as the reinforced material released the perspiration that had been trapped underneath. She sighed, relishing the small relief. Setting the mask aside, she allowed her gaze to wander across the cityscape below, picking out individuals as they went about their ordinary daily lives.
     Sitting on a bench across the street, a woman leaned over a carriage, cooing at the child within. Near her a man barked out a laugh when he defeated his grimacing buddy in a game of street chess. A ragged group of children raced toward the nearby park with what appeared to be homemade netted sticks of some sort clenched in their hands, very likely for a game they invented themselves. A grocer argued with a college-aged boy who had minutes before been lazily swishing a broom around on the sidewalk, apparently lost in a daydream.
     The city was shimmering with people young and old walking their dogs, completing their shopping, cuddling their lovers, living their stories. As she observed the activities of others, her hand crept up to graze across the mottled and puckered skin on the right side of her face, lightly tracing the man-made ridges and valleys there. Absently, her fingers sought out the deeper crevasses that reached her eye, the toughened flesh encircling the weakened bone structure, forcing her lids into a permanent half-wink. She knew the edge of her lips drew downwards as well, though with practice and regular strengthening, she had regained a functional amount of control over her speech and expressions. The damage was old and deep, leaving only vague, muted sensation behind. She barely recognized her own touch on the numbed tissue. Her eyes lingered a moment longer on a group of giggling teenage girls loitering at the corner, who were themselves eyeing a pack of older boys huddled over smokes nearby. She sighed again while running her fingers across the side of her head, feeling the stripes of spoiled flesh that continued even there, rejecting the growth of new hair.
     Turning away at last, she stripped down completely, carelessly tossing items into the nearby hamper one at a time, kicking her boots into the corner behind it. When she passed the mirror before stepping into the shower, she briefly noted the wasteland of her body. Automatically her mind cataloged the alliance of twisted scars and marred pigment that left tracks of chaotic light and dark behind. But as she stretched her muscles under the purification of hot water, she could ignore her imperfections. She felt the strength that operated underneath. She was broad of shoulder. Greying hair which was still full and thick on the left side dripped water down a solid back and chest. She was healthy despite the corruptions on the surface, with the possibility of a long life still ahead of her, though she had lived much of it already. She bowed her head for a moment at that thought. She knew what she faced tonight. Or tomorrow. Or next week. She knew what she had to do, eventually, no matter how fervently she wished for the peace of a quiet, anonymous life. She knew what choices a bitterly flawed society forced on her.
     She remained in her thoughts long enough for the water to begin to run cool, and then pulled a thin towel up her legs and past her thighs to dab at the neat curls shadowing her mons Venus. She was bringing the cloth up over her breasts when there was a clatter outside the cracked bathroom door. She froze immediately. Her spine stiffened and she twisted her head so that her best ear faced the source of the disruption. The sounds that followed were softer - the whisper of a drawer sliding open, and then of hands shuffling something inside. She eased her way to the door and peered through the sliver of space. A figure was there. Male, with dark hair clipped roughly just above his shoulders. He had removed his shirt, allowing it to puddle at his feet, and she could see his shoulder blades working efficiently as his hands continued to push things around the drawer. Muscles along his spine rippled as he turned suddenly in her direction, holding some half-folded article of clothing as he did so. His face tilted upwards as he realized she was there, and dark eyes caught her own.
     She still held the towel as she stepped fully into the light, but did not bother to use it as a shield. He could not miss the full recitation of her tattle-tale scars which in certain shadings could make her appear more beast than woman. And yet he did not flinch. He was not young himself, only a decade or so to go before he reached her current age. Experienced, perhaps, in the hardships of the world that left their marks. She picked out the early sprinkling of silver in his hair and even noted the same glint in his rough stubble. He let the bundle he had been holding drop (she could see now that it was a shirt from the drawer) and took a few steps deeper into the room. She was a tall woman - several inches taller than most men - and nearness created a looming sensation in others. He hesitated, weighing his next move. She recognized a controlled tension, perhaps even nervousness, in his face. He looked guilty. He looked caught. He even looked a touch embarrassed. She had seen that look many times throughout her life.
     With a grace belied by the horrific insults against her skin, she removed the space between them and grasped his head in both hands, pulling his face up to her kiss. He did pause ever so slightly then, seemingly surprised, but then just as quickly his hands clasped her shoulders and he accepted the intimacy. The kiss deepened, and his right arm slid to hook under her own, pulling her waist up tightly into him, the left hand sliding up her neck to gently cup her ravaged jawline. After a long moment, she pulled back and looked into his eyes, allowing him to decide the next step. His arm tightened again, initiating another kiss, while he pivoted her with his hip toward the bed. She did not resist the movement, wanting and needing him. As they swayed slowly back, his mouth dipped to softly nibble down her neck and along her collar bone. She sighed with the ripples of pleasant sensation that spread across her chest.
     He did not hesitate to touch her scars, proving that he had no fear of deformities that others might view with disgust, but he concentrated on the skin in between where most of her pleasure still lived uninterrupted and attainable. She appreciated his insight as another shiver worked its way up her spine to flush across her breasts and cheeks, stiffening her nipples as they burrowed into the hair on his chest. His mouth and fingers found those pockets of soft skin again and again and again. She slid her hands between them as the backs of her knees finally touched the mattress, and smoothly unbuttoned the jeans that he wore, slipping them down the warmth of his buttocks, allowing her fingers to explore the contours and dimples she found there.
     With only a hint of awkwardness, he kicked off his shoes before setting one knee firmly into the mattress while he supported them both. She was heavy - solid - but his movements were controlled and she trusted the strength she could feel in his bunched shoulders. Continuing the lingering kiss, he lowered her carefully onto her back and then stood again. He allowed his gaze to seek out her curves and hollows as he pushed his jeans to the floor to be forgotten much like his shoes. He resisted only for a few seconds longer, then settled into her open arms.
     Afterwards, she lay tucked against his side, one leg curled over his torso. The sun had set long ago and a whispered breeze fingered the curtains from the darkness outside the open window. He could tell that she had drifted off into a light sleep when her breathing settled into a soft rhythm. He used the time to survey the sparsely furnished room. She lived lightly - ghostly - with little evidence of material things. Most of what he could see belonged to the owners of the building. There were few clues to her personality beyond a stack of library books on a side table. From his position, he couldn't make out the titles, but several were quite thick with ornate covers. Next to the stack was the heavy looking mask - deep blue with a design in pearls and greys. He pondered on it until he felt her stir.
     Her eyes opened slowly, looking up from his shoulder into his face. For a moment, there was a peace there in her features which softened the ravages that she had suffered over the years. But then her expression changed. Her mouth twisted in some manifestation of internal pain that peeled the lips back from her teeth which were white and sharp and snapping. She pushed her arms under her, arching her back as a sizzling sound crackled up her spine. His face was grim as he watched her rise swiftly from the sheets to stand hunched next to the bed, struggling with something he could not understand. Without uttering a sound, she turned toward the closet and began covering herself with whatever she yanked unceremoniously from it, items that looked very much like the discarded clothing in the hamper. She jammed her feet carelessly into her boots and then snatched the mask from the table. She turned it once, then twice more in her hands as she looked back up at him. He had not moved from his place among  the rumpled pillows. She searched the shadows of his eyes and then lifted the mask over her face, the sound of the clasps clicking home very loud in the stillness of the room. Now her eyes were as shadowed and full of secrets as his. She returned to the window, leaning her head out to survey the newly illuminated city, a city reborn in the lights of the night. Or so it always seemed at first glance. She knew better.
     She shifted her weight and settled on the edge of the window, swinging a leg over the sill and holding herself steady against the frame. Her chin tilted up as if she were tasting a bit of the cool breeze - probably the last of it before the summer winds turned into heat lashes whipping up the sweat of their backs. His hands clenched the sheets into knots at the sides of his hips as he felt the waves of tension drifting off of her. He almost shook his head no, but then didn't as the impulse was lost in the pressure of the moment. Unable to take his eyes from her, he noted the knuckles of her left hand against the badly painted frame growing paler as her center of gravity moved outwards. She glanced back at him, her thoughts veiled by the mask. He could hear an increasing roar from the city as a crowd gathered nearby. There were shouts and a few shrill yelps and screams, though he could not make out any words. The wail of an ambulance, or perhaps a firetruck, pierced the rumbling bubble of human voices. For a moment, the bright spotlight of a passing police helicopter splashed across the window, eclipsing her details into the darkness of silhouette. He winced against the flare. Before his vision could clear again, she released her grip on the frame and dropped out of sight. The spotlight followed.
     He looked into the dark space left behind, framed by the weathered sash and ratty curtains still in sympathetic movement. The space where his lacerated lover had been moments before. The air was still heavy with her scent as his eyes moved toward the drawer that he had been concentrating on earlier. He considered it a bit, then slipped out of the warmth of the sheets and moved in that direction. Snatching the unfinished wooden knob, he opened the drawer again until the peg at the back caught in its groove. His fingers pushed through the soft cotton of several shirts until he felt the hard lump he was looking for. He smiled slightly and pulled the small velvety box out, thumbing open the top in a single smooth movement. A flash of light reflected from the open window sparked across the surface of the ring within.
     He nodded with satisfaction. She had interrupted him earlier while he had been in the process of hiding it safely in the back of the drawer under clothing. He had been concerned, at first, because her perceptions were razor sharp. He was sure that she had noticed something in his eyes that would give away his momentary surreptitiousness. Though he had scrambled to cover his actions by snatching up a random shirt, she rarely missed such things. But she hadn't commented, and things moved on quickly into the cycle of their togetherness - their continued discovery of communion in one another. "Soon", he thought to himself, "I will bend my knee for her."
     He listened as the sound of ragged and relieved cheers joined the squalling of the emergency vehicles. It was the sound of people in the city - her city - who adored and admired her for the countless sacrifices she had made in their name. Once again, on this night like many others, she had arrived to be battered and bruised and newly scarred by the threat at hand to keep them secure. They understood that she was fierce and strong and brave. They knew that she would stand between them and the speeding bus. They knew she would pull them out of the fire. They knew she would fling herself without hesitation against darker versions of those like herself who were born so different. 
     But they did not know her, these people of the city. Average people who go about their average lives aware that she stands ever ready to protect them from the dreadful void. To them she was Crescent Moon, favored with superhuman abilities which were sometimes just a variation of a curse. A superhero in a mask who served them in their greatest need. Crescent Moon, who bequeathed her very flesh and blood and bone when they cried out for rescue.
     But to him, she was the warmth that filled in all of his gaps. To him, she was completion. To him, she was only Neoma. And she was everything that ever mattered.