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Only Usagi

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"Are you trying to burn a hole through my Sailor V game? What'd my game ever do to you?" asked the young arcade manager, Furuhata Motoki, of his best friend, Chiba Mamoru.

Blinking, the dark-haired college student snapped to attention. "What did you say, Motoki-kun?"

Motoki shook his head, grabbing another cup of black coffee for his friend. "You were just scowling at the Sailor V game so hard I thought you were trying to destroy it with heat-ray vision or something." He shrugged slightly at Mamoru's raised eyebrow.

"Heat-ray vision? You've been watching too much television lately, Motoki. I think you've finally snapped. I know the name of a good psychiatrist…maybe he can help you learn the difference between fantasy and reality." Mamoru grinned at his friend, taking of a sip of his coffee before it cooled.

The blonde sputtered. "Mamoru! I'm your best friend, not Usagi-chan! Don't insult me!"

Mamoru immediately stiffened, sitting up straighter on his stool. "Odango Atama? WHERE!" He swiveled his head towards the Crown Arcade's doors, azure eyes frantically searching for a signature mark of blonde odangoes in the crowd. Finding no sign of the girl he had recently dubbed the degrading nickname of 'Odango Atama,' Mamoru turned back to his friend, heaving a disappointed sigh. Even if he didn't openly acknowledge it, he cared for the blond odango. She was an important part of his life, even if he denied the fact, especially to himself.

Motoki grinned slyly at Mamoru's defeated form, slumped over in his stool. "So…is that why you were glaring at the Sailor V game? Because there was no cute blonde sitting in front of it like there normally is?"

"Get real," Mamoru bit back, not meeting his friend's green eyes. "As if I would ever be wishing to see Odango Atama. My life is a pain enough without adding her into the mix." He ignored the twinge in his chest, trying to convince himself that his words were true. He couldn't care for Odango! She was his arch-nemesis! Happy that his mind had put his heart at ease, Mamoru felt he could face his friend's searching gaze.

"Right, then might I ask again, why you were frowning so intently at the innocent Sailor V game? If it doesn't have anything to do with the girl we've been discussing?" Motoki questioned, glancing at the empty seat in front of the game. He bit back a chuckle, keeping his thoughts to himself. He'd let Mamoru figure out his feelings for Usagi on his own- even though it was so painfully obvious that Mamoru was sprung over the girl. However, once Mamoru figured it out and admitted his own feelings, nobody could save him from 'Matchmaker Motoki.'

The dark-haired man shrugged nonchalantly. "No reason. I guess I was just lost in thought…it's not really any of your business, Motoki," he added when he saw the blonde's mouth open, presumably to ask him what he was lost in thought about. There was no way he'd admit to Motoki that he actually was thinking about Usagi and pondering why she wasn't at the Crown already. Frowning, he risked one more glance at the Sailor V game and mumbled under his breath, "Figures. She's late even to the arcade. When has she ever been late for our arguments?" Luckily, Motoki was too preoccupied to notice Mamoru's ramblings.

"Fine. But I'm just warning you: your number one fangirl is coming this way," Motoki pointed behind Mamoru, then turned his back. He didn't want to have anything to do with Mamoru's love life, except maybe get him to realize his feelings for Usagi. Mamoru's fangirls were enough trouble, but Rei was the worst, simply because she was one of Usagi's best friends. 'Now,' Motoki thought to himself, peering at the two from the corner of his eye, 'how to get Usagi and Mamoru together without hurting Rei's feelings…'

Groaning, Mamoru again turned away from the counter. His face free from emotion, he greeted the priestess politely, "Good afternoon, Rei-san." His voice held none of the annoyance he felt inside. He hated having girls follow him around like little lost puppies. Normally, he told them to leave him alone, not caring if he coldly rejected them and caused 'heartbroken' tears. With Rei it was different- not only was she one of the most persistent girls Mamoru knew, but she was also a friend of the Odango Atama. Which meant he saw a lot of her.

And Mamoru wouldn't give up seeing his Odango, even if it meant putting up with Rei's advances towards him.

For her part, Hino Rei ignored Mamoru's 'subtle' hints that he wasn't interested in her as a girlfriend. She understood that he needed time to get used to the idea, but she was determined that in the end, he would see things her way. They were perfect for each other. They were both dark-haired, sarcastic, lonely, mature individuals. Not to mention they both loved chocolate. Rei giggled slightly, jumping up on the stool besides her not-so-secret crush.

"Afternoon, Mamoru-san!" she chirped. "I knew you'd be here around this time, so I just had to stop by to see you! Chocolate shake, Motoki-san?" the purple-eyed girl asked before returning her gaze to the object of her desire. In truth, Rei was at the Crown early for a Senshi meeting, but nobody needed to be told that information.

"Um…" Mamoru gulped, again not knowing how to deal with the situation. If he was cold and if he hurt Rei's feelings, Usagi would most definitely hate him, if she didn't already. Even if the two girls fought all the time, they still cared for one another deeply. If Mamoru hurt Rei by rejecting her, he knew Usagi would hold it against him, as well. And he didn't want that.

Not noticing, or maybe ignoring, Mamoru's feelings of unease, Rei chattered on happily.

'Dang,' Mamoru thought to himself, shaking his head. 'She can talk just as fast as Odango when she puts her mind to it!'

"…so there's this new Chocolate Factory on the other side of town, and I was wondering if you wanted to go with me on a tour? We'd get free chocolate, your favorite! We can even share, if you want," Rei laughed. She looked at Mamoru hopefully, fidgeting slightly in the silence that followed.

"Um…" Mamoru trailed off again. "Look, Rei," he began in a gentle voice. "I've told you time and again, I'm only interested in you as a friend. I'm sorry, but I just don't feel we're right for each other." He turned his head, staring at the inside of his now empty coffee cup. Even though he didn't like the girl in a romantic sense, he didn't want to witness the heartbroken expression on her face.

Slowly, the priestess laid a hand on Mamoru's shoulder. "I understand you're not ready for a relationship, Mamoru-san, but can't you at least promise to give us a try when you're ready for one?"

"No." Mamoru's answer booked no argument. "I told you, I don't think we're right for each other." He looked at Rei's face, steeling himself for the abject misery he was sure to find on her face. Surprised, he noticed there was only grim determination.

"Why? Why won't you even go out on one official date with me? And after that, you can tell me 'we' won't work out together. But why can't you even give us a try?" Rei asked, her voice rising.

Motoki glanced at the pair, shuffling farther away in case Rei got mad and started to throw things. Although, that was more Usagi's typical reaction to Mamoru…

"I don't need to give 'us' a try to see if we're compatible. I know we're not, Rei. There's nothing wrong with you; you're a wonderful girl. Any guy would be happy to have your care and devotion. The thing is, I'm not just 'any guy.' A relationship between us wouldn't work out. Trust me." Mamoru sighed, waving Motoki over for another refill. Secretly, he also wanted his friend's support. Or maybe he just wanted Motoki to be in the line of fire if Rei got so mad she started throwing things…

Complying with his best friend's request, Motoki sidled over to them again, grabbing the empty cup of coffee. Rei didn't notice.

Again, the fiery teen asked the question, "Why? Am I not good enough? I know you're not just 'any guy,' Mamoru-san. What's wrong with me that you can't even…" She shrugged, trying to get her point across. In truth, her voice was choking up so much that she couldn't trust herself to speak. But nobody was going to notice; nobody was going to call Hino Rei 'weak.'

Sighing again, Mamoru thwacked his head against the counter. "There's nothing wrong with you, Rei-san. It's only…" He turned once more to stare at the (curiously empty) Sailor V game.

Motoki followed his friend's gaze. He grinned slyly at Mamoru's turned head, whistling innocently when the dark-haired man's attention was once again returned to Rei.

"Yes?" Rei breathed. Mamoru was finally going to tell her why they couldn't be 'together.'

His next words flew out of Mamoru's mouth before he could stop them. "…you're not her. You're not Usagi."

Chapter Text

It was hard to say who was more dumbfounded by this proclamation- Mamoru or Rei. Motoki, of course, hummed himself a little tune in the background.

"I'm…not…Usagi? Usagi? Odango Atama!" bellowed Rei, rising to her feet. "I don't understand…you won't go out with me because I'm not some blond ditz! Usagi no baka doesn't even like you!"

Mamoru winced; he didn't need to be told that. Ignoring the ache in his heart at Rei's cold words, he glared at her. "Did she tell you that?"

Sparks seemed to fly from Rei's eyes. "She's always talking about what a jerk you are to her! If that doesn't say anything about how she thinks of you, then please, correct me."

Mamoru opened his mouth to speak.

Rei shook her head curtly. "You know what? Forget it. Just don't. I don't want to hear it…" She turned from the man who broke her heart, fixing her stare on Motoki instead. "Tell the girls I had an emergency to deal with and that I won't be able to make it." So saying, she glanced once more at Mamoru's bowed head before stomping out of the Crown with as much dignity as she could muster.

"That turned out well," Motoki observed, stopping his annoying humming.

His friend was still in shock from his earlier confession. "I rejected her because…she wasn't…Odango? What was I thinking! It just slipped out! True, I don't want to date Rei, but my reason was just…"

"Your reason was 'just,'" Motoki observed, leaning on the counter towards Mamoru. "You told her what was in your heart. What could be more truthful? You care for Usagi-chan, even if you don't want to admit it. For once, your heart took control. Listen to it, Mamoru-kun," the blond advised.

"Coffee?" Mamoru mumbled, still dazed. His mind was going a mile-a-minute, trying to process his own confession and Motoki's advice.

Motoki shook his head 'no.' "You've had enough coffee for the moment. Why don't you go for a walk and sort out your feelings? I bet you're confused, ne?"

Mamoru nodded, standing up and tripping towards the door. He would normally watch where he was going, but his mind was so full of random thoughts that he wasn't paying attention. A small part of his mind focused on putting one foot in front of the other, while the majority of his brain tried to sort out clashing thoughts: 'I love Odango? COFFEE! Why wasn't she at the Sailor V Game like she normally is? Odango hates me. I need caffeine. I'll be alone the rest of my life. Rei said Odango hates me. Why did Motoki deny me my beloved coffee? If I can't have Odango, aren't I entitled to black coffee?'

Around and around his thoughts swirled, making Mamoru dizzy. As it was, it was half Mamoru's fault for the inevitable collision between himself and his heart's secret desire.

Right before he reached the Crown's doors, he felt the familiar form of a blond odangoed-girl barreling into him. The force of the collision sent them both tumbling backwards onto the arcade floor, Usagi on top. Mamoru was too stunned from everything that had happened in the past fifteen minutes to really care what happened at this point.

Usagi blinked, trying to clear her head. For some reason, she couldn't see; everything was black. It didn't help that she was having trouble breathing. Blinking didn't help her situation; everything was still black. The good part about it was that she smelled roses. Even if she was slowly dying of suffocation, she would go surrounded by her favorite scent, forever reminding her of her Tuxedo Kamen-sama.

Motoki looked up from where he had resumed wiping his already spotless counter. His eyes caught hold of the infamous pair on the floor of his arcade, neither making any move to get up. Mamoru's eyes were closed; possibly he had hit his head and was out cold. Or maybe he was enjoying having his Odango so close to him and wanted to savor the moment. Or, quite possibly, he was shell-shocked from the day's revelations and didn't even realize his predicament.

Usagi's face was smushed into Mamoru's chest, or rather, his black turtleneck. One hand clutched the lapels of his disgusting green jacket. Motoki couldn't figure out why she wasn't getting up and screaming at Mamoru like she normally would have.

Moaning, Mamoru slowly opened his eyes, quickly shutting them again when the bright lights in the Crown blinded him. The first thing he noticed was that there was a heavy something draped over his front. The next thing was that he was lying on the floor of the arcade, staring up at Motoki's wicked grin.

Only one thing could make Motoki smirk like that at a time like this. He would only be grinning if Usagi…

Mamoru lifted his head, looking down to see the golden head of his Odango. With a lot of effort, he kept a wide smile from spreading across his face. After all, he hated the girl…right? He shook his head. No, he never hated her. She was fun to tease, simply because she was so beautiful when she was angry-- HOLD THAT THOUGHT. Pushing all thoughts of Usagi to the back of his mind, Mamoru carefully straightened up, making sure to hold on to his Odango so she didn't fall to the ground.

Usagi's sky-blue eyes fluttered open, gazing at Mamoru sleepily. "Hm? …Mamoru-baka?" she asked, clearly confused.

Mamoru snorted, narrowing his eyes at the blond girl in his arms. "Yeah, Odango Atama. You crashed into me again, don't you remember?"

"No…hey, wait a minute, buster! It was not my fault that you happened to be in my way!" She angrily poked a finger at his chest in self-righteous anger. "How dare you blame this on me! This is all your fault, Mamoru-baka!" she screeched, hurriedly untangling herself from his comforting arms.

"Whatever, Odango Atama. I have more important things to do than listen to you whine," Mamoru growled, stalking towards the doors again. He stopped in the doorway, looking back at her. "And just for the record, you bashed into me. Stop making my life so complicated, Odango. I have enough on my mind without having to think about you. You're nothing but a waste of human life. Not to mention a waste of my valuable time."

Usagi gasped, tears pooling in her eyes. Sure, Mamoru had always teased her, but it was never anything so hateful. Motoki bashed his head against the wall, restraining himself from strangling his best friend. Instead, he focused all his energy on comforting the distraught young blonde. He glared at his friend's retreating back, offering Usagi a comforting hug. Sometimes Mamoru could be so dense and cold-hearted.

Glancing back through the Crown's windows, Mamoru's body tensed as he saw Usagi sobbing and clinging to his best friend. He banished the thought, preferring not to think about how the sight disgusted him. Instead, he cleared his mind and continued to the privacy of his apartment. He quickened his steps in hopes of getting there faster, eager to be alone with his thoughts. His thoughts that didn't resolve around Usagi…

-+-

Rei sought the comfort of her bedroom. She wanted to be away from the crowds, alone with her own thoughts. She couldn't understand Mamoru's reasons. The man was an enigma, but could it be possible he was insane, too?

Why would he choose Usagi over her, Hino Rei? Not that Rei didn't love Usagi to death; they were best friends. They fought like sisters, but deep down, they cared for each other more than either one wanted to admit. But the point was that Rei couldn't picture Mamoru with the Odango. They were too…opposite.

She hurriedly wiped away at a few stray tears trailing down her cheeks before anyone could see. Climbing the steps to the Hikawa Temple, she kept her head bowed low so nobody would notice the drying tear-stains on her face.

-+-

Mamoru slammed the door to his apartment loudly, not caring if one of the neighbors complained. He was too wrapped up in his own reflections.

He had told Rei that he couldn't date her because she wasn't Usagi. Odango Atama. The girl he loved to tease. The girl he had just crossed the line with. The girl he secretly longed to call 'Usako.' Wait, where did that last thought come from? Shrugging, Mamoru slumped on his couch, not wanting to deal with his emotions.

Whoever came up with the idea of emotions should be shot.

Sighing deeply, the confused young man buried his face in his hands, willing the image of Usagi's shocked and devastated face to leave his mind's eye. He couldn't believe he had told her she was a 'waste of human life.' Heaven help him if he could ever regain her trust, if he had any in the first place.

What he couldn't understand was why he told Rei that he cared for Usagi. He hadn't even realized his feelings. It was like someone had taken control of him and had spoken for him. He knew he could never admit any feelings he had for his Odango by himself, so that meant that some higher being was toying with his emotions and actions. That had to be it.

Letting out a cry of frustration, Mamoru tugged on his hair. There he was, admitting he might actually have feelings for the girl, when just moments before he was in utter denial. It was official. Someone up there hated him.

Mamoru sighed, leaning his head back on his couch. Now he understood all the strange feelings that had plagued him since he had first met the blond teenager. He understood why he was always looking forward to their daily arguments, why she made him feel things he'd never felt before. It was because Usagi was Usagi…and he had fallen for her.

"I love Usagi…Odango…no, Usako, because she is Usagi," Mamoru whispered to himself. He fidgeted where he sat, not at all comfortable acknowledging those foreign feelings. He had grown up his entire life without experiencing love- at least as far as he could remember. When he had met Usagi, when she had first used his head as a trashcan, his feelings had overloaded. The very sight of the Odangoed-girl was enough to start a dangerous reaction in Mamoru, so he had simply ignored his emotions—as usual.

Making fun of the first thing he noticed about her—her unique hairstyle—was a good a start towards a relationship as any. Even if it was only a relationship based on insults and teasing, he still got to interact with the girl. And as much as she annoyed him and drove him wild, he never stopped wishing to see her. Before long, his whole day revolved around her and their latest argument. And he had never once stopped to question his motives. If he had, he might have saved himself a whole lot of trouble. But of course, this was Mamoru, love-idiot extraordinaire.

"So I love her," he repeated his earlier statement, looking out his window to see if the Apocalypse had occurred. "I love Usagi. Odango Atama. And I never knew it…" His head was whirling with confusion. "Well, apparently some part of me knew. Or else I would have never told Rei about my feelings for Usako." Mamoru flinched; he knew he probably didn't deserve to call Usagi that special nickname. True, it wasn't 'Odango Atama,' but it was still a special nickname he had come up with. All by himself. Wasn't he incredibly smart?

Mamoru shook his head. Usagi would never accept him, and for a number of good reasons. For one, he had done nothing but insult her mercilessly since the day they had met. Reason number two, he had just broken her best friend's heart. And the most important reason…he had gone too far earlier that day, telling her she was a waste of his time, not to mention a waste of human life.

Why had he been so cruel! True, he was reeling inside from his confession, but that didn't give him the right to stoop as low as he had. He should have gotten down on one knee, in the crowded arcade, and professed his love to her right then and there. And then he'd have plenty of witnesses to prove he really did love Usagi. Instead, there were plenty of witnesses who could condemn him for how he treated his poor Odango.

The only conclusion he could come up with was that his brain had malfunctioned. Though, it always seemed to malfunction whenever he was around Usagi…

Mamoru needed help. That was blaringly obvious by this point. But who could he trust? All of Usagi's friends would be seeking revenge on him for what he did to both his Usako and Rei. Motoki could be too…eccentric…at times. And he would never seek professional help. He was not insane, by any means!

Or at least he tried to convince himself of his 'intact sanity.'

"Who am I kidding?" Mamoru mumbled, pacing his living room. He was done sulking on his couch. He had to set things right again, and try (at least) to make up for his wrong-doings. "I am insane. I find out I've had feelings for a girl I've considered my arch-enemy and then I make her feel about as important as crushed dirt. That is not the work of a sane man…no, I definitely need help." He swept a hand through his hair in agitation, grabbing his jacket again to head outside. Maybe a walk could help clear his mind. Just maybe he could think up a solution to his problems, a way to fix this mess he had created.

He laughed outright to himself in his hallway. "Who'd have thought I'd ever fall for my Odango? I bet anything nobody saw that coming…I never thought I'd fall for a girl, especially not someone like Usagi. Although, on the other hand, I couldn't imagine myself with anyone who's not Usagi."

'Not Usagi.' The whole two words that had gotten him into this mess.

Sighing again, he cursed his emotions. He sure was having mood-swings today.

Yes, whoever created emotions would be struck down with a million steel-tipped roses. Mamoru would make absolutely sure of that.

Chapter Text

Back in the Crown, tears spilled out of Usagi's eyes. They were genuine, heartbroken, tears, not Usagi's infamous wailing. "I'm a…waste of…" she hiccuped, looking to Motoki for help.

Motoki shook his head firmly. "No, Usagi-chan. You're not a waste of anything. You're one of my favorite people, not to mention all your family and friends love you. So that proves you're not a waste of human life. And, just between us, I can tell you our dear baka rather enjoys spending time with you." He smiled down at her, patting her soothingly on the back. 'That's an understatement, to say the least,' he thought to himself.

Sniffling, Usagi didn't feel much better. So what if all her family and friends loved her? If Mamoru didn't, then what was the point? She shook her head, trying to dispel her thoughts. Mamoru loathed her, even if she was secretly in love with him. Oh yes, she knew her feelings. She had figured them out weeks ago when she kept asking herself why she always spent time with the man who always insulted her. If she hated him as much as she originally claimed, then shouldn't she be avoiding, or at the very least, ignoring him? So, after thinking long and hard (wouldn't Ami be proud?), she had come to the conclusion that she loved him. And not just any love…she felt as if there was something greater in store for them, as if the entire universe was dependent on her's and Mamoru's love. But that had to be a dream. Usagi knew theirs could never be a love so strong, simply because Mamoru would never return her feelings.

And it was because of this love that Usagi felt she could forgive him for his hateful words. But only if he had a worthy excuse and only if he was truly sorry for having said them.

Yet Mamoru would never apologize. He hated her…couldn't even stand to be near her…

With that last thought, the odangoed girl grabbed Motoki's hands in a desperate hold. She stared up at him, face seeming desperate, a few tears shining in her eyes. Her gaze was pleading and determined; Motoki gulped from the emotions shown on her face.

And that was how Reika found them. A slip of a teenager, hanging onto her boyfriend, as if pleading for a date. Or at least begging to be told why she was rejected. She sighed, leaning against the counter. This was interesting, at least. She knew Motoki loved her, and only her, so this was simply amusing. Although she felt bad for the blonde with the odd hairstyle. After all, it wasn't too hard to fall in love with Motoki…Reika guessed she couldn't blame the girl, but Motoki was hers. And this strange girl needed to learn that.

Motoki glanced up, hearing Reika's sigh. He offered an apologetic smile before looking down to Usagi's earnest face.

Usagi searched Motoki's eyes, trying to see the truth. "Did you mean it when you said that he…" She licked her lips, clearly frustrated. "…that he…enjoys spending time with me, Motoki-onii-san? Even after what he told me? And how much he acts like he hates me?"

Reika's stance relaxed, hearing the girl call Motoki her older brother. Maybe she wasn't competition.

The arcade manager nodded. "Trust me, Usagi-chan. You don't know him like I do. He can be a real jerk, but don't hold it against him. He may be a genius in most things, but he's absolutely clueless when it comes to emotions. When it comes to love…" He winced slightly, hoping he hadn't given away Mamoru's secret.

Usagi's eyes widened. "What do you mean, 'when it comes to love'?"

"Never mind. Just forget I said it. Just believe me when I say, he doesn't mean what he said."

Slowly, Usagi's grip on him loosened. She dropped his hands, looking at the floor. "How do you know that, though?"

Reika looked on with interest. It seemed she had just missed something. Big.

"I'm his best friend," Motoki chuckled. "I know everything there is to know about him. It's my job." He cracked a smile, ruffling Usagi's hair between her odangoes.

Reika grinned. So they were discussing Mamoru; that explained everything. The man had more fangirls after him than even her boyfriend did. She walked over to the pair, laying a hand gently on Usagi's shoulder. In a soft voice, she whispered encouragements. "Mamoru doesn't date. Don't take his rejection personally…there are other guys out there for you."

Her boyfriend raised an eyebrow. "Um, Reika, that's not what we're…"

Usagi looked up at the new arrival, someone she had never met before. Did this woman know her secret feelings for the jerk, or was it simply a misunderstanding from what she had witnessed? "Um, Mamoru-baka didn't reject me…he told me I'm a waste of human life. Not that I blame him; I haven't exactly been an angel to him since we've met…it's only reasonable he'd think of me that way. Plus, I know he hates me anyway…it's just, he's never been so hateful to me before, and I'm confused. Nobody knows Mamoru like his best friend, so I thought-" She continued to babble, not noticing Motoki and Reika exchange worried looks over her head.

"Usagi-chan?" A new voice interrupted Usagi's ramblings.

The blond girl looked up, noticing her friends Ami and Makoto standing awkwardly to the side. "Um, hey guys!" she greeted cheerfully, wiping the tears from her cheeks. She blinked, and then looked again at her two friends. There was supposed to be three. "Where's Rei-chan?"

Motoki piped up from behind her, "Rei-chan had an emergency to deal with. She told me to tell you that she couldn't make your study session today…"

The three Senshi glanced at one another worriedly. If Rei had told Motoki she had an emergency, then did that mean there was a youma attack? But if there was, then wouldn't she have called them on the communicator?

"Did Rei-chan tell you what kind of emergency?" asked Ami cautiously.

Motoki scratched his head, looking to his girlfriend for help. Reika, not knowing the story behind everything, only shrugged in response. "No…she didn't say. But I know what happened." He stopped talking, noticing the girls' expectant faces. "It's not my place to tell you; I'll only say it had to do with a certain dark-haired college student that Rei's been chasing."

Usagi scowled, turning to poke Motoki in the chest (much like she had done to Mamoru earlier). "Listen to me. Don't say that Rei's been chasing Mamoru-baka…you make her sound like a," she faltered for a moment, then shrugged, "well, a…I don't know, but something bad."

Ami sighed; Motoki only looked amused.

Makoto stretched, reaching out to grab both her friends. "Well, if Rei's not coming, then we should go to her! To the Hikawa Shrine!" She cheered to herself in her head, dragging her friends away from the Crown.

"So…what'd I miss, exactly?" asked Reika.

"You should have been here earlier. Those words of comfort you gave to Usagi-chan…her best friend needed them earlier," the arcade manager explained.

"Rei." It was not a question.

"Right…we can only hope she won't take this out on Usagi-chan," Motoki mused to himself aloud, forgetting his girlfriend was right next to him.

Reika looked up in surprise. "What does Usagi have to do with Mamoru rejecting Rei?"

Green eyes sparkled as the remaining blonde leaned closer to his girlfriend, whispering a secret into her ear. "Everything."

-+-

The civilian forms of the Senshi reached the Hikawa Shrine in record time. They raced up the steps, eager to see if their friend was hurt. Pushing her bedroom door open, they were shocked to see the strong Rei crying on her bed.

"Go away," the fire Senshi mumbled, not even bothering to look up.

Usagi strode forward, kneeling next to her broken friend. "What's the matter, Rei-chan?" she asked soothingly. She wrapped an arm around her friend's shoulders, pulling her into a much needed hug. Makoto joined them, hoping to make Rei feel better. Not to be outdone, Ami followed Usagi's and Makoto's examples and joined the group-hug.

"I said, go AWAY!" shrieked Rei, pushing the girls away from her.

"Is this Mamoru-baka's fault?" questioned Usagi softly. If Mamoru had hurt her friend…love of her life or not, he would feel her wrath.

Gasping, Rei could only nod. "Partly…it's also yours, Usagi-baka!"

"Mine!" Usagi shook her head. She knew Rei often got mad at her for her lack of punctuality, bad grades, klutz attacks, being a cry-baby…but none of those faults would make Rei speak to her with such hatred in her voice. "How is it my fault?"

Makoto and Ami looked at one another, not knowing if they should get involved. They backed away slightly, giving the other two space to work things out.

"When is it not your fault! Every other time, I could forgive you. But not this time. Not when you ruined my chances with Mamoru-san…" Rei sniffled, refusing to look at her leader's face.

It was Usagi's turn to gasp. "What…what do you mean, Rei-chan? Mamoru-baka hates me. I don't understand. I never did anything…"

"Don't lie! Kami-sama, just don't lie!" Rei all but screamed. Usagi winced. "You did everything to wreck my love for Mamoru. Don't deny it. You're worthless, Usagi. You're worthless in battle, in school…and you're not worth the effort it takes to be your friend." Rei almost cringed at her cold words, but forced herself not to. "Just go home," she whispered brokenly, pointing a shaking finger towards the door.

Usagi, Ami, and Makoto gaped at her.

"But," Usagi started to say, but was interrupted by Rei's hand shooing her towards the door. With nothing else to do, Usagi nodded mutely and left the room. She sighed heavily, leaning her head against Rei's closed door. What had she done? First Mamoru, now Rei…

Inside the room, the two calm Senshi glanced at one another, to Rei, and to the closed door. "Maybe you shouldn't have said those things to Usagi-chan. She was just trying to help her friend in need," Ami pointed out.

"What happened, anyway?" Makoto asked. But Rei showed no signs of acknowledging either of their questions or comments.

She shook her head to clear her mind. "Sit down so we can get down to business."

Usagi composed herself before leaving the Shrine. If she wasn't wanted, then she'd just go home and sulk in the bathtub. There was nothing that could relax one's soul like bath bubbles…

-+-

Tsukino Ikuko looked up from making dinner in time to see her daughter pass the kitchen door. "Usa? What are you doing home so early? I thought you had a study session today."

Usagi shrugged, not really knowing how to answer. "Nothing…just got into a couple fights today, that's all, Okaa-san." She continued towards the stairway, hoping to get to the privacy of her bedroom. And eventually a relaxing bubble-bath.

Ikuko frowned, intently marching after her daughter. "Tsukino Usagi, what do you mean you got into a couple fights today?" She reached her daughter's still form, turning her so she could look into her face. Ikuko's own face softened, seeing the misery on her daughter's. "Tell me what's wrong."

There was nothing more comforting than a mother's open arms, even as compared to a warm bubble-bath. The teen threw herself into her mother's arms, sobbing wildly. "First…this jerk at the arcade…I told you about him, right?" she asked, looking up at her mother.

Ikuko nodded, beginning to understand. This 'jerk' had made her baby cry more than once.

"He told me I was a waste of human life…and that I was a waste of his valuable time…" Usagi cried, burying her face into her mother's shoulder.

Ikuko scowled. That man had some nerve…

"And that's not all. Rei-chan has been crazy about this jerk, but she said I ruined her chances with him. Then she told me I was worthless and that it wasn't worth it to be my friend…!" Usagi continued, ignoring her mother's tense muscles.

"Oh, Usa…you know they're both wrong. You're so special; don't listen to them," Ikuko whispered. She stroked Usagi's hair, letting her cry out her troubles.

Exhausted, Usagi leaned against her mother for support. "Mom, I don't know who to believe."

The blue-haired woman sighed. "You'll figure out the truth soon enough. Why don't I make you a lemon pie tonight? That's your favorite dessert, right? It may not be much, but maybe you'll feel better."

The blonde looked at Ikuko, smiling her thanks. "That would be great, Okaa-san. I'll let you get started on that pie!" She straightened up and headed upstairs. Her bubble-bath awaited, after all.

-+-

There was only one problem with Ikuko's idea. She was out of lemons. And one can't make lemon pie without lemons, lemons being a key ingredient.

"I'm going to the store!" she yelled to her household, hoping one of her children would hear her. In a hurry, she grabbed only enough money to buy a few lemons. She power-walked to the nearest supermarket - her husband, Kenji, needed the car for work, and he was still off and about.

Lemons picked out and paid for, Ikuko started towards home. On her way, she was pulled into an alley, a knife pressed threateningly against her neck. A startled scream erupted from her throat at the sudden movement, but all sound ceased when her neck was in danger of being slit.

"Don't make any noise," warned her captor. "You just be a good lil' lady and give us all your money. We won't harm you if you do what we want…and if you don't, well, you wouldn't want to find out." He grinned at her lecherously.

Gulping Ikuko stammered a response. "I don't have any money with me. I just brought enough to buy lemons for a cake I was planning on baking for my daughter…"

The group of thugs looked at one another, not believing her. "Yeah, right. Cough up the cash or you really won't like what we have planned for you." One of them held out his hand for the money, looking her over approvingly at the same time.

Their captive swallowed, clearly afraid. She backed up as far as she could go against the brick wall of the alley, her eyes searching frantically for an escape. "Please," she begged, "leave me alone!"

"Not a chance," laughed one of the thugs. "We haven't had much fun in a long while. You might be just the thing we need…"

There was no escape.

Chapter Text

Mamoru sighed, trudging along the streets of Tokyo. Normally, he would have walked in the park to think things over. But tonight, it felt…right…to be walking along the streets. It was dusk, and he had been walking and thinking for some time now. He still didn't know who to talk to about his overwhelming feelings, and he absolutely refused to see a psychiatrist. He'd seen enough of them when he was a young boy.

'What if I get Usako a present as a way to tell her how sorry I am?' he mused to himself, tilting his head at the darkening sky. 'Roses? That would be expensive…wait, I can just conjure them. But that would be cheap. Okay, roses aren't the best idea…I need to think of something that will mean something to her, so I can win her over.' He closed his eyes, stopping to concentrate. Thank goodness it was silent; it was much easier to think without noisy distractions.

A desperate scream split the air.

Jerking forward, the dark-haired young man sprinted towards the source of the noise. He had a bad feeling about this for some reason…was it a youma? He ran past the opening of an alleyway, then doubled back and peered into the darkness. Whatever it was, the scream had come from inside. His gut-feeling told him so.

He crept slowly inwards, keeping to the shadows. Before too long, he could distinguish a group of no-good thugs surrounding a terrified woman. She brandished a bag of…lemons?...at the leader's head in a frantic attempt to escape.

The leader held a hand to his bruised cheek, glaring at her coldly. "Guys, why don't we teach 'er a lesson, eh?" He was met with approving growls from his followers.

Mamoru grimaced, creeping slowly to join in their ranks. The closer he could get to the woman, the faster he could save her from these low-lifes. And if disguising himself as one of them would get him closer, he couldn't afford to miss his chance. Plus, if anything went wrong, he had his beloved roses. They might not have been perfect as gifts for Usagi, but they were perfect for his fighting technique. He doubted he'd use them though…after all, he was the great, wonderful, perfect Chiba Mamoru.

Nobody noticed him at first as they all crept closer to the terrified woman. Mamoru's luck didn't last long. One of them, a middle-aged man covered with tattoos and piercings, suddenly struck out at him. Surprised by the sudden attack, Mamoru slammed into the opposite side of the brick wall, his head spinning.

Ikuko gasped, looking at each of her captors. The one who had been struck was getting up painfully from the ground. And he looked ticked.

The tattooed man who had struck him frowned. His leader turned to look at him questioningly, and then turned to gaze at the dark-haired young man. Despite his attentions elsewhere, Ikuko couldn't escape from him.

"An intruder? You're not part of our gang, boy," spat the leader. "Go try an' mug someone else. We saw this 'ere woman first, hear me?" He waved his knife at Mamoru, threatening him. "Although I can see why you'd need the money. With a jacket like yours, I don't blame you for needing some cash."

An indignant look crossed Mamoru's face. "WHY DOES EVERYONE HATE MY JACKET? WHAT'S WRONG WITH IT?"

Ikuko once again tried to rush past the thugs to freedom, and once again she was held back. Why couldn't their attention be firmly fixed on the insane young man with bad fashion sense? The guy had to be insane if he'd willingly wear that thing in public…

"Let her go," Mamoru growled, gesturing to Ikuko. He'd give up the façade to try to save the woman, since his disguise plan hadn't exactly worked out the way he wanted.

The hooligans sneered, "Trying to play 'hero,' eh? C'mon, pretty boy. Fight us or give up!"

Smirking, Mamoru approached the throng of thugs. Not only was he Tuxedo Kamen by night, but he had enrolled in karate classes. "Bring it on." It was a challenge, pure and simple. And the ruffians, never ones to pass up a good fight, all gathered around him to intimidate him.

Mamoru scoffed; he faced real monsters on a daily basis. "You don't scare me, you know."

"You should be scared," warned one, flexing his muscles. While he was speaking, another one reached out to punch Mamoru in the back of the head.

With quick reflexes, Mamoru turned and caught the punch in the air before it reached his head. "You should try harder," he laughed, causing the entire gang to go blind with rage. Nobody stood up to them! Nobody interrupted them when they were mugging somebody! The young man had nerve, but the thugs were determined to beat that spark out of him.

Finally, Ikuko was not the center of attention. She tip-toed silently towards the open street again, every so often glancing back at the young man who saved her life. When all the muggers started throwing punches, she feared he would be a goner for sure. She was surprised when he leapt out of the line of fire, flipping over their heads and landing some distance away. The thugs never noticed that they were now beating up one another and not their intended target.

Mamoru grinned a lopsided smile, turning to be sure Ikuko had escaped. He sighed in relief when he spotted her, smiling her thanks at him before scurrying out to the sidewalk once more. He followed.

Ikuko swirled around at the sound of footsteps, her bag of lemons ready to smack her pursuer. She sighed in relief when she recognized the young man as the one who had saved her. "I have to thank you for what you did for me back there. I didn't know if I could get out of it…"

Shrugging, Mamoru gently took hold of her arm and led her away from the alley, trying to put as much distance between the thugs and them as possible. "I did what I could, nothing more. I'm just glad you're safe. I was frustrated anyways; it was nice to release all the stress on low-lifes who deserved nothing better. Are you okay?"

"I'm safe; I feel protected now." Ikuko smiled again, though she still clutched her lemons tightly.

"Do you want me to carry those for you?" Mamoru asked, pointing to her bag.

The blue-haired woman shook her head. "No. I feel I need something to hold on to at the moment…"

Mamoru nodded in understanding. "I see your point. Is it okay if I make sure you get home safely? I have nothing better to do than go insane, thinking about my problems." He cringed noticeably. He, Chiba Mamoru, never admitted he had problems! Luckily this woman didn't know him, so it didn't matter.

"Problems?" Ikuko inquired. "Did you want to talk about anything? I have two kids; I'm a pretty good listener," she chuckled, thinking back to Usagi. Her grip on her bag of lemons tightened, remembering what had caused her to go to the store in the first place.

"Uh…" Mamoru blinked, wondering if he could trust her. She didn't have a death-wish on him, and she didn't seem to be nosy (like Motoki). And, the best part, she wasn't a psychiatrist, sitting in a boring office and asking meaningless questions. He had been looking for someone to speak to… "I'd rather keep everything to myself, if you don't mind." Dang his mouth!

Ikuko was about to nod when his voice interrupted her again.

"See, there's this girl. Well, I'm in love with her. But she hates me…and for good reason: I've been a jerk to her since the day we met. I honestly don't know why; I guess I was just scared of all the feelings she evoked in me and I didn't want to fall into her trap. But today I went too far, and I said some unforgivable things. I don't know if she could ever forgive me for the horrible things I've said to her, but I don't know how to apologize and make her love me!" Mamoru rambled, waving his hands wildly about to add to his story.

Tsukino Ikuko blinked. For wanting to keep everything to himself, the young man was certainly pouring his heart out…

He sighed, rubbing a hand across his eyes. "And there's more. This girl's best friend has had a crush on me since forever…and today she kept asking me why we couldn't be together. So I got all confused and I told her the truth. 'You're not Usagi.' And, needless to say, she didn't take it too well…and just afterwards, my Odango came into the arcade and I was mad at myself for showing weakness and confessing I loved her. And I took it out on her…I guess I blamed her for the whole mess. I mean, she did make me fall in love with her. But I crossed my boundaries and I don't know what to do…" He moaned, stopping to bash his head against a wall.

Ikuko's eyes widened. 'Usagi? My Usagi?' She shook her head, trying to clear her confusion. "Well, ah," she stammered, trying to figure out what to say. From everything he had just told her, this young man was the 'jerk' aka Chiba Mamoru. "So…what did you tell this young woman you're in love with? What did you say that was so unforgivable?"

Mamoru groaned, not wanting to remember his harsh words. "I told her that she was a waste of human life. And that she was a waste of my valuable time. But I didn't mean it…I never mean anything I tell her. I love her. But each time I talk to her, something cruel comes out…"

Nodding slightly, Usagi's mother paused in her musings. Mamoru's explanation cleared up quite a few things. "You're right…you are in deep over your head." She turned the corner at the end of the street, Mamoru following her without thinking.

"I've drowned."

"That's cliché," Ikuko laughed. "But I understand. And knowing Usagi as I do, I think you can earn her forgiveness. Just have faith in your emotions, Mamoru-san. Thanks again for saving me."

Mamoru twitched. "You know my Usako? …And you know my name? And I don't like my emotions. They've done nothing but cause problems for me and my potential girlfriend…I hate them! Emotions should be shot for making me feel so strongly about my Usako, and feel her inevitable rejection when she finally learns of my feelings. I'm afraid of that rejection. It would destroy me from inside out." Again, Mamoru winced. He was spilling out all his secret desires, not to a stranger as he had originally believed, but to someone who knew Usagi and knew about his wrongdoings. Was he digging his grave deeper? Shoot him now.

Ikuko's eyes widened. "You really do love her, don't you? And yes. Usagi talks about you all the time…how could I not know about the great, perfect Chiba Mamoru? But I believe you can love her freely and be loved in return if you only tell her what you told me this evening." The woman smiled a sympathetic smile at the baffled young man. "I'm sorry, but this is my house. I hope you feel better after our talk, but I have to get inside. Good evening, Mamoru-san. I'll let you tell Usa of your feelings." She stepped towards her house, her blue hair waving slightly in the breeze.

Mamoru watched, stunned by Ikuko's words. "How can Usako love…?" His words trailed off as he noticed that the woman had already disappeared inside her house. "I'll figure it out," he vowed to himself. "Whoever you are, thanks for your confidence." As he turned to leave, his eye caught the name on the mailbox.

Tsukino.

Chapter Text

Tsukino Ikuko leaned back against the door once she was inside the house. Her bag of lemons dropped to the floor, unnoticed and forgotten in light of recent events. Risking a look out the window, she noticed Mamoru staring at the Tsukino family mailbox in shock. The blue-haired woman smiled wryly to herself, striding towards Usagi's room. It was time to have a mother-daughter chat.

-+-

'Tsukino. Tsukino Usagi. Tsukino,' played over and over in Chiba Mamoru's head as he realized just who he had told his secrets. "Her mother! Kami-sama, I've done it now. There's no hope left for me. Odango always talks bad about me, so it's a wonder Tsukino-san didn't kill me when she had the chance…Kami-sama, help me," he mumbled, starting towards the Crown.

After his recent experiences, he needed a caffeine hit. Badly.

-+-

Usagi lay on her bed peacefully. She had been right: a bubble-bath had helped to soothe all her problems. She felt utterly relaxed for once in a long while.

A knock on her door caused Usagi to wake up. Sitting up, her blue eyes followed her mother as she entered the room.

"Usagi? Do you want to talk about what happened today?"

The teen nodded slowly. "Yeah…I told you the basic story already. But I'm still so confused! Both Rei-chan and Mamo-chan –excuse me, Mamoru-baka acted strangely towards me today. They always insult me, but today it felt like they really meant it…"

Her mother stared at her with a knowing smile. "Usa, honey, do you love this Mamoru fellow?"

Usagi gasped, eyes widening. "WHAT? What gave you that idea, Okaa-san…?"

Ikuko giggled, "Well, maybe it was the fact that you called him 'Mamo-chan.' And I doubt you'd care this much about what he thinks of you unless he meant something special."

Usagi lowered her head in defeat. "Okay, you got me. But it'll never happen! He hates me! And besides, Rei-chan loves him. She already accused me of taking him from her, but I never did anything!" She started to cry again, burying her face in the pillow.

Automatically, Ikuko reached out to rub her back. "Is that so?" She feigned a look of surprise when Usagi turned to her and nodded. Ikuko, of course, knew the whole story by this point. But Usagi didn't need to know that now. "Are you going to forgive them?" she asked cautiously.

Once again, Usagi turned her tear-stained face to her mother and nodded, although a bit unsurely. "Only if they mean it when they apologize."

Ikuko sighed, patting her daughter on the head. "Things will seem better in the morning, Usa. And don't sell out Mamoru-san's feelings just yet. You never know what the future will hold." She stood up and left the room, pausing in the doorway to wink at her daughter's puzzled features.

Usagi blinked. Figuring it was just her mom being a hopeless romantic, she once again flopped onto her bed and returned to slumber.

-+-

"I don't understand why you're so upset. Personally, I think it's pretty damn funny!" Motoki was a bit hyper, obviously. And a bit whacked in the head.

'Motoki has a pretty damn warped sense of humor,' Mamoru thought to himself, downing his third cup of black coffee.

His friend had refused to serve him any coffee unless he talked. And because he was so desperate, Mamoru found himself pouring out the story to an ever-nosy Motoki.

"Don't you get it?" Mamoru snarled. "I don't have a chance with my Odango now! Tsukino-san will tell her everything and then Usako will want nothing to do with me!"

Motoki shrugged. "I don't think you have to worry about Ikuko-san, buddy. She's a very nice woman. She won't give anything away to Usagi, trust me. She'll let you two work things out on your own."

"How do you know?" asked Mamoru suspiciously.

Another shrug. "Met her a few times."

With a shake of his head, Mamoru set down his empty coffee cup. "For my sake, I hope you're right."

-+-

The following day, Usagi avoided Ami and Makoto. True, they weren't the ones angry at her, but she didn't feel comfortable around them after yesterday's spectacle. Thank goodness Rei attended a private school or Usagi couldn't have made it through.

The day dragged on forever. Even as the never-ending school day finally ended, Usagi didn't feel she was ready to face either Mamoru or Rei.

It wasn't up to her to decide.

"Usagi!"

The blonde turned to see Rei running towards her. Her sky-blue eyes filled with more tears at the sight. "Rei?" she questioned in a pitiful voice.

The Shinto priestess caught her breath before daring to look Usagi in the eye. "We need to talk. Privately."

The sun shone warmly on the two girls sitting in the park. Both were silent for a long time, sneaking glances at one another every so often.

Finally, Rei got sick of the eye-tag game. "Okay, Usagi. I have something I need to tell you…it's rather hard for me to say. I'm not used to it, but it's something you deserve to hear…" She trailed off, mustering up the courage it would take to utter the two foreign words that needed to be spoken.

Usagi shook her head, smiling. Rei was struggling with herself to get the words out. The blonde patted the priestess on the shoulder to get her attention. "Rei-chan, I forgive you."

Those four words—well, three words and a name—were enough to cause Rei to almost have a heart attack. "You…forgive me? After all those horrible, hateful things I said to you yesterday?" Rei asked softly. Well, Usagi did have the biggest heart, so it wasn't that odd for the Odango to forgive her…but it was still shocking that she was forgiven so soon.

Usagi's eyes were loving and forgiving as she put Rei's fears to rest. "Of course! You're my best friend, and I know how sorry you are. I can tell. The only thing I'm confused about is what I did to make you act that way towards me…?" She looked at her friend, urging her for an answer.

Rei sighed, fidgeting where she sat. "You didn't do anything, Usagi-chan," she said at last. "I was upset from what Mamoru-san said to me and I took it out on you. I didn't want to think about either of you, but I couldn't help it. I was jealous of you. And then you and the girls showed up and it was just too soon for me to handle, so I blamed you and lashed out. To me, you were the one that stole Mamoru, not my best friend. After I calmed down and came to my senses, I realized that I had lashed out at the wrong person. I'm sorry, Usagi-chan. I didn't mean what I said yesterday. You're the best friend I could ask for, despite all your annoying faults." She smirked slightly, shoving the blonde playfully.

The odangoed girl was confused. "I'm lost, Pyro."

"You always are," replied Rei automatically.

"Hey!" Usagi screeched indignantly.

Suddenly, both girls burst out laughing. This was normal.

"So, what's confusing you?" Rei asked in all seriousness.

The blonde looked down at her feet. "Well, why would you blame me for breaking apart you and Mamoru? I've never shown any interest in him…" She gulped, knowing she hid those particular feelings for him very well.

Rei stared at her friend in disbelief. "You mean you aren't dating him by now? I thought for sure he'd tell you what he told me…and nobody, not even a baka like you, would pass up a chance to date Mamoru-san!"

"What are you talking about?" Usagi exploded. "Just tell me already!"

Rei nodded. "Well, I think he should be the one to confess, but…"

"Confess what? And for your information, yesterday Mamoru told me I was a waste of human life. I doubt he'll ever speak to me again." Usagi's last words were spoken with underlying heartbreak.

The priestess gasped, pulling Usagi into a comforting hug. "And then I added to it by calling you worthless. Oh, Usagi, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean it. …And if you tell anyone about this hug or apology, I'll burn you alive!"

Usagi swallowed nervously, knowing Rei could very well burn her alive. Literally.

Rei scowled, purple eyes darkening in anger. "Now I'm glad he rejected me. I don't see how I could have overlooked his dark qualities. I guess I just wanted someone older and sophisticated to notice me. But the thing is, I don't need a coward in my life. Besides, I'm too good for him." Rei paused, glancing at Usagi with a devilish glint in her eyes. "You, on the other hand…"

"Hey!" squawked the blond Odango, flailing her arms.

"No matter," the priestess sighed. "He's still a bast-"

"REI!" Usagi clapped a hand over Rei's mouth.

"Well, he is," she muttered. "He rejected me because," Rei began again, catching Usagi's interest, "he claims to be in love with you."

"ME?" Usagi whispered, not believing. It had to be another of Mamoru's jokes, only this time he had hurt Rei as well.

Rei leaned back a bit as a number of emotions showed through Usagi's eyes: Anger. Fear. Disbelief. Hope. Love.

Wait. Hope? Love?

"Usagi?" Rei whispered, breaking the Odango from her trance. "Are you in love with Mamoru-san?

Not being able to lie to her best friend, Usagi timidly nodded. "But he's yours, Rei-chan. I wouldn't take him from you. Plus, I have Tuxedo Kamen-sama…"

Rei shook her head. "Mamoru has made it very clear that he was never mine. Plus, it was only a small crush compared to what you feel for him. If you can forgive him for what he's done, go for it. As for Tuxy, we still don't know if he's an enemy or not, so it wouldn't be safe for you to be with him, anyway. Mamoru would be the safer bet. And besides, we both know your feelings for a certain baka far outweigh your feelings for a certain rose-throwing super-hero." Breathing a sigh of relief, Rei looked to the side to see Usagi's reaction.

"How do you know the extent of my feelings?" Usagi asked, curious.

Rei laughed, "Your eyes. They're very expressive, Usagi-chan."

"Ah." A nod.

The two girls sat in silence for the time-being, letting their minds wander. There was a lot to think about.

"So…" Rei broke the silence. "Are you going to forgive him?"

Usagi nodded. "If he's truly sorry."

Again there was quiet.

-+-

A short time later, the two friends split up. Rei claimed she had something important to do while Usagi wanted to visit Motoki at the Crown Arcade.

As she walked, Usagi thought back over Rei's words. 'Mamo-chan? In love with me? That's impossible…I won't let myself believe it. It will only be easier for him to hurt me later. But I can't help but wish it's true! That's all it is, though: wishful thinking." She sighed, trudging through the arcade doors. The jingle of the bells did nothing to improve her mood.

Reika looked up from where she sat at the counter. Motoki stood across from her, wiping the countertop with Bounty (Quicker Picker Upper!) paper towels. (His much loved rag was in the drying machine at home.) They both waved at the somewhat depressed form of a blond Odango.

"Usagi-chan! What can I get for my favorite customer today?" Motoki asked with his ever-present smile glued to his face. He was, as usual, too cheerful and bouncy.

Usagi tilted her head at him. "Maybe whatever you're on."

"No can do, you're too young—I mean, I'm not on anything! I swear!" Motoki bubbled from behind the counter, hopping on one foot. He frowned, noticing his antics didn't crack a smile from his saddened friend and customer. Reika rolled her eyes playfully at her boyfriend's immaturity.

Shaking her head, the Odango slid onto a stool and fixed Motoki with a determined gaze. "Motoki-onii-san?" she asked sweetly. A bit too sweetly.

Motoki gulped, looking to his girlfriend for help. Reika offered no assistance. It was such fun for her to see Motoki squirm! "Yes, Usagi-chan?" he asked, a bit uneasily.

"Would you tell me the truth if I asked you a serious question, no matter what?"

Motoki nodded slowly. "I wouldn't lie to you, if that's what you mean. What did you want to know?"

Usagi sat up straighter in her seat. "That'll have to do, I suppose. Now, would you tell me if a certain baka with bad fashion sense actually has feelings for me? You're the best one to ask. After all, you told me yesterday that it's your job to know everything about him…"

Sweatdrops slid down Motoki's face as he tugged on his collar nervously. "Did…did I say that?" At Usagi's nod, his face grew grim. "Look, Usagi-chan, I'd love to tell you. But that's not my business to talk about. I can't tell you anything without betraying Mamoru and ruining our friendship."

Usagi mulled over this for a moment. "Thanks, Motoki-onii-san!" She beamed, her attitude once again happy-go-lucky. "That was all the answer I needed! Thanks!"

Reika and Motoki looked at one another again. This girl was too unpredictable.

"So, as your friend, can you tell me if you return our dear baka's feelings?" prodded Motoki, poking Usagi on the forehead with a straw.

Usagi blushed deeply, looking behind her to be sure Mamoru wasn't in sight. "Well, I do love him, if that's what you mean."

Motoki cheered, "I knew it!"

"It was a little obvious after your little display yesterday," Reika chimed in. "You were a bit desperate to know if he liked spending time with you."

"Just who are you, anyway?" spluttered Usagi. "You keep talking to me like you know me, but I've never seen you before!"

"Uh," Motoki broke in. "Usagi-chan, meet my girlfriend, Reika. We've been dating for over a year now. I talk about you and the girls a lot, so she knows a lot about you. Sorry…" He sheepishly rubbed the back of his head.

Usagi was dumbstruck after hearing the word 'girlfriend.' Nothing following that word registered in her brain. "Girlfriend?" she whispered in a ragged voice.

Motoki and Reika nodded.

"BUT I THOUGHT YOU WERE GAY!" Usagi shrieked. Heads turned to stare at the commotion up front.

Reika gasped, covering her mouth with a Bounty paper towel to hide her laughter.

Her boyfriend shot her a hurt look before turning to Usagi. "Why would you think that? I always thought you had a crush on me."

Usagi shook her head in a flippant gesture. "Pft. That was only a cover-up to hide my feelings for Mamo-chan. You were always like an older brother to me, Motoki. I thought you knew that."

"Yes." He stared at her, reminding her of his first question.

"Oh. Well, you're always bouncy and giggly. You love to gossip. You wear that apron…you just come off a little fruity is all," Usagi explained in between bouts of laughter.

She and Reika held on to each other as they doubled over from laughing so hard.

Motoki stood frozen and flushed behind the counter.

-+-

"Mamoru-san!" Rei called, catching up to the young man in the rose gardens of the park. She knew he'd be there to think and relax—she had stalked him too much recently to not know his habits.

The young man sighed at the voice, not feeling up to a repeat of yesterday's performance. "Yes?" he inquired, stiffening his resolve. The sooner he finished talking to Rei, the sooner he could go back to thinking about Usako.

Rei stood before him awkwardly. "Um…I just needed to talk to you. It's, um, important," she stammered.

"Very well. Get on with it," Mamoru groaned, patting the ground beside him.

Rei took the invitation. She coughed. Mamoru waited.

"I just wanted to say…I shouldn't have pestered you so much. You were right - there are other guys out there for me. You and Usagi are perfect for each other; I realize that now…" Rei started, feeling uncomfortable.

Mamoru smiled.

She looked up at him angrily. "Although for someone who claims to be in love with Usagi, you're certainly treating her like gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe! You caused her a lot of pain yesterday, Mamoru-san. If you don't fix this mess soon, you'll be in real trouble. I can guarantee it."

He cringed. "I want to make things right…I just don't know how."

"You better work on it. If you hurt my best friend again…well, just be sure to have your will written up," the priestess warned.

Mamoru scooted back from her. That was not a joking tone and, as Usagi could testify, Rei was scary when she was mad. "I'll come up with something," he promised. Rei still sat beside him. "Anything else?"

"I don't want there to be this awkwardness between us, Mamoru-san. I'd like it if we could be friends." Rei shifted again where she sat. Everybody knew Mamoru was an extremely private person. Maybe she had overstepped her boundaries.

"I'd like that…Rei-chan."

She blinked, glancing up at his grinning face. She beamed back—theirs would be an interesting friendship.

And finally, Rei felt she was truly happy with that turn of events.

-+-

Ami and Makoto stepped through the Crown doors, looking for Usagi. She had avoided them all day at school and had slipped away from them after the final bell. And, as an unheard of event, she had not gotten detention.

"Usagi-chan!" they called out in greeting, making a beeline towards the front counter.

Motoki was suspiciously red for some strange reason.

Still giggling, Usagi swiveled in her seat to face her friends. Now that everything was all right with Rei, she felt fine around Ami and Makoto as well. "Hi guys!" she chirped. "Guess what? Rei and I are friends again. We've reached an understanding."

Ami blinked in astonishment. "Usagi-chan! You're speaking intelligently! Oh, I'm so proud. I knew our study sessions were paying off…!"

The others sweatdropped.

"Do they know about the whole…situation?" Motoki asked slyly.

Usagi's face grew fearful. "No, Motoki-onii-san! Don't do it!"

It was too late. Motoki would have fun getting his revenge… "Say, girls, want to hear something juicy about Mamoru and Usagi-chan?"

Makoto and Ami both leaned forward in eager anticipation.

Usagi nodded towards the arcade manager. "See? There he goes, gossiping again. I swear he's not straight."

Reika chuckled. "Trust me, he is most definitely heterosexual. I would know." Usagi gawked as Reika winked at her.

"No way!" Makoto shouted after being brought up-to-date. "We have to get those two together!" Ami, though blushing, nodded in agreement.

"No!" Usagi protested. "…That would be too predictable. Let me handle my own love life. If I need help, I know where to find you."

Sighing, the others agreed, seeing her point.

"Man, I wanted to wear my special 'Matchmaker Motoki' apron I had custom-made for these kinds of purposes…" He reached down under the counter and came back up, holding said apron up for all to see.

"It's pink," Reika gagged.

"It has a little turtle on the front." Makoto wrinkled her nose. Turtles were cute and all, but a sew-on turtle attached to a pink apron? Ew.

But the worst part had yet to be spoken aloud. "It's…frilly." That was the worst part, and Ami, being the most logical one, had to point it out.

"Motoki? You aren't seriously considering wearing that thing, are you? You'll look fruity." Oddly enough, that comment was not spoken by Usagi. Enter Chiba Mamoru.

Usagi flushed, looking at him for the first time since the incident the previous day. She did a double-take, noticing Rei standing close by Mamoru's side. She turned her head. 'I thought Rei gave me the go-ahead on Mamo-chan. Why is she arriving with him? Maybe they're both playing a trick on me.' Tears pricked the corners of her eyes as she continued down that line of thought, not once thinking that she was over-reacting.

If she realized she was making a big deal over nothing, she would have saved herself a whole lot of trouble.

Chapter Text

As Usagi was lost in her own thoughts, the rest of the group greeted the newcomers.

"Coffee?" asked Motoki of his best friend, already knowing the answer. His hand had already grabbed a cup from beneath the counter.

Nodding, Mamoru turned his attention to his Odango. When his eyes caught sight of her, nothing else in the room seemed to matter. It was just the two of them. He took a step towards her, not really knowing what he was doing. All he knew was that he needed to be near her.

Usagi's head shot up to look at Mamoru, glaring intently. "Leave me alone, Mamoru-baka. I'm not in the mood to deal with you today. Don't you think you've caused me enough pain lately?"

Mamoru flinched, stopping in his tracks. He hadn't meant to hurt her, after all. "I'm sorry, Odango-" he started to say in a sincere voice, but that was as far as he got.

"MY NAME IS USAGI!" And in typical Usagi-fashion, she picked up the nearest thing—Motoki's Matchmaker Apron—and chucked it at Mamoru's head. True, it wouldn't hurt. But it would be embarrassing.

And as if on cue, a gaggle of Mamoru-fangirls entered the arcade, batting their eyelashes in the dark-haired young man's direction.

Rei groaned, "Please tell me I was never that bad…"

"You were worse," Usagi answered, sticking her tongue out at the priestess. And that, of course, started the Tongue-War of all tongue wars. 'Rei would never betray me like this,' Usagi thought to herself, getting over her feelings of jealousy. It was just Mamoru's tricks she had to worry about…

"Children!" pleaded Ami beseechingly, trying to get them to stop making a scene. As it was, Usagi had yet to make the biggest scene of her life, but that would come shortly.

Motoki eyed his Matchmaker Apron in Mamoru's hands, trying to find any dirt stains on it. He gasped, noticing one of the ruffles was coming undone. "NO!"

All heads turned to look at him. He coughed awkwardly.

All the attention returned to Mamoru, who was brandishing the Apron at his fangirl club. "Get back, you vile monsters! Back, I say!" He scooted closer to Usagi, away from the half-mad-with-hormones giggle-maniacs.

"Oh, I want to dress you up. You'll look soooo cute!" squealed one of the girls.

"I just adore a man in pink…" sighed another.

"You're so manly," cooed another one, stalking towards the poor man and swinging her hips suggestively.

Mamoru 'eeped' and dove behind Usagi, his elbow accidentally knocking his cup of coffee out of Motoki's hands—right onto his Odango's face.

Usagi shrieked at the sudden burning sensation on her face, which was quickly sliding down her neck. She reached quickly for a Bounty paper towel, but before she could wipe her face, she felt another strange sensation. Closing her eyes, she tried to pinpoint the source.

She angled her neck down slowly. Or tried to, as there was something blocking her chin. Actually, her movement only served to trap the fluffy object closer to her neck. The object being Mamoru's head, the fluffy feeling coming from the dark wisps of hair that were brushing across her ultra-sensitive skin. Shock set in on her face as she realized just what exactly was happening, but her mind was too far gone to contradict this turn of events. Mamoru, her supposed enemy, was butterfly-kissing the coffee droplets off her neck.

Mamoru, for his part, didn't even realize what he was doing until it was too late. It was like before when he had told Rei that he loved Usagi…someone had to be controlling him. The Mamoru he was used to would certainly not have started to kiss and lick coffee off the Odango's face. At least, not in the middle of a public and popular arcade. But what could be better…coffee mixed with Usagi? It was Mamoru's perfect fantasy coming to life.

The blond teen dipped her head back this time as the sensations sent shivers down her spine, which in turn made her neck arch into Mamoru's touch. She bit back a moan, hanging onto her last shreds of self-control as she clutched both hands to the stool she was perched upon. She wasn't planning on returning the affection, but she was sure as heck going to enjoy everything when it was offered to her. At least at the moment.

Soon, all the coffee droplets were lapped up, thanks to Mamoru's 'cleaning method.' But even so, the college student only pressed his face in closer, inhaling the scent of the blond Odango. His lips latched onto a section of her neck, even though there was no real reason anymore. Well, since when was there ever any real reason for him to be kissing Usagi's neck? The Bounty paper towels could have taken care of everything…though that wasn't to say that neither of them disfavored the events that took place. Quite the opposite, in fact, since both were secretly enjoying every kiss, every touch.

Thanks to quite a bit of kissing and suckling, Usagi now had a faint (and hopefully temporary, or Kenji would kill them both) reminder of the Coffee Incident.

Shocked, the remaining occupants of the Crown only stared as the scene before them grew more passionate. Sad that there was no lip-action, really. Motoki really wanted to get out that popcorn, but he also wanted to save it for when the 'Time' came. And everybody knew what that meant.

"Ohmigawd his lips are fused to that blonde's neck!" screeched one of the rabid fangirls, who had quickly snatched the Pink Apron when Mamoru had dropped it to cradle Usagi's (coffee-free) face. The fangirls looked absolutely appalled, though they were torn since it was such a cute scene. Each only wished that it was her in 'that lucky blonde's place.'

The yelp only served to snap Usagi and Mamoru back into reality. Which, unfortunately, also meant the end of the 'display.'

Mamoru's face took on one of utter horror as he realized what he had just done. "I'm sorry!" he gasped as he backed away slowly, glancing at the (lovestruck) fangirls, and then fleeing for his life. Neither knew if he was sorry for the kiss (and hickey) or for all his mean comments and teasing, though that didn't seem important at this point.

The doors to the arcade snapped shut, blocking the clear form of the withdrawing figure.

Dazed, Usagi stared after Mamoru's retreating back. Her breathing was ragged in the silence that followed his departure. Even though he had not kissed her lips, the experience was still enough to knock the breath out of her. Though she tried to glare after him, she couldn't force herself to deny her feelings. She loved her Mamo-chan, and she loved what had just taken place. Now if only she could find out what he meant by it…

The Senshi and Reika gawked.

Motoki only smiled and winked when Usagi turned questioning eyes on him. His disposition changed when he noticed Mamoru's fangirls were after his pink apron. The nerve! He grabbed his broom and chased after the girls, who refused to give up their claim to "that dark-haired hottie's manly pink apron." "That's my manly pink apron!" Motoki corrected them.

Reika sweatdropped.

Usagi still stared at the spot where she had last seen Mamoru.

-+-

Frustrated, Mamoru swept a hand through his hair and let out a strangled cry. He, the master of self-control, had just practically ravaged a girl's neck. And not just any girl—Usagi! Who was three years younger than him. And who probably hated him now worse than ever.

And the worst part? After everything that had happened recently, he still hadn't gotten to taste her lips.

He kicked a shrub randomly, trying to release his stress. Some up-to-no-good street punks would help him get rid of some of his pent-up energy…

Where were the thugs when you needed them, anyway?

-+-

Sighing, Usagi trudged into her house. She had been thinking non-stop all afternoon about what Mamoru had meant by his actions. She was no closer to figuring the man out - he was too damn confusing! The blonde slammed the front door shut, leaning back against it and breathing heavily.

Ikuko headed out to the living room, hearing a loud bang. "Usa-chan?" she questioned, looking her daughter over for any injuries, physical or otherwise. Her eyes immediately focused on a small patch of darker skin on her daughter's neck.

Usagi gulped at her mother's gaze. "Yes, Okaa-san?"

"What's that on your neck? …Did something happen?" Ikuko asked, beckoning her daughter to her side.

Usagi complied with her mom's wishes, slowly striding over to the blue-haired woman. "Um, what do you mean?"

"With Mamoru-san?" Ikuko pressed on further.

Gasping, the teenager looked up at her mom. Did her mother know something? "Um…" she continued to stutter, not knowing what to say.

Ikuko chuckled inwardly. "It's just that you're almost always upset because of something that Mamoru boy did."

Usagi sighed internally with relief. "Oh, is that all?" she asked perkily, brightening up. Maybe her mother couldn't see the truth. Maybe her feelings for the baka weren't as transparent as she had originally believed. Maybe nobody except her, Mamoru, and those at the Crown knew what had happened. And here Usagi was terrified that everybody could immediately know what had happened just by looking at her! Wow, talk about paranoia.

"No, that's not all. What's that mark on your neck?" Ikuko pointed at the cooling patch of skin on her daughter's neck.

"Eh, what?" Usagi asked, playing dumb. "This thing? It's…um…a coffee stain. Yeah, a coffee stain! That jerk Mamoru spilled coffee on me and it burnt my skin!" she ranted. It was the truth. She just forgot to mention how he cleaned the coffee droplets off her neck, that's all.

Ikuko raised an eyebrow at her daughter. She didn't believe Usagi, not for a moment. But if she and Mamoru wanted to have their little secret, then…

She didn't get to finish her thought before a shrill beeping sound erupted from Usagi's bag. Before she could ask, her daughter had zoomed out of the house. And she was talking to a pink calculator? How odd. But then again, things were almost always strange when Usagi was involved. Shrugging, Ikuko turned back to her kitchen. She'd ask about the "coffee stain" later.

-+-

Where were those street-thugs? Mamoru pounded his fist into a brick wall of an alleyway, having nothing else to do to vent his frustration. He knew Usagi would want an explanation for what had transpired between them that afternoon. The only problem was that he didn't know if he could explain to her the depth of his feelings.

He was confused. But he was also willing to bet that Usagi was worse off than he was. Why did he have to go to wreck things between them? Why couldn't he keep his mouth to himself? Literally.

And as if in answer to his prayers, he felt the familiar feeling of Sailor Moon's transformation. Well, if there were no street-thugs about, then youmas were the next best thing to vent one's frustration on. And Mamoru desperately needed to relieve his stress.

He followed his internal link to the battle, transforming once he was alone. As Tuxedo Kamen he could escape from the messed-up love life of his civilian identity. At least for a little while.

Rolling his eyes, the masked super-hero of Tokyo ended up in front of the store where Motoki had ordered his custom-made Matchmaker's Apron. He groaned, remembering how Motoki's awful apron had helped get him into this mess. If Usagi hadn't thrown it at him at the exact moment his female fanclub walked through the Crown doors, then maybe he wouldn't have acted on his innermost desires.

No, that wasn't right. It wasn't the apron's fault that Mamoru couldn't control himself around Usagi. The apron was totally innocent. That poor apron, being blamed for Mamoru's lack of self-control…

Shaking his head to clear his thoughts of pink aprons and blond odangoes, Tuxedo Kamen snapped to attention in time to notice Sailor Moon being thrown to the ground, her Senshi too slow to react in time to save their leader. He jumped into the fray before the youma could corner the blond super-heroine. When did that revolting Pink Apron Youma get there in the first place?

Heart pounding in obvious fear, the only male in the area (the Pink Apron Youma was most definitely female) scooped up the Moon Senshi and retreated behind the store. The remaining soldiers worked to weaken the enemy so Moon could destroy it when she was composed enough to deal with the Nega-scum.

Funny how such a small slip of a girl could make him feel such powerful emotions. Almost like Usagi. Tuxedo Kamen winced, determined not to think about his Odango now. He had other objectives at the moment. Damn his emotions for once again getting in his way.

His eyes casually swept over the blonde in his arms, checking for any serious injuries. She had been thrown pretty roughly… Odd how he was so worried about her. The only other girl who could make him feel was Usagi and—why did he keep coming back to that conclusion? His thoughts were repeating themselves in his head. It was distracting. It was bothersome. It was annoying.

Tuxedo Kamen's eyes suddenly narrowed on the Moon Senshi's neck, where her choker had slipped slightly revealing what looked to be a bruise of some sort. "What happened?" he demanded of her, rather harshly.

Sailor Moon stared at him, not understanding what he was referring to. "Well, I got the call on my communicator about this attack when I got home from the Crown Arcade and I came as fast as I could and I didn't mean to get hurt and I'm sorry for bothering you and I know you must hate saving me all the time and," she babbled on forever, not stopping to breathe.

'What a complicated run-on sentence,' the logical part of Mamoru's brain quipped. "That's not what I meant," he interrupted. "What happened to your neck? Are you hurt?"

A look of comprehension dawned on the young girl's face. "Oh…nothing much. It's just a coffee stain," she explained, diverting her eyes from his face. This was certainly embarrassing. What if he could tell what it actually was?

'Coffee.' The word echoed in Mamoru's mind, again reminding him of what had taken place between him and his supposed arch-nemesis earlier that afternoon at the Crown. Wait, didn't Sailor Moon just say she had been at the Crown before the attack? …What if she was one of his fangirls! But none of those prattling idiots could hold a candle to his Usako, so why…

It was settled. He was insane. He could only think of Usagi and how she made him feel, even in the midst of battle. Usagi. Battle. Crown. 'Coffee stain.' Though jumbled, Mamoru could make sense of his thoughts.

"Usa…ko?"

Chapter Text

Sailor Moon's eyes widened immensely. "What…did you just call me?" Her heart beat faster in her chest, both because of excitement and fear that he might have figured out who she was and because of the highly personal nickname. Her hand latched lightly onto his wrist, her sky-blue eyes begging for an answer.

"Um, never mind," Kamen uttered hastily. If he was wrong in his assumption, then he didn't want the super-heroine to 'moondust' him. He was a bit crazy at the moment, so it may have been that he was making a big deal out of nothing. But who could tell? Certainly not him, as he was too confused from the day's events.

"You called me something, and I want to know what," the blonde pouted.

Tuxedo Kamen was saved from answering when the Pink Apron Youma skittered behind the store, cornering them in the alleyway, as it sought to escape the planet Senshi's wrath.

"Oh, what do we have here?" the youma giggled, the evil apron strings snapping to wrap around its prey.

The Moon Senshi shrieked at the sudden movement, her arms coming up to latch around Tuxy's neck. Even so, the apron strings lassoed around her neck and drew tight, cutting off the blonde's oxygen supply. Kamen stared, horrified that such a thing had occurred when Sailor Moon was held safely in his arms.

…Usagi must have really warped his senses. Nothing like this had ever happened before.

Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter rounded the corner just in time to see their leader faint in her protector's arms.

"What happened!" Mars demanded hotly, concern for her friend hidden by the angry tone in which she was addressing 'Cape Boy.'

Kamen shrugged, not really focusing on anything but cutting the blonde free from the apron strings by using his razor-sharp (but otherwise wimpy) roses.

"My apron strings!" the Youma wailed. "Those were the only things holding me together! NO!" So saying, the fabric unraveled at the Senshi's feet. Those in the vicinity just stared at one another in shock.

"You mean all we had to do was destroy the damn apron strings?" Jupiter yelled, pounding her fist into the wall of the alleyway. "Our leader got hurt because we were too stupid to think of cutting some strings…!"

Mercury laid a hand on Jupiter's shoulder, hoping to offer some silent comfort. "I'm sorry. It's my fault. My computer should have been able to pick up on that and tell me of the weakness."

"'s not your fault, Mercury," Mars contradicted the Ice Senshi. "I think we were all in shock seeing a Pink Apron Youma right after the incident at the Crown with Moon and you-know who…"

Tuxedo Kamen's jaw dropped. So his suspicions were right! His blond Odango was the Senshi of Love and Justice. Well, at least that explained why she could evoke such powerful emotions in him, just like Usagi. Because Sailor Moon was Usagi…the confirmation swirled around in his head for a time until he felt a tug in his arms. He looked up to see Mars and Jupiter trying to extract Moon from his arms. "Just what do you think you're doing?" he asked in an icy tone.

"We're trying to get our leader back so we can make sure she's all right and then bring her home, if you don't mind," Mars snapped, pulling harder on one of Usagi's arms. Mercury tittered in the background, wanting to back up Mar's statement but still wanting to keep the peace.

Tuxedo Kamen shook his head. "No. I've finally come up with a way to make things right again, Sailor Mars."

Mars simply stared at him, the words sounding oddly familiar for some reason. She remembered back to that afternoon in the rose gardens with Mamoru, and how he promised to fix things between him and her best friend, using those words…and that meant… "Mamoru-san?" she asked tentatively. Jupiter and Mercury looked at one another, confused.

Mamoru barely nodded his head, but the slight movement was enough to reassure Rei. "I'm going to take her home. Don't worry about her."

Mars stepped back. Her fellow Senshi followed her lead, letting Tuxedo Kamen leave the alleyway with the Moon Senshi still in his arms.

"That was Mamoru-san?" Ami asked, detransforming.

Rei nodded.

"…How does he know where her house is?" Makoto questioned after a short silence.

-+-

Ikuko padded through the carpeted hallways of her house. Something didn't feel right, and she had an odd feeling that it had to do with her daughter. Maybe she was just over-reacting to a gut feeling, but her experience with the thugs the previous night had put her on edge. Usagi wouldn't be able to protect herself if something like that happened to her, and Ikuko didn't believe that that Mamoru fellow would always be there to save her little girl. It was only pure luck that he happened to be at the right spot at the right time to save her, but what were the chances that he'd be available to look after Usagi, too? Unless, of course, his obsession got to be so bad that he started stalking her, in which case Ikuko would chase him with a rolling pin…

And what was up with that supposed 'coffee stain'? Coffee didn't stain skin. The blue-haired mother had a nagging feeling that she knew what the mark was, but admitting it was something she couldn't quite bring herself to do. What were the odds things would progress so quickly between the couple anyway, assuming Mamoru finally apologized?

She collapsed on the couch, sighing deeply. For now, she'd have to wait until Usagi came back before the interrogation could begin.

-+-

Tuxedo Kamen changed back into Mamoru the moment he was safe from prying eyes. So doing, he stared down at the form of the super-heroine he was clutching. Now, how to get her in civilian clothes…? He breathed deeply, deciding to worry about it once he got her home. Knowing Usagi, she would probably have alerted her parents the second she found out she had special powers. And if the blonde had actually kept it a secret from her folks, well, then, it wasn't Mamoru's fault that he assumed Usagi couldn't keep such a big secret from her family. If such was the case, then…whoops.

But Mamoru had no time to think of the circumstances now as he retraced his steps from the previous night, coming to a halt in front of the Tsukino mailbox. It was a good thing nobody was around to notice a random college student carrying the famous Moon Senshi.

He sprinted towards the front door, hurriedly ringing the doorbell. He pressed the blonde's face tightly against his chest protectively as the door opened, revealing the woman he had spoken to the night prior.

Before Ikuko even had time to get settled comfortably, her musing was interrupted by the frantic ringing of the doorbell. Grumbling to herself, she heaved herself to her feet and cautiously walked to the door, opening it to see the infamous Mamoru and a blonde with odangoes in his arms. "…Mamoru?" she asked, disbelief etched across her face from the weird events taking place.

Mamoru nodded, pushing past her into the privacy of the Tsukino household. "Sorry, Tsukino-san. I had to get her home as quickly as possible. She got hurt in battle, so…" he offered by way of explanation.

Judging from the expression on Ikuko's face, Mamoru quickly found he was wrong about Usagi not being able to keep her secret identity to herself. Oh shi-…he mentally cut himself off before he finished that thought.

"Is that…Sailor Moon?" the woman asked, remembering certain news reports on television that spoke of the fabled 'Sailor Senshi.' At Mamoru's hesitant nod, she continued. "What do you mean you had to get her home…?"

Mamoru winced inwardly. Well, he had gotten himself and Usagi into this mess. His Odango would kill him when she awoke and found out he had told her secret to her mother, of all people. As he thought of something to say, he awkwardly shifted the blonde so her head rested against his shoulder, a certain marked section of her neck now exposed to the naked eye.

"…USAGI?" Ikuko screeched, noticing the now visible 'coffee stain.' She yanked Mamoru forward by his arm, almost dragging him upstairs to Usagi's bedroom. "Lay her on the bed."

The dark-haired man did as he was instructed.

"Now," Ikuko sighed, rubbing her head. "Explain to me about the so-called 'coffee stain.'"

Whatever Mamoru had been expecting, it had most certainly not been that. "Um…is that what she called it?" He chuckled a bit uncomfortably.

The mother's stern gaze answered his question. He gulped. "Well, you see, I just got a bit carried away, and…" He half-shrugged, not finding the words to continue. Not to mention he was extremely embarrassed from being caught.

Ikuko's head dropped forward, exasperated. "I'm going to get some aspirin. When I get back, you had better be ready to explain things to me, Chiba Mamoru."

'Geez, I thought Motoki said she was easy-going,' Mamoru thought to himself in his head. When the door closed behind her, his attention returned to the still-unconscious blonde. His hand lifted to cup her cheek as he leaned forward, his azure eyes grazing over her to check for injuries. Not finding any outward signs he could treat, he noticed the locket pinned tightly to her chest. His hand traveled southward from her face, down across her neck. He blushed as his fingers brushed over the hickey and again as he swept his hand lightly over her chest until he caught hold of the locket. Tugging slightly to get a better look (he didn't want to bury his face in her chest- not when her mother was returning to the room any moment now), he was graced to the sight of a detransforming Usagi as the locket came unattached from the fuku.

Who knew she would be naked? A deeper blush settled on his cheeks, just in time for Ikuko's arrival.

Chapter Text

Luckily for Mamoru, the detransformation ended just milliseconds before Ikuko's eyes could understand what was going on, leaving the girl once again in her Juuban junior-high-school uniform. The blush still stained Mamoru's cheeks, though, and it was this that made Ikuko suspicious. "What have you got there?" she asked, nodding her head towards his hand.

The college student looked down, his fingers clutching more tightly around the locket. "Um, just her, uh, Usagi's locket," he stammered. "Nothing important!" he added on, a bit too quickly for Ikuko's taste.

The indigo-haired woman raised an eyebrow. "Nothing important? Would you call that mark on my daughter's neck 'unimportant,' Mamoru-san? Or what about the fact that my daughter is running around Tokyo in a barely decent skirt, fighting monsters every night?"

Hurriedly, Mamoru shook his head. "I didn't mean that, Tsukino-san. About the…'coffee stain'…" he gulped, using Usagi's term for the mark, "I really am sorry about that."

"Do you regret it?"

"Not a bit," he said firmly. "Unless, of course, she wakes up and hates me because of it…"

Ikuko smiled warmly for a second, completely taking Mamoru by surprise with the sudden change of attitude. "Good. Because I'd have to chase you with a rolling pin and smack you on the head if you put that mark on my Usa's neck without meaning anything by it."

Mamoru gaped at her. "Wha-?"

"I'd hate for my husband to have to kill you for using my daughter to relieve some sexual tension, so I'm glad your…motivation…depended on your deeper feelings," the woman explained, hardly keeping a smirk off her face. "Besides, what goes on between you and Usagi is your own business. Just don't take things too far too soon or I may have to threaten you with my rolling pin or my husband's shot-gun."

Mamoru shook a bit. Youma didn't frighten him, but Usagi's parents? Well…

Ikuko moved to sink down on the bed next to her daughter. "But, most importantly, I need to know everything about…Sailor Moon." Her voice may have been calm, but her eyes reflected the intense fear she felt for her daughter's life.

The only other conscious person in the room sighed, not knowing what to tell the distraught mother. "Um, I only just found out today that Usako was Sailor Moon. It is dangerous, but I promise you that I'll protect her. I won't let anything happen to her. Tsukino-san." He looked up, staring the woman straight in the eyes. "I promise."

'Usako?' Ikuko thought. 'Things sure have changed since last night.' She blinked, focusing on the main aspect of the young man's vow to watch over her daughter. "I know you're capable of defending yourself and others, as seen from the experience last night. But the creatures the Senshi fight against are monsters, not thugs, Mamoru-san. How can you protect her?" she questioned.

Mamoru grinned rakishly. "Trust me, I have my ways."

Before Ikuko could ask her next question, the bedroom door slammed open, revealing Tsukino Kenji. Mamoru shrank back. He'd heard tales of Kenji's overprotective nature and legendary shot-gun. "I thought I head a male voice in my teenage daughter's room!" he bellowed, throwing his briefcase at the young man's head. It hit the intended target dead-on.

Mamoru groaned, pressing his forehead into the palm of his hand. He turned to the only sane adult left in the room with a begging expression on his face. "Tsukino-san? Please tell me you have more aspirin."

"GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!" Kenji shrieked in a hysterical rage, looking around for another deadly object to chuck at Mamoru's head. Ikuko shook her head to the college student's question, nodding her head towards Usagi's window to indicate that he had better leave.

Getting the hint, Mamoru scrambled for the window. "It's been a pleasure, Tsukino-san." He winked and opened the window, noticing belatedly that he was two stories up. He knew he could jump and not hurt himself because of his powers, but he also wanted to prove to the worried parent(s) just how he could protect Usagi from dangerous youma. So going along with that line of thought, he held up a rose and transformed for the second time that day.

Ikuko's jaw dropped as the masked protector of the Senshi vaulted out the window, jumping across the rooftops towards the Azabu district. Kenji stopped dead in his tracks, Usagi's heavy lamp held tightly in his hands. "How…?" they asked simultaneously, turning to one another in shock.

Just then, the previously unconscious blonde stirred. "Hey…what'd I miss?"

-+-

Mamoru reached the balcony of his apartment in record time. He immediately let himself in through the glass doors and headed for the medicine cabinet. He desperately needed that aspirin.

Today was certainly an eventful day. First, he and Rei had reconciled their friendship, which was a major relief to the dark-haired young man. Second, he had gotten a little frisky with his blonde Odango slash enemy at the Crown Arcade, though he still needed to kiss her properly. Third, he had found out that the same blonde Odango slash enemy was actually his secret ally in crime-fighting youma from another dimension. Then, he had accidentally revealed Usagi's secret identity to the girl's mother…Accidentally, he kept reminding himself. After that, his life was threatened by an overprotective father. And then, to top it all off, he had willingly told civilians his own secret identity. How could things get any more exciting?

He sank gratefully into the cushions of his couch to think things over. How would he treat Usagi from now on? With the scene he had initiated at the Crown, surely she must realize his feelings by now? But how should he react? He could pretend to not have meant anything by it. But then both Ikuko and Kenji would be after his life, super-hero or no.

And with the added revelation of finding out Usagi's most precious secret, he was dumbfounded. Her parents would most definitely tell her of her tormentor's secret life as the rose-throwing baka that protected her night after night. Should he deny the accusation? But that wouldn't be fair. He knew who she was, after all.

And she knew the importance of keeping secret identities just that. Secret. He had seriously misjudged his Odango. Who knew she could have such a serious side? The blonde he knew would have been proud to show off any unique powers…but obviously, Usagi had surprised him by keeping her covert night life to herself. He didn't mean to reveal her identity to Ikuko! He had just (wrongly) assumed…

Mamoru, obviously, wasn't thinking clearly that day. It was also obvious that he hadn't read much manga during his childhood, or he would have known.

His head dropped back against the couch as his thoughts continued to swirl in his mind.

-+-

Usagi blinked herself awake, slowly sitting up. Why did her neck hurt so much? She cautiously reached up to feel it, a flush forming on her face as she remembered the 'coffee incident' earlier that day. The last she could remember was clinging to Tuxedo Kamen during the battle and then…nothing. How had she gotten home? And why were her parents in her room, both looking shell-shocked, her father holding onto her heavy brass lamp? "What happened?" she repeated herself.

Ikuko shook herself back to reality. She glanced to her still-raging husband before looking back at her daughter's confused face. "Nothing, honey. Don't worry about it." She decided not to tell Usagi that she knew her secret. It was up to Usagi when to reveal the truth about Sailor Moon. Before then, Ikuko had no right to infringe on her daughter's privacy. Nor would it do to mention Mamoru aka Tuxie, especially while Kenji was still in the room.

The teenager still looked extremely confused. "O…kay…"

The blue-haired woman gently took hold of her husband's elbow and led him out of the room, first making sure he set the lamp back on Usagi's bedside table. "Forget it, sweetie."

Neither Kenji nor Usagi could figure who she was talking to when she said that.

-+-

The next day, things were weird for Usagi. She felt shy thinking about what happened between her and Mamoru yesterday, and the hickey on her neck was physical proof that it had happened. And worse, everybody at school could tell what it was. She received so many odd glances, and an especially jealous look from Haruna-sensei.

As the school-day finally ended, Usagi breathed a sigh of relief and rushed to the doors of the arcade before realizing that this was the place that had haunted her memories all day long. And the memories were particularly embarrassing. Mamoru was always inside drinking his beloved coffee around this time, and she still didn't know how to act around him. Did he have ulterior motives or was he just using her to dissuade his multitude of fangirls?

Heaving a sigh, the blonde Odango steeled herself and marched firmly inside. Her eyes focused on the table her friends were sitting at as she made a beeline for their section. "Hey, guys!" she chirped in typical optimistic Usagi-fashion.

The other three nodded, shooting knowing grins at her. "So, Usagi-chan. What's going on between you and Mamoru-san now?"

Usagi, Rei, and Makoto turned shocked gazes towards Ami.

"What?" Ami shrugged in her defense. "I'm a teenage girl, too, you know! Just because I study all the time doesn't mean I don't have a romantic side!" The others just continued to stare at her.

"Well, I'm not exactly sure where we stand," Usagi said slowly. "I don't know what his motives were yesterday. And…I don't know…I'm too embarrassed to go talk to him…" She looked at her friends and fellow Senshi beseechingly. "Help me!"

Rei scrutinized her friend closely. Something wasn't adding up. "What do you mean you don't know where you stand? Didn't you guys talk after the youma fight?"

"Oh yeah! I knew there was something wrong. What happened, guys? The last thing I remember is that Pink Apron Youma choking me. How did I get home?" Usagi asked, cheerfully changing the subject. "And, what does Mamoru have to do with the youma fight?" she added on in a low voice.

Makoto shook her head. "Usa-chan, girl, you mean you don't remember anything? Mamoru is-"

Rei clapped a hand over the Senshi of Jupiter's mouth. "Sh!" she hissed in her ear. "Mamoru should be the one to tell Usagi. They need somewhere to start talking."

Usagi looked at Ami, wondering what Rei and Makoto were whispering about. Something wasn't right here. She had thought everybody had been looking at her oddly because of her neck, but her parents and best friends acted like there was something more important going on. Something she didn't know about. "Um, guys? Mind telling me what's going on here?" she asked, more like commanded, in her best leader-type voice.

The girls looked at one another again before denying Usagi. "We're not the ones you should be talking to, Usagi-chan," they chorused together.

"Then who?" The blonde stopped short as her eyes automatically swiveled to the counter, scanning the seats for a familiar baka with bad fashion sense. Sighing deeply, she resigned herself to her fate, no matter what it may be, and made her way across the floor to the seat next to him. Once seated, she fiddled with her hands, too embarrassed to look at Mamoru's face.

-+-

Mamoru, for his part, sensed her presence the moment she stepped into the arcade. He argued with himself mentally, trying to decide whether to request some time alone with her to talk things through or wait for her to make the first move. Before he could make a decision, the blonde occupying his thoughts had slid onto the barstool next to him. The only problem was that she wasn't speaking, though both knew she came to straighten things out.

"Come on," he said suddenly, catching hold of Usagi's arm. "Let's go somewhere private to talk, okay?"

Merely nodding, the blonde jumped to a standing position and smoothed her skirt, noticing her hands were getting sweaty. "Where to?" she croaked, her throat dry for some reason or another.

"We'll find someplace," Mamoru reassured her. Moving his hand to her shoulder, he guided her out of the packed arcade. Inside, he was shaking. What should he tell her? He didn't know what to say if she asked him why he kissed her neck yesterday. And what if her parents told her his other identity? Did she know that he knew she was Sailor Moon?

They walked aimlessly in silence for a few moments, letting the crowd jostle them around as each was lost in his or her own thoughts.

"You know," Usagi nearly whispered, breaking the awkward silence. "I get the feeling that a lot of the people closest to me are keeping something important from me. My parents, my best friends…" She glanced quickly in Mamoru's direction before ducking her head, hoping to hide the growing blush rising to her cheeks.

Mamoru stopped moving. So she knew nothing? Or was she trying to bait him into confessing? Either way, the girl before him deserved to know the complete truth. Whether she rejected or accepted him was up to her. He could do nothing but say what he needed to say and hope she understood his feelings. "Oh?" he asked, feigning ignorance.

Usagi had truly been kept out in the dark lately. And it was up to Mamoru to provide her understanding and explanations.

Chapter Text

Mamoru sighed and turned to face the blonde, right in the middle of the sidewalk.

The passers-by grumbled, but shuffled around the pair rooted to the ground. They shot nasty looks at the dark-haired man and blonde teen for holding up sidewalk traffic, but neither person seemed to catch the glares as they were too preoccupied with one another.

Usagi shivered, feeling Mamoru move his hands to rest lightly on her shoulders. Her sky-blue eyes studied his intense face as he hesitated, his tongue darting out to wet his lips before he spoke.

"Usa," he mumbled. "I haven't been exactly honest with you lately."

The blonde was too awestruck after the first word (he had called her 'Usa'! Not Odango, but 'Usa!') that the rest of the sentence didn't dawn on her for a full minute after the words were out in the open. "What did you call me?" she asked breathlessly.

Mamoru smiled. "I called you 'Usa'…why, don't you like it? Is it not personal enough for you? Would you prefer 'Usako'?"

Usagi gasped. Was he implying what she thought he was…? Shaking herself back to reality, she glared up at him, moving her hands to her hips as she lectured him. "How dare you say that, you BAKA? Are you trying to mess with my emotions even more than you already are? You've done a great job so far! And you're not satisfied with all the insults you've hurled at me already, so you've sunk to a new low and decided to mock my feelings for you. IS THAT IT?" she squawked, diving right into the meat of the issue.

The crowd on the sidewalk stopped to stare. They no longer shot annoyed looks at the couple, since said couple was providing endless entertainment.

Mamoru blinked, his grip on her shoulders slackening as he took in her words. 'How did we get sidetracked to this…?' he asked himself. Well, technically they were supposed to be resolving their issues, but he had no idea she felt thatway towards him. "I have no idea what you're talking about." He bit back the automatic 'Odango,' knowing it would only make the situation worse. "I just wanted to tell you some things you deserve to know. But if you don't want to be brought up-to-date, then trot along home." He let go of her, turning to blend into the throng around them.

Usagi almost fell backwards when she felt cool air on her shoulders instead of Mamoru's strong hands. "Wait, Mamoru!" she shrieked, her voice piercing the air with her usual wail.

The people around them immediately clapped their hands to their ears to protect their hearing.

Mamoru winced, but turned his head around. If it was anybody else, he would have moved faster, but this was Usagi.

"What did you need to tell me?" the blonde asked, almost begged, as she reached out to tentatively touch his rigid back.

The college student inhaled sharply at the unexpected touch. "I was just going to explain to you about yesterday. About how I took you home after the Pink Apron…" he paused, not wanting to say 'youma fight' in front of Tokyo civilians, "incident," he finished at last.

"Then by all means, I'm listening." Usagi tapped her foot impatiently on the ground. Neither spoke for a moment. Then, "What do you mean you took me home? I got myself home, thank you very much!"

Mamoru chuckled. "No, Usa," he said quietly. "I meant the other Pink Apron incident." A blush stained his cheeks again as he remembered the 'coffee stain,' the first Pink Apron adventure. And, quite frankly, one he wouldn't mind having a repeat performance of.

Usagi racked her brains, trying to understand what he was talking about. "What are you…." Her words died on her lips as she connected Idea A with Idea B. "How did you even know that I was her?" she near-whispered.

"Rei confirmed my suspicions," Mamoru answered lightly, cerulean eyes checking the crowd to see if any of them understood the hidden meanings.

"She knows better than that!" Usagi protested. "Hell, even I know better than that!"

Mamoru turned to face her at last. "She trusts me, Usa. Something I wish you'd do in the near future."

Usagi's eyes widened at the heartfelt confession. "Has it ever occurred to you that I wouldn't let you chomp down on my neck in front of a public audience if I didn't trust you, Mamoru-baka?" she retorted.

Their current audience gasped dramatically in the background.

"You're not the only one who got marked yesterday," the young man grumbled, pointing to the dark bruise on his forehead.

The audience tittered, waiting for the blonde's comeback.

"I never bit your forehead!"

"No, but your dad threw his briefcase at my head when he caught me in your bedroom after just witnessing you naked!" Mamoru yelled back.

The suggestive comment was too much for the random people crowding about the couple; most of the old ladies fainted with shock while a few of the younger men yelled encouragements and expressed their deepest sympathies with Mamoru.

Usagi swayed on the spot, her thoughts trying to wrap around Mamoru's last statement. "What?" she asked weakly, her hand trying to grasp empty air for something to hold onto.

Mamoru shook his head, walking over to the shocked blonde and picking her up, bridal-style. "We'll talk in a more private location," he said in a low voice, shooting threatening looks at the nosy people surrounding them.

"Where? My dad would kill me if we went to your apartment to talk," Usagi pointed out.

"True. Then we'll go to your bedroom. There are special memories there anyways," Mamoru said, shrugging slightly. He purposefully strode off into the direction of the Tsukino house, pointedly leaving behind the public spectators.

-+-

Once inside the privacy of Usagi's pink and bunny-decorated bedroom once more, the two sat on her bed, being careful to leave enough room for twenty elephants between them.

"I think," Usagi swallowed thickly, "that you owe me a few explanations, mister."

Mamoru nodded slowly. "I carried you home from the, um, youma fight yesterday afternoon…I thought your parents knew who you were, so I didn't think to sneak you in." He laughed awkwardly, rubbing the back of his head.

Usagi gaped at him, totally lost and outraged. "You thought my parents what?"

"Knew you were Sailor Moon."

"You idiot! Luna will have my skin! Nobody's supposed to know!" the blonde shrieked, almost tearing her hair out in frustration and fear of her little black kitty cat.

"Calm down!" Mamoru said firmly, gaining the blonde's attention. "Luna will not have your skin. That's reserved strictly for me, so she's not allowed ownership. I don't share. Especially not after I saw what you have to offer. I mean, wow."

Usagi spluttered, hearing Mamoru talk this way. So far he had left tiny hints of what his true feelings were, but his words from just seconds ago seemed to be possessive and sacred all at once. And to be honest, it was exciting her to hear that tone in his voice. But then again, he had absolutely no right to…why was the man so FRUSTRATING?

Just as Mamoru was speaking his 'reassurances,' Tsukino Ikuko happened to be passing by her daughter's doorway. She had thought she had heard voices inside…but then, wait. She paused, taking a moment to understand Mamoru's implications. Furious now, she banged the door open and stared at the college student, intimidating him.

Ikuko froze for a moment, eyes narrowing at the young man across from her. Calmly, she retreated lightly out of the room, back the way she had come, the echo of her footsteps fading farther down the hall.

Usagi breathed a sigh of relief. "For a moment there I was afraid Ikuko-mama would go psycho on you."

"That's your dad's department," Mamoru joked back. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, however, his forehead was soundly bashed repeatedly by the otherwise docile housewife's beloved rolling pin.

"How dare you…see my daughter naked!" the blue-haired woman screeched, thwacking the rolling pin over the same spot on Mamoru's forehead again and again.

"It's not like I meant for it to happen!" Mamoru protested. "I had no idea that I'd see her perfect body—I mean, that I'd have the image of a nude Usako scanned into my retinas—I mean, GAH!" With each of his bumblings, Ikuko hit him harder with the rolling pin until he was nearly unconscious. It didn't help that the same bruised spot being hit was also the area that Kenji-papa had hurt with his briefcase just yesterday afternoon.

Usagi gasped, torn between watching Mamoru get the beating he deserved or rushing in to heroically save him from her mother's wrath. Debating with herself, the blonde finally chose to go with Option Number One.

When at last the housewife's fury ended, Mamoru cautiously sat up and pressed his throbbing head into his Usagi's neck. Forgetting their previous understood agreement to stay far apart from each other, he sidled closer to the blonde for the comfort he could feel only around her.

Ikuko stepped back and smiled sweetly at the scene, as if her eruption from just moments prior was in the far distant past. "Aw, you two look so sweet. I'll leave you alone to work things out now." She deliberately placed her rolling pin on her daughter's dresser as a warning before she almost skipped from the room.

Both of the remaining occupants in Usagi's room stared after her. "Um…"

"You know, I honestly had no idea that you'd be bare when you changed back to civilian clothes. I mean, my own detransformation skips the nude phase…" Mamoru said after a long moment of silence.

Usagi started, resting her chin in his dark locks, returning the intimacy of their current position. "Your own detransformation? What're you talking about?" she asked, her curiosity peaked.

"I'm Tuxedo Kamen," Mamoru spelled out for her, conjuring a rose out of thin air to prove his statement. He tucked the rose behind one of her 'odangoes' before settling back into her neck, breathing deeply.

Gasping, the blonde tilted her head downwards until her face was buried in his hair. "You're…Tuxedo Kamen…" she repeated in a low voice, disbelieving except for the proof tucked into her hair. In a weird kind of way, it did make sense that Mamoru be her protector. But even so, it was hard to simply accept that revelation and get on with her life.

"And you're my blonde heroine," he teased her, his eyes moving to the dark bit of skin on her neck. "And my Odango Atama to top it off."

Usagi smacked the back of his head harshly, which only served to press his face closer to her neck. Giggling at her mistake, she took this time to think over what Mamoru had told her. Piece by piece, the events from the day prior fell into place, making her head spin with how everything connected. Her musings were interrupted when the baka cuddled up to her caught her attention by poking her ticklish stomach with a grin on her face.

"Hey, planning to come back to Earth anytime soon?" he joked.

She shrugged. "I don't know…I kind of like the moon, you know?"

Nodding, his eyes grew serious again as he cleared his throat awkwardly. "Actually, Usa, I do want to say that I'm…that I'm sorry. For all the teasing and mean jibes about your hair and attitude. I never meant to hurt your feelings, but I guess that's the only thing I ever did, huh?"

"Not necessarily," she breathed, eyes widening at his apology. "Even with the way you treated me, I still fell for you-" Usagi snapped her mouth shut, afraid she had already said too much. Which she did, in fact, in typical Usagi-fashion.

Shocked, the dark-haired man backed away from her slightly to stare her earnestly in the face. "So it's true then? You really do return my feelings?"

Usagi started to nod bashfully before she crinkled her nose, thinking things over. "Return your feelings? I don't know what you're talking about, Mamo-chan, but I thought we were talking about my feelings here!"

Mamoru blinked. Well, so much for subtlety… "Yes, Usako, we were," he told her in a slow voice, returning the intimacy by using his own nickname for her. "But I'm implying something about my own feelings." He tweaked her nose, leaning his forehead against hers. "Can you figure out what it is?"

"Don't insult me."

Mamoru blanched. "Trust me, that's the last thing I want to do at the moment!"

They both laughed, the blonde intertwining her hands softly with the other's. "Ok, I can guess. But just in case, I want to be super-sure that what I think you mean is actually what you mean so I might need you to spell it out for me-"

Again, she was interrupted, but this time by a pair of lips covering her own at long last, moving against hers so that her words were effectively muffled. Squawking at the type of disruption, Usagi flailed her arms for a few seconds before her mind caught up with the current situation.

Chiba Mamoru, the baka she'd had a crush on for months, was kissing her. Her. Tsukino Usagi. On the lips. On her bed. With the warning of her mother's rolling pin sitting innocently on her dresser.

Letting her eyelids close, Usagi scooted closer to Mamoru, her head automatically tilting up to make the kiss easier on her new boyfriend's neck. Mamoru tried to let go of her hands, most likely to wrap around her in a tender embrace, but the blonde stubbornly refused to let go of that contact. She squeezed his hands tightly in hers and inched closer to him on her own, not needing his strong arms to pull her there. After a time, Mamoru seemed to accept that as what his Usako wanted and simply let himself enjoy the kiss, increasing the pressure of his mouth on hers, taking what he could get in the time before they ran out of breath.

Usagi pulled back slowly as what seemed to be fireworks burst off behind her eyelids, making her dizzy, even as she leant against Mamoru's chest. She laid her head down on his shoulder, breathing heavily as she fought for sanity. Her eyes drifted downwards, making sure it was, indeed, Mamoru she had shared her first kiss with.

As her eyes fell on the jacket, she knew for certain. She also knew for certain that if Mamoru was going to be with her, then that jacket had to go. It was like Motoki's Pink Apron: revolting. Shaking her head from those wayward thoughts, she stretched upwards and left a light kiss on Mamoru's cheek, smiling shyly at him as she returned to her earlier position with her head on his shoulder.

Mamoru's head was reeling as Usagi pulled back from the kiss. His first thought was of rejection, but his fears were eased once she kissed him on the cheek. Moaning in relief, he lifted her head upwards, his lips seeking to reclaim hers now that they had each refilled on oxygen.

This time, they both put in to the kiss, trying to express to the other the depths of their feelings. They still took it slowly, compared to the types of kissing they could be engaging in, trying to savor the moment and save the more advanced caresses for later in their relationship.

This time it was Mamoru who pulled back, staring into Usagi's face with darkened eyes. "Usako," he breathed raggedly. "You asked me to spell it out for you, so here goes: I. L-o-v-e. Y-o-u."

Usagi blinked, stringing the letters together in her head. "Can you repeat that, Mamo-chan? Spelling was never my strong subject…" she giggled, blushing again.

The other refrained from making any negative, though teasing, comments about Usagi's school grades. "Well," he said, seeming to think about it, "I suppose that if you really want to hear it again you'll have to earn it…" He tilted his head to the side, staring at her intensely.

The blonde leaned up and kissed his forehead, smoothing his bangs from his face with gentle fingers.

He continued to stare, not entirely satisfied yet.

Usagi rolled her eyes before leaving butterfly kisses all over his face, from his forehead, down his cheek, across his chin, up his other cheek, slantwise over the tip of his nose, completely skipping his lips, and moving to nip at his earlobes.

Mamoru growled as his lips were suddenly feeling very left out from Usagi's touch. "Usako," he warned, deep in his throat.

Usagi stared innocently back at him, pasting a blank expression on her face. "Yes, Mamo-chan?"

"If it was anybody but you, I wouldn't put up with this kind of neglect," he continued, licking his lips, hoping to bring her attention back to where he really wanted it.

"If it was anybody but me, I'd never let them get near you," Usagi growled possessively, hugging Mamoru tightly around his midriff.

Smiling lopsidedly, Mamoru returned the embrace, keeping her flush up against him. "I know," he whispered into her hair, his hand tugging on one of her odangoes playfully. "You're the only one I could ever love anyways, so you don't have to worry, Usako. Only you." He blinked, not believing that he had just admit something so private. But he squashed his feelings of panic, reminding himself that this was Usako he was telling things to, so it was fine. There was no need for alarm.

Usagi's blush intensified as she mumbled a reply of, "Love you too, baka Mamo-chan," before bringing his face down to hers to continue their session. And for a good long time yet, the pair did nothing except exchange kisses back and forth, reveling in this newfound understanding of their mutual emotions.

-+-

Usagi stared dreamily out the window of her bedroom, watching as Mamoru climbed down the side of her house to escape her parents' impulsive rage. They had spent a long time together, true, but already she was missing the warmth of his presence. And though she was sad he was leaving for the afternoon so she could take care of other matters, she was still ecstatic that she had later to look forward to, when they would swap kisses instead of insults.

Her whole body still tingled from the intense kisses from moments prior, making her feel oddly alert and sensitive. She watched until he had made it safely out of the Lion's Den before turning and bouncing from the room, eager to share the happiness that was bubbling up inside her from the experience.

Sighing in blissfulness, the blonde teen made her way downstairs, where Ikuko was lecturing Kenji on how he had to learn to control his temper.

"It's all right to bash your daughter's boyfriend on the head and knock him unconscious, Kenji, dear, but you can't kill him! You'll get arrested for murder!" she spoke, gesturing wildly with her hands, trying to get her point across to her husband.

Kenji had a thoughtful look on his face as he rubbed his chin. "Hm, but what if I hide the evidence?"

Ikuko didn't get a chance to respond as Usagi, horrified, stepped fully into the room. "'KAA-SAN! 'TOU-SAN! Are you plotting ways to kill my Mamo-chan? And we haven't even been officially together for half an hour…"

"YOU MEAN I'VE LET YOU HAVE A BOYFRIEND FOR 29 MINUTES AND THIRTY SECONDS LONGER THAN I SHOULD HAVE?" Kenji bellowed, looking about frantically for his shot-gun. He calmed down when his wife held his elbow gently, trying to relax him.

"Uh…" Usagi stammered, not wanting to answer.

Ikuko slapped a hand over her husband's mouth. "Actually, Usagi, there's something we need to speak about. Now that you've resolved your issues with Mamoru…"

"You're talking about me being Sailor Moon," Usagi said in a small voice, looking at the floor. She uneasily shuffled her feet, waiting for the interrogation to begin.

Kenji tried to leap forth from his seat. "WHAT?" Well, he really should have known, seeing as how he saw Usagi's boyfriend transform into that 'caped guy.' It was well known that Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Kamen had a 'thing' for one another, at least according to tabloid magazines.

Who knew tabloid could get something right for once?

Ikuko pushed Kenji back in the chair before returning her gaze to her daughter. "Actually, I was going to say that you should invite Mamoru to dinner one of these nights, but your secret identity could use some discussion time, too."

Usagi's jaw dropped, disbelief flooding through her that her mother hadn't intended to bring up the Sailor Moon topic. "Uh, if you don't mind my asking…"

"It was up to you to bring it up on your own," Ikuko answered before the question was even asked, seeming to read her daughter's mind. "I won't ask you to reveal anything you don't want to, but Usagi. I do want you to stay safe. I can't make you give up your powers, and I can't forbid you from using them to save the world…but I do want to know that my daughter will always return home at night, safe and sound." The trepidation and uncertainty in her mother's eyes touched the girl, bringing forth a tearful reaction.

Sobbing, the teenager rushed forward and flung her arms around her mother in gratitude. "I won't let you down, 'Kaa-san. I promise. And Mamo-chan will protect me!"

Ikuko nodded, only enfolding her arms around her daughter's shaking frame as a response.

Kenji grumbled from his spot in the chair, but nobody heard him over the sound of Usagi's cries. "Where's my hug? And is there any way to change the dress-code of your Senshi uniform, young lady?" But of course, his questions went unanswered.

"So," Ikuko broke her daughter's tirade, soothingly rubbing her back. "What are you going to tell Shingo?"

-+-

The girls chatted amongst themselves at the Crown, sipping their milkshakes and gossiping since the time that Usagi had gone off to talk to Mamoru.

"So, do you think they're together now?" Makoto asked, leaning back in the seat. "I mean, there's no way this can drag out any longer…"

Ami shrugged. "Knowing Usagi and Mamoru, I'm sure there are ways that one of them could mess things up. But I think they're both ready to move on to a more complex relationship by this point. They've argued, teased, fought, put themselves in awkward situations, put their hands all over one another in public, found out that they each have alter-egos whom the press thinks should be together anyways…I mean, what more could happen before they admit they have feelings for one another?"

Rei nodded. "Your logic is sound, as always, Ami-chan. I just hope nothing goes wrong this time…like you said, those two always tend to fumble things up."

Just then, Motoki and Reika slid into their booth, Motoki wearing his patched up pink apron. All four girls shuddered at the sight.

"What?" Motoki asked innocently. "I knit. Do you have a problem with that? And I had to re-sew that ruffle on. You know, the one that Mamoru's fangirls ripped off in their eagerness to get to the man behind the apron? Who should have been me?"

Reika rolled her eyes. "Motoki, grow up. I wouldn't want a horde of nasally fangirls after my boyfriend anyway…"

"Well, I'm sure Usagi didn't like those hounds after her Mamoru, either," Ami cut in to the conversation.

Makoto and Rei stared at her. Ami was on a roll today!

The blue-haired teen blushed and ducked her head, embarrassed, under the stares. "It's not like I don't notice these things, guys…"

Makoto whistled appreciatively. "Man, girl, now we just need to take you to a salon and we can read Seventeen while getting out nails done and talk about hot boys…"

Ami mumbled something under her breath, her blush intensifying. Before her fellow Senshi could continue with that line of thought, Motoki broke in.

"Hey, that sounds like a great idea! I've been meaning to go on a relaxing trip to the salon myself. We should all go together! And there are some of those quizzes in those Teen magazines I've been wanting to do. You know, the ones about relationships that rate people and tell whether or not your date matches up with you?" He stopped, noticing every female stare at the table directed at him. He fidgeted under their unrelenting gazes. "Um," he mumbled, trying to come up with a decent excuse as to just why he was looking at those quizzes in girly magazines in the first place. "I just wanted to see what those quizzes say about Mamoru and Usagi-chan…"

Immediately, everybody relaxed, as if that explanation was the most perfectly normal thing they could hope to hear from Motoki.

"So," Ami took control of the situation again, hoping the other girls would forget to ask her about her mumblings from before. "Do you think Usagi and Mamoru are officially dating yet, Motoki-san? Reika-san?"

"If they aren't by now, I'll tear up my Pink Apron!" Motoki exclaimed, sure of himself. He was wearing his Matchmaker's Pink Apron, after all, and it was guaranteed special powers…

Okay, so maybe those powers didn't work anymore since the Senshi defeated the Pink Apron Youma, but Motoki didn't have to know that!

"You know," interrupted a voice. "There may be more to gain by denying Usako and I are together, if such is the case with my best friend's pink apron."

"Mamoru!" exclaimed everybody at the table, leaning forward to hear the latest gossip.

Motoki sat in the booth, leaning forward like everyone else, but still fearfully clutching his apron to his chest. If he was wrong about the couple, then he couldn't bear to destroy his precious…er, his pink apron.

Mamoru plopped himself next to his friend, everybody in the booth scooting over to make room for him. "But that wouldn't be right. I'd hate to lie about mine and Usako's relationship when I'm so pleased with how things turned out, even though the idea of Motoki getting rid of that apron is extremely appealing." He shot a smirk at his friend, chuckling at the look of horror on Motoki's face.

"So that means…" all three Senshi-in-civilian-form pressed.

"We're together," Mamoru confirmed, grinning a genuine smile. The first genuine smile any of them, save Motoki, had ever seen.

Rei frowned before leaning past the others in her way and slapping Mamoru on his shoulder. Hey, she was his friend now. She could get away with that. "Then why isn't Usa-chan here with you? Huh?"

Mamoru rubbed his shoulder, schooling his features into a look of hurt and pain. "She's talking to her parents about why I brought her home yesterday." He hoped they understood the implications, which they did, if their solemn nods were any indication.

"Wait, you brought her home yesterday? You were brave enough to face her parents right after you bit down on her neck? Whoa, Mamoru buddy, I'm impressed!" Motoki grinned ludicrously, thumping Mamoru encouragingly on the back. "It's a step up for you!"

His best friend winced. "Er, not exactly," he mumbled in a low voice. On second thought, letting Motoki think what he wanted would save him a lot of hassling explanations. "In fact, Motoki, that was what happened. I'm a braver stud than you could ever be," he said, eyeing The Apron wearily.

"Am not!" Motoki protested childishly.

"Do you value that Apron?" Mamoru shot back, a playful threat directed at his friend's questionable obsession.

Not waiting to answer, Motoki climbed over the table and sprinted for his life – or his Apron's 'life' – Mamoru in swift pursuit.

-+-

Usagi sighed again as she made her way back to the arcade. Things were okay with her parents, and she had yet to break the news to her little brother. But that could wait. She knew Mamoru would be back at the Crown with the rest of their friends, probably being harassed by gossips about the status of their relationship.

She blinked as two blurs sped past her, one oddly blonde and pink, the next (a hideous shade of) green and black. Milliseconds later, the second blur blurred back to her, stopping to place a tempting kiss on her lips before he gave chase again after his friend.

Blushing, the girl watched their retreating figures before resuming her walk towards the arcade doors, knowing her friends there would have some explanations for her.

Usagi could most definitely get used to this type of lifestyle.