Disclaimer: I don't own Sailor Moon. Don't rub it in.

To Risk the Thorns

Roses. The international – and perhaps intergalactic – symbol of love.

Love. Something he had never known. So why did he throw such projectiles?

This was the unanswerable conundrum that preyed upon Tuxedo Mask's mind as he twirled the very flower in question between his gloved fingertips.

Shrieks and shouts from below him wafted up to his ears where he was perched atop a tree limb. Occasional flashes of lightning or gouts of flame illuminated the object he held in his hands, in all its crimson splendor.

Sailor Scouts, battling the usual nightly youma.

From behind the mask, Tuxedo Mask's inscrutable eyes followed the progress of one certain Scout, adorned with scarlet boots and bows, with red jewels winking upon her forehead and in her sunny hair. His mouth turned down with the slightest hint of displeasure as he watched her stumble and be steadied by a nearby blue-clad Sailor.

Three nights, now, he had left these Scouts to their own devices. He had hovered in trees or on rooftops, watching and waiting – always itching and ready to jump to the odangoed Sailor's rescue, but hanging back despite all his instincts screaming at him. For he knew, even if his instincts didn't, that there would very well be a time when he wasn't there to snatch Sailor Moon out of Trouble's jaws, and she needed to be prepared for that day (though he hoped to God it would never come).

She needed to be able to stand on her own two high-heeled boots.

She needed to be able to fight.

And it was woefully obvious that she was nowhere near that point.

One of the youma's projectiles – an explosive onigiri – strayed too close to Sailor Moon. It was now mere meters away from her, and she wasn't moving. He didn't bother to find the reason for her immobility – there probably wasn't one, other than Fright. He just cursed under his breath and swooped down, scooping her up.

His instincts calmed, then raged up again, beating at him to encircle her waist more securely in his arms. Immediately, he obeyed. But this rush of warmth that flooded his sense as her hands clutched his vest did not banish his earlier thoughts.

"Why didn't you move?" he demanded shortly, setting her down on the sidewalk a few seconds later after he had first grabbed her. "You've got to get your act together, Sailor Moon. I'm not always going to be here to save you!"

Without waiting for her response – which was bound to be some sort of wail or a trembling lower lip (oh, kami-sama, those just melted him) – he bounded off, leaping back up to his perch unseen, just in time to see her dust the youma with her good ol' reliable tiara.

He fished out the rose again as the Sailor parted ways and left, twirling it in his fingers. His eyes followed the flowing streams of gold that steadily dwindled in the distance, the rose spinning faster and faster.

"Motoki," began Mamoru thoughtfully, pushing away the customary cup of coffee that sat before him on the counter. Somehow, its bitterness just didn't mesh with his mood today. "what's the deal with roses and love?"

Motoki raised a blond eyebrow, though whether at his rejection of coffee or at his question, Mamoru wasn't sure. "Why? Are you planning a bouquet for a special someone?"

A tic in Mamoru's cheek twitched at the slyness tinting Motoki's voice. "Is it so hard to answer a simple question, Motoki?"

Motoki's grin grew wider. "It is, isn't it? I can tell. You're smiling!"

"I'm not smiling." Mamoru's eyebrows furrowed.

"Yeah, but you're not frowning, so for you, that's smiling. The stoic Mamoru-sama finally has a crush!" He leaned in towards Mamoru, eye sparkling. "So tell me – it's Usagi, isn't it?"

"WHAT!" Mamoru fell backwards off his stool. Snickers rang out in the café, and he threw a sour scowl over his shoulder. The silence that followed was as effective as if a mute button had been pressed.

Mamoru resituated himself on the stool, then turned to his "friend." "What in the heck ever gave you that psychotic idea?" he hissed. "Me, like the Odango Atama?"

"That's what I said," said Motoki innocently.

"You're crazy." Mamoru shook his head. "Out of your mind. Insane. Touched in the head."

"Really?" There was a mischievous glint in Motoki's eyes and voice that Mamoru did not like one bit. "We'll just see about that." Looking past Mamoru, he called out, "Usagi-chan! How was your day?"

Gritting his teeth and making a mental memo to himself to murder Motoki as soon as there were no witnesses present, Mamoru swiveled around to face the Odango Atama, a sharp comment already teetering on the tip of his tongue.

It died on his lips.

"Hey. What's up, Motoki?" The Odango Atama made a valiant attempt at a smile and slid into a stool a couple down from Mamoru. As soon as her arms fell on the counter, her head began to nod.

"Wow…you look like you head a rough day, Usagi-chan," prompted Motoki sympathetically.

The Odango smiled drowsily, but it was an empty expression. "Not really. Just…stayed up too late…"

"Not studying, I'll bet." The words were out of Mamoru's mouth almost before he even thought of them.

The blonde's lips trembled, just the minutest little bit. "Just leave me alone today, okay, Mamoru-san?" Her voice shook a little.

Mamoru pulled his coffee back to him and took a long draught of the cold, slimy substance. His face held no expression as he lowered the cup. "Fine, Odango Atama."

"You want a strawberry shake, Usagi-chan?" asked Motoki quickly and cheerfully.

"Ano…not today, Motoki-onii-san…" Her head drooped again; a stream of golden hair slid over her shoulder and pooled in her lap. "Just a Coke, please. I really need the caffeine…"

Motoki shot Mamoru an alarmed glance before striding off to fetch Usagi's drink. Find out what's wrong, the glance ordered.

"Odango," started Mamoru awkwardly, "what's wrong? Did you fail another test?"

"No." Her head was buried in her arms now, on top of the gleaming counter.

"You didn't get detention, cause you're in here on time…did you trip and scrape yourself on the way here?"

"No." She laughed, a short and bitter sound devoid of humor.

Mamoru's hands tightened around his mug at the sound. "Got in a fight with one of your friends?"

There was a silence before she answered, as though she were debating. "I guess…you might say that…" she answered finally, not lifting her head. Her voice was muffled.

"Which one? Ami? The tall one? Or the scary one with the black hair – " He cut off abruptly, startled that he knew so well the identities of her friends.

"No, not them." Usagi sighed and twisted her head in her arms to look up at him sadly. "Another one…we weren't really friends, I guess, but he was always really nice to me, and I thought…." She sighed. "Well, anyway, he kind of got mad at me last night. He said I needed to start acting like a Sa – I mean, my age."

"You want me to beat him up for you?"

Usagi's head shot up at Mamoru's offer, and she gaped at him, lips parted. He shifted uncomfortably under the weight of her bright blue eyes.

"You'd…do that, Mamoru-san?" she asked, her head tilted as though she couldn't quite understand him. "For…me?"

"Well – yeah – I mean…" Mamoru rubbed his neck and tried again. "Wouldn't anyone?"

'Well….don't you agree with him?"

"Who? The guy who said you needed you grow up?"

"Yeah. Him."

"Odango, the best thing about you is your childish behavior." He leaned back in his stool, affecting a lofty expression. "Don't get me wrong; it definitely wouldn't hurt you to start studying, or learn how to walk without colliding with every animate or inanimate object in your path. But it's that innocence of yours that makes you who you are, Odango. No mind but a child's could believe that the goodness in the world outweighs the bad the way you do. Don't give that up just because of something some brainless high-school moron said."

"Usagi?" Motoki had arrived. "Here's your shake."

Usagi reached out a hand and took the frosty glass mechanically, her eyes glued to Mamoru. An awed expression graced her face. Motoki shot a confused look at Mamoru, who ignored it. His face was rather pink beneath the shock of black hair. He dropped his hands from where they had been knotted behind his neck, and took a huge gulp of his lukewarm coffee.

"Mamoru-san…so you really mean that?" Usagi's voice held incredulity. Her eyes were wide and glistening, their pleading gaze fixed completely and totally on him.

He cleared his throat, tugged at his school tie. No matter how much he wanted to, he couldn't tear his eyes from hers. He felt as thought the moment were slowly freezing in time, and the only way he could break the spell was by speaking. "Of course." He choked the words out.

Usagi's eyes shone. Her face glowed. Every part of her was bright; she was nothing less than the most brilliant star in the universe.

Mamoru's eyes widened as this train of thought slammed full steam into his brain. He muttered a quick goodbye and fled from the arcade, thoughts all-a-jumble.

Usagi's wide eyes followed him, flickering slightly as he disappeared around a corner. She slid off her stool, looked over her shoulder at Motoki. "Tell the girls I'll be back, please?"

Motoki mutely nodded. She ran off, leaving her bookbag behind.


He jerked around. An uncharacteristically vulnerable look had softened his features; he looked years younger. But this youth was quickly buried: his face hardened into its usual lines as his eyes landed on her.

"What is it?"

Usagi picked her way through the brambles of overgrown roses. This was one of the less popular areas of the park, and consequently, one of the less maintenanced as well. Thorns trailed razor carelessly across her skin as she waded through the overgrowth, and she winced with every other step.

Mamoru saw the lines of red appearing from seemingly nowhere on her pearlescent skin. There was a path that led one harmlessly through the choked wealth of roses, and he could have pointed it out to her. Just like he could sweep into every battle and rescue Sailor Moon from the youma. But Usagi needed to find the path herself, just as Sailor Moon needed to learn how to fight without leaning on others for help. Besides…did he really want Usagi to reach him?

"Why did you run away, Mamoru-san?" Usagi asked, finally reaching the edge of the rose bushes and stopping a few feet away from him.

He turned his head back to the molten gold being shed on the lake's surface by the setting sun. "Just…felt like being alone, I guess."

"Oh." Her voice was small, a rustle sounded as she turned back around. "I'm sorry, then, I'll leave – "

"No!" The protest burst from his lips unbidden. He spun around on a heel, reached a hand towards her, then quickly disguised the gesture by pretending to swat a mosquito out of his face. "I mean – sometimes what a person wants isn't necessarily what's best for them."

"Oh." Usagi resumed her original path, coming to a stop at his side on the lakeshore. "I guess that makes sense. After all, I always want doughnuts, but they're probably not very good for me." She laughed sheepishly, rubbing the back of her neck. "Well, scratch that, actually – I know they're not good for me – but they're so good!"

Mamoru smiled. It was a vague, foggy expression, put on his face because he couldn't figure out why it was that he enjoyed Usagi's pointless babble more than he enjoyed the usual silence that accompanied him when he came to this place.

Usagi had fallen silent. Her fingers lightly tapping his shoulder roused him from the dreamy reverie he'd fallen into. He jerked around to stare at her.

She ducked her head under his scrutiny. "Ano – I just wanted to say thank you, Mamoru-san. For…making me feel better."

"I…uh…I mean…" Mamoru gave up with a frustrated exhalation, raking his fingers through his hair. "You're welcome, Usa."

Usagi smiled.

"Usagi…what I said earlier…" His fingers had procured a twig from somewhere and were twirling it around at a ferocious speed. "How do you think a person can tell if something they want is good for them or not?"

Usagi's eyes hazed over thoughtfully. The tangerine glow of the drowning sun set fire to her features.

"They don't, I guess," she concluded finally, looking up at him. "They can't. They just have to try it and see."

"And if they're afraid?" The twig spun faster.

"Then they'll never find out what they missed. It's like…to smell a rose, you have to risk getting pricked by the thorns." Usagi's voice was sad, wistful. "So then, which is worse, Mamoru-san, to have something and lose it, or to never have it to lose in the first place?" She laughed suddenly, rubbing her head. "Oh, I sound really crazy, don't I? Don't mind me, I'm just having another Odango moment."

Mamoru laughed along with her, though the words had struck a chord inside him. To have something…and lose it…

"But anyways, back to your question – a person has to try something out before they can know if it's good for them. People have to take risks to find happiness. C'est la vie, I guess." She giggled at the expression on his face, mistaking it for shock at her suddenly bilingual rhetoric. "Ami-chan taught me that phrase."

But it wasn't because she had spoken French that Mamoru was gazing at her so intently.

People have to take risks…

His fingers caught her chin. Her eyes fluttered up to meet his, wide and bright and blue. He could feel her breathing quicken on his face, tickling his lips.

To find happiness…

He kissed her.

The glinting gold of the tiara could not compete with the overwhelming blue of her eyes.

The mask he wore could not hide the exhilarated smile that lit his face as he snatched her out of the way of yet another youma projectile

She reached up and straightened his mask as they hurtled through midair. He felt her giggle, warm and breathy against his shirt. His heart spun in his chest.

The angel in his arms didn't need to be able to fight. She would never have to battle alone. Because he would always be here, where he belonged, beside her.

Tuxedo Mask pulled out two roses.

He knew now why he threw them.

A/N: Ta da! Yeah! Yeah! This writing happy stories stuff is FUN! (Well, once you get the hang of it..)

I want this to be up in time for Valentine's Day, and I really have to go study for my Tale of Two Cities test now, so I'm posting it without editing it very much…gomen nasai. Hope you like it anyway!

Meg-chan: You ROCK like an Onxy, girl! You're so wonderful…sniff reading all of my fics…Domo arigatou!

Serenity-hime: As always, you leave me a marvelous long review with specific examples…I love you so much…(gosh, writing fanfic makes me so MUSHY!)…