thanks to catbru* and kyralih** so much for all your help!
(*and for the title!) (**and for the headline!)
this requires a little knowledge of episode 132, in SuperS, where Mamoru's friend Saori gets her dream mirror stolen. Anyway, the big 'conflict' was that Saori likes Mamoru, Chibi-Usa was freaking out ("if Mamoru dumps Usagi for Saori I won't be born! FML!") and Usagi sort of didn't give a care ("I'm trying to decide between two different stuffed animals this is a WAY bigger deal ok") and in the end Saori heard Mamoru (who was also caught in the attack) call Sailor Moon 'Usako' (nice going there secret agent man) and figured out Usagi's real identity and decided she couldn't compete after all.
now you are all caught up.
After the short-skirted super-heroine saved her life three weeks ago Saori started buying and reading every newspaper she could find that mentioned Sailor Moon and the Sailor Senshi, almost obsessively.
But they weren't widely reported on, so it tended to be difficult. So it was a strange enough to make her raise a perfectly manicured eyebrow and nearly scald her lips on her jasmine tea when she saw the headline and photograph in that week's Shinjuku weekly circular as she perused it in the student cafeteria before early classes.
SUPER HEROES JOIN FORCES… IN MORE THAN ONE WAY? EXCLUSIVE ON THE POSSIBLE MOON/MASK RELATIONSHIP! beneath that was a photograph - relatively clear and legitimate looking, of Sailor Moon in the arms of Tuxedo Mask, her mysterious male - what? sidekick, Saori figured, although the newspapers tended to avoid that term.
Saori knew a sidekick when she saw one. She also knew an embrace when she saw one, and this certainly didn't seem... innocent. Sure, he was whisking her away from danger (probably? although no monster was in sight) and Sailor Moon had to grasp his shoulders so tightly in order not to fall (most likely) and his hand had to be splayed across her lower back for leverage (right?) and it was just a trick of the camera that their position seemed so compromising. And that they didn't really seem to mind. And really, that Sailor Moon was looking at him so adoringly. She was probably just ...grateful.
Because, thanks to some extenuating circumstances - namely Saori's tenacious ability to remain conscious after a dream mirror extraction - the brunette knew that Sailor Moon was already romantically entangled (if you could call it that) with Saori's own long-time friend, who never bothered to say anything about it, because why would he?
It's not like it's a big deal that your girlfriend fights evil with magical cosmic-based superpowers in between dates or anything. But then again, until about a month ago, Saori didn't even know Mamoru had a girlfriend, superhero or not.
Then again, it certainly seemed like Sailor Moon had forgotten that little detail - Saori looked back down at the photograph in the newspaper, at the flush on the girl's face as she looked at the other man. She frowned.
"Watcha reading?" the voice at her shoulder made her jump, and uncharacteristically spill some tea over the side of her cup.
"Darnit, Kobayashi!" she bit out, dabbing at her silk skirt with a napkin, "this is dry-clean only." She flushed when her friend picked up the newspaper and smirked at her.
"Sailor Moon again, huh?" The younger man laughed, and slid across the table from her, smoothing the newspaper out over the table. "Don't worry, I think it's cute, honestly."
Saori just rolled her eyes, and quickly tried to tug the paper back when she saw Mamoru headed their way.
Kobayashi greeted him enthusiastically as always, goofy thing that he was, and Saori managed a polite smile.
"Honestly, Saori, I don't know why you are so embarrassed about it," Kobayashi said, too loudly for Saori's taste. "You said she saved your life, of course you'd wanna be hero-worship her from afar."
"Shut up," Saori hissed, "you're being a jerk." She glanced at Mamoru fretfully, but he only gave the newspaper headline and photo a mildly interested glance and then fixed his gaze on his two friends, sipping his coffee.
"So, how's the TOFEL studying going?" he asked Saori.
"It's... um," she shook her head to clear it, finally managing to snatch the paper from Kobayashi's hands and shove it into her bag. "It's going I guess."
He nodded, "Studying for those standardized things is never easy."
Kobayashi fretted. "I don't think I'm even up to that level at English-"
The conversation turned toward familiar subjects - school, languages, grades and standardized test scores, Saori felt herself tune out.
"Hey, Saori," Kobayashi finally said, poking at her hand lightly. "Are you even listening?"
"I'm sorry I was-" She bit a lip. "Mamoru, sorry, um. I just - this is totally out of nowhere, but - are you still seeing that girl? Usagi?"
Kobayashi looked hurt, but Saori didn't have time to worry about his feelings. Her hand still clenched the newspaper now crumbled in her bag.
Mamoru, for his part, looked like a deer in headlights. "I- uh. Y-yeah. We're- still..." It was like watching some sort of bizarre movie outtake. Mamoru usually never stuttered. Saori decided to put him out of his misery.
"Oh okay, just wondering, for, I mean, not for any real reason just-" Saori didn't usually stutter, either.
Both boys were looking at her oddly.
"Anyway, glad to hear everything is good," she finished with a smile. "You know, I was just wondering, how did you met her anyway?" How do you meet someone like that? Did you just ask her for her phone number, Mamoru, one day after she defeated a monster in park? Do you just walk up to Sailor freakin' Moon and decide to take her to dinner? Who even are you?
Kobayashi was rolling his eyes already and Mamoru was looking into his coffee cup as if he expected it to save him from the horrors of polite conversation.
"Well," he started, "you know Motoki Furuhata right?" At her nod, he continued with a shrug. "I hang out at his father's arcade a lot. So does she."
There was a few seconds of silence before she realized he wasn't going to continue. "So you just both met at the arcade, one day, and decided to - start going out. That's it."
Mamoru looked at her for a few seconds in silence. "Yes," he finally said. "Pretty much."
"Sounds pretty normal to me." Kobayashi poked her arm. "Why do you have your interrogation face on, Detective? What were you expecting?"
"I hate when you call me that," she snapped at him. "And I wasn't expecting anything. God, can you open your mouth without saying something idiotic? If you'll excuse me, I have class." With one final glare at Kobayashi, she snatched up her empty tea cup and stalked off.
"So," Mamoru said, turning to his friend with an ironic half-smile. "Things going well with you two I take it?"
"Shut up," Kobayashi said.
That afternoon Saori found herself on a unfamiliar street in downtown Juuban, outside a cheerful sign advertising Crown arcade and fruits parlor. Steeling herself, she tossed her hair, opened the door and scanned the crowd for Usagi Tsukino's distinctive hairstyle.
She just needed to ask her some questions.
Usagi didn't appear to be in the arcade, at least not yet, but Motoki greeted Saori and started to chat with her.
"I haven't seen you in a while," she commented.
"Been busy here," Motoki laughed. "And with the MCATs coming up-"
"What are YOU doing here?" a little voice pipped up from around Saori's knee and she looked down in surprise to see hazel eyes glaring up at her, framed by a cloud of pink hair.
"Hey, Chibi-Usa!" Motoki said cheerfully. "What can I get you?"
"Melon soda, please," the younger girl said sweetly, then turned her glower back to Saori. "Motoki has a girlfriend, you know," she said, hands on her hips. "Not that it'd stop you, would it?"
Saori's jaw dropped. "I'm just -" She really had no come-back for that.
"Maybe you should just go," the girl continued. "I don't think there is anything for you here."
"Chibi-Usa! That's not nice!" Usagi was suddenly beside her cousin, admonishing her with a wagging finger and tsk'ing lips. "We have to respect our elders!"
Saori raised her eyebrows. "Excuse me?"
Usagi looked up and met her eyes. There was an awkward moment when Usagi regarded the girl in front of her in silence, then recognition clicked behind her blue eyes and she broke into a smile. "Hey, I remember you! Do you have any cream puffs today?" She peered around Saori's arm as if she expected the taller girl to produce a box of pastries from the air in front of her.
"Erm, no, I'm afraid not," Saori said, putting a hand to her neck. "I -uh, don't just carry them around with me."
Usagi's face fell. "Oh. I thought maybe since you had them last time we met." She pouted and pulled on one long blonde pigtail.
"Stupid, why would that make any sense at all?" Chibi-Usa pulled on Usagi's arm, and the older girl was about to respond with an angry yell when Motoki appeared with Chibi-Usa's soda and she skipped off to join her friends - with a raspberry blown in Usagi's direction as a parting gift.
"She's very lively," Saori commented.
"Quite the handful," Usagi said, matching Saori's formal tone. She perched on one of the counter stools and regarded the other girl. "So. Are you doing well?"
Saori smiled and nodded. "Yes, thanks. And you?"
"Fine." Usagi kicked her heels against the rungs of the chair, eyes drifting around the arcade.
"How are things with you and Mamoru?"
Usagi looked at her strangely. "Great," she said.
"Has he been okay? Since the attack?" Saori also sat on a stool, causally put her arms on the counter. Usagi blinked in surprise at the question.
"Um. Yes. He's doing okay."
"Sailor Moon saved us both," Saori said meaningfully, watching Usagi's reaction.
She just nodded. "That's what he told me."
"Ever since then, I sometimes read up on her, ya know. It sparked an interest." Saori smiled at the younger girl, who returned the smile sincerely. "Do you ever read the papers?"
Usagi shook her head.
"I found this story in today's," she pulled out the wrinkled paper from her bag, smoothed it front of the other girl. Usagi gaped at the headline and grabbed it up, her eyes running over the page with interest.
"Wow, this was in the PAPER?" she practically screeched. "That's - I wonder how they got this picture?" Her eyebrows knitted. "Some of this kanji is kinda hard," she muttered. "What do they say?" she passed it back to Saori, blue eyes all interest. "Summarize it for me."
"Well, it's rather crude, actually," she said. "Speculating over someone's love life." Usagi was still looking at Saori with clear, open eyes. It was really starting to unnerve her. "I mean, journalists," she babbled. "Who do they think they are? Sometimes I think they'll print anything."
"I've had my run-ins with them," Usagi said, "but they aren't all bad. My dad's a journalist."
Saori blanched. Of course he is. "Well, in any case," Saori said, pushing the paper away and brushing her fingertips together as if she just threw away trash, "this story is most likely not true."
Then she found herself with a hand clamped around her wrist, tightly and white-hot. Usagi's eyes were hard as stones as she pulled Saori to face her.
"Wait. What do you mean, most likely not true?"
It took a while for Saori to calm her down, explaining that perhaps the reporter misconstrued the picture, and after all, it was only speculation: a gossip column, a human interest story, the third-page of a local ward's newpaper... not really what they'd call 'hard evidence'.
But Usagi just looked at her with down-turned eyebrows and fire in her eyes. "Hard evidence? But look at the way he's holding her! Look at how she's looking at him!" She jabbed her finger at the photograph in question, "I mean, my god, do they need to spell it out for everyone?"
Saori just starred at her in shock. I'm giving you an easy out. Take it. What is wrong with you? She decided to give Usagi one more chance to deny it. "Well, a lot could be taken out of context."
"Think about it. He could easily be Sailor Moon's friend, or brother-"
"Miss, please. I have a brother." Usagi looked a little ill, "and I know that I'd never stand that close to him unless forced. At gunpoint. And even then-"
"Well, okay. Tuxedo Mask is the only male member of the team. Maybe he's involved with one of the other senshi-"
"WHAT? What do you mean, one of the other senshi?" Usagi ripped the newspaper from Saori's hands and started flipping through the pages frantically, "Does it say that? Who says that? Who do they say it is? Those liars!"
Saori watched, wide-eyed, for a few moments before calmly placing her hands over the younger girl's and shaking her head. "No-no one says that. I'm only saying - that -" then she realized there was no need to play coy with Usagi. "Look, what do you think? You are obviously a fan. Do you think they are together?"
She didn't even hesitate. "Yes."
Saori felt her shoulders slump. "You do."
"Uh-huh. Like, completely and totally."
"Completely and totally."
"Clark Kent and Lois Lane together. Bonnie and Clyde together. Romeo and Juliet together. Okay, but not ending up dead. Hanami and sake together. Beach and sunblock together! Um. Ice cream and hot fudge together! Sundays and video games together!"
"Fine, fine, I get it." Saori snapped. She was starting to get a headache. Did this girl just consider Sailor Moon a different entity? That she could get away with dating two boys, one as Usagi and one as Sailor Moon? But how was that fair to girls like Saori who only wanted one? Just the one.
"Are you okay?" Usagi was asking.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," she said wearily. Part of her had meant to apologize - if not directly, at least by buying her a sundae or a few rounds of video games - for not taking Usagi seriously back then. For attempting to steal her boyfriend right in front of her. It had been disrespectful. When Saori found out Usagi was Sailor Moon, and that Sailor Moon almost died - died! - in order to save Mamoru's life, that was when she realized how wrong she was to consider Usagi some silly schoolgirl unworthy of Mamoru's affections.
She was still guilty, but she no longer felt like apologizing. Usagi made her too angry.
She made up some excuse about having to study, and said good-bye to Usagi and Motoki, made her way to the door.
"Hey, wait. Did you want this newspaper?" Usagi called out, running after her.
Saori winced at the photograph the girl waved under her face. "No, no, you can have it."
"Oh!" Usagi looked at the paper with a conflicted expression. "I wonder if I should keep it..."
"USAGI! Mamo-chan's heeeeere!" Chibi-Usa's voice cut through the din of the arcade. Sure enough, the younger girl was already perched in Mamoru's arms, giving a smug look to her blonde counterpart, who straightened up and smiled.
"OH! Ma-Mamoru. It's nice to see you," Usagi said politely. He raised a confused eyebrow at her, then noticed Saori and suddenly understanding dawned on his face and he looked like he was trying not to laugh.
"It's simply divine to see you, too, Usako," he drawled, teasing her. She gave him a look that danced between pleading and frustrated and then swatted him on the arm with the newspaper she still held. Meanwhile, Mamoru gave Saori a friendly greeting, and added, "I'm surprised to see you here."
"I just realized it's been a while since I caught up with Motoki," she said, shrugging.
"Join us," Usagi offered. She had already wound herself around Mamoru's free arm, not that he seemed to mind. Chibi-Usa glared at Saori from over his shoulder, warning her off from Usagi's welcoming smile.
Saori declined the offer, pleading a need to study. The others waved politely, the youngest baring her teeth in a wide smile that unnerved Saori enough to hurry away.
As she left, she turned back to see Usagi holding the newspaper out for Chibi-Usa and Mamoru to see, amusement evident on her face as she pointed to the headline.
She may have majored in forensics, but it actually took Saori most of the train ride home to figure it all out.