interlude - part one

It was Saturday and Saturday was always Serena's favorite day. A whole weekend full of shopping and the arcade, teasing her little brother and best of all, no school. Two whole days without worrying about failing any tests. Two whole days of fun and hanging out with all her friends.

Well, usually Saturday was her favorite day. This particular one hadn't started so well. Friday night, they had defeated yet one more piece of Negaverse scum and Serena could still feel the bruises that had taken. And to add insult to injury, she'd fallen flat on her face again and Rei had been the one to finally blast the creature into nega-bits. Serena just hated it when Rei got to play the big hero. 'She'll be just impossible today,' Serena thought, 'preening and posing and teasing me. I bet she'll even say that I didn't help at all!' Serena's mood grew darker yet at that thought. 'Well I'll just stay away from Rei's temple today, she's probably busy purifying herself in front of that stupid fire anyways.'

Serena kicked her heels on her bed in annoyance and winced at her various aches. Hands behind her head, she could feel the frustration at her klutziness settling into her bones. Why couldn't she be graceful and beautiful and at least good at one thing in her life? Amy was smart and going to be a doctor, Rei was fearless and nearly a priestess, Lita was strong and could cook like a dream. Serena knew she wasn't any of those things. Wasn't there something, anything, that only she could do well? Serena racked her brains, and could only remember falling on her face a lot. That was nothing to be proud of. She lay still a moment longer on the bed before throwing herself to her feet and stomping around her room in frustration. In front of the mirror, she stopped and did her best Sailor Moon pose -- but ruined it by scowling at her reflection and sticking her tongue out.

"Ack, I've just got to get out of this house before I go batty!" she declared to herself. "I know, I'll go hang out at the mall and then the arcade - that always makes me feel better. Maybe I can find Molly or somebody to be with. And there's always ice-cream. . ."

With that chirpy thought buzzing through her head, Serena tripped down the stairs with more enthusiasm, and stopping at the kitchen, told her mom about her plan to go out. Serena was sneakily grateful that Luna was nowhere in sight; she didn't want to have to listen to any lectures about her duty as a sailor senshi.

"Well don't spend ALL your money at the arcade dear," her mom said with a distracted look on her face. She was trying to get Serena's little brother to stand still long enough to measure him for some new clothes. Serena stuck her tongue out at him and skipped out the door.

The brief surge of enthusiasm soon faded and her normal sprightly step became a trudge as she neared the mall. Eyes cast down, she hardly noticed the people she bumped into with a rote apology and the other near collisions. Her thoughts started to run around in the same circles it always did, the repetition worn into her mind like the indentation in her bed she fell into every night. 'I just don't understand Tuxedo Kamen at all anymore . . . he loves me, I know he does . . but he's acting so cold lately, so focused on the nijizuishou. Maybe . . . maybe I've done something to make him not love me anymore . . . I'm always dropping things and making a fool out of myself - and he's always so strong and in control. He must think I'm totally useless, he's always having to rescue me . . .' Serena's melodramatic instincts were kicking in, and a little tear even escaped from one eye. She sobbed theatrically for effect, and liking the miserable sound it made, sobbed again a little louder.

Revelling a little in the misery, Serena was trying to decipher her confused feelings for Tuxedo Kamen (a new venture for her it must be said), when an insidious thought crept into the litany of the failures she was reciting to herself. 'Maybe. . . maybe he doesn't love me . . .maybe I've just been pretending so hard that he did . . .that I never noticed that he really doesn't care about me. I mean, just 'cause he always saves me doesn't really mean anything does it?' The horror of this fresh new idea instantly brought real tears to Serena's eyes and her step faltered on the street.

Blinking, she looked up just in time to avoid an embrace with a light pole. Stepping carefully around it, through a mist of water she saw an all too familiar head of hair attached to a face she'd recognize if she was blind. 'O god o god o god, not him, not NOW!' Aware that once again she was looking less than her best, with (maybe) red eyes and (probably) puffy cheeks and litle fat teardrops dripping from her nose, Serena looked frantically for escape on the busy street. She turned abruptly to stare into the closest window, watching the mop of hair from the corner of her eye and pleading to herself 'I'm not here, I'm not here . . . I'm invisible, you don't see me . . . if you don't see me today, I promise I'll be nice to you tomorrow, I won't say a single nasty thing about you the whole day . . .' The chant went through her mind over and over, and the black hair passed behind her without seeming to slow. Serena breathed a sigh of relief, and wiping her eyes with her hands, hurriedly stepped into the street and walked into someone hard, causing the other woman to drop her packages.

Darien wandered down the street, hands in his pockets and enjoying the day off with nothing to study for and for once, able to leave the consuming thoughts of the nijizuishou behind, if only for a few hours. Up ahead, almost like fate was conspiring to ruin this moment of peace for him, he spotted that unique head of hair that could only belong to one person. 'O wonderful' Darien thought to himself, 'I wonder what she's going to throw at me this time. I'm tired of getting hit with shoes . . .' But as he got closer, he saw that she was staring intently in a store window, face averted from him. Darien's sharp gaze saw the window contained calculators and computer gadgets, things he privately wondered if Serena could have found the on switch for. Then with a mental shrug he passed by briskly, determined to ignore her if she hadn't seen him. As he passed behind her, a faint feeling of alarm tickled along his nerves. He hesitated, then continued. It felt as if his entire body had vibrated to something unseen at the moment he passed Serena. He shook his head to clear it, and walked more briskly away, determined not to listen to that queer feeling. A few more steps and he heard the familiar sound of colliding bodies and Serena's breathless voice squeaking in alarm. With a sigh, he turned back.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean it! . . . let me help you . ." Serena babbled as she knelt and started scrambling among the packages. With a sinking heart and a feeling of inevitability, she felt a large presence over her shoulder and Darien's warm, cutting voice saying, "Can't walk and breathe at the same time, meatball head?"

Mumbling, Serena kept her face averted as she let Darien help her with the boxes. With a last muttered apology, Serena let the unknown woman continue, which left her strangely alone on the busy street with Darien.

"Uh, thanks, but I gotta go now . . . see you later . . ." Serena made a dash for safety, but Darien's strong hand caught her wrist and pulled her back.

"What's the hurry, that looked like a pretty hard hit . . did you hurt yourself?"

"Uh yeah, a little, I can feel it." Serena sniffed loudly, realizing now she had a way to explain her tears. She pasted on a bright smile and started to edge past Darien. "Um, thanks again, but I really do gotta go now . . ." Vainly she tugged on her wrist which Darien still held in his strong fingers. Darien was staring at her face quizzically, so she pulled harder and only succeeded in making him pull her closer in a reflexive action. Jostled by the crowd, Darien muttered something crossly under his breath and pulled her into a niche in the wall between stores. A callous hand lifted her chin higher and exposed her bright eyes and flushed cheeks to his gaze. Serena closed her eyes and gulped, waiting for the cutting remarks she knew were coming her way. She just didn't have the strength to fight back today. A nasty little voice in her head whispered that everything Darien would probably say was no doubt true and that she deserved it, look how she'd nearly mowed down that unsuspecting lady! Only a dreamer like her could have thought that there was love in the gaze of Tuxedo Kamen for a clumsy girl like her. Miserable, Serena didn't even notice two more hot tears trickling down her cheeks as she waited for the axe to fall.

Darien was astonished at the abject misery on her face, and then truly concerned. Serena had always seemed so indomitable, acting like nothing could affect her deeply or for long. Yet there was no mistaking the true unhappiness on her face, raised unwillingly for his inspection. Slow tears continued to seep down from under her long lashes; her tight face transmitted how tense she held herself. Darien was at a complete loss; he was used to having to duck flying objects around her and had no idea how to console her without looking like a fool. But as he stood there uncertainly, wondering if cutting and running was an option, a protectiveness welled up out of nowhere, and a formless anger at whatever had made her, of all people, cry. A detached voice inside whispered at him that it had to be a boy, that young girls only cried over boys. He felt an odd, disjointed jealousy over her tears, that she should cry over anything. Darien tried not to examine that emotion too closely, not sure he wanted to know the reason for it. Mutely he caressed her cheeks with his thumbs, vainly trying to erase the tears from her hot face.

Serena still hadn't heard any of the cruel things that Darien liked to say to her, so she cautiously opened one eye to see what the delay was. There was an arrested, undecipherable expression on his face, one that she'd never seen before. The warmth of his hands on her face made her shiver, a curious reaction. Unconsciously she started to relax as the concern in his eyes transmitted itself to her, although the puzzling other expression was making her uneasy. Uncomfortable now with the way he was staring at her, she stepped back as far as she could in the tiny alcove, yanking her arms around herself and scowling fiercely. Blinking to clear her eyes, she said sharply (if a little soggily), "Don't stare at me like that, I'm alright." Turning her head to look at the street, she assumed a nonchalant pose, trying to surruptiously remove the tears from her face. Peeking sideways, she saw the curious expression on Darien's face slip off, to be replaced by something somewhere between amusement and annoyance. Amusement seemed to win, and that familiar quirky grin appeared on his lips. Had Serena been looking more closely, she might have seen that the arrested expression was still in his eyes, but she had already turned back to the passing crowd.

"Look, I'm sorry I went all to pieces like that . . . I'm okay, really," she declared firmly, the effect only slightly spoiled as she sniffled at the end. "I'm on my way to the mall to do some shopping so I'll just be going now . . . " Studiously ignoring him, she stepped onto the street (carefully this time) and started to march firmly away, though unfortunately in entirely the wrong direction (a fact not lost on Darien).

She was a half a block down the street before she felt his mocking presence over her shoulder, moving along with her. Then an oh-so-casual arm was draped over her shoulders and he said in his drawling, smoky voice, "Well how about I go with you then? I'm at a loose end today and you look like you could use some company." Serena looked at him dubiously, distrusting the casualness of his tone. She caught another glimpse of that strange expression before he hid it behind a grin at her. A funny feeling in the middle of her chest held her mute, and she nodded hesitantly at him. His grin broadened and he squeezed her shoulders gently, mildly remarking, "Just don't hit me with anything today. I'm trying to relax."

Serena flushed, but smiled up at his grin. "I'll try but I never mean to hit anybody . . . I just can't seem to help it! I guess I'm just clumsy." She started to feel depressed again about that, but Darien moved her in more comfortably into his side and she forgot how bad she felt. Darien wondered at how well she fit under his arm, an interesting sensation. "Oh you're not that klutzy," he said airily, "you're just a little . . .ah . . . exuberant?"

"Exuberant?" Serena repeated, rolling the word around. "That sounds like something fattening to eat - ' I'll have a coke and two exuberants please' " she quipped. She was rewarded with a chuckle from those quirky lips.

"Ok, ok, I've never known you not to be hungry. Let's start with a few 'exuberants' to settle you in for my relaxing day."

The next few hours were magical for Serena. She didn't step on Darien once, didn't drop anything and only said a couple of embarrassing things. After the 'exuberants' which tasted more like poppy seed cake than anything else, they wandered aimlessly through town, staring in windows and arguing amicably over the relative merits of felt pens versus ballpoints, flannel pyjamas for bedtime (Serena was for, Darien against though he wouldn't tell her why), and the proper colour for taxi cabs (Serena wanted orange ones so they'd look like little flying pumpkins, a thought that amused her endlessly). She forgot how unhappy she'd been over Tuxedo Kamen's apparent change of heart - truthfully, she forgot about him at all. She surprised that odd look on Darien's face a few more times, but soon he started acting more and more like a tolerant older brother, a far cry from the acid wit she remembered. Serena started to sparkle under his laughing gaze and warm quips. If asked, she couldn't have named a happier day. They fed the ducks in a pond they passed, talked to some kids on a corner playing games, even stopped at an arcade to play some games of their own.

Darien watched bemusedly as the haunted expression left Serena's eyes and she began to brighten like a flower in sunshine, even skipping and pressing her face against particularily interesting windows. He'd had to pull her away physically from the candy shop where they'd been making fudge for everyone to watch. Most of him was reacting to Serena, talking and joking and keeping her distracted, but the core of him was turning over a new puzzle in his mental hands.

It was a silvery, glittering thing, this puzzle, and he knew if he could just figure out the right combination between the spikey points that would open it, something he needed to know would become clear to him. The key was somewhere in Serena's smile and laughter, and he did his best to provoke it in her, turning the compelling puzzle over and over again in his mind's eye.

Throughout that wonderful afternoon that Serena would never forget, she grew accustomed to Darien's arm on her shoulders, the grip of his fingers on her waist, even the teasing tugs he gave her hair. Not once did he call her meatball head or mention her tears when he'd met her. She began to miss it when he wasn't touching her, and she knew she was starting to stand closer to him all the time, inviting those absent touches and almost caresses. Serena discovered she could bring laughter to his eyes when she ate ice cream and that he was ticklish if she snuck up on him. She hugged these discoveries to her heart of hearts like presents to herself. She babbled incessantly with happiness and never noticed the look in his eyes that came and went like moon phases.

As they walked, Serena spotted another patch of greenery in the city and started tugging on Darien's arm. "Maybe they'll have more ducks for us to feed . . . maybe even baby ones!" Serena squeaked breathlessly. Darien let himself get pulled along a faster pace, marvelling at her boundless enthusiasm. His feet, at least, were starting to get tired. A closer inspection of the upcoming park for benches to sit on gave him a wicked thought, and with the devil in his eyes he started to run in earnest, passing the startled Serena in a few short paces. She struggled to catch him, her long gorgeous hair flapping madly with the effort. Darien laughed and turning quickly, scooped the breathless girl into his arms and dashed for the little fountain in the middle of the park. Serena squealed impressively and grabbed him around the neck as he bounced along. Running up to the water, he held her threateningly over it, the cool spray misting them both as the breeze came and went. Serena's eyes went round and frantic and she tried to climb up on his shoulders but Darien's grip was strong.

"O please o please, o please, don't drop me, I'll be good!" she wailed, half laughing and half alarmed.

"A very good girl? No more flying shoes, no stepping on my feet?" Darien teased.

"O I promise, I'll be really careful . . ." Serena held tighter to Darien as he shifted his grip. Startled, she suddenly realized in her precarious position how close she really was to him, his warmth and scent impacting on her nostrils, her face only inches from his. Gulping, she flushed and froze, trying to ignore the feeling in the pit of her stomach that was starting to make her quiver, hoping he wouldn't notice.

Darien laughed down at Serena, long lashes misted with water, and surprised an expression of awareness there, fascinating and totally unexpected. Mutely, he watched her face flicker with her transparent emotions, panic and tension mingling into a heady combination that called forth an answering response in him. She started visibly trembling under his gaze and her wide eyes reflected his image. He felt the smile slip off his face and that strange feeling he'd had all afternoon began to transmute into a desire he didn't want to ignore. Darien grew still and quiet, focusing on Serena's face and the light growing in her eyes.

For herself, Serena knew she'd never felt even a little bit like this before with any boy that she'd liked, scared and excited and strange all over. Darien's eyes had darkened as he looked at her, and she felt mesmerized by what she saw flickering in the depths there. Unconsciously she licked her lips, a nervous reaction - and his eyes started to burn with something that both frightened and confused her with its intensity. Breathing deeply as if in a race, Darien lowered Serena's legs to the ground, and a pang of loss went through her. Serena discovered that her knees were shaking so much she couldn't stand, alternating hot and cold flushes were racking her body. She felt like she was drowning in a tidal wave, and clutched convulsively at Darien when he finally released her.

Darien knew the feelings rushing through his veins - he'd been through cases of infatuation before and knew how overwhelming physical desire could seem - but he too felt as if he was drowning in something he didn't understand at all. Previous desires had been like warm summer days compared to the raging storm he felt now - and with Serena of all people! - a girl he wasn't even sure he liked that much! Darien felt himself shaking inside as he pulled her unresisting, innocent body closer to his, so they stood joined as close as he could get her, legs interlocked, hip to hip with her face nestled into his shoulder within his imprisoning arms. A powerful surge ripped through Darien as he cradled her, something wild and sweet and out of control - and somehow familiar. He tilted his head to kiss her, a small voice whispering nearly unheard under his overwhelming desire . .'o be careful, be gentle, don't scare her now . . . .'

Serena's eyes fluttered closed instinctively as Darien leaned in, and his first kisses reminded her of butterflies, light and quivering. He barely brushed her mouth again and again, teasing her lips until they felt tight and swollen. She held as still as she could, afraid that to move would make him stop. She trembled with the fragile feeling, so achingly pure for her.

Slowly Darien pulled away from her sweet intoxicating lips and blinked carefully, trying mightily to stop before things went too far, knowing that it might already be too late. Serena was immoveable and nearly unbreathing in his arms, face flushed and her eyes fluttering open with that unnameable something in her eyes that he felt in himself. Darien groaned nearly inaudibly as at that look he felt himself losing his grip of control. He pulled her in tighter, lifting her on her toes so that she had to balance against him and this time kissed her with the full power of his desire.

He overwhelmed her, and she didn't think, didn't want, to protest. She wrapped herself against him as he ravished her tongue over and over again, his now demanding kisses making her feel as if she was filled with honey, warm and golden for him to taste at will. She felt as if he was going to consume her in flames, and she opened herself unthinkingly to his wordless demands. Dimly she heard herself making small sounds of pleasure but totally unable to stop. She couldn't get close enough to him. An impatient hand threaded itself into her hair at the base of her neck and his kisses moderated into something slightly less bruising, longer and sweeter. Unconsciously she had wormed her hands under his jacket, his back warm and taut under her sensitive fingertips. Serena fell into the rhythm of his kisses and tentatively began to respond, no longer quite the naive girl she had been only minutes before. Darien groaned in appreciation as she started to twist in his arms, pressing herself against him, her small tongue licking his lips, pearl teeth nipping at his throat and jaw, her trembling limbs betraying the state of her desire.

Darien let himself become bolder as Serena encouraged his advances, his hands running over her curves, lightly cupping her breasts through the thin fabric, the hard nipples thrusting against his palm as he lingered over them. Her tongue plunged into his mouth demandingly and he felt himself growing harder than he ever thought possible. Her soft belly curved against his erection and he felt as if he was going to burst if he didn't find release soon. An image of Serena naked underneath him in his bed, making those little noises in earnest flashed through his mind - Darien groaned loudly at the eroticism he felt. It was the sound of his own voice, raw with need that shocked him back to a moment of crystal clarity of what he was doing - namely driving himself crazy with lust over a girl of fifteen. Somehow, he dragged his lips away from hers, and pushed her to arms length, breathing roughly and trying to get himself under some semblance of control so he could apologize.

Serena's wasn't sure what she'd done wrong - they'd been kissing and she had felt like a small nova exploding - and then he'd just pushed her away like he felt nothing at all. Desire still trembled through her, but started to mix with shame and embarrassment at her clumsiness in returning his kisses. She must have done it all wrong and made him regret he'd started to. Serena's vision started to blur a little as her body reacted to the emotional overload. Darien was studiously staring over the top of her head, his face as blank as stone. Serena stared at him fiercely, blinking away the incipent tears, silently urging him to say something, anything, to tell her what she'd done wrong so she wouldn't do it again. She ached to kiss him again.

When Darien finally lowered his gaze to her, his eyes and voice were carefully cool as he said, "Uh, sorry Serena, I don't know what I was thinking. Please. . .forgive me?"

Serena stared up at him in shock before managing to say, "What?" Serena stared into his neutral expression that showed nothing more than boredom and something seemed to break inside her, she almost heard it. "Oh. Oh! Uh, that's ok Darien, , it's no big deal. I know I'm not your kind of girl anyways." Serena was perversely proud of herself that her voice wavered only a little bit . She risked another look into those blank eyes and turned abruptly away before her expression could crumble against the indifference she saw there. Stepping carefully, she moved away from him, Darien making no move to stop her. Hugging herself tightly, she realized with a moment of precognition that she might never recover from this rejection. She had fought and schemed and hated Darien for so long that she had never realized until this moment how important he really was to her. She was too young, too clumsy, too naive for him she knew, but for that moment in his arms, it hadn't seemed to matter. Serena felt an overwhelming desire to run far away and curl up like a wounded animal over this hurt. She knew she had to get away now before she threw herself at him, embarrassing them both, saying things that he didn't want to hear from her. Serena knew to how protect herself - she put on an unconcerned expression, fiercely pretending that that last couple of minutes hadn't happened, that he hadn't kissed her and changed her life. Breezily, she tossed her hair over her shoulder, and started to walk away, striving for her normal lightness. "Well, thanks for this afternoon, but you've probably got better things to do now - I can see myself home. Bye." Holding herself, she tried not to look like she was running - didn't want to let him know how much she hurt.

Darien watched her walk away, step bright and golden head defiantly high. He cursed himself inwardly for several kinds of fools but remained where he was. His fists clenched at his sides, his body still insisting it needed her, his mind holding tight to a lock of control he would not, would not, release. Her goodbye had sounded so heartbreakingly final. He knew he'd hurt her, god, he'd be a real idiot if he hadn't realized, but he also knew that she'd thank him later for stopping. He chuckled painfully to himself, '. . . and she thought that she wasn't his kind of girl.' His aching body was proving her wrong right now, demanding hysterically that he run after her and beg for her kisses again. His brain kept teasing him, trying to insert erotic pictures of Serena in slinky lingerie, even the damned flannel pyjamas she'd insisted she slept in. Even a picture of her in flannel, fresh and scrubbed for bed was sexy. Darien turned abruptly and scooped water from the fountain, scrubbing his face hard with the cool water. He had sinking feeling that he wasn't going to recover any time soon from this frustration - avoidance seemed like the prudent course. If he was careful, he wouldn't have to see her for weeks - maybe his errant lust would have calmed by then and found a more appropriate target.

Sitting cautiously on the fountain edge, he looked longingly after her now that he was sure she was too far away and his expression was both taut and painful. Darien looked up sharply as a shadow fell across his eyes and an old man stopped in front of him, the face obscured by the mid-afternoon sun behind him. Shading his eyes against the glare Darien said politely, "Can I help you with something, grandfather?"

The old man shook his head and replied, "No actually, though I might be able to help you with something. I was sitting on that bench over there, and couldn't help but overhear your conversation with the young lady currently heading in the opposite direction. I wish to tell you that I, at least, believe that you are making the biggest mistake anyone can make. I did not wish to leave you sitting here without pointing it out to you." The old man's voice was soft with age, but firm in intent.

"Grandfather, it's really none of your business what . . ." Darien started to say but was interrupted by that quiet, insistent voice.

"Don't be a fool young man. And you are young, no matter how old you feel you are to be deciding her life. I doubt you could see her face with the stones in your eyes, but my eyes, while no longer young, are as sharp as need be to see a heart breaking. She is young, and beautiful, and very much in love with you. And I do not think you are so indifferent to her as you are sitting there rather carefully." The old man's voice held a hint of amused laughter at Darien's rather obvious predicament. Darien flushed angrily and replied.

"Old man, she is very young . . ."

"And you are so ancient I see . . ."

".. very young, and easily swayed. I will not take advantage of that innocence! She will be glad tomorrow for my control - god knows she was like flame in my arms, but you tell me old man - how could I face her when I had taken that innocence away?" Darien's face was twisted with his emotions, his body tense with anger at trying to justify his actions.

The old man hesitated a moment, the glow of the sun's corona outlining the shadow of his head. "I am old I admit, and perhaps not as clear sighted as the young. But I tell you this, young man with honor - would you have her turn to flame in any other's arms? Love is sometimes a once in a lifetime thing - don't throw the love of that young lady away simply because she is young. Everyone grows up and you may never have this chance again. I tell you, I heard her heart breaking . . . mend it before the pieces are shattered beyond repair." And with this, the old man nodded quietly at Darien and started to move slowly away, his cane making soft sounds in the grass.

Darien sat on the cool stone, a stillness spreading within him. He heard the laughing of the water behind him, the sound of traffic and people in the city beyond, the whistling sound of a jet high above. He let his awareness sink into calm, the beat of his heart echoing the sound of water, clear as the truth and pain in the old man's voice. An image of Serena, she of the laughing eyes and bright heart, being caressed in the arms of another rose before his eyes. The image held a long moment before his inner eye, taunting him into bright , unreasoning jealousy. His fingers flexed against the fountain edge, hard enough that he could feel the roughness of the stone grate against his flesh. His pride and his reason screamed that she was much too young, that his thoughts should be taken up by larger concerns than the feelings of a schoolgirl, no matter how attractive. She was a distraction he could ill afford right now. And yet . . .

Darien struggled with his conscience. He knew if he was with her again, he would have to, would need to touch her. Darien realized he had no illusions about this at least; if he and Serena were near each other, he would press his attentions upon her -- and he was very afraid she would not refuse. She had filled his arms so perfectly, the clumsy unsure girl transformed into a mature woman, filled with a passion that seemed as great as his own. He dared to hope that desire was for him alone. And yet, she was really a child, and totally unaware of what a physical relationship would mean. Darien grinned wryly at himself; like he'd have any better handle on it. He had a sneaking suspicion that Serena would take over his life if he let her. His common sense said to avoid her, she was a complication he didn't need right now; the nijizuishou were his true goal.

Then the voice of his desire spoke from his belly, and it reminded him of her sweet caresses and hungry response to his kisses. She might be naive, his desire argued, but she was more than eager to learn. Even now, his body was reacting still to her, making it hard to concentrate through the random trembling of his limbs. His body craved her with a power that both amazed and frankly terrified him. He could feel that sleep would be long coming tonight, and probably for many nights to come. And he knew it would be so easy to let that desire cloud his judgement, seduce him into thinking he could control the complications, the problems he knew would arise. And beyond the pedestrian problems, what would happen when he needed to leave her, when the summoning came that called him into danger? Breathing deeply, he held himself as wide open as he could, trying to see to the bottom of his soul for what the right course of action was - and not flinching, in the depths of his heart he saw an image of Serena laughing with love in her eyes. Shaken, Darien closed his eyes and lifted his face to the warmth of the sunshine - knowing that if he ignored that image of love, he might spend the rest of his life trying to recapture it. And Darien felt his love for a small, golden haired girl slip into his heart like sunshine lighting the depths of water. His eyes opened and had anyone been watching, his gaze was as clear and and as fathomless as the sea.

She was long gone he knew, and who knew what route she might have chosen to get home by - if she was even going home at all a panicked voice inside him stated. He insisted on calm inside himself, and stilled all voices that urged him to run in all directions at once. If anything, Serena was predictable. If she said she was going home, then that is what she would do - she never lied. But she had been moving swiftly in her need to get away and so had a large head start at this point - he had to get to her before she walked in her front door. He knew that if she was a whole night thinking he didn't love her, didn't need her - he might never get the chance to prove it to her. He didn't think he had enough time to get to her house before she did - at least, not on the pedestrian feet of Darien.

A quick look proved his relative privacy at that moment and with a quick motion, the image of Darien blurred and Tuxedo Kamen stood in his place quietly, mist covering his cloak. And the speed of Tuxedo Kamen had never been greater, or used for a more important purpose as he flew like the wind to catch a swiftly moving girl somewhere in the city below.

He alit lightly half a block from Serena's house in a small stand of trees that seemed to litter the downtown core. Another quick check revealed the quiet street bathed in the hazy glow of the sun, the light reflecting from the windows of the houses. The form of Tuxedo Kamen blurred again, and Darien stood in the shadow of the trees, fingertips holding one red rose. He devoutly hoped that he had beaten her back, and that she wasn't already inside. With a nervous look at her house, Darien composed himself to wait under a tree, watching for an unmistakeable hairstyle to come into view.

The shadows had gotten noticeably longer and Darien was starting to eye her front door, working up the courage to consider knocking on it, when he spotted her familiar form rounding the corner. He straightened against the tree where he'd been slumping, his hand spasming around the rose as a wave of confusion and excitement flooded through him. His heart started to pound madly in his ears, so loudly he couldn't hear anything else. She moved slowly down the street, head down and feet scuffling the pavement. Slowly she moved towards her house, finally stopping to stare at her front door. He saw her sigh inaudibly as she squared her shoulders, lifting her face with the bleakest expression Darien had ever seen.

His heart throbbed painfully, and he forced himself away from the concealing trees. Silently he moved down the block to stand in front of her startled gaze. Carefully, watching the glow of the sun light her eyes, he reached out and proffered the rose. She held still a long moment, merely looking at the gift, and Darien felt his heart freeze to ice under that look. Then before his nerves could shatter, she tentatively reached out and gently plucked the flower from his fingers, lifting it to her lips and breathing in the delicate scent. Petals brushed her cheek and she lifted slow eyes to Darien, a wary hope warming the tight planes of her face.

Darien knew his hands were shaking with relief as he reached out and brought her into his embrace, her arms warm and hesitant as they nestled against his chest, her head sinking slowly to rest on his shoulder again - a mimicry of her pose in the fountain mist. He saw the tracks of her tears before she lowered her head and his heart spasmed again before settling into a more normal beat. He held her quietly for long moments, revelling in the feelings of posessiveness and love, her clean scent rising around him. Shifting slightly, he slowly kissed the top of her head, nuzzling her hair and whispering nearly inaudible things to her, words he could never recall again but knew he meant deeply. His questing lips drifted downwards, kissing her temples and then her eyelids as she lifted her face once again to him. He tasted the salt on her cheeks and then the puffiness of her lips, already bruised from his kissing. He cupped her face in his hands, and proceeded to kiss every square inch of her face that he could reach, her lips parted with joy and her eyes full of life again.

Darien felt his desire for the kitten in his arms start to rise, and firmly stepped on it before it could rule him again. Serena seemed to have other plans though, as she wound her fingers into his hair, pressing her lithe young body against his in some rather compromising positions. Darien half groaned, half chuckled as he grabbed her marauding fingers and firmly brought them to his lips, kissing each one individually. He saw the ghost of fear in Serena's eyes and knew he had to repair that damage before it broke her again. Darien released her tempting hands and deliberately reached behind and cupped her firm buttocks, lifting her against him so that she would have incontrovertible proof of his reaction. Her eyes widened even more, and she blushed fiercely at the insistent slow throbbing she felt between them, but her gaze never faltered.

"You are driving me crazy girl, never doubt it." Darien growled mockingly, holding himself steady by force of will. Her mere presence was doing wicked things to his insides. She seemed aware of what he was struggling against, and a slow smile curved her lips, a mature understanding in that smile that could never have been there before today. He kissed her again, long and slow and as full of passion as he dared make it before releasing her slowly to the ground, his body already protesting the loss of her warmth. Darien stared into her eyes a long time, as the light faded around them.

Serena felt as if she was going to burst with love, just explode all over the street. The image started to give her the hysterical giggles as the tension of the walk home released itself, and she firmly quashed it before she scared Darien half to death with it. Barely breathing, she watched the light change in his eyes, passion and relief and something unnameable mingling there, a combination she wasn't sure she understood but was happy to see.

Finally Darien spoke again, his voice hinting at laughter as he glanced back at her house. "How about I come back tomorrow, before your father comes out here and shoots me with the shotgun I'm sure he's got someplace handy?" Mortified, Serena peeked over his shoulder at her house, and saw her father glaring at them from the living room window. Serena gulped and closed her eyes in panic as she frantically wondered what she was going to say to explain kissing a boy on the street for so long. Darien squeezed her hard and let her go, pulling one hand to his lips and kissing it firmly, his eyes under his lashes staring into hers with a possessiveness she felt in her bones. "Tomorrow?" he said again, one eyebrow quirking upwards.

Serena swallowed and suddenly realized in the tenseness of his body that Darien was not as self assured as he seemed, that he waited for her answer with strained nerves. Serena felt as if she were floating in this new knowledge of power. Shyly she nodded and then turned, moved with a lighter step to her house, running the last few steps under the glaring eyes of her father. His glare switched to Darien still left standing on the street, and Darien stood his ground firmly, unwilling to turn away until Serena was gone from his gaze. Her father finally made some incomprehensible gesture and firmly shut the window curtains, leaving Darien alone now on a darker street, but with a light in his heart as he turned to walk home the long way.

Serena awoke blankly, warm sun streaming over her face, the dead weight that was Luna sprawled over her legs. Thoughts and half-remembered dream images flickered like minnows in a shallow stream through her eyes. A faint frown crossed her brow . . . something about today . . . . stretching a little, trying not to wake up, her glance fell on the rose in the small vase, lonely amid the clutter of her desk. Her eyes widened in startlement and she blushed suddenly, although there was no one there to appreciate the beauty of her flushed cheeks. Burrowing into the warm covers, away from the strength of the sun, Serena went over all of yesterday, hesitantly touching the memory of it like a polished jewel in her mind. Darien's smile and the strength of his fingers. The sudden quirk of his lips when she did something to amuse him. The feel of his strong body moving under her hands. The way his hair shadowed his eyes. The sound of his voice - rough and dusty. Serena felt her limbs reacting, quivering, a warm honey-sweetness spreading from her belly over her body, making her feel excited and lazy at the same time. She hugged herself tightly, remembering that his final word had been 'tomorrow'. o please, o please, o please god, i promise never to ask for anything again but don't let him forget to come today, or remember that i'm just someone who trips over his shoes, please let him want to kiss me again, i know i ask for a lot but please . . .'. Serena's fervent little prayer was as true as she could make it - she felt that god really listened to prayers if you really meant them - and she really meant this one. Bright eyed and bushy-tailed, Serena padded to the bathroom for the most thorough grooming her hair had ever got.

Darien awoke instantly, eyes flashing open in a heartbeat, dreams already banished. His body immediately protested about the lack of quality sleep the night before but Darien ignored it, thoughts turned already to the remembrance of the smell of Serena's hair. His body replied that his mind was right, Serena was a much better idea than sleep and started urging him to do something about it. Darien grinned wryly at himself and ignored that pleasant sensation as well. He stretched slowly, sheets rustling and sliding against his lean body, finally folding his hands under his head to stare blankly at the ceiling. Confusion was something he understood, having lived with it most of his life, but the problem of this overwhelming attraction to Serena threatened to dwarf all other concerns. Logically, his mind knew he was too old for her, at least right now, that a couple or three years of growing would make all the difference. She was only fifteen his intellect argued, and a fairly young fifteen at that. If he could wait, let her get some of that growing in - that would be the smart thing, even the right thing to do.

Darien tried to picture her at eighteen, out of school. He tried to imagine how she would look, would act - older, more confident and mature, perhaps even graceful. Maybe. Personally, Darien couldn't imagine a Serena that didn't trip over his shoes, although he knew she couldn't possibly be that klutzy all her life. Then he tried to imagine what he would say to that new Serena . . . 'Hi, remember me? You thought you loved me when you were fifteen - I turned you away then but I'm ready for us to be together now . . .'. Darien grimaced at the image in his mind and knew her response would most likely be, 'Darien who?'. And as smart or as right as it would be to give her the time to grow into herself, he knew that he couldn't be that patient - even the memory of her scent was driving his body crazy. And the coldly logical part of his mind inserted the thought that he might not even have that time at all . . .the nijizuishou might restore his lost memory, but he might just as equally be killed in the fight to retrieve them. The now might be all he had - all that they might have. Chilled, Darien felt a whisper of pre-sentiment brush his soul and in that instant of foreknowledge, knew that this time, this now, was all that they would have, that he must grasp it with both hands and not let it go until the world tore it away from him, a stronger force than he could stand against. The consequences were for later - now was for living.

Centered within himself now, Darien made his way to the bathroom get ready for the day - a gleam in his eyes and a golden melody threading through his heart.

Serena tripped downstairs, hair and smile glowing, dress fluttering around her knees. She wore her best, a white waterfall of lace, soft and beautiful, an overtunic of forest green to compliment her hair and draped to show the snow-white lace to advantage. She knew she was as pretty as she could make herself - she hoped it was enough to keep Darien looking at her. She knew she was afraid, scared that today Darien would look at her and say she was too young yet, and that he had made a mistake the night before - that she should come back when she was more suitable, older and smarter and beautiful. And maybe even he would say not to come back at all. Serena had always believed that things would work out right if you just tried hard enough - but she knew Darien could break her heart and world with one look, one gesture - and she knew she was afraid. But against that fear she held tight to the memory of the light in his eyes and the way he had held her at the end, as if it broke his heart to let her go. She hoped she hadn't imagined that - that it would still be strong enough to hold him in the full light of day.

As Serena breezed into the dining room for breakfast, her father looked up from behind his Sunday paper and noticed the dress, frowning at his glowing daughter. He opened his mouth to scold her (for what, being beautiful? his mind asked) but swiftly closed it again at the warning look in his wife's eyes. Father knew Serena was his baby girl, but his mind kept replaying the scene of his daughter last night kissing a boy - and kissing like she meant it too. He wished he had a chain somewhere around that he could tie her to her bed until she was forty. Unfortunately, his wife had had certain words with him last night about his parochial attitude, and with a resigned sigh and a sharp look to his wife he retreated behind his paper again.

His wife smiled at his surrender of the battlefield, and turned her attention to Serena who had already sat down and started to eat. Glowing almost as brightly as her daughter, Mother saw with keen eyes how golden her daughter had made herself, cheeks flushed with scrubbing, hair like silk, the prettiest dress she owned. A sharp pain lodged near her heart at how grown-up Serena looked - notwithstanding the crescent bun she was stuffing into her face. Mother smiled, and passed Serena the fruit bowl.

The phone rang sharply, and Serena's head jerked up from the food, her eyes suddenly panicky, and an apple bite stuck in her throat. She swallowed painfully, and the phone rang again. Mother got up from the table to answer it, and Serena sat there frozen, hoping it was him, and then confusingly hoping it wasn't. After an eternity of waiting, while eons passed and stars died, Mother called from the hallway: "Serena, it's for you!".

Ignoring the look her father gave her, Serena bounced from the table into the hallway, screeching to a halt a few paces from the outstretched phone, staring at it like it was an alien monster that might bite her. Gingerly, she took it from her mother and held it to her ear. Breathing carefully, she said "Hello?".

A cheerful voice rang down the line into her disappointed but somehow grateful ear and asked, "Hey Serena, it's Ami. Where were you yesterday? I was kind of expecting you to come to the temple - you didn't get into any trouble for being out so late on Friday night did you?"

Serena sagged against the hall wall and turned her back on her mother, mumbling into the receiver, "Well no actually, I uh, studied so hard with you guys Friday night that I needed a day off at the mall yesterday to make up for it . . .remember?"

Ami's voice grinned down the line, "Oh right, right . . . well are you going to come over today then? I know that Rei had something in mind for all of us, and I think Lita is going to be bringing one of her lunches. We could all meet at Rei's place and maybe go study in the park . . . it's really beautiful out today."

A Lita Lunch was not something she would normally be inclined to miss on, but Serena panicked at the thought of being with the other girls today. She just knew she couldn't tell Ami why she didn't want to go out with them. To say that she wanted to be with Darien would spoil something special, she just knew it - not to mention what Rei would say. Frantically she tried to think of an easy out, but all she could come up with was, "Uh, no thanks Ami, I'm uh . . . not really hungry and I think I'd rather just stay here . . . you guys have fun without me." Serena winced at the lame excuse but couldn't think of anything better to offer on the spur of the moment.

There was a long pause at the other end as Ami absorbed the inadequate excuse, but being Ami, knew that Serena probably didn't want to talk about whatever it was that she didn't want to talk about. "Well, ok then, but we'll probably be at Gojorun Park later on if you want to come join us - alright?"

"Sure thing Ami, if I feel up to it I'll drop by later or something . . .uh thanks, ok?"

Ami's voice bubbled into Serena's ear, "You're welcome . . . .maybe see you later! Bye."

"Bye Ami." Serena hung up the phone gently, and leaned against the wall for a moment, staring at the blank machine like it could give her the answers to the universe if she looked at it long enough. Then with a sigh, she heaved herself up and turned to walk back to the breakfast room. The phone rang again shrilly at her elbow, nearly scaring her out of her socks - Serena whirled and grabbed the receiver again, speaking sharply, "Hello?! "

A familiar, smoky voice burned down the line into her ear, making her heart pound, "Hello. I'm looking for Serena Tsukino? I hope I have the right number. . ."

Serena took a deep breath, and checking over her shoulder for clandestine listeners, dropped her voice as she replied, "Oh hi . . .um, this is Serena." Her voice came out breathlessly through the constriction in her throat and she winced at how dumb she sounded. Clutching the phone she waited for that voice to speak her name again.

On the other end of the line, Darien took a deep breath before replying, "Oh, hi Serena." He rolled her name around his tongue a little, liking the sound of it. And then, o-so-casually, " Uh, you still into going out today? I was sort of thinking I could meet you at the gazebo in front of the art gallery - it's about halfway between here and there? I thought maybe you might like to hang out again today . . .?"

Serena's heart was pounding and she almost didn't hear what he said. "I'd love to Darien, I really would. Uh, when do you want to meet me?"

Darien's voice changed somehow, giving her little gooseshivers. "How about right now? I don't really want to wait - maybe I should come get you at your place instead?"

Serena's mind flashed to the look on her father's face if Darien roared up on his motorcycle, and hastily assured him. "No, no, that's alright. I'll meet you at the gazebo in, uh, half an hour? Should I bring anything?" Serena wondered if maybe Darien would like a picnic with her since today was supposed to be so nice out. 'What do we have in the fridge for picnic makings?' Serena tried to remember frantically if she'd eaten the last of the curry rice already.

Darien's voice was husky as he said, "Just yourself. I'll take care of the rest. See you there, Serena. Bye." And then came the sound of the disconnection and she was left holding a dead phone to her ear, his voice still echoing softly through her mind. Carefully, she replaced the receiver to the cradle, a slow smile spreading across her face until she was fairly bouncing with suppressed excitement. Breakfast now forgotten, she wandered through the dining room in a daze, kissed her mom and muttered something about going out, then left the both of them staring at her retreating back as she skipped out the door.

Father looked at Mother and manfully restrained himself from saying anything that might cause her to hit him. Then Father opened his inner eye a little wider, and realized that Mother was just as as radiant as his daughter, as beautiful as the day she had deigned to notice him - and he smiled and put down his paper.

Serena fairly flew down the street toward the gallery, presenting a pretty sight to anyone who saw her. An old couple watched her pass and smiled at each other, pressing arms together. A pair of boys stopped their game to see her go by, nudging each other and snickering at their witty comments. Serena noticed nothing except the changing streets, the bulk of the art building finally looming at her from the corner. Sunlight streaming through her hair, she hurried to the gazebo and entered into its cool shade. Looking around, she didn't see Darien yet - indecisive, she stood near the center and watched the flow of people pass by the "window" openings. Nervously she tugged on her fingers, finally sitting on one of the benches at the side, dangling her feet, her hands clasping the bench. Watching her toes, she struggled to breathe slowly, to gain control of her emotions before they ran away with her all over again. " Just calm down already, it's just going to be like yesterday . . . we can wander around and stuff, nothing major." Breathing deeply she tried not to remember kisses like fire and honey. . . .It's just Darien for pity's sake! He's not that special. . .. Serena didn't believe herself even for a minute, but tried anyways.The litany went around and around, and eventually her heart stopped pounding so hard, and she could hear the sounds of the city around her.

Looking up, Serena lost that hard earned calm as she met the eyes of Darien as he entered under the shade of the gazebo roof. She stood uncertainly as he approached, afraid to move suddenly, feeling more than a little like a scared deer about to bolt. He moved as if in a dream, without haste, but without wasted motion either, crossing the space between them to stop within arms reach of her. Serena looked up with a dry mouth, and knew herself lost again. His eyes were somewhere between blue and gray, his gaze serious and intense, almost seeming to drink up her image to reflect it back at her. She tried to think of something to say, anything at all to break the tension inside her - but Serena, who was never at a loss for words, knew defeat. She was as motionless as a statue, as if struck dumb somehow, but knew she couldn't have moved to break that gaze if the roof had caught on fire.

Darien stared down into the wide eyes locked to his - his mind filing away the obvious care she had taken to be beautiful to him, the way she was still a little flushed with hurrying to meet him - but those details were to be recalled later, memories to sustain him in a darker time. At that moment, all Darien could think of was how much he loved her. It gave him a queer thrill, somewhere between terror and elation, like the bottom of his world had fallen out and he was plunging into an abyss. This small girl, with eyes like the summer sky and hair like honey sunlight, wild and free and careless- his to hold and cherish, his to break and destroy. The intensity of his feelings shook his body like a tree in a high wind - he shivered and broke out of the spell of blue eyes, carefully stepping back a pace and clenching his fists in his pockets so that his desire to reach for her could not be too easily satisfied.

Breathing deeply, as if he had been the one running, Darien tried to say casually, "Serena . . .uh, it's good to see you." Inwardly he winced at how trite he sounded, but knew he couldn't say the things in his heart here, in sunlight. The words engraved in silver on his soul should only be said by moonlight, with soft kisses and candles. Trying again, he said, "Uh, I thought maybe today you might want to see some of the places that I like to go - since yesterday got cut a little short." Darien tried to grin, striving mightily to keep his tone light, not willing to risk showing the intensity he felt - although he felt like he was drowning in it. Again striving for normalness, he moved a little farther away from her so that her warmth didn't feel like it was radiating through him, turning slightly to stare out into the square around them.

Serena was piqued when Darien retreated from her, confused when he refused to look at her. His words said he was happy to see her, but his tone was so casual, so light, as if yesterday hadn't happened, hadn't meant anything. He might have been asking her if she had liked a certain book, or whether she thought it was going to rain. Serena's temper rose; she had lost sleep over him last night, had dressed as best she could for today, had run all the way here to meet him, and all he could say was, 'nice to see you'?!

Although she hadn't fully realized it yet, Serena was not quite the naive girl she had been yesterday morning. She drank in the sight of Darien standing there, and realized suddenly that the casualness masked something deeper, that his stance was off, his body tight with restraint. The nameless feeling that had existed in her since the moment of his kiss rose again inside her, knowing that somehow she was the cause of his tenseness. Subtly she shifted closer to him, to be rewarded as he moved slightly back, almost as though they played the ribbon game, struggling to keep it taut between them. Serena's pique disappeared, melted into the rising emotions inside her. Realizing that she was still standing there like a fool, and that she still hadn't answered his almost question, she too tried for normalcy and said only slightly breathlessly, "I'd, um, like that. Where should we start?"

He turned and rewarded her with that quirky smile. "How about we start at this art gallery? There are some paintings I think you might like, and it's a good place to begin." Turning, he retreated from the gazebo's intimacy with Serena following. Both of them stood carefully away from each other as they walked the square to the entrance. The gallery was cool after the burgeoning heat of the day and Serena reached up unconsciously to rub her arms as they entered. They wandered the halls, Darien pointing out some of his favorite pieces, Serena striving to remember what he said, storing the memory of his voice away in a special place now reserved for their time together. Musing, Serena wondered just what had happened between yesterday and today, that she should hang on his every word, to be so aware of how far away he stood from her. Yesterday, she could have sworn on a stack of bibles that she despised him more than anyone else she had ever known. Today she knew she would die if she was not near him. Serena had never felt so confused nor so happy in all her life.

After the gallery, he took her to a store that sold pieces of crystal, tiny figurines of horses and dolphins, pyramids and linked hearts. Serena lost herself in the rainbows she saw, chattering like the young girl she was as she came across each new wonder. Privately, Darien felt she was as glittering as the glass she moved among. After the treasures of that place had been appreciated, he took her to a small bridge on a park path, where one could watch the koi surfacing, patterns swirling at their feet. Serena was rapt, even taking off her shoes to dangle her toes in the water, giggling at the nips of fish. Then it was to a small cafe on a nearby street, which sold the most tempting sushi and sashami. The day passed idly, Darien and Serena walking side by side, his voice saying casual words and hers replying - neither of them fooled by the apparent lightness of the conversation. The day lengthened to mid-afternoon and Serena felt as if she was being drawn closer and closer to Darien, although not once did he reach out to touch her as he had the day before. Always he kept that distance between them, Serena not confident enough to breach it, Darien too aware of the consequences to tempt it.

Thoughout that afternoon, Darien knew he struggled against himself. She was so temptingly close, one step and he could encircle her with his arms. Just that one step, and he could be kissing those parted lips into the submission she had shown him yesterday. His body flushed both hot and cold, waves of desire and control rising and falling within him. Almost he reached for her - always he pulled back. The certainty of this morning, that his love for her was enough to stand against anything was fading, and beginning to seem more like the voice of his desire alone. He knew, as she did not, that danger called him, that death waited for him around the next corner, the next shadow - the powers he struggled against were not to be dismissed lightly. His foreboding of this morning still stood out sharply, an almost-certainty of doom waiting for him. His body urged him to grab life, to hold love, to deny his death-dream with everything he was. Yet the coldly rational part of his mind mercilessly played the image of Serena, alone and crying for him, and him unable to answer. What was the correct path? Darien prayed for guidance, afraid to let his feelings show, afraid not to.

Serena knew something was wrong. Darien was tense, never quite relaxing, although he answered all her questions patiently and with a smile on his lips. The smile never reached his eyes however, and it seemed he brooded when he thought she wasn't looking. Serena felt as if she was walking on the edge of a cliff, always striving to keep from falling off. She began to feel awkward and unsure again, and she began to wonder if coming out had been such a good idea. Darien seemed so distant again, so cool and untouchable, as he had always been, as he had most definitely not been the day before. It was the mental image of a stone wall that gave Serena the clue - Darien had looked that way when he had shut her out, closed himself off. The insight made Serena watch Darien with alert eyes - and she started to see how often he began to reach for her - and how often he stopped himself. As they walked, not talking now, she slowly realized that Darien would do nothing, that somehow he was struggling against her. The memory of his kiss yesterday, hot and demanding, tempted her - she wanted that feeling again, of being out of control and lost. Serena realized it was up to her - that Darien would not, perhaps could not, kiss her again. And Serena knew she was nothing if not devious when it came to getting something she wanted.

Looking around, she realized they were now walking down a fairly busy street .. and one that did not boast any parks or small places where she could get Darien alone to try and make him lose that cool demeanor. Serena was not confident enough to try anything in a public place where he could reject her with impunity. Frantically she started to rack her brains for somewhere private, where she could get him to go and try her wiles on him (giggling to herself at the thought of even having wiles to try.) Serena ducked her head coyly as they walked by a furniture store with mattresses in the window, and the idea hit her like a bolt of lightning. Serena grinned devilishly, and then tried to assume an innocent expression as she upturned her pert face to his and said, "Darien-chan, you know, I haven't seen the one place that is really special to you. I'd really like to, please?"

Darien looked down in puzzlement at Serena, noting the gremlins in her eyes, but totally at a loss as to what she meant. "Pardon? Sorrry Serena, where would you like to go?"

Grinning beautifically, Serena boldly stated, "Well, your apartment of course, silly! That would be the one place in this whole city that is really you - I'd really like to see it. May we, please? I promise not to break anything . . ." Serena grabbed his arm and hugged it, striving for schoolgirl innocence and enthusiasm, willing him not to see her ulterior motive.

Darien was thrown into a confused panic at her suggestion. His apartment? NOW? That was the one place he really wanted to avoid, being alone with her, a bedroom and privacy conveniently close by . . . and yet she was being so earnest, tugging on his arm slightly in her enthusiasm, wide eyes full of the plea she had voiced. Darien knew Serena . . . knew he was being manipulated somehow but unable to think coherently with his arm nestled against her chest. Darien closed his eyes briefly and swallowed, and realized fatalistically that Serena would pester him until he took her there - she was persistant to say the least. Alright, one quick tour of his place, and then hustle her straight back to her house before his control broke - he could manage that.

Serena grinned happily as Darien nodded at her and began to walk quickly away, causing her to lose her grip on his arm. I'll get you yet, she thought as she skipped up to him, falling in beside his long body again. You aren't half so aloof as you seem and I'll prove it to you. Serena contentedly bubbled beside him, sure of herself again and with her eyes fixed on the goal of making him lose that wall between them.

All too soon, Darien reached the street he lived on, and he slowed his pace unconsciously, dreading the ordeal of sweet smelling Serena in his apartment, touching his things, learning things about him he rarely showed to anyone. It was with a feeling of fatalism that he mounted the front steps, Serena a half step behind, and unlocked the front door to the building. He chose the stairs, feeling he couldn't stand the intimacy of the elevator. Serena puffed along behind him, and he felt like a cad for making her walk up the steps. Uncharacteristically, she didn't complain and when he half-turned once to apologize, he surprised an expression of determination on her face that he devoutly did not wish to understand. They finally reached his apartment door, and Darien paused a moment before it, keys already in his hand and suddenly aware that opening the door would change something. Serena made a sound of impatience at his elbow, shockingly near, and Darien realized with despair that his control was not what he hoped it would be, that if he didn't open the door right now, it would crack into pieces. Darien focused, and managed to get the key in the lock without undue fumbling. Opening the door, he stepped in, Serena at his heels.

Serena was suddenly unsure again. She moved past Darien at the door to step hesitantly into his place, her gaze wandering over the books and low couches, the neatness of the place, small plants gracing the corners. Sunlight streamed in from the warm afternoon, heating the place to an almost uncomfortable level. Carefully she touched a book on a table, seeing the small arrangement of round stones in a clear dish of water next to it. Clasping her hands behind her back, she prowled around, feeling a little like an intruder in this place. His kitchen was small but tidy, the bathroom also small but with an abundance of fluffy towels. Serena imagined herself wrapped in one of those towels and blushed. Shyly she checked over her shoulder to see if Darien had noticed, but saw him standing at the door to the balcony, back to her as he opened it for fresh air.

She stared at his lean back, strong shoulders flexing under his jacket and felt desire rising inside her again. Here in his place, she felt suddenly confident again, aware, knowing that for her at least, there was no turning back from this moment. His bedroom was one of the doorways she hadn't entered yet - she hoped she would see it before she left here. Biting her lip, in the moment before he turned to face her again, Serena asked her impulsive heart to behave, to stop beating so fast over the sight of black hair and gray-blue eyes.

Darien turned from the doorway, and saw Serena standing hesitantly at the edge of his living room, her face half-lit with the sunlight streaming from behind him. Her expression was still, her eyes clear and Darien wasn't sure he understood the expression in them. She was motionless, as Serena rarely was, almost a statue of herself, bronzed with light. Hesitantly Darien stepped back into the room, striving to see into her eyes without standing too close, trying to think of something innocuous to say. Whatever words he found dried in this throat as he got close enough to see the adoration and love, desire and promise staring out at him from eyes blue as sky, as lapis lazuli. He was drowning again, and he started to shake his head in rejection, managing somehow to keep his arms firmly at his sides, fists starting to clench with the effort of not.

Darien realized hazily that there had been no words between them from the moment they had stepped into his apartment, only this awareness between them, what he had been trying to avoid all day suddenly as palpable as the warmth of the air around him. His thoughts flowed like a mazy river, stifled by the hot sunshine coating everything in his living room. Darien thought bemusedly that he was drowning in honey, sunlight reflecting through hair of the color of gold. He stared down at her again, realizing with despair that somehow he had moved too close to her again, close enough that he could touch her if he wanted. As if mindlinked to his thoughts, she swayed towards him, face upturned to his like a flower in sunlight. The certainty of this morning was gone -- all that he could think of was all the things he couldn't say to her, things she could never understand about him. Darien never knew where he got the strength from as he backed away slowly, one step, then two.

Darien looked down desperately, trying to think of words to turn her away without wounding her too much - to say why this was wrong. He looked up again pleadingly, and shook his head mutely, striving to make her understand without words, since words were so inadequate. He saw the desire and love falter at his refusal, the uncertainty grow in her eyes until they were eclipsed with the nearness of tears. She turned away slightly, arms unconsciously raised again to protect herself from the hurt he had again dealt her. Darien groaned softly to himself - this was all wrong, all wrong. He should be explaining why he was turning her away, not just standing here feeling like a heel for hurting her. Darien moistened his lips, praying desperately for the right words to come . . ."Serena, look, I'm really sorry but I'm just not . . . I just can't . . ."

Serena felt like a fool. Here she had naively thought that all she had to do was get him alone and he would swoon at her feet. She had all but thrown herself at him, acting like a lovestruck kid and he was turning her down. She felt perilously close to tears and stared out the window blankly, determined not to give him the satisfaction of seeing her cry. He was saying something awkwardly, some excuse no doubt, that she couldn't hear anyway through the humiliation and pain. She cursed herself for an idiot, for thinking that such a wonderful person like Darien could possibly be interested in a girl like her, no matter how well he kissed her. Concentrating, she attempted to center herself again, and her stubborness rose to the surface. Darien was not going to walk away from this untouched - she knew that she affected him somehow - and if he was going to turn her down, she was going to damn well make sure he regretted it.

Turning back to him abruptly, Serena brought his stumbling apology to a halt as she swiftly closed the small gap between them, determined expression painfully clear on her tiny face. Darien had time for one more pace backwards before she was buried into his body, arms wrapped around him tightly, face pressed to the side of his throat under his jaw, as high as she could reach. Her scent made his senses reel, his arms coming up automatically to hold her. Muffled into his throat, she said brokenly, "Maybe you don't want me, but I do want you and you owe me something before you just kick me out your door!"

Darien felt poleaxed, arms full of Serena as he had tried not to think about all day. He felt her shaking with repressed tears, and he felt his barriers crumbling to the ground in the face of this new onslaught. He groaned, all remnant of control shattered now, and suddenly his arms were like steel vices, his head lowered to her hair as he surrendered completely to the feelings sweeping through him. Her admission of desire throbbed through him, his desire surging to answer it. He kissed her, deep and long and hard, knowing he was bruising her with his grip but totally unable to stop. Mindlessly he kissed her sweet lips again and again, eyes closed as he tasted her. He drank in her sighs, her almost cries, his arms shifting around her, now holding her hair, now wrapped tightly around her body, holding her prisoner to him. Darien felt like he was in the grip of a demon, one that commanded him both to hurt and to please her, a wildness in him that demanded that he protect her, that he destroy her. He lifted his head finally, dazed with desire, trembling with the need that raged through him now with no will to hold it back.

Serena felt like a deer in the gaze of a tiger, trembling and afraid and wildly elated at the same time. This was not the response she had expected, but she revelled in this moment of power over him. His eyes were glazed, his body racked with tremors that revealed to her his consuming need, his mouth firm and teeth slightly bared. His eyes suddenly gleamed at her and she felt even her bones melt at the look in those eyes, her need leaping in answer to his. Whatever her eyes spoke to his must have been right, for he scooped her limp body into his arms, and strode quickly to the door she had not entered before, shouldering it aside brusquely to walk with quick strides to the bed she had dreamed about last night, laying them both upon it. His weight settled partially over her and he began to kiss her mindless again, the length of his body pressing her into the bed, one leg thrust intimately between hers.

Serena did her best to respond to him, knowing that if this was what she wanted, that she must drive him past the edge of his reason that would tell him to stop. Before her mind stopped thinking at all, she was dimly amazed at the phenomenal control he must have had to have held this rage of desire in check. And then she was lost with him, her hands grasping his shoulders, his waist, helping him divest himself of his constricting jacket, her nails scratching at him through the thin shirt. His kisses became more urgent, frantic almost, his hands running down her body, over now bared leg and thigh, back to twine into her hair. She somehow managed to kick off both shoes and socks, helping him remove the pesky buttons of his shirt so she could reach the smoothness of his skin. She was frantic to touch him, actually tearing the last two buttons off when she couldn't get her shaking fingers around them. Her hands stroked his chest, the hard column of his neck, tightened on the jutting muscles of his shoulders, fingers curling into his hair.

His scent was like cinnamon and smoke, his kisses like fire. His hands became more insistent upon her, sliding the material from one shoulder to kiss the hollow underneath it. Strong fingers brushed and caressed her breasts and nipples through the fabric, causing her to cry out at the exquisite sensations. Serena writhed underneath him, unknowingly bringing him closer and closer to his own moment of release, her cries ringing in his ears like softest bells. Fumbling he reached underneath her, struggling with the closure he couldn't see. Sensing what he wanted, she clasped her arms around his neck, drawing herself partially off the bed so he could manipulate the little buttons, finally baring her breasts, lace and forest green falling to her waist as he held her squirming body still for his inspection.

Her nipples were pink and engorged, thrusting from pert breasts, a flush of shyness staining her skin at his gaze. She trembled under him, eyes wide and anxious as he stooped slowly, lowering his arms on either side of her to suckle one nipple, then the other, as slowly as he could. His hardness throbbed painfully at the taste of her, the slight salt in the valley between her breasts there for the licking, nuzzling her carefully. His tongue circled her aureole, his teeth nipped her, and she felt as if she was dying of the shock. Dimly she was aware of the choked sounds she was making, but not caring to stop. His lips and hands were maddeningly slow, making her bite her lips in almost agony, sensation thrilling along her nerves like electric shock, like flame.

Serena began grasping his hair, trying to guide his mouth to where she needed it. Her small hands began to beat on his shoulders, she pleaded with him mindlessly, not knowing what it was she needed, her body starting to thrash from side to side. His nips became longer bites, his hands holding her breasts harder now, suckling her painfully on her enlarged nipples, growling a little as he moved from one to the other, faster and faster. Her cries grew more insistent and frantic, and her body began to tremble, then spasm uncontrollably. Darien swiftly grasped the hair at the base of her neck, forcing her head to stillness as he plunged his tongue deep into her mouth, forcing her to respond. His other hand leaped between her bucking legs to apply a shocking pressure to her mound, one finger touching her there so intimately that she screamed into his kiss, arching wildly as orgasm ripped through her. Serena felt as if her back was breaking, so hard did she thrust against his invading fingers, pain and pleasure minglingly headily through her veins. She thrust herself against him again and again, his tongue matching hers, his fingers stroking and holding her there, where no one had touched her before. Finally exhausted with the force of her body, Serena sank back to the pillows, Darien's kiss still holding hers, hand now soft upon her, his kiss hardly more than a breath against her lips. Her eyes half-closed and panting, Serena surrendered to him, her love.

Drowsily awake, she kissed him softly, licking his lips and cheeks, eyes closed as she nuzzled against him, her body lax and replete. Her hands rose to stroke his arms, his shoulders, warm skin like velvet over steel to her touch. His hand caressed between her legs, causing shocks of electrictiy to fire through her body at random intervals. He leaned over her to kiss her bared breasts again, softly this time, licking gently. Her hands wound themselves into his hair and she gazed through slitted eyes at his head between her breasts, the sight so powerfully arousing that she felt in herself a pang of incredible sweetness. Tugging on his hair, she urged him to rise up to her again so she could kiss him fully, feeling his lean long body, uncontroverible proof of his desire once again thrusting against her. His sex was resting against her intimately, only the thin cotton of her panties and the slightly heavier material of his jeans keeping them apart. Serena instinctively raised her legs, wrapping them around his to draw him tighter to her, realizing as she did so that he was perilously close to his own edge of control. His breathing was shallow, the skin of his face drawn and taut as he struggled to remain still against her. Serena felt like the queen of the world at that moment, to know that she, she affected him like this, that her kisses drove him crazy.

With a calculation that would have been foreign to her an hour ago, she began to move underneath him, her long legs holding him steady as she teased him, taunted him, arched against him again and again. He rested on his elbows, eyes closed and face pressed into the hollow of her neck, letting her torment his body, testing the limits of his desire. Her breathing grew ragged underneath him as she yielded to her own mounting need again, her nails scratching his back, small teeth grazing his shoulder and neck. She began to softly cry under him again, and Darien knew that if he didn't stop now, didn't ask now, the words would be forever unsaid.

Raising himself carefully away from her, he hardened his heart against her wounded cries and tried to clear his mind of the haze of desire, to focus on Serena, to ask her the thing he needed to know. Her small hands reached up to touch his face, his eyes, and he pressed soft kisses into her palm as he waited for his blood to stop pounding so hard. Sneakily, her hand reached between them to grab his hardness and squeeze knowingly, both shocking and delighting him with her boldness. Grinning, he grabbed the offending hand between them, leaning down to kiss her again. She wiggled delightfully, and Darien knew he had a real problem. Groaning, he did the only thing he could think of to do - he levered himself off her completely, rising to stand beside the bed to look down at her. She made a pretty sight, flushed skin and blonde hair against the darkness of his covers, limbs still sprawled in the aftermath of love. Reaching down he grabbed her hands, pulling her to stand beside him, balancing her unsteady body against his until she found her feet. He refused to meet her gaze, not willing to lose control again until some things had been said. Carefully he slid his hands to her waist, intending to gather up the material to help her dress again so he would not have to look at those perfect breasts while he tried to talk to her. His hands closed around her, and she leaned into him lightly, her head lowering dreamily as she placed delicate fingers around his hips. Her warmth seduced him, and he made no protest as she cuddled against him, running his hands down her back slowly as she suckled his nipples in return, small teeth nipping him in retaliation for what he had done to her. Gasping a little at how good it felt, he let her nuzzle him, the smell of arousal strong in his nostrils, making it very difficult to think. His hands moved of his own accord to release her hair from its confines, to let it flow freely down her back. He ran his fingers through the wealth of it, letting it play over his hands like sunlight. She stood on tiptoe and he kissed her slowly, sensuously, more than half tempted to just tumble back onto the bed and save any discussions for later - much later, after he had sated himself in her. With a wry grin, he resisted the temptation and carefully unwound himself from her.

Grasping her hand firmly in his, Darien led the way back to the living room, though his body protested mightily. She followed dutifully, an anxious look invading her eyes as desire slipped into uncertainty. He stopped at his favorite chair, large enough to hold one curled up for reading, easily large enough for two to cuddle. He sat carefully, one hand still holding hers, and tugged her into his lap. She half fell, half tripped into him, her awkwardness a far cry from the seductress of the bedroom. He arranged her carefully, his hand stroking her bare back and neck, his other resting across her knees in keep her from bolting (although also to stroke the bare skin revealed there). Darien relaxed his body, willing hers to follow suit as he held her gently, trying to stroke the anxiety and uncertainty from her limbs. Finally she surrendered against him, body warming and relaxing in the heat of the room, his fingers stroking her neck and hair. One arm draped itself across his bare chest, fingers resting in the hollow of his collarbone, her lips brushing his neck. Darien felt content, although the heat at the base of his spine reminded him of business not yet finished. Serena drowsed in his arms, hair tickling his nostrils, her slight weight coiled against him as perfectly as if she had been moulded for him.

Darien sighed her name, and felt her attention return to him from wherever the room had sent it. Now was the time for words of the soul, although the moon had not yet risen nor candles been lit.

"Serena, there are some things that I must tell you and some things that I must know. Will you listen?" Darien pitched his voice low, not to disturb the warmth of the room.

Serena's response was equally low, her voice full of languor and almost sleep, "I would always listen for you."

"What we do here is wrong. You are too young . . . hush, don't start spitting at me, little cat. Relax and listen." Darien punctuated his remark with a kiss. "I speak only the truth to you . . . you are too young for this. I, at least, can see the trouble this will cause."

Serena struggled up to a sitting position, indignation upon her features. "I love you! How can you say this is wrong? I want to be with you! Don't try and tell me you don't want to 'cause I won't believe you!" She was beautiful in Darien's gaze, strong and fearless, unabashed at her state of undress or his.

Darien chuckled wryly, if little painfully. "No little cat, I won't try and deny it now. And that is a thing I want to ask you. You say it lightly, but I ask again, beautiful Serena: do you love me?"

Serena grew still upon his lap, and Darien's heart started to freeze again at the solemn look on her face. Whispering, as if to say it too loud would somehow hurt her, Serena said, " I love you so much I hurt to look at you. I look at you and I feel as if I have loved you forever, and I'm scared of it."

Darien felt the truth, the rightness of it pass through him like an arrow, and he closed his eyes in relief for a moment. He opened his clear gaze to look at her, her wide eyes and small face so dear to him now. Carefully, he tried to choose the words for the other things he needed to say. "And I love you . . .Serena . . . and it scares me too." Darien struggled to articulate the secrets that surrounded his life. "There are things about my life, about me, that you do not know, things that I cannot tell you, and these things will hurt you. I know that I should kick you out my door before we go any further than we have . . . but I don't think I can. We may never have more than what we have here, today, and I wish very much to continue what we started on my bed. But tomorrow if you call I may not be here . . . and even if I am, I may have to leave you unexpectedly, without explanation. Is that the kind of boyfriend you want? It is part of who I am - and I can't change it, even for you."

For once, Serena tried to think of something beyond today, to try and understand whatever it was that Darien was trying to tell her. Could she imagine it, Darien leaving without saying why, returning to her with silence and a secret? The thought crept unbidden upon her - perhaps not returning at all? She thought of her own secrets, and realized dimly how difficult this would be. What would she say to Darien when she was the one that had to leave? Serena knew desparingly a little of what Darien was trying to say - this relationship was probably doomed from the start. Biting her lip, Serena drew a deep breath, then another. She said clearly to him, "I love you. You love me. I will deal with everything else as it comes up. And if today is all we have, then I will not let you go for anything."

Her expression was fierce, and Darien squeezed her tightly with relief and pride and drew her back to rest on his shoulder. "In that case, we have only one more consequence to deal with, though potentially the hardest. No one must know. You are too young for us Serena, and the world will take a dim view of me and you bouncing around on my bed. Not to mention your parents. No illusions about this Serena - if you and I are to be together, it will be to share my bed - I couldn't stand having you near without touching you."

Serena blushed, but nodded her head vigorously in agreement. A look of confusion crossed over her features as she struggled to understand this concept. "What do you mean, no one can know? I mean, I want everyone to know you're mine and I'm yours. Don't you?"

Darien hugged her again. "You don't know how much it pleases me to know that you want everyone to know about us. But I'd rather us be together. If people knew, the best we could expect is some strong looks and a lot of whispering. But the worst would be that somebody tells the authorities that I'm some kind of cradle-robber -- and I get in a whole lot of trouble and I wouldn't be allowed within a hundred feet of you. Not to mention your father would probably kill me." Serena opened her mouth to protest, then closed it as she remembered the look in her father's eye the night before. "You have to pretend nothing has changed Serena - pretend so well that nobody knows what we do here in my apartment."

Serena said flippantly, "I can pretend anything, just ask all my friends." Then she blushed at how bad that sounded, and Darien chuckled with her.

Darien took a deep breath and made a hard choice. "Or we can forget all about this -- this thing between us. I don't want to hurt you, or make you do anything you don't want to do. And a, a physical relationship may be more than you want to deal with - it causes its own set of problems. Maybe we should just be friends first?" Under his breath Darien muttered to himself, "I think I could manage 'just friendly' if I had to. . ."

Serena shook her head vigorously no, hair flying back and forth with emphasis. She tried to think of what would convince him that she understood, that she wanted this as badly as he did. Biting her lip nervously, she threaded her fingers together behind his neck and rose on his lap to straddle him, long legs tucking into the cushion on either side. She felt her hair pooling behind her, flowing over arms and legs. She leaned in carefully, and kissed him no little desperately - trying to put everything she felt into it. When she finally released him from the kiss, his eyes were dark and full of promise.

"Be sure Serena, there's no going back from this."

Serena answered clearly, and from her heart, "I'm sure."