A/N: I get that readers escape into the stories they read but how many even remember that authors escape into their writings? That, chances are, the stories matters more to the author(s) that wrote them.

And what does public author even means? And why should it mean they are not entitled to any respect or common courtesy?

*sigh* I actually prefer the silent readers compared to the tactless ones.

Writing anonymously under an assumed identity protects your name but it doesn't really protect your heart, pride or self-esteem, at least not in my case. Simply using a pen name does not turn me into an unfeeling, emotionless robot. Or at least it hasn't, yet.

I promised I'd finish my stories and no matter how much their complaints/comments demotivated me, I'm not about to let faceless cowards hiding behind their anonymity turn me into a liar, nor would I let them dictate my actions. That said, I will write at my own pace, in my own time.

IMPORTANT: I've edited my WARNING section in the Prologue. Just in case you missed it, it tells readers to STOP READING this story if mentions of the incestuous kiss between Black Lady and Tuxedo Mask will offend their sense of propriety and/or if they are a Rini fan that will cringe if she is portrayed as anything but perfect. There are literally hundreds of fictions out there that paint her as sweet and angelic. Go read those instead. No one in my story is completely perfect nor is anyone completely bad. I don't believe such people exist.

"Deep vengeance is the daughter of deep silence" – Vittorio Alfieri

Anger, hurt feelings, insecurities will fester over time if they are not addressed. Denial only works for an extended period of time before reality slams you in the face and all this anger, hurt feelings and insecurities come back ten-fold than what they were before. That is the basis for the title Punitive Consequences. It is also the reason why I chose to address the kiss between BL and TM. Simply pretending it didn't happen doesn't change the fact that it did happen. Atrocity that big if kept bottled up will just fester, much like a snake's venom, it had to be sucked out completely for healing to occur. That's my opinion and this is my story.

Regarding Rini, I'm of the strong opinion that merely writing her out of existence would just be a short cut to lazy writing and the firm believe that it would not change the fact that the Scouts were careless friends nor would it change Darien's outward indifference and unintentional callousness. A reviewer (ClassAct107) wrote:

"Rini is actually a blessing in disguise in some ways (Oh I STILL HATE HER), but she gave Serena a glimpse of how Darien and Scouts would treat Serena in her presence. She sort of showed Serena the true colours of the people she loves. This would give way for the problem to be fixed."

That review captured the essence of what I had in mind.

Another review by a guest who in the latest chapter identified her name as Lilly, wrote:

"I appreciate that you are describing a different, darker side of Serena. It's good that you want to "make a bridge" between the Serena in anime and her becoming the Neo-Queen. She needs to be cold and somewhat detached to make her deepest dreams and desires true."

The term bridge that she used gave me the word to describe some things that will happen, though not exactly in the same way that she meant them.

So thank you both: ClassAct107 and Guest (1)/Lilly.

Hence, please note that Rini is here to stay. There is a reason why she hasn't disappeared. It's not because I forgot. If you remember, she didn't disappear during the R break up which extended over multiple episodes either.

I already know why Rini hasn't disappeared. It's just not time yet to reveal the reason. My mind tends to see beyond the current chapter and I can't always explain everything in just one chapter. That's not how storytelling works, at least not the way I see it.

I'm asking you to trust me and to let me continue this story my way as I believe is my right. As it is your right to stop reading. But if you are here on this page, I'd like to think that there is something you like about this story so far. However, if you think your version is better or that you know best how the story should proceed, you could always write your own version. I don't mind. Just give credit where credit is due and leave me to write my story my way.

Thank you natashasurgirl for pointing out the meaning of the word toddler (I had always assumed it just meant small children) Looking it up I found it referred to children between ages 1-3 years old. Rini is 5/6 years old here. The mistake had been rectified and I got a new knowledge! ;)

Special thanks also to petites sorcieres, Syulai and Yvonnerenee for how they interpret and see my stories which always seem to mirror my own thoughts. Thank you! ;)

Negative comments and requests for spoilers will be ignored. That said, thank you very much for all the follows/favourites and especially those who took the time to review positively:

Guest(1): Glad you thought so! ;) Sblck: I'm glad! Andrew will have his say and S will definitely reconnect with at least Molly. P/S: Thanks for letting me ramble without unkind remarks ;) JazKhanom: I'm delighted by your response! ;) I honestly don't think they do it on purpose, but it would hurt just the same. cross-over-lover-232: LOL. I have my own take on that. Let's see if I can make a believer out of you by the end of the story! ;) CowabungaBabe95: I'm glad and I'm back! Here's your update! Thanks for sticking with this story! ;) scarletmoon: LOL. I don't see any similarities between them either! Rant away! ;)xXSakuraBlossomsXx: LOL. I think they already get that the future isn't set in stone and time paradox is something people could argue all day long ;) Sessrin: I'm delighted! :) Sorry for the late update. I can't write coherently when I'm upset :( escape-reader.13: LOL. I think it's entirely possible! ;) CherrySerenity-sama: I'm really glad you liked it the way it is. Your opinion means a lot :) Trosario: I'm glad you thought so! ;) petites sorcieres: TBH, I only just read the Manga a few weeks ago and the scene almost made me wish I hadn't read it! It's very disturbing, isn't it? But it's also one of the reasons I decided to write this story. As for Rini knowing about D and Saori's kiss and the fact he apologised, the way my mind sees it, she's very persistent and D was very agitated. Under those circumstances, she would have demanded what happened and he wouldn't have been thinking clearly. As for Molly, you read my mind! I'm going to try and 'fix' that in this story. S concentrated on D and Rini because they were the ones that provoked her directly. Her confrontation with the girls are not yet complete, she will have her moments with them ;) I hope you'll continue to read till the end (even though I don't have a fixed update schedule). I really love the way you see my story and they're always insightful as well. Thank you so much for taking the time to write down your thoughts. I'm very grateful :) skyjadeprincess: LOL. I actually think S has already snapped. Everyone will have to face the consequence of their negligence and there'll be more hurt to come but I don't plan for this story to be too long. So it will not be dragged out but just enough for everyone to realise their mistakes and make amends. Rubyalix: Glad you thought so! Here's your update! ;) Cheery Tropay Venturi: There's more confrontation to come. Anger usually comes in burst. LOL. I still love him too! S hasn't given up. You know how you tell yourself that you want to quit but don't actually do it? That's what was happening. The Outers will make an appearance in later chapters. Kera69love: LOL. I'm so glad you liked it and that the chapter didn't disappoint. Hope you'll like this one too! ;) bunny88rosemagic: I'm very glad you thought so and I really love your reaction to the chapter :) BostonBill: Glad you thought so! ;) Sorry for the long wait. new-desi-serena: Good! :)Galaxy Princess: I'm glad you're enjoying the story :) As for the kiss, I just thought it had to be addressed because I don't see how she'll get pass it if she's not even allowed to talk about it ;) Wonderwomanbatmanfan: Glad you thought so! ;) My apologies for the long wait.Trish1573: Two favourite princesses? Oh! LOL. I hope your weeks get better sweet Trish and that this chapter gives you a bit of an escape ;) witchhazelmoon: I'm delighted! :) Hope this new chapter doesn't disappoint. Guest(2): I'm glad! Here's an update ;) yoonsyk: I agree. Every household is unique and parents do play a vital role :) I wasn't referring to any one reviewer in particular. You'd be surprised at how many readers gave that impression, some more demanding than others (usually via PM). They won't laugh it off, but the gravity of the situation will take time to really sink in. The sentence "miserably aware of a great searing fear, of intense loneliness he hadn't felt since he met her" was my way of portraying D's dawning realisation that he might be losing S for real, not quite the way you interpreted it. Rini is kept partly, for the reasons you mentioned and going through some episodes in the S and SuperS series, (I only watched a few before) I found quite a number of Amy/D interactions and used some in this chapter. Anyway, thanks for reading my story, providing feedback and also the show of support ;) Nancy67: LOL. I hated the disrespectful way she treated S. Of course S & D will get back together…in due time. He has lessons to learn first! ;) Biche: Glad you thought so! Hope the confrontation meets your approval ;) Infinite: Your review is awesome too! Made me smile :) Guest(3): Good that you stood her ground! S will too but I do think that she and D are MFEO, only AFTER he's learned his lessons though ;) SeleneJade: What a beautiful compliment! :) lazzykane: You're welcome and I didn't like the way she was treated either ;) MissLadyK18: That's exactly the way I see it! I'm glad I'm not alone :) tsuki107: I'm so very glad you thought so! ;) Guest(4): I hate how the points are skipped over too, as though they don't matter. Like it's trivial or mundane. Guest(5): The matter is addressed in my A/N. ClassAct107: What a compliment! Thank you for seeing my point! The same demands you mentioned is driving me up the wall! ;) asdfghjklalala: Your review had the same effect on me as my story did you. To borrow the adjective you used, definitely cringe-worthy! As to your PM, I have absolutely NO idea how to write a story that contains neither narrative nor dialogue. To my limited knowledge, a story has to contain either one. But if you were to write your own version of PC where both dialogues and narrative are the absolute minimal/absent, maybe there's a new writing technique for me to learn there ;) TheMoonsPanda: LOL. I absolutely love your reaction to the chapter! It had me smiling a mile wide. Thanks! Sorry for the long wait but here's an update ;) Bunny915: Here you go! ;) MissJay: LOL. I'm glad you thought so and sorry for the long wait :) AriellaSerenity: I'm really glad you're enjoying the story :) My take on the dynamic is that it's rather confused and confusing. The way the friendship is portrayed from one episode to the other is filled with inconsistencies. So I just write my own version to explain them away ;) Guest/Lilly: Thanks again. But LOL, you're reviewing chapters I haven't written yet! But I guess that means you're able to picture what I have in mind based on my teaser ;) Guest(6): LOL. Funny you should mention it because two of them will make an appearance, one playing a rather significant role ;) sanoluvme: I like your reaction. It makes me feel that my writing isn't so bad. I love all the Scouts but Mina is my favourite ;) D will learn his lesson as will the others but yes, him more than others. Beaucoup riant: I'm glad you thought so and agree with you about Rini. As for your second review, thank you for the slap in the face. It made me see how selfish people can be and that it's okay to put myself before others under certain circumstances. Saki-Rose Chan: Oh I'm glad you liked the story. As for the wrong usage of past tense, I was able to find two but not sure if there's more. I don't know, I'm still trying to master the language but I'm trying my best. Thanks though for pointing out the error of my ways ;) Syulai: LOL. Most guys can be I think ;) And I agree with everything you said and love the way you see my stories :) KagYasha4ever: I know I'm in the minority to bring up the kiss but I don't think it's realistic to expect her to get over it by everyone pretending it didn't happen. It's not a small matter. Witnessing something like that would scar me for life! I think it's really unfair for everyone to expect her to be okay with it without so much of an apology. I know they were brainwashed but shouldn't there at least been guilt? If I had stabbed someone even accidentally, I'd still feel guilty. You're very welcome and I look forward to your take on this new chapter ;) UnlovedBandNerd: Glad you thought so! Yes! Go S! ;) specialkai: Thank you for your kind words. It's nice to hear ;) devafiend: I'm sorry for the long wait. I think S is strong and I hope I'm able to portray her as such ;) serena princess 2: Here you go! ;) Guest(7): LOL. Funny you should mention it, I actually have two songs in mind but not quite the way you imagined and not the song you mentioned either. Still, you might like it. I'm hoping you would ;) TsukioTenshi & BrujitaLuna: Sorry about that. There was no update. Ryndc-chan: I think yours is my favourite review for Chapter 3 (there are almost 200 altogether inclusive of all the PMs). I love the way you described my writing and the story. It makes me think I'm not doing such a bad job ;) Thanks ever so much! I needed it! :) Becky: I hope it was good tear, cathartic at least :) I'm glad you liked the story and here's more! Hotgirlow: I'm glad! Here's more! ;) Luna89m: D I think is very polite in nature and reserved, not one for public spectacle. He was teaching Amy and carried on with it. The seating arrangement is actually from Episode 136, as were a lot of the dialogue. Rini and Raye have their respective reason which will be covered in due time ;) Guest(8): LOL. The only animal I have great affection for are horses ;) UsaMamo1989: I'm glad you agreed with my take ;) It's rather sad isn't it? LadyThetaSigma: I love that you like the story! The girls and D will have more confrontations with S and each will realise their callousness with her but maybe not the way you imagined it. Stay tuned to find out and thanks for the show of support! ;) nira avalon: I'm glad you do and I agree with everything you said. Here's an update! ;) Yvonnerenee: Can I just say, I really love your reactions to my stories and how you interpret my writings? I truly do! Thanks! ;) Chas: I'm glad you liked my story. I'll keep writing. I may need to take a break from it every now and then but I'll finish my stories. Thanks for the show of faith in my ability to write ;) LNovotasky: I'm sorry for the long wait and glad you approved of the direction this story is going ;) Princess Eternal: They do take her for granted, don't they? Here's the next chapter! ;)Sabina21: Read on to find out! ;) Redheart96: I'm so glad you do and grateful you thought to let me know. Thanks for understanding and sorry for the long wait. I hope you're still reading ;) Lunar Cadet: I love how you always have something kind and encouraging to say :) It's very appreciated and needed. With regard to the other sites, I have a bit of security issues to consider. So I guess I'll continue to update here or not at all. But I made a promise to finish my stories and though I needed the break, I'm not about to let some thoughtless bullies turn me into a person that I'm not, one who breaks her word. That's not who I am. Thank you for your support and understanding :) crafty chick: There will be someone but I'm not sure 'hook up' is the appropriate term of what they will be. TBH, I really think S&D belong together ;) JaguarSolaris: I'm really glad and humbled that you see my story the way you do :) Guest(9): Good! ;) natashasurgirl: I'm glad you're reading the story and approved of it so far and thanks again for pointing out the 'toddler' misconception I had. It's always nice to learn something new and nicer when the lesson is given courteously, not condescendingly :) jessicanicoleharp: I'm really delighted you thought so and love your reaction to my writings ;) GraphicsChyk: Here's an update and I'm glad the chapter moved you ;) Nightshade08: I'm glad you liked it. The observation regarding Mina was actually surprising to me too but that's the way my mind sees the scene and I always write my stories the way my mind sees them ;) blackbutterfly21: I love that my story was able to make you feel. Thanks for sharing that titbit with me. It means a lot ;) Guest(10): Here's the next update! ;) rosebudjamie: I'm thankful that you liked the story and apologise for the long wait for this chapter ;) Guest(11): LOL. Here's more! ;) dragonball256: I hated how she was treated too and I agree with you, it's a huge red flag when they don't even realise what they're doing. The hurt runs deep for her to forget so easily but forgiveness has always been S's greatest strength (in my opinion) iBott: I'm pleased you were able to relate to the character I wrote ;) Here's an update! AntoSama: Yeay! Here's an update! ;) Curious: People perceive things differently and react differently. I get that. But I'm afraid I'll never get used to harsh words nor do I want to. Emotions work both ways. Becoming thick skinned and insensitive to what was said by others could also desensitise me to the feelings of others and if ending up as crass as the very people I've learned to pity, I'll say no thanks. I won't turn myself into the inconsiderate, tactless people who attacked without provocation and dissociating myself from the very emotions that makes me human may do that. I am working on not letting it bother me too much. The note was a product of too much pressure from too many directions and I lost my way for awhile, clouded by hurt and frustration. Don't worry, I may need to take a break every now and then but I'm not weak. I'll hide and nurse my wounds but I don't quit. It's not in me. Faceless cowards hiding behind their anonymity don't dictate my actions. Positive or negative reviews, in the end, I'll decide for myself if and when I'll update my stories. If I don't feel like it or don't have the time for it, I won't. My time and my story: My decision and no one else's. Either way, I'm glad you liked my story and thank you for your feedback. I'm truly grateful :) tyne: It's pleasing and humbling to know that my story is able to invoke feelings in others. Thanks for letting me know ;) Guest(11): Here you go! ;) Guest(12): Thanks for your beautiful kind words and support. Don't worry, I'll keep writing ;) CaughtInAFantasy: I'm glad! Here's more! ;)

SailorMoonForever: LOL. Of course it's allowed ;p and I'm very glad you approved! Haha… You know it's very lucky that I speak SMF language and understood exactly what you're saying! ;) Andrew will have his say and S will have more than just him in her corner. You trust me, don't you? ;p

Telepathic communications / thoughts are in Italics.

(Standard disclaimer: I do not own any of the Sailor Moon characters. All characters belong to Naoko Takeuchi.)


Perfect Couple (Part 3: Perverse Conjectures, Punitive Consequences)

Cherry Hill Temple

"Amy, I want you to scan Serena for any foreign entity," Luna's grim tone broke the silence after Serena's departure and brought a horrified gasp out of Lita.

"You can't be serious? This is Serena we're talking about!" the brunette protested vehemently.

Luna's answer was grave, "Exactly. This is Serena we're talking about and she isn't acting like Serena."

"She was upset! And with good reason! You can't expect for her to be calm when someone not only went for Darien but also managed to steal a kiss from him." Lita argued on her friend's behalf.

"It goes beyond that. Serena would not have brought up…" Luna's voice trailed off. She couldn't bring herself to address the kiss that was mentioned before. It felt completely wrong to her and made her stomach rolled.

Lita shook her head, "People say things out of anger all the time. Serena may be angry and hurt and God knows she gets jealous sometimes, but where it counted the most, her heart is too pure and her will is too strong to be overtaken by something evil."

She turned to Amy and looked pleadingly, "Amy, you can't seriously consider Luna's request. We'd be betraying Serena's trust!"

Amy's face was pale when she answered, "It's just a scan…to make sure that she's alright. I'm sure she'll understand that it's not because we don't have faith in her. All of us at one point have been overpowered by evil before, right?" The bluenette's tone was uncertain, torn between loyalty to her friend and the need to be sure that that was her friend and not some other entity pretending to be her friend. The Serena she knew would never hurt her!

"I didn't sense any evil coming from her," Raye's tone was uncharacteristically subdued, her face troubled.

Lita scoffed at that, "Of course not! Serena would be the last person capable of any evil!"

Amy shook her head slowly.

"What is it, Ames?" Raye was the one to ask the question.

Amy cleared her throat. "Now, this is not mere conjecture," she was silent for a moment before reluctantly continuing, "It's just that, centuries of literature have proven on more than one occasion that the greatest evil could come from the greatest good… and Serena…probably owns the most pure heart there is," Her answer was tentative and hesitant but weighed heavily just the same.

Lita was completely horrified. "What nonsense! Are you seriously accusing Serena…" she was too horrified to continue.

Not that Amy would have allowed her to voice that appalling notion out loud anyway. Her response was immediate and indignant, "Of course not, Lita! I love Serena every bit as much as you do! I'm just saying that logic and recorded historical events dictate that…"

"Screw logic! This is Serena we're talking about! Just for once, use your heart instead of your head!"

While the three Scouts and the cat guardians continued with the argument at hand, Mina had gone straight to the main door to head Darien off, unaware of the little pink haired girl who followed closely behind her.

"I believe she said she needed a break," the blonde Scout of Love frostily addressed the reincarnated Prince of the Earth.

Darien bit back an oath as he ran an agitated hand through his hair. "Give me a bit of credit, Mina."

"Why should I?" she demanded, "How could you be so stupid as to let another girl kiss you?"

"I didn't let her. She took me by surprise. It came out of nowhere."

"That's not exactly true. You blew Serena and me off to spend time with her and you spent the whole day with her instead of us," Rini mentioned quietly. "And the kiss happened while the two of you were alone together in your apartment."

She felt better saying that out loud. Deep down, the consequence of her actions shocked and terrified her. She hadn't realised that Serena would get so angry. Taunting Serena was something that started as a defence mechanism but had quickly become instinctive to her. It was knee-jerk to treat Serena the way she did. Besides, even the girls and Darien tend to put Serena down. Still, what had happened yesterday, to her mind, was as much Darien's fault.

He did blow Serena and me off to spend time with Officer Saori and they werealone in his apartment, she thought resentfully.

Darien groaned. It had been a mistake to share what had happened with Rini but he hadn't been thinking clearly and the little girl was upset over Serena's parting remark and was her usual persistent self when she demanded to know what had happened. He had volunteered the information to explain why Serena was so upset and when the little girl freaked out over the kiss and started plying him with accusations, he had no choice but to defend himself. At the time, the thought of someone else he cared about being hurt by his actions and being angry and upset with him was more than he could bear.

Mina took a deep breath to calm herself, "Rini, I need to speak with Darien in private," she said firmly and turned to him with a fierce scowl when the little girl left them alone.

"Would you care to explain yourself?" she growled out her question.

"Not right now, Mina," Darien said impatiently and tried to get past her.

She held her ground and shoved his chest, "Yes Darien, right now or I'll make sure you never see Serena again," she gritted out.

Seeing the fierce look in her eyes, he believed her and with clipped tones he filled her in briefly and briskly.

Mina opened her mouth, shut it again. "You'd better fix this, Darien," she finally hissed out at him, her hands fisted at her sides to keep from punching him in the face. How the guy could be so oblivious to a girl hitting on him and throwing herself at him is completely beyond her! And the way he handled the situation… she had no words for his obtuseness!

Sending him a hard, level look, she continued, "Or I'm going to fix you."

He returned her gaze evenly, "I don't doubt that for a second. Can I go now?" The question came out sarcastic as well as impatient.

If she had seen only anger in his eyes, she would have snapped back at him but she saw fear as well. She drew in another deep breath and stepped aside. "I suggest you give her a bit of space to cool down first and also for you to cool down a bit as well. Don't hurt her anymore than you already have, Darien." The last sentence was given as an order, a threat and a plea.

He nodded briskly and hurriedly left the place.

Crown Arcade

Serena walked determinedly towards the arcade, resolved to find Molly and apologise to her childhood friend. She had been horrified to realise that she was doing to Molly, exactly what the Scouts were doing to her. The burden of guilt at having taken her friend for granted and being negligent weighed heavily on her.

Seeing the girl in question sitting with another childhood friend that she had managed to dissociate herself from, sitting in their usual booth at the arcade filled her with both relief and apprehension.

She took a deep breath, nodded resolutely to herself and marched to Andrew with a forced smile on her face.

"One vanilla milkshake, one chocolate milkshake and one strawberry milkshake please, Andrew," she requested softly.

Andrew looked at her with twinkling eyes. "Feeling extra thirsty today?" he teased as he gave her an affectionate one arm hug over the counter. The sight of her never failed to brighten up his day.

Serena let out a small chuckle and shook her head, "I just thought I'd spend some time with Molly and Melvin," she said and tilted her head in their direction, "It's been awhile." The last sentence said so wistfully had Andrew glancing sharply at her, studying her face thoughtfully.

"Everything okay?" he asked quietly in concern.

Serena nodded and forced her smile brighter so he wouldn't worry. "I just miss them is all," she answered with a casual shrug.

He nodded, patted her head and gestured for her to join her friends. "I'll bring the milkshakes to you."

Serena walked slowly towards the booth where Molly's reddish brown head bent together with Melvin's sandy blond one, absorbed in a private conversation over a book that was shared between them, empty cups and half eaten platter of fries on the table in front of them.

She stood hesitating to the side for a moment, contemplating what to say, unprepared for the awkwardness she felt.

"I wonder how Serena is doing. Don't you miss her too, Melvin?" Molly's voice with her unique accent brought Serena out of her reverie.

She looked towards Molly who still had her back to her and Melvin's gaze that was now looking up at her with startled curiosity.

Molly continued talking as though unaware of her presence, "You don't think she's forgotten all about us, do you?" She waited a beat while her boyfriend squirmed uncomfortably, unsure how to respond. And then she shifted and met Serena's gaze directly, unblinking. "Did you, Sere? Forget all about us?" The question was asked as soft as a whisper, the impact as hard as a hammer.

Serena started to speak and found her throat snapped shut. She could only shake her head as her eyes started to mist.

Molly studied her best friend's face. Even if she hadn't known Serena almost her whole life, the remorse was so clear for her to see.

"Melvin, I need a moment with Serena," she said to the blond boy without taking her gaze off of Serena's face.

"Girl talk is it? Take your time. I'm going to try out that new game everyone says is impossible to win. I'm convinced there is a formula to winning and I'm going to figure it out!" Melvin said as he stood up. Before he left though, he squeezed Serena's arm in a silent show of support and comfort. "It's good to see you, Sere," he whispered for her ears only.

Serena watched him leave and then turned back to Molly, her teeth biting her bottom lip to keep her emotions under control.

Taking a deep breath, she tried for a smile. "He's good for you. I'm glad the two of you have each other," she said softly and then looking imploringly and apologetically into Molly's blue eyes, "Especially since I've been such an absent friend."

Molly studied her a bit longer before replying gently, "Well, you're here now. That's what count." Her lips curved as she tilted her head to the empty space next to her, "Are you going to join me?" She asked with raised brows and an almost teasing note.

Serena's mouth opened and closed before she managed to form a word. Her eyes changed, misting yet again, but softened with relief.

She slid in the seat to hug Molly tight. Laughing, Molly squeezed Serena against her, just as tightly.

"I've missed you!" They both said at the same time, ""So much!" Both girls started laughing again as Andrew came and placed their drinks in front of them, smiling gladly at the laughter he heard. He left after a light stroke to Serena's hair, relief to see that she was okay.

Sobering, Serena looked deeply into Molly's eyes, "I'm sorry I've been absent and distant. I know I haven't been a good friend lately but I want…"

"Serena. You're not just a good friend. You're my best friend," Molly interrupted her and took both of Serena's hands in hers. "We've been through enough and I know you enough to know that you wouldn't just turn your back on me without good reasons and if you didn't tell me, there must be reasons for that as well. I didn't just know you yesterday, you know. We've been friends too long, our bond too strong for me to everquestion your friendship," she said earnestly.

And just like that, the two friends fell back into their easy camaraderie, "So that just now…" Serena started to tease.

"That just now, was me giving you a bit of a hard time as payback for taking awhile to realise that you were drawing further and further away from us and making me miss you too much," Molly continued straight faced.

"I've missed you too, Molly. I'm sorry it took me so long to realise…"

"I told you. I know you have your reasons and when andif you're ready, you'll share them with me. I may not like it and would prefer not to have to wait or be kept in the dark. But I love you enough to give you benefit of doubt and know you enough to know that you're of two minds on whether to share your reasons," Molly interjected firmly. "I can still read your face, you know!" she added on a lighter note to ease her friend's conscience. For now she was just glad to have Serena back.

Serena pressed their joined hands to her heart, almost overwhelmed by the faith in her that she felt completely undeserving of. "I will tell you. But you're right. Now may not be the time yet, because it doesn't just involve me. It's not entirely my story to tell." Her regret was clear both in her tone and eyes that were begging for her friend's understanding and forgiveness. "I will promise though, that I will never pull away from you again, not emotionally. There will be times and things that I may not be able to explain but you will never doubt your worth to me, the value of our friendship, ever again."

"Oh Serena, I never doubted that for a second! You may have kept your distance but I always know that if I need you, really need you, you'd be there for me. I've never question that. Ever," Molly said as she hugged Serena close to her once again.

When she let go of her best friend, her lips curved to match the happiness in her eyes. Seeing the remnant of sadness that was usually so foreign on Serena's face, she sought to comfort and lighten the situation, "Besides, it gave Melvin and me the chance to really explore our relationship," she said cheekily though not without a hint of roses on her cheeks.

Serena laughed at that and her gaze wandered to the boy in question, one who for the longest time of their friendship, fancied himself in love with her instead of Molly. "I'm really glad that the two of you have each other and so happy together," she said sincerely even as Melvin rejoined them at the booth.

Over at the furthest, more secluded end of the counter, Darien sat on a stool, turned sideways so that his back rested against the wall, watching the three friends chatting happily. Twin mix of relief and sorrow warred inside his heart. Relief because she finally seemed less troubled and sorrow because his absence was probably the cause for it. He decided to let her have her moment of peace undisturbed for a bit longer.

"You look horrible, Darien." Andrew commented as he set a cup of coffee in front of his best friend.

"It goes with how I feel."

Andrew took a harder look at his best friend who had yet to take his eyes off of his Meatball Head and then turned to his little sister, "Lizzie, I'm taking a break, okay?"

He took a seat opposite of Darien across the counter. "Want to tell me why you're staring at Serena instead of joining her?"

"She dumped me."

Surprised but unperturbed, Andrew's respond was calm. "Serena loves you, Darien."

"She said she didn't want to."

Andrew shook his head. Something was not quite right with the picture. So he asked a simple question to find out the answer, "Why?"

Darien frowned in confusion, "Why what?"

"Why did she say that?"

"What do you mean?"

"Darien, Serena's crazy in love with you. She's also the kindest soul there is. She accepts people the way they are and never holds a grudge. Heck, I don't think she even knows how! And she definitely doesn't say things out of spite. She may tease, but she's not spiteful. So, what did you do that made her say that she didn't want to love you?"

Darien blew out a breath. "I messed up. But I'm not even sure how exactly."

"You don't know what you did wrong? Or you don't know why she's upset?"

"Is there a difference?"

"I don't know. You tell me."

"God, sometimes, you're every bit as confusing as she is."

"And yet we are the two people who know you best."

"True. So very true...Well, not so true in this case."

"You're hedging and that tells me you did something wrong and you know exactly what you did."

Darien stared blankly at Andrew. Seeing the determination in the hazel green eyes, he knew his best friend was not about to back down. It probably also didn't help that Andrew thought of Serena as a little sister, loved her like one and was extremely protective of her. He sighed and proceeded to tell Andrew about the kiss with Saori.

Andrew was silent for a long moment. When he finally spoke, his voice was very low, a telltale sign that he was trying to restrain himself from doing something or saying something that he might regret. "You… let… Saori kiss you?"

Darien rubbed his hand over his face in agitation "I didn't let her. She took me by surprise. It came out of nowhere." He was beginning to feel like a broken record.

Andrew took a deep breath. His voice remained very low. "It didn't come out of nowhere, Darien," he gritted out and shook his head at the bafflement on his friend's face and raked his own hand over his face, "Darien, our whole class knows how Saori feels about you. And you spending the whole day with her, showering her with affection and inviting her to your apartment when you're normally so reserved, that probably made her think you're returning her feelings. So, no Darien, I wouldn't say the kiss came out of nowhere, not at all."

Darien's defence mechanism clicked in before he could stop it and his voice rose slightly in frustration, "I told her that I have a girlfriend! I even introduced her to Serena, that very morning!"

"And yet you blew Serena off to spend time with her and did so in front of her!" Andrew was starting to lose his patience as well. He raised his hand before Darien could protest and said as calmly as his patience allowed. "If I know Sere, she would have wanted to spend time with you. Why couldn't she have joined you and Saori? It was a Saturday. You see Saori every week day. Why couldn't you spend your Saturday with Serena?"

Serena's words rang loudly in Darien's mind, "I'll bet you've been out with Saori more times, spent more times with her than you do with me. Your time alone with her today is probably more than your time alone with me for the whole month!"

The guilt made him even more defensive. "I see Serena every week day too!"

"News flash Darien, Saori is a classmate, Sere is your girlfriend!"

Mistaking Darien's tight face as remonstration rather than mortification, Andrew scoffed, "And since you brought that up, you see her here at this arcade on week days. I know for a fact that a daily meeting hasn't been the case for awhile. You meet on most days, yes. But either Rini or the girls would be with you. It was never just the two of you. Not some time Darien, all the time."

"Do you ever just want to spend time with me, anymore?" Serena's words and her wounded eyes flashed in his mind, tormented until he was sick with regret. His temper fled and his shoulders slumped in defeat. He raked his fingers in his raven hair as his eyes pleaded with his best friend for understanding and compassion.

Andrew's response was a cool eyed stare. Another deep breath and another shake of the head before he continued softly with a mixed of sadness and subtle reprimand, "Sometimes, even to me who knows you so well, but especially to those who don't know you, the way you treat Serena made her come across as a little sister you tolerate out of love rather than the girlfriend that you're in love with and dying to spend time with."

"I'm crazy in love with her. I love her so much I don't know what to do with it or how to deal with it!"

"I know you do, Dare. But you're very sparing in your show of affection. You can't blame Sere for feeling insecure."

"I don't. I was trying to talk to her this morning. Went and join her study session with the girls at Raye's place. The thing is…"

Andrew remembered the dejected look that Serena came in with earlier. His eyes narrowed in alarm. "What happened?"

Darien shook his head and buried it in his hands for a moment. "I don't know exactly how, but things got even more out of hands. It was as though she had all this resentment stored inside of her, not just for me but for all of us. She didn't even touch on the kiss with Saori. Suddenly it was her best friends flirting with me, how they would be better for me, how Rini is in love with me. She even thought that we all see her as irresponsible and selfish and the look on her face when she said that she has other friends who don't find her too lacking or inferior…"

His eyes were full of hurt and confusion but his denial was vehement and forceful, "I don't find her lacking or inferior! None of us do! I swear I don't know where all these accusations and conjectures came from. To contemplate that something might be brewing with Raye and Amy of all people, it's like she doesn't even know me! And that speculation about Rini wanting me all to herself and being in love with me…" he couldn't stop the small shudder that escaped him.

Andrew's silence had him studying the blond carefully. His best friend's expressionless face filled his gut with dread and his mind with complete bewilderment, "You can't be serious?" His eyes were wide with disbelieve. "You actually agree with her?"

Andrew's mouth folded in a grimly uncompromising line. He had to take another deep breath. But his points were delivered one by one, matter-of-factly, "While you and her friends may not think of her as lacking or inferior, all of you do, at one time or the other, put her down and dismiss her opinions on a regular basis. You went out with Raye before you got together with her. When Rini showed up, you broke up with her and in all the weeks it took for you to get back together with her, you spent all your free time with Rini, while ignoring her. As for Amy, I've actually seen the two of you flirting for myself."

Darien sputtered, "Are you insane? Amy would never betray Serena that way and neither would I!"

"I don't think either of you were conscious of what you were doing." Andrew held his hand up before Darien could interrupt, "She was sitting in the exact spot you are sitting right now, upset. You came out of concern, I think because she's one of Sere's friends. The two of you started talking with her telling you her worries and you consoling her. It ended with you telling her your greatest fear of getting a needle but how you wouldn't mind if the one administering it were as kind and pretty as her and practically begging her not to change a thing about herself because she's already got everything it takes."

Darien's face flushed as he recalled the conversation. "I didn't mean anything by it," he murmured.

"No. I don't think you did. And I definitely don't think that either Amy or you would intentionally betray Serena that way."

Andrew's expression softened slightly as he continued, "There is nothing wrong with harmless flirtation between friends as long as everyone know where they stand. Heck, even I couldn't help flirt back with Mina or Lita sometimes. It was all in good fun. Everyone knows that it's Reika I love, Mina and Lita are both aware that there was no weight behind it, and Reika's secure enough in my love for her not to be threatened by it. ButI show Reika that I love her all the time. I don't hide my love for Reika from Mina and Lita either. There wasn't any way for them to get the wrong impression that my love for Reika would shift towards them. I was clear on who I love and how much I love her. She has no reason to feel insecure and other girls have no reason to think they might stand a chance with me."

Andrew clasped Darien's shoulder and looked earnestly into his deep blue eyes to get his point across. "You are not free with your affections. You've become better at it because of Serena. You started treating others including girls who may have feelings for you, such as Saori and Raye and even Amy, better, with less detachment. But the way you treat Serena, outwardly, to people who don't know you well enough, you're indifferent to her, certainly not like a man in love. So, while I don't agree with her entirely, Serena's insecurities are not baseless, Saori thinking she might stand a chance with you didn't come out of nowhere and Amy, even if she didn't have feelings for you in the first place, you're not exactly easy for girls to resist with your good looks and mysterious, brooding personality. Girls like that. They fall for it all the time. You even have your own fan club, Darien. That ought to give you a clue. If you keep flirting with Amy, saying all those sentimental crap to her all the while putting Serena down, don't be surprise if Amy starts having feelings for you."

"I never put Serena down, not since we got together!" Darien insisted, anger lacing the edges of his tone, the last part came out defensively when he recalled how he used to put her down all the time before they found out each other's identity as Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask and Serenity and Endymion.

"Actually, you did, Darien. As your best friend but also someone who is outside of the situation, enough to observe it somewhat objectively, it looked to me as though there were something brewing between you and Amy then. In fact, if I hadn't been your best friend and know you as well as I do, I would've been sure of it. When Amy commented on how Serena has lots of dreams and full of spirit, your response was to say that Serena was definitely full of something but not always spirit. It left such an impression on my mind that I still remember your words, the tone with which you said them and the expression on your face while saying them. Hearing the words out of your mouth, the way you said them,I actually felt betrayed on Serena's behalf. Imagine if she had been there in my place! In fact if she hadn't shown up when she did, I would've said something about it to you right then and there regardless of propriety! But she did show up and even with Amy faking, although I don't think that it was completely faked, her interest in you, Serena managed to make light her insecurities, turned it into harmless banter, the way she always does every time one of you slighted her. So I let it go. But thinking back, perhaps I should've said something."

Darien remained silent but Andrew knew him well enough to know that he was listening very carefully, pondering and weighing everything that was said.

"I'm your best friend, Darien. But Serena's like a sister to me. I've known her and loved her, longer. Serena buries her hurt in plain sight, behind those so called crocodile tears. It's her way of letting her grievances out without seeming too serious about it and hurting anyone's feelings, making them feel bad about themselves or worrying them. I thought you and the girls would have figured that out. It's not in her to hurt others. She's too selfless and loyal to put herself first. So, if she's lashing out, it's either you went too far or she's reached her limit."


Posted on fanfiction: 12 November 2014

A/N: The main Perverse Conjectures in this chapter to me was the expectation on Molly and Andrew's reactions. Both have known S for a long time and know her well. Of course Molly will have faith in S's friendship and of course Andrew will understand where she's coming from! As to S&D confrontation, the chapter got too long. So I decided that will take place in the following chapter instead.

Review only if you have something positive to say. Rant all you want as long as it's directed towards the characters and not at me. I can't stop any hurtful comments but they'll just make me pity the ones who wrote them even more. If the only way to feel good about one self is to put others down and scrutinised their work for every mistake and ugliness there is, what a pathetic existence one must lead.

My stand on updates is on my profile. I don't have a fixed schedule to give. I only write when I feel like it and when my own personal schedule and health permits it.

Hence, please STOP scolding me for not writing and STOP telling me to grow a thicker skin. My ability to feel emotions contribute to the chapters I write. The main reason most of you claim to read my stories is also for how they made you feel. It's hypocritical to ask me to ignore my feelings when you want my chapters to satisfy your feelings.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Amy & D scene (referred by Andrew) occurred in Episode 97: Damp Spirits. I basically took the first and the last scene from the episode and incorporated them into the story, manipulated to suit my purpose. The two scenes were combined into one and the venue was changed to the arcade so that Andrew bore witness to it and can comment about it. Consider it an author's prerogatives ;)