W a r . of . the . R o s e s

Stargirl

. VI White Rose

Curiosity tangles like innocent thorns,

Petals are nipped by bitter cold.

Little rose, find your way--seek your heart,

For Love is a beauty untold.

- - -

Darien tapped a pencil on the papers before him, every once in awhile crossing out a name or scribbling a note. Classes were still in session and he had excused himself to the rooms reserved for student council members. There were endless events coming up as winter approached, and along with them a greater share of duties. As much as he tried to concentrate on his work at the moment, he continuously checked the time. Increasingly in recent days, he had found himself thinking about the girl from Whittenfield Academy. It was pure impulse that led him the other day to the café shop he had found her working in.

He was surprised at his own disappointment when she was not there, and after leaving the rose he had brought with the girl's mother, had left wondering about it. He prided himself in being an intelligent fellow and it did not take him long to face the simple truth. He liked her. There were so many reasons why he shouldn't, but he did. Besides, none of those reasons were any fault of hers.

He glanced at a nearby vase of white roses, a smile unconsciously softening his face. With a sigh and a rustle of papers, he returned to his work, knowing a quaint little corner café he might happen to pass by later that day.

Serena fidgeted before the intimidating gate, fighting down nervous butterflies. For not the first time, she wondered if she should really be doing this. Not only was she missing her last class, but it was nearing the time she was to meet with Artemis for her next fencing lesson. The lingering image of a sweet white rose and amused blue eyes surfaced in her mind. She stood straighter and pursed her lips even as her heart leapt. How foolish she was being! It was simple curiosity.

- - -

She doubted it was locked, and yet didn't move a step. Her clear blue eyes narrowed stubbornly at the iron wrought gate that stood between her and the back gardens of Bainbridge Academy. She shivered suddenly at a chill wind, wishing she had brought one of her mother's old coats to snuggle in. The thought wiggling in her mind that told her she would be utterly humiliated if someone caught her standing there like a hovering moth turned out to be the most effective. She tugged at the hem of her school jacket to smooth any imagined wrinkles and pushed through the gate.

She gazed avidly around her. She hadn't been to the school since her first accidental visit—and at the time she wouldn't have even known it was part of the school if it hadn't been for the student she met. The grounds at Bainbridge had a more open feel to them, she thought. The tall hedges, beautiful statues, and fountains of old stone were no less grand but spread apart more with a different and simpler artistic design than that of Whittenfield's classic beauty.

She wandered the numerous stone paths, nearly forgetting her purpose there. She blinked in surprise when she reached an inner courtyard and found herself staring at what seemed a sanctuary for white roses. Columns and the school's structures circled around her as if she had walked into the very heart of the school. Bells chimed in the distance to declare the school day's end.

Drawing in a needed breath for courage, she prepared for the task of finding the student called Darien. In the seconds after the bells, it occurred to her that it might be easier to find him at the front doors of the school and, in sudden urgency, she moved forward. Someone blocked her. She slowed down in confusion as the student stepped in her path with a furious glare in his eyes.

Students appeared from everywhere, a sea of rich blue uniforms and unfriendly gazes. An uneasy feeling swept through her and she unconsciously stepped back.

"You! What are you doing here?" a bold student demanded. Cocky green eyes behind glasses glared at her.

She stared at him in bewilderment. "I… I'm sorry? I'm just looking for someone."

A girl gave an unladylike snort before bestowing a fake sweet smile that made Serena's toes curl. "Sure you are, sweat heart." Crossing her arms and cocking her fiery head to the side, the girl gave Serena a dark look.

Serena forced her breaths to steady and, as sincerely and as patiently as she could, said, "Just listen to me. I'm only trying to find someone. He's a student here."

"And why would you want to find him?" the boy with glasses challenged.

Why? Serena felt frustration like thorns in her skin. Because he mocked her, kissed her, and gave her a rose? She didn't know how she was supposed to respond to this situation! "You're being unreasonable," she snapped.

"Are we?" a dangerously calm voice asked. Serena turned to see the two arrivals, unnerved by the cold tone. A tall, feminine boy with short ash-blonde hair and narrowed indigo eyes stared down at her while an elegant girl with chestnut curls around a serene and yet unforgiving expression looked on silently from behind him. The dozen or so other students scrambled to attention and looked to the duo expectantly.

'What was wrong with these people?' Serena thought angrily. They were treating her as if she were a criminal or spy. She hadn't done anything wrong, for goodness sakes! A cold breeze swept through the courtyard and she shivered, crossing her arms protectively. Uneasily, she cast her gaze around at the vicious or—at the very least, unwelcome—looks.

There were so many of them… and they looked so angry. Perhaps it would be best to back down this once? This new boldness of hers only seemed to be getting her into deeper messes… as if being bound to duel Raye Whittenfield wasn't trouble enough.

"Well?" the blond in front of her demanded.

Serena's helpless eyes turned back to him. He seemed to be the one in charge. She let her arms drop to her sides in surrender and, beseechingly, asked, "Would it be all right if I just leave? I'm sorry that I came or for whatever offense I gave."

The boy seemed about to serve another cutting remark when the girl behind him softly murmured, "Alex," as a mother might to calm a riley child. For a second, the hard indigo eyes of the boy softened. She could see the moment's decision cross his face even before he gave a curt nod. "Fine."

Serena let out the breath she had unknowingly held and feeling lightheaded she turned and waited for the students to reluctantly pull back. Once a pathway was opened, she gladly fled. Oh, she didn't understand what was happening at all! She didn't want to know—it had nothing to do with her and she should never have come. Against her will, tears stung her vision. She was so engrossed with the single-minded purpose to get away that she never even saw the students that had disappeared after her until it was too late. She yelped in alarm as hands grabbed her from in back and nails dug into her skin.

"Eh? I think those two are getting soft letting you in here," a voice mused. Heart pounding, Serena twisted to see her towering captor was a college-age young woman, auburn wavy hair falling around glittering eyes and a vicious smirk. "Don't you think we should teach her a lesson, boys?"

Serena felt ill as her heart fell to her stomach. A number of male students circled around, one even holding a baseball bat and not a single voice of reason among them. Even at Whittenfield while being bullied she hadn't felt this in danger physically. Her pulse quickened, sounded in her ears, adrenaline kicking in.

"You'll think again before visiting, now won't you, dear?" the female alumni mused.

Without thinking about it, Serena slammed her elbow into the older girl's stomach and ran as fast as she could, angry cries and footsteps following after her.

- - -

"Alexia?" A slender hand came to rest on Alex's shoulders and only then she realized she was still frowning. She forced a smile and then with an annoyed sigh and a swipe through her boyish haircut she turned back to the students hovering around and glared at them. "School's over. Go home," she snapped. They needed no prompting and scattered. Alexandria Norton was a force to be reckoned with even before she joined the school's student council. From the beginning she had rebelled against school policy by wearing the boy's uniform. She was among the elite at Bainbridge Academy, however, and could afford to be reckless.

She was always reckless when it came to Whittenfield Academy and it didn't take much to set her off. The students from the neighboring school, particularly, deserved whatever treatment they got, in her mind. She smiled weakly to the girl beside her. "Are you satisfied?" she asked her friend and fellow council member, her voice with its natural huskiness.

Michelle De Leux simply smiled back. "Yes. Though for once you didn't stay in line just for me… I admit a Whittenfield student here is suspicious and usually bad news but I don't think she meant anything by coming here." Michelle stepped forward and looked after the path the girl had left, her head tilted slightly. "I wonder who she was looking for… do you think we should let Darien know?"

Alex nodded. "He'd want to know."

They found him in his usually spot, working, and relayed what happened. Darien stared at them blankly. "She's here?"

They exchanged curious glances.

Darien ignored them, his mind beginning to race. He thought of the girl's innocent stroll in the gardens when he had first found her, how he was on guard finding a Whittenfield student. It was the way all the students were. Defenses automatically went up around anyone from their rival school. He loved his school, but wasn't blind enough to think she'd be safe walking in.

She was probably off the grounds by now. She had to be, but what if she wasn't? He had a bad feeling. Even if it was nothing, he needed to check. Without a word to Alex or Michelle, he ran out the door.

"It looks like he knows her," Michelle mused.

Alexia just frowned in response. Nodding to each other, they followed after their very uncharacteristic student president.

- - -

Hedges all looked alike as Serena ran past them in a blur. Her lungs struggled with the cold air and her legs began to tire. She had always been a fast runner, but she had never tested it over unfamiliar grounds that weaved and turned. Steps went up. Steps went down. Around the water fountain; under the archway. She couldn't even find the open gardens from before. It felt like they had chased her into a maze and she suddenly had no sense of direction, just the motivation that they were somewhere behind her and she couldn't slow down.

She had watched people be bullied before at her old school from behind the crowds that sometimes watched. No one ever moved to help. Why had she never tried to help? She was scared and on her own. Just when she grew so tired that she wondered if it was worth running any further, she saw a small gap in a hedge. There was a yell behind her and as quick as she could she got to her knees and crawled through it in the dirt. Twigs pricked and tugged at her, but she pushed through them with relief as she broke through into the adjourning pathway.

Fingers grabbed and yanked her up by her hair. Crying out, she grabbed at her hair underneath the grip, trying to lesson the painful pull. A tall senior student glared at her, and she caught a glimpse of the young woman from before just over his shoulder. The eyes were cold and aloof. Serena ground her teeth against another cry, managing to throw a glare through her squinting eyes.

Another student painfully grabbed her arms, and her hair was released just as she was pushed painfully down to the stone path. The palms of her hands were scraped an angry red, one of her knees burning and tingling. Her ankle throbbed. Staring at the ground, glossy black shoes entered the edge of her blurred vision. She tensed and waited for the first blow… the first taunt. Anything. But nothing came. No one moved. No one spoke, until...

"Serenity?"

Serena looked up and froze, seeing and yet not seeing the hand reaching out to her. She lifted one of her hands and the larger hand clasped around it, pulling her gently onto her feet. It was him. His warm fingers tightened comfortingly over hers, but he wasn't looking at her. The students squirmed under his glare. After a moment, he made a gesture for them to go and they scrambled. She watched as only the older girl was left and as the two older students from earlier arrived, watching with mixture of confusion and curiosity. She numbly followed Darien as he led her away.

Serena awkwardly tried to keep up with Darien's fast and angry strides, increasingly worried when he didn't speak. It didn't help that all she could see was his back. His hand was beginning to crush hers but she was afraid to say anything.

She followed him as he brought her inside the school. At the first stairs they came to, however, a sudden ache seared through her ankle caused her to stumble and yelp. He stopped short and looked down at her with an unreadable expression. His gaze darkened once he saw the splatter of blood and small stones on her knee.

"Are—are you mad at me for coming?" Serena braved, her voice tentative.

Suddenly, he snapped out of whatever world he was lost in and met her eyes. "That's not it!" He hung his head and sighed, swiping a hand through his dark hair and tousling it. "Look, I'm sorry. I was just really worried." He dropped his hand from his face and gave her a weak smile that seemed to ask for her to forgive him.

"Oh," Serena said dumbly. He was worried… about her?

Darien surveyed her leg again and seemed to make a decision. "You should have stopped me sooner," he chastised.

Serena was still trying to get her mind around the thought that he was worried about her when his arms circled around her and scooped her off her feet. She cried out and grabbed tightly around his neck.

"I know you probably want to strangle me—but you better wait until I set you down," he teased with a bit of his old humor back. Serena stared at him, still dazed at being in a guy's arms and a height away from the ground. He smiled. "Don't worry, I've got you."

Her body moved mindlessly, relaxing her hold and sinking into his embrace.

"It's Serenity, right?" he asked casually.

Her mind focused from its blur when it recognized a question it knew the answer to. She nodded. "Serenity Blake. Ah well – just Serena is fine…"

"Serena," he echoed, his voice soothing and warm.

It was then sense really kicked in that she was being carried. Serena turned her face down as she tried to fight the oncoming blush. "I can walk, you know," she mumbled into his jacket, refusing to look up.

"You never dreamed of being swept off your feet by prince charming?"

The amusement in his voice startled her. Truthfully, being rescued and carried in such a way felt nice… The humiliation would kill her if she let him know that. What girl didn't wish to be swept off her feet as if she weighed as much as a feather? To cover her embarrassment, she muttered, "I would hardly call you charming."

"Ah well, I suppose I'll just have to prove it to you. Now stop complaining; I must attend to my wounded princess!" he laughed. His previous anger seemed long and far away.

Serena lifted her head to make another angry comment but her breath caught at the smile he gave her. His smile was enough to make anyone forget the flaws in his personality. It always quirked to one side, his ocean eyes warm and laughing beneath the shadow of his dark hair. Why hadn't she noticed it at the café? Then again, she knew the answer to that. She had thought he was making fun of her.

There was a light feeling tingling beneath her skin and in her chest that she couldn't name. For the love of God, why did he have to insist on carrying her? At war with her emotions, she stayed silent and subdued as he strode through the halls and brought her to a small, quaint office.

She breathed a sigh of relief as he sat her down on a settee and moved a distance… only to be on guard again when he returned with bandages and began to fondle her injured knee and ankle. His proximity alone unnerved her so much and now she had to suffer through his touch, she thought, frustrated. She watched silently, however, as he gently began to clean the wound. The only comfort she had was that he seemed too absorbed in his task to notice the effect he was having on her. Feeling mute and helpless, she watched him tend to her knee. Kneeling before me like that, it really is like a prince attending to his princess, she mused to herself.

"There." His movement confused her for a moment until she realized he had finished. He stared down at her with a raised eyebrow when she showed no reaction. "Not even a thank you?"

She flushed and looked away. "Thank you."

He squatted down, resting his chin on his hands and suddenly eye to eye with her. "Most princes would get a token of gratitude such as a kiss," he teased.

He was a rich playboy; that was all. He was rude and… smiled too much. She sucked in a breath and met his eyes. "Don't flatter yourself. You are the reason I got hurt to begin with."

Amusement touched his blue eyes. Clearly feigning innocence, he asked, "Now how is that?"

Curse him, he knew she had come to see him and still wanted her to admit it? Instead, she inquired flippantly, "Why the white rose?" If he believed that she was just avoiding his previous question, then he wouldn't be able to tell how badly she wanted to know his answer to hers. Then again, why did she need to know so badly? Never mind. She would worry about that later.

"Come with me somewhere and I might tell you," he said after a pause. He looked serious.

Scrambling for her voice, she stood up and said, "Forget it then. I have somewhere I need to be." Guiltily, she looked to a clock on the wall and realized that it was past the time she was supposed to meet Artemis for her lesson. She didn't want him to have a bad impression of her so soon after he accepted to teach her.

Darien rose with her but persisted. "Don't be like that. I won't keep you long. Won't you accompany me, fair maiden?" In a fluid manner, he captured her hand and kissed it, his gaze never moving from hers.

She knew he was teasing but was captured by those damnable blue eyes of his. Right now, they were light and playful and yet she had a feeling it was only like the glisten of sunlight over a very deep and unfathomable ocean. A desire kindled to know more about him, and without thinking about it she nodded in agreement. "I suppose I could."

He smiled. "Follow me," he said, not releasing her hand as he turned and began walking.

The academy halls were filled with students who lingered at the end of the school day and Serena wished she could disappear behind her "prince's" back as he walked oblivious to the stares. Apparently the sight of a fellow student tugging an injured Whittenfield Academy student behind them was a sight not seen all too often. Startled looks and whispers followed them like ripples.

"Da-Darien? Do you think… wou-wouldn't it be better if we used a back way?" she suggested. Her eyes darted nervously across the scattered Bainbridge students, wondering what would have happened to her if Darien had not shown up when he did.

"Nonsense. You're with me."

You're with me? Serena refused to think of the strange turn in her stomach at the simple words. Her gaze fell to her hand still encased in his. Well, she would let him worry about the school's reaction to this display. But a corner of her wondered how he could be so confident. Wouldn't it be a problem for him to be seen with her? A cold feeling encompassed her when she thought of her own school finding out she had visited their rival. She never really thought of the consequences when she came looking for Darien. It was a bad fault of hers.

Before she knew it, Darien had led her outside to the front drive, pausing once to lift her over the couple of stairs. The looped pavement was scattered with limos and sleek cars as students, one by one, left the campus. She frowned when he made no motion to move and was about to ask when she noticed he was murmuring into a cell phone he had pulled from his pocket. No sooner than he had slipped the phone away then a limo pulled up before them.

Darien raised an amused eyebrow at her. "After you?" A chauffer already held the door open.

She couldn't stop herself from gawking. "We're taking a limo?" she asked, sounding dazed even to her own ears.

"It's easier than walking. You've never ridden in a limo before?" He smirked at her.

Her eyes snapped a fiery blue. "As a matter a fact, I have." Refusing to be showed up, she accepted the chauffeur's offered hand to help her inside and promptly scooted to the far side. Her brow furrowed when she heard him chuckle as he followed behind her and she stubbornly continued to gaze out the window.

All her past and recent interactions with Darien rolled through her mind, only increasing her frustration. She couldn't figure him out at all. A jerk, a tease, and too handsome and rich for his own good, a small voice promptly answered. But then he could go and be kind and gentle… and he had to have some sense of fairness, she realized. He could have easily shunned her like the rest of the students from his school. She was the one who was ignorant of the extent of the two school's rivalry. It might be nice if one other person could see it her way.

She sneaked a glance over to him to find his eyes shut and head resting back. Now that she thought about it, most of his treatment of her that had angered her so much was harmless teasing. When he teased her, his eyes danced with laughter and his lips smiled with a natural humor. She let out an exasperated sigh, a slight smile played on her lips as she turned back to the window. It was then she realized she knew the direction they were going.

Puzzled, she turned to Darien. "Are we going to Whittenfield?"

His eyes blinked open and he looked out the window for a moment and shook his head. "No. We're here."

Serena stepped out of the car and turned, bewildered. They hadn't gone as far as Whittenfield Academy. "Where is here?" She looked in all directions. Meadows and hills of faded greens spread until a misty edge of forest on one side, a lake sitting like a mirror to the cold sky. The other side had pathways and trees weaving by each other. Though she had passed this way every morning and afternoon on foot, she had never really paid attention to the area.

Darien took hold of her hand causing her to jump but she followed when he started walking down the pathways. A center fountain with an outskirt of stone pathways appeared before them and Serena stopped with an intake of breath. "I didn't know a place like this was here…"

Hands in his pockets, Darien leaned against one of the numerous statues and smiled at her apparent awe. After a moment, he let his eyes wander across the grounds fondly. Over hills and bends were gazebos and overhangs, stairs and levels. "Supposedly… it's neutral territory."

Serena looked at him with a blank expression. "What?"

"This park… its acres are the only thing separating our two schools. The founders called it to be a common ground… a place of truce. As ironies go, it has only served to worsen the feud."

"Tell me… tell me why there is a feud." Serena stood still for the tense moment as he returned her serious expression.

"Why? I don't think even the teachers themselves know," he admitted. "To begin with, I believe the ideals themselves are too different. Whittenfield Academy was built first with an impressive reputation from the start. However, they catered too much to the aristocracy. The founder himself had noble ancestry and was very proud, dictating the school more like a king. I will not lie and say that Bainbridge doesn't have its faults or its share of prejudice to lower classes," he sent her an apologizing glance, "but it was founded on acceptance over exclusiveness."

"That does make it sound like I ended up at the wrong school," Serena murmured to herself with a rueful shake of her head.

Darien's eyes sharpened on her, catching the soft words and hearing her sigh. He remembered the first day he met her and her outburst as she chastised him. He could imagine what hardships there were for a foreign girl of lower class. Even those within his own school, a school that he held in highest regard, were shadows cast to the side, often overlooked and sometimes put down.

He was never one to trust easily, but ever since the day he had met her, he could only see her as a maiden in distress captured in a school not of her choice. Ah, and what dragons that school possessed! In the short time he'd known her, he saw her spirit and her pride… and more then once he had found himself thinking about her.

"I wanted to see you," he said suddenly, simply.

"Huh?" She looked at him with startled eyes.

Patiently, he explained, "You wanted to know why I left the white rose with your mum to give to you. It was because I wanted to see you again." He held back a chuckle at her blank expression but could not stop the quirk at his lips when he added, "Though I didn't consider that you would come to look for me. That was a pleasant surprise."

She snapped her mouth shut, a blush—assuredly not from the cold alone—rising to her cheeks. "I just wanted to know the reason for it," she mumbled, looking down. "I didn't think either of us had the best impression of the other…"

Darien smiled at that. "On the contrary, I had a very good impression of you. I apologize if you thought otherwise."

Serena looked up, meeting his gaze with a searching one of her own. What she was searching for, he did not know. Finally she said, "And I apologize if I… if I might have jumped to the wrong conclusions about you."

They stood there for a moment in awkward silence until Darien reached out a hand towards her. "Truce?"

The uncertainty drained from her face and he wasn't prepared for the heavenly smile that took over her face as she nodded and took his hand.

"So… you want to talk about it?" he offered.

Serena stared at him, her eyes glowing with a warmth she had not felt before. Her whole body felt warm now. Any thoughts of time or fencing fled. He didn't need to define what "it" was. She simply knew. All the hurt pride, frustration, and loneliness she had felt so recently surfaced as if waiting to be released. She would never let her problems show to her mother—why worry her more? She could never seem to bring up a more personal conversation with Seiya—whether she was just embarrassed, she did not know. She had no other friends—the girl, Amy, seemed to have disappeared into thin air. She could never approach a teacher with her problems—well, perhaps there was Artemis… but as of yet, he was still quite intimidating.

Darien was the only one to listen to her problems. That next hour, they found a seat under a gazebo and Serena started from the beginning, sharing her excitement and hope that first morning and how they were dashed. He seemed startled at the part of her conflicts with Raye Whittenfield, but his eyes shown with admiration and encouraged her to continue.

The initial awkward feeling she had of talking so personally to someone who was, for all purposes, a stranger, faded to the ease she might have had in a long-time friendship. She went into detail on the bullying from classmates and the hurt from abandonment of the one friend she thought she had made… expressed her confusion and distress at the isolation she felt. She said all that… and yet, she edged around receiving the red rose, left out everyone's sudden change of attitude, and sealed her lips all together on any hint of Seiya Whittenfield's attentions towards her.

She didn't know why she kept silent there when everything else poured out of her. Perhaps because she was so confused over her present situation and what her place in the school actually was, or embarrassed by the thought of living such a lie. Whatever the cause, she could not bring herself to tell him and tried to ignore the little guilt at hiding it from him.

"You have the heart of a lion," he said after she told him about accepting Raye Whittenfield's challenge.

"Then why do I feel like such a coward?" She looked out across the gardens, distantly noting the darkening sky and not even realizing the peaceful look she posed. She had thought that she was over what happened at school, but clearly she had only bottled up her emotions. She hadn't felt as light and content as she did in that moment in such a long time.

Reluctantly, she stood. "It's getting late. I should go." He stood with her, and once she met his eyes, all she could say was, "Thank you."

"Any time," he said softly. He nodded to the way we came and where the limo had waited. "I'll take you home."

"No! I mean it's fine. I pass by this way from school all the time."

"But you're not usually injured," he pointed out.

"It's fine, really. Either way, I should exercise it so I'll be able to move in the morning…and thank you again for helping me… and for listening."

Before she could lose her courage, she stood on tiptoes and pecked his cheek, quickly turning away before he could see the violent blush on her cheeks. Just before she reached the bend, he called her name. Her heart fluttered and she looked back.

"The next practice match between our schools will be in three days. Meet me there after!"

Serena nodded and waved, not trusting her voice at that moment. What was wrong with her? She hardly noticed her surroundings on the walk home, but the brisk fresh air felt wonderful on her face. Far too soon she was home, restlessly moving from room to room despite her sore leg and unable to concentrate on her books. There was such a rush of thoughts and feelings in her mind that she could hardly make sense of it at all. All she knew was that for once she felt happy.

She curled up on her bed when it grew later, smiling into the shadowed room. The vase by the little window was host to a single white rose, the soft, silvery-blue light of the moon casting a glow around it. Burrowing further into her covers, she prayed the next three days would pass very, very soon.

- - - - - -

Hooray! An update! ;; Sorry for the long wait. Lots of Darien, though, right? Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year! 3

God bless,

-Star