Dirty Old Man: A Love Story
Chapter Two

The grass was purple. The sky was really a gigantic ceiling painted blue. The
moon was made of cotton candy.

All these things had to be true if Andrew's eyes had not deceived him.

"This has got to be a dream," Andrew said out loud, and squeezed his eyes shut.
A dream--that was the answer, it had to be. When he woke up, he would be at
home in bed and not worried about early morning hallucinations. He opened his
eyes.

Damn.

It was true. It couldn't be true. How could it be true? How could Darien,
worldly, *cynical* Darien, who shoved people away and denied the possibility of
finding lasting love, possibly be kissing Serena, the meatball-headed *junior-
high* student he detested? Honestly, kissing was an understatement. The
couple he'd seen had been…caressing. Entwined. Enmeshed. `Groping' came to
mind, but Andrew shoved *that* thought away. Andrew was a fairly good math
student and the thought that Serena plus Darien equaled *anything* just Did Not
Compute. Darien was guarded, quiet, and occasionally bordered on bitter.
Serena was his polar opposite; she was so friendly, so open and warm,
so…so…so *young*!

What the hell was Darien doing with a schoolgirl, anyway?!

Urgh. His brain was starting to lock up again. Andrew reviewed what he knew:

1) Darien and Serena had nothing approaching fuzzy feelings for one another.
Serena's tendency to get steamed when Darien was within a mile of her had
made this patently obvious on more than one occasion, and Darien himself had
commented more than once on her immaturity.

2) Darien had abruptly disappeared for several weeks and come back with a
plausible but unlikely excuse. During that time, Serena had seemed depressed
for a period but quickly bounced back to normal. She gave no sign that she
knew where Darien was, much less that she was meeting him secretly. She'd
spent as much time at the Arcade as she always did; sudden absences would
have been noticed.

3) With absolutely no warning, Darien had practically dropped out of the sky.
Soon after he was spotted kissing Serena with an intensity usually reserved for
last-minute term papers.

Therein did the logic break down.

Why was this happening? Heck, why was he so freaked out by this? Under
normal circumstances, Andrew would applaud the fact that Darien appeared to
have found someone. It was tough sometimes, to be so happy with Rita, even
when they were continents apart, and to watch his best friend walk through life
pretending he didn't need anyone. But these just weren't normal circumstances,
and Darien's aberrant behavior had Andrew perplexed. Maybe Rita could make
some sense out of this; they'd agreed to call each other every two weeks, and
today was his turn. Calculating in the time difference, it would be just late
enough to call her in Kenya. He sighed, flipped the door sign to "Closed," and
headed to the back room.

***

"Hey, Serena! Wait up!" Molly ran across the schoolyard and yanked on
Serena's sleeve to get her attention. "Geez, what's wrong with you? I shouted
and shouted but you didn't even look my way!"

"Huh? Oh, sorry, Moll," Serena replied, dopey grin firmly plastered to her face.
"I guess I was thinking about something else."

"Or someone else. Was that Darien driving you to school?" Molly asked
excitedly. "I thought you two hated each other! Are you a couple now?"

"Erm, well, that is…" Serena's cheeks flushed as she struggled for an answer that
would satisfy her inquisitive best friend. Moon princesses and making out aside,
she was hesitant to define her relationship with Darien in any specific terms. It
was too new. Serena had never been in love before--in this lifetime, at least--but
if this was what it felt like, she wanted to keep it private for a bit longer. It just
felt right.

"Hey girls!" Serena's heart leapt at the unexpected rescue, then sunk to the pit of
her stomach as she turned to see Melvin. "Who was that guy?" he demanded,
further compounding her misery. "What were you doing in his car? He looked
way too old for you, Serena. You shouldn't hang out with guys who have cars.
They're bad news."

"Oh, grow up, Melvin," Molly growled. "Serena can date whoever she wants.
Don't get mad just because it's not you. So, is he your boyfriend?"

"Yeah, we wanna know too!" Yet another pair of grinning fiends entered the
fray as Lita and Amy jogged up. "What *is* happening with you and Darien? I
heard someone saw you totally playing tonsil hockey by the arcade," Lita added,
her eyes twinkling.

Serena gulped. Three of her friends were staring at her with looks of rabid
interest, one with incredulous horror. There was no way out. Her shoulders
slumped as she mentally gave in and began to tell them everything.

Well, almost everything.

***

Darien Chiba was practically whistling as he drove down the streets of Tokyo.
Well, not whistling. More like humming. Actually, it was mostly just a big grin.
Okay, it was really more of a pleasant expression than anything else, but it was
*very* pleasant. And it was Darien, which made the expression an unusual
occurrence to begin with.

He felt strange, almost as much as he had this morning. Darien wasn't so full of
doom and gloom that he couldn't identify happiness. The day he'd moved out
of the orphanage into his own apartment, the moment he'd realized that Andrew
would truly be a loyal friend to him…those had been happy days. But today
was more than happy. Darien would need a thesaurus to accurately describe this
day. He'd escaped the clutches of a wicked queen, found his true self while
losing only semester's worth of tuition and he got the girl. Not at all a bad deal
for a lurk-by-night masked superhero.

Darien chuckled and hoped that Serena was in as good a mood as he was. He'd
restrained himself to a brief peck and a promise to pick her up after school
instead of a melding their mouths and driving off to a secluded area, but from
the wide eyes on her friends' faces, they'd caused something of a stir. He
supposed it wasn't every day that a junior high student was dropped off by a
college student with a car, unless the student was with an older sibling. But
then, Serena was special. He wanted to make her feel that way tonight, on their
official first date. `If you don't count a thousand year old courtship and
engagement,' his mental voice added. Speaking of that--no matter how right the
names Serenity and Endymion felt to him, no matter how surely he knew that
they were meant to be together, he certainly *felt* nervous. Being a prince didn't
guarantee social skills, he mused. It had been a long time since he'd been on a
date, and besides, the last one had been with Andrew's sister's friend's cousin
who needed an escort to her high school dance.

Andrew. Darien suddenly wondered what to tell his best friend about his new
relationship. Should he even try? Darien gnawed his lip in uncertainty, only
half-focused on driving as he mentally switched to autopilot. It wasn't that he
wanted to hide anything from Andrew, much as he'd gotten used to it during the
past year. It was just--he struggled to explain it even to himself. Darien wasn't
one for self-pity, but he'd lost so much in the course of his life, not even counting
what they'd all lost when the Silver Millennium fell, but Serena was here now.
Whatever was between them belonged to them alone. He wanted to hold onto it
a bit longer before releasing it to public scrutiny. He wondered if Serena would
understand how he felt.

Darien nearly swerved off the road in panic as a sudden thought hit him--just
where was he going to take Serena? Sure, he'd pictured soft lighting, closeness,
and privacy, but not an actual location. What was a good place for a first date?
Darien frowned. He could transform, sprint across town, and arrive at a youma
fight just in time to throw a rose and toss out an inspiring line, but dating
required a lot more planning. Come to think of it, he'd never really planned one
before. He'd never actually pursued a girl. Whenever one was interested in him,
she'd coyly suggest something they could do together and would Darien simply
acquiesce. He'd never had to return the favor for their second date because he'd
never been interested long enough to go on one. But Darien definitely planned
on sticking around Serena--for the rest of their lives. He wanted to start things
out right.

Maybe he should ask Andrew where he'd taken Rita for their first date. Even
though she was thousands of miles away in Africa, their relationship remained
strong. He'd have to get the information without letting Andrew know why he
wanted it, but that shouldn't be difficult. Andrew had always respected Darien's
privacy.
***
"Rita, you don't understand--he was kissing her. No, more than kissing, he was
practically fondling her. His tongue was in her mouth!"

His girlfriend's laughter pealed through thousands of miles of phone line. "Well,
it's about time it was in someone's mouth!" she gasped at last.

"RITA! That's not funny!"

"I'm sorry!" she cried. "It's just…the image is so funny."

"It is not! It's disturbing!"

Rita laughed again. "Oh, come on, Andrew. Darien and little Serena…don't tell
me that's not sweet."

"That's just it! `Little' Serena. Rita, she's only fourteen. She's just a child! I
don't know what's gotten into Darien. He's acting like…like a dirty old man!"

"He's a lonely man," Rita corrected. "Andrew, you're the closest friend Darien's
got, but you're a rarity. He walks alone through too many crowds. He needs
someone to love and I for one am happy for him."

"I want to be happy for him," Andrew protested. "It'd be great if Darien finally
found the right girl, but he hasn't. Serena's too young for a real relationship.
She's a great girl, but she can't give Darien what he needs. Besides, the last time
I saw Darien he couldn't stand Serena. This is the same guy who once told me
that he couldn't stay interested in any girl for more than fifteen minutes. And
now he's making out with `Meatball Head' in the middle of the sidewalk?"

"They were in the middle of the sidewalk? Wow. I'm impressed. I didn't know
Darien was such an exhibitionist."

"That's not the point! I mean, he isn't, that is the point. Last month he hates her,
now he's kissing her? And it was a serious kiss. I could have hired a marching
band to have a parade around them and they wouldn't have noticed. There's
something fishy going on here, Rita."

"Andrew, you can't honestly think he's taking advantage of her," Rita said,
sounding concerned for the first time. "I mean, this is Darien. If he told a lie, his
nose would grow six feet."

"Normally, I'd agree with you, but he did have a head injury. They can affect
people in weird ways. I'm going to keep a close eye on him for a while."

"Just don't interfere with his business," she warned. "I've got to get going, love.
We have an early day tomorrow and I've got a lot of work left."

"Okay," Andrew said. "I'll count the days until your call. I love you, Rita."

"I love you too, sweetie. Bye."

Andrew hung up the phone and stared at it. Rita had a way of effortlessly
calming him down when he was tense. One of the million reasons he missed her
so much. Could she be right? It was true that Darien didn't let people get too
close to him. He even kept Andrew at a certain distance, and they'd been friends
for years. It would be nice to see him smile more. He'd certainly looked happy
that morning, and God knew he deserved to be, even if the person causing that
happiness was a fourteen-year-old…junior high student…with pigtails…

What was he thinking? Of course Rita was wrong! The situation was abnormal.
Aberrant, and it plain didn't make sense. Andrew just had to find Darien and
force him to come to his senses before he made a bigger mistake than he already
had.

He got his chance a few hours later when Darien walked in. He took a seat by
the counter and Andrew struggled to keep a neutral expression and just kept
wiping it down. "Welcome home, again," he said.

"Thanks," Darien said. "Although the amount of dust in my apartment almost
makes me wish I'd stayed unconscious. At least then I wouldn't have to see the
mess."

Andrew grinned. "Darien, you need to embrace the mess. Make friends with it.
It's unnatural for a college student's apartment to be as immaculate as yours is."

Darien laughed. "Sorry, pal, but I've got to be me. Actually, seeing all that dust
is pretty startling. It doesn't feel like I've been gone that long."

"Long enough for us to worry," Andrew said. "I called Rita this morning. She
was glad to know you're all right."

"How's she doing, anyway? Does Africa agree with her?" Darien asked, looking
almost guilty for an instant.

"She's great. Her studies are going well. She might even finish a semester
early."

Darien chuckled. "I always ask her what such a smart girl is doing with a
schmuck like you, but she never answers me."

"Charm, man. Pure charm." Andrew grinned knowingly. "Plus my devastating
good looks. Just one date, and she had to have me."

Darien rolled his eyes. "Sure. And I'm a Sailor Senshi."

"Darien. I do not need the image of you in a tiny little skirt and bows." Andrew
grimaced.

Darien laughed. "Just trying to keep your swelled head from floating off your
shoulders. What did you guys do on your first date, anyways? I want to know
your amazing technique."

"Well, I was pretty broke back then," Andrew admitted. "All I could afford was
dinner, so afterwards, instead of a movie, I took her for a boat ride on the lake at
the park."

"You have a boat?"

"It's just a tiny old rowboat," Andrew said. "It was my dad's, but when he
decided he didn't want it anymore I took it and patched it up."

"Gee, Andrew, how come you never took me out for a moonlight boat ride? I'm
hurt," Darien teased.

"It worked, didn't it? I got the girl," Andrew retorted. "But then, you're not
looking for commitment. You wouldn't be interested in an actual relationship."
He watched Darien closely to catch his reaction to that.

He just laughed again. "There are a lot of things you don't know about me," he
said.

"Really. Well, if you ever do fall in love, let me know. I'll be sure to alert the
press." Andrew said.

Darien looked away. "I'll do that," he said. "Hey, do you think I could borrow
your boat later?"

Andrew blinked. "Tonight? What for?" Darien hesitated. "What, do you have
a date or something?" Andrew asked pointedly.

"No! It's…for my bio lab. My professor said I could make up some of the time I
lost by collecting water samples," Darien said quickly.

"Why can't you just get them from the edge of the pond?"

"Too muddy."

"Uh…sure, then. It's in the storage room at my apartment complex. Here, let me
give you the code." He scribbled the number on a napkin and handed it over.

"Thanks, Andrew. I appreciate it." Darien glanced at his watch. "Geez, today is
flying by. I've got to go."

"Already? It's only two thirty."

"I've got…things to do. I'll see you later."

Andrew narrowed his eyes as he watched Darien leave. "Things to do…I'll just
bet," he murmured. Andrew was sure that something was wrong with Darien,
as if that morning's display hadn't been convincing enough. Darien wasn't a bad
liar, but Andrew knew a flimsy excuse when he heard one. If Darien had really
fallen for Serena, why would he try to hide their relationship? If he was
ashamed of her…or of himself. Or if he didn't expect it to last long. Andrew
shook his head. Darien's behavior was too…well, un-Darien, for him to make
sense of it. The only thing he was certain of was that Darien was hiding
things…and he was going to take sweet, innocent Serena out on the lake…in a
tiny boat…where they'd be alone together and totally isolated. Andrew certainly
didn't trust Darien's intentions in that kind of situation. He'd had the same kind
once.

Andrew made up his mind. He flipped the arcade's sign to "Closed" and left a
note for Lizzie or one of the other staff members to take charge for the afternoon.
The next shift was due to arrive in fifteen minutes, but he didn't have that long to
wait. He grabbed his coat and headed for the door.

Once and for all, he was going to find out what was happening to Darien.