A/N: CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? I'm alliiiiveeeeeee. Seems like I dropped off the face of the universe, didn't it? Nope, just being a terrible updater and all-around failure. But here's the chapter, finally :) Btw, I seriously love you all for sticking with me for this long… and especially for those of you who have been reviewing even though I haven't updated in what… two years? I do it all for you lovelies!

Hope this chapter answers some questions. I'm sorry to say it IS something of a filler, but it's necessary for the continuation of the story. Enjoy! :)


Crescendo

Chapter 10: Our Souls Stay Bound

When Serena finally felt the clutches of sleep release her, as opposed to seeing the sun high in the sky like before, the sky was streaked pink and purple as the sun was setting far behind the vast expanse of trees.

As usual, it took her a few moments to fully awaken, and when she did, she immediately realized that Darien was no longer in bed. It amazed her that she'd even noticed, but what bothered her was that she even cared.

As much as she didn't want to admit it, she liked strength and security she felt in his arms. She liked how he would hold her in his arms, even while asleep.

She liked him. Yeah. She really did.

She wouldn't deny it anymore. It was hard enough to deny that she was falling in love with him, so she wouldn't deny that she at least liked him.

It wasn't a strange occurrence, her liking someone. After all, she'd been in love before. Before all... this, she'd gone on dates with men, fancied herself in love with two, slept with one, and had her heartbroken by another. Even still, her "love" for those men paled in comparison with her "like" for Darien.

Had it been any other situation, i.e. he was human, she was human, he was just a normal man, she had remained just a normal woman - she'd probably still feel the same about him. Like, love, lust; whatever it was, it was just the vampire/demon/non-human/some-really-weird-stuff-going-on factor that made things so much more difficult.

But really, were things that difficult?

One thing was for sure, Darien could've at least handled their initial meeting with a little more finesse.

But I doubt that I would've been any more cooperative.

Stretching, Serena slid out of the raised bed, and padded over to the bathroom. She took a long, luxurious bath in the wide, sunken Jacuzzi tub and when she finished and stepped back into the room, the sun had already set and the stars were out playing.

Slipping into a pair of black skinny jeans, one of Darien's sweaters (Serena had to resist the urge to rub her face against the soft material) and a pair of flats, she headed out.

Serena was determined to go and see her friends today (as well as to make sure Amy was okay in the hands of Zoicite) and reassure them of her safety. Darien was still nowhere to be seen, which was strange, considering his rather unnerving habit of popping up out of nowhere.

She headed down the sweeping stairs down to the main foyer, intending to head for the garage when she thought, But where the heck was the garage again?

The last time, Darien had done the Harry Potter pop-in-and-out thing. So how the hell was she supposed to find it?

Unexpectedly, she felt her back tingle and got the strange feeling that someone was watching. She whirled around and saw back at the foot of the stairs a man and a woman. Again, as before, somehow she just knew it...

Vampires.

She could tell the man was powerful, probably more powerful than Zoicite. She could sense the tightly reigned control of his powerful aura. Tall, with dark brown hair and eerie metallic silver eyes, he looked to be around thirty-five or so. The woman beside him was absolutely gorgeous, with the height of a model and thick, lushly waving chestnut hair. She didn't feel as threatening to Serena as the man, but she could tell that the woman still held some power, nonetheless.

The man spoke first. "Good evening. My name is Nephrite Tremain, and-"

"I'm Lita! Listen, I know you're probably weirded out a bit right now, considering that like, 'Woah, one moment it was empty, and now, people! Poof! Out of nowhere!' and all that stuff, but don't worry, we're friends of his Majesty."

She didn't, but Serena really wanted to snort at that "his Majesty" bit.

"As I was saying, I am Nephrite, one of Darien's advisers. This is my Mate, Lita. Unfortunately, Darien had to leave for a short time on some business, so he contacted us to come help you with anything you may need."

And/or to probably make sure I don't run away, Serena thought dryly. "Um, thanks. Then do you think you could tell me where the garage is? I'd like to drive to city so that my family knows I'm okay."

Nephrite remained silent, his face a stone mask.

"Errrr about that honey..." Lita began.

"Lemme guess, I'm not allowed to leave and you guys are here to make sure of that?" Like him? She liked him? She could've cheerfully murdered him.

"Well no, you can leave, it's just that-"

"Darien wanted us to tell you that you are allowed to leave the premises at any time that you wish, it's just that he strongly advises and wishes for you to wait for him."

"Well I'm going, and you can tell His Majesty that I could really care less what-"

"He said he wishes for you to wait, for he too, would like to meet and address your family and friends. Together." Nephrite finished.

Oh. Well when he put it that way... All the bluster deflated out of Serena. "Fine..." She grumbled. "I'll wait." She plopped down on the bottom step with a petulant "hmph". "Do you know what time he'll probably be back?"

"He said it wouldn't take too long, so probably another hour or two at the most. Meanwhile, here." Lita thrust forward a small box. "A welcome-to-the-neighborhood gift."

Serena jumped up and took the box, her enhanced sense of smell picking up the luscious aroma of chocolate, caramel, and vanilla.

"It's yellow cake with caramel swirls and chocolate icing. I don't know what's your favorite yet so I decided to go with a general crowd pleaser."

She had already started salivating at the word 'yellow cake'. "Thanks! It smells absolutely mind-bogglingly delicious. Would you like to have some with me?" she asked politely, remembering her manners. Goodness, if her mother (God bless her soul) had seen the way she'd been acting for the past few days, carrying on and on and yelling like a shrew... Well, yeah...

Lita's happy smile was genuine, and her eyes sparkled in excitement. "Love to. Nephrite? Coming?" Her voice sounded inviting but her eyes said suggested otherwise.

Go away! Let me make a new friend. I think you kind of scare her.

But I want some cake too!

I made some cupcakes with the leftover batter. Go eat those at home.

I love you.

Psh. You'd better.

Nephrite flashed a quick grin at Lita, there and gone so fast that Serena thought she imagined it. "As much as I'd love to, I'm afraid I must attend to some other... urgent matters to attend to. Your Highness, it was an honor to meet you." He swept into an impressive low bow before disappearing.

Still too stunned at the "Your Highness", all Serena could manage was a confused, "uh huh?" before Lita started tugging her along.

"Follow me; the kitchen's this way."

Well duh, Serena. If Darien's the King, and you guys are "married", then basically... Yea. What the fuck? Queen?

"... so if you go that way it'll lead down to the gym. But if you turn right over there you'll end up hitting the pantry... Although I personally think it's more like a grocery store."

"I'm sorry, what?" Serena was feeling a tad overwhelmed by number one, the fact that she was a "queen" (I think...), number two, the smell of the cake, and number three, the numerous twists and turns they were taking just to reach the damn kitchen.

Lita laughed. "Never mind. I'll just have to go rummage up a map for you somewhere. I'm sure Mrs. Montgomery has one."

"Mrs. Montgomery?"

"The head housekeeper. She, along with Sir, the head butler, basically oversee the household. Sir and Mrs. Montgomery are actually married, but for some reason completely beyond me, everyone calls him Sir."

"I hadn't even realized that there were other people here..." Serena said faintly. "How come I never saw anyone?"

Lita looked at her as if she were crazy. "Are you kidding? Any sane vampire split from here within the first few minutes of your arrival. The combination of your power as well as the King's... It was much too overwhelming for many of us to handle. For such a small thing, you sure hold quite a bit of lethal power."

"Uh... Thanks."

"Don't take it the wrong way, I mean the King's mate would have to be quite powerful in order to hold her own. That's only fair."

"What do you mean, 'fair'?"

Lita gave her a puzzled look. "Don't tell me that - oh Darien, that idiot!" For the first time, Lita referred to Darien as something other than "the King" or "His Majesty." It made Serena smile a bit.

"Lemme guess, he basically kidnapped you, knocked you out, terrified you with his big-bad-I'm-a-super-crazy-powerful-vampire-you-better-obey attitude, turned you into a vampire, and voila! We're mates!" She fixed a steely-eyed glare in Serena's direction. "That's basically what happened isn't it?"

Well, save for the parts where she basically all but melted in his arms, and tried to jump his bones on more than one occasion, that sounded about right. Serena gave a meek nod and tried not to cower before Lita's fuming and impressive stature.

"OH OF COURSE IT IS!" She exploded. "I swear to all that's holy, these men have peanuts for brains! Don't they know that humans have to treated carefully? Jeezus! After living all these years you'd think they'd learn something by now..." Lita continued to mutter unpleasant things under her breath.

"Uh... Cake?" Serena was seriously going to break down any moment and starting begging on her knees.

"Oh, uh, yea. Sorry about that. The kitchen's right here."

Serena settled herself behind the gleaming marble counter on one of the raised stools as Lita busied herself around the huge, impressive kitchen. Setting down two plates of cake along with some coffee, she continued. "Anyways, before I got a bit, *ahem*, carried away, I was saying that the whole idea of 'mates' is a rather intricate thing. You have to understand, vampires, no matter how old or powerful they are, get only one chance at finding that one other being that fits them, mind, body, and soul. I know it all sounds pretty ridiculous and corny, but it's true. For many vampires who can't bear the thought of living eternity alone, this is their one saving grace - the hope that there is or will be someone who is your perfect partner in every way."

"But can't vampires take lovers? And what about those who have to wait?"

"Of course they can, but only vampires who are mated can take blood from each other. Other than that, we must feed strictly on human or animal blood. Otherwise, the blood of a vampire to another vampire is like poison."

"Note to self: avoid vampire blood," Serena muttered under her breath, conveniently forgetting one particular vampire whose blood she had thoroughly enjoyed.

"While some vampires are fortunate enough to find their mates within their first few years, some such as the King, have waited for centuries. Frankly speaking, no one thought he was going to last this long. No one ever has. Most give up at least after five centuries or so…"

"Give up?"

"Suicide."

The word hung between them for a few heavy moments. "But I thought vampires were immortal. How..."

"Some go on a insane rampage, bleeding other vampires dry until the poison consumes their body. Others just step outside and catch the full force of the sun's rays. And some just drive a stake into their own hearts."

"So that's not a myth? The wooden-stake-in-heart thing?"

"Who wouldn't die after having something driven into their heart?"

"Well, yeah..."

"And actually it doesn't have to be wood. Basically there are four ways to kill a vampire. Listen up carefully now," Lita said in her best teacher voice. "First, by direct sunlight, although how long it takes varies depending on how powerful one is."

Serena almost blurted out the fact that she could stand the sunlight, but stopped herself. She really didn't want to have to tell others about her... demonic side.

"Second, blood poisoning. Again, the younger you are, the more effective the poison is. Some will die with just a sip, others can fully drain up to four or five vampires. Third, decapitation. Not much to be said about that. Decapitation is decapitation."

"Gotcha. Don't get my head chopped off."

"And finally, being staked. Mind you, if the stake is removed immediately after, there is some chance of healing, but it's extremely rare."

"What happens when vampires get drained? It doesn't kill them?"

"No, but it does pretty much fully incapacitates them. Think of it this way: for us, blood is strength and power, so without blood, we become powerless; even weaker than humans, for it becomes almost impossible to move."

"I see." So vampires weren't as almighty and powerful as she thought. With the way Darien was behaving, she thought they were pretty much invinc-

"However this is pretty much irrelevant when applied to his Majesty. As an Ancient, he is one of the most powerful beings on earth. I don't even know how old he is; for that matter, neither does Nephrite, and they're close friends." Lita gave a little shudder. "I don't ever want to see the full extent of his powers..."

Great. Just freaking great. No wonder he was so flippin' arrogant. One of the most powerful beings on earth. And she was married to him.

So much for normalcy.

Lita misinterpreted the stricken look on Serena's face. "Well don't worry, you don't have to be afraid of him," she hurried. "The thing is, as his mate, you share not only hearts, but mind and soul as well. You may not be used to it yet, but you'll soon learn all the ways in which you're connected. This also means that his power flows through you, and yours through him. Do you understand?"

Well yeah, she understood. But that didn't mean it made it any less mind boggling. She sighed. "Yeah, I guess..."

"Well now! Don't look so glum! It won't be too bad once you get used to it. Besides, at least you won't be alone through it all." Lita looked away, eyes downcast. "Before I met Nephrite, I uh, was in a pretty bad state. No one was there to explain it all to me and it was all just... Yeah... It was bad. But fortunately we met not ten years after I was turned. He saved my life."

"How did you meet?"

"Let's just say I was something of a mindless, human-chomping animal and without thinking, chose Nephrite as my next dinner. Once I sank my fangs in I figured out he was a vampire... Needless to say we were both pretty surprised that I didn't immediately die from blood poisoning."

"How... Romantic."

"Isn't it just?" She gave a wistful sigh. "He helped me clean up my act soon after. It took awhile, but eventually I returned to myself. And now look! I get to bake, I have a beautiful daughter, a wonderful husband and a place to call home. It's like a fucking Disney movie." She blushed. "Excuse my language. I try not to slip up too much these days. Lapis has the ears of a bat. No pun intended."

Now that really caught her attention. "You've got to be kidding me. The bat thing is true?"

Lita chewed on her lip while thinking. "Hm this is a bit complicated. But lemme try and explain: no, not all vampires can turn into bats; just a few. The whole bat thing just got blown out of proportion with books and movies and such. But honestly, if you could shapeshift into an animal, who the hell would choose a bat? Ridiculous, right? Anyways, vampires have the ability to change into only one kind of animal at any given time. It is the "beastly" nature of the vampire I suppose."

"So then how does a vampire choose what animal? Is just random choice?"

"No, it's more of a favorite. Think of it this way - didn't you have a favorite animal that you were just fascinated with as a child? It was your favorite stuffed animal, or the first thing you'd choose to see at a zoo. Mine for example, is a cat." She screwed up her nose in distaste. "I have to admit though, I was a bit disappointed to discover that my animal form was a little house cat, especially compared to some of the more impressive forms I've seen."

Serena thought about what Lita was saying. A favorite animal? She had so many! Dogs, cats, dolphins, pandas, koalas - oh god, what if she turned into some sluggish koala?

"Anyways, don't worry too much about it. It'll come to you eventually. As of now, you're very young but you'll being learning new things about yourself everyday."

What else could there possibly be? She learned she was part demon, part vampire, had wings, can't die, married to a king... God I hope there's nothing else. "Yea, I guess... Thanks for talking me through all this by the way - I've been at a complete loss for the past few days. You've brought a sense of normalcy back into my life, not to mention some delicious cake."

"Don't mention it - I know how you feel. But don't worry, you get the hang of it eventually. Meanwhile, you have Darien and all 300,000 of your subjects to turn to." She winked playfully at the mention of 'subjects'.

"THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND? Holy honkin' trucks that's a lot of vamps."

"Not really, when you compare it to the size of the world - it's not even the population of a big city. Besides, we all live pretty spread apart, so vampires rarely run into one another."

Three hundred thousand subjects. Ew. What a shuddering thought. "So do you have wings too?"

"What?" Lita looked startled at the question.

"Wings. Or does just have to do with the whole inner-animal thing?"

"I don't really understand. Where did you get the idea that vampires have wings?"

"Um. Darien. He has a really huge set of black feathery wings. Isn't that a vampire thing too?"

Lita sucked in a harsh breath. "You saw them? You saw his majesty's wings?" She looked in shock and in awe at the same time.

"Well, yea." Maybe this wouldn't be the best time to mention her own wings. Apparently it wasn't a normal "vampire thing".

"That's… That's really amazing. I don't know anyone who's ever seen them… Not even Nephrite… I mean there have been rumors, but no one really ever believes them…" Lita was muttering to herself, clearly still shocked.

"Soooo then I'm assuming it's not a normal thing?"

"Well, no, not really. It's rumored that only really, really powerful beings have wings. Sure, there are some vampires whose animal alter-egos are birds, but to have wings on your whole self…" Her voice trailed off, as she became lost in her thoughts. "From what I understand, the wings are not wings in the normal sense - after all, what use would a vampire have for wings when they could easily fly without them? These wings instead, are basically the physical manifestation of the individual's power. But these individuals are incredibly rare. The degree of power they hold… They are evident in the wings, almost as if it's too much for the body to hold."

"Wow. That's… Something."

"No kidding. If you don't mind me asking, when did you see them?"

"Uh not to long ago. He was, ah, angry. We got into a fight." Serena finished lamely. It seemed like these wings were a big deal, and it was rather embarrassing to explain how a fight was the reason for Darien's fury.

"Oh."

"Yeah…"

Lita broke the ensuing silence first. "Well, nice to know someone can make His Majesty show some real emotions," she joked lightly.

"That's one way to look at it," Serena replied with a wry grin. "By the way, there's something else that I've been wondering about… something very important to me." Serena hesitated. She feared the answer, but she simply had to know. Had to. "About having kids… I mean I don't know if I would even want to have kids with Darien, considering the fact that I'm supposed to be mad at him and hate him and all that but if want to have kids I need to know now so I can prepare myself with the idea of never having a child of my own and I mean, I don't know if Darien even wants a kid and I don't know why I'm even considering making him the father of my children but I mean with this whole weird situation and all I just figured…" She trailed off, forcing herself to stop rambling like a crazy person. She took a deep breath and continued, "What I mean to ask is - will I still be able to have children?"

The serious look on Lita's face was making Serena nervous. "Look, I'm not going to lie to you about this. The thing is, it is possible, but it's very rare for a vampire couple to conceive." Then she smiled. "But don't worry, most mated pairs will eventually conceive at least one child in their lifetime together. As for Nephrite and I, we got lucky - I conceived a little after my 6th decade with Nephrite. I've heard of couples waiting for centuries."

"You have a child? How old is he? She?"

"She. Lapis." Lita smiled the soft smile that only a mother could have, full of adoration and exasperation at the same. "She just turned four, and is already quite the beautiful little terror."

"Is she…"

"Yes, she is a vampire as well. But she still just a child in many ways - she is still much more vulnerable than an adult vampire, even a newly-turned one, nor does she have full control of her abilities quite yet. She'll also age at a normal rate, until she reaches her "prime" - which can be in her twenties, thirties, or even forties. Whichever age her body is at its peak in health, energy, and strength; somehow the body just knows and will physically stop aging at that time."

Something inside of her loosened, like the fist around her heart had finally opened. It hadn't been a concern that she had voiced aloud until now, because she had been terrified to hear the answer. But now that she knew… She could breathe. Could hope.

A child. Her own flesh and blood, to hold in her arms. A vampire child, but it seemed inconsequential at this point. After all, that just meant that she wouldn't have to see her children die, wouldn't have to suffer the pain of watching them grow old and fade away… She suppressed a shiver at the thought. That would be the worst sort of torture I could possibly imagine. Darien's baby… The thought brought to mind a picture of a dark haired cherub, with Darien's midnight black hair and her blue eyes.

What? What am I thinking? Having kids with Darien… I'm seriously losing my mind. She frowned and asked Lita hesitatingly, "Well that's a huge relief to hear, but… Is it only mated pairs who can have children? I mean, could a single vampire just find a, I dunno, baby daddy?"

Lita laughed, a big, booming sound that somehow suited her perfectly. "A baby daddy?" She snorted and snickered at the term before continuing. "Well I suppose so, but I've never heard of a vampire who wasn't mated being patient enough to wait decades in order to become pregnant. It takes a deep sense of commitment and connection - something you can usually only find with a mate. But that's not something you have to worry about anyways. After all, you have His Majesty, and you two will have-" She stopped suddenly, and carefully looked at Serena, who tried her best not to squirm under her intense examination.

Feeling inexplicably ashamed, Serena was the first to break eye contact and look away, her previous appetite for the cake vanishing. She had nothing to feel bad about… Right? It's not as if I asked for this… relationship or whatever. So theoretically if I wanted to be with someone else, that wouldn't be cheating… I think. Right? God I don't even know…

Lita gently covered Serena's hand with her own. Looking up, she saw that Lita's face expressed a combination of sympathy and understanding. "Look, I know this is hard right now, and I'm sure Darien didn't make it any easier for you, but you could just try and do one thing?"

"What?" Serena whispered.

"Just give it time. A year, a few months, or even a few more weeks. Just give him a chance, and try to be patient with him." She smiled mischievously. "Despite their oh-so-mighty powers and centuries of life, one thing doesn't change for most men. Boys are dumb!" Serena had to laugh at that. It was hard to think of Darien as anything other than one-hundred percent, grade-A man.

"And that's why I'm asking you to be patient. 'Cause like all boys, he'll say stupid things, and do even more stupid things. But it's all to get the attention of the girl he likes. And as the superior sex-" Serena laughed again at Lita's imperious tone of voice. "-we need to be magnanimous enough to overlook their stupidity and guide them in the right direction."

Time. Well she certainly had all the time in the world now, didn't she? It was a thought that might've depressed her earlier, having this life and all its changes forced upon her, but now… It didn't seem quite as painful to think about anymore.

She nodded. "I think I could do that."

"Good. Now I don't know about you, but I've been eyeing the cake throughout this entire conversation. Shall we?"

"You go on ahead and help yourself first. I'll wait until Darien comes home."