Invalid Response - Chapter 1

Original ANs: Oh, yeah - I think I'll dedicate this to my beloved Mei-chan, EA. She's the one who made sure this was in a format I could submit it in. Besides, she's silly. And one more thing: I got the basic idea for my plot from a story titled "Promise Me Forever" by Lilly. Everything else is all me - promise. You can find it at Kawaii Love (which is where I found it). Thank you, Lilly!

New ANs: It's been quite a while since I took this one out and dusted it for perusal... and I decided it was worth sharing. I hope you all enjoy! So everyone knows, this takes place after Sailor Venus' arrival, but Tuxedo Mask wasn't injured and didn't have his real identity revealed. Everything else up to that point is valid. And now... on with the show!

(fade out...)

(begin chapter...)

"So what do you guys want to do with your lives after school is over?" Serena asked as she thoughtfully stirred her soda with her straw.

"I'm going to have my own restaurant, and maybe a flower shop, or a bakery. And I definitely want to get married and have a family," Lita said excitedly.

"I want to be a famous actress and model. That would be so cool!" Mina sighed as she gazed off into space, her answer drawing her into a common fantasy.

"I'll probably take over the shrine. I kinda like that idea," Raye said thoughtfully.

"I'm going to be a doctor, like my mother," Amy said. She then looked questioningly at the girl who started this train of thought. "Why do you ask, Serena?"

The blonde girl with the unique hairstyle frowned. "I don't know, Ames. We were talking about this stuff in one of my classes today, and everyone seemed to have an answer but me. I mean, I have a few interests I'd like to maybe look into, but nothing for sure. I just wish I could be as sure as you guys about what my future holds."

Amy smiled. "Don't worry too much, Serena. We're only in eighth grade. There's plenty of time for you to decide what you want to do. In the meantime, why don't you do a little research into those fields you said you were thinking about? Maybe you'll find one of those to your liking."

Serena's eyes regained their sparkle. "Thanks, Ames. You're right. I'll find something that I want to do."

"Now if only you could find something that you can do. That would be a miracle," a deep voice said from right behind her.

Serena turned around quickly while her friends tried not to laugh. "No, Darien, the miracle would be you keeping your mouth shut for any decent amount of time."

The ebony-haired young man's midnight-blue eyes shone with suppressed mirth at the flush in the cheeks that capped the expression of the girl's face before him. "But Meatball Head, I've been quiet for your entire conversation. Isn't that long enough for you?"

Annoyance flashed in her sapphire-blue eyes. "As a matter of fact, no. Keep it shut forever, and we'll see."

Darien smirked. "Aw, now where's the fun in that, Meatball Head?"

Serena fumed. "Don't call me that, you egotistical jerk! The name is Serena! If you're going to open that big mouth of yours, you might as well do it right! Serena!"

His smile got wider. "Right. Do it right. Meatball Head! There! Got it!" He laughed just as Serena was ready to boil over. "Well, as much fun as this has been, I must be going. Ladies, Meatball Head." He bowed sarcastically at the fuming blonde and left the café.

The other four girls broke out laughing as Serena growled in frustration. "Oooo, that jerk! I can't believe him! How dare he!" Her gaze briefly flittered over her watch. "Oh, no! I'm going to be late! It figures! That jerk is always screwing up my life!" She threw some money onto the table as she stood. "I'll see you guys later, okay?"

"Sure, later, Serena!" Lita said brightly.

"Don't forget about the short Scout meeting tonight at eight," Raye said as Serena stepped away from the table.

"I won't. Later!" Serena waved as she dashed out the doors.

"So, what did she have to hurry out of here for?" Mina asked.

"Oh, Serena's been volunteering at the hospital for the past few months, at least once a week. My mom says she's really very good," Amy explained.

"Hmph!" Raye smirked. "What do you know, the Meatball Head is good at something!"

"That's not fair, Raye," Amy scolded.

"Really. Lighten up," Lita said in Serena's defense.

The black-haired priestess held up her hands in surrender. "Alright, alright, I give up. I'm not that shocked, honest. I just wasn't expecting to hear it, that's all."

Mina smiled mysteriously. "I think Serena will surprise us all yet. Just you wait and see." The other girls looked at her quizzically as she merely sipped at her shake.

(fade out...)

(scene change...)

Darien took his time as he wandered toward his apartment to finish his homework for the evening. A small smile played on his lips as he replayed his encounter at the café. The sparkling blue of her eyes, the slight pout of her lips, the bright blush of her cheeks; all these images of Serena remained firmly engrained in his imagination. He passed people without a second glance as he walked down the sidewalk, barely registering a red light in time to stop. His mind took the opportunity to wander over images of the meatball-headed angel that had stumbled into his life, while the five of so people waiting on and around the bus stop bench looked on in various states of sympathy and amusement. The light finally turned green, and Darien stepped from the curb into the street. As caught up in his inner world as he was, he never saw the teenage-packed convertible that hit him...

(cut to black...)

(scene change...)

Serena rushed into the volunteers' locker room at Tokyo General Hospital with only minutes to spare. As she quickly changed into her candy striper's outfit, her supervisor walked in. "Serena, you made it. I was a little worried. You've got the children's ward today, which means your usual patients with two changes. Jessica was discharged yesterday, said to say good-bye for her, and a new case - an 11-year-old boy named Jon. He broke his leg and is a little upset about it. I think that's about it unless you have any questions."

The girl smiled. "No, no questions, Nurse Jameson. Thanks."

Just as the older woman was about to leave, her pager beeped. "Whoa, a call to the ER. Must be busy down there. If I'm not back by the time you finish your shift, just report to the front desk. Have a good day." The black-haired woman hurried out of the room.

Serena frowned slightly at the thought of what it meant that the ER was busy, then suddenly straightened in shock as a sharp pain slammed into her lower back. Her bewilderment grew as the pain just as quickly disappeared. She shook her head to get the strange sensations out of her head and left for the children's ward, silently hoping there weren't to be any new arrivals today.

(scene change)

Serena smiled as she walked toward Nurse Jameson's office. The kids had been so happy to see her and wonderful to spend time with. Her three-hour shift flew by. Now she just had to check in with her supervisor and she could go home where her mother would have dinner put aside for her. Her smile grew at that thought. Her mom had been so proud of her when she had told her parents three months ago that she was volunteering at the hospital, and even prouder when Nurse Jameson had called and told her that Serena was doing an absolutely wonderful job.

As Serena reached the office door she noticed the woman she was looking for tiredly walking down the hall toward her. The nurse still had her scrubs on, and wore a dejected look on her face. "Hello, Serena," she said wearily as she approached the young blonde. "Why don't we go inside so I can sit down for a bit?" She opened the door and followed the volunteer in.

Once they were both seated, Serena proceeded with her usual end-of-the-day report. After she finished, she looked critically at the dark-haired woman in front of her. "Nurse Jameson, what's wrong? Something seems to be bothering you."

The lady smiled slightly. "That's why you do so well here, you know, Serena. You're so sensitive to everyone. I just got back from an operation in the ER. The young man had been in a car accident, and now it looks like he might be paralyzed from the waist down. The doctors aren't sure of anything right now. He was too young..." Her last statement trailed off.

"I'm sorry. Is there anything I can do?"

The woman looked up from her lap, where her gaze had fallen at the end of her speech. "Not right now, Serena. He might need someone like you later, but for now we'll have to see what happens. Thank you for everything, and I'm sorry if I've depressed you. Things will work out. You have a good night."

"You too, Nurse Jameson. You too." Serena then left for home.

(fade out...)

(scene change...)

A few days later, Serena and the gang walked into the arcade talking and laughing as usual. Andrew quickly approached them with a worried expression on his face. "Hey, girls, have any of you seen Darien around? He was supposed to meet me here after the dinner rush to help me with some last minute cramming I forgot I didn't need yesterday, but he never showed. He didn't call either, and that's just not like him. I tried calling his place, but there wasn't an answer."

A small chorus of "no's" quietly responded to the normally cheerful blond's query. A sudden chill ran up and down Serena's spine. "You're sure, Andrew?" she asked with wide eyes and a pale face.

A questioning look flitted across his face before he replied. "Yeah, Serena, I am. You're sure you haven't run into him at all? You guys seem to do that like you schedule it or something."

"No, I haven't, and I guess I was wondering what happened. Like you said, it happens like clockwork." She couldn't shake the feeling of dread that seemed to invade her being. For a brief moment, her lower back flared in pain, like what had happened at the hospital, and although it passed as quickly as it had come, it served to sharpen the dark cloud she felt.

Mina gently tugged on her fellow blonde's sleeve. "Come on, Serena. Let's go check out the new Sailor V game. We'll let you know if we hear anything, Andrew." The five girls started toward the bank of games that contained their goal.

"You'll do the same, won't you, Andrew?" Serena asked quietly as she was led away.

He nodded his agreement then pondered the petite girl's out-of-character concern. 'I wonder if she even realizes what she's feeling,' he thought. 'If she's as much like Darien as I think she is, probably not.' A small smile briefly lit his features then faded. 'Now if only I could find out what happened to him...'

"So, since when have you been interested in Darien's welfare, Serena? I thought he was just a conceited jerk that lived to torture you and make your life miserable?" Lita asked as Mina played the game. Amy sat to the game's right with her head buried in a textbook, and the girl in question sat on the short game stool to its left, hands clasped in her lap, eyes trained on the floor. The tall brunette stood behind the active blonde with Raye to her left, both girls watching the blonde with the meatballs.

Serena took a deep breath. "I've got a bad feeling about this and I don't know why. Something that goes beyond our little fights and run-ins. I guess I'm a bit worried."

"About Darien?" Lita asked, still bewildered.

"Even he doesn't deserve to have anything bad happen to him."

"I think there's something wrong," Raye said, her voice distant and her eyes slightly unfocused. She came back to Earth with a start. "My senses agree with Serena, but I don't think there's anything we can do about it right now. We'll have to wait and see what happens." She gave Serena a sympathetic look that she quickly buried under slight annoyance. "So quit your whining."

A smile appeared and faded as Serena decided to ignore the remark. Putting her uncomfortable feelings aside, she turned to her near twin pounding on the buttons and jerking the joystick. "So, when does anyone else get to play?"

(fade out...)

(scene change...)

The next day, Andrew sat in the back room of the café reading one of the assigned books for his literature class over his usual eight pm half-hour break. The dinner rush had just died, and the tall blond reveled in the relative peace. Just then, his cell phone rang.

Andrew sighed as he closed his book and answered the small device. "Start talking. It's your nickel."

"Andrew," a familiar yet strangely dead sounding voice responded.

"Darien? Is that you?"

"Yes. Are you alone?"

"Yeah. What's up? Where have you been? I've been worried sick! You could have called sooner or something."

"Don't, Andrew. Just don't. You have to do something for me."

"Whatcha need, buddy?" Andrew asked, confused. "Are you okay? Your voice sounds funny."

"I need you to stop by my place and pick up some pj's and personal stuff," Darien responded, ignoring his friend's last question.

"What for?" Andrew was more confused than ever.

"Just grab the stuff and bring it to Tokyo General, room 317. Not tonight anymore, you get out too late. You should have off tomorrow; it's Thursday. Bring the stuff by sometime then." There was a pause as Andrew recoiled from the shock of Darien's last statement. He was in the hospital? "You still there, Drew?"

"Yeah, yeah, still here. The hospital? What the hell happened?"

"Just bring my stuff. You'll understand everything tomorrow. I do not want to talk about it, especially over the phone. And you are not to tell a soul, Andrew. No one. Especially Serena." Even through his shock-induced haze, Andrew noticed the only spark in his dark-haired friend's voice when he said her name. "Or any of that bunch," Darien added after a slight pause.

"You got it, buddy. I'll bring your stuff tomorrow, and I won't tell anyone. I get an explanation though, right?"

"It's not like you'll be able to miss it. Tomorrow, then. Later, Andrew." The line went dead.

Andrew looked down at his phone with concern growing exponentially in his emerald green eyes. Darien's voice had sounded even more dead at the end of the conversation if that was possible. And he was in the hospital. What in the world had happened? Whatever it was, it was serious - and beyond any typical injury. His best friend sounded like he had given up, like there was no life left in him. And that just wasn't his style. The arcade attendant sighed as he put his phone and books away. Whatever had happened, he would find out tomorrow.

(fade out...)

(scene change...)

The sun shone brightly the next morning as Andrew sipped at his coffee at his family's café. He was killing time between retrieving Darien's things as requested and delivering them, and using that time to put a lid on his own rising panic. Darien was in the hospital and not feeling very optimistic about the whole thing; something was seriously wrong. What had happened to his friend?

While he pondered this train of thought, Serena came bounding through the arcade doors. She looked around, school bag in hand, and noticed her former crush sitting at the café counter. "Andrew! What are you doing here? It's Thursday, your day off!"

Andrew jumped. "I could ask you the same question, Serena," he responded nervously.

She giggled. "Miss Haruna had to leave the classroom to get some papers she forgot in her office and fell down the stairs. They think she may have broken her leg. So we got to leave early. Figures. I was on time for once too."

"That's too bad for your teacher. I hope she's okay."

"She should be. The paramedics didn't seem to be too worried. So, I've answered your question. How about mine?" Her eyes shone with innocent curiosity.

Andrew inwardly cringed. He didn't want to lie to her, but Darien had specifically told him not to tell her. "Oh, I just stopped by for a quick cup of coffee before I did some visiting. I've got a sick friend that wanted a few things." He let loose a quiet sigh. There. I answered her question and didn't lie. Now just leave it be, Serena!

"Oh, that's too bad. I hope they get better soon." She hesitated briefly. "So, have you heard anything about Darien yet?"

Andrew started to choke on the swallow of coffee he had in his mouth when she asked that question. Serena patted his back as he went into a coughing fit. As soon as he had settled down, he took a few deep breaths and stared at the countertop. "Uh, no, actually, Serena, I haven't. Have you?"

The small blonde sighed. "No, unfortunately. I hope nothing bad happened. I have this feeling..." Her voice trailed off for a moment. She shook herself and smiled. "I'm probably just overreacting. He'll be fine." The smile lost some of its sincerity. "I'll be running into him again in no time. He probably just needed a vacation from my klutz attacks. Well, I'm going to go play a few games and then go home for lunch." She stopped to think for a moment. "Then I think I'll call Nurse Jameson and see if I can come in early and work a couple extra hours."

"Work?" Andrew asked as he turned to look at the young girl.

"Didn't you know? I thought I told you. I've been volunteering at Tokyo General Hospital for the past three months. I like to make people happy, and they say I've been doing a good job! My mom is so proud of me! I love it!"

Andrew's eyes widened at the mention of the hospital. "Which ward are you in, Serena?" he asked, mentally crossing his fingers for Darien's sake.

"The children's ward. And it's so much fun. They seem to like me as much as I like them. Which makes things easy. Well, easier."

Andrew released the breath he had been holding. "I'm glad, Serena, and proud of you, too. Are you going to be a nurse?"

She looked thoughtful. "I'm not sure yet. I haven't made up my mind about that stuff. We'll see. Well, I'm going to play my games now. I'll see you later, Andrew! Oh, and say get well to your friend for me!" Serena waved and pranced over to the Sailor V game.

Andrew quickly finished the last of his coffee and gathered up the reason for his upcoming hospital visit. With one last look at the meatball headed blonde lost in the bright flashing lights of the video game world, he headed out to finally answer his questions about his best friend.

(fade out...)

(scene change...)

There were swirls in the wood grain of the door. One swirl twisted and turned, fading into the next with a smooth rhythm. Andrew sighed. The intricacies of wood grain were not going to answer his questions about Darien. The only source for that...was behind the door. Swallowing the lump of nervousness that leapt into his throat, Andrew knocked.

"Come in, Andrew."

The blond man jumped in surprise and slowly opened the door. At first glance, he saw only an empty bed and a drawn curtain. He began to question both Darien's directions and his sense of hearing when he realized he was forgetting the second bed in the room. He walked over to the white dividing curtain and drew it aside.

"Draw it shut behind you, Andrew. I don't want anyone I know to accidentally see me while walking by."

Andrew did as requested and turned to look again at the sight before him. Darien lay in a typical hospital bed placed in a comfortable sitting position, sheets pulled up to his waist, head covered in bandages, and an IV in his right arm. There were patches of gauze randomly placed on his upper body and a few bruises showing where there was bare skin. But the most shocking of all was the deadness in the midnight blue eyes that were piercing through him. "What happened?" he said when he finally found his voice.

"Car hit me while I was crossing the street on the way home."

"Did you have the light?" Andrew couldn't believe he was calmly discussing this.

"Yes. I must have been lost in my thoughts."

"Any witnesses?"

"I've been told that there were people at the bus stop."

"Have the police been here yet?"

"Yes. They weren't happy I couldn't recall exactly what happened. It appears they want to build a case against the driver."

"What about you?"

"Would it change anything?" Andrew couldn't be sure, but he thought he detected a bit of bitterness behind the dead tone.

"Not for you, I suppose, but maybe for someone else." Darien shrugged. "So what's the extent of the injuries?"

"I can't feel my legs. I can't feel anything from the waist down." Andrew gasped. "No pity, Andrew. Not one ounce of pity. You start pitying me and you can just walk out that door. I may be completely useless, but I will not have pity."

Andrew blinked. Not even throughout that last tirade was there a shred of life in his voice. 'My god,' he thought. "No pity, Darien. You know I wouldn't do that. You'll have to live with my sympathy, but I won't pity you."

Darien's eyes flashed briefly. "I'll live with it."

Andrew raised an eyebrow. "Oh, Serena says to get better, by the way." He waited for the reaction.

The blue eyes grew cold. "I thought I told you not to tell her. I thought I told you specifically not to tell her."

Well, it beat dead, Andrew supposed as he shivered under that gaze. "I didn't tell her. I ran into her at the arcade this morning while I was there drinking coffee. Her teacher got hurt so she got out early. She asked what I was doing there and I told her that I was going to visit a sick friend. She said to tell them that she hopes they get better. So, get better. Serena says so." He smirked.

Darien had watched intently while Andrew explained, then dropped his gaze to his lap when he finished. Serena astounded him with her depth of caring for other people, even strangers. And now he was useless to her. "She says a lot of things, Andrew. I'm sure you've noticed by now. At least I hope you have."

The blond's eyes widened. He was sure he'd heard some warmth in the bed-ridden man's voice. "Of course I have. You know, Dare, she's been asking about you. When I asked her and those other girls she hangs out with if they'd seen you the day before you called, she seemed worried. Even asked me to let her know if I heard anything." He again waited for a reaction.

Darien's eyes flew up to his friend's face and quickly searched it for signs of sincerity. They went dead again once they found no trace of mockery. What does it matter anyway, he thought. I'm still no good to her like this, even if she does care. "Don't you dare say a word to her." He closed his eyes and sighed. "I couldn't handle her pity," he said under his breath.

"I already promised you I wouldn't say anything." Andrew paused. "What do the doctors say are your chances for recovery?" he asked quietly.

"They say they can't be sure until I've healed a bit more from the surgery. I guess they're calling in a neurosurgeon from the States who specializes in spinal injuries. He should be here tomorrow or the next day." Darien never opened his eyes.

Andrew sighed. "Do you want me to stop by and see you? I can bring you your books and homework so you don't get behind."

The ebony-haired man looked up at the one person he would call his friend. His eyes flashed again briefly. "You probably should. I'll be here for a while and I don't want anyone else to do it. I'll get word to the high school and arrange things."

Andrew nodded. "I'll arrange things with the front desk so I can get in here late. I doubt I'll always have time to drop things off right after school, and I don't want to dump huge loads on you when I do. I'll pop in after I close up the arcade."

"Whatever works."

"Is there anything else?" Andrew asked gently.

"I suppose you should bring in some extra clothes. Sorry I didn't think of that yesterday. Would've saved you a trip."

"Not a problem. I can get that later today if you want."

"I refuse to impose on you on your day off. Just do it whenever."

"You aren't imposing. I didn't have any plans until tonight anyway. You know, you're lucky Azabu's got vacation this week." Darien answered with a shrug. Andrew sighed. "You're going to make it through this you know."

"Maybe. We'll see."

A nurse entered the room then with a lunch tray and slipped through the curtain on the opposite side of the bed from Andrew. "Lunchtime, Mr. Shields," she said with a slight smile.

He glanced at her briefly before staring at his lap. "I'm not hungry."

She flinched slightly at his dead tone. "Well, I'll just leave it here in case you change your mind." She put the tray on the small portable table next to the bed.

Darien brought up his eyes and looked at the woman sharply. "I said I wasn't hungry. It will make no difference whether the food is here or not."

Andrew reached out and placed a placating hand on Darien's arm. "Leave her alone, man. She's just doing her job." He looked up at the flustered nurse while Darien's gaze never moved. "Go ahead and leave it. He might need it later."

She shot a grateful glance at the blond man and made a quick exit. Andrew shook his head. "You've got to lighten up, Dare. These people are here to help. It's not like it's their fault you're in this place."

Midnight blue eyes met emerald green ones. "Ever since I woke up after surgery, these people have looked at me with nothing but pity, like I'm a burden. They know what's going on with my back. I feel like I'm being treated like a porcelain doll, ready to break at the slightest wrong move. I can't stand it."

"Who's your doctor?" Andrew asked, inwardly marveling at how dead Darien could sound even in the midst of what should be an emotional tirade.

"Dr. Victoria Mizuno. She's probably the only exception."

"Mizuno? I think that's Serena's friend Amy's last name if I remember correctly. Do you think they're related?"

Darien sighed and shook his head. "With my luck, probably. Great. Now Serena's sure to find out about this."

"Not really. Dr. Mizuno's known for her integrity around here. She definitely believes in patient confidentiality." Andrew decided not to mention Serena's extracurricular activities.

"How would you know?"

"Remember when Liz got in that weird accident with the garbage truck when she was riding her bike? My parents asked Dr. Mizuno not to release her name to the press, thinking it might hurt the business, or at the very least bring the wrong kind of publicity. She agreed, and fought tooth and nail to make sure my parents' wishes were honored. I heard Amy asking Liz about what had happened to her when she saw the cast. I really don't think she knew anything." Darien grunted. "So what's the big deal with Serena? Why are you so worried about her finding out in particular?"

"I have my reasons. And I don't want to talk about them. I don't want her to know, and that's that." He couldn't even answer that question for himself.

"Okay, okay. She won't find out from me. But what am I supposed to tell her when she asks about you? I hate lying to her."

"Tell her the truth then. You've talked to me and I don't want you to say anything."

"I suppose that will have to do. It beats lying. Anyway, I'm going to get going. I'll stop by your place and get some clothes and drop them off this afternoon. Rita's expecting me for dinner at her place tonight, but if you need me ring my cell phone. I'll have it on. At least try to eat something, and stop giving these people such a hard time. They're doing their best."

"I'll see you later then, Andrew. Thanks."

"Anything for you, buddy. You'll make it through. You're a survivor. Later." Andrew then left the room, closing both the curtain and door behind him.

Darien gazed up at the ceiling and felt a lone tear run down his cheek. "I'm sorry, Serena. But I will not have your pity." He closed his eyes and eventually fell into a fitful sleep.