Chapter 02:

Maybe it's the Vodka

After waking up and quietly leaving the bed to call Kunzite to inform his worker about his absence from the office, Darien gave himself time to quickly shower before Charise woke up. He was pleased to have finally reached his goal. His latest conquest was sophisticated, stylish, and a woman with beauty that would make most models see green. But she was incredibly difficult. However, nothing is too difficult if you knew how to play your cards right, and Darien was an expert at card games. After all he had been through to win her over Darien had to admit he was a bit disappointed with her performance in bed; it was to be expected though from the cool and aloof business woman, yet last night she was sweeter to him than she had been in the last two weeks. But in Darien's point of view, the day was still young. He would teach her a thing or two about how to please and be pleased. After all women and men lived to mutually benefit each other, all the better if it was done in bed.

He admitted he was on the list of men who were unlikely to commit to a relationship. Unlike his fellow bachelors however, Darien held no baggage from the past. Nor was he fearful of being hurt in the future. He was a bachelor by choice, simply because he enjoyed it and liked the drama free world of non-commitment, and even more simply because to him, love had yet to be defined. Physical pleasure was easier to comprehend.

Darien exited the bathroom with a towel wrapped loosely around his waist. The steam from the hot shower poured into the room in waves. Upon entering the large and lavishly decorated bedroom he eyed the red haired beauty on his bed with silent approval. She in turn studied him with eyes filled with just as much lust albeit less intense then his own.

Charise Miller stared in awe at the fine specimen of male before her. Her green eyes wandered up from his strong legs that were tangled with hers just last night to the bulge in his flimsy towel. Her gaze skimmed his tanned washboard stomach up his chiseled chest. His blue eyes held a glint of amusement as he watched her appraise his body. Her gaze finally settled on his firm jaw, where her eyes seemed to linger a bit longer than they had the rest of him. She wondered if he would ever kiss anyone with sincere passion when making love, if he had done it before, it certainly wasn't with her. His kisses were raw and carnal, but lacking passionate love, much like her own kisses she realized. She sighed and quickly plastered a smile on her face when he sensed her intense scrutiny. It was impossible. Passion and intimacy like that was saved only for situations where mutual partners shared love. He didn't love her. And she sure as hell didn't love him. They were too much alike to be in love. They were both calculating business people each letting the other warm their beds to seek the sheer pleasure of worldly delights. His soul was just as empty as her own. Charise had concluded that if Darien was a woman, he would be her.

"See something you like?" A grin peaked out from his tight jaw making him look boyishly handsome.

"Don't you have work today?" Charise asked sitting up on the bed wrapped in only a red silk bed sheet.

The raven haired man smirked and moved gracefully toward her. Darien sat down at the edge of the bed. Charise smiled as his weight sunk into the mattress and he hovered over her, his mouth mere centimeters from her ear. She shivered when she felt his teeth graze her ear, and in a low whisper made her breath short. "Why, are you eager to get back to your other lovers?" He chuckled, nibbling teasingly on her earlobe.

She laughed a deep sultry laugh and quickly drew him closer. "I think it's your damn fault that I'll be comparing all my other lovers to you Shields. You better make the rest of this day memorable; this will be your last chance to ride this ship. After today it's sailing off, and trust me, though it's been fun, the world cannot be left unexplored." She quickly pulled him closer as her hands roamed the expanse of his smooth chest.

"Quite feisty and eager aren't we?" He laughed, a warm deep rumbling sound emitting from his chest. "You women sure do have mood changes, just last night you were calling me darling and so saccharinely sweet too might I add."

"If you keep that up, you'll be calling the floor darling." Charise murmured as her hands trailed southward playing with the edge of his towel. Darien's chuckled wasting no time he reached down to quickly un-tuck the towel at his waist and letting it fall to the ground, forgotten until later that day.

"Let's see, you graduated with a degree in business, you're fluent in English, Japanese, and French…" Kunzite paused silently going over the rest of the rather impressive list of talents as he sipped his morning coffee. Strong and black, he liked his coffee like how he liked conducting business, frank and straight to the point.

Serena wiggled in her seat and stared blindly at the floor feeling more uncomfortable by the second as the platinum blonde haired man went over her resume. During college she never had the opportunity or necessity to take a job, and now she felt the full impact of her inexperience coming back to smack her in the butt. She heard the man clear his throat and quickly sat up in her seat, straightening her back, and unconsciously tugging at her modest beige skirt.

"Ms. Tsukino, when can you start?" The man asked shortly as he set down her personal profile and placed his questioning gaze on her.

"I don't have any obligations at the current moment so - as soon as you're ready to hire me I can start." She said quickly, finding it hard to keep her cool. In normal situations she could paint the perfect picture of nonchalance, but when it came to formal job interviews Serena couldn't help but feel a bit anxious and antsy.

"Good. You can come in tomorrow. I can't promise you a permanent job until you prove your competency in the office, so I hope it's alright with you if we use this week as a trial run."

"Yes, of course." The young woman answered, more confidently this time Kunzite noted.

"Fantastic, I'll see you tomorrow at nine thirty in my office." He offered her a small smile. "For now, welcome to the company Ms. Tsukino."

"Please, call me Serena. Thank you for your time Mr. –"

"Kunzite will do." He offered quickly shaking her hand and glancing at the clock on the white walls of his office. "If you excuse me Serena I have other appointments to attend to."

"Yes of course…" Serena gave him a heartwarming smile, happy that she managed to get through the interview without trouble. Letting go of his hand she gathered her purse onto her shoulder and waved awkwardly before exiting the room. This called for a celebration, which meant donuts, coffee, a marathon of good movies, and a phone call to a few of her closest friends.

"Serenaaaaaaaaaa! I brought a batch of your favorite homemade brownies." A voice crooned outside her apartment door.

Dropping her extra pillows and quilts unceremoniously on the floor near the couch Serena stood up and marched toward the door, clad in her sweats and a pink baby tee.

"Lita!" The blonde beamed at her brunette friend, offering a hand to help the other woman with the heavy load of groceries and pastries, she also noticed a bottle of vodka in one of the bags. "Wow, we're really celebrating huh?"

"Yup, a party is not a party without the alcohol. Nice slippers by the way." Lita snorted upon noticing the fluffy pink cows her friend was wearing.

The blonde woman merely shrugged, a faint smile touching her lips as she ushered the taller female into the apartment and shut the door behind them. "I'm glad you like them, now let me see those brownies."

"You might not want to have too many, I put a lot of vodka in them." Lita warned plopping down at the foot of the couch with a bowl of popcorn.

Serena placed two brownies in a napkin, turned on the DVD player and sprawled out on the couch. "Nothing can come between me and my true love." She giggled and proceeded to inhale the brownie. "Wait, where's the rest of the gang?" She stopped mid-bite.

"Amy's having dinner with her new boyfriend's family tonight so she can't make it; Raye and Mina are on their way."

"How's everyone doing with their prospective lovers anyway?"

After her last breakup the girls kept in touch but rarely had time to meet each other for their normal gatherings, what with lives and career launchings to attend to. Serena had to admit she was out of the loop when it came to her friends and their lives, but she wanted to change that. She was closest to Lita only because they spent college together as roommates. After becoming good friends Serena introduced her roommate to her high school buddies Raye and Amy, and her childhood friend Mina. Though their personalities varied they managed to get over their differences and quickly became an inseparable group.

"Well…" Lita drawled but was interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Coming!" Serena hollered from the couch, leaping up with a brownie in one hand and pillow in the other. "Raye the love of my life! Did you come baring gifts?"

The raven haired women merely rolled her eyes and marched into the room. "I brought spinach salad, and Mina."

"I like the latter part of your present, the former, not so much." Serena frowned but quickly leapt to pull Mina into a bear hug then released her and headed back to her refuge on the couch.

"How is it you eat all the foods infamous for artery clogging, and yet manage to stay so fit? Do you work out at the gym without us knowing, exercise on a daily basis? There are no secrets between friends Serena." Raye remarked as she walked into the bathroom to change into her pajamas.

"Exercise? What is this exercise you speak of? Never heard of it in my life."

"I swear you're a pod person, even I envy that metabolism." Mina swirled the cup of coffee she picked up on her way into the living room and sat down, right on Serena's butt.

"Hey! Tushy being squished here!"

"Serves you right for taking up all the couch space."

"Alright let's get this party started people! What's up first on the movie list?" Raye exited the bathroom dressed in silk sleepwear.

"The Labyrinth" Serena cackled maniacally, stealing a piece of popcorn from Lita's bowl.

"Again?" The black haired woman groaned sliding down next to Lita on the ground.

"David Bowie in tights, come on, you know deep down inside you love this movie." Serena smirked and pressed play.

Raye groaned; she shouldn't have let Serena pick the movies. It was going to be a long night.

"I wonder what Jadeite would look like in sparkly tights." Lita commented.

A Very long night.

Serena sniffed and pulled her sweater tighter around her body. She wiggled her shoe covered toes and felt like they were about to fall off. Perhaps walking to the cafe in nothing but sweatpants, a tank, and a sweater, in the middle of New York at nearly ten at night wasn't such a good idea. But then again, eating all those vodka brownies wasn't her most brilliant plan either. The girls were asleep, she felt a little tipsy, and there was no coffee left. Having her caffeine addiction sink in only allowed her mind to think of irrational ideas, thus leading to her current predicament. Still shivering from the cold she entered the small cafe shop, one of her favorite places in the city.

Soothing jazz music played in the background of the dimly lit café. Tables were littered sparingly throughout the establishment allowing the place space and yet comfort at the same time. Giving the blonde haired man at the counter a small smile Serena quickly found an empty table and took a seat at one of the cushioned booth like seats. The café was newly built, and in Serena's opinion one of the best things that happened in the area. By day it was part restaurant part lounge, and by night it turned into a coffee and alcohol serving bar like establishment, accommodating to the needs of a wide variety of customers. It was clean and very modern, the perfect place to hang out when you wanted to wind down, or meet with a few close friends.

Serena had frequented the café, what was literally named 'Hole in the Wall' many times; she was now on a first name basis with its owner, Andrew Furuhata. He was only a few years older then herself, tall with a lean frame and a swimmers body, a very attractive face, and green emerald eyes that glinted animatedly throughout all their short conversations. If she hadn't been so weary of anything remotely like love she would have asked him out.

"Your menu mademoiselle." Andrew grinned boyishly and offered her the menu, more out of standard procedure then anything. She frequented it enough for him to know exactly what she would order.

"Why thank you kind sir." She offered a charming smile and glanced at the menu in her hand for effect.

"Blueberry scone and a cup of hot cocoa with coffee shots?" Andrew offered.

"Sounds heavenly."

"Coming right up."

After Andrew's departure Serena sighed and sat back to observed her surroundings. The sight made her stomach lurch. All around her, tables, booths, and lounge sofas were filled with couples. Laughing couples on their first dates, pairs of lovers just spending time together, and people who were so content in each others company they didn't care where they were, whether it was Paris or in the middle of freaking desert. It was sweet, really it was, but it just didn't make her happy to see such sweetness in excess. And then she saw her, a girl very much like herself sitting all by her lonesome on the table next to hers. Maybe God wasn't discriminating against the blondes after all.

She was being way too negative; maybe she really did need those sessions with James after all. At that moment she felt very depressed, wasn't tonight supposed to be a celebration for her new life and job? Perhaps it was the vodka, or her lack of proper clothing, or her last relationship, or maybe it was because she was turning into a bitter old maid in a pre mid life crisis. Something was causing this celebration to turn into a self wallowing fest. Serena felt a sharp pain pounding in her head.

Definitely the vodka.

Darien stretched his legs out under the bar counter and swished the wine in his glass languidly. It had been a long day, especially after both he and the beautiful red head realized that though one night was fun, spending an entire day in bed together was like having Xena and Genghis Khan in the same room. They would both either destroy each other eventually, or everything else. All for the greater good of course. He made a mental note to never again go for the female version of himself.

Casually glancing around the room he was disappointed to find most of the women to be attached and rather smitten with their significant others. Taking a swig of his drink he turned to his right and saw a rather cute brunette sitting alone at a table near by. She looked so sad, like she was being stood up by an unfaithful lover. Darien would have to remedy that, after all he couldn't stand by and let a damsel in distress fend for herself. Finishing his drink he quickly stood up, dusted imaginary lint off his pants and headed for his prey.

Serena watched the scene before her like a discovery channel documentary on tigers. She could almost hear the voice of an Australian narrator depicting the hunting habits of wild animals. He was tall and slightly tanned with a nicely toned physique. This guy definitely worked out more then Andrew she noted, else he was one of those 'natural lookers' she always envied, like Raye, though she'd never admit it to the exotic violet eyed spitfire. She felt her head spinning again before she could observe the strangers face. Taking a sip of her hot cocoa she let the warmth slowly engulf her body.

The stranger headed towards the lonely brunette. Great, now even her partner in misery was leaving her. What was it with these promiscuous men and their tendency to rid a person of what little joy they still had left?

"Excuse me, I couldn't help but notice you sitting here looking so down, are you waiting for someone?" The man said smoothly, his voice a deep sultry timbre.

"Actually…" The woman bit her bottom lip, a cute gesture, even Serena had to admit. Her eyes glanced frantically around the café until they caught sight of a tall ebony haired woman walking towards the table.

"I'm sorry I'm late, I got caught up with work." The raven haired beauty spoke from behind the handsome rake, as Serena now fondly named him.

"I see your friend has come" said the rake, sending a charming smile toward the newcomer. "Can I buy you ladies a drink?"

"Actually we should be leaving now. Let's go Katie." She placed her arm around the brunette's waist and lightly pecked her tinged lips as she stood up. "Thank you for keeping my girlfriend company. I'm pretty sure I can take it from here." And without batting an eyelash they left the café.

Serena snorted, and before she could stop herself the words just flew from her mouth. "Ouch, you just striked out lover boy."

Darien was left speechless. He had figured the ebony haired beauty that joined the brunette was merely a friend. The situation would've been amusing, something he could laugh at in later days, if not for the blonde sitting in the corner with a smart mouth.

"Ouch you just striked out lover boy" She casually mentioned with a snort.

He glared at her, surprised as her aqua eyes met his own cool blue. She looked a bit weary and worn out, probably nursing a hangover he thought. She wore gray sweatpants and a white cotton hoodie that covered her pink tee-shirt. With her hair in a messy bun and tendrils framing her face she looked like an innocent teenager, no more then eighteen Darien calculated. "Isn't it a bit past your bedtime?"

"Bedtime!" She sputtered indignantly. "I haven't had one since I was eighteen. And I'll have you know that was five years ago." Well that calculation was a bit off; he couldn't help but notice though that she looked so miffed it was comically cute.

"Calm down sparky, I didn't mean to get you so worked up."

Her eyes narrowed angrily. "If you excuse me, it's been fun but I have better things to do then continue our little chat."

"Like what?" He countered taking a seat opposite hers and watched as she shoved her hands in her pockets to find her wallet.

"Well joining the circus doesn't seem like such a bad idea right now." She looked up momentarily but continued frantically searching for the wallet she had forgotten to take on her way to the café. Great, bitter, intoxicated, and poor, the heavenly forces sure had a funny sense of humor.

Darien laughed and shook his head at her whimsical idea. "And what pray tell can a small young woman like you do?"

"You're laughing at me. You think I'm enough of a freak already so might as well be myself. But if you want a real stunt perhaps I'll jump off a bridge in a tutu for my final act." She quipped with a frown but no real menace behind her words.

"You don't like me. You don't even know me." It wasn't a question, just a statement on his part.

"You see one Casanova you've seen them all. You're kind of like durian, the exotic fruit that stirs a deep passion within most people, you either love it or you hate it."

"You think I'm exotic, and did you just compare me to spiky fruit?" He gave her an amused grin crossing his arms and sinking further back into the seat.

"Smelly fruit more likely." She said scrunching up her nose and smiling charmingly as Andrew approached her table. "Andrew! Can I ask for a favor?" She pleaded, lower lip jutting out into a puppy like pout. "You see I was in a hurry, and the funny thing is my wallet…"

"Andrew, can I get a cup of coffee, and another one for my new friend-" He looked at her expectantly.


"My new friend Serena and put her previous orders on my tab as well please?"

The blonde man rolled his eyes and quickly warned Darien's new 'friend' before he sauntered off into the kitchen, "If he tries anything Serena, you have my permission to knee him in the groin."

"Interesting, I would've thought with the way you compared me to, how you so fondly put it, smelly fruit; that you would've protested against my paying for your coffee." He teased.

"You're so oblivious to the Serena Tsukino commandment number one."

"And that is?"

"Thou shalt not turn down free food or drinks, in fear of hurting the giver's feelings of course. I could never do that, especially to a kind gentleman like you." She fluttered her eyelashes playfully making Darien laugh yet again.

"Darien Shields, gentleman extraordinaire at your service mademoiselle." He mocked.

Serena frowned, that name sounded so familiar, she couldn't quite place where she had heard it before. Perhaps it was someone her friends had talked about? Certainly Mina would never have let a hunk like this out of her radar of available prospective ex-boyfriends. She dismissed the thought quickly as she caught his curious gaze.

The next two hours were spent in companionable conversation, each coming up with quips and teases for the other. He threw a comment her way and she met him with an equally if not more outrageous response. Darien had to admit this girl had a lot of spark. Unlike Charise she wasn't cold and unaffected. He noticed the way Serena's face glowed red as she fumed at his latest taunt, but quickly recovered and shoved his words right back in his face either very subtly or outright so bluntly it made him throw back his head in laughter.

"Would it be pushing my limits if I asked for your number?" He questioned out of the blue.

"Would it be too much to ask for a time machine so I can go back in time and stop bacon from inventing the essay, thereby gaining back all the years of my life I wasted in college slaving away over them?"

"I promise you'll be the first person I call when that happens. Of course you'd have to give me your number first…"

Serena chuckled, took one last sip of her coffee and stood up. "Nice try fruit boy. Maybe you'll have better luck the next time we meet." She offered with a small smile. Darien couldn't help but grin like a little boy because finally it was directed at him. He gazed after her as she left, the promise of a next time still lingering in the air.

Author's Note: I have no clue when the next update will be but have a happy holidays everyone! This chapter was hard to write mainly because I suck at first meetings between major characters. Hopefully it'll get better as the story progresses, but alas one can only hope.