Disclaimer: Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi and Toei Animation. I just like playing with the characters :-)

Summary: AU. What if, instead of being kidnapped, Darien died the night Serena was revealed as the Moon Princess? This one shot provides a glimpse fifteen years into the future, where a haunted and guilt-ridden Serena performs her yearly tradition of visiting Darien's grave. This time, her last, she decides to leave behind a memento to honor the sacrifice of the man she both loved and hated.

This story won the 2009 Autumn Contest Award (1st place) over at dotmoon! The theme was "Haunt". Thank you to all who voted!

' denotes thought.

* denotes italics.

~Hallows of a Past Life~

The tombstone is as neglected and decrepit as it was last year.

No flowers.

No fancy baubles or decorations.

Not even a traditional declaration of love scribed across the cracking marble's countenance.

Just two simple words; a name:

"Darien Chiba".

I sigh, but spare no surprise over the sight. Instead, I simply stare morosely at the reminder that I am- yet again- shirking my duties. The individual six feet beneath my feet had no family to speak of. No one to properly mourn his passing; to lovingly place roses at the grave's side in remembrance of his life. The few friends he'd let close to his heart had left Tokyo a decade ago. But then, here I am:

The woman who was supposed to have been his lover; his Princess. I could have done all that and more...

And yet, I can hardly stand in front of the old marker without wanting to run; to shield my eyes. Yearly visits are about all I can stomach. Even though age has dimmed their clarity, the memories are just too fresh. Seeing his name, emblazoned into the marble... knowing the tombstone should read "Serena Tsukino"...

I close my eyes, swallowing hard. 'Breathing. Breathing is good. In, out. Nice and deep. That's right...'

And flowers?

...What's the point? A colorful bouquet won't bring Darien back. It won't erase the guilt; the haunting flashbacks and waking nightmares constantly plaguing my mind. Nor will it clear the obstinate moisture clogging my vision at this very second.

Raye would've scolded me, perhaps, had the circumstances been different. Pulled the "immature" card or something; I dunno. Or maybe just shouted, in her typical teenage wont, that I was being a coward. It's hard to say... she hasn't openly chastised me in almost fifteen years. I think Darien's death and my part in it drove an invisible stake into our relationship. When we left the Starlight Tower, something changed in Raye: she still fought for me, I being the Princess and she my guard, but our friendship... well, it sort of... *died*. If she ever did speak to me, it was always about Darien: how kind he had been; how giving. The perfect boyfriend. It wasn't until college crept up on us and we Sailors parted ways that the subject was *finally* dropped.

But I've never forgotten.

How can I?

This man- this Darien Chiba- sacrificed his life for mine; threw his body into the trajectory of a weapon meant for me.

He was my Prince, in all respects of the title. My destiny; my transcended lover. My savior in ebony.

But he was also the insufferable jerk. Bane of my existence, at times it seemed the guy only subsisted for the sole purpose of making my life more miserable than it already was. He used to show up at all the most inconvenient times, usually acting as a roadblock during my mad dash to school. Every day; every morning... an insult already planned on his waiting lips, or that damn pet name... "Meatball Head"...

I *abhorred* Darien Chiba. And yet, irony decided to play a cruel joke and unveil him as the man of my dreams- Tuxedo Mask. Then, as he lay bleeding on the floor and I flooded with Princess Serenity's memories, the truth:

Endymion. A forbidden but passionate romance between two rival kingdoms' royals. Beryl: jealousy. Metallia: evil. A deadly combination hellbent on seeing the Silver Millennium's collapse. Destruction. Death. Rebirth. And then, full circle, our present-

And his end.

I breathe only because he does not.

I cannot tell you just how conflicted my emotions are. Part of me still hates Darien for his icy demeanor and his irritating nicknames. An old grudge, for sure, but I cannot seem shake the fifteen years' yore hurt subsiding in my heart. The inadequacy; the reminder that I was just a silly girl trying to play war in an adult's world. I hated how he'd always make a point of blowing my faults out of proportion during every feud. So what if his intelligence overshadowed mine? So what if I performed poorly in school and had the occasional klutz attack followed by a nice crying bout? I never said I was perfect. He didn't need to shove that fact in my face and sully it with digs at my immaturity. I *was* only fourteen, for God's sake!

But then, the side I barely got to know, and the one I loved:

Tuxedo Mask. Romantic and mysterious, he always swooped in at just the right moment (I desperately tried not to envision the last time he saved me from danger). Encouragement in battle. Wooing speeches. That soft smile reserved only for me. I *still* get weak knees just fantasizing about his velvet voice; his rose scent... the feeling of being protected as his strong arms wrapped around my torso and we flew off into the night, framed by gentle moonlight...

'Why did you do it, Darien? I wasn't worth the price!'

A lump rises unbidden in my throat and I have to turn away from the tombstone. My hands clench up uncomfortably. Cool metal pinches my palm at the stiff grip, reminding me of my mission; the reason I've journeyed out to this lonely cemetery in the first place. So I relax, opening my right hand to reveal a star-shaped locket. The shiny auric hue has dulled over the years, and there is an unattractive dent on the side from when I threw it against the wall that dark, dark night. Despite these cosmetic trivialities, the melody within- 'Our song', I think wistfully- is just as heart-wrenchingly nostalgic as ever. For many years, it has been my sole comfort; the only piece of Darien I have left.

Yet as much as I love the locket, I know keeping it only fuels my self-condemnation.

I have to let go.

I must.

For tomorrow, I leave for Hokkaido. A fresh start.

This is the last time I shall ever look upon Darien's grave. This is my farewell to the man who has, inadvertently, been the source of all my angst these past fifteen years. It will be strange, not living in Tokyo; not passing Darien's old apartment complex every morning on the way to work- but a good strange nonetheless. A healthy one. Maybe even a *happy* one. For who knows what the future will bring? Destiny is the plaything of fools; I do not believe in it anymore, for look what it wrought us "fated" lovers? Tell me, truly, what the point was of Queen Serenity's whole reincarnation attempt? She should have let me die then. At least through that route, I would not have lived fifteen years in vain, wasting it with yearnings for a man who no longer walks this earth.

So now, at the ripe age of twenty nine, revelation dawns:

Destiny does not carve my footsteps into the sand- I do.

And I am choosing, however difficult the decision is, to relinquish my past and move forward. The era of Sailor Moon is over; peace has reigned for nearly thirteen years. I never asked to be a vigilante; the burden was shoved onto my unwilling shoulders without as much as a warning from Luna. I wish I'd never accepted the transformation brooch. I wish I'd never been stupid and nosy enough to follow Darien to Starlight Tower. I wish, I wish, I wish. If only wishing away your problems was that easy.

So the world's on its own now, maybe the way it should have been from the beginning.

And I?

I am simply here, on this chilly fall afternoon, to deposit a hallow from a past life to an old flame. Wishing, in futile regret, that I'd had more time to break through that cold-hearted exterior to meet the warm, gentle Prince hiding underneath.

"Rest in peace," I impart in a whisper. "Maybe one day, we'll meet again, and I'll be able to thank you for your noble sacrifice."

And on that note, I leave the cemetery, feeling lighter and more serene than I have in fifteen long years.

A/N: Now *that* was a certain break from my norm! But ooh do I feel proud of myself over this little gem :-)

Please review!

AngelMoon Girl