Darien met Kaelin in the hall, telling himself to be calm and act like nothing had changed. After all, Serena's visit did not make him love Kaelin less.
But it did cause him to become nervous.
Kaelin kissed him on the cheek, her green eyes sparkling in excitement. "Oh, this will be just wonderful Darien!" she said. She saw his face and became concerned. "What is wrong, honey?"
"Nothing," he said, smiling to replace the doubts in his eyes. "Everything is fine."
She took his hand and shot him another look. "Are you sure? Your hands are absolutely soaked in sweat!"
"I'm fine! Just a little jittery is all."
"Well don't be!" she said. "Tonight is the first step towards our life as a married couple!"
They entered the ballroom together by formal announcement, getting light applause from everyone. Darien's eyes landed on someone not clapping, connecting with a gaze of azure sky. He looked away from Serena's hurt face and put on a false grin.
Just be calm, he told himself.
Kaelin was soon swept away in a group of women, each craning their necks to see the large diamond on her finger. Her ring was gold and circle cut, nothing fantastic about it. Not like Serena's ring. Her ring was a symbol of the joining of two kingdoms, two lives, two dreams.
Kaelin's was just a stone.
He sat down, trying to sit up straight and look absolutely livid about the everything even though inside he could not be more confused. His generals sat around him, each silent. They did not know Serena had talked to him, but they knew she was attending the party and that was enough to silence them about their friend's state.
Suddenly Mina appeared in front of them, her smile misleading. She looked down at Darien with only kindness in her eyes, but as she leaned closer the kindness morphed into a laughing malice.
"You can't stop thinking about her, can you?" she said so quietly the generals were forced to lean in to hear. "How beautiful she is, how she moves, how when she laughs her entire body shakes. You can't forget how when you touch her you can feel the magic through her skin, how when you kiss her the magic swallows you, too. You know that when she's angry she glows silver and when she's sad the world dims. You know that Kaelin will never know you like Serena does because you could never tell Kaelin the thoughts that you are thinking right now."
"You're wrong," Darien said.
Mina stood up, grinning wildly. "If I'm wrong, tell me Serena is not beautiful. Tell me you can't stand it when she laughs. Better yet, go tell Kaelin that Serena was in your bedroom this afternoon."
He did not move or talk.
She laughed. "I'm right." She disappeared back into the crowd and Darien leaned back in his chair.
"Serena was where?" Malachite asked, praying to hear his friend tell him Mina was lying.
"She came into my room."
"Damn it, Darien!" Malachite said. "You can't seriously be thinking all those things, doubting your love for Kaelin!"
"I do not doubt my love for her," he said. "I will always love Kaelin."
"But you'll always remember Serena," Zoicite said. "Always regret turning her away when you had the chance to get her back."
"What are you going to do?" Nephrite asked.
Darien shook his head. "I'm going to announce my engagement to Kaelin tonight."
"And after that?"
"I don't know."
"Darien!" Kaelin's voice came as she fought her way out of the mob of women. She yanked at his arm. "Dance with me?"
He smiled. "Of course."
He stood and took her hand, half-heartedly stepping into the waltz. He tried to keep his eyes on Kaelin's happy face, with her small, pointed nose and large, round eyes. But he kept catching sight of silver as he spun, seeing Serena's hurt face no matter where he looked.
"Something is wrong," Kaelin said, drawing his attention back to her.
"No," Darien said, stopping the dance. "I just feel a little sick. Maybe I should sit down."
He started back for his chair, stopping as he saw the real Serena standing there. He met her eyes, finding them to be detached and emotionless. He walked past her, causing Serena's eyes to meet the cheerful green ones of Kaelin.
Ice spilled down Kaelin's back, shivers brought by the gaze of a woman she'd only heard about.
"Serenity," she said, nodding her head slightly.
Serena made no move, just stared into those emerald eyes. Kaelin shivered again. Serena's eyes held no anger, no jealousy, only a simple message.
He'll never love you like he loved me.
Dinner was served, though neither Serena nor Darien could eat. Kaelin ate at his side, remaining very quiet. Something was happening, she knew, but she didn't yet know what exactly was going on.
Darien wished dinner would never end, for after it he would have to stand up and announce his engagement to someone he could never see the same. He could barely look at Kaelin as she squeezed his hand, a sign for him to stand and talk.
He took a deep breath and stood. He made his champagne glass ring, signaling for quiet. Then everyone's eyes fell on him.
He cleared his throat and smiled. "As you all know tonight is a very special night." His eyes scanned over the room, and they fell on a table of six. Four angry glares pierced him, while a Queen looked away, and tears dared to spill from beneath the lashes of a Princess. "I would like to announce with great happiness my engagement to Princess Kaelin Calypso."
There was enthusiastic clapping from everyone on Kaelin's guest list, while those from Darien's own solar system clapped only politely and were unable to meet his eyes. He could see the disappointment in their faces, the frowns that said, "You spoke the wrong name."
People began to stand as Kaelin hooked her arm through his. A flash of silver caught Darien's eye and he watched as Serena rose and snaked her way through the tables to the door. The rest of her table stood. Mina and Raye were ready to follow her, but they were held back by Queen Selenity. They turned to glare at him once more, their auras sparking around them.
He gazed down at Kaelin and smiled. He kissed her and there were sighs. Now people turned back to their tables and he pulled his arm from Kaelin's.
"I'll be right back." He kissed her on the cheek for good measure, then exited the back way. He walked quickly down the empty hallway before breaking into a run. He met the hallway outside the main entrance to the ballroom, and turned towards the courtyard exit. He burst out into the night, praying that Serena came this way.
A fountain murmured softly and he passed it by. An old tree bent over a west facing hill, and below it sat a silver haired girl, one he'd loved for so long and so much. One he knew like he knew himself and the one he wished to grow old with once.
This was the spot he was going to propose to her at, the one she was cursed at, the one he proposed to Kaelin at. He stopped a few feet away from Serena, and she would not face him.
"Shouldn't you be inside celebrating?" she said without anger or spite in her voice. It was a sad, simple question.
Darien glanced back at the lighted windows of the castle. "Yes."
"Then why are you out here?"
He reached into his pocket, gripping a small box in his hand. He looked at her, the tears shining brightly in her eyes though shadows seemed to cover everything else.
"I saw you leave."
"And you followed? What for?"
He released the box and drew his hand from his pocket. "I don't know."
Serena stood. "If you came out here to apologize, don't bother."
"I didn't come to apologize."
She walked past him, and stood at the edge of the fountain. She reached out and the water hit her hand, then flowed around it. "You came to tell me something you haven't told me in two years, though you don't know it. Don't forget how well I know you Darien." She looked at him with those disturbingly beautiful eyes. "Don't forget who loved you first."
Moments later, after Serena had long gone, Darien said softly, "I can't."
The next day there was to be a post-engagement lunch for those most affected by the joining of the two solar systems. Kaelin, her parents, and her advisors would all be there. And so would Serena, her Mother, and her Court. Of course they sat at opposite ends of the table, that's how the name cards were placed when the planner of the event left the small dining room.
But not how it would be if Mina could help it.
"Stand guard," Mina instructed Ami and Lita. "Use magic to sense people, eh?"
They nodded as Mina and Raye slipped into the dining room. A long table sat in the middle of the room with about twenty chairs around it. Two large chandeliers gleamed over it, and tapestries on the walls depicted scenes of great merriment. The two girls circled around the table, finding out where everyone was sitting.
"Darien is at the head of the table," Mina said. "And Kaelin at his right."
"Put her and her parents on the other side," Raye instructed, while collecting her and her friends' name cards.
"Because the left is associated with evil things while the right is associated with good."
"Oh, I see," Mina said. "Subliminal messages never hurt." She grabbed their name plates and put them on the other side while sliding the other names down and around the table.
Raye sat Serena's name on Darien's right, followed by Mina, then herself, Lita, Ami, and Queen Selenity.
"I think it's all set," she said, and they circled the table once more to be sure.
"Good, because dinner starts in ten minutes and we have to go pick up Serena to have an alibi."
They stepped out into the hallway and hurried towards Serena's room.
"Knock knock," Lita said as they opened the door. "Are you ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be," Serena said, while putting in her earrings. "What's your hurry?"
"You know me," Mina said. "Always hungry."
Serena shook her head and laughed. "I swear, sometimes I think your stomach rules your body rather than your mind."
"Ready girls?" Queen Selenity asked from the doorway.
"Yes, Mother," Serena said. They headed off for dinner, only Mina really expecting what chaos it would become.
When they arrived, people were already taking their seats and chatting. Serena scanned the end of the table, but could not find her name. She walked closer to the head of the table, her stomach knotting tighter with every chair she passed.
"This can't be right," she said as she arrived at her chair. "Why would they sit me here?"
Her friends shrugged innocently.
"And why would they put Mother so far away?"
No one knew, or so they said.
They took their seats, and Serena grew quiet, staring down at her empty plate. She was seated across from Darien's fiancé and her parents. This would not be good for any sort of relations between the Moon and the Calypso system. Not good at all.
"You must be in the wrong seat, dear," Kaelin's mother said with no attempt to sound polite at all.
"This is where my name card is," she said, turning the small card around to prove it.
Darien and Kaelin arrived last, each wearing a look of shock but covering well as they saw Serena sitting there. Dinner was served after they were seated, and the head of the table was terribly quiet; a silence Mina felt obliged to break.
"I'm sure you must be very excited, Kaelin," she said.
"I am," she said, beaming as she took hold of Darien's left hand. "Darien and I love each other very much."
Raye gagged on her food, and hid her laugh from behind her napkin. "So very sorry," she said. "I just realized I'm allergic to this."
Serena closed her eyes, blushing. She knew now that this whole thing was set up.
"You must know each other very well. Best friends even," Mina said, blue eyes glimmering. She flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder, leaning into the conversation.
"Yes, we do," Kaelin said. Darien only glared at Mina.
"So is the Prince allergic to anything like poor Raye here?"
"Dogs," Kaelin said.
Serena cleared her throat. "And lilacs and bees and mold."
Mina was laughing inside for Kaelin's face was so dumbfounded. Her plan was unfolding well.
"Speaking of lilacs, what's his favorite flower?"
"Lilies," Kaelin said smugly, sure she had gotten this one right.
Serena could not keep quiet. "Roses."
All eyes except Serena's fell on Darien, waiting for him to verify who was correct. He cleared his throat nervously. "Serena is right."
Now Mina could barely control herself. "And his favorite time of day?"
"Stop it, Mina!" Serena yelled, glaring at her friend. She knew the answer to this question as well as she knew the rest.
"But it's dawn," Kaelin said dumbly.
Serena stood, staring down at Kaelin and her witless green eyes. "You're wrong," she choked out, beginning to cry. "It's night, because he can look at the Moon and think of me!"
Kaelin gazed helplessly at Darien. "Tell her she's wrong, Darien."
Darien looked up at his fiancé sadly. "I'd be lying."
"Well, then lie!" she yelled, her face turning red in embarrassment and anger. The entire room turned to watch. "She can't know everything about you!"
"But I do," Serena whispered.
"I wasn't talking to you, you witch!"
"Do not call her a witch!" Darien yelled, surprising everyone, including himself.
"So you're taking sides with her now?"
Darien did not answer and Kaelin stood, her chair screeching across the stone, then falling to the floor. She stalked out of the room, her parents at her heels. Darien glared at Mina.
"Keep out of this, Mina!" he hissed at her. "This is none of your business."
"It is my business!" she exclaimed. "It concerns the matters of love and the fact that you two belong together!"
"He's right," Serena said. "This is between him, Kaelin, and me."
"I'll talk to you later," he told Serena, standing to go after Kaelin.
"I'm afraid you won't," she said. "I'm going home, and from now on Mother will handle any relations with the Earth."
Darien could not stand the thought of never seeing Serena again. Before there had always been hope, always been a chance he'd see her once more. Now she was leaving him for good. Now she wasn't thinking about him and his happiness.
She was thinking about her own.
He took hold of her hands and stared straight into her eyes. "Please, stay for me, just this evening."
Serena had finally found within her the will to be angry at him. The resentment surged inside her, bubbling up to the surface until it glinted in her eyes like knives. The last thing she wanted to do was to wait for him so that he could talk to Kaelin first. No, she thought to herself, he can't have us both. He has to choose.
"Please," Darien begged, his eyes as wide as a child's.
Serena looked away, closing her eyes slowly, and sighing away her anger. "I suppose, but I'll stay not a minute past sundown."
"Thank you," he said, leaning forward to plant a quick kiss on her cheek. His back was to her when she raised her eyes. A blush spread across her cheeks like it was the first time he had kissed her and she felt foolish for reacting that way. The entire table stared at her, mouths agape.
"Excuse me," she said, trying to retain any dignity left. She hurried out of the room, her heels clicking below her and her heartbeat in her ears. She made her way back to her bedroom, and threw herself onto the bed. She felt very exhausted all of a sudden, like all of the stress had waited until this moment to spring. She felt as if she was floating outside of herself, rocking back and forth slowly like when she was a child. Her eyelids fell shut, and her breathing became calm and heavy.
Serena smiled as she recognized his voice, still lost in a dream. Her eyes remained shut as she reached up to draw Darien closer so she could kiss him. Her hand found his head, her fingers lost in his silky hair. She pulled him down and met his lips, like she had done so many times before. It felt lovely and right as his weight fell onto the bed; one hand slipping into her hair, and the other just right of her head kept him balanced. She could hear him breathe, feel his heart in his chest as she slid her hand across his shoulders and down to his front pocket.
She halted in her movements. Her eyes flitted open and she tore her lips from his. His midnight gaze revealed nothing to her but regret as he rolled away, lying beside her. She was wide awake now, the ceiling above her painted orange by the setting sun. Crystals in her lamps threw rainbows across the walls, like a misplaced paradise. She found his hand and entwined her fingers with his. She sent magic through him, silver glimmering in their hands. She felt his chagrin at being caught with the small box in his pocket.
"What has happened, Darien?" she asked, still studying the ceiling as it grew darker, the shadows casting darkness across the day. She must have slept all afternoon, missing any news of what Darien had said to Kaelin once he'd found her.
"Many things," he answered.
"Where is Kaelin?"
"She is on her way home."
She faced him, her eyes dancing with a wild hope.
"She was very angry," he began.
He found his fiancé in her room, crazily tossing clothes into her suitcase while her parents did nothing to stop her.
"What's going on?" he asked. Her parents glared at him, imagining a thousand deaths for him in their minds. Kaelin refused to look at him as she kept packing.
"I'm leaving," she said, sniffling.
"What? Why?" She did not answer. "Can we have a moment alone?" he asked, motioning for her parents to leave. They did not budge until their daughter nodded, then they left stiffly and reluctantly, not venturing two steps from the door.
"It's me or that wretch, Darien!" she told him once they were gone. Her eyes were swollen with tears and her brows were tightly knitted together.
"But I love you," he said quietly, holding her arms. This is what it was coming down to, and though he knew it would be like this all along, he wasn't prepared.
"And I love you," Kaelin answered, stroking his arm softly. "But that witch and her horrible friends are using magic on you, Darien!"
Darien dropped his arms, balling his hands into fists. "They have names!" he hissed. "And I wouldn't speak too loudly, 'that witch and her friends' could kill you in an instant!"
"Is that what keeps you pining after her?" she asked. "Fear?"
"Of course not! Serena would never do anything like that to me."
"But she has, hasn't she?" Kaelin wished to plant the seeds of doubt now, just as Serena had done the night before. "When she was disguised as a maid, didn't she use mind tricks on you?"
different," he conceded.
"She had to! We might have died had she not used magic."
"But she still used it," Kaelin pointed out, her eyes narrowing. "She is a treacherous snake, Darien."
Anger flared within him, and he was forced to turn away. "She is not any such thing. She's beautiful, and smart, and magical." He could not control the words spilling from his mouth, could not hide the truth. "She's so caring. Do you know she wished for us to meet? Wished for me to be happy?"
"Wishes don't come true like that," Kaelin said, desperate to regain control of Darien.
"Serena's do," he said. "And you know what else? She's funny and brilliant and…" He turned around, scaring Kaelin with the look of amazement in his eyes. Happiness she'd never given him danced there, flowing over. "And she loves me."
"So that's it?" she asked, new tears brimming and dripping down her cheeks. "You're choosing her?"
He smiled, failing to find what he'd seen in Kaelin before. "Yes, I am."
Serena sat up, looking down at him with utter happiness in her face. "Really?"
He nodded, standing up and taking her hands. "Really." He bent down, and kissed her softly. "Now come on."
He pulled her to her feet, running into the hallway and dragging her along. Portraits blurred past them, their curses on Serena replaced by smiles. He ran down the stairs, and she slid down the banister, laughing wildly at his expression as she breezed by. They met at the bottom and he took her hands once more, leading her down the halls. Servants watched them breeze past, chuckling and feeling content to see things were as they should be.
Darien threw open the doors to the courtyard and brought Serena to their west facing hill. Only a sliver of the sun remained above the treetops, winking at them with a golden eye. A flush rested in their cheeks, and they breathed heavily. They faced each other and Darien fell to one knee. He'd made a mistake with his last proposal; this one would be right. He reached into his pocket and drew out the ring.
No wind stirred the trees, and the fountains murmur grew quiet. The sun waited to disappear, not wishing to miss this. The Moon rose in the East, watching it's daughter grow continually nervous. From the windows of the castle servants peeked out, holding their breath.
Serena's heart beat rapidly in her chest, joy bubbling up inside of her and spilling out in waves of silver magic. She could barely breathe, and could not think as Darien spoke.
"I should have asked you this two years ago," he said, opening the box to reveal her diamond-sapphire ring. "Will you marry me, Serena?"
All her feelings rushed forward. All her memories with him swirled inside her mind, their meeting, their first dance, their first kiss, the curse. All the sadness and happiness, the anger and laughter. She felt so much in that moment and the words she wanted to say were caught in her throat. In answer to his question, she could only manage a quiet, choked,
Author's Note: Sorry it took so long. I hope you liked it. Hope you had a great summer!
Until the next time,
Ai No Senshi