.

Chapter Seven: Lessons

"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it."

- by Rumi

.

Thirtieth Century: Crystal Tokyo

Darien shifted under Neo-Queen Serenity's gaze. He gulped. He bit his lip, an old habit he thought he had broken.

"Are you five, dear one?"

"What?"

"Are you, Darien, the equivalent of a five year old child?"

His confusion was clearly displayed on his face as he stumbled out, "I'm sorry – what?"

Neo-Queen Serenity was amused beyond measure. She tapped her fingers to her hips, then ran her hands from the curve of her waist to her thighs, "I am standing here in front of you in a gossamer, slightly sheer, and incredibly alluring dress which highlights all my assets and you only sit there looking perplexed! And not in a good way, even!" she sighed loudly, "Can you at least pretend to be entranced by my beauty?"

He looked stunned.

Serenity sighed, shaking her head. He hadn't even fumbled out a response to that one, and what was the fun in that?

"Darien, I thought this would be more fun. But you are incredibly dull. How did I even manage to fall in love with a creature such as yourself?"

He shifted his weight, opening his mouth and closing it. He finally admitted, quietly, "Serenity, you're prefect, of course."

"Try not to sound so excited." she pouted, crossing her arms.

He pressed his hand to the back of his neck, eyeing her warily, "You're messing with me."

Serenity managed a smile, "I was attempting to."

"It's just...overwhelming." Darien admitted, taking a seat on her bed, "All of it."

Serenity sat beside him, gently patting his shoulder. She smiled at him like he had seen her smile at Rini – no, Small Lady. Amused, affectionate, and motherly.

"I understand."

"Do you?"

"Of course. When I was just sixteen I had a man who loved me fiercely shower me with affection, making me feel like I had never felt before."

Darien knew this was an attack on his character.

"I love Serena." He replied, voice tense.

"You seem angry." She replied flippantly, neither amused nor bothered.

"You're implying that Endymion loves her more than me. That's not true. He loves you, not Serena."

Serenity's smile stalled, "And because you said that, we both know that he does, in a way. Think about that, for a moment."

He did.

But Darien didn't like the implication, or the way this conversation was turning. She thought that they were all equivalent, somehow. She thought that there was no great difference between himself and Endymion, and Serena and her. He didn't believe that. She was hardly his girlfriend, and he was hardly her husband. Who they had been or who they would be mattered, but they were not the same. She seemed to think the fact that he found them to be separate people as a misguided notion. But how was he wrong?

Then again, he reminded himself, she was hundreds of years older than him.

He would consider it later.

Darien rushed to redeem himself, to fix together a set of words that would make her see his point of view was not completely foolish, but the words ended up not being at all what he meant them to be, "We need to live separate lives, she needs to be able to live without me and be independent."

This slip had very little to do what they had been talking about, but revealed to Serenity what he felt he needed to defend himself for. She smiled at the simplicity of making him talk.

"That is a grand lie and we both know it. You know of the future, you know some of what will transpire. Although you have only seen the portion of the future where we are apart, you have no reason to believe we need to live separate lives. Our lives, in fact, run together quite smoothly. They intertwine, just as they always have, and run the same course. There is no need for you to be apart from Serena from now on."

Harvard, they were talking about Harvard. The discussion he should have had with Serena, but which had never transpired. He had told her, and she had accepted it without question, understanding the situation much better than he could have dreamed she would have.

He had made it right. He had let her known it wasn't the end, that he loved her even though he was leaving.

That was what the ring was for.

"It's just a year." He replied feebly, his words only gaining a slight increase in strength, "I want to study abroad and get a good education."

"Why do you continue to lie to yourself?" Serenity shook her head, "What you need to realize right now is that I know you much better than yourself. And before you say it – I know Endymion, and therefore you. You are a shadow of his past, but you are the same. The same soul, though not the same man. You change much."

Darien frowned at her, "You know Endymion, but you just said we are different. Your view of me is clouded by your view of him."

Queen Serenity was slightly amused by his frustration, by the barbed wire that seemed to shoot out from his psyche as a sort of self-defense mechanism. He was afraid, he was confused, and he reacted to that through frustration. She inhaled a light breath, examining his face, which looked so different with a younger him behind the familiar features. The same face as the day before, but with a completely different look.

"Would you like me to explain some things to you, Darien? I am not trying to be confrontational, I am only trying to make you consider your actions, and see what motivates them. You are a very complex person, this is true, but I have had many years to contemplate you. And for many, many years you have bared your strengths and weaknesses to me, exposing your inner thoughts entirely. We have a sort of intimacy that you do not yet fathom, which I hope to explain to you the way you explained to me, but I cannot do so until you come to some of your own realizations."

Darien was quiet, considering. Her words made sense, and he could not deny his own curiosity. He was sure she had a deeper understanding of Endymion than anyone else could possibly have about a person, but he still felt so separate from him. Endymion was an idea, a hologram, and not a person. He had always existed in the same way the future had, present but untouchable.

And now the future was here, right in front of him, and he was having a difficult time coming to terms with vague ideas that had never solidified into real images until they were right in front of him.

"I'm trying, Queen Serenity, I am." He ran his fingers through his hair, the length slightly unfamiliar and the texture different, even through the glove. He quickly dropped his hand, yanking off the glove and shooting his eyes everywhere but on her. She was a distraction. Ever time he looked at her, he saw everything. He saw Serena, he saw what she would be, he saw his heart bared before him. Looking at her was overwhelming. She was like some great symbol, was something precious he connected to Serena without fully understanding why.

Darien breathed in a steady breath, eyes returning to her. He felt a bit queasy for a moment. She was breathtaking and haunting, her entire presence seeming to radiate inner peace. She was the type of person who willed respect simply through virtue of her appearance, which told so much about the person she was. You could see the wisdom in her eyes, see the love she held through her movements, and her kindness shone from her smile.

Serenity, like Serena, was the most complicated and beautiful person he had ever met.

That was reassuring, at least. She never changed much, and that made him feel more comfortable. She wasn't scary, or all knowing, or unbelievable. She was real. And he saw, clearly, how this woman had once been his Serena.

He felt at ease once again, smile flitting onto his lips, "I'm willing to listen."

Serenity lightly placed a hand on his shoulder. He shivered, and she watched him. Her silence lasted a moment before she began, her hand remaining on his shoulder.

"You have distanced yourself from Serena. You need not do so, but you do anyway. It is not your fault, but rather is the effect of the person you grew to be, and perhaps too little reflection on the nature of your relationship. You have not thought about what you are doing, really, and it is not in your nature to question yourself." She dropped her hand to her lap, smoothing the shimmering fabric of her dress.

"You see, you try and organize your life into the set ideas you planned as a child, because that was your dream. You convinced yourself that life had to be a certain way to attain happiness, and if you followed your plan just so everything would be wonderful. But that is not how life works. Life is never what you expect, and it cannot be simplified. Happiness, like love, is not always a simple matter."

"When you became Tuxedo Mask, you tried to stick with your plans. You remained diligently dedicated to your studies, even at the expense of sleep and your health. And then I came along. And yes, the Princess from your dreams fit into your plans, but you did not truly expect what you got. Your plans had been for someone graceful, elegant, and understanding of all your needs to come into your life. Someone to save, to be the hero for, and someone who was like a princess from a fairytale. That was what you expected, and so from the age of ten you had that dream in your head."

"And so I understand why it was difficult. You had always planned to have a certain type of princess, and I was not that girl at all. I was loud rather than quiet, clumsy rather than graceful, and too young to match your intelligence or maturity. I did not fit your expectations, and that frustrated you, because you hated divergences from your plan. You still do. By reshaping your plans and ideals, you felt like you were hurting that chance at happiness that you imagined as a child. It was not that your heart was not in it, because I have always known deep down that you love me, it was that you did not know how to accept the changes life threw at you when I stumbled into your life. As a child, you were not properly cared for. I was the first to care for you, to give you warmth and touch. I was the first one who ever showed their love for you, and you did not know how to react to that. You still do not quite know how to handle that."

Darien felt like his lungs were incapacitated, and his mind was reeling. He wanted so badly to deny it, to not be so easily analyzed, but it rang so true and fit so perfectly. He had never psychoanalyzed his actions, or really considered what he did. He was a rational, intelligent adult, and his logic usually led him to make the right decision. He occasionally felt guilt for the way he treated Serena, but he never thought about why he acted the way he did.

It was because she hadn't fit his expectations. She was multi-faceted, unique, and largely unpredictable. That was what drew him to her, but also what frustrated him endlessly. He often couldn't comprehend her decisions, which always drew more off of emotion than logic – the opposite of his own personal philosophy. He didn't comprehend many people. He had empathy, and he always cared, but he couldn't understand what motivated others. That was the effect of not having companionship as a child, which manifested into an introverted personality as an adult.

He didn't understand what motivated her to act the way she did. He didn't understand why she didn't spend more time studying, so she could get better grades. Didn't understand why her priorities did not align with his own, and Amy's. He didn't understand why she was not the way he expected her to be. It wasn't his fault that he didn't comprehend, because he had grown up alone and raised himself. He didn't learn to go to others for comfort and support, as Serena had. He didn't have friends he relieved his burdens to, who he shared his thoughts and feelings with. He acted and lived and worked without needing others. He had learned not to rely on other people.

And this had made him a solitary person. And affection felt foreign, odd. And maybe he would seek it out, her affection, if it wasn't so freely given. But didn't need to go without it, because she always clearly displayed what was in her heart. And he didn't comprehend that what was given, had to be returned.

Sometimes he felt like he understood everything that came naturally to her. Words of wisdom would fall from his lips, and for a moment his entire vision of them was clear. He loved her infinitely, he couldn't lose her, and she was so very precious to him. And then, when it was over, he returned to himself. The old thoughts filled in, with tests and midterms and papers, and suddenly the clarity slipped away. Crowded out with seemingly more pressing matters.

After all, he could count on her being on his doorstep the next day, but he couldn't count on acing his next test without studying. She was a constant in a world filled with uncertainties. He could control his schoolwork, but she was one thing he was sure of without needing to control. She would always be there, just as he would always need her.

He had no idea that the type of camaraderie Serena had with her friends existed until she drew him into her life, and he still didn't understand why people felt the need to be around others so much. Before her, friends were the people he studied with, who occasionally invited him to lunch. He didn't understand it at first. Why she would do things she didn't want to do, just to be with them. But that was the point, being with them. It seemed like a waste of time, to do things you didn't want to do just to be with the ones you cared about. Did you really need physical proximity or constant maintenance to maintain a friendship, a relationship?

A relationship was like a garden. It could survive without constant care, but flowers bloomed best when carefully tended to and loved.

He realized his error, but had no idea how to correct such a simple problem.

"But this is just how I am. I don't see the point, I don't see the real problem you are hinting at. You act like there is something huge that I am missing, and I suppose I am. What am I not getting? What are you really trying to tell me?"

"You pull away. Your relationship cannot advance if you do not let it. The love you have cannot grow or change the way it is now."

"I just don't understand her. I feel like I'm starting to figure it out, but it's like there's always this wall between us, separating us from one another. We're so different, I feel like I will never understand."

"You built the wall. And only you can tear it down."

"I did not!"

"You did. You do not even know you are doing it, but you are."

"Explain."

"Every time you pull away, every time you are not ready to willingly accept the love she gives you, you add another brick. Every time you do not return her phone calls, because you have something else to do, you create a divide between the two of you. Your relationship cannot strengthen until you let her in, until you decide to make your relationship a priority, rather than a hobby."

"She has always been my number one priority."

Serenity laughed, twinkling laughter that was beautiful and condescending in his ears, "Silly, dear little boy. You have not, and you know you have not. You are a very gifted creature, my love, but you are very terrible at self-reflection at this age. Think about it. Which is more important to you, Serena or school?"

He responded immediately, without thought, "Serena."

"Now, which do you spend more time preoccupied with?"

He paused, grudgingly admitting, hating to be made a lesson of, "School. But that's only because at this point in my life, that if more important."

"You just said Serena was more important, did you not?"

"She is. Overall. But I have other dreams, too. I want to be a doctor."

"You have always wanted to be a doctor." She agreed.

"Yes. And I can't give up on that dream because I want to be with Serena."

"Now what is it you daydream about, what your dreams occupy at night? Do you dream of being a doctor?"

"No. I dream about Serena. I dream about you, and Rini, and the future."

"Tell me, when you dream about the future, are you a doctor?"

"No. I guess I'm mostly a father, or Serena's husband, or Endymion. I suppose. I don't ever dream about being a doctor."

"Why is that?"

And then he realized. She was right, she was so right. He had always wanted to be a doctor, always strived for that goal. That was what he worked so hard for, why he did what he did. Yet, had he ever really had great dreams of being a doctor? He found great satisfaction in helping others, that was true, but he never really pictured his future as a doctor. He didn't think of it at all, really. He worked from one educational goal to the next, always working for the goal of becoming a doctor, but he never thought about what came after he became one.

Maybe he didn't want to be a doctor. Maybe he was chasing a dream he didn't want to follow.

Serenity caught the direction his thoughts were taking and with an exasperated sigh, drew them back in the right direction.

"Oh dear, I have mislead your train of though. I am not trying to persuade you to give up your dreams, I am simply trying to get you to self-reflect. You go through life without thinking about your actions, and you push others away for a dream you do not even know why you are chasing."

Darien let out a small groan, placing a hand on his forehead and rubbing his temples, "So this isn't about me being a doctor, but you're just trying to say I have too much of a focus on it?"

"Not quite. You are still not quite getting it. Do not worry, my love. You become a marvelous doctor, Darien. You make me so proud, and you love it because you are really helping people. You are mending others, healing people who are in pain and bringing smiles to children's faces. It makes you really and truly happy."

"Serena makes me happy too. Very happy."

"But you could be happier."

"Yes."

"Why is that?"

"Something is off. It's like we aren't quite aligned, like we aren't ready yet. I love her so much, but I sometimes feel like we aren't ready to be together."

Serenity felt uncomfortable. This conversation resurfaced so many old feelings, so many doubts she had since pushed aside. She frowned, unsure how to proceed, and with a hollow feeling in her chest.

He sensed her discomfort, and immediately felt guilty, and the need to explain.

"No, no, that's not it. It's that wall we were talking about. I feel it there, almost all the time, and I have no idea how to bring it down. What am I supposed to do? I don't know how to act. I don't know how to change things. She's such a natural at this, at love, and I feel completely incapable of expressing how I feel. I can say it, but I feel like that isn't enough. I'm going to mess this up. I'm going to look incredibly stupid if I do the wrong thing. And I could lose her, or make her love me less, and I can't stand the thought of that. Things are fine the way they are, aren't they? I have her, and we're together, and she loves me, and I love her. Anything else could change that."

He bit down hard on his lip, shutting his eyes tightly, "I can't lose her again. I can't."

"You should know you cannot lose her now."

"I've lost her so many times before. I feel like it's going to happen again. I constantly fear it will happen again. That I'll be too late, that something will happen, that I'll be holding her in my arms again and her skin will be so cold. And she, more than anyone else, deserves happiness. She is life itself, and the thought of her not existing, not only losing her, haunts me."

"Fear has a way of choking love. Your fear of losing her, of her death, keeps you from giving yourself fully to her. You are afraid there is too much at stake, too much to lose, and that if you allow yourself to love her any more than you do now that everything will crumble to dust, that your happiness will be extinguished, that you will somehow lose her."

Darien's emotions threatened to burst from his chest. His hands trembled, his throat felt unbelievably dry, and it was all too much. This was what he didn't want to think about, what he didn't want to discuss. And the fear was gripping his heart tightly, as it always was.

"I've seen her die!" he replied hotly, his voice thick.

"Oh?" Serenity raised an eyebrow, raising from the bed and looking at him over a shoulder. The kindness in her voice faltered, overshadowed by sadness that crept in before he could notice it, "And I have seen you die many, many times."

And the tension was too much.

He felt something in him break.

He felt everything at once.

Darien let out a sob, clasping a hand over his mouth, "I love her. So much. But I'm so afraid. Afraid of losing her. Afraid that I will never be good enough. Afraid she'll someday realize I am nothing, nothing without her."

Serenity watched him, frowning slightly. She felt for him, sympathy washing over her, and she placed her hands on his shoulders before drawing her arms around him in a comforting embrace. She felt him shudder, felt his fingers clutch onto her then quickly release her, and his shaky inhalations.

"Oh, Darien. Endymion. You are everything." She smoothed his hair, petting the locks down and sending a careful stream of love and harmony through their bond. She hoped he didn't notice, but knew he would feel the effects. Her voice was a gentle lull as she assured him, "You are everything I have ever wanted and dreamed of, my love. You are kind and courageous and loving and intelligent. She and I will never, ever love you any less."

Serenity felt him calm, felt his tension melt away slightly, but could also feel that his turmoil remained. She stepped away from him, drawing her arms away and tilting his chin up to look at her. He looked different, his face a mixture of emotions she had never seen on him before, in all their years together. Some strange mixture of distraught, confused, and frightened. It was unsettling, and it hurt her to see him this way. She despised having to prompt such unhappiness from him.

But it was necessary. This was her job, this is what she owed him.

"You must show her your feelings, or she will wither. She can only flourish if your love is well nourished. She needs affection, needs touch, needs her feelings to be affirmed. You should know this."

"I know. I see." Darien replied shakily, "I really do, I see."

And he did. The wall he had built, he had to deconstruct. She was open and loving, never pulling back and returning his affection tenfold. But he always was the first to pull away from her kisses, afraid of being improper. He was the one who refrained from telling her how he felt, who bit back smiles and loved her from afar when he didn't need to. His distance was due to fear, fear of her rejection, fear of becoming even more attached, fear of the unknown. Perhaps it would have been different if he had always known what it was like to be loved, but he hadn't. And he cherished what he had with her, wanted to preserve it the way it was, wanted it to be unbreakable and unchanged. She brought him so much happiness, and he feared change would break it.

This wasn't how it was supposed to go. It wasn't fair. He was blind.

Serenity brushed an inky strand of hair from his face, "The rejection in her eyes, every time you push her away. That is what you fear."

He couldn't disagree. She was right, entirely.

"You lack courage, yet hold a courageous heart. You are intelligent, yet you do not see. You hold so much love within you, yet you struggle to show it."

"My feelings do not often translate well into actual words. It's hard for me to talk about how I feel. And I worry."

"Do you love her?"

"Yes!" he replied instantly, with a frown at the question.

"Will you always love her?"

His frown deepened, "Of course."

Serenity found she was amused by that frown. That frown that said he was irritated more than upset. He was so easily led the way she wanted him to go. And she so dearly loved to mess with him.

The queen smiled beautifully, and even Darien felt his heart flip. It was a smile that meant trouble, that spoke of promises she would never keep. Serenity drew nearer, sitting close to him on the bed, laying a hand on his arm. Her voice was silk, the way it had been before they had begun this discussion.

"Do you not want to kiss her, pull her closer when she is near?" the words fell from her innocently enough, "Do you not crave her touch, crave careless kisses and the feeling of her body curved next to yours? Do you not crave her as a man does a woman he loves?"

Darien spluttered, and his heart mimicked the action. And he was flustered and his cheeks turned red and he didn't really know how to respond except to quickly tumble out the false denial, "No! I...I respect her. I don't need that."

"Silly boy." She laughed, scooting away from him and falling back to lie across the sheets. She stared up at the ceiling, her voice gentle and easy, "Our love spans a millennia, has grown from forbidden fruit, and spans out across many life times. Mutual respect comes with love, great love. You already respect her, cherish her. You seem to equate physical closeness with impropriety, and you look at it in fear. Fear, once again. But it is no matter."

Serenity turned onto her side, looking at him, and he turned to look at her carefully, his face still pink.

She continued, amused, "In a past life we were married underneath a shaded tree, with no more witness then a boy priest. A child was full in my belly by the time the world turned to ash. I suppose you do not remember that yet, but it is true."

He didn't remember it, and that thought shocked him.

Serenity only hesitated a moment before deciding to amuse herself further, taking no pity on the boy. She felt only a mild guilt as she continued, which was overshadowed by the glee she felt watching his reaction to her words play across the handsome face of her husband. Her husband, who had not blushed so fiercely or reacted in such an embarrassed manner in a handful of centuries.

"Serena's purity is no matter to her, why should it matter to you?" she suggested cheerily, "Unless it is your purity you are concerned with? Darien, the blushing virgin, too silly to even admit he longs for his pretty princess splayed beneath him, his name a caress on her tongue."

Darien colored a deep red, shocked further by her words, his mind incapable of lucid thought.

"Surprised? I am no blushing virgin, dear boy. I have known a lover's touch, your touch, for a thousand years." She leaned in close, lightly caressing his face with her fingertips, "And dear, dear boy. I have known your body far longer than you have. I know the sounds you make, the things you like, the way you look as you topple over the edge."

She sat back, no longer near him, and smug. She laughed, knowing exactly what she would say next, and knowing that a simple verb in past tense was sure to create a delightfully entertaining reaction on his dear face.

"That frightens you, does it not?" she couldn't contain her grin, "Now think of your Serena, who hardly knew a real kiss from a chaste peck on the lips."

Darien's mind took a moment to process it, as it was too caught up with pushing away images she conjured and fighting his embarrassment at her suggestiveness.

But he caught it. And his embarrassment fled, and he sat up straight.

"Knew?" he questioned, staring pressingly at her, "What do you mean by 'knew'? Is this some insinuation about Endymion and Serena?"

"Come to think of it, little Serena has more experience than you. Even she knows now the sounds you make. Hm."

His vision was momentarily red, before he took a deep breath and crossed his arms, "You can't be serious. You can't. You would be more bothered."

She stared at him for a long moment before bursting into laughter, falling back onto her pillow and covering her face with her arm. Her crown tilted and her dress tangled awkwardly around her legs, but her laughter continued as giggles.

Darien didn't know what to think. But he felt strongly, his emotions jumping rapidly through his veins.

Anger. Surprise. Curiosity. Jealousy.

He was surprised to discover, amidst his anger, that there was an underlying, pulsing desire to have the things she alluded to.

He longed for Serena. For once, he was not quite ashamed.

And, perhaps the strangest thing of all, he could admit it to himself.

.

.

Twentieth Century: Tokyo

With every step Endymion felt the weight of the oncoming present and the burden of knowing what was coming next. His conscience played with him as he tightly clutched grocery bags in his tight-knuckled hands.

Serena was painfully ignorant of his ongoing moral dilemma, though she seemed to sense his emotions and thoughts swaying from one direction to the next. It was making her dizzy.

"Endymion..." she shifted the paper bag she hugged tightly to her chest, her heart light and content.

"I don't know, exactly, how this psychic thingie works, but I'm getting some funny vibes off of you right now. Is something wrong?" Despite her question, Serena was not very concerned about the feeling. She couldn't escape her own happiness, and her self-consciousness about his feelings for her had dulled for the moment to the point where she was only curious, not worried.

"Just thinking. I do that, occasionally."

"Your thinking is giving me a headache."

He chuckled, forcibly turning his thoughts elsewhere, "I will try to keep the thinking to a minimum, for you."

"Good boy." She cheerily replied, tapping her hip with his as they walked.

"Anything for you. I live to serve, my princess."

"Laying it on thick, aren't ya'?"

"I try my best. I am told it is romantic, is it not?"

She let out a tiny laugh, grinning, "This is nice, Endymion. Talking like this."

"It is, isn't it?"

And then the thoughts returned, full force. Their footsteps seemed to ring in his ears as they neared the apartment. He felt a bubble of anxiety well up in his chest – what was he even doing here? – and then he forced it down when she raised an eyebrow at him. He wished away his knowledge, his anxiety, looking at her instead.

"Do you want me to carry that?"

He knew the sort of reaction it would stir when he said it.

She huffed, shooting him a glare before hoisting the brown bag up above her head and gently setting it down between the two perfect buns in her hair. She hurried ahead, hand on the bag teetering in balance on the crown of her head. Serena broke into her Sailor Moon voice as she replied merrily, "I'm the defender of justice and love and stuff! A silly grocery bag is nothing! I vanquish baddies on a semi-daily basis, I have no need for help from puny princes like you!"

"Would you like me to form a reply in Tuxedo Mask-esque haiku or to simply laugh at your antics and point out how very, very often this puny prince has had to sweep in and help you?"

"Neither, I would like you to swoon at my fierce power and incredible strength."

Endymion shot a look up at the bag on her head, which looked not the least bit safe in its perch.

"The eggs are in that bag." He whispered in her ear as he hurried past her.

"You're right." She stopped, blank faced, and nodded with a comical seriousness as she brought the bag back down into a hug close to her chest. She followed behind him at a short distance, waiting for him to return to her or turn around.

It didn't take long for him to look over his shoulder, calling out a delayed correction, "And king, not prince!"

"Prince consort. Not king."

"What!" he slowed till she was right beside him, "No, king. Definitely king. Prince consort, please."

"Fine, you're my mistress. Congrats."

"Your comical depiction of our relationship is...comical."

Serena got shivers at the mention of them being in a relationship. And he sounded so fond of her, his eyes full of mirth. Everything was right, everything.

It was so easy talking like this to Endymion.

She stopped at the door of his apartment building. "Open the door for your queen, mistress."

He refused, shaking his head, "No way. I am not your mistress."

"Courtesan."

"King." He insisted solidly.

"Whore?" she tasted the word on her tongue, trying it out. She said it so innocently, and the word fell out of her mouth cutely rather than crudely.

He blinked at her, surprised and completely amused and utterly entranced. She was not as predictable as he thought.

They stood there for a long moment, looking at one another. Both fought smiles and hid their amusement poorly.

A man walked into the apartment, the door opening and closing. They still stood.

Endymion sighed in defeat.

She cut off whatever action he was about to perform to follow his sigh, "You have to say it."

"You are quite serious, aren't you?"

"Deathly."

"I, Endymion, am your mistress."

"And?"

"Your courtes-"

"Wrong one."

He looked at her.

"Really, Serena?"

She looked at him.

"Fine, I am your whore."

She beamed at him. He rolled his eyes, then stepped forward to open the door. She gave him a curtsy without using her arms, then scurried in.

"You are a terror, Serena. Absolutely wicked." He followed her, shaking his head at her. He caught up with her at the elevator, where she had neglected to press the button. He did it for her.

You enjoy this, do you not?

Serena got shivers at the feeling of his thoughts brushing into her mind. And all at once, her playfulness died back down. She felt unsettled by the sudden presence. It felt heavier than before. Beautiful, to be sure, but the weight of the implications tied to it seemed to dawn on her.

The door opened and she rushed in. He said nothing, verbal or otherwise, and waited for her to formulate a question.

How far did this bond extend? Darien had once instinctively known when she was in danger, but it had dulled with time and weakened. She had assumed that connection had been of a fleeting nature, something that only occurred for a small sliver of time – when they were in need. She thought it had been a part of the magic that had tied them together, pulling them together like magnets before they really knew who they were. But now. Now it seemed to be so much more. She had never really felt his presence like this, never felt this tug of fate on her heartstrings.

Did this mean there was something magical about their entire connection? How did it come to be? How far did it extend? Had it always been possible for her to communicate with him this way, if she had tried? Did she have a similar bond with the Scouts? With Rini?

He did not delve into her thoughts. This was a separate love. Serena was not accustomed to this intimate breach of privacy, this level of sharing. She knew nothing of the sort of trust and honesty it entailed, not quite.

"Can we communicate with other people this way?"

"No. Just each other."

"Can anyone else...?"

"I believe it is just us. There may be others, but it is not something that you share. The Scouts, for instances, do not know, though I am sure they suspect something."

"You mean the Scouts don't know about this connection?"

He looked uncomfortable, "It is private."

"I don't think I really understand all this."

"It is not just thoughts."

"I don't..."

"I cannot explain it, I am sorry. You will have to discover the intricacies, there is no way to completely verbalize the depth of the connection or what it entails."

"Why do we have it?"

There was a silence. The door of the elevator slid open. They both stepped out. Endymion shifted the bag in one hand over to the other as he reached for the keys in his pocket.

He cleared his throat, suddenly turning to her, "Soulmates. It is because we are soulmates."

She blushed, hugging her bag tighter to her chest and looking away from him, "Oh."

"I suspect you already knew that." He smiled in her direction, then looked down at the keys, thankful that there was only one key for an apartment door on the chain. He unlocked it with only a small fumble, the metal feeling foreign and ancient, but familiar, in his fingers.

Serena walked in, going immediately to the kitchen and setting her bag down. She pulled out the items inside, putting most of the contents in Darien's refrigerator and the rest in his cupboard. He mimicked her actions, distractedly putting things away in a haphazard manner. Serena noticed, slightly surprised at his lack of orderliness.

"The bond is our souls tied together. Right? It links us?"

Endymion hesitated, carefully piecing together his next words, "In a way. The bond exists because we are two sides of the same coin. We fit together. It is more than love."

The slight movement of her fingers dancing together and her head tilting the smallest degree indicated her confusion and curiosity.

"What could be more than love?"

"Love is breakable. Love does not always stand the test of time. Love does not always last. We were always meant to be together. We cannot not love one another. It is not possible."

Serena's lips pulled into a small, subtle smile, and she felt her heart press down. His words were heavy, full of implications her mind had no intention of thinking about at the moment, but she felt happiness creep through her. She wanted nothing more than to hold him then, to be enveloped in his arms, to be surrounded by his unbreakable presence. To feel, physically, what their bond offered.

He opened his arms for her and she gladly fell into them. Serena laid her head on his chest, hugging his middle. He let his head fall onto hers, his eyes falling closed as he simply felt. Her. Her arms around him. Her heart beating in her chest. The smell of her hair, which was different then Serenity's and made him feel a wave of nostalgia. He suddenly had a rush of memories. Their first kiss. Her battered body falling into his arms in battle. The smell of her in Rini's hair, when he couldn't be around her. A picnic. White lace and a crumpled dress.

"We're fated." She breathed out. He smiled into her hair and they, in tune, drew back to look at one another, their arms still loosely wound around each other.

"I have a theory." He quietly admitted, placing a hand on her cheek.

He felt her silently urge him to continue as his fingertips stroked her jaw.

You are beginning to get the hang of it.

I think I am.

He let his hand fall down to her chest, above her breast and over the soft pounding heart. Without thought she returned the gesture, pressing an open palm to the calm rhythm of his own heart. He grinned at the gesture, and the mirror image of their positions.

"These two hearts are one in the same, though they have different owners. Our souls are not just connected, but melded together. There is no separation between you and I, just bodies between us to only bring us closer. You are the light, I the dark. The moon, the earth. Yin, yang. You cannot have one without the other. The universe is balanced. We are what balances one another. Without you, I could not fully live. I would not be incomplete, I would be nothing. My soul cannot be without your soul. Though we may physically be apart, our souls cannot ever separate. Even in death. This heart, it beats because of you."

Her eyes pooled in tears which escaped slowly down her cheeks. This was often the case, with emotion. She was filled with it, and it spilt over in the form of tears. She bounced forward on the tips of her toes, catching her lips with his. Her hands framed his face, their bodies pulling together as he folded her into a tight embrace.

She radiated love, happiness, joy. He had never said such things to her. She did not know he felt that way. Love, she knew of, in the end. But as he had said, this was something that was more. It was big, scary, ancient, and breathtakingly beautiful. She always thought love was something that was not completely comprehendible, something she felt in every atom on her body and yet could not really think about. Love was what made her up, what tumbled from her, but it was not catchable. The physics behind it escaped her. And just as one does not think about breathing, about making themselves pass through each second as a living being – she did not know love's definition.

And he comprehended it so fully. She could feel it. His understanding, his complete comprehension of the descriptive words she couldn't quite grasp.

She kissed him gently and without abandon. A hard press of lips soothed by the gentle caress of his. And everything was new, and different, and frighteningly perfect.

They broke away slowly, resting their foreheads together.

"I'm learning so much that I thought I already knew." She breathed out, fingertips trembling slightly against his cheeks, "You know so much. You feel so much. This is not something I'm used to."

"I have always felt such things, though I did not understand them. And the words were drowned out by fears."

"You love me so much more than I had ever hoped you could, Endymion."

She pulled away and their eyes met.

"I have always, always loved you Serena."

"Not like this. Not this much."

"It may not be quite the same, but at no point did I love you less. I just loved you in a different way."

She hugged him, head resuming its place on his chest. He felt her thoughts, which were a tangle of words and threads jumbled together in a knot.

"I'm sorry, I know I sound so silly. You have been by my side for years now. I feel like I should know better. But everything is upside down with you here. And the way I saw the world before today is completely different then it is now. You're changing everything."

"It is a great deal to take in."

"I feel like I have underestimated you. Underestimated Darien. Yet I also feel like this is all you, that this has nothing to do with the man you were yesterday. You hung up on the phone without saying I love you. But it wasn't you, but it was. I don't know who you are anymore. And Darien feels foreign, feels like a story. I feel like this has always been you. But it hasn't. Darien isn't anything like you."

"Many, many years separate me from Darien. We are different and similar. But he is part of me. Endymion, Darien, Tuxedo Mask."

"I know it's hard for him. I know it was hard for you." Serena paused, sighing. "I feel guilty for the things I am thinking. For the way I feel. And you know me, you can hear my thoughts if you want, can't you?"

He nodded, saying lightly, "You think about how dashing and debonair I am most of the time."

She stared, incredulous at his returned playfulness, "I'm trying to have a serious, heartfelt talk to sort out my feelings. You make jokes!"

"You are rambling anyway, my dear."

"You know what I'm going to say, always, before I say it, don't you?" she pouted and he stole a quick kiss from her puckered lips. She rolled her eyes and made herself look petulant, saying even as she tried to regain her previous train of thoughts, "Does my predictable tongue bore you?"

"I can honestly say that your tongue has never bored me."

She got flustered, opened her mouth, then closed it.

I am going to ignore that. What was I getting at?

You feel guilty.

Thank you. I suppose.

She took in a deep breath and closed her eyes so she didn't have to see him. She was supposed to be feeling guilty, sorting out her feelings. Serena regained the swing of her previous speech and continued, though her feelings didn't not align correctly with her words now that they had returned to a playful mood, "I know I seem...unthoughtful. Or forgetful. Or like I don't understand. And sometimes I do forget and I have to remind myself."

Her eyes opened to give him a pointed look, "I know we're different. Me and Serenity, you and Darien. He has a different way of expressing how he feels. And it's hard for him to be intimate."

Endymion grinned.

"Shut up, pervert!"

"I did not say a thing, my love. Not a thing."

"I could feel your thoughts, shut it. I'm trying to explain! And I didn't mean it like that." she huffed.

You were going to bring up my troubled childhood.

She didn't bother to thank him, frowning at his words. Her own created visions of him in a sterile hospital, an unhappy Darien in a cold room in an orphanage, Darien alone, Darien with no one to hold him or wipe away his tears when he was upset. She ached at just the thought.

"You've lost so much, had so little love."

"But now I have so much of it to make up for that which was lost."

"It doesn't change the fact that you were lonely."

"But then this beautiful blonde came into my life and I was not lonely anymore."

She smiled at him.

He grinned, "Thank god for Andrew."

She punched him in the shoulder and he let out an easy laugh.

She huffed and replied flatly, "And you were obviously socially inept."

"Rude." He tapped her on the nose.

"You called me Meatball Head, Endymion. To a cute little middle schooler, you bully! Now that's rude."

"It was out of love?"

She rolled her eyes, "Now you're goofing. Darien may not have cared for me much at the beginning"

"That is a terrible lie."

"How so?"

"I was attracted to you from the very first moment."

"You insulted me from the very first moment!"

"We always say the harshest things to the ones we love most, do we not?"

Serena thought of Rini and fidgeted, "Maybe."

Silence descended, and Endymion felt inclined to break it before it choked her words.

"She loved you terribly, you know."

She no longer had to ask how he knew what she was thinking of, her mind seamlessly accepting his knowledge of her as she replied, "I regret the way things ended up with her. I look back and my heart hurts at the things I said. And the things she said to me, too. It makes me fear that things will always be like that with me and her. That we'll always fight, that she'll think badly of me."

"She did not see you as her mother then, princess. She had a mother. What she did not have was a friend. Someone to gripe at and get annoyed by. She needed that, I think."

"She always saw you like a father. And things were so different with..." she trailed off, blue eyes shutting closed tightly. Images of a red-haired toddler filled her mind and she felt another rush of emotion. She had loved that child too, not long ago at all, but it had been different. She felt like a mother to her in a way she had never felt like with Rini. Fiercely protective and affectionate.

He had no words for her grief. He hadn't really known the child and he knew only the occasional story told with the child cast as a character. But he knew the wound healed, that it wouldn't always be so fresh. Another battle scar, another memory they had to drag with them. And Serena had so recently parted with her. She hadn't even had time to heal, to accept it.

"I liked that. I liked taking care of her. I used to do her hair and give her baths and read her stories. She followed me everywhere and clung to me."

"Like a daughter."

"Yes."

He tugged at her hair, "We will have one of those."

"You already have one of those." She sighed, "Sometimes I want to get the future over with. I want everything to be all smoothed out and just there already. But it seems like there must be such a huge gap in between now and then. And I almost feel like I'm ready now, but then I think about how we haven't had a break. There's always a new enemy, a new bad guy that comes along in no time at all. I want time to breathe and worry about silly things instead of big things. I want time to spend with you, time to get to know each other better."

Endymion let her talk, because he could say nothing on this subject. He knew all, remembered the story well enough. He knew all her next days, all the days to follow.

"I want time to be in love."

"Perhaps time to break down some walls as well?" he suggested carefully.

"You mean Darien?"

He nodded in the affirmative.

"Yeah, I guess. Never thought of it. I never really knew he could not be like that, you know? And now you're here and I have to rethink everything because you're not the same. And people change, I know, but you're hardly the same person. I wonder what happened to make him into you? Because something must have changed you, I think. But I can't figure out how that could happen. People don't change overnight."

He let her think about it, and then air rushed suddenly into her lungs. Something hit her, and her eyes lit up, "Oh!"

He placed a hand on her head, "Sometimes, Serena, people do change overnight."