Ami sighed in relief when she finally made it to a tiny village along the coast of Pluton. Pluton, the smallest state of the Alliance known for their various temples all over the state. It remained untouched even with the modernization of their capital, Nix, the carved out buildings along mountains and cliffs were still occupied. They made a lot of tourism money based on their ancient architecture.
After the plane trip, she had to take a bus then another car to this tiny village close to the coast. It sort of reminded her of her dad's house back in that tiny village in Lunara only she had to also take a boat back to it. She dropped her bags off at Zane's home he had here. Who would have thought that he owned property?
It had been a week since she left on her journey taking a vacation from work for the first time since she became a doctor. With her many hours of vacation, Ami figured out she could leave for at least a month before she had to go back. With this trip Zane had planned out for her, she figured it would take at least that much time. She pulled out the small box with a large #1 labeled on it written with a sharpie. She caught her breath opening the box to reveal 2 silver wedding bands.
It was plain with tiny small swirls etched onto its smooth surface. She unfolded took out the envelope with #1 written on it. She unfolded the letter almost dropping the small photograph attached to the letter. Marina stood with beaming smile dressed in white and younger Zane matched her, grin and outfit. They under a wooden gazebo with the waves crashing against the rocks in the background, that was right in front of Ami, hanging flowers and all. She could almost picture it.
When I told you I never wanted to get married, it's because I already did once a long time ago. Here in the village of Proserpina where Marina was born. This was before I found out she was sick. Heart problem that never got better. Let me take you back to that day. I wore white, her favorite color, and she wore a dress that belonged to her mother. Artemis gave her away too. Did you know she also drafted her will with him? That's another story in this box. It happened at sunrise as Pluton tradition with my best friends by my side and her immediate family by hers. That day is one of the happiest days of my life. I even learned Plunarian for our vows surprising her. I cried that day and so did she.
It felt as if she were there. Based on the photograph alone, Ami could picture where they stood at sunrise ss if she went back in time.
"Married. You got married right under here." She walked over the edge of the gazebo next to the three tiny steps. She stood in Zane's spot looking at the empty space Marina stood. "And you never told me."
"You're Dr. Mizuno?"
Ami turned around seeing an older woman dressed in priestess robes resembling the ones Rei's grandmother used to wear. She nodded slowing as the older woman approached. She stroked the wood on the gazebo, "Zane told me of your quest. Have you opened the 2nd letter?"
She shook her head immediately doing so at the woman's request. It was a silver necklace with a round pendant that had another swirl design on it.
The older woman gave her a grim look, "Do you know what this is? Ancient Plunarian. Only the monks and nuns can read these."
"I'm sorry, I don't understand why you're here." Ami commented with her usual cold tone she had when she was feeling uneasy, but the other woman didn't shy away from it.
She stroked the dark wood again, "This gazebo is part of the one of the various temples devoted to Chronos, the personification of time. I'm simply doing my job managing it." She had a small smile on her face as if she were hiding a secret, "You really should read the 2nd letter. You're supposed to here."
Ami looked down at the map and sure enough, Zane wrote down #2 under #1. How did she miss that? Unlike the first letter, the 2nd one the ink was smudged in some areas and there was a tear stain in the middle.
You would have met Delilah by now. She's an old friend. Here is where one of my happiest memories occurred, but it's also where one of the saddest ones occurred also. Here at the same spot we got married is also the spot Marina left me giving me back the necklace I gave to her at the beginning of our relationship. I made it for her. The symbol means end of time in Plunarian.
In a letter she had hidden here I discovered a year after she died, she finally explained to me why she left in the first place. You'll read her letter soon just not here.
"Did he know?" Ami asked. That didn't make sense. She must have left because of her illness. Did she believe Zane would leave? If she did, she didn't know Zane. This was the best friend that cleaned up her messes when she made the interns cry, the one that gave her ex a black eye when he discovered his infidelity, and the man that declared that she was worth waiting for.
"It was complicated."
Ami almost forgot Delilah was here. "From what everyone has told me about them, it's that they were perfect for each other. I never imagined an end like this."
Delilah sighed shaking her head, "I guarantee you that they were the closest to perfect. I officiated their wedding." She chuckled, "This tiny girl that said she was cupid said so too. She was at the wedding too skipping around."
Serena knew. Ami tried to pester her friend into telling her about Marina various times over the years, but Serena remained tight lipped despite her usual gossip like self. Ami did notice when Marina was mentioned, Serena would freeze whatever she was doing and an uncharacteristic somber expression would be on her face.
Delilah held the necklace by the chain, the pendant swinging back and forth. "Traditional Plunarian culture is writing a love letter into a pendant to be worn." She stroked the purple swirls, "In Plunarian, every curve means something creating this overall image. This is his letter to her, a promise if you will. He promises devotion, honesty, loyalty, and love until time ends to sweet Marina. Time never ends, it just curves like these swirls here. This line here that turns, is the hope that we'll always be on the same path. See this here, this squiggles that looks a little out of place, this means I'm waiting for a fate that will never end. Even I have never seen this one before in any love letter in Plunarian."
"I'm waiting for a fate that will never end." Ami repeated stroking those squiggles the most. He wrote those for his wife long ago. How do you even fall in love again after such a promise.
"Why didn't you ever tell me?" Ami asked picking up the second her phone began to ring. It was close to sunset by now and Ami didn't want to leave. Delilah left her alone earlier, but everywhere Ami turned she found something new to stare into.
Zane frowned. "Which one?"
"When she left you. I'm sure you knew where she was." Ami shook her head, "You could have helped her. Done something."
"I couldn't and I've long accepted that." Zane replied, "I've beat myself with that for years and I still bare that guilt of if I went to medical school instead of running away maybe she'll still be alive. Marina had her reasons for not telling me."
"How did you not know?" Ami asked diverting the subject when she heard his heavy breathing on the other end signalling a panic attack.
"Marina was always an open book. Let everyone know her desires, hopes, and dreams. Her illness was...different." Zane explained, "I told you her letter is for location #4. That's where I finally got the courage to read it."
"I wish you told me earlier." Ami replied, her voice softer than before. "Why didn't you?"
She heard him sigh deeply on the other end followed by silence for a minute or two. That minute felt like an hour. If she couldn't hear him breathing, she would have thought that he hung up.
"I was furious with her for so long then I felt guilty for being so angry because she was sick then I felt guilty for just letting her walk away from me. I didn't fight for her when she left or chase after her because I was so angry." Zane laughed bitterly, "I'm enacting Best Friend Secrecy Clause for what I'm about to tell you next."
The Best Friend Secrecy Clause was something Ami made up after the night she broke up with Greg. She told Zane how she had known of Greg's indiscretions for a month now, but kept him around until she finished her section of the article because she wouldn't have to deal with him during the end of her research. It was more out of convenience. She was tempted to remain oblivious to the affair even after her research to delay the effects of ending a three year long relationship. This Clause meant no judgement and no advice. Just an ear to listen and total agreement with whatever the person enacting it says.
"When I found out she died alone in some hospital in Berlin, I was also somewhere else running away from my problems. When I came back, everyone thought I was with her until the end. I kept telling them I was so that maybe the grief and the guilt would lessen." Zane's voice became shaky, but he was determined to finally tell someone, "Sometimes I dream that maybe I was there by her during her last moments. I was holding her hand whispering my love for her and my goodbyes. I told her everything I wanted to so I wouldn't regret anything. We imagined a future that didn't ever happen, but she passed smiling at the thought that in another universe we live together until we're grey."
"She died alone, Ami." Zane closed his eyes. That was something never in eternity he could ever forgive himself. Death couldn't even bring him any comfort for this sin. "I was so mad at her for thinking I would leave even after everything we've been through, only to learn she only ever thought about what was best for me."
"That…" Ami began only to stop herself when she remembered the clause. "Is this clause over?"
"I don't know."
Ami shook her head, "I can't give you any advice because I don't know how to react to that."
Zane almost smiled at her comment. That was Ami, honest to the end. "You asked me to explain to you what happened in more details. I hope that was enough for now."
"I'm waiting for a fate that will never end." Ami repeated switching subjects with ease when she sensed any conversation was too much for him, "I never thought you were so eloquent. It almost sounds poetic."
The sound of Zane's chuckles on the other end stirred her heart bringing her warmth despite the cold breeze of the night once the sun set. "You'd be surprised what I've dabbled with in my life. All men have done it I assure you we have."
"Then how come I sense that this line is far more than just flattery of a heart?" This was Ami's special way of interrogating, it wasn't forceful but suggestive. Zane knew what she was doing, but he wanted to tell her. Be honest with her about his first love.
"Because you're right, I'm not a poetic type of man. I mean everything. Fate that will never end means what I meant to Marina. I promised her happiness in any universe we meet and end up together. I knew that she could die at any moment, it was her heart that was always sporadic. The waiting means that I know that our fate isn't in this life to be together." Zane's voice remained steady, but Ami knew he was going to fall apart once she hung up the phone.
Ami almost allowed the tears in her own eyes to fall. Sitting under a gazebo where it was the happiest and saddest days of his life felt surreal. Talking to him and rereading the letters made her feel like an audience member watching a tragedy of a love story unfold on screen.
"Most women would be very jealous of a man of their affections talking so lovingly about another woman." Ami joked.
"You have never been most women, Ami." Zane said not really thinking of the complement. "My first love was extraordinary. It would be odd if my second one wasn't just as amazing."
"I have to go." Ami said abruptly. She knew Zane's feelings or at least she thought she understood the level of them. That statement was so much more than her earlier beliefs. This wasn't a comparison between herself and Marina, but acknowledging them as two separate women who are both amazing. It also made Ami's heartache and her head spin at the revelation.
"I understand." Zane knew he may have pushed too far than what Ami was ready for. He blamed his already fragile emotional state. "Call me when you need to."
"I promise. Good night or good morning wherever you are." With that Ami turned off her phone staring into the black oceans in front of her. She couldn't make out any waves, but she stayed for the crashing tides that reminded her of the turmoil she faced of heart versus head. In the past, head always won and remained dominant. The unknown sent shivers down her spine far more so that the wind. What would happen if she chose heart this time?
Rei clasped her hands together exuding her powerful 'I am the best' persona while awaiting the judge's decision. Luckily the case didn't move so far as to have a jury, bullying cases most people were not that sympathetic. Kael sat beside her exuding a similar aura, he did teach her everything he knew. She ignored her half sister who sat beside her who began shaking her leg.
"Stop that's bad luck." Rei commented her eyes never leaving the judge.
"We declare the defendant not guilty."
Rei and Kael exchanged glances of relief, it was brief and to any outsiders they would appear confident. Kael had taught her a lot about hiding her emotions in court despite her usual emotionally driven decisions on life. Working with her half sister wasn't as bad as Rei believed it to be in the beginning. Cassia may have been spoiled and privileged, but she wasn't bad. Throughout the court hearings, Cassia still a typical teenager but she did occasionally reveal that she was more than just a pretty face.
"Nice work." Kael complimented. He rarely gave any sort of praise so Rei would only nod. A thought crossed her mind as they finished gathering folders, binders, and papers.
"Don't you dare tell my husband about the workload." Rei threatened with a glare. Jerry wasn't exactly knowledgeable about what Kael had her do for the case such as journeying to Romulus for a few hours, chasing down high school students, and blackmailing security.
Kael snorted at the thought of his friend who would barge into his office with his theatrics if he found out. "I rather enjoy my solitude. Not going to be a problem."
"That man is driving me insane." Rei exhaled in exasperation. Jerry had gotten protective once she began showing physical signs of pregnancy. Insisting on driving her to work, carrying her purse, and throwing out her heels. His argument a very rich boy one of 'I can buy you new ones after nine months you harpy'.
"I'll see you back at the office. I think your family wants a word with you." With that Kael made his quick getaway leaving Rei with her 'family' if you could call them that.
Cassia broke away from her mother's hold and tears approaching Rei. She bit her lip twisting the long braid between her fingers, "Thank you."
"No thanks needed. I got paid to do my job." Rei replied curtly heading towards the exit. She preferred the client relationship than a familial one.
"Wait." Cassia said causing Rei to turn around to face her. She approached Rei slowly as if she were trying to not spook her. "I don't know what happened between our father and you. I'm not telling you to forgive him either. I'm telling you thank you not only because you got me only community service, but I got to spend time with my sister. I've always wanted to get to know you and I hope we can."
Sister. Rei had sisters, ones she made for herself when she was dropped off her grandparents' temple in a tiny town in Lunara with no name. She made a family too that included a husband and his entire crazy family that welcomed her with open arms. She had a child on the way who was going to be loved in ways Rei never had experienced.
"I don't know if I want to." Rei replied honestly. "We may be blood, but we have two very different lives."
Cassia didn't look unfazed, only more determined standing her ground. "I'm going to be in town for a few more days. Dad has campaigning and PR to manage after this case. You have my number, call me even if it is to tell me you want nothing to do with me."
With that said, she joined her parents once more who didn't once look over at Rei. Her mother looked her over thinking the worst happened when she approached Rei. Meeting her new stepmother years ago, Lorelei had always treated Rei in a condescending manner especially when she too had another daughter. She said Rei had no manners and couldn't fit in with high society especially with the politics her father was now involving herself with. As much as Rei wanted to prove her wrong, she didn't want to be a part of the new family.
Her father said nothing as he walked past her with his family only giving her a subtle nod of appreciation. That was the most civil it had been between herself and her father. They had always been too alike to ever really get along. Cassia was the only one that looked back giving her a small wave even when Rei didn't return it. The young girl didn't look dejected at all beaming at Rei. Rei wasn't sure where this gnawing in her stomach came from, the soreness in her heart as if it had been beaten until it was black and blue, and the sudden overwhelming feeling of exhaustion.
When Jerry came home with various bags of takeout that Rei insisted he get this morning, he found his wife sitting outside on a bench facing the city holding a bowl of cereal. Consumed by her thoughts, she didn't notice him approaching until he sat beside her.
"Where's your mind off to?" He asked gently taking her empty bowl setting it on the floor beside them.
"I won the case." Rei said, not understanding why her voice sounded detached.
Jerry quirked an eyebrow, "Congrats I guess. Did a part of you wanted to throw that spoiled rich girl in jail?"
Her lips moved upwards at his comment, but it still wasn't a smile. "You're a spoiled rich boy."
"Yes, but I'm a pretty good person." Jerry pointed out with a grin.
"Cassia isn't that bad." Rei sighed, "She wants to get to know me as sisters."
Jerry's eyes widened, "Oh? What did you say?"
"I told her I didn't know if I wanted to get to know her. I don't know if I want any relationship with my blood relatives." Rei explained honestly, "It hurts too much."
"Well even if you don't want to, you're going to see them eventually. Same circles and all." Jerry pointed out causing Rei to groan in exasperation. "Hey don't worry, for the next few months you can use pregnancy as an excuse."
"I can't ever forgive my father for abandoning me." Rei said rubbing her abdomen absentmindedly.
Jerry took her hand in his, pressing his lips against her knuckles. "Then don't."
"Cassia isn't that bad." Rei repeated resting her head on his shoulder. "You have sisters."
"Who I love more than my mom, I can say that." Jerry replied with a wistful tone, "I don't hate my mom and I love our relationship now, but a part of me can't ever forget how she missed most of my life because she chose work over me. My sisters watched out for me, got me out of trouble, and were there to confide in."
"So you think I should give her a chance?"
Jerry shook his head, "That's not what I'm saying. I have an amazing relationship with my family. I'm the type of person that doesn't like to leave things unsaid. I forgave my mom for me and I wanted to try to work out our issues for me. You're not me."
Rei looked up at him, "What does that mean?"
"You feel more than me. You hurt more than me. You feel it in your bones when someone hurts you and you latch onto it so that you never forget it." Jerry explained. "Your father hurt you in so many ways. I don't know if I want you near that family." His voice growing more bitter towards the end.
Rei thought over his words. He was right. Her father and her had battled like commanders in war, both of them stubborn, hot heads, and brilliant. Cassia was the exact opposite. Based on what she had seen for the past month or so, Cassia was flexible and preferred to negotiate than battle first. She wasn't even like her mother.
Rei sighed, "I don't know what to do."
"Do what you think is best for you and I'll support you no matter what you choose." Jerry said.
She lifted herself from sitting up to look up at him, "I should call her to reject her too right?"
"It would be polite I guess." Jerry replied, "When was the last time you've seen her?"
Rei bit her lips, "She was ten. I graduated high school and dad wanted to parade me around to all of his political folks and Lorelai was a bitch of a stepmother the entire time. I didn't really interact with her that much during that time." Rei sighed, "That was the night I cut myself off from my dad officially and took that modeling gig for college money."
"Where you met me." Jerry laughed running a hand through his hair, "It was meant to be."
"She's not like her mother. I thought she would be."
"Hey," Jerry took her hands in his, "Sleep on it. You'll figure it out tomorrow. Right now, your emotions are all over the place including stress and that isn't good for little Peanut here."
Rei shook her head. Jerry was right. Her family was nothing but stress. Okay, that wasn't what he was saying but it could be implied. Stress wasn't good. The last time her dad and her had a proper conversation ended with slammed doors and broken hearts. Her hand rested on the cheek where her dad had slapped her for the first time for being so difficult. Her father had always been a hard man with a temper just like hers, stubborn as a mule, with the spirit of a wild horse. She blamed him for abandoning her on some god forsaken island and marrying someone else a year after her mother died. Lorelai will always be a bitch, but Cassia. Rei couldn't really recall Cassia in her memories. She was more of a background character in her memory. Did she really want to be involved with this family again?
Nate had been staring at her for the past five minutes and she still hadn't gotten the courage to simply ring the doorbell. Since their argument, Lita and Nate were strained. With their honeymoon period ending, now both weren't sure how to move forward in their relationship especially with their latest argument. An ex of Nate's came into the restaurant the other day causing another explosive row between the two in the confines of his office ending with Lita walking out and Nate speeding away getting himself another ticket for traffic violation.
Losing his patience, something he was working on, he opened the door where she almost toppled over in the process. Lita regained her posture tucking a strand of hair that had fallen out of her ponytail behind her ear. Sweat stains formed on the sides of her shirt, hair clung to her neck, and she was panting but more quietly than just after a workout. She must have come from her morning run.
His eyes showed concern, "Do you want some water? It looks like you ran over here."
Lita shook her head holding up the gallon, "No, I think I have more than enough. I biked here. Huge difference."
"Right, silly me." Nate muttered sarcastically. He didn't exactly live in the next town over, but he lived along the beach along the outskirts of the Elysian, which was a lot further than her modest home with her roommate in downtown.
She stepped inside without an invitation looking around his living room as if she had never spent the night here. "You're not working today?"
"It's 7 in the morning."
Lita laughed more to calm her nerves, "Right, I'll see you there I guess."
"Wait," Nate called out stopping her in her tracks. As much as he wanted to remain in the oblivious zone in their relationship, he needed to know. "Are we still together or did I mess up entirely?"
Lita's green eyes softened when she slowly approached him within arm's distance. "Why would you think it's your fault?"
He shrugged, "I assumed it would be me to ruin what's good in our relationship. I'm pretty good at ruining good things."
"No." Lita looked down at her feet taking a deep breath before meeting his eyes. She had been avoiding his eyes for so long. "If anything it's my fault. I shouldn't have pushed so much about your past."
"I shouldn't feel the need to keep you from it." Nate sighed forcing her to sit down by pushing her shoulders. "I should tell you everything."
"It's fine. It's something I have to accept. My boyfriend was once a serial dater." Lita joked, but frowned when Nate shook his head.
"You have no reason to feel insecure about any of those women, Lita. They have never meant anything to me."
Lita doubted that. "You never felt anything for any of these women other than physical attraction?"
Nate shook his head in response. "If anything I should feel insecure and doubtful."
"None of these women are in my life anymore, but your first love will always be in yours."
Neal was a subject that Nate accepted as a part of her, but he had never felt completely comfortable. Once upon a time, she felt love, happiness, understanding, and affection for someone else. Sometimes he wondered if she compared him to her great first love that gave him his approval and persuaded her older brothers into doing so as well. Bastard.
"What I have with you is similar to my feelings I had with Neal, but completely different at the same time. It's not better or worse, just different." Lita explained, "Just like how I have to accept that there's a good chance I am going to encounter more of your exes."
"So acceptance and trudge on?" Nate asked as Lita nodded. He didn't wait or listen to her protests pulling her into his arms. It had been too long.
"I have a shower."
"No! Not now!" Lita cried laughing when his grip on her tightened around her waist, his mouth traveling down her neck. "Seriously stop. You may have a shower, but I don't have any makeup with me to cover that up."
Nate pulled back from his assault, desire in his eyes but he let her go knowing she would probably punch him if he didn't. Her reputation as boss would damper a bit if there were marks all over her neck. She pushed him away rolling her eyes, but she still had a smile. He began making breakfast knowing that bike ride must have increased her hunger. When she came back from her shower wearing clothes she had left here a few weeks ago, Nate placed down waffles in front of her.
"This is so domestic." Lita commented taking a sip from the freshly squeezed orange juice he passed to her.
"Besides, I don't have that many exes living in the Alliance. They're far more spread out globally." Nate said watching her roll her eyes at him.
The new information did make her feel a little better. The less she had to talk to the better. "I really don't care."
Nate nodded at her nonchalance deciding maybe this is the good time to drop another bomb on her. "One of them you have to encounter all the time, not a big deal."
"Who?" Lita asked dropping facade. "Don't tell me it's Sheila. I had a feeling you would have a cougar thing."
"No!" Nate shuddered. That woman had a new young boyfriend monthly. She flirted with everything that moved working as one of their alcohol suppliers. "Besides it's not really an ex per say. It's was a little making out and little more than that on two occasions."
"Please don't tell me you've been involved with a friend of mine."
"More like a friend of mine."
The silence between them remained as Lita worked through her brain all of the people she interacted with that he could have had some sort of relations with. Her jaw dropped open turning to face him when the idea came to mind, "Which one?"
"It was a few times back in high school and one time in college...a few more times in college." His voice trailed off as Lita shook her head.
His voice was so quiet she almost didn't hear the name. Almost. "Jerry?"
"We were never dating so he's not my ex and we never went on a date. It was more of a physical touching kind of thing. Jerry's always been physically affectionate and we just took it to the next level. He's kissed all of us at one point in our lives." Nate shook his head trying to scrub the dishes away. Well it was either telling her now or later and he didn't think her reaction was going to change.
"Oh my god." She knew her boyfriend was always going to be more comfortable with his sexuality compared to her. He always gave off that aura that he didn't really care for labels preferring to go after whoever he wanted. The Brethren had been friends since they were kids. "Does Rei know?"
"She knew within the first few hours of meeting him when she was interrogating for his potential STDs."
"Oh my god." Lita wasn't mad. A little jealous because at this point in their lives, he was closer to his Brethren than herself. "Was he the only man?"
"I don't like labels you know that." Nate sighed. He really didn't want to have this conversation. Most people didn't really understand."I've always been a physical person so men and women, I've had sexual relations with both and both were great in their own ways. If I had to put a label on it then bisexual. I lean more towards women, but I don't object to men."
"So if you were to meet a wonderful amazing man, you'll be with him?" She really had no idea why she was asking. Curiosity or her insecurities?
"I really wasn't expecting that when I came over." Lita commented gulping down the rest of her orange juice. His sexuality wasn't a problem, but looking over his hunched frame and his sudden increased focus on doing the dishes, he probably thought it was. She cursed herself so wrapped up in his past relationships, she didn't look at to see how it was affecting him.
Lita walked over resting her head against his shoulder. His height another bonus because he can literally support her. "I honestly don't care. They are the past and I am your present." She kissed his cheek stroking the other as she pulled back, "Hopefully future as well."
Nate nodded, his hands still soapy so he didn't touch her, but he was still able to lean down and capture her lips in a chaste kiss. One that wasn't as passionate or full of lust like the ones he gave her earlier. This one held a promise and anticipation. A promise of this domestic future and anticipation for it to come.
"I love you."
Maybe it was too soon, but Nate didn't care. He had always loved her before he even realized it. A woman that is too good for him. One that he'll have to keep proving to himself that he deserved her. It may have been too soon for most couples, but judging by the grin on Lita's face, she didn't seem to mind.
Love. Nate loves her. Her past relationships did reach this point a few times, but she was always far more hesitant to say those words back knowing she didn't feel the same. This wasn't one of those moments. They had only been together for a few months, but it already felt stronger than the relationships that lasted for over a year. She wasn't ready to say it back, but that didn't mean she didn't accept his words for her.
"I will love you one day. I promise that."
Darien rubbed his lips once more. The week was almost over and he didn't have an answer for her. He was still as lost as ever. He groaned leaning against the back of his chair in the meeting room he never left. The meeting ended two hours ago, but Darien couldn't get out of his seat. Without work, all he thought about was that kiss. Serena still had feelings for him. Darien rested his head in his arms
"What do you want from me?"
"Dinner would be nice."
Darien looked up to see his assistant looking down at him with an almost bored expression on her face. Lana glanced down at her watch, "It's almost 6:00. Everyone has left the building it seems except you meaning I, unfortunately, can't either. You know decorum and all."
"Sorry." Darien stretched out his back forcing himself to stand. "What do you do when someone tells you they like you?"
Lana used to his obscure questions about his own personal life she would rather not know. "I don't know Mr. Shields. If I reciprocate those feelings I would be over the moon."
"And if you don't know how you feel because you're friends and crossing that line is risky?"
She remains quiet before shrugging, "I've never been in that scenario before sir."
When she called him sir, it was when she was begging to be dismissed. Darien nodded,"Go have fun on your last night in Tokyo. I'll see you in the lobby tomorrow morning."
Lana beams at him before skipping out of the room leaving him alone. Food did sound good right now. Exiting out of the office was strange to see the empty desks with the sunset hitting them. He never stayed this long for work ever. Foregoing the company car, Darien made his way to the streets beginning to wander around. After visiting Serena on her godforsaken street with her insane work family, he had begun to long large bodies of water to ease his tensions. He visited Lake Luna on more than one occasion, sometimes not even going to see his two best friends at all preferring the solitude. He could stumble upon a pier or something.
In the midst of his wandering, his eyes met a sight he hadn't seen in a long time. His ex. Madeline Blanc strolling the streets of Tokyo. After their breakup, Madeline went back to the fashion world this time not modeling. She partnered for jewelry and clothing lines and her traveling increased exponentially. He hadn't seen her since they broke up. If he had told his young self that Madeline would only ever be his tragic first love, young Darien would have laughed in his face. She looked up from her phone spotting him too. She gave him a tentative wave, like how you would typically greet your ex if you ever spotted them.
"Hey, how have you been?" Darien asked casually when he met her in the middle.
She laughed, that bell like one of hers. Only now it did nothing to his heart beat or his nerves. "Great. How about you?"
"Great." Darien repeated, "What are you doing here?"
Madeline shrugged, "Work. I'm assuming the same thing for you. Leisure you're usually in New York or London. Maybe Berlin."
"Yeah. Were you about to grab dinner? My treat? Just friends of course." Darien asked watching as she slowly nodded, used to his spontaneity from dating him.
"Can exes be friends?" She asked once they sat in some luxurious restaurant that overlooked the city of Tokyo.
Darien winced, "I don't think we'll ever be great best friends, but tentative acquaintances sounds good. We were a big part of each other's lives."
"It's been a few months since I last saw you. What's new?" Madeline asked.
Darien wasn't sure why he slipped. Maybe lack of female companions to help him through this situation. "Serena told me she liked me and kissed me. Oh and that merger from a year ago I told you about, success. You?"
Madeline blinked a few times, "You can't just drop a bomb like that and expect us to discuss our business entities after."
"Let's just say I need advice. The female kind."
Madeline rolled her eyes but gestured for him to continue. Darien explained everything to her, the build up, feelings, falling and everything in between. If you told young Darien that he would be discussing another girl to Madeline, he would have had a heart attack. Madeline was silent for the most part, but she nodded at the correct times, never interrupting him.
"What is so bad about having feelings for your best friend?" Madeline said after his explanation
Darien's eyes widened waving his hands to himself, "I don't know if I do. That's the issue."
"Really?" She leaned back against her chair with a smirk, "Because it seems like you like her a lot. You always have."
"I have not!" Darien paused, "I don't think I have."
"Hm." Madeline placed her wine glass next to her sitting up when an idea came to mind, "When did you realize you liked me?"
Darien not understanding why she would even ask him this answered automatically,"I pushed you on the swings when we were 12."
"When did you realize Kael out of all of your friends, was your closest confidant?"
"When he asked me if it was ok if he dated my sister."
"When did you realize you loved me?"
Darien's face softened, "Freshman year when you rejected me."
Madeline's face remained unchanged, "When did you ever consider Serena as more than a friend?"
"After she moved to Elysian." Darien without hesitation causing him to gasp, "You tricked me!"
"Darien, I was only playing on the fact that you're more loose-lipped when you have the tiniest bit of alcohol inside you. Drunk, you're a mess. A teaspoon, if you were Prime Minister of the Alliance you would have exposed many governmental secrets with the correct form of questions." Madeline toasted her wine to him.
Darien shook his head trying to take himself back, "She told me she was moving to Elysian. Better job prospects, cheaper living standards. I knew I had to follow her because I didn't want her not in my life. Everyone was going to go back to Elysian anyways, I just wanted to speed up the process because I couldn't lose her."
"You've always had feelings for her."
He threw a couple bills down, "I have to get back to Elysian. I have to tell her." Darien shook his head, "Hey, wait. I have to give you a ride back. It's late."
"I'll be fine." She waved over to a gentleman who just arrived near the entrance.
Darien smirked. Times do change and this time for the better. "Stay safe."
When she woke up the next morning, Mina was alone. This wasn't the first time, but it was the first time she remained alone in another man's home with all of her clothes still fully on her. Not a hair was mussed and tangled in a fashion that would imply need, desperation, and desire. Her curls fell crumpled as if she only slept in it and she did. Her pale pink gown from the night before had a few wrinkles here and there, but otherwise looked pretty good. Her head didn't hurt, the world wasn't spinning so she wasn't hungover. Why couldn't she remember anything though? What the hell did she do last night?
At another gathering of the wealthy elite she was forced to attend because her dear sweet grandpa was in town, she vaguely remembered tearing another girl apart with words, champagne the bubbled and overflowed her glass, blood red wine, the rings on her grandpa's hand she bought him another one, and Kael catching her from falling down some stairs.
"Kael!" Mina shot out of bed looking around the apartment for any source of the homeowner only to find it empty. It was Saturday meaning he wasn't at work so where was he?
She picked up her phone from the nightstand to see about 8 unread messages from Rei, Jerry, and Kael. Rei's were more out of concern for she too was at the event, Jerry's mirrored his wife, and Kael only left one. It was straight to the point and cold. One that he didn't send to her, his friend until now.
Breakfast sandwiches are in the fridge, I wrote the cooking instructions. Spare clothes are hung in the bathroom, and medicine if you need it is in the cabinet above the coffee maker.
Clicking on the phone icon next to his image, she waited for him to pick up while tapping her food against the wood floor. He picked up on the last ring. Odd.
"What the hell happened last night? Why can't I remember anything?" Mina snapped. She would figure out why he was acting so strange later.
There was a pause over the phone. "You don't remember?"
"I remember going to that stupid party with grandpa. He may or may not have been holding someone hostage for something, I don't know. May or may not have been there. I remember making Anne cry as she tried to start something with me over a very old fling I had with her boyfriend. I remember a lot of wine being passed to me, but I'm not hungover. Just freaking out over my lost memories for the last twelve hours."
Another pause then he hesitated. Wait, he hesitated. Kael Argentum doesn't hesitate. He hasn't since he began debate club when he was 11 years old.
"Where are you and why can't I remember anything?"
Kael exhaled, "That was only one wine glass and you were drugged."
"What?" Mina exclaimed almost dropping her phone bushing over her dress. Nothing happened last night judging by the state of her dress or at least that's what she hoped.
"Relax. You're fine. I don't believe the man your grandpa caught is, but I've been told he's good at making people disappear." Kael's tone became lightened a bit at the end of his words. He always did have a dark sense of humor.
"So nothing happened?"
"Nothing happened." Kael heard her sigh of relief. He had always been a good liar. "Your grandfather asked me to take you back to your place, but you lost your keys as well so I just took you back to mine."
"Thank you." Mina laughed, "I didn't do anything to you right? I didn't pounce you or anything crazy like that?"
"You passed out in the car."
"Thank god!" Mina sighed shaking her head. Of course nothing happened and she didn't make a fool out of herself. This had to be one of her best intoxicated sort of nights she's ever had.
Hearing her relief, Kael didn't regret spinning the tale. He didn't lie, he just cut out some truths. Besides it was better this way. Mina only wanted friends and so did he. Just friends.
"Where are you?"
"I had an early flight for a client in Poseidon. Very long boring business details that you would kill me if I told you anymore."
"Ew." Mina's lips pursed. Fashion business she loved. Any other would bore her to tears. "Have fun."
With that she hung up proceeding to the kitchen. It must be Nate's breakfast sandwiches. Kael rarely had any food in his kitchen only preparing meals for one.
Kael looked down at his phone shutting off completely. He hated California. Why did she have to live in stereotypical California to be a director?
"Well isn't this a surprise." A melodious voice drew him away from his thoughts. The owner stood wearing a silk robe over pajamas that exposed her legs, arms, and shoulders. She didn't bother to cover up when she opened the door, but she had always been that confident.
"Trista. Can we talk?" His ex shrugged not giving a response only sauntering away from the door. She had always been theatrical.
"I'll make tea. I have a feeling you'll be here for a while."
The beach house she got herself reminded him of Nate's, but it wasn't as modern and sleek. He had been here at least three times since she moved and every time, he made sure her husband was away.
"You're not wondering where Kato is?"
"Brazil for the premiere of that movie about fruit." Kael retorted, "You redecorated?"
She came back holding a tray of her finest China she had been gifted with. She only ever used those for casual company. "No. Now what's the problem that you'll come see me at this hour of the day? Must have been serious."
Is it so masochistic that he enjoyed the company of his ex-girlfriend who's married to someone else? He still enjoyed being near her, talking to her, and laughing with her. It was as if they were still together, until she left again to the good life she had.
Preferring to get straight to the point, Kael told her. "Mina kissed me."
Trista blinked a few times before nodding, "Congrats? That doesn't sound like a problem."
"She wasn't in the right state of mind and I kissed her back. Many lines were almost crossed before I stopped myself." Kael sighed shaking his head. She passed out minutes later in his arms and now she doesn't remember a thing.
Trista placed her teacup on the coffee table, "Nothing happened. You stopped."
"I know that logically. I know. She sounded so relieved on the phone when I lied to her." Kael remembered Mina's sigh and laugh when she thought nothing happened. "So why do I feel so guilty?"
"You have nothing to feel guilty over. You're a lawyer, it's your job to defend guilty. You understand what that means."
Kael shook his head, "I know. I don't understand either."
"Well," Trista began, "Have you ever felt guilt? Kael, you've never felt bad or regretted anything in your life."
"I just accept my choices." Kael frowned. He was so sure of what he was feeling.
"Maybe you like her."
"No." Kael shook his head, "That's not it."
"Why not? Mina is sweet, pretty, smart, funny, and a successful business woman. She's practically perfect." Trista began, "Also, you seem lighter when you're with her."
"What does that mean? Lighter?"
"You act like you carry the world on your shoulders even when we were together. With her, it's like she helps you carry it and you let her." Trista smiled at him, "You like her."
"It doesn't feel like all of those other times. I've liked women after you."
"No, you lusted. You like them physically. With Mina, it's that feeling that scares you because you never thought that you could care for someone else in that way. Falling in love a second time feels just as amazing as the first time. It's different but familiar." Trista explained her voice growing wistful.
Kael shook his head, "It could be guilt. You've felt guilt before I'm sure. How about now?"
"Why would I? We're just friends."
"Who act as if we were still together." Kael pointed out causing Trista to frown, "We discuss our latest book reads in the park, go the library together, walk along the beach, try restaurants you've always wanted to eat at, but can't because your husband is gluten free only, and pretty much everything we used to do."
Trista shook her head, "I don't regret marrying my husband. He's a good man. I care about him and I love him, very much."
"So why me?"
"I only want you as my friend. That's why I don't feel guilty." Trista sighed deciding to tell him words she never had the courage to. "As a couple, as amazing as we were, we didn't work. You are my first love and you'll always own a part of me. We will always be too similar, stubborn, and think that we don't deserve the good that comes in our life. However, you were for me the perfect first love."
A part of him will always want to be with Trista. When they decided to try the friends thing, he mostly used it so he could be near her. Longing, pining, and pathetic but satisfied. He couldn't be with her anymore, but he'll still be a fixture in his life. She had been one in his ever since he moved into the Shields residence when he was 10. So instead of feeling the painful longing at her words, he felt acceptance instead. The closure he always wanted.
"Maybe it isn't guilt. I sometimes feel bad when we spend time together because I don't need to look for that companionship elsewhere with someone else. No one has to get used to me or tries to change me." Kael explained.
"That's pretty lonely. Not letting someone in because you don't want to adapt."
"I've lived for this long."
"I think of it more as existing than living. You've always been pretty safe except around your friends and me." Trista grinned at him when she mentioned herself. "Do you remember how I made you climb that ferris wheel after hours?"
Kael rolled his eyes, "Vividly. You wanted to get closer to the stars and I didn't want you to fall. Michiru had to turn on the ferris wheel just to get you down."
"Darien hit you for not stopping me." Trista laughed, "First time he ever hit you. You're his #1 if he had to rank all of you."
"Luckily he was only 14 at the time and still pretty scrawny. Now he would leave a mark." Kael shook his head. The happiest memories of his past were when he wasn't safe. It was when someone forced him out of his comfort zone then pushed him off it.
"Do you think it's odd how much time we spend together? We even actively go out of our way to see each other." Trista asked thinking back to her thoughts she had before Kael interrupted. Last time she flew to Terra just to try this cafe that had colorful latte art and Kael of course indulged her. "It does have that affair feel to it."
"When have you ever cared?"
"I didn't, I don't." Trista sighed, "Maybe I'm using you too. To not get close to my husband, which is ridiculous because we've been married for seven years."
"Is this about the children thing?" Kael remembered how frustrated she sounded when she vented to him a couple weeks ago.
"It's not just because I can't physically have one. It's more he wants one and I don't. I never did. I like working and I like my life and my figure." Trista groans, "When he tries to talk about it, I shut him down. I know failing relationship rule #1, but I don't know what else to do."
Kael gave her a small smile for comfort, "I think we both have issues, don't do well at communicating, and we enjoy using each other to escape them."
"I don't think our problems will go away talking to each other. We give horrible advice. It's why none of our friends ever asks us." Trista shook her head, "Enough about me. Relax, I won't give any advice. More of an ear to listen then I'll find a way to distract us both. Maybe think about what I said earlier."
His shoulders loosened up at that. Distractions were what she was infamous for when it came to avoiding her problems. "I don't know. Maybe I did and that's why I feel like this right now. She's my friend that doesn't want anything from me. Just my company."
Trista began looking at airplane flights that would be leaving in the next few hours. This house made her want to suffocate. "Let's have a weekend in D.C. I've never been there."
"It's rather touristy isn't it?" Kael asked with a smirk.
Trista shrugged, "I hate those things and so do you. We'll take pictures, post them everywhere, and ignore all of contacts. We'll have a marvelous time avoiding our issues until it comes to confront us. Next time I see my husband, we'll have a row."
"When does he come back?"
They both stood up as she began pushing him out the door. She'll get new clothes there. Trista smirked when they made their way to his rental car, "In a few hours."
"You love Rini right?"
Those were the first words Serena heard when she picked up her phone just when she was about the leave for work. Serena stopped in her tracks dropping her backpack on the couch fully composing herself when Rei called.
"Why would you ever ask me that?"
She heard Rei groan over the phone. The kind where she was controlling her temper and failing. "Just answer the question Meatball Head!"
"Yes. Love her to death. Would easily cut off a piece of my liver for her!" Serena retorted. That nickname did catch on within her girl group. "What's this about?"
So Serena listened to Rei's ramblings of right and wrong, forgiveness and forgetting, venting about her evil stepmother, a very colorful curse word to describe her father, and finally to the root of her problem, her half sister.
"Give her a chance or condemn her for life. There is no right answer."
Rei sighed, "Can't you tell me?"
"Rini and I are different than you and Cassia. She came to live with Sammy and I a few years after us. She was only a baby. I protect and love Rini with my life." Serena explained, "Can you really tell me you'll do the same for Cassia?"
"May I also remind you her mother is only a bitch to you because in her convoluted mind, you're trying to replace Cassia." Serena pointed out, "Look I'm not encouraging you to condemn her, but she was raised by you know...her."
"It's just a lot to think about and take in."
"Look," Serena began, "I will always play both sides. The other side is, Cassia reached out to you wanting you in her life. I'm not saying go be best friends, but maybe hearing her out will give you the closure you need from your insane family. Maybe it'll be nice to have someone understand where you come from. I highly doubt your father suddenly became affectionate, loving, and devoted with her as well."
"I'm still thinking about it." Rei replied, "So you and Darien? Together now?"
Serena snorted, "I kissed him. I told him how I felt. That's it. Ball is in his court and he'll decide what he wants to do with this new knowledge."
"So you'll be ok with him rejecting you?"
"I'm human, it'll hurt. I'll move on though with no regrets or what ifs. The last thing I want to do is that whole 'what if I did this' or 'if only' scenarios run through my mind like clockwork." Serena explained shaking her head, "I feel insane myself."
"I guess you'll just have to trust fate to have your back."
"I'm pregnant and hormonal! What fortune cookie thing do you want me to say?"
"I don't know!" Serena exclaimed groaning audibly when she looked at her watch, "Crap, I promise I'm not blowing you off but I really have to go."
Serena shoved her camera in backpack going over her checklist in her head: notebook, camera, water, salted pretzels, and her wallet. The bus leaves in 15 minutes, she should be fine if she leaves now. As Serena opens the door about to dash out, she almost falls over if it wasn't for Darien's reflexes. Unfortunately, he wasn't going to let go. Any other time she may have enjoyed the physical contact, but not when she was working.
"Thanks." Serena looks down at her watch tapping her foot when he wouldn't let her go, "Look Darien, I really have to go now and…"
"I like you too." Darien said cutting Serena off.
"Your flight was supposed to land tomorrow morning." Serena pointed out trying to ignore the stupid insects fluttering all around her stomach.
Darien smiled sheepishly, "I took an earlier flight. Lana knows all of the details, she can finish up for me."
Serena counted the hours in her head, "You've been on a plane for the last 12 hours and then you came here to tell me this."
"You didn't change, shower, or have any of your belongings either."
Darien rolled his eyes, "I just flew halfway around the world to tell you I like you too and you're asking me about my hygiene?"
"Well it is one of my dealbreakers." Serena quipped looking anywhere else but at him, "You like me too?"
"Yeah meatball brain."
If only her stomach would stop churning and her palms would stop sweating, she would have slapped him for that. "Oh. In what way?"
Darien was prepared for was never going to be simple and accept his confession. "I love you as my friend and my family. I like you as a woman. What a man can feel for a woman, I feel that." He didn't want to complicate this, "Serena, I really like you."
"Why did you never consider me?" That was what always haunted Serena, his first rejection then avoidance between the two so that they could stay friends. Why she never wanted to open herself to how mankind loves.
He sighed before meeting her eyes, holding her in his stare so that she never doubted his words. "Because I love you as my friend. If we don't work out after crossing that line, I'll not only lose you as love but as my friend as well."
"I don't want to lose you as my friend either. You're family to me." Serena was never good with emotions, "I swear Rini and Sammy prefer you to me."
Darien grinned at that. "So how about a compromise?"
"1 month." Darien began, "1 month of dating. See if we can do this, survive. If not, we'll stay friends and move on with our lives without the whole what if feeling. We could be like in Friends with Rachel and Joey who couldn't move past friends."
Serena nodded smirking at the reference, "Deal, 1 month."
Darien nodded along with her before the silence filled them becoming awkward by the minute. Serena always one to take charge said the first words, "I haven't dated in a long time Shields."
"Well I have only had one relationship for most of my life so I'm not the expert."
"Shall we be novices together than? You and me, amusement park by Mortal's Beach say right now?"
Darien's lips formed a smile, "I thought I was supposed to ask you out first."
"Novices. Let's make our own book of what a relationship entails."
"I like that. Shall we go now?"
"I thought you don't do love." Darien commented as they got into his car to drive to the amusement park.
Serena turned to him with a smirk, "I don't. Your job during this month is to convince me otherwise. We may have agreed to date, but I'm stubborn and set in my ways like a little old lady that lives in the same village her entire life."
Darien tilted his head back in forth, "I can be persuasive."
"1 month? What if I don't feel the same way after this?" Serena asked with a teasing look.
Darien had always been hesitant, but he figured why not. Some of the best relationships began with years of friendship. That's what was missing in his relationship with Madeline the first time. That element of friendship. "Prepare to never want to return me after this month Meatball Brain."
Serena stuck her tongue out at him, "Still calling me Meatball Brain?"
"I thought pet names were cute. Meatball Brain, Meatball Head, anything Meatball related. How could I forget those large buns you used to wear all the time years ago."
"So I can call you a pet name too?"
Her tone was neutral, but her expression said otherwise. Her blue eyes twinkled with mischief and he could almost hear the embarrassing names she thought of this second running around in her mind like end credits. This was a bad idea, but he wasn't going to protest now. Even on his phone she's Meatball Head.
Darien pursed his lips, "You can do better than that."
"It fits! You're not the happiest person. You can be pretty bitter at times and you love eating all sorts of melons. It fits. It was one of the more innocent ones I could think of and call you in public."
"Come on be a little more creative." Darien goaded only for Serena to glare at him before she smirked when a thought came to mind. "Why do you look so victorious?"
Serena doesn't say anything only she takes the hand that wasn't on the steering wheel lacing his fingers around hers. Darien's cheeks reddened keeping his eyes on the road. Serena always had better control of her emotions manages to keep her cheeks from blushing. Thank god he didn't have super hearing because her heart was thumping along like a drum. "Legs."
Darien turns back to look at her with a confused expression, "What?"
"You have abnormally long legs."
Darien pulls his hand away from hers, pushing her shoulders as she continues to giggle. Serena holds onto her abdomen still laughing, "It was either that or the not so original pretty boy. No, I like them both. Sir Legs and Mr. Pretty Boy."
"You are so annoying."
"You love it." They froze at her words causing Serena to go in to correct herself, "Not like you love me. That is way too fast."
"Right," Darien nodded his voice trying to remain casual, but it was becoming more awkward by the minute, "It's a characteristic I enjoy. Love on a good day, but not love you like that. Not that I won't come to it or maybe I'll never love."
"Exactly." Serena laughed to cover up her nerves. She wasn't going to slip like that again.
The pair grew silent neither knowing what else to say after that. It was easier if they were only friends. How do you transition from best friends to whatever this was now? A one month trial like what is offered to you in those infomercials. Serena shook her head, no she wanted this. If only they could be friends and more than that at the same time.
Darien gave all of his focus to the road in front of him. He cursed himself at his words. With Madeline it wasn't ever like this. Darien was the romantic aficionado, always had a flare and a way with words. Serena was different probably because the foundation to their budding relationship is friendship. When he was being too corny, she would slap him then make fun of him, telling the world about what he had just said or done. Being a helper of love, she often laughed in the face of it, claiming she had no romantic bone in her body. She could plan romance with the utmost detail, but she did it strategically for other people to get what she wanted: satisfaction and money. Also, she's his best friend. A person who has seen him in sweats, messy hair, and tear stains on his face. This was entirely new territory for both of them. Would it work out? Some of Darien's doubts ceased as he pulled up to the beach and Serena lit up like a kid in a candy store at the sights of the lights from the ferris wheel. Those doubts came back with her next words.
"This is where Lucille will propose to Daphne. I can see it now pastel balloons, a gentle breeze, and a bouquet of daffodils on the blue cart of the ferris wheel at 3 pm." Serena got out of the car pulling out her phone, typing away details of her plan. Darien ran a hand through his hair, Serena would have an ulterior motive for asking him out first.
"If we have kids, I can't wait to tell them about our first date. Mommy dragged Daddy along to scout locations for work using his romantic heart to her advantage."
Serena turned around rolling her eyes, "I was going to come here before you showed up at my door unannounced. You made me miss the bus so you owed me."
Novices indeed. Darien rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger, "That's not how this works."
"Says who? Do you have a dating handbook with you right now?"
"You don't use your boyfriend as transportation for work pretending it's a date making him fall a little by her spontaneity." Darien said in exasperation.
"We're going to have a date...while I'm working. Come along, you're here to keep me company." With that said, Serena didn't wait for him as she walked towards the pier taking a few pictures here and there along the way.
Darien had to jog just to reach her at one of the concession stands. She took various photos with her phone while jotting down notes on a tiny notebook he gave her last year for Christmas. It caused the butterflies in his stomach to be fully active when he noticed that detail. He spent most of the beginning of their 'date' chasing after her when she had an idea pop into her mind for her clients. Every time he would try to salvage the remainder of their date by acting like a typical boyfriend, she would narrow her eyes at him for suggesting such a thing. Serena didn't respond to holding out the doors or buying food. She would take it then skip away somewhere else to whatever that caught her fancy. It wasn't the first time Darien had to chase her around while she worked, but not understanding how he was supposed to act for this trial was taking a toll for him mentally.
Just to slow her down, Darien had to forcibly take her hand in his only for her to try to yank it back. "I need my other hand."
Darien fed up with her demeanor made sure his next words emphasized his exasperation. "Can you pretend you're having a good time with me?"
Serena froze in her footsteps turning back to face him with a baffled expression, "Who says I'm not having a good time with you?"
"You are?" Darien asked in disbelief.
Serena nodded slowly approaching him, "If I didn't I would have ditched you near the carousel hours ago." Darien tried to hide his look of doubt, but Serena saw it right away. These were times she was happy to have feelings for her friend. "Darien, I know I'm not the most romantic person in the world and I'll never be the typical girlfriend, but have a little faith in me. I'm not stringing you along and I meant what I said tonight. I do want to try whatever this is."
"If it doesn't work out?" Darien asked looking down at his feet only to have Serena lift his chin so that he'll meet her eyes.
"Then we'll never regret it. We'll find love elsewhere, but at least we tried. Just act as you've always acted. Be Darien Shields."
"Darien Shields." Darien repeated smiling down at her blushing expression. Serena being Serena pushed him gently in response.
Once again, Darien chased after her but with a clearer head. They bickered back and forth when he bought them a funnel cake to share and she pretty much ate all of it in one sitting. She punched his arm hard enough he's sure he'll have a bruise in the morning. In response, he knocked her soda from her hands.
"You are so immature!" Serena exclaimed taking the napkins in his hand drying herself off.
Darien glared at her pointing to his face, which had powdered sugar all over it. "Does this look like makeup to you? You started this may I remind you that."
"You may not." Serena retorted, her glare softened when she looked at him. Powdered sugar on his forehead mostly his hairline and the fallout from it on the rest of his face. Was this what changed when they decided to date? That giddy feeling she never had when she was around him before filled her whole body and the uncontrollable urge to smile like an idiot when he was around. She stepped forward deciding to help him with his own clean up. She laughed as his eyes widened at her affectionate act, he couldn't help but join her.
"Was this what you meant when you said to be ourselves?" Darien asked brushing off the remnants of sweet sugar off his black t-shirt.
"I kind of expected this to happen not the sugar or soda. It's never really peaceful when we're together." Serena pointed out.
Fireworks went off causing both of them to turn their attention to the colorful booms and flashes in the night sky. People began to gather around them, but Darien couldn't see anyone else but her. Serena had walls when it came to her heart, walls he didn't even have access through. This month, maybe he'll have the opportunity to gain access. Why did it take them so long?
Serena pursed her lips, "So cheesy. That's why it's going to be at 3 pm."
"Don't like fireworks?"
"Darien, I've been to hundreds of weddings in my life. Do you know how many of them had fireworks? I'm all fireworked out at this stage in my life." Her eyes never left the exploding colorful mess above the ocean despite her objections to it. So he didn't object when she dragged him towards the parking lot demanding he take her home before everyone decides to leave after the show.
The car ride wasn't completely silent resembling their earlier banter they always had. Only this time, their hands remained intertwined the entire time. When they arrived back at her house, was when they separated.
Darien grinned, "I can say something but you can't hit me because it's going to be disgustingly sweet and corny."
Serena groaned, "I can't take all of this romance, but fine. Lay it on me."
Darien laughed taking her hand in his, "This is our first time seeing fireworks together. Replace the bad with this one good memory full of the romance that is our first date."
"Oh my god." Serena laughed shaking her head, "I want to hit you so hard, but I won't. Ew. Never say that again."
"I told you!" Darien exclaimed.
"Also, this isn't the first time we've seen fireworks together. At Michiru and Haruka's anniversary dinner they launched a huge show at the end of the night."
"I don't count that."
"You spent most of the night throwing water balloons at me! We didn't really enjoy the show." Darien pointed out chuckling, "You know some of my happiest memories involve you."
Serena's heart beated faster at that. "Stop trying to seduce me."
"I'm not. I don't even mean this in a me trying to be romantic kind of way. I seriously mean it." Darien replied unsure if he was supposed to kiss her goodnight or not. When they were only friends, he would normally crash at her place if it was late enough on the couch. Stalk into her home as if he owned the place making it to her bathroom where his spare toothbrush was then borrow clothes from Sammy. Dating, wasn't it odd if he continued to do that?
Serena was as confused as he was. She was used to just opening the door and allowing him inside, but was that too soon? She didn't want to sleep with him or seduce him, it wasn't the right time for that and she wasn't ready.
She bounced her weight from her toes to her heels, "Um, good night."
"Night." Darien repeated almost running to his car before he called out to her, "Was I supposed to kiss you just then?"
"No." Serena replied quickly wanting this conversation to be done, "You know first dates and all."
"I thought so too." Darien laughed nervously, feelings mutual. "So I'll call you tomorrow? I guess."
"Yeah and I'll answer." Serena replied cursing herself. Seriously? I'll answer?
Darien didn't seem to notice, his mind now on trying to leave his new girlfriend as soon as he could. Weird, girlfriend and Serena. "Cool."