DISCLAIMER: I do not own Sailor Moon. I use it without permission. All right, I admitted it, are you happy now? Do not post without written consent; for entertainment purposes only.

Extreme fluff ahead. Marginally OOC. (sigh) My first Sailor Moon fanfic. Don't say I didn't warn you. Early first season.

Comments, questions, rebukes, and all other forms of criticism will be accepted and considered.

==========

"your slightest look

easily will unclose me

though i have closed myself as fingers,

you open always petal by petal

myself as spring opens

(touching skillfully, mysteriously)

her first rose"

-- e.e. cummings



Incandescence



Darien always visited the park everyday, careful to choose a time when the natural scenery was most likely devoid of noisy picnickers and traipsing tourists. To him they had their uses, but people seemed to disturb the sense of peace that could be found in a park. And what was a major reason for coming to the park, if not for the peace and beauty?

Thus he sat on a grassy knoll alone, gazing at the lake in silence, with the roses blooming around him in an intricate pattern.

He always stopped here, even for just a moment, to let its beauty quiet and calm him. Today, with the sun setting quietly and coloring the air with red and orange hues, he allowed himself to sink into safety. Flowers did that to him; he didn't know why. There was just something about sitting alone on a park bench surrounded by beautiful things that waited patiently, content to bask in the sun and shade while the world swept past.

Darien brushed his fingertips against a fragrant rose gently, enjoying the softness on his callused fingers. A light rose scent wafted through the air, picked up by his sensitive nose. No matter how many different kinds of flowers and smells he encountered daily, he was sure nothing would captivate his senses the way roses did. Other flowers were beautiful in their own way, but there was something about roses that held him. It was just another unexplainable fact. There was a certain warm glow to them, comforting and marvelous at the same time, that was simply unrivaled to anything Darien could remember knowing.

Not that anything he remembered was worthy to compare. All he remembered from his childhood was an onslaught of bustling nurses and social workers, all pretending that they cared about what happened to him and that he was more than just another patient, all of them leaving behind the smell of cold and medicine and detachment, of life without color. He knew he hadn't been anything more than his chart. It's not exactly an confidence-boosting thing to learn when you're six or seven, that you're only worth a few squiggles on cheap paper.

He sometimes wondered if he had some brightness in his life before forgetting everything, before the car crash stole away his safety. He had one picture of his parents, just one of him standing between them. And grinning. Darien liked to imagine that he was grinning at a funny joke his father told him, or laughing because his mother warned him not to play too roughly. He would strain and strain his memory, trying to remember what his life was like then, trying to find a time when he had some light in his life. But all he would remember was a blind darkness, then waking up to steel-framed beds and white linoleum.

Darien, mentally apologizing to the park gardeners, gently clipped the rose from its bush with the small pocketknife he carried around 'just in case'. He buried his nose into the bud of the rose, inhaling the fragrance. At least roses had life and color, something he wondered if humans would ever have.

His trained eyes, partly buried in the rose, spotted movement at the bottom of the knoll. Darien looked up in irritation. Couldn't he ever be left in peace?

Blonde pigtails waved happily in the breeze. His eyes followed them to their source, a small head with buns turned toward the lake. He stifled a groan.

If he had to be interrupted by anyone, why THIS girl? He remembered her quite vividly: this was the one who threw a test paper on his head, then had the nerve to yell at him as if it was all his fault he happened to be standing there. A really bad test paper too, he recalled. A thirty. He couldn't think of a time when he got a thirty on an important-looking test. Darien hadn't been the model student in junior high - the studious part of his brain had been overruled by the rebellious part at the time - but he hadn't been a slacker either.

Maybe if he had gotten a thirty, he would have wanted to chuck the test too. How would he know? And at any rate, why would he care? He probably didn't even remember her name. He met lots of girls everyday; girls always seemed to show up wherever he was, much to his puzzlement, and they always got mad at him because he couldn't remember all their names and never cared to learn. He couldn't possibly have retained hers and not the others.

She was still in her school uniform of blue and white, leaning precariously against the low railing that prevented onlookers from falling into the deep lake, and gazing at the setting sun with such dreamy rapture that Darien smiled. This didn't look like the same small girl who had turned on him in a tearful, red-faced rage, insulting him with surprising fervor when confronted with her crumpled exam. She looked calm, she looked peaceful, she looked....

Serena. Her name was Serena. He remembered. And for the first time, he could see how the name matched with the person.

He watched the blonde pigtails flutter in the warm breeze like golden flags, and he did not notice his own amazement at the shimmering flecks of light that her hair caught like a net. He'd have to ask her one day why she fixed her hair in that strange style, with those two little buns (meatballs, he couldn't help thinking) on top of her head and the rest of her hair cascading down. He knew no one else with such a distinctive look, yet for some reason he thought the whole thing familiar. Maybe he'd seen it in a fad magazine or television commercial - But Darien witnessed the bare minimum of either one.

His fingertips tightened on the rose's stem unconsciously. Darien rose from his place on the knoll, and suddenly he was walking toward her. This was ridiculous; he had nothing to say to such a weird girl, didn't know her, wasn't sure he wanted to know her. But he didn't stop himself from moving closer and leaning against the rail at a safe distance, pretending not to notice she was there. He stared at the sinking sun and watched its last light swath the water in brightness. He felt dazed. This couldn't really be happening.

Darien's hand gripped the metal bar of the fence, the coolness of the peeling paint rooting him to reality. This was no big deal. She was just a girl. He had had plenty of experience (none of it fond) with girls. Who could understand girls? Plus she was THAT girl, the one who couldn't walk down the sidewalk without tripping over a crack. Watch, any minute now she'd fly over the railing and into the lake, shrieking the entire time. And he'd have to fish her out. Simple as that.

Darien tried to ignore the girl in his peripheral vision, and failed. His eyes shifted apprehensively to his left, expecting to see a small face looking at him indignantly, demanding to know why he didn't say anything, and how could he just IGNORE her like that?

But Serena did not seem to realize Darien was nearby at all. Her bright eyes remained glued to the beautiful view, the beginnings of a smile forming at the corners of her mouth in lazy contentment. Her elbow was propped against the flaking metal bar, her head resting on her open palm. She was floating in her own reverie.

Darien felt a flash of irritation. Damn it, why didn't she say anything? This certainly was a blow to his ego. He had never gone unnoticed before unless he wanted it that way. Even in the crowded hospitals and orphanages nurses, patients, social workers, and other orphans would often try to talk to him and gain his trust. But he hadn't wanted anything to do with them.

His brain struggled to produce a clever opening line, a witty and complimenting statement that would subtly attract her attentions. But his brain had ceased to function. It was as if someone had flicked a light switch from on to off. Before he could stop himself or retreat, however, Darien had already opened his mouth:

"Careful, meatball head, that railing can't take a lot of weight you know. With all that food you eat, it'll collapse any minute!"

Mentally he cringed. But it was too late to remedy the situation; Serena whipped her elbow away from the railing dangerously and turned to glare at him with fire in her eyes, the tranquil expression replaced by one of fury. Well, he thought faintly, at least he had her attention.

"You!" she spat out. "What are you doing here? And don't call me that!"

Darien's earlier irritation heightened. Her tone of voice knocked his ego down a couple more notches. How dare she talk like he was some kind of unwelcome bug?

"It's a park, I have every right to be here. I should be asking you that question - what, are they handing out free sweets? Or did you clean them out already?" he asked. "And I call you meatball head because it fits. Your brain is full of meatballs!"

She looked absolutely enraged.

"You're not the only one who can walk around a park! I'm here because I want to be, not that I have to explain anything to you. And if my head is so full of meatballs, at least it's not empty like yours."

Darien heard the insults, but none of them registered completely. He was watching her with concealed but utter fascination. Her eyes were shining with concentration and annoyance, and her cheeks were flushed with the effort of projecting her jibes. She looked so... alive. So bright and real that everything else paled in comparison, and he gazed at her in wonder. How could a person be so open?

And she had said that she was here because she wanted to be. Just like him.

Without thinking (he had given up on trying to think around her) Darien replied, "But I do know your name."

Serena's eyes bugged out. Clearly that was not the response she was expecting and, not for the first time, Darien felt a bit awkward. The tone of the conversation had certainly changed, and he wasn't sure he liked it.

Recovering, she said with a lowered, maddening, tone, "Well then, Mr. I'm- So-Smart College Student, what's my name? You'll never guess."

He hesitated. "....Serena." He said it slowly and fully, memorizing how easily his mouth formed the syllables, tasting the word on his tongue. If this was how one word could feel, Darien thought, he would never stop talking.

She looked only slightly disappointed. "How did you know? That was a lucky guess," she accused, mistaking his gradual pronunciation for mental flailing.

"Lucky guess?" He laughed, still in another world. "Whoever else has a name like yours?"

Oops. Darien realized his mistake too late. Serena's eyes narrowed dangerously, and whatever positive demeanor she felt towards Darien disappeared faster than a snowball in summer. He watched, mystified, as she held her head high and regarded him with an air of annoyed dignity.

"Don't make fun of my name! It's special, and no one else has it. I bet there are fifty million Dariens!"

The words hit him harder than a physical blow. A special name for a special girl like no one else. For once he didn't disagree. There may have been only one of her, a person who radiated energy unconsciously and freely, but there were hundreds like himself, people alone and looking to other things for life. He felt his hand close more tightly around the rose, and for a shocking and still moment felt profoundly alone.

He must have taken a bit longer than usual to snap a comeback; Serena was blinking at him in confusion, her triumph ebbing away. He fought to sound nonchalant.

"There may be fifty million people with my name," he said, trying to grin exuberantly, "but there are none quite like me." He was thankful the catch in his voice went undetected.

"Thank the gods for that," she said tartly, seemingly relieved. "I don't think I could handle it."

"Of course not," Darien replied automatically, his free hand absurdly clutching the railing like the lone life preserver in an ocean during a raging storm.

The world was suddenly spinning in his vision, a tumble of images and colors, breathtaking and terrifying. Part of him yearned to reach out and drop silently into the abyss, but the last vestiges of his sanity screamed at him not to let go. Something would happen if he let go. He would be lost forever.

"It takes immense talent and skill to handle a person like me," he said, continuing a conversation that spoke about nothing yet somehow meant everything. She could banish him with a gesture, murder him with a careless word, and she would never know.

How he had gotten to this point, from hating someone with burning intensity and then perching precariously on every word that same someone spoke with even greater depth, Darien would never fully understand. But understanding wasn't important.

The last wisps of sunlight flickered away below the horizon, leaving the two people and the quickly-emptying park in temporary darkness. The hanging lamps placed strategically throughout the park flared to life one by one, flickering at first, then blazing steadily. But neither person moved to leave.

Her anger already forgotten, Serena's expression was one of mingled laughter and disbelief. The world spun faster. "Why would it take skill and talent? That's your ego talking - I always told you it was way too big."

"No," he insisted. "I tell you, that's not it. It really does take a special person to be able to handle someone like me."

It was as if his mouth had detached from his brain. He had never talked so freely before that he could remember, had no clue what he was saying and didn't really care, as long as it kept her here and talking to him. Shining at him.

She merely shook her head. The look of incredulity on her face was priceless. But then she stopped moving.

What was she staring at? Him? Darien could feel the heat rising in his cheeks and fought it down. He was not going to blush. Or look away. Serena gazed at him with an expression of intensity heightened by the night, and he felt as if every fiber of his soul was revealed and being scrutinized, to be deemed fit or unworthy. Something akin to pain flashed as something deep inside him warred with his inner consciousness, something new yet familiar.

And finally his consciousness let go, and he was lost. Lost, but somehow right where he belonged.

Serena broke eye contact first, seemingly flustered. Her eyes traveled down the length of his arm and rested on his hand. "What's that?" Her voice was oddly constricted.

Darien started. "What's - Oh." He held up his rose to the lamplight. Though the petals had been smushed somehow and no longer looked perfect, the dark red flower still shone in the artificial glow. "I've always liked roses for some reason."

She nodded, musing. "Roses are beautiful," she murmured distantly, almost to herself. "More beautiful than anything."

Something in him ached at the sad tone the usually cheerful girl had used. "Not everything," he said, surprising both her and himself with the force. "Roses are beautiful but..." The words stuck in his throat. "....but.... some things..."

As if understanding his difficulty, Serena didn't wait for him to finish. She beamed a smile, not entirely fake. "Yeah, roses are great," she enthused. "But other things are great too. Like sunlight and candy and video games and my friends...." She shuddered, then giggled. "But not homework. Ugh!"

He laughed fully and happily, a sound that reverberated through the growing things and the lake water. When was the last time he genuinely laughed?

"I'm sure you're right. But if you like roses so much, here." Without thought or fear, Darien took her small wrist, opened the unresisting fist, and pressed the flower to her palm.

Her eyes met his yet again, wide and shocked. Only then did his actions crash down onto his shoulders, and he inhaled sharply, waiting for the final blow to fall.

Slowly her fingers closed around the rose stem. "Thank you," she said softly.

Darien said nothing, unable to even if he tried. His swirling, dizzy, delirious thoughts were clinging to one all-important fact: He was still holding her hand.

"I'd better go." Did she sound reluctant? He hoped she was reluctant.

"Me too," he managed. "Busy day tomorrow." Good job, Darien, he scolded himself. Sound even more like an idiot.

"Right." And she pulled gently away from his grip. "Maybe I'll see you around sometime."

"Right," he repeated, carefully neutral. "Maybe."

Maybe.

**

Why didn't he say she was beautiful? He had meant to say it, had wanted to say it. But at the last second, he choked.

Darien walked back to his apartment the long way. He gazed up into the night, stars glittering defiantly in the darkness, and relived for a brief moment standing in the park at sunset, and pressing his favorite flower into a warm hand. Already every sensation of his afternoon had been seared into memory.

Finally he stood outside his apartment complex, still looking at the sky above. He searched until he found the brightest star, then shut his eyes and wished with all his heart. It was something he hadn't done since he was a child, but somehow it seemed right.

Someday, he vowed. Someday, he was going to tell her that she was beautiful.



~ End ~



Began: October 29, 2001

Completed: January 1, 2002