Ai woke up slowly. There was something tickling the back of her head. A few thoughts that seemed to vanish as soon as she tried to grab onto them. Only one stuck with her: bathroom.
She got up from around the fizzled campfire, pushing her blankets to the end of her bedroll, and made the short journey to the large rock they had designated as the toilet. She was very careful not to wake up Julie or the other two. There wasn't any sign of Dee, but Alis and Julie we're both curled up under their covers, snoring away. Julie needed the sleep. Ever since Scar left, the trail still hot thanks to Celica, he'd been pretty down in the dumps.
Blearily, Ai strafed the rock, not bothering to really open her eyes. It wasn't until she was halfway around it that she realized that she didn't actually have to go to the bathroom.
"BOO!" The loud shout plus the sudden eruption of ghostly hands from Ai's stomach made her freeze and shriek in fear. She fell forward, arms akimbo, as laughter sprung up from behind her. The gravekeeper looked behind her as best she could from laying on the ground to find Dee was floating above her, hands to her gut as she let loose with entirely uncalled-for cheer.
"Dee~" Ai whined as she got up onto her knees. "That wasn't very nice!"
"You're right, it wasn't. But it was funny!" Dee cackled. Her eyes narrowed in thought, finger to her chin as she asked, "I wonder if this would work on Julie? He seems pretty stoic, but I think even he would freak at having someone's limbs floating clear through him."
Ai grumbled wordlessly as she dusted herself off.
"Anyway…" The ghost girl twisted around the rock, checking on something before she mumbled, "Good. They're still asleep." A toothy grin crossed her face as she cheerily said, "Time for some girl talk~"
"Girl talk...?" The gravekeeper tilted her head, her untied hair pooling against the ground.
"Yeah!" Blinking at Ai's confused face, Dee explained, "It's where girls sit around and chit-chat with each other. I want to know a bit more about you, beyond what I've overheard. Straight from the source, unfiltered!"
"O...kay…?" Ai swung her feet around so she was now sitting cross-legged. "We can girl talk…?"
She wasn't sure how Dee even knew she would be awake. It seemed like she had fallen asleep earlier. Maybe Ai had imagined it? But no, that was silly. She'd imagined needing to go to the bathroom, but not Dee falling asleep.
Then, like lightning, a realization struck her.
"You!" Ai pointed a finger accusingly at Dee. "You whispered that I needed to go to the bathroom!"
"Guilty as charged," the ghostly girl admitted with a snicker and a small hand flourish. "Witch of the West strikes again!"
"Why?! I was having good dreams!" Ai wasn't actually sure if she was having good dreams or not. They weren't bad dreams, though, so that qualified them as good dreams in her book!
"I really wanted to talk to you one-on-one. Actually talk with you without anyone else instead of just hovering around you like a creeper." Dee flipped over and started floating on her stomach. Cupping her head in a hand, she reached out and booped at Ai's nose as she finished, "I know a lot about you from what you've said and it left me with a few questions."
"Like what?" The gravekeeper's brow furrowed in thought as she ignored the fluttering butterflies in her stomach at how close the other girl was to her. She didn't have any secrets or anything that the ghost girl could have sneakily learned. What about her would invite questions from a phantom?
"You seem so...noble. Pure. Buuuut mostly naive. Why is that? I know you've seen how terrible this world is. Deceased masquerading as the living, death and the laying to rest of everything you care about…" Dee straightened up, pretending like she was standing on the solid ground in front of Ai. "You're a never-ending well of optimism. I don't know where you get it from."
Ai blinked once. That was easy to answer!
"My mom and the villagers, they all taught me to keep going. Keep reaching for my dreams. Being sad is okay, but letting it swallow you won't help anything. They lived their dreams to the best of their abilities. Now I'm living my life the same way." Ai jumped to her feet and struck a power pose. "I'll save this world! No matter what!"
"...Right." Dee looked both nervous and unconvinced. Then, shaking her head, she corrected, "Right! With an attitude like that, we'll destroy the world in no time."
That gave Ai her own question. "Why do you want to destroy the world?"
"Eh?" The ghost girl frowned. "Pretty sure Alis went over this with you already."
"Those were his reasons. I want to hear yours!" the gravekeeper petulantly demanded.
"They're the same!" Dee argued back. "The two of us are on the same page."
Ai's gut twisted at that for some reason. "Are you and Alis really that close?"
"We're pals! Buds! Besties!" Dee shot back, "Are you and Julie really that close? Or are you, the gravekeeper lady, and the baby Family, Take Two?" The phantom covered her mouth and sneakily said, "It's pretty clear he's crushing on that gravekeeper...Scar? Whatever her name is. Way to honor his family!"
"You don't even know what happened with his family!" Ai growled as her stomach somehow felt less sour at Dee's answer.
"They died, then they were put to rest. What else is there to know?" The purple-haired girl picked at one of her ears a bit. "But it couldn't have been too long ago, if the whole timeline I've got lines up right. Alis doesn't care about details like this so much, but I find everything about you absolutely fascinating! I mean, a gravekeeper/human hybrid? How deviant were your parents!?"
As Dee laughed, Ai puffed out her cheeks in frustration at both the other girl's words and the strange emotions she'd been having ever since she'd first seen the ghost girl float out of the wall in the sewer. They weren't feelings she'd ever felt before. The closest feelings she knew to them would be nervousness and nausea. Combined, but not super bad? It made her think of some teasing that Anna has done, but that was with a thing called a crush. And Ai couldn't have a crush develop fast like that...could she? The gravekeeper wasn't sure; she'd never had one!
Finally the laughter died down, the ghost girl wiping at her eyes like she had been crying. "Ohhhh goodness...I can just imagine it, which makes it even funnier! But…" A serious expression came to her face as she looked at Ai. "Why did you bury him?"
"Huh?" Ai stood, confused, waiting for an explanation to the question.
"Your dad. Why did you bury him yourself? That gravekeeper was there with you. Why didn't she bury him and save you the grief?"
"Oh." The gravekeeper's stomach churned at the memory, a completely different feeling from the butterflies. Her eyes softened as she said, "My father wanted to be put to rest with my mother. They belonged together. I put my mother to rest, so I knew what to do to make it the same. They were both laid to rest the same, side by side. It was my duty and my place to do so. Hopefully they find each other in their peace."
"That...wow, that sucks." The ghost girl shrugged, emotions at odds with her words. "If it's been me, I would've told him to kick rocks after he offed everyone. No favors for the dirtbag!"
"And that's why we're different," Ai replied simply.
Yet, at the same time, the gravekeeper felt something like envy towards Dee. The other girl had the freedom and ability to do pretty much whatever she wanted. What would Ai do if she had those abilities? Would she feel the same way?
...No. Ai had a duty to follow. Even if she could, she wouldn't abandon it.
Shoving aside the envy, Ai examined her feelings while looking at the ghost girl. Deciding to just be honest, Ai gambled by saying, "I think I like you."
Dee belly-laughed for a breath, then gestured at herself. "Of course you do! What's not to like about me? I'm the cutest ghost you'll ever meet!"
Ai's heart sunk a little. "Do other people like you?"
"Pffffft! Who doesn't!?" She began counting off, "Alis likes me, the baby likes me...Julie probably likes me in a cute kid sorta way, the freakin' old man...intergenerational relations are just weird nowadays, you know what I'm saying?"
The gravekeeper's heart was scraping along the ground now. It was strange to Ai that Celica might have a crush on Dee, but that was fine. The real challenger was Alis. "Do you like Alis?"
"Ehhh." The ghost girl waved her hand. "We have the same goal, we're friends and all...but…" She suddenly froze, then glared at Ai as she shouted "That's not fair! I'm the one with the questions! Thinking you can get away with pulling one over on me just because you're a cute kid…!"
"I have some too!" Ai cried back, arms stiff at her sides as she fought down the flush in her cheeks at the wonderful compliment. Even through her spark of anger she felt like smiling. That was as good as admitting she liked Ai back!
The ghost girl opened her mouth to reply but was cut off by a faint, "Ai?! Where are you!?"
Dee began rubbing her head. "Great. Looks like Pops is up."
"I'm at the toilet!" Ai shouted back. "I'll be right there!"
The phantom looked straight at Ai before motioning at the gravekeeper with her fingers. "We're done for tonight, but I expect more 'girl talk' tomorrow. I'd prefer it if Alis didn't know about this l, yeah?"
"Right!" Ai nodded enthusiastically. "I'm looking forward to the next one!"
Dee's mouth curled as her head tilted. "Uh-huh. Well. Can't argue with that, I guess." She began floating up over the rock. "Go on back to the pow-wow. I'm gonna watch the stars for a while."
"Gotcha!" Ai gave Dee a huge thumbs-up and, with stars in her eyes, began skipping back around the rock.
Wow! Ai had a crush, her crush thought she was cute and wanted to know more about her...how fantastic! This was probably one of the easiest crushes ever! No rejection or indecision, just straight-up facts.
Cute! She was cute! Oh! Should Ai have told her she was cute back? The gravekeeper did think she was cute. It was important in a relationship to keep communication channels open.
The next girl talk they would have would be the best! It could even be their first date! How exciting!
"Hm?" Julie hummed from where he was sitting stoking the fire as Ai skipped back to her bedroll. Crooked smile on his face, he asked, "What's got you in a good mood?"
"I—uh, had a good go?" Ai stumbled verbally as she flopped back down in her bedroll.
"Try not to take so long next time, okay? I could've sworn I heard yelling, and I don't want to have to look for you if that happens to be bandits," Julie explained, looking around past the light of the fire.
"Okay," Ai noted with a nod as she snuggled down into her blankets. She shot a glance to the top of the boulder. The peeking of ghostly purple hair out from the edge of where she could see put her at ease more than Julie did for some reason. Cheerily, Ai said, "Good night, Julie."
"Good night, Ai."
Ai rolled over, away from the fire, and fell asleep. This time she did have good dreams, with date nights, confessions, and weddings with her entire family there dancing through her head. She was happy, Dee was happy, everyone was happy. Just as it should be.