Unbelievable how far behind I've gotten on this. Sorry to everyone who was waiting on me! You all are the best for sticking around! (16,000+ hits – pretty snazzy! Not to mention 276 reviews to count!)

Cheers,

SP


Boston, Massachusetts

You've got to be kidding me. Adara sat before him on the tree branch, looking as if she'd merely asked him the date or the time of day. She glanced up at him every once in a while, her thoughts twisting, convincing herself that he couldn't have possibly misunderstood her.

Tidus watched her eyes flicker without focus, her thick eyelashes framing blue almonds. He sighed audibly, crossing his arms. "Why would you even bring that up?" he asked, carefully keeping his voice an even monotone.

Adara shrugged, drawing her knees up to her chest, letting her toes curl around the bark of the joint between branch and trunk. Her hair slid around her shoulders as she rested her sharp chin on her folded forearms, mimicking the gnarled tree's texture on her skin. "I was thinking about it." Tidus bit back a scoffing exhale. She was thinking about it.

"Obviously."

"So?" She looked at him, expecting something. Tidus wasn't going to say anything if she wouldn't articulate her thoughts. He was glad he had the freedom of scowling at her. "What would it be like, me?"

"You wouldn't like it." His irritation grew as her mind pressed forward on the subject.

"How do you know?" she asked. Tidus exhaled sharply and swung himself off of the branch, landing without the dry crunch of leaves. He turned, motioning slightly with his hand for Casey to stay with Adara. Even as he was stalking away, he heard Adara scramble down from the tree and land with a thud and thick crackling. She began to push after him, and, before she'd taken five steps with Casey trailing her shadow, she tripped, arms branched out in front of her, hands splayed.

"You trust me way too much," he muttered, sliding his hands underneath her arms and helping her gingerly upright herself. As she straightened herself, she pushed her hair from her face.

"See," she persisted, her hands still clutching his forearms, "You wouldn't have to do that anymore." Tidus looked down at her, sighing again.

"No." He stated firmly. Adara's eyebrows knotted together.

"Why not?" she demanded. Tidus focused sharply on her eyes, locking her in connection. He watched her absorb the tension, the muscles in her arms mimicking what he felt as she pulled slightly away from him. "At least think about it?" she asked, voice tight.

No. He pulled her against his chest in a hard embrace, weaving his hands into the ruff of Casey's neck. His temper was up, and Avery would probably side with Adara if he sent her back to the house. He didn't like to think of it as depositing her like a Federal Express package, but he had a hard time getting the image of his tiny brunette stamped in purple and orange letters.

--

"The nerve of him!" Adara snapped, stalking with Casey in tow down the sidewalk, her bare feet slapping the cement. She knew exactly where she was, and she didn't bother to worry about running into anyone she passed. They'll move.

She fumbled with her hands across brick walls before finding a familiar glass-paneled door, but, when she tried to viciously yank it open, she ended up jarring her body involuntarily. "God damn it!" she swore, pounding her fist into the rattling glass. "Kai!" she hollered.

Adara immediately heard barking in response, knowing that her impatient knocking had at least woken Renee up. The door shuddered underneath her now flat palms, and she guessed that Renee had skidded across the wooden floor of the pub to press her paws up onto the glass. Casey gave a quick yip next to her as she jived on her paws before anxiously sitting.

"Kai!" she yelled again, only to be met with the metallic groan of an opening lock and bells before she darted out of the way to avoid being squashed by the swinging door.

"Holy fuck, 'dara," Kai slurred, his warm voice scratchy and sleep-ridden. She heard him yawn as he pulled her inside and shut the door, locking it behind them. Casey and Renee's nails clicked on the floorboards as they moved ahead of them.

"Why were you sleeping?" she asked, letting him lead her across the room.

"First time in a couple of months." He lifted her hand: "Stairs," he murmured. Gingerly, she lifted her feet, scouting out their steepness and meeting rough carpet with her toes. She padded slowly up the stairs, letting Kai's hand guide her.

"You live upstairs?" she inquired as he led her into a spacious-feeling room after the landing.

"Loft." Adara listened to Kai shuffling around for a moment. "You want some tea?" he asked, his voice indicating his distance.

"Yeah," Adara murmured, moving with her hands along the wall to her left. She gently passed over the smooth drywall. The wooden paneling underneath her feet was cool to the touch. As she moved forward, she hit the leather arm of a couch and promptly climbed into the pile of blanket waiting for her there.

A few minutes later, Kai came to her side, sitting on the couch next to her. "Here," he said, wrapping her hands around a warm mug.

"Thanks." Adara smiled as she felt Kai stretch out, his arm spanning on the back of the couch behind her.

"So what's the story, morning glory?" It was strange how much calmer she was now, as if by entering the building, her rage had merely been tucked into a distant corner of her mind. It was there, but muted. Adara drew her knees to her chest and took a sip of the scalding tea.

"Shit," she muttered, breathing in to cool her burned tongue. She paused, running her finger around the rim of the mug. "Tidus is being irrational."

Kai chuckled shortly. "That's what he just said about you." Adara turned sharply to Kai, meeting his warm honey gaze.

"You're talking to him?!" she exclaimed. "I've thought about it! It's not that crazy. It's stupid to think that I'm going to be fine living like this. My body is dying. Doesn't that make any sense to him?" Adara angrily crossed her legs; her foot tapping an irritated rhythm on what she thought was a coffee table. "I woke up this morning," she started. Alone, she snapped mentally. "I could feel myself for a moment, and I knew-." She halted. It had been just for a fleeting moment when she'd woken, but she was so sure that she needed to confront- who? What, exactly? She grappled for that sickening decay she'd felt, but it was almost as if someone were pulling it from her mind.

"Think of all the things you'd lose if you were… like us," Kai suggested slowly, causing her to lose the solid memory completely.

"I've already lost them," she snapped. "Is there any sort of benefit as I am?" Next to her, Kai shifted, pulling the tea mug gently from her hands and setting it down with a clink.

"Feel this," he told her softly. He pulled her palm against his chest. It was perfectly still beneath the fabric of his shirt.

"I know," Adara said, pulling away. She placed her hand against her own heart, which was beating quietly. "It's going to stop."

"Then why not live until it does?"

"Because I would die then!" She heard Kai sigh heavily.

"Everyone dies."

"Except for you!" Adara looked steadily at Kai. "Don't you want to share your lives with people? I know your hearts may not beat, and you may not be alive, but you can love – I know you can." She paused. Her head hurt. She couldn't seem to keep track of what point she was trying to make on the whole, as if she couldn't focus on anything but the fact that she was scared – terrified of… dying. "I feel you every time with Kate, and I wish I could trade predicaments with you." As she spoke, she felt Kai tense, his aura shifting away from the room.

"Adara, please don't." She scrambled for his hands next to her.

"Could you talk to him, at least?" she asked, beseeching, when he picked up her hands when she couldn't find his own her own.

"I'm trying, kiddo'," he told her, standing, pulling his hands away after a soft squeeze. Adara felt him touch her shoulder gently. "I'll be back in a little while, okay? Just chill out here with Renee and Casey." She listened to him move away from her, rustling something that sounded like the material of a waterproof; his presence then vanished.

Adara fingered the clay mold of her mug, tucking her legs underneath her body, pushing herself into the arm of the couch. Shifting her mug into her left hand, she fumbled with her right to search for the coffee table. She discovered a smooth, glass-top side table where she set her mug of tea.

A wet nose at her knee told her that one of the dogs was before her. She reached forward to stroke her ears, and met Renee's warm, honey-toned gaze.

"I feel like a complete idiot," she confessed to Kai's companion. Like a burden. "What am I doing here?" she asked the canine, rubbing Renee's soft, flopping ears. Again, she thought of the first moment of her day, when she'd woken choking on her own breath, only to feel as if someone were snatching her throat with iron hands. And then, she'd been fine, as if it had never happened.

"That's the problem!" she stated. "I can't keep track of anything anymore. Something is going on and I don't know what that was and it just makes sense," she said to Renee. "Because then I would be fine, and I know that I'm going to die."

And now she cared.

She thought back to New York, back to when she'd jump in front of taxies just for the hell of it, or when she'd first held a spoon over a cigarette lighter because it didn't matter. But now it did. For whatever reason, whether she liked Boston better, or had finally given up on Evan, or if it was that nagging feeling in her heart that it was Tidus, a man she'd never even seen with her own eyes.

"Because?" she asked Renee. Stroking the dog's head one last time, she stood up forcefully, walking forwards. She spun on her heel, now meeting Casey's dark eyes.

"What's wrong with me?" she demanded to no one, turning again and pacing across the floor. "I don't even think about it anymore! I should be-." She could feel her spine arching against rough wood, clawing at the tattered curtains of that apartment, screaming at the awful way her body shook without control.

But she stood here in Kai's home, her feet slapping the smooth floor, wearing a dress that was probably worth more than her pathetic little life-.

"Fuck!" she howled, as she tripped over a hard chair and fell into a table, knocking her forehead against it as she fell onto the floor. She let her head fall back as she rolled onto her back, staring at a ceiling she couldn't see. Adara angrily shoved the tumbled chair away with her foot, letting her body splay across the floor as if she'd been dropped there. Her head pounded.

"Fuck me," she groaned, rubbing her temples, drawing her knees upwards. When Casey prodded her shoulder with her paw, Adara shifted to her side, waiting as her Shepherd lay down next to her. Twisting her fingers into Casey's ruff, she buried her face in her fur and squeezed her eyes shut.

"I want to see this," she said softly.She wanted Tidus to appear in that heart-attack manner to pull her up off of the floor, to tuck her into his arms and simply hold her against him.

Because when she'd woken up that morning, whatever that coughing was, it reminded her that she'd become afraid of what had always been happening to her – until now.

"Casey," she whimpered, knuckling away a few sandy tears. "I'm scared." She hugged the dog closer to her body as she shivered involuntarily on the cool floor.

Of myself, she slowly thought after a moment. At her back, she felt movement, turning her head slightly only to have Renee lick her cheek and settle down behind her. On both sides, the dogs warmed her shoulders, their tails brushing against the skin of her legs, and as she drew a deep breath, Adara settled herself.

"Good girls," she murmured to both Renee and Casey, looking upwards again. Stretching her body slightly on the hardwood floor, she pondered the shadow of the ceiling, wondering if it was raining in New York. "It should be raining," she told them.

--

Tidus stalked across the field, his hair whipping in the strong wind pulling in from the ocean. The water was dark and frothing, a tempest rapidly approaching the coast. He was glad that it suited his mood. He didn't know whether to be outraged, fearful, or simply blown away by Adara.

"Christ," he muttered, teeth clenched. Walking to the sheer drop where the field cut down onto the craggy coastline, he swung himself over the edge, his hands grasping thick weeds and deep-rooted grass. Swinging for a moment, he kicked off the edge, taking a moment to fall. He landed in a deep crouch, standing slowly as a wave crashed tremendously, spraying him with salt water.

Tossing his hair and eyes free of it, he continued walking through the rocks carved by time and water. The gulls had abandoned the shore for cover in the grasses, and the closest fish Tidus could sense was foolishly riding the beginnings of the next wave, about two hundred yards offshore.

Bending slightly, Tidus reached into the nearest tide pool, gathering the rough pebbles lying in its base. Standing square, he faced the tempest and hurled them all into the ocean. The rocks scattered in the thrashing wind, but every one of them outreached the thrill-seeking fish. Rain began to pelt his face, patterning the water's surface.

He had fooled himself into thinking that it would be fine if Adara could simply remain naïve about the state of her own body. She was designed, as a human, for constant adaptation. In absence of such, her conscience, as a host, retaliated against his control by reenacting a memory in present. Thus, it set the gears rolling against him, though it was merely a resource by illusion, a reflex of sorts merely to induce change.

That's where it came from, where she even got the idea. Tidus continued moving along the coastline, barely aware of the fact that his jeans were now soaked to the knee. A sudden clap of thunder made his thoughts stammer, and he snapped his gaze upwards under the sheeting of rain.

"Fuck," he murmured, gingerly rubbing his ears. The echo faded, followed by a bolt of lighting over the ocean that lit up the gloomy coastline for an instant. He knuckled the rain out of his eyes, giving his head a quick shake before moving to higher ground as the waves increased the intensity of their ambush.

"She had to start thinking forward," he said to himself, grabbing a handhold on a shelf of crumbling slate and tossing himself upwards. As his stood, he glanced up towards the edge of the cliff. Someone was approaching, but his hearing was deafened by the noise of the rain and the waves. Hardly any scent other than that of rainwater was detectable.

Chill, Tidus – just me. Who else would come after you in this shit? Tidus relaxed as he saw Kai stop at the edge and stare down at him with a quirky grin on his face. "What the fuck are you doing out here?" Kai called. Tidus noted that his friend had at least been wise enough to throw on a navy blue raincoat.

He watched Kai scout the landscape before, in a blur, he stepped nonchalantly from the face of the cliff and landed on a relatively smooth plate of rock that descended towards the level at which Tidus stood now. As Kai began sliding down the slide-like formation, he cracked a wide smile.

He hollered incoherently into the storm, arms raised. With a twist of reckless footwork he skidded over a deep crack in his path and slid over the slick surface only to nearly ram into Tidus as he tried to stop. At the last second possibly, Tidus turned out of Kai's way and watched as his friend sailed over the edge of the incline he'd just scaled. "Fuck!" At the swift oath, Tidus cracked a grin.

He walked over to the edge and peered down as Kai gingerly sat up, good humor intact. Kai stood, rolling his left ankle with a sickening crunch before he stepped down on it. He then walked over towards the cliff and shrugged his right shoulder. "Dislocated it again," he commented.

"Here," Tidus crouched and reached down with one hand to haul Kai up by his good arm. "Want me to pop it in for you?" Kai moved away, his head tilted to one side as he grabbed hold of his upper arm.

"Nah." Mouth tight, he jerked his shoulder back into place with a snap and a grimace. Rotating it, he broke a sheepish grin. "Grosses me out every time."

The two began walking in silence across the rocks, steadily climbing back to the grassy overhang above them. When they reached the field, Tidus forced himself to exhale in an effort to relax. Kai stood next to him, hands in his pocket as they both looked out onto the ocean.

"So what are you going to do now?" Kai asked quietly, keeping his eyes on the water.

I don't know. Tidus pushed his hair out of his eyes, letting it lie slicked against his skull. "I'm trying not to be dense about this, but-." He fell silent, crossing his arms as he thought about where Adara had gone that morning as she had climbed the tree. He'd been focused on her legs at the time, not even bothering to press her mind as he'd become accustomed to leaving it be. As she had maneuvered herself onto the branch, he'd wanted nothing more than to reach out and press his hand against the revealed skin, feel the pulse of blood beneath his palm.

"You've got to at least give her an explanation either way," Kai stated, interrupting his drifting focus. Tidus exhaled again.

"No, I won't turn you because I don't want to lose the way you are now?" he mimicked. That sounds so stupid, he added. "The human psyche isn't designed for eternity. She'd go through what practically every fledgling goes through: a complete personality revamping."

"And that scares you?" Kai's tone was teasing, but his eyes were serious. Tidus snarled inwardly at the word, narrowing his eyes.

"No," he said forcefully. "It should scare her."

"She doesn't even know what would happen. Maybe if you explain-."

"I shouldn't have to!" Tidus snapped. "She shouldn't even be thinking about this – I've got her under control-."

"Except you don't," Kai interrupted, turning towards Tidus, fixing his gaze. "It doesn't matter if you have control of her – it's the subconscious that can still somehow manage to slip past any one of us. She's naturally disinclined to stasis, and you're almost forcing her body into a semi-immortal state as it is!" You've got to give her one or the other, and you've got to communicate the consequences of each to her. You can't just hold her like this because each path presents the opportunity of her leaving.

Kai shook his head free of rainwater and turned, trudging back across the field. Trust her at least enough to let her go. She won't stay away, or she wouldn't have come back in the first place.

Tidus watched his friend slowly disappear and turned back towards the ocean. He continued to leave Adara's mind free for the moment, trying to decide when exactly he'd stopped preserving a human life and started inadvertently consuming one.


Review Responses:

fliccolo: Thanks for the review!

atreyu love: I'm still wondering what's going to happen next! There are so many different directions I could take this story… that's part of the reason why it's been taking me so long to update these past couple of chapters. I have to play through every different idea at least twenty times before I can cut even one of them off of my list. Sigh… thanks for reading, and I hope you liked Chapter XXIII!

Sonora-Margaret: I know what you mean about not getting to see people. That's how it is for me too, since I live about a gazillion miles away from any of my friends. Pooh. Hope you liked Chapter XXIII!

ALittleTooAddicted: I wonder if you've come up with a word from that dictionary of yours. XD Kaethe is pronounced just as you would say the letter 'k,' with the 'th' coming right afterwards. I'm sure there are other pronunciations, but that's the one that I use in my head. Thanks for reviewing!

Emma: Haha… sometimes I think I make him act a little too human. Oh well-io. That's something that can be fixed when I'm ready to start editing, no? Thanks for reviewing!

The Greeter of Darkness: Yeah… Adara's head is a little… "effed" right now, if that's the right way to explain it. It's so much fun to write though!

The Goddess of Night: Thanks for the review!

Rebecca Andrews: Gah… I've fallen off the face of the earth again. Sorry! B2W kinda helped me kick my own butt about getting this one out there. How goes life? Miss you!

Between2Worlds: As I said above, you can probably take credit for this whole chapter. Merci, mon amie! I cannot wait to hear what you think about this.

so not telling: Well, unfortunately, I probably disappointed you with the time it took to update. Jeez – I disappointed myself. Anyhow, now that my rear got in gear: I'm not planning on mentioning any of AAR's characters, simply because I never truly intended this story to be about any of her characters. Her books simply were a sort of stimulus for DP. Plus, gets a lot more traffic than Fiction Press, and I came to these sites to receive commentary on my writing and try and see if DP is worth the effort to try and (eventually) get it published. Thanks for your review, and I hope you liked Ch. XXIII!

UsagiMiyuki: Thanks for the review! Hope you liked Ch. XXIII.

brittany: Haha – all of you at will be the first people to know if I end up publishing DP. I still haven't gotten it finished – that's what you're all helping me do. I'll admit that I need the ass-kicking sometimes. Hope you enjoyed Ch. XXIII!

ShadeSpirit: Two months… more like an entire year. My apologies. Yeah… the cliffhanger wasn't so nice of me, but I'm sure that no one's having a problem deterring what's going on in Adara's head, no? I have a playlist for DP that I listen to when I write – much of it has changed since the last post of it I put up (a couple of chapters ago? I don't remember… I'm sure it wouldn't take long just to go through them all to find it.) Currently, I'm working on editing it again – since I listen to it so much that I get sick of songs after a while. I like a lot of folk/rock most of the time, plus some alternative/pop stuff thrown in for variety. I'll pretty much listen to anything thought – just kinda depends on the particular song. What do you like listening to when you write? Some of the chapters in DP are the way they are purely because of the song(s) I was listening to when I wrote them. Thanks for the review and hope you liked this chapter!

The Puce Olive: Seems like a bunch of you guys liked the Tidus POV – kept that coming in this chapter. Boy is he pissed, but you have to admit that he's being, as usual, a bit dense. Gotta' love it though, no? Thanks for reviewing!

Tabbitha Graves: I'm so glad that you enjoyed the last chapter – I apologize for the long wait for this one, but hopefully it stays on par with the rest of DP. Thanks for reviewing!

Videogurl: Haha – glad to know another Rent-head is out there. I'm so sad that they've ended the touring. Ten years is pretty dramatic for a Broadway play. The musical had a lot to do with the initial inspiration for DP, but I've drifted a little further off since then to make the story a bit more of my own and less second-party influenced. Just goes to show how the plot grows with you, no? Thanks for the review, and hope you liked this chapter!

AvaDarling: I've gotten the Stephenie Meyer comparison before, and it pains me to think that, if I publish, I'll be automatically a knock-off of "her" genre. Oh well – not that I'm complaining. I'm a HUGE fan of hers, and I simply cannot wait for Breaking Dawn to come out next week. Thanks for reviewing!

WinterNightWolf: You think she'll leave Tidus if she becomes a vampire? What makes you think that? It's so interesting to hear people's different views on the characters in DP. Some people think this, others that. Fortunately, Adara's got a lot ahead of her as far as this story goes. Can't wait for what's coming up for you guys. Thanks for the review!

Wishiwasaneagle: Only the second fanfiction you've read and it was MY story! I'm simply honored. I hope you kept up reading through this chapter. Thanks for the review!

Kerri: Muahaha, no? I'm so glad that you hold DP in high regard – I'll do my best to not disappoint you with stopping. I have no plans for dropping it, but I suppose you never know? I hope to eventually get this published, but only in the distant future at present. A little too much on my plate right now. Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed this chapter! Thanks so much for reviewing!

GoodnightMoon7: I love "Goodnight Moon!" I can remember having my dad read it to me when I was a little kid and… here I go off rambling. I know that I've switched around with Adara's eyes – it took me a while to decide when I started the story, and I guess I still juggle the decision. She's supposed to have sapphire-blue eyes, but I guess I've slipped up. I will eventually get around to editing, so no worries on your part. Heck – you can make her have purple eyes in your head if you want. Sorry about the delay in updating – hope you liked this chapter!

Kagaya-mitsukai: Haha – some of the people who've been consistently reviewing since DP started have figured out that I speak French, and we sometimes just slip into the other language. I'm so rusty right now since I've been out of school - I just embarrassed myself trying to type this review in French. Thanks so much for suggesting "Dirty Water" – I need some new songs to work with as I write DP. I'll do my best to find it a spot. Thanks for reviewing!

hot-chick102693: Thanks for the review!

Lone-Angel102693: Thanks for the review!

Blaize Raiden: Thanks for reviewing – I try my best to stay consistent, even though I take so g-dang long to update… I know, I know. Thanks for sticking with me – hope you liked this chapter!

Tasha: Thanks for the review – sorry about the delay! Your review was just what I needed in March – a swift kick in the rear. I've been working on this chapter (and the rest of DP – at least the "in my head" part) since then, so give yourself a pat on the back, and hope you enjoyed this chapter!

frogsandsnails: Thanks for the review, and hope you liked Ch. XXIII!

Anonymous: Thanks for reviewing!


Notes: Can't tell you when the next chapter will be up, but I promise that I've finally gotten a solid outline in my head for where DP's going to go. We definately still have plenty of time before it ends, but I just wanted to let you all know where I am. There are a bunch of extra "activities" that were planned somewhere along the line and never got put in where they might have fit. Any interest in me posting these once I've got them finished?

Love you all!