Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts.

Author's Note: My computer slipped from my bed and the computer was dropped, therefore losing two-thirds of chapter 24. So if this new and rewritten Chapter 24 sucks… can we pretend the other one would have been better? . The dropping is also why it took so long because... it's really difficult to not be frustrated re-writing something.

Beta: Thanks to chiiaroscuro for being my beta, especially considering how long I took!

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Chapter Twenty-Four

It was, despite or perhaps because of the magic that crawled around her skin, tempting to just sit outside and watch the landscape. Rinoa and Irvine had decided to take all of the children they were caring for – and privately, Kairi could admit that the adults probably included them – outside of the city for a day. Zell and Zidane, by far the two most energetic boys, were busy chasing each other everywhere, Zidane constantly "cheating" (as said by Zell) by climbing the trees.

Of course, she was personally amused that she could make similar comparisons to a cackling Sora running from an annoyed Riku, whose hair was most definitely wet from a low-grade Watera spell. As well as his clothes. It was warm out, as she would have pointed out if she thought it would make a difference to Riku, who had been looking for an excuse to get up and move. He had been edgy for nearly an hour, and she had been trying to think up ways to give him something to do that didn't sound like work, and had been moving into pranking territory herself when Sora had calmly hit Riku with the spell, and then taken off in a sprint when Riku had snarled and turned around.

She gave it a few minutes until they thought they were safely out of the eyes of the children and their chaperones and Sora let Riku catch him. Following would get her an eyeful she had seen too many times. She shook her head ruefully, especially at Naminé's amused giggle, and turned back to look at the adults. She found Irvine standing there. "Can I sit down?"

Irvine was nice. Not the Sora type of nice, or Rinoa's type of nice. Irvine could make lewd jokes to any female he saw and now mean anything by it – though after the first time of facing Sora and Riku's combined rage, he had stopped his harmless flirting with her – and he could act selfish, but he was a good man, and he deeply cared for his friends and the children they looked after. Especially Vincent, though Kairi couldn't figure that one out. There had been some amused looks by Riku between the two, and she had to wonder what her observant friend was seeing that she didn't.

"It's free grass. Unless your government used to make you pay for this, too," she said with a quirk of her lips. She knew that Irvine's views of the old government were biased. Those with little magic in their blood had usually been of the type to forswear the products that both the government and many major businesses urged people to use. Purists, of the sort that said no magic but what they were born with should be in them. Rinoa had admitted this to her, so she took many of the bitter complaints the three of them – Vincent never said much of anything – stated about the old ways with a grain of salt. Though it had produced Sephiroth – and he hadn't been the only problem child, and until he had come back insane, not even one of the worst.

"Nah, this grass didn't have enough magic in it for them. This was a free space, bought by people who didn't like how things were. It's spread in the past couple of years, since even some of the plants too drenched in artificial magics were destroyed. Got a nice beach a few miles that way. We were just too lazy to go there today." He was, to all intents and purposes, just chatting, but there was something serious about the way he sat, not laying out like he usually did. However, she forgot about that when he mentioned a beach.

"There's a beach? Really? With the oceans and sand and everything?" Kairi's eyes were lit up brightly and she almost didn't understand the confused look she was given as she leaned forward and added, "We're from an island you know."

The light of understanding dawned in Irvine's eyes and his mouth went from the familiar careless grin to something more sympathetic. "Aw, kid, I'm sorry. If we'd known, we would have gone out and showed you. Could have showed all us mainlanders how the whole swimming thing is done. And you would have looked cute in a swimsuit."

Funny how days ago that comment would have been something more like "hot in a bikini" or even worse and coupled with a grin but now he was looking at her like she was a precious little sister. Well, not that honestly he hadn't been before, but it was fairly amusing to see what Riku and Sora had done so obviously. She didn't quite keep this amusement out of her voice. "Riku and Sora would have shown you the most. They're good at making points."

There was a brief flicker of the beginnings of a glare before Irvine wryly smiled, shrugging in acceptance of the barb, before jumping on this new topic. "Actually, I kind of wanted to talk to you about that. Riku and Sora. Mostly Sora. He's dark, Kairi."

She couldn't say this wasn't expected, after Anti Form. Yet she still stiffened up, finding herself offended for Sora and the fact Irvine was trying to convince her. Unaware of her thoughts, Irvine continued, "You seem like a logical girl, and really, I'm just looking out for you. But you saw what happened with Vincent and him, he turned on 'im, didn't even stop no matter how much I shot at him or anything! He's dangerous! He was wrapped in darkness, like a damn Heartless himself!"

"Sora is not a Heartless!" She found herself getting to her feet, her face flushed with anger. "He doesn't use Anti Form on purpose! And he only attacks things in that Form that he perceives as a danger to him, us, or that smell like darkness!"

Furious, she couldn't help but whip around and point at Vincent, who was watching with a slightly curious expression on his face but otherwise seemed unaffected. "Which he does! He feels dark! Not like a Heartless, but he is a bit of the darkness and we don't accuse him of anything. Sora doesn't even usually feel a bit like the dark! Riku is darker than Sora. It was an accident, and it won't happen again."

"An accident that's happened before. You didn't look surprised about Anti Form, just that he had changed in to it. How does it happen, Kairi? Does he just lust for power or is his rage so great it turns him into that?" Irvine was standing now too, and they were inches apart, yelling into each other's faces.

"I have said and still believe he was attempting something else that would give him the power to get us out of there. It did not work the way he hoped," Vincent stated, not even an opinion on who was right, but facts offered out there. And behind Irvine, Kairi could see her boys making there way out of the woods. Probably they had heard the yelling, and she felt regretful for having disturbed them.

But Irvine couldn't see them yet and she didn't feel like letting him know they were coming. "Anti Form is an accident. A side effect of the powers granted to him by the clothes he wears. It's a risk trying to gain the powers of it, but with Final Form a low one. It was only because the situation was so desperate that he ended up that way. And he saved Vincent's life. Or is that unimportant?" Kairi demanded, resisting the urge to stomp her foot right down onto his in a childish fit of temper. Nothing made her so angry as someone acting this way against her friends.

"Saved and then tried to kill!" Irvine's shout would have continued, and the man was even opening his mouth to say more, when a Keyblade swiped his legs out from under him and he found himself looking into unamused aqua eyes.

"Look, you seem like a nice guy, and I might get a bit up in arms if someone attacked Sora looking like that. But maybe before making baseless accusations you should actually ask questions. Kairi just explained what it was. Did you hear a thing she said?" Riku was strangely calm as he stopped Irvine from reaching for his gun by placing the tip of Slender Thorn at his throat. Riku being that calm worried her and she exchanged puzzled looks with Sora. Calm in voice, but his actions didn't match his words at all, and she didn't like the spark of rage in Riku's eyes matched with Slender Thorn.

He wouldn't do anything bad, but Sora and Riku were both used to explaining themselves in actions more than words, and the way Riku looked like he wanted to explain was violent and messy. Sora grimaced and said, "Riku. Maybe you should let him up first. I don't think anyone's going to be honest with a sword at their throat."

For a moment, Kairi wondered if Riku was even listening, the fury in his eyes an echo of what had been in hers just a minute ago, but so much more dangerous. Then her friend shrugged carelessly, and the Keyblade disappeared. "Fine. But if he tries to tell us what Sora is again, I'm going to hit him."

"And I will shoot you," Vincent said, voice calm. "I do not believe you will find it pleasant."

"Then maybe you should get busy keeping his mouth occupied," Riku snapped and there was a pause as everyone digested the implication. Vincent didn't take his eyes off of Riku, but Kairi swore there was some amusement there.

"As he was attempting to keep you occupied?" Vincent said, with a pointed look at Sora, who flushed, but shrugged sheepishly. Despite Irvine's suspicious gaze on Sora, Kairi couldn't help but feel her lips quirk up. If the implication was true – and Vincent and Irvine weren't precisely denying it – then perhaps that was what had Riku looking amused the past few days whenever he looked between them. She glanced at Sora, and when she caught his eyes, tilted her head toward Vincent and Irvine. Sora vigorously shook his head.

She was glad she wasn't the last to know, but Riku and Vincent were just staring at each other now and slowly, Kairi took a few steps back and motioned for Sora to follow. He did, and se kept her voice low. "Irvine said there's a beach that way. It's a few miles, but... Well, it might be nice to explore this world."

It was unsaid that maybe it would be better to explore it without their new friends for a day or so. Sora met her eyes and grinned. "Maybe we can catch some of those big birds we keep seeing, those chocobos. The others said they're rideable."

"Oh! Remember that birthday present I got from Cloud? We could use that to make a few trust us!" She had seen those birds from afar, and they were beautiful. Mostly yellow, but she had seen the other colors that had been mixed in. Blues and greens, reds and purples, and a single majestic black that had looked over the flock so carefully. The others had told them that there were white ones as well, and most rare of all were the golds.

"You have it with you?" Sora asked, surprised. She grinned, pleased at herself now for keeping a bit of it in her pack, which was settled against a tree. Actually, her pack had a few interesting and possibly useful things that she tried to take with her as often as possible incase they would be needed.

At her nod, Sora's eyes lit up. "Let's catch some chocobos!"

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Despite Sora's confident words, it was her and Riku who did the best, and the placid green they caught for Sora was the best they could do. Of course, despite the tension between them, Irvine wasn't going to let them go barebacked, and somehow they found themselves with saddles and reins after they announced their intentions to ride their newly caught chocobos. Rinoa also handed them greens so they wouldn't need to use up all of Cloud's present, something Kairi was grateful for.

However it had not occurred to them that even with saddles and reins, that Kairi was the only one with any riding experience, and that was a horse. It did help her keep her seat, but the movement was much different than a horse. Her yellow had been curious about them, but the hardest to catch, dodging out of their grip after only a moment, as if amused. Even now, he made sudden shifts of his wings attempting to dislodge her, but he didn't seem to truly want her off – more like he was amusing himself.

Oddly, Riku had caught the single black. She had thought it would refuse to leave the flock – but Riku had been determined, and it had surprisingly given little fuss. She had turned out to be patient, and faintly amused. Kairi had a suspicion she had been raised by people herself – maybe most of the chocobos this close to the city were. Certainly they didn't seem afraid of them.

By the time they reached the beach, she was hiding a grin at Sora's groan as he dismounted. The green wandered over to peck at the ground, but seemed undisturbed by her former rider's complaints, or on getting back to the flock. Kairi wasn't so sure hers wouldn't just run off for his amusement, and she winced herself as she dismounted, but attached the reins to the branch of a tree near where Sora's green shuffled around.

"Why do people learn how to ride?" Riku groaned, leaning against the black chocobo, who stood solidly beside him, blinking blue eyes slowly as if bemused as to why the strange creature was suddenly unable to walk on his own.

"Because it's faster than walking?" Kairi suggested, feeding her yellow some greens.

Sora raised his hand and cleared his throat. "Um, it's not faster than gliding."

She joined Riku in staring at him silently before slowly asking, "Then why did you get on her?"

"Seemed like fun," Sora muttered, looking away. Kairi exchanged a glance with Riku before shrugging and patted the yellow chocobo one more time before looking toward the ocean.

A thought occurred to her as she stared at the beach. "We probably should have gone back to get our swimsuits first."

"Why? We've been living on a ship together for months. We'll just strip to our underwear! It's not that much different, right?" Sora, in suspiciously groan free movements – she had a suspicion there had been a hurried potion or Cure when her back was turned – was already stripping down to his boxers and Riku was staring, first at his boyfriend, and then back at her.

"He has a point," she ventured, sliding out of her shorts. Dark red and silver material joined the pile. She folded hers, placing them in the bag they had brought to the picnic for their things - now it would hold their clothes. Sora surprisingly folded his as well. She supposed she wouldn't be surprised by now – he had learned a lot on his adventures. Riku was the one she had to glare at until he smoothed out his clothes from their crumbled state and placed them fairly neatly alongside theirs.

Sora's following snickers had Riku launching himself across the ground and Sora yelped and took off for the ocean. Kairi grinned as she watched Sora barely keep out of Riku's reach. Neither of them was even close to running full out, or trying very hard. Otherwise she imagined Sora would have cheated by now using his ability to glide. Not that he considered it cheating, but she certainly did, and she bet Riku did as well.

It had been too on since she had been near the ocean. She swallowed the initial reaction, tears pricking at the back of her eyes. This wasn't home, she shouldn't feel such joy at the scent of the sea in her nostrils or the feel of the sand beneath her toes. Yet, that didn't stop her from beginning to cry in earnest. There was joy and grief mixed in one, because her mind knew this wasn't home, knew she might never see her home and her family again, but her heart was singing that this was it.

There was no paopu tree on the shore. No childhood playhouse – but some part of her wished they could just stay here, by this ocean so far from home. It would be easier than seeing her boys hurt all the time, wondering if this time they wouldn't be so lucky or so determined. She didn't want them to die – but she afraid before they could get Destiny Islands back and save the universe, that one of them would be gone.

"Kairi? Are you all right?" Riku's soft voice came from behind her and she whirled around, absently brushing at tears. Both boys were there, Riku looking concerned, both looking confused, and she couldn't manage to speak for a moment.

Apparently she didn't even need to. Sora stepped forward and engulfed her in his arms. "Little close to the islands. I feel it too."

She smiled, pressed against his chest, and wrapped her arms around his back, taking comfort that Sora at least understood. There was a faint noise of understanding from Riku and then another set of arms was around them both. "I thought you two would be happy about this. A few minutes ago, you seemed like you were looking forward to it Kairi."

"I was. I am! It just hit me hard, you know? It's cooler here, but... it smells like home. It feels like home, Riku. I'll be all right in a minute. Just... Can you two hold me until then?" She didn't add that it really only felt more like home, being in their arms. But being near them would always be home, even more than the islands, much as it was a punch in the gut to even think it.

"Of course we can," Riku scoffed indignantly, and his tone made her laugh just a bit. As if he gave hugs all the time, despite being the boy that avoided all mushy stuff.

With her chin tucked beneath Sora's and Riku's hair tickling her chin, she looked out at the ocean and wondered why Sephiroth had seemed to hate this world enough that he would try to destroy it – or at least the people in it. There were already so many things that could take away a world, why do it himself?

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Sitting on a couch in Rinoa's shared house days later, Kairi was beginning to wonder if they would ever find the way to open new paths – or to lock the world. Preferably both, was her hope. It would keep the Heartless from the world's heart to lock it, even if it wouldn't keep tem away from the world. The world they stood on had suffered enough as it was. Even now, a large creature had been attacking people who stepped outside the city.

Irvine was off somewhere, which was probably why Sora looked so comfortable flopped into a chair and asking Vincent question after question in a strangely quiet voice. And Vincent was actually answering. She couldn't hear what they were saying – but that was partly because Rinoa was showing her photo albums of when they all were younger – except for Vincent, Kairi wasn't sure why he wasn't in there, and she didn't ask. It had been made quite clear by Irvine that Vincent's past was no one's concern but his.

She was absently passing the albums to Sora and taking another when she was done with one. The most recent ones sowed Cloud still young, but more recognizable. He was maybe thirteen, and could often be seen in the background or the edge of Sephiroth's pictures – but never wit him, not at first. It was only when a new boy with spiky black hair and blue eyes joined them that Cloud was pulled into the forefront.

She was just beginning to look at the next album, now devoid of all three boys and showing Irvine, Rinoa herself, and a girl called Ashe most of the time as well as various family and friends. Sora's sudden incredulous "ZACK?" had her raising her head to stare at him. "She did say his name was Zack... Is there something wrong, Sora?"

Her friend didn't answer at first, gaping at the photos in front of him. When he did say something, she nearly winced at the loud yell. "RIKU."

Baffled, she glanced at Rinoa, who was looking toward her for answers. In equal confusion, they stared at each other as Riku came clattering in from outside at a run, Slender Thorn in his hand. "What is it?"

"It's Zack!" Sora exclaimed insistently, and Kairi was still baffled as Riku looked at the picture – and his eyes grew large.

"I remember him," Riku said softly, staring at the picture with as much shock as Sora. His quiet shock unnerved her as much as Sora's louder exclamations had. "He used to baby-sit us. He left... a little bit after you turned five, right? I remember him better from pictures at this point. That's... That's the Zack they've been talking about?"

"Yes," Vincent confirmed, his voice showing only mild curiosity. "Did he come from your world?"

Riku and Sora exchanged wordless glances and Kairi braced herself for a revelation that would explain their shock – and the small smile on Sora's face. Sora tilted his head back at Vincent and explained, "He was my cousin."

There was silence for a few moments, and Kairi just breathed, letting her thoughts settle. Riku hadn't been the first to think up how to get off their world. She had to wonder how Zack had done it. It had been before she came – but not before Xehanort's experiments had begun. And there had always been Heartless... perhaps Zack had found gummi pieces dropped by worlds long gone. Perhaps a gummi ship had crashed before they were even born and he fixed it up. There were other ways – but most of those involved dark powers and somehow the bright exuberant boy Rinoa had described didn't seem the type. She had even had a sense Rinoa herself had once crushed on the boy.

She looked over at Rinoa to see how she was taking it. The older woman's shock was fading into a thoughtful frown. Surprisingly, considering the way Sora was beginning to fidget, Rinoa broke the silence first. "It makes sense. You look similar. And Zack did mention family back where he had come from. He said he did well with some of the kids back then because he used to babysit. You're sure... No, of course you are. Have you ever heard from him since then?"

"I never heard from him after he left. He kinda just said goodbye and then... Nothing. I thought he was still on our world all this time... I bet he never went back." Sora's voice was low and sad, and Kairi's throat closed up in sympathy.

"He probably couldn't. Sephiroth and Cloud left together, with Zack – you know where they ended up, Sora. And when." Riku's expression was grim, but his tone was compassionate. "They couldn't have been there too long before Radiant Garden became Hollow Bastion. It was only a few months later after he left that Kairi came to our world."

Kairi found herself nodding along with Sora at Riku's logic. They couldn't have been there that long considering how much of that time Zack had spent on this world. She knew it had been around twelve years since darkness descended on Radiant Garden – she had no idea how long it had taken for the last of it's defenders to be driven out of the world. She knew Cloud and Aerith had become friends in that time... How long had they spent in that world of darkness, refusing to give up before someone – probably Cid – had pushed some of them onto a gummi ship and launched them out of there. Where had Zack, Cloud, and Sephiroth been then?

Somewhere between the three boys leaving this world and Sora meeting Cloud, Sephiroth had gone insane. And the utter lack of Zack mentioned by either Cloud or Sephiroth made a chilling suspicion of what that was enter her mind. Glancing at Sora, bittersweet joy at finding his cousin had traveled to this world before him evident on his face, she made the decision to say nothing.

'You don't know if that's it anyway. They were all so young... Cloud was only the age Sora was when he was chosen as Keyblade Master when Radiant Garden sunk into darkness. Anything could have happened,' Naminé whispered sadly.

She had to agree with her Nobody – she couldn't suggest something like that without any proof. Especially not right now, as Sora's voice was asking exuberant questions of a laughing Rinoa about his cousin. Her eyes drifted to Riku, and found him watching Sora with a similar melancholy as her own echoing in his expression. Is eyes met hers and they managed to smile at each other. Even if Zack might never be found, it didn't really mean he had to be dead. They could pretend, for Sora's sake, that the thought had never entered their minds.

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"That is not a Heartless," Sora said accusingly as Irvine pointed out a creature that had been bothering the small population of the city whenever they walked outside of the ruins. "That is a dragon!"

Kairi had to agree. It was large, had two wings, four legs, and looked scaly. "He has a point."

"Hey, you three said you needed new leads. This is a lead. Take it or leave it." Irvine smirked at them and she twitched, wondering if it was really a bad thing to just send a little Light Flare at him. She was pretty sure there were rules about that outside of spars. Aerith would scold her so badly if she knew she was even thinking of it. But it was so tempting sometimes, much as she liked the man, to wipe that smug expression right off of his face,

"That's amazing," Riku said in awe. Kairi blinked and stared at him a long moment until he noticed all of them staring and he jerked, flushing a little. "Well, look at her. She's beautiful."

Mutely, she stared at the golden dragon sunning itself in front of a cave, noting the large teeth as it yawned, and then looked back at Riku. Somehow, she wasn't surprised to hear Sora say wistfully, "It's a pity she's been attacking people. She looks so content. And happy."

"Maybe she had good reason? She would go after the chocobos if it was just food. And all of them are still around. Kali would have caused a fuss if they were even attacked. She can be fierce when she needs to be," Riku explained, and Kairi was briefly distracted as she puzzled over to whom he was referring to.

"You named her Kali? Does she answer to it?" Sora asked, and Kairi wondered if she was the only one still looking at the dragon. Irvine, Barret, and Vincent were both paying more attention to Riku and Rinoa was tying up the chocobos they had ridden there. She had caught the same yellow as before – though caught was the wrong word to use. When she had tried to grab a solid looking purple, her yellow had bullied the purple out of the way, preening under her glare. He hadn't let her catch any others, but had still danced around her as she tried to saddle him. And Riku's of course, had once again ridden the black.

She was pretty sure that was what he was referring to as Kali. In the week since they had first ridden them, Riku had gone out to the flock at least once a day and had evidently decided the name the black chocobo. She had never much thought Riku to be an animal person – but apparently chocobos and now dragons were an exception.

The dragon was shifting as she stared and she caught a glimpse of something white behind it. Then, when the dragon flattened a little more she caught a glimpse many white things and nearly choked as she asked, "Irvine, did the people se was bothering happen to be carrying anything?"

"They had a couple of giant white rocks. Somehow I don't think that would matter to a dragon. She was probably just hungry. Or maybe she just doesn't like humans. Does it matter? She's a danger to everyone," Irvine grumbled.

Barret had caught the direction of her stare however and asked, "Those stones egg shaped?"

"I guess, but what does that... Shit." Irvine had caught their direction. "Those are eggs."

"Yes," Kairi agreed, eyeing the dragon's long tail. It ended on a spade shape, and she wondered how much that would hurt to be thrown by. It was probably the least damaging thing on the dragon and could still kill her in an instant.

"Dragon eggs are considered a delicacy by some," Vincent offered quietly.

"They're delicious!" Rinoa agreed as she walked up. "I had one once and it was the best thing I had ever tasted! Hard to get, apparently three people had died just trying to get one. Dragons don't have eggs often and they can take years to mature. Fortunately they also have a short memory so if you can keep the egg for a day or two, they'll usually forget that it was you personally that stole their eggs. They uh, do tend to know how many eggs they should have though."

There was a pause before more quietly Rinoa asked, "That's a female with eggs, isn't it?"

"Yup," Irvine agreed. "And by the constant attacks, I think someone took some of her eggs. She just doesn't know who."

"Poor thing," Sora murmured. "Would it still be alive?"

"It would depend on if they have eaten it yet," Vincent informed them, and Kairi couldn't help feeling a little sympathetic to the dragon herself. It must be awful to have her children stolen away and not even remember whom.

"If someone in the city has it, we'll find out," Irvine said grimly. "We don't have enough people left on this world to spare a few because someone had the urge to have dragon omelet. If we give her the egg back, even if it's dead, at least she'll have the right number again. She'll attack tonight when it gets dark and she's less lethargic. If we can't get the egg back by then... Barret, Vincent, keep watch on her." Irvine whirled, striding back to the chocobos, his normally cheerful demeanor gone.

Kairi moved to follow with Riku and Sora, and heard Rinoa quietly murmur to Irvine, "We'll have to kill the eggs anyway. We can't risk the dragon population exploding. Who knows how long she's been here."

She froze at the callous off handed way Rinoa was planning to murder the dragon's children. Her expression must have showed because she felt Riku's hand land on her shoulder. "You and Sora stay here. I'll help them find the egg."

It was left unsaid that he would make sure they didn't kill it if it wasn't already dead. Her lips thinned into a tight frown, and she gave a jerky nod. Riku strode off after Rinoa and Irvine and she felt Sora come to stand beside her, as tense as she was. Despite her earlier fear of the dragon, she couldn't help a low protest of, "The dragon wasn't attacking until they stole her children."

"I know," Sora muttered. "It isn't fair. It takes years for them to hatch, and Vincent told me there are barely a dozen dragons worldwide. There were thousands when he was a child. She only wants to protect her babies."

It didn't make sense to Kairi – the few things mentioned by Rinoa about dragons hadn't been the stories she had heard on some planets. In fact, she had heard very little about them eating people. Attacking, yes, but eating? It seemed odd, but now she couldn't think of a single story of them eating people.

'Perhaps they don't,' A sluggish voice whispered in her mind – and it wasn't Naminé. Nervously she looked around, but there was nothing, and after a few minutes Kairi shook her head at Sora's worried glanced and they joined the two men at dragon watching.

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Chocobos couldn't fly, but Kairi was wondering if Kali wasn't willing to try as she ran toward them, Riku on her back, something large and oval shaped in a bag tied to Riku's back. Kairi was thinking Sora had been wrong that anything would be faster than a chocobo – it seemed she had only blinked when Kali was twisting to a stop, moving with Riku to spin him in a controlled movement out of the saddle as he landed, crouched in front of them. For a moment, she could only wonder faintly how Riku had learned to ride so much better in only a week. Chocobo were easier than horses, but it was still something strange.

"We need to get this back to the mother before she wakes up," Riku said, breathing a little heavily – though not nearly as heavily as Kali, who appeared to have attempted the two hour journey in around five minutes. The bird was nearly shaking from her exertion – and it was no wonder. The sun was already going down. The mostly nocturnal dragon would be waking up soon, counting her eggs and remembering that one of them was gone.

Sora murmured, "Too late."

She spun around to stare as the dragon, now awake and standing over her eggs, began to hiss and nudge at the eggs in increasing frustration. Sora and Riku were muttering about sneaking down there after the dragon left, of making sure Vincent and Barrett didn't shoot her, putting the egg back and just hoping no one else was hurt. It wasn't a good plan. Her eyes flashed in anger as se turned to look at them. It would be less dangerous just to walk down there with the egg and trust the dragon wouldn't attack them if they were holding the egg.

Her mouth opened to snap at them for the plan that would probably get them or someone else killed, or get the dragon killed – when it occurred to her that the egg was right there. Riku had put it down by his feet. It shimmered oddly, silver instead of the white of the ones she had seen, but she didn't stop to think of the differences. A strange urge was in her mind, and she followed it, scooping up the egg and turning away as the boys stared a moment in shock. The mother was already looking like she was getting ready to fly. There wasn't any time to explain.

She ran. Sora yelled after, "Kairi! Stop! She'll kill you!"

For some reason, Kairi doubted that. She had nothing but a firm feeling in her heart that the dragon wouldn't touch her at all. The boys would catch up in a moment – but the dragon had already spotted her and with a low, sad cry the golden creature launched herself forward. Kairi stopped just as Sora caught up – she had known he would cat up within seconds, but it had been long enough to get the dragon's attention.

A few wing flaps and the dragon was gliding toward them. Sora's voice in her ear urged, "Give me the egg Kairi. Maybe if we just put it down now, we'll get away fine."

She couldn't put it down. A part of her wanted to. But another part of her knew this was right – the same part that could recognize Belle or Jasmine or Alice even if she couldn't see them. She hugged the egg close to her and waited, the fear that should have been there buried beneath knowledge and certainty. The dragon came in for a landing, and she was faintly surprised Vincent hadn't shot it yet, and that Riku wasn't with her.

"Here," she said, holding out the egg, "We found her for you."

She didn't know why she had decided the egg housed a female, but the golden muzzle came down, sniffing the egg, and then glittering green eyes stared at her. 'Thank you, Princess.'

The world seemed to stop, and the part of her that had urged her forward into certainty dissipated. She trembled in surprise and slowly put the egg down. "D-Did you just speak to me?"

'Of course. You are a Princess of Heart. You hear me. Why would I not speak?' A low, melodic voice was ringing in her mind, but she couldn't quite get around the fact that it was apparently the dragon, the same dragon dragging a delicate claw into the earth to pick up the egg. 'We remember the Princesses.'

"I don't understand," Kairi whispered, and Sora beside her grabbed a hold of her arm.

"We should get back to the others, Kairi," he said. "I don't hear anything."

'Keyblade Master. He is deaf to me – but the other Wielder may not be.' The dragon peered up, beyond them, her eyes focusing in on something – someone – else. Kairi didn't have to look to know whose footsteps were approaching.

"I can hear you," Riku said, awed. "What are you?"

'I am a dragon. What else would I be?' The dragon tilted her head at him and Kairi resisted the urge to giggle hysterically.

"No one ever mentioned that dragons could speak um... Do you have a name?" Riku sounded nervous, and still awed, and as amazed as she had seen him look when he had gazed at Cloud's well taken care of Buster Sword.

'I am myself. What need have I of a name? My species doesn't need them. We would know instantly each other, in the past. Not many others can hear us. The Princesses have always been able to hear us. We remember them from always – others can sometimes hear us. Perhaps they are just born different. My eggs were just laid the last time I found a human that could hear me.' She sounded happy, almost excited – but tired. Like any mother, really, with a child back. Kairi had a dozen questions suddenly, and no idea which one to ask first.

"Um, guys? What's going on?" Sora was staring between them and Kairi exchanged looks with Riku. She wasn't used to having Sora be on the outside of something that they could do.

Riku stepped forward, and put a hand on Sora's shoulder, some of the awe fading from his face, but Kairi could still see it in his eyes. "She's talking to us. In our minds, I guess. She says most people can't hear her. I guess we're lucky that even two of us can. I'm going to ask her a few things, and see if we can't do something so that people don't attack her or her them. Uh... I think I have Vincent willing to wait, and Barrett seems willing to let us get ourselves killed in his own words, but Irvine and Rinoa probably don't like that I took the eggs. Would you mind guarding?"

She watched anxiously as Sora's expressions stayed blank for a moment before suddenly, he grinned and said, "Fine, but next time one of you tries to say I'm the weirdest of us, I'm calling you a liar and getting King Mickey to title you two Dragontamers."

With a brief hug from her and a longer kiss from Riku, Sora ran back to the trail the other two would approach from. She turned back toward the dragon and Riku's expression became serious. "I don't understand why people hunt you. Someone has to have recorded that you could talk. And they said you have bad memories, but you remember people."

'Our memory and power is tied to our race. We developed from the magic of this world. We are literally creatures of magic, and the numbers and strength of our race and the magic in the air effects us. The records of our intelligence were conveniently lost when it was discovered that each cell of our bodies could be harvested to use for magical products. As more of us died, we began to forget – I cannot even remember what happened last night. Many have forgotten that humans were ever friendly toward us. I sometimes forget – but a Princess of Heart gives clarity by her very presence. I am sorry that our King is not alive to see one visit us – but you have held our Queen, and she is blessed to have been held by you.' Kairi felt a little dizzy. A dragon was talking to her – and showing her such respect, as if she were important. Apparently, to this creature, she was.

"What else do you know of Princesses?" She asked, both eager and afraid to answer.

The dragon was silent for a long time, staring at them both before finally sighing, 'The memories given by the ancestors are dim now. I cannot remember much at all. Perhaps it is only the recent mention of the Princess and two with Keyblades by that man that has me even remembering this much.'

Alarmed, she stared at Riku who asked sharply, "Man? What man?"

'The man. He had a no-hearted creature beside him.' There was a pause and then, 'He may have stolen our Queen. I cannot remember how long it was.'

"We found the egg abandoned," Riku murmured. "Just sitting in an alleyway like it was junk, not important at all. It was a set up."

'I must move my eggs while the night is still young. They cannot stay here. They are too close to hatching to risk. Thank you for your help – and I would ask a favor. If you see the no-heart creatures that stole my egg and the man – '

"We will make sure they can't do it again," Kairi promised grimly. That seemed to be enough for the dragon, as she flew up, the egg she claimed was her future queen in her clutches. The sky was darkening, but she could still see the glittering gold body as the dragon landed and began to do something with the eggs.

"We should go help Sora distract the others," Riku said after a long silence.

Kairi nodded, but didn't move. "Do you think later, when the other dragons have hatched, that she'll remember more?"

There was a pause and then Riku said reluctantly, "I don't know. Maybe we can come back and see then. Come on."

She moved to follow – but something about the cave seemed off. She couldn't see the other eggs, but the silver one appeared to be glowing. All at once, Radiant Spirit was in her hand and she smiled as to her eyes, it was suddenly sunny, with bright blue sky and faint wisps of white clouds surrounding her. She took a step forward and pointed her Keyblade toward the egg that appeared to be floating in midair. There was the sound of something opening, and she could almost see the paths unfurling before her eyes.

She closed her eyes just a moment, and when she opened them again, the gold dragon was taking the silver egg away, and it was dark once again. Riku was grinning at her faintly and she blushed. "We still haven't locked it."

"We won't need to if we stop them soon," Riku pointed out, and her grip on Radiant Spirit faded as she sent the Keyblade away. She would still rather look around for the lock – but considering Irvine's sentiments on Sora, maybe it was better to go on.

"We can still look around for a couple more days," Riku offered quietly and she jerked her head around to stare at him intently. He shrugged, offering her a tiny smile. "No harm in letting you saps get your way."

"Us saps?" Kairi asked, arching an eyebrow pointedly. "I think there may be three of us."

"Are you accusing me of something?" Riku asked darkly, the hint of a smile in his eyes giving him away.

"You'll have to catch me to find out," Kairi said mischievously, and bolted toward where she could see Sora's familiar spiky head.

A moment later all three of them were in a pile of twined limbs, laughing at the indignant expression on Sora's face before he joined in, all three of them happy for the moment.

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Once again, sorry this took so long, and sorry for anyone's reviews I haven't answered. I hit a road block in the next chapter as well that I only recently got passed so hopefully that chapter will be out quicker. It includes Riku's birthday which was not the road block - getting to it was.