Chapter 11

None to Go

My hands tightened around the branch from the bush I was hiding in, twisting and pulling so that the woody appendage was stripped of its prickly leaves and the "gloves" attached to my bodysuit earned a new set of small holes. A few small droplets of blood leaked through them. I gritted my teeth together as hard as I could, trying to keep myself from crying out in agony.

For purposes of stealth itself, the jumpsuit was the perfect tool. The way it wrapped around its wearer as if it was a second skin ensured that there was no possible way for a stray corner of it to be seen protruding from behind one of the bushes. Its black color, only breaking to make a small section of room for the face to look out from, melded with the shrubbery in the dim light, making it look like little more than a shadow and rendering the wearer effectively invisible even when he was moving.

But, aside from its practicality, the spandex bodysuit would have best served the remainder of its existence sitting motionless in Miley's closet for the rest of eternity. Miley had told me that Lilly had worn it back when her Aunt Dolly had come to visit, as part of their hair-brained scheme to get back her tape from Jake.

That would explain a few things, I thought fiercely.

While it had probably fit her pretty snugly, my body shape was quite a bit different due to our difference in gender. As such, some parts felt like they were trying to purposely constrict some areas of my body like a hungry python, while other parts were unnecessarily baggy on me, resulting in a maddening itch. The overall effect of these opposing forces made my feel like some unseen force was twisting and manipulating my body as if it was made of clay.

Worse was our differences in size. While the few inches taller I was than her might not seem that much, the jumpsuit was trying its best - and succeeding with flying colors - to remind me continuously that she might as well have been the size of Thumbelina, and I the size of Cthulhu. The end result was the curious impression that gravity was malfunctioning and working up and down at once. The material pulled down on my head and shoulders, while simultaneously pulled upward on the soles of my feet and, the worst of it all, that one unique portion of the human anatomy that you do not want something to be continuously yanking at. Especially if you're a guy.

My torturous fit was interrupted by my heart leaping to my throat in response to a sudden, noisy crackle of static accompanied by a blaring, unintelligible female voice from the walkie-talkie at my waist. I snatched it and panickingly turned the volume almost to zero, praying that Lilly or Jackson hadn't been around to hear anything. After a few seconds of no noise save for my heart pounding against my chest, I finally felt secure enough to gradually twist the volume dial to a respectable level and murmur, "Repeat, Black Panther?"

"Did you finish positioning Speakers 3 and 4?" came Miley's voice from the other end.

"Affirmative," I replied. "Did you finish with Speakers 1 and 2?"


"Who's Roger?"

"...Are you kiddi - you're the one who wanted to make this whole thing like a Mission: Impossible movie!" I heard her give an exasperated sigh. "It means 'yes,' you donut."

"Speaking of which," I said, an annoyed feeling taking residence in the pit of my stomach for more than one reason, "next time, I'm picking our codenames."

"Copy that, Krispy Kreme." I could sense the wicked grin on her face as surely as if she were standing right in front of me.

"And the CD's already in the CD player, then?" I continued on through gritted teeth.

"Positive. Oh, and by the way, there's something you might wanna know."


I pair of hands grabbed my shoulders from behind with the strength of a vice and spun me around. I very nearly cried out in surprise and fear, but another hand clamped down over my mouth and held itself there until I could see clearly that my assailant was a widely grinning Miley.

"I'm right behind you," she said, releasing me. I almost collapsed from the conflicting forces of the sudden relief and the adrenaline still pumping through my system.

"Don't. Do. That," I muttered as savagely as I could manage in my state. She gave a noncommittal shrug as if to say, Whatever, and patiently waited for me to get ahold of myself again. "All set, then?"

"The only thing we still need are the lovebirds themselves," she said, rubbing her hands together in excited anticipation. Unlike me, her jumpsuit seemed to fit her very well (my eyes automatically strayed to some of the tighter-fitting places on her body), and so her enthusiasm was unrestrained. "You ready to lure them here?"

"All set," I answered, a small amount of bravado returning to me. It would serve the plan well that Lilly and Jackson both had above-normal amounts of curiosity.

"Good. Then I better assume my position." She turned and began to move through the foliage.

"Wait," I said, lightly grabbing her arm. She turned back to me, and I spread out out arms hesitantly. "Kiss for good luck?"

She briefly favored me with a combination of wearily sighing and rolling her eyes before leaning in quickly and giving me one small peck - on the cheek. I narrowed my eyes at her.

"Gee, thanks," I remarked sourly, turning away from her.

Suddenly, something latched itself onto the back of my neck, forced my head sideways, and yanked it forward so hard that I nearly lost my balance. My reflexive scream was immediately muffled by the presence of something warm, moist, and sweet-tasting that was mashing itself over my mouth, accompanied by the sensation of my tongue being sucked forcibly out of my mouth with the strength of a vacuum cleaner. Then, with a loud noise that sounded remarkably like a suction cup being pulled off of a glass window, it stopped, and my eyes shot open to find Miley giving me an amused smile. I noticed that the thin layer of lip balm she had on was smeared an inch outward in every direction.

She gave me a bracing pat on the shoulder before turning back around and cheerfully moving in the direction of the CD player, leaving me to continue gasping for breath and pondering whether any other medium could have provided me with remotely as much luck. Firmly reaching an answer of "never in a million years," I shook my head frenziedly and prepared for the task at hand.

I crept quickly but silently across the catwalk, stopping only to trade my old Energy Sword for another that had a full charge in an overturned Supply Case. I promptly hung it on my thigh and switched to my Carbine as I kept going. The rather dim glow coming from the ceiling made the edges glint with a soft, yet somehow menacing purple light. I glanced to the corner of my HUD; the power supply on my active camouflage was almost spent.

A quick glance around the corner revealed all I suspected. On the ground floor of the small room, a company of half a dozen Brutes, led by a Captain armed with a Fuel Rod Cannon, prowled the area listlessly, while two Jackals kept sentry on the second story. Covering all available space on the wall were moderately-sized prison cells, which utilized energy shielding to keep their occupants - several abused-looking Elite Councilors and a Hunter pair - safely inside.

Wasting no time, I took aim for the generator on one of the Hunters' cells and snapped off two quick shots. The generator exploded, and, as if it had been waiting for me to free it, the creature let out a war cry and charged directly into the midst of the Brute pack. Without pause, I dropped down a level and repeated the process with its bond brother.

The second Hunter thundered out of the cubicle, then planted its feet against the ground and held out its right arm. The blunt, fingerless end momentarily flared bright green, then discharged a concentrated stream of energy from its Assault Cannon, tearing into the Brute ranks. The first Hunter, with a grand sweep of the shield integrated onto its left arm, knocked two Brutes halfway across the room before they hit the wall and slid to the ground, unmoving. Within seconds, more than half of them lay in dark pools of their own blood on the floor.

I emerged into the open and turned left. Both Jackals immediately ducked behind their shields and began firing at me with their Plasma Pistols. Taking only a fraction of a second to aim, I hurled a plasma grenade at the one in front, which sailed underneath its shield and adhered to its foot.

The avian creature gave a horrified screech and began running around in circles, trying to kick the explosive off, not noticing that in doing so it ended up directly next to the second Jackal. At that precise moment, it detonated in a bright blue flash, obliterating both creatures and throwing their shredded remains high into the air.

I had just turned to take aim at the generators keeping the Councilors imprisoned when the doors at the far end of the room opened, letting in a group of four more Brutes. I managed to take out one of the shields before the combined bombardment from the Brute Shots they carried forced me to duck behind cover.

Waiting a few seconds for my damaged shields to recharge, I unsheathed my Energy Sword and charged into the fray. The first Brute tried to roll out of the way, but it was a moment too late; I lunged forward, driving my weapon down in a lateral sweep that stained the floor with the vile alien's blood before its body even began to fall.

Suddenly, as if emerging from another world, what sounded almost like the cry of some exotic bird pierced the air to my right. More out of reflex than anything, I turned to it. I couldn't see anything through the window in the kitchen.

Another sound, the familiar roar of an attacking Brute accompanied by a pumping noise and a strange whoosh, manifested itself in the direction I was facing before. I turned back to the TV just in time to see the shot from the Fuel Rod Cannon that the Captain had been wielding strike me directly in the face, instantly taking down my shields and throwing my lifeless body across the room. The camera switched to third person and lazily rotated around the image for a few seconds, as if purposely taunting me with it, before I respawned.

I sighed. My enthusiasm for the game was dampened by how far back it had sent me, as well as being replaced largely with curiosity about what had made that noise. I put the copy of Halo 2 in its case and turned the Xbox and TV off, then made my way through the kitchen and out to the back porch.

I must have been playing a long time, I reflected; judging by the light, it was late afternoon. I squinted, looking around for the source of the noise - it had seemed so close. In this light, however, the shadowed areas, such as the thick bushes separating the Stewarts' yard from those of their neighbors, seemed to have black paint splattered over them, rendering any details effectively impossible to make out.


Perhaps it was the instincts one developed naturally by playing Halo 2 that hadn't had enough time to drain out of my system, but for whatever reason, my immediate response was to whirl around sharply while simultaneously snatching up one of the chairs on the porch and coming to a halt with it raised in a threatening position. It was probably only the fact that some part of my subconscious recognized who that voice belonged to that prevented me from hurling the piece of furniture with all my strength at the same time. Instead, I dropped it and moved one hand instead to my pounding heart.

"You scared me, Jackson," I said with a fairly appropriate level of irritation. Not that he was looking so hot either (Well, I thought, at least not in some senses of the word) - but, of course, it wasn't like I would expect anyone to look calm and collected after almost being attacked by a video game-adrenaline-charged teenager wielding a metal chair. In fact, he probably looked more scared than I had. But I decided to spare him the ordeal of having that pointed out to him.

"Sorry." It was more like he was gasping and mouthing the word at the same time than actually saying it.

I glanced at the chair I had just tossed aside, then turned it back upright and gave Jackson an inviting gesture as I sat down in the chair next to it. He looked hesitant for a moment, as though afraid that the chair might hurt him somehow if he sat down in it, but walked over and took a seat all the same.

"So..." I began awkwardly, "...did you hear something a minute ago?"

"That weird bird thing?"

I straightened up a little. "If that's what it was, yeah."

"Yeah," he said. "That's why I came back here, to see what it was."

I nodded, deciding to keep the knowledge to myself that that was exactly why I'd come back here too. It was almost like it was destiny or something.

At that thought, I gave an inward chuckle. Okay, I thought, now that sounded lame. Still, for no other reason than to keep me entertained, I toyed with the idea in my head for awhile before pushing it aside and concentrating instead on what was before me.

The air felt warm. Not the fierce, stabbing heat typical of a California midday, when swimming or surfing would be deemed the most suitable of activities, but a pleasant, comfortable warmth that combined with a perfect level of humidity from the nearby ocean to give the unique sensation that it was wrapping around me like a blanket at the end of a long, exhausting day. This feeling was only increased by the light. It was just the same as it had been the last time I'd paid any attention to it, but that time I had somehow avoided noticing how amazing it looked. The Stewarts' backyard wasn't exactly scenic, but the way the orange light from the sun fell so softly upon the wood of the porch and the leaves of the bushes gave me the impression that I'd been smoothly transported from a simple backyard to some distant, unimaginable place where all the troubles I knew before were washed cleanly away, never to return.

"It's beautiful." I was only half-aware that the words had come out of my mouth.

"Yeah." Jackson's words startled me somewhat, halfway shaking me out of my trance and causing me to turn to him in vague, but not unpleasant surprise. "Beautiful." I saw that he was staring right at me when he said it, before he hastily turned away. I did the same in order to hide the heat creeping up my cheeks (which was definitely not a result of the sun), and it was then that I realized that it wasn't simply the scenery that was causing all these feelings.

It was odd, considering that we were both sitting in complete silence, but the sound started off so quietly, and increased in volume at such a gradual rate, that for quite some time, I never even realized it was there. Maybe it was something like the theory that if you out a frog into a pot of boiling water, it'll jump out, but if you put it into a pot of room temperature water, then turn the temperature up one degree every two minutes, the frog won't realize any difference even as it's being cooked alive. In any case, it must have been a full three minutes before my brow suddenly furrowed, as if by its own willpower, and I cocked my head to one side and said, "Wait. Do you hear something?" It took Jackson another few seconds of straining his ears, but he noticed it too.

It was... music.

The tone and rhythm were soft and slow, and I honestly could just barely make out the tune even as I paid attention to it; there were no lyrics to interrupt it (or perhaps there were, and they simply meshed together with the music that much better), and the instruments used were mainly things like harps and clarinets that all seemed to flow into each other continuously to create one soothing - and unmistakably romantic - sound.

The two of us sat there quietly for a moment before Jackson turned back to me and suggested halfheartedly, "Maybe it's coming from one of the neighbors' houses."

"Maybe," I said for his benefit and mine, but on the inside, the way it sounded quiet, but somehow far from distant, as well as how it seemed to surround us from all sides, made me think differently.

And yet... Puzzling to me though it was, I found that it didn't trouble me at all. No curious urges poking at my subconscious, telling me to go out and investigate, like they had done with that bird-noise. It was as if the warmth, the scenery, the presence of Jackson right beside me, and now the music were all working together to lull my brain into a state of quiet but powerful felicity. The thought was enough for my body to, almost unintentionally, lean in my chair a bit to the left, in Jackson's direction, as if I could absorb more of this content just by being closer to him.

I don't know why I turned my head. I don't know what I was planning to say to him, or even if I was planning to say anything before I did it. And I don't know his reasons for doing the same thing at the same time. But what I do know is that, for whatever reasons either or both of us had, the next instant found us with our lips crashed into each other.

Some people talk about there being a powerful burst of electricity during a kiss, especially a first kiss. Now, it might simply be the fact that this particular kiss caught me completely off-guard while (I assume) most other people at least usually get some kind of warning, but everyone that says that is completely wrong - "electricity" doesn't remotely do the sensation justice. Building off that, trying to describe what it felt like with any measure of accuracy would be like trying to describe a waterfall to a blind man; the only thing that can capture it is that I was kissing Jackson.

I have no idea how long it lasted, how long we sat there in that position, both of our eyes widened in pure shock from what we were doing, before we drew away; it might have been just one second or ten seconds or ten minutes or all of it rolled into one by some freak interdimensional anomaly. When we did pull back, all I could do was sit there and fell my face blaze like the Malibu sun and breathe like I was in danger of hyperventilating and feel my heart hammer against my ribcage and watch him do all the same-

And then lunge forward at the same time he did and meet him in another kiss even more passionate than the first.

It was bliss as I had never known it, an endless feast after a week of starvation in a merciless desert, a gulp of air after ten minutes underwater - all at the same time. Now our eyes were closed and our mouths open, and we stretched our arms over across the chairs to hold onto each other, in any way possible, as long as it managed to succeed in getting our bodies a mere inch closer to each other, and we were the only thing left in the world, us, Jackson and me, and there was nothing else and there had never been anything else...

Until a familiar pair of identical "Aww..."s coming from the bushes of the Stewarts' backyard jerked me out of this euphoric dream world and slammed me back down to Earth, causing both of us to yelp and jump back from each other to stare at the source - Miley and Oliver, who stood wearing black jumpsuits and the unmistakable grins of someone who knew something they weren't meant to.

Jackson, I could tell immediately, looked as panicked as I felt; he was staring at them with eyes the size and shape of cookies and mouthing words frenziedly, while the whole time nothing came out of his mouth save for a faint, pathetic squeak. I tried to buy him some time to regain control of himself.

"Mi-Miley. Oliver," I said, trying my utmost (and, so it seemed to me, failing entirely) to sound casual and innocent. "I guess you're wondering what we were doing."

"And there's a perfectly logical explanation," piped up Jackson. The only response from Miley and Oliver was a pair of cocked eyebrows and widened grins. "You see..." His eyes darted around the yard, trying to find some source of inspiration. "...Lilly... was eating some spaghetti... and... she got some noodles stuck in her throat!" The fact that he seemed excited with the last part of the sentence did not help. "So..." he continued, despite Miley and Oliver now smiling so hard I was sure their jawbones would crack under the strain before too long, "I was trying to suck them out for her!"

A few seconds of silence passed.

"...I got 'em," Jackson finished weakly. I might have rolled my eyes, had the situation been a little less dire.

Then, to my complete bewilderment, Miley and Oliver both burst into surprisingly hearty laughter. I risked exchanging a confused glance with Jackson - he clearly didn't know what to make of this either.

"It's okay, guys," said Miley when they were finished. She turned to me. "Lilly, consider our debt repaid."

I blinked slowly, as if that would help fuel my comprehension (or lack thereof). "Our... debt?" I asked slowly.

"You remember that little thing you did for us on Valentine's Day?" said Oliver.

"That whole thing where you got us together finally?" added Miley.

It took a few seconds for what they were trying to say to click in my mind.

"You two set this whole thing up?!" It was impossible, there was no way it could be true - yet the widening of the grins plastered on their faces was the only answer I needed.

I was so dumbfounded that for a moment it was tempting to collapse backwards into my chair. But then a million questions raced through my mind, and that was all I needed to keep myself up and alert.

Jackson was one step ahead of me. "How long have you known I... you know..." He gave an odd sort of squirm in my direction. I think they got the point, though.

"Only since yesterday," replied Miley. She looked quite pleased with herself. "I figured it out. I guess once Oliver and I weren't so distracted by... you know... us, then it was obvious about you two."

Obvious? my mind screamed at me. Had I really been so careless that she was able to figure it out after just one day?

"And then...?"

Miley shrugged. "Then we decided to get you together." She said it as if it was the most obvious conclusion in the world.

Something else clicked in my mind. "The beach..."

A faint blush illuminated Miley's cheeks. Oliver continued for her: "We put some of Mr. Stewart's sleeping pills into your shake, Lilly. Then I ran and told Jackson you needed CPR. We... kinda figured he'd go straight to mouth-to-mouth."

Jackson and I looked at each other, both of us gaping slightly. Something similar apparently happened inside his mind to what had just happened with me, because he turned back and murmured, "The closet..."

This time Oliver's cheeks turned slightly red too. "We thought, maybe if we locked you two in there together, then..." I understood, as I could tell Jackson did.

"And then... what did you do just now?"

Miley turned to me. "Remember how you told Oliver on Valentine's Day, you were gonna give destiny a little push? Not make any big, elaborate plan, but just give us a little nudge in the right direction?" I nodded slowly, and her grin returned. "Same thing. We just set up some speakers in the bushes and hooked them up to a CD player, lured you guys outside on a pretty afternoon with Oliver's fake bird call-" Oliver seemed to think it fit to interrupt at this point with a demonstration, "then we started up the music, and..." She gave a graceful flourish of her hand as if to say, Voila!

After a considerably long amount of time, during which Jackson and I stood there, trying to get a grasp on all this, I finally found it in myself to speak. "Let me guess." I noticed my voice sounded a lot more confident than it had earlier. "This one was Miley's idea."

Oliver, however, beamed at me. "Nope. The first two were Miley's. I came up with this one myself."

That was quite possibly an even bigger shock than the concept of the plan itself. I looked at Miley, as if seeking a rebuttal, but she just shrugged and said, "What can I say? The donut gets a good idea every once in a while." She gave him an exaggerated pat on the head.

I saw Jackson look at me out of the corner of my eye, and I copied him numbly. It seemed for a moment that he wasn't going to say anything, but then came the question: "And you... you like... me?" It was like it had been voiced by a child - hesitant and supremely unconfident, even verging on disbelieving.

And that made it all the more endearing - I could feel the excited smile spread across my face as I nodded forcefully, hyperactively, and I saw an excited smile of his own blossom forth before our bottled up emotions became too much to bear again, and I threw my arms around his neck in another kiss as he wrapped his around my waist, holding me close to him.

We broke apart just in time for me to catch a glimpse of Miley's face - her smile now seemed to have become rather forced. "Excuse me for a second," she said in a manner that made me recall an image of a flood of water about to burst from a dam. She turned around and calmly made her way around the corner of the house. I heard a retching sound that made my insides twist with a combination of disgust and sympathy, then a wet slap of something hitting the driveway. Within a few seconds, Miley returned, wearing an expression that didn't suggest that anything unusual in the slightest had just happened - however, she looked somewhat paler than before.

Jackson apparently decided to ignore this as well. Instead, his voice adopted a lofty, almost cocky tone: "So, then... why did you do it?"

Miley seemed puzzled by the question. "What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean. Why go through the trouble?" A smile, eerily similar to the ones Miley and Oliver had been wearing when they'd seen us kissing, was gradually beginning to appear on his face.

"Because Lilly got us together, of course. We owed her." She sounded slightly hasty.

"Oh really, now? And you're saying that this whole thing was just to repay a debt?" There was a curious gleam in his eye as he strode casually forward.

"Of course," she said quickly. There was a trace of panic on her face. "What other reason would we have?"

"Oh, I don't know," Jackson said in mock-innocence. "Because I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, you might have wanted to help your brother too."

Miley looked temporarily speechless at this claim. Then her face hardened into an expression of defiance. "Uh-uh. No way, no how. Not the case."

"You know," said Jackson, glancing down at his nails with an expression of mild interest, "I don't think I believe you. I think you were trying to help me all along too."

"That's... th-that's completely ridiculous! Take it back!" Miley's voice had grown desperate, and one of her eyes was twitching madly.

"Face it. You've just gotta face it." The all-knowing grin on Jackson's face had reached its fullest. "You love me."

Miley looked at him as though he had accused her of murder. For a moment, her entire body quivered, as though it had been destabilized at a cellular level by Jackson's statement - then she charged forth, her face lit with fury. Luckily, Oliver had seemingly anticipated something of this sort, because he was quick enough to grab her by one arm and hold her back, even as she demanded at the top of her well-honed lungs for Jackson to take it back while she attempted to barrage forward, claw at Jackson with her free hand, and wrestle her other one out of Oliver's grasp all at once.

At last, the rage seemed to drain from her, and Oliver seemed to decide he could trust her not to tear her brother to shreds if he let go. Instead, she merely glared at him with a cold bitterness.

Jackson as looking back at her with a mildly amused expression. "Well?" he said. "Are you going to admit it or not?"

For a second she looked like she was about to attack him again. Then she seemed to give up; her shoulders slumped, and her head fell wearily forward in an expression of defeat.

"Fine," she admitted grudgingly, her face hidden behind the natural barrier formed by her hair. "Some tiny place, deep down-" her head suddenly jerked upward, giving Jackson a full view of her blazing expression, "really deep down... always wanted to help you too."

Jackson's face shone with a triumph so thick I could almost see it coming off him as he put his arm confidently around my shoulder. Miley gave a deep sigh, and she seemed to exhale the excess grumpiness as she breathed out, for she straightened back up and at last flashed a smile our way.

She turned to Oliver and spread her arms slightly in a hesitant gesture of invitation - a celebration make out. At first he looked eager, as he practically jumped at the opportunity, but his face turned to revulsion when he was about two feet away from her face; apparently he'd just caught a whiff of vomit on her breath.

"Er... how about we save that for later?" he suggested. Miley rolled her eyes.

"Fine. But you owe me."

I chuckled and looked back up at Jackson, who was grinning back down at me as well, and once again found myself absorbed in one of the first of many, many more kisses to come.

I made my way down the stairs carefully, being sure not to make a sound that might alert someone to my presence. As father of the household, naturally, I didn't have much practice at this; usually I could walk as freely as I wished, and it was Miley or Jackson who would have to sneak around when in the midst of breaking one of the rules to avoid me. However, I'd just heard Miley making a racket in the backyard (something about, "Take that back!"), and... well, sometimes it was fun to sneak up on one of them and catch them in the act.

The noise had stopped now, and as I peered around the corner and out the window, I spotted Miley standing alongside Oliver, both of which were facing Jackson and Lilly. I gave an inward sigh: Of course Jackson's involved somehow if she's making a fuss. Sometimes I wondered how the house had avoided spontaneously combusting simply from the animosity those two showed each other on a daily basis.

But then I frowned - something looked... odd. What was Jackson doing with his arm around Lilly like that? And how come he was smiling so much?

Then, right in front of my eyes, he looked down and drew her into a slow, deep kiss.

I felt my mouth swing open like a barn door, and I rubbed my eyes with my knuckles before looking back up again to make sure of what I had seen. And there they were still - bright as daylight.

I retreated back behind the corner, mind racing. I thought back to only a week ago, when I'd first found out about Miley and Oliver. Of course, I'd seen it coming from a mile away; much as I didn't want my little girl going out with some boy, no matter how good-mannered or whatever else you could say about him, I was glad all the same that at least it had been him.

Just like I'd seen the signs with them, I'd noticed the way Jackson always seemed just a little bit more in the mood to show off when Lilly was around. And how Lilly always seemed to laugh a little harder when Jackson was around. I remembered what it was like, being a teenage boy with a crush, and if I could see the whole Miley and Oliver thing coming, then certainly I'd be able to do the same for my son.

But I'd thought it would've taken longer than this! Only a week after Miley and Oliver happened, this did too? I think I'm losing my touch here, I mused.

I chanced another peak from behind the corner. Well... they did look happy - every bit as happy, in fact, as Miley had looked when I first saw her face when she got home from school on Valentine's Day. Whether or not I was losing my touch, there was something, to be sure.

I grinned to myself as I turned back away.

"Four down," I recited to myself, "none to go."

And with that, I retreated back upstairs.

Yes, ladies and... er, well, okay then. Yes ladies, that is the end!

Alright, I know that wasn't worth a four-month wait (and don't any of you try to convince me otherwise, 'neither, as I'm sure some of you will try to do); no chapter's worth four months of waiting. Still, especially considering that, at nearly seven thousand words, this chapter's easily the longest one in this story, I personally think that I came about as close to it as possible. However, that's not my decision to make. Keep in mind as well, I wrote a lot of this at a time when, even during summer vacation, I should have been in bed, so perhaps a lot of stuff I thought was good may just be a product of a severe lack of sleep. If anyone just flat-out didn't like this chapter, please don't hesitate to tell me.

I might as well establish it clearly, as someone out there is bound to ask: No, I do not intend on writing a third story. Miley and Oliver have gotten together, now Jackson and Lilly have gotten together... what else is there to write, aside from some sort of dramatic story where - cue intense music! - the integrity of their relationships are tested?! I happen to know for a fact that I'd completely ruin that if I tried to write it, so I'm not gonna.

A few things about this chapter before I leave you guys free to review. I remember back in Sweet Hearts, my whole thing about Lilly just tweaking destiny a little bit to get Miley and Oliver together. I'm going to be perfectly honest: I just made that up as an excuse for my lack of imagination for ways Lilly could get them together, because I was too lazy to think up any ingenious scheme for her to use. I had much better ideas when starting this story. But then it just kinda wouldn't seem right if I just tossed that out the window in its sequel, so I decided to maintain it for the third attempt.

I hope you enjoyed that little bit from Mr. Stewart at the end there - I've been planning on writing that for a loooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnggggggggggg time. Like, seriously, from pretty much the very start of this story. In fact, if you go back to Chapter 2 and read Oliver's flashback scene, Mr. Stewart says, "Two down, two to go." I'm a little surprised no one made mention of that, actually (though maybe everyone picked up on it straight away and just never said anything because it didn't seem important then). The "two down" are obviously Miley and Oliver, so that means the "two to go" must be... hmm...

So... I guess that, after over a year since I wrote the first chapter of Sweet Hearts, it's finally over now. I'd like to thank everyone who's ever reviewed this story, in order: Sidhe-Anomaly, QueenOfBlah, xxReeReexx, Marrisa, Ksllie Lynne. daisy17/daisy617, Perfectionista, . , Falling Further, Taylor Rae, icechains55, Boeremeisie, Color Esperanza, iheartdisney128, Chaotic-obsession4eva, MangoFlavored x3, PlzBeMineAt705, bangsmccoy, risingstar9328, mmvok, Zashleyisthebest, LightningStruckBlackDog, OMG..., swimchick128, I wanna make you holler, IZIBELLE, Forever-charmed14, CheeseJerky, LizardBreathChick, ShortNotice, MileyCyrusNo1fan, MRide, iluvdisneychannel, uhhh i forgot, Sweetfire, Cyrus Fan No. 1, Hannah Montana101, sEriOuS pOnAgE, Tikaani, musiclvr320, MarauderNicki, America's Rockstar, Hiroshikata, rockn'rollchick618, Narya100, XTARUTOX, ElleIra42, MileyAddicted, Apreslaube812, pooksta, , and freedomhoney2007. You guys all rule way more than I do.

Since this is the last chance you guys will have, please leave a review! And even if you don't, thanks so much for taking the time to read this.