Oh my gods, guys! I've FINALLY updated something! :D Wow. Um, ok, not sure what to say, except I'M SO SORRY EVERYONE, I AM EVIL AND DESERVE TO HAVE VEGETABLES THROWN AT ME. *hangs head in shame* My only excuses are my GCSEs - my dad confiscated my laptop to make me study - and my mom took her life a while ago.

Please don't give condolences. I understand the sentiment, but she was a total bitch and I hadn't seen her in three years, so it's actually not a very big deal for me.

ANYWAY! :D Hopefully this is the start of many updates to come. I do so hope so.

Hope you guys enjoy it!


Chapter Ten – All I Ever Dreamed Of

"Sora! Come on, get up!"

The brunette shot upright as Cloud's voice called him from beyond his door. "Cloud? What's – ?"

"We've got to go! I've made you toast, but we're late. Ten minutes!"

Sora blinked at the sound of his brother disappearing down the stairs to the main house; it took him a minute to process what Cloud had said, and then he threw the blanket back, tearing around his room like a miniature whirlwind. Jeans, t-shirt: he swept the mess on his desk into his school bag and threw it over his shoulder, grabbing his jacket as he tore down the stairs and tried not to trip over his own feet.

"I'm here!" Sora flailed, tripping after all, on the very last step – Cloud caught his shoulder without even looking at him, with an ease born of long practise, handing his little brother his toast as he picked him up. Grateful, Sora started munching, trying to struggle into his jacket without actually taking his bag from his shoulders.

"What's up with this, anyway?" He demanded, following the blonde through the house to grab Cloud's bag, already deposited at the front door. "You never sleep in, and you always get me up. You're like a human alarm clock."

Cloud's face flushed, but he wouldn't look at Sora no matter how his younger brother tried to change the fact, with much arm waving and dancing in front of him. "Weird dreams," he muttered, opening the door and kicking his bag up into the air – and catching it – all in one movement. "Now come on, or we're going to be late."

Sora blinked, but didn't comment. He didn't remember what he'd been dreaming about over the weekend, but the vague, unsettled sensation it had left behind was enough for him to climb up behind his brother on his motorbike without another word.

)0(

Riku wasn't beside him when Roxas woke in the morning, blue eyes blinking as images swam over his vision like wisps of gossamer smoke, but he wasn't overly concerned for his friend. Riku didn't follow a normal sleeping pattern – he rose with the sun and slept with the moon directly overhead, his energy following the celestial lights instead of the passing of time, and it wasn't unusual to find him out on the practising fields, having been sparring for hours while Roxas was just waking up.

Yawning, Roxas stretched, swinging his legs over the bed, the sheets curling over his waist as he flung them back. He rubbed the back of his hand over his eyes, wondering what to do next –

And froze.

"Roxas, will you be my Heart's Choice?"

The dreams flowed through his mind like a river, unstoppable as a force of nature, and he struggled to breathe past the rising panic choking his throat, forcing himself to just breathe.

" – be my Heart's Choice?"

Shining pearl, polished obsidian…

Wisps of knowledge, of remembrance. The wingless Draco, the Spark General, the smiling man that had asked to bond with him. Three different facets of the red-head that was starting to haunt Roxas' mind.

"Of course I will, you idiot!"

He bit his lip, hands running through his hair, head held over his knees as he tried to stay calm, tried to convince himself it was a dream. Just a dream, dream, dream…

But it felt so real. The sunlight on his skin, the silky slide of the grass, the pounding concoction of fear and anticipation when Axel took out the black velvet box.

So real…

Why would he dream something like that? He'd never had any serious crushes on anyone, never thought of anyone romantically. There was physical longing, yes – but that wasn't what he'd felt for Axel. Not even close.

He growled, eyes squeezing shut as his hands tugged at his hair, trying to think past all the whirling sensations burning through him. Trying to think logically.

Fact: he had no memories before the last three years. Fact: the first thing he remembered was Riku's face, cool and void of expression, leaning over him, checking his pulse. Fact: he had knowledge, but not memory.

In other words – he knew about the Web. The Peoples. Knew about magik, knew how to work it. Knew his favourite colours were black and white, knew he liked sword fighting and magery, battle-magik. But he didn't know how he knew.

It was…possible that he knew Axel from before. Things the Draco had said… "This isn't like you, Roxas…" (How did he know?) Things he'd done… (How did he know which parts of Roxas were the most sensitive?) And…

His hand went automatically for the pendant under his pyjama top, the sharp-edged X inlaid with onyx, fingertips playing over the smooth contrast of metal and gem.

"That belongs to you, Prince,"… Why did he have it?

But, most of all…

"Someday you'll remember, Roxas…"

Roxas groaned, fingers threading through his hair again, angrily. Yes, the Draco could be messing with his head. The whole thing could be some kind of…of…Some elaborate spell, some timed charm worked to make him start dreaming about the red-head.

But it didn't sound likely. Why would a complete stranger expend that much effort on someone they didn't know?

He felt sick. How much of his life had been stolen from him? He didn't know his family's name – hell, he didn't even know which People he came from! So his ears were slightly pointed – it meant nothing to him! He could have been Elf, or Arkadian, or Danaan, or even some kind of Faerie!

He wanted to know who he was. He wanted to know why Xemnas had backed down yesterday, why there had been a flash of fear in amber eyes as they looked at him. Wanted to know why he dreamed of a Heart's Choice he couldn't remember. Wanted to know why he dreamed of fires and Princes and shadows.

Wanted to know why he couldn't remember.

)0(

Reno hadn't needed to glance at the calendar that morning to know what the date was; it had been a lead weight in his stomach for weeks, growing heavier and heavier as it came closer and closer. Just getting up this morning had been almost too much.

Even Zack's endless optimism had taken a heavy blow, and he was quiet, withdrawn, as the two of them walked the few blocks to the Academy. It was a beautiful, sunny day, but the electric blue eyes of his best friend were dull and faded, as close to misery as was it was possible for Zack to get.

"Hey," Reno said quietly, reaching out to hold his friend's shoulder – comfortingly, he hoped. "He wouldn't want this. He'd have hated to see you like this, Zack."

"Yeah, I know," the sable-haired boy said finally, and Reno winced internally at the sound of his voice; rough, as if he'd been up crying all night. "But your act isn't really up to scratch, either."

The red head shrugged, silently acknowledging the truth of the words. Even after all these years, the pain hadn't eased, hadn't faded even a little, and it was impossible to pretend that it had.

Losing your Heart's Choice wasn't something you ever got over.

They said no more about it as they entered the tarmac playground. Dozens of human children were gathered together in groups, talking animatedly or mechanically – excited to see their friends after the weekend or dreading the start of Monday classes – waiting for the bell that would let them in.

"Hey, Cloud," Reno called, waving his arm to get their friend's attention. The spikey-headed blonde was just locking up his bike, his little brother unusually quiet and still. "How was your weekend, yo?"

"Boring," he answered, nodding his head for Sora to go join his own peers. After a piercing look at his older brother, the tiny brunette did so, and Reno didn't give him another thought. "You?"

It was sad that Cloud knew not to ask what was wrong with them. They'd never explained, but he knew – on the 19th of November, the two were depressed and down and didn't want to talk about it: ever.

Reno shrugged. "Same ol', same ol'," he muttered, tired of pretending already and resenting the effort it would take to just get through the day. When all he wanted was to go back to his apartment and collapse.

Cloud nodded and opened his mouth to say something, when suddenly Zack stiffened. "Zack?"

"Hey, buddy?" Reno asked, catching on. Zack was as still as if he'd been abruptly turned into a statue; his head was turned, looking back towards the school gate. Reno punched his shoulder lightly, growing worried by the glazed, ice-cold expression taking over his features; but Zack's only reaction was to start shaking, as if with repressed emotion.

Concerned, Reno followed his eyes – and froze.

He didn't think. It wasn't a conscious decision, wasn't something he considered/decided on.

He just ripped his mage-blade from the Ether as the world exploded.

)0(

Leon and Zexion had spent the last few days focussing the seeking spells to hunt for the Rose. They'd seen little of Axel and Demyx, and both privately hoped they weren't spending the time together, albeit for different reasons.

Leon didn't want his Pack getting even more tangled, more complicated. Zexion just didn't want to feel another piece of his heart break.

But they'd managed it, and against their advice Leon opted to track him alone. They all saw him eye Axel as he explained that no, he wouldn't approach Riku; but it was good to start sketching out a routine for him, to make their lives easier.

They all had to agree that Leon was the best for this kind of mission.

The Croydon Academy for Gifted Students was a large building, built of warm red brick thirty or forty years ago; a small clock tower extended from the roof like a finger pointing at the sky. It was surrounded by a relatively small tarmac playground that reminded Leon of a castle's moat – large in itself, but it seemed smaller than the school really needed, if the number of windows was relative to classrooms and classrooms were relative to students.

His grey eyes swept over the gathered students waiting for the school day to really begin, looking for a flash of silver hair. He tried to look casual, his hands in his pockets, aware that a strange man standing by the gate of a playground was somewhat suspicious in this world.

He didn't see Riku. What he caught instead was a flash like lightning, the crackle-sizzle of a mage-blade being activated, and the roaring battle cry of the Luparri.

Instinctively, he reached for his blade, drawing it from the Ether as if from an invisible sheath.

)0(

"Zack?" Cloud frowned, worried, and he stepped forward, raising his hand to gently touch his friend's shoulder. "Are you – ?"

The second the blonde touched him, Zack was off and running, blue eyes on fire in a way Cloud had never seen before – he could only watch, stunned, as his friend moved faster than any human possibly could, almost blurring; and in a hundredth of a second Reno tore after him, something golden and blazing in his hand, almost as fast and just as brightly burning with a rage Cloud couldn't even begin to imagine.

Not one of the students seemed able to move – Cloud felt locked into place – until Zack roared, an animal scream of rage and pain and hate that couldn't have possibly come from a human throat.

Because in the same instant Reno screamed, high and wild like glass and fire, and Cloud dropped to his knees with almost every other person at the school as the sound ripped through his ear drums; every window on the street shattered like exploding stars, the world spun, and when Cloud felt something wet on his fingers he realised his ears were bleeding.

All this happened in a second, if that. In just a second, they all saw how Zack and Reno moved as one, like birds of a flock, limbs of one mind, extensions of the same spirit; Reno caught up to the other boy and it was as if they were synchronised, as if this scene had played itself out so many times there was no need for conscious thought, instinct alone guiding them.

Then the screams started.

)0(

It took a moment for Leon to react, because he'd seen this before.

As the black-haired boy raced towards him and leapt forwards, exploding in a snarling whirlwind of fur and flesh and tattered clothing – as the skinny red-head's back split apart with wings of fire – the only thing that was different was the hate staining blue and green eyes.

"Zack? Reno?" He gasped, stunned, unable to believe what he was seeing. "I thought you were – "

dead

They crashed into him, a hound of Hell and an angel of wrath, intent on justice.

)0(

When the stranger by the gate went flying backwards, it was enough to knock Cloud out of his shock.

He wasn't thinking. Not really. He'd just seen his two best friends turn into a – a wolf and an angel, but they were attacking someone and he knew that wasn't like them. Not Zack, bubbly and cheerful with the brightest smile in the world; not Reno, the life and soul of the party with a heart of gold. No. They couldn't want to kill someone.

"Cloud! What are you -?!"

"Get inside!" He yelled at Sora, seeing his little brother over to one side, still crouched on the ground. "Get everyone inside, call 999!"

Without waiting for an answer, ignoring Sora's cries, he raced to where a giant black wolf was just raking jagged claws through the stranger's chest.

)0(

Leon yelled, losing his grip on his blade as Zack's claws tore into his chest. Blood spurted; he heard the clank of metal as his gunblade was kicked away, his back crashing into the pavement only seconds later under the wolf's weight.

"Zack, it's me!" He gasped, struggling to breathe, the wind knocked out of him and now Zack's dinner-plate paws on his shoulders, pinning him down and snarling.

"Oh, we know that, your Highness."

Leon forced himself to look past Zack's bared fangs – as long as his fingers and as sharp as his sword – to meet sharp, deadly green.

What he saw there shocked him to the core.

These two had been his Brothers, his Pack before Ansem called him to take up his destiny. He and Zack had trained together, both of them Luparri, both of them gifted in the arts of war; so talented, in fact, that Zack had gained the patronage of Angeal Hewley, one of the legendary Sword Masters. Reno was one of the Southern Fey, whip-lash strong and Fire-born, one of the best assassins in the southern Web and one of the founding members of SOLDIER, the mercenary group that hired itself out to Kings and Queens around the Web. Always get the job done.

He'd taken a year off in Luparri after meeting the Sheol ambassador Vincent Valentine – which had eventually became a permanent stay.

They'd been friends. Brothers.

The look in Reno's eyes made it clear they weren't anymore.

"What's going on, Reno?" Leon asked – trying to demand, but it was hard with a shifted Luparr squeezing the air from your chest. "I thought you were dead. Both of you." It was very hard to talk, with Zack's wolf-breath panting over his neck, inches away from his fangs.

The red-head clicked his tongue, his mage-blade leaning over his shoulder. The golden hilt was set with a single crystal; while Reno touched it, a blade of writhing lightning and crackling electricity extended from the metal. "Yeah, well, we're not, obviously. We escaped your little witch-hunt."

His eyes blazed, spitting fire, spitting poison. "But the others didn't. You were blind and stupid and you killed them, Squall. Because you trusted Xemnas more than you trusted your lover and your friends, Vincent and Angeal and Aerith are dead."

Leon didn't see him move, but he arched with a muffled scream as his wrist broke beneath Reno's boot. There had to have been magic in the blow, because his bones broke like a bird's – and he couldn't move away.

"You have no idea how long I've waited for this," the red-head hissed, and Zack growled agreement. "I can't wait to hear you scream."

He raised his sword, and Leon closed his eyes, despairing.

)0(

"Go!"

"What? No frekin way!" Reno grabbed onto Vincent's arm, eyes wide and scared and determined. "Not without you, fang-face, now come on!"

The hallway was filling up with smoke. Aleron hung limp and out of it in Zack's arms, and Reno spared a worried glance for their Sun. The bright soul they all revolved around. Lover, brother, friend, their Pack had come together because of him.

Would he ever be the same, with his memories wiped clean by Squall's mages?

"Vincent is right," Aerith said quietly, and Reno saw Zack's blue eyes light up with panic. "We have to split up. Some of us stand and fight, so the rest of you can get away."

"But that's suicide!" Zack protested, hugging Aleron closer to him reflexively. "You can't win against the entire city's militia!" He looked to Angeal desperately. "Angeal, come on, tell them. Tell them we have to go!"

Reno watched, his heart beating staccato as the older Luparr, scarred and strong, shared a glance with the red-head's half-sister. Where Reno was Fire, Aerith was Earth – and where he was firey and impulsive, she was calm and logical, so she why wasn't she seeing sense?

Something in Zack shattered when Angeal shook his head – the puppy-Luparr sobbed, curling a hand desperately in his mentor's shirt. "No, no, you can't – I can't leave you – please, Angeal, Aerith, don't –"

Reno looked away, trying to give them a moment of privacy, trying to hide the pain in his eyes as his own heart split in two.

"You want me to go with Zack," he stated quietly, looking into Vincent's garnet eyes. "Because we're the fastest."

The Vampire/Demon half-breed nodded slowly, and someone who didn't know him wouldn't have seen the tears in his eyes. "We will hold them off as long as we can," he said softly.

But then you'll die. It didn't need to be said. Vincent, Angeal, Aerith; they were all magically powerful, skilled with their chosen weapons, but three could not hold off three thousand.

Reno wasn't prepared when Vincent pulled him close, but he didn't have to be; he kissed back desperately, touching his lover's silky black hair, velvet-soft skin, cupping his jaw and pulling him closer as if, somehow, they could melt together and Reno would have to leave him, wouldn't have to leave the best thing he'd ever known –

Vincent cupped his face as he pulled away, and as the clash of swords and the cries of guards came closer he seemed to freeze, memorising Reno's tear-streaked face (when had he started crying?) as if he wanted it to be the last thing he ever saw.

And then he pushed the Fey away. "Go."

"I love you," Reno gasped, hearing his heart shatter. It was a sound like stone breaking.

"I love you too," he heard Vincent whisper, and then he was pulling on Zack's arm, dragging him sobbing away from his lovers, dragging him slipping and stumbling through the maze of Squall's palace.

They both heard the demonic roar, the howl, the scream of feminine rage braided together into a bone-chilling war-cry.

And then there was nothing.

)0(

"No!" Cloud yelled, flinging his arms around Reno's waist and pulling him back. "Don't kill him!"

He didn't expect Reno to freeze, the impossible sword still raised in the air like an executioner's axe, but he did.

"C-cloud?"

"Yes," Cloud answered firmly, his arms still around his friend's waist. He took a step backward, pulling the red-head with him. "Come on, Reno. You don't want to kill him. I don't know what the hell is going on, but he's not worth it, whatever he did, whoever he is, it's not –"

"Aleron?"