Fighter: Note that the first scene was mostly written by a person who's been a huge help to the story, muffnbootz! I modified it a bit and lengthed it, but it was mostly her! (Now draw more pics for WoOXIII already! -coughcough- Please...) Someone do the disclaimer. Haven't done that in a while so do it, or Nomura will sue me. I know that man's on to me and my ideas... -mumbles darkly to herself-

Cissnei: She doesn't own any Final Fantasy characters, or Kingdom Hearts. Though the authoress is mad at the KH creator these days over certain things he's doing with Kingdom Hearts and wants to take over Square Enix...

Fighter: -ceases plotting her Nomura kidnapping plans- Oh, don't ask me about my penname change. Did it for private, personal reasons, and no, I'm not changing it back. :P


Chapter 11: You'll Get to Being Okay


Lord knows I failed you time and again

But you and me are alright

We won't say our goodbyes, you know it's better that way

\We won't break, we won't die

It's just a moment of change

All we are

All we are is everything that's right

All we need

All we need

A lover's alibi

-- One Republic; "All We Are"


When Rajani returned to the Hunters' world, stalking through the halls into an usually empty foyer of crystal chandilers and ebony silk-endowed furiture, she found the Forgotton Anomi sprawled out on a couch reading a book of some kind. Of what the damned Keyblade wielder did not know or care. She had too much on her mind now.

Rajani paused in the center of the spacious room to scowl in her direction. After mentally yelling at Anomi for a full minute she walked on, having to circle in front of the couch to get to the door. The Forgotton's bare foot slowly reached out as she passed, earning her a monstrous growl, fangs bared and everything. She was not in the mood after the mess that unfolded in Hollow Bastion. So the Hunter did a complete one-eighty on her sneakers, facing the blue-haired wonder still "reading" her book, toes flexed out.

"What do you want?!" Rajani snapped. Anomi sighed and put down her book.

"I just wanted to know what happened. You are only in a huff when something happens that doesn't go as planned."

Rajani clicked her teeth down once, irritated that she worded it.

"Nothing happened."

"Liar, liaaaar!" Anomi blew out, finally craning her head around to meet the silver demonic eyes with her poison-apple ones. "Ya, nothing happened, my butt. If nothing happened then you wouldn't have cared if I touched you or not. Cause then you had nothing to hide. But, I guess you do..."

"Congratulations, orphan, you successfully used some human psychology shit on me to try to figure out my actions. Now go tell your caretaker I was mean to you," Rajani ended coldly, marching for the double doors in front of her. Halfway through pushing the doors out, something cold and invisible snatched her wrists into its hold. Caught off guard, Rajani gasped and stumbled forward at the sudden trap. She couldn't bring out sword or Keyblade: she was utterly defenseless.

She jumped again, seeing color seep to live before her widened eyes. Seeing aged scars over wrists assured her it was only Jason standing in the shadows beyond the doorframe. Her dilated eyes relaxed before she glared at him.

He smiled back, sleepy eyes agleam with hospitality.

"Hi. I heard you were being mean to my Anomi."

"Great, and you can successfullystalk underaged girls. What a great match you two are!" Rajani said dryly, trying and failing to pull herself free. Jason's expression hardened to apathy as he pulled his arm out so her palms were exposed to the ceiling. Rajani kept trying to break his restraint. The unmoved Hunter raised an eyebrow, staring down at her palms. They were burnt, as if she had been holding fire for a long moment. As if she had held something of the light...

He frowned, pondering for a minute before glancing over at Anomi watching with apprehension.

Oh. Now he got it.

And now he lost his trademark patience.

His eyes narrowed, like a predator that caught the trail of his fleeing prey.

"The Keyblade...Aoife..." Jason hissed like a snake, his smooth and hypnotic voice crackling with irritated anger. When he got no reaction he shook the scrawny girl once.

"Some advice, Rajani: Swallow down that damn pride of yours before it gets you killed. Going off alone to play with Aoife in front of her damn brother, the same man that almost killed our Master...? Are you insane, because usually you're somewhat smarter than that!" Jason spat, nose wrinkled in disgust. "We need Aoife alive. If that Forgotton dies because of your ego, then we'll have to find another human and break their heart around without killing them—and you know how many times we failed to make one. Now thanks to you, because you just had to flaunt your ability to wave a Keyblade around in front of them, WE are going to have Zack and all of them on our backs hunting us down! Now we have even more enemies to worry about."

Rajani silently bit the inside of her cheek.

With a sickened snarl, Jason threw her out of his personal space and made for the doors, one hand in his pocket.

"You're so good at rumpling my feathers up, Rajani. And I'm a man that has excellent self-control. Don't be proud of that accomplishment," he added in warning, catching her tiny smile in a mirror behind them. "I assure you I'm sincere when I say that if those humans start killing you, I won't run to your aid like your white knight in shining armor again."

Rajani narrowed her eyes in matched fury, ignoring the burning sensation in her eyes. The room became blurry, so she blinked and ducked her head, fiddling with her cloak as Jason motioned at Anomi to follow him, acting as though he didn't notice the Child Queen about to weep. Jason's apathetic dismissal was like a slap to Rajani's face.

Anomi spared a depressed, longing look at Rajani before skimpering off to Jason's side.

Rajani listened to their footsteps echo down the hallway until their sounds got quieter and quieter, lifting her vision little by little until she was staring down a bare hall. With her head held high, Rajani sat down on the couch and opened the discarded book, not allowing herself to wipe away the dribbles of salty tears coarsing down her pallid face.

But no, the darkling wouldn't bow her head down to this human act.

She refused to be like Aoife.


~*~

The girl realized, after getting up from tripping on a crack in the stone walkway, that she didn't want the Keyblade. Good riddance to that responsibility.

It never was truly hers. Rajani just let her swing it around at a few times to see how it worked. She was a guinea pig for her, to test that unfathomable, mythical power.

Whatever. That was fine. She had her fists and metal; that was all she needed to survive.

She didn't care.

("Zell wants us to go hang out at his place today. Come with us.")

She wanted Irvine and Rinoa. She wanted her friends back.

("It's not alright what happened to you. But I promise you...you'll get to being okay again.")

No...more that that...

She wanted to quit and die.

No no. She couldn't want that more than her friends. That'd just be bratty selfishness. But she couldn't keep up with this life, with the problems, both natural and supernatural. She couldn't handle it any longer. She had to scream. She wanted to die. Why did she have to be such a stupid teenager with crazy hormones and emotions she couldn't control? She wanted her friends but she wanted to die and that contradiction kept her in a mental circus.

What was the point in her since she was just a target, an object to fulfill someone's need? Was there even healing in pain? If so, where was it?

"Aoife, wait up!"

The called upon girl simply closed her eyes, not breaking her run. She didn't want to talk, and she knew Zell and the others wouldn't understand that. They thought talking about her suicidal thoughts and that she was loved would make her feel better. It hurt to talk. It literally hurt Aoife to talk about it. A curse of being a Forgotton, indeed. Or maybe this was just a thing of life.

"Aoife!"

Zell finally caught up and circled in front of her path. Aoife started, mouth parted open.

"Hey, uhh...wait up."

"You already caught me," she deadpanned, lips pressed together in a thin line.

"Yeah, but," he sniffed, scratching the back of his head, "it's not like I'm a help to you, obviously. I can't keep you from being all sad and feeling like the lowest piece of shit in the world."

Aoife grinned weakly, eyes crinkling; the smile hurt not as much as she predicted. She was grateful Zell never gave her white lies when trying to do the comfort thing with her.

"No. Zell, I just..I'm not well. I'm not sure how to change myself. You're not a bad friend, not even close, even if you tried." At this Zell let out a breath of laughter. "Look...I know you hate the Organization, hate that I care for them, but that was only one guy that hurt me. And the Hunters, I'm pissed at them too, but more so at myself. And I know it's not my fault," Aoife added quickly, seeing him about to retort. "I know it's irrational and bull to blame myself, but...I can't stop myself feeling like it is. If I felt like it was your fault, I wouldn't be sad and...wanting to die." She lamely waved her hands around and failed to smile, looking down. "Yeah, I sound stupid when I talk, so I'm gonna stop now."

Zell shifted a few times, unsure of what to do. Hugs could heal, but from the way Aoife held herself, he could tell she just wanted some breathing space.

"You really want to kill yourself?"

He held his breath after that, expecting a slap and a couple punches.

...Fortunately, he just got more words.

"Why would Rajani lie?" she countered, staring down at her skinned knees. "She's me, and she knows me, knows how I work. She told me like some historian describing a moldy painting. So, that's that." She shrugged carelessly. "Nothing you can do about her, Zell. So try not to kill her the next time you see her."

"Whatever," he dismissed impatiently. "Look, I'm not good at this, you know that. It'd be way better if Rinoa or Irvine were here to comfort you, but...don't die. Then I'll have no one left. And, I don't know what'll do if—"

She smiled and closed her eyes, laughing softly over his voice. "I know, I know...that's why I'm not gonna kill myself. I still want to, yeah...but I won't. It'd be selfish if I killed myself. Irvine and Rinoa'd never forgive me if I did. And I'd make Zack sad. Just..." Aoife breathed in and out, blinking rapidly. "Can I know that you'll protect me from their words with words of your own? I always feel better when I hear you just being you."

"Even though we disagree on our opinions of the Organization?" Zell said.

"And even if we fight over little stupid things, at least I know there's one person out there being real with me."

Zell's eyes widened. Aoife nodded back to assure his confidence.

He cleared his throat, shrugging it off. "So, are we done with this cheesy conversation, or do we have to go into those corny parts about friendship, how we'll always be there for each other, never give up and all that shit?"

Aoife smiled and shook her head as they walked. "Please don't. I'm too tired to fake that out. Besides, we're human, so let's not set our expectations high. Let's know that we might not always be able to be there for each other, Zell."

He laughed, briefly throwing his arm around her shoulders. "See, this is why you're more bearable than Rinoa. Riri always gets emotional at our lack of verbally expressing ourselves or when we insult each other."

"Like yelling at each other when we're angry or making witty, sarcastic remarks about Irvine unable to hold on to a girlfriend?" Aoife continued in mockery, looping her arm around his.

"Well, Riri does get stressed when we having sparring matches."

"Because she knows I'll kick your ass," Aoife said. "You're all gentle like that, Zell."

He pushed her away with a snort. "You wish."

"That wish—" She jumped sideways, swiftly getting behind him and gripped his arms in a lock against his back. She set her chin on his shoulder, smiling. "Has been granted."

"You rebound quickly, you know that?"

"No. I'm just exceptionally skilled at fooling people to feel I'm alright and over it." Zell gave her a pointed look as she released him and sighed, walking forward. "You're a guy, Zell. You have to have a uterus like Rinoa to catch that I'm hiding my depression."

"Ah, so this is some girl thing?" he cringed, catching up with her pace.

"That's why we need to get Rinoa back so she can get all mind-tricky on me and help me with my shitty heart," Aoife said with a nod, pounding a fist over the beating organ.

"Still wanna kill yourself?" Zell asked suddenly in such an easy manner. Aoife tensed, mouth shaped into an "O" as her eyes grazed up to the stone ceiling.

"Yeaah. That won't change overnight," she emphasized slowly.

"...we'll try and work on that?" he muttered nervously, turning on his heels toward her.

Aoife's smile flittered and faltered off her swollen lips like butterfly wings. "Yeah. We'll try."

'I'll definitely try. If I can keep talking like I usually do like this with Zell, I won't take action on my life. As long as our disagreement with the Organization doesn't evolve to us not talking, that is.'

"Sorry," Zell said.

Did he just read your mind?

She rolled her eyes, ignoring the lump in her throat. "Not your fault I feel this way."

"You're right. It's that fucker Kefka's."

"No."

Aoife had stopped walking. As Zell slowed his pace and glanced back, he saw her posed with her fists against her thighs, her wavy hair fallen over face. He frowned.

"Excuse me?"

"N-no more talk of...what happened today. I've have enough for one day! I feel like the living dead and can't properly think and...tomorrow we'll think on what to do, on how to save Rinoa and Irvine. Alright?"

They stared at each other, not breathing out. They couldn't look at the world as they used to now. Tomorrow, the colors wouldn't look so...colorful; popular parties and movies wouldn't seem so important. And their other friends would be strangers the next time they went back to school. Was this what it would be like to be adults?

Aoife blinked. "So can we drop the subject until tomorrow, then?"

Zell smiled, pocketing his hands with a shrug. "Cool."

Aoife smiled back briefly before frowning, spine stiffening. He blinked, realizing Aoife was gone.

Faexio snarled, dark green eyes darting down over from where they came. "Would you kindly stop stalking us in the shadows and come out already?!" she barked to the shadows.

Sets of "eep!" exploded out. Faexio smirked before giving Aoife back control.

A few seconds later, Yuffie, Cissnei, Zack and Aerith shuffled towards them, looking like kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

"We're going back home," Zell announced.

"So soon? Are you sure?" Yuffie asked with pouty lips.

"Of course. We'd just be wasting time, laying around here feelin' sorry for ourselves."

"Aoife, can you come here for a moment?" Aerith asked, staring at Aoife with sad eyes. Zack frowned behind her, tapping his fingers on his folded arms until Aoife rolled her eyes, walking with the flower girl back out to the entrance of the castle. Zack looked over to Cissnei watching him.

"Why do you keep looking at me like I drowned a litter of kittens?" he blurted out and mentally kicked himself for the nasty tone he used. Cissnei's eyes widened and she shook her head in haste.

"Nothing. It's just, that man in the Organization that you—"

"Aoife said no more talk of that today."

Everyone glanced up at Zell.

"Seriously. Can you at least give my friend that? We been through enough already."

And with that, Zell stomped off, leaving the guilty three to glance at each other with guilt.

"He's right," Cissnei said, bowing her head in apology.

"He is. And I have no problem with that," Zack sighed and walked away. The other two girls followed, awkwardly looking anywhere but at each other unti they reached the front of the old castle. Cid was leaning against the wall, watching Aerith engulf a startled Aoife with a Cura spell. Zell looked around, and found Leon far off, glaring at the ground as if it insulted his scarred face.

It could happen...if he was in Wonderland. Possibly.

"There you go, Aoife. Hope that helps a bit," Aerith said, out of breath as she brushed Aoife off like a mother lion, trying to straighten her clothes and fix her frizzy mess of hair. Aoife finally wiggled out of her reach, holding her hands up.

"I'm fine, thanks. Really, I feel better. Thank you, Aerith."

"Good. Now Zack." The woman turned to her boyfriend spaced out, staring up at the evening sky while trying to imagine a rabbit chewing its foot off in the clouds. It sure looked like it to him, especially if he turned his head just so...

"Zack Fair!"

Said man jumped, causing Zell to snicker.

"Y-yes?" Zack gasped

Aerith put her hands on her slim hips. "Since you're Aoife's older brother, I expect you to make sure she recovers fully from today. Now, I don't want her on her feet for the rest of today, tomorrow too if you can help it. Also, make sure she gets enough iron and calcium from—"

Aoife couldn't help but grin impishly at it all. Zack was standing at attention like he was in the army, nodding to his girlfriend's diagnosis of her. Zell, Cissnei and Cid watched with similar expressions. It felt like it happened dozens of times before rather than the first. It felt normal, familiar and safe. And Aoife wanted it to happen forever.

Aoife didn't notice Faexio's mental pokes until the white-haired psycho pulled her back into her heart.

'Oi!'

I think Leon wants to talks to you. Obviously you should initiate the conversation.

Aoife blinked out,searching the area to find Leon looking at her from the corner of his eye. He jerked his head to the side before walking off.

'Right...I also want to talk to him.' Aoife walked off after him.

Hm?

It turned out that Leon was just around the corner, standing at the edge. Aoife brushed past, folding her arms on the stone rail in front of him. She couldn't wait under his cold gaze. This was the man Rinoa liked, her best friend's boyfriend, even if he didn't admit it.

"Don't you want to tell me how much you dislike me, and how stupid I was?!" she blurted out. "How much do you hate me for losing Rinoa?" She stared away at the gray horizon, hunching over. She deserved it, she even almost wanted him to hate her, because that would be one thing in her life that made sense.

Leon's lean arms folded on the stone rail next to her.

"No. You're important to her. She'd...want me to help you."

Alright. Apparently nothing in her life was destined to make sense.

Aoife hanged her head, all the fight burnt out. "I see."

Leon turned slightly from her. The high altitude they were standing in created roaring wind. It was a strange comfort, much better than standing in uncomfortable silence.

"Look. What Rajani said...it's true. But I never said I was gonna kill myself, okay?"

Silence just got uncomfortable. Curse the complex semantics of conversation with the female species.

Puzzled, Leon searched her face with all the attractiveness of a grizzly executioner. How could Aoife feel suicidal and say she wasn't going to kill herself?

"Explain."

She bowed her head, letting her tangled mass of hair fall over her shoulders. Great, now he couldn't see her. Rinoa's friends were too odd to understand.

"Just because I want to die doesn't mean I'm going to kill myself. But, that doesn't stop me from feeling so worthless that I—"

"Want to die." He smirked lifelessly. "Death takes all the pain, hmm. But, pain is worse than death...I see. The pain you have in you is really...overwhelming?"

She nodded, eyes downcast. "A little."

Leon turned back to the horizon, resting his forearms on the lumpy stone rail. The setting sun glaring back at them with its reddish-orange iris.

"Were you like this when you were my age?" Aoife asked quickly, so suddenly Leon wondered if she was just trying to distract herself from her dark thoughts rather than genuily interested in his past self. He frowned, then lifted his chin.

"No. To end yourself because you can't endure the pain, suicide...that's for damn cowards."

Oh. Shit.

He just had to be honest at the worst time...

Biting his tongue, Leon turned his head away in a feeble attempt to protect himself in case Aoife got all female on him.

Then, what happened next convinced the gunblader his ears needed a check-up: Aoife started to giggle.

Eyebrow raised, frown deepening, Leon slowly looked back to eye the Forgotton. She trembled with her quiet chortle, closing her eyes as it blossomed into louder laughter. The other eyebrow raised. Was she laughing at herself...?

Aoife hugged herself as she laughed, crying underneath her thick black tresses as she stumbled backwards and down on her knees. Leon fully turned to her, concerned about the girl's mental health. He had the urge to scratch his head.

He insulted her, and she was laughing?

What? What was with this gender?

"Women," Leon muttered crossly. Their mood swings always kept him on his toes.

Aoife pressed the heel of her hand against her lips to stifle her outrageous laughter, tears wedged in the corners of her eyes. Shaking her head, she hunched over and shakily stood on her feet.

"Uhh, wow...Hey, let's get Rinoa back together," she offered with a grin, squinting into the fresh breeze of artic breath. Leon didn't react save for his frown deepening (he was so going to get frown lines by the next year of his life). "I know you want to. So, if I ever get word of where she is, I'll immediately come back here and let you know. Then, we'll get her together!" She grinned again, and it didn't hurt as much as it did with Zell. Maybe this Leon guy was alright...

He blinked. "How?"

"You trust me?"

"Depends."

"Least you're honest," Aoife sighed. Inside, her heart did cartwheels as she mentally marked down another person on her trust list.

Leon stared back out, down at the ruins of Hollow Bastion. "If that's your plan, I'll be waiting here. Rinoa told me a lot about you...you are important to her..."

"Can I ask you one more question?"

"..."

"What do you feel for Rinoa? Like, do you honestly like her, or are you doing this because she has your favorite ring and you just want it back?"

The wind sighed noisily on their backs, fluttering their hair out in wild tangles. Leon was grateful for it as it gave him time to piece through his memories of Rinoa, from his first headache with her to an argument over his fashion sense. Aoife squinted, unable to see Leon's eyes. The seconds piled up into a minute, then another minute and more, and no answer.

Aoife gazed down with a pained frown. Her heart seemed to trip from her chest and kerplop down to her gut. She sniffed and waved back at him in farewell as she turned from the stairs.

The wind died, and Leon turned his head.

"What kind of question is that?"

Aoife stopped with a gasp, her heartstrings pulling back up the now rapidly beating organ. She glanced back and breathed out, relieved.

"Oh. Rinoa told me to tell you to lose those belts. And to act your age."

Leon frowned at the horizon.

Well...he liked the belts...

And it was Rinoa's fault that she inspired him to act like a twelve year old.

"Whatever," he finally said and shrugged. "Now get going."

Aoife nodded at him as she descended the stairs, stripes of shadows splashed across her body.

"See you, Leon."

It was not goodbye, after all.

~**~

It was time to go back.

They all said their final words of gratitude and encouragement in hushed whispers, Yuffie the loudest of them all. Zack had taken Aerith aside to talk to her privately for a few minutes. They went for awkward fidgeting to speaking with star-bright eyes to an embrace that felt like an eternity for them. But even that wasn't enough. Zack was still leaving.

And Zack didn't want to leave Aerith again, so he kissed her four times on the lips while muttering he'd come back for sure. Aerith bit back the tears and said she'd be waiting, just as she did in the past. When the couple had finished, the dark of the night was stretched like a canopy over the castle, making Aoife feel smothered and long for their world. She wanted to be back in her room.

She strained her power together with her counterpart to open a portal for them; everyone, even Leon, watched them leave, the girls waving them off. Zack carried his sister on his back, leading the way through the dark portal, followed by Zell and then Cissnei shouldering her shuriken with a weary face. The day had gone on long enough.

It was time for a rest. Then they'd start planning what to do when the dawn arose.

As they made it through the corridor of darkness, Aoife realized it felt different. Different as if very wrong. Without wearing the Organization coat, her stomach curled with nausea and her skin prickled with goosebumps, and it wasn't until they stepped out into the night of the Dayspring Villages that she felt the bile in her throat recede.

Catching Cissnei and Zell's expressions, she realized they felt the same.

'Without the coat, I'm so easily crushed by darkness. Talk about pathetic.' She peeked open an eye over Zack's shoulder, seeing the glitters of golden lights in the maze of houses around them. Crickets were asound all around them. Everyone seemed to be tucked in already for the night.

Faexio sighed inside her mind. It's a good thing Zexion made you take all your clothes. We must remember to wear the Organization when we use portals from now on.

'He was thinking ahead.'

Faexio's mouth twitched, sending a tinge of confusion through her body. Aoife frowned, both physically and mentally.

'Zexion was...'

"OKAY!" Zack abruptly cheered before she could finish, pointing straight ahead down the deserted street. "We just need to walk up to the mansion, endure Caraway's lecture and punishment, and then we can sleep!"

In response, Aoife buried her face in his shoulder, and the brooding Zell simply walked ahead, hands in his pockets.

Cissnei raised an eyebrow at her old friend. "Zack, a little too much glee for the emotionally-frayed teenagers."

The ex-SOLDIER's grin deflated like a birthday balloon.

"Right...sorry guys." Clearing his throat, he adjusted his hold on his sister before glancing back. "You ready?"

"Don't worry, Aoife," Cissnei assured gently, smiling despite unable to be seen in the feeble starlight, "I'll take care of the General so you guys can go up to your rooms and rest in peace."

"Did you have to say 'rest in peace'?" Aoife couldn't help but babble, her voice muffled in her brother's back. Now Zack shot Cissnei the 'shut-up-you're-making-it-worse' glare.

Aoife didn't look up until they arrived at the gates, Cissnei fishing out her keys alerting her to break her gaze. She hissed in air as Zack's grip on her thighs tightened. Then it struck her: how was their world going to treat them now?

The iron gates creaked much to loudly in Zell's opinion. Cissnei opened them just enough for them to slip in through before locking it quickly and spinning on her heels.

"Come on."

'Iwanttothrowup.'

It can't be that bad.

'No. What am I going to tell Caraway—Hey adopted daddy! So, I lost your daughter to a gang of darklings and they're gonna twist her mind into becoming an evil sorceress because I couldn't kill a psycho clown man. And I failed my algebra test, but it's all good...'

Aoife, shut up. You're being overly dramatic.

'I'm almost past my borders of sanity today, so—'

A rough chorus of "halt!" ripped through her mind and out of her body. It was so close them that even Zack jumped a foot in the air. Clicks of guns rang out as sounds of movement danced around them, making them all put their backs together. Zell raised his fists in a fruitless attempt to defend himself.

"Wait. Hold your fire!"

Aoife peeked out over Zack's shoulder, seeing a chain of guards bring back their rifles. One of the men approached them. Either he wasn't gifted at speech, or he was simply too shocked at their sudden appearance.

"You...how, uh, the General, he and everyone..."

Cissnei raised a hand for him to stop. "I'll go see Caraway. Where is he?"

"Uh, he's in his office."

She nodded numbly, waving back at Zell and Zack. They started to walk up the driveway before he called out after them.

"Wait! Only four of you have returned. Wh-where are the other two..."

"I said I'll so see Caraway, meaning I will explain what has happened if you just stop talking to us and let us go!" Cissnei pestered back, a fiery rage filling her belly. The man whimpered back with a hushed "yes, ma'am" and dismissed the guards back to their posts.

The four said nothing as they walked up to the grand double doors. Zell jogged up to open them, holding them out before walking in after the others. The usual cold air blasted over them, a sharp contrast to the humid, late summer air outside.

"I'll go tuck Aoife in," Zack said, peering up at the glass ceiling high above. "Zell, you can stay in the room you stayed in last time, right?"

"Yeah. But, I need to call my ma and let Soleil know I'm alive."

Cissnei nodded, brushing back a copper curl. "Go to the parlor right up here. There's one by the door. No one will be in there, so you'll have privacy."

"Thanks," he yawned and took off down the slippery hallway before them without another word. Zack walked up to the ex-Turk's side.

"I'll go put Aoife in bed and come back to help you explain what happened."

She smiled, walking down the hall with them. "Thanks."

Aoife slipped in and out of dreams, hearing distant voices of the servants in various rooms throughout the mansion as they walked. Some sounded hushed and worried. Some were yelling so loudly Aoife wondered if they were yelling at them as they passed by, and if Cissnei shouted back. It felt like her head was shoved underwater and held there. None of it made sense, and quite frankly, she didn't give a damn.

Her head lobbed far to the side when Zack climbed up the stairs. She shook out of sleep and narrowed her gray-green eyes, staring down through the wooden rails to see their other companion already disappeared.

"Zack?"

"Hm?"

"...Do we really have a chance?"

Her brother twisted his mouth. She didn't have to elaborate on what she meant.

"We do. It'll take a lot of time and work, though"

"...you seem off. You okay?"

"Not really," he admitted bitterly. She hugged him, tucking her head in between his shoulder blades and really, really wanted to cry.

"I'm sorry."

Zack didn't answer until they were standing in front of her bedroom door. "You think I'm angry with you?"

"If I was as strong as you, Rinoa and Irvine would still be here," she swore swiftly, nails digging into his shoulders. His body shook with amusement. Aoife had to blink quite a lot to realize he was laughing silently. "Wh-what's so funny?!" she shrieked, now at the tip of her breaking point. She wanted to hit her brother for the first time since reunited back with him. "You, I, it's not simple to fix today's mistakes you know! I screwed up a lot, I have no idea who to trust and everything keeps going wrong."

Aoife stopped, out of breath and tried to cry against his back, wanting to hit him, hug him and push him away all at once. She was too drained to put out anymore tears.

The smell of Aoife's room washed over her and suddenly Zack was gently setting her in between the sheets of her bed. He flashed her a smile.

"Silly. You're just one person. You can't do everything." With care he threw the top blanket over her and kissed her on the forehead. "Night, sis. I love you."

"Zaaaack."

"What?" He sounded genuily confused, which only made Aoife blush more.

"Now I have to say 'I love you, too' back," Aoife whined, her fingers wringing around the edge of her blankets. He scratched the back of his neck.

"Right. We haven't done this in years."

"Many years," she emphasized before collapsing with a big sigh. "Well...I love you, too, Zack. Good night."

He nodded back, feeling very light and ticklish inside his stomach at the words. Actually, he felt like he could run a marathon for no apparent reason, it being night and all. Repeating his words softly, Zack shut the door, leaving the Gypsy to stare at her ceiling. Wordlessly, she fumbled out for her alarm clock, smushing it to her nose as she set the the time and dropped it beside her ears. Before she closed her eyes, she was already gone.


~*~

Aoife felt like she just shut her eyes when the banshee alarm clock started shrieking in her ear.

Argh. Curse technology for working so well.

Like a blind baffoon, Aoife sat up and slapped her hands down on it more than enough until she groaned. Her head felt like a block of bricks.

"Ow," she groaned and knelt up, fingering through her tangled hair. It was beyond saving, even with a comb. It was still night, the alarm clock shining the hour of 3 A.M. proudly to the darkness of the room.

Are you sure you want to do this?

Aoife crawled down to the floor, pulling open a drawer without response.

He might not even want to talk to you, if the way he acted the last time was any indicator and stop drooling already!

Wiping away the shoestring of leftover drool hanging from her mouth, Aoife pinched her cheeks and rubbed the sands of sleep out of her eyes to wake up more. With a deep breath she stood up and held out the leather Organization coat in front of her.

Her chest tigthened.

"I have to ask him something, about what he said. Just go to sleep, Faexio. I don't want you coming out if it goes wrong, okay?"

Whatever you say. Just go armed.

"Duh."

Aoife swept into her bathroom, raking her comb through her hair a few times. She quickly gave up on working out all the knots and reached for some hair accessory, pulling what she saw was a milky-white ribbon and tyed it in a low ponytail. Her side-swept bangs spilled across her freckled cheeks.

She sighed, hating her freckles without rhyme or reason as always. Tonight, or rather this morning, she felt quite unpretty as she looked at her reflection.

"Mmmkay. Coat, check. Hair, check. Smell..." She sniffed her armpits and groaned in the back of her throat, swiping deodorant on before checking that off. Tripping back into her bedroom, she pocketed the pills and wiggled her fingers out. A knife and a pistol shined into her hands. She frowned at the the dull blade of the knife; it wasn't easy to do on no energy.

Belt!

"Right. Belt, belt belt. O belty belt, where has you?" Aoife slurred, yanking through her clothes until an innocent brown belt with loops caught her gaze between her jeans. If the belt could speak, she knew it'd be singing soprano up at her to take her and use her however she wanted.

'Wow. I'm confusing my belt with Jerry from choir class.'

Faexio had no idea how to respond to that. So she stayed quiet, quite liking the entertainment sleep-deprived Aoife gave.

Dressed, somewhat groomed, and armed, Aoife slipped her gloves on. She kept the coat unzipped over her wrinkled school uniform. Faking a smile of confidence, she bonked her fists together. Her heart was having a seizure at this late trip.

"Right. Here I go!"

She held a hand over the ground in front of her, the circle of carpet bubbling into a doorway of darkness. Aoife jumped in with her arms out, the sensation of flying down the steep dip of a rollar coaster ride forcing her to hold her breath.

'Back to Castle Oblivion.'

In the heat of seconds, the bright light of the castle flooded her eyes. She shut them, falling down onto a white marble floor. Her zippers and chains tinkled in a chaotic melody as her boots squeaked over the surface with the messy landing. Her heart fell back from her throat into her chest now that her feet were on solid ground.

Now she finally breathed again.

She stayed on her hands and knees, allowing herself a moment before standing up. It felt like she was dreaming with wide eyes open. Being back in this place made her feel clammy. There was no particular scent to this castle, no furniture, and no Nobodies wandering around her.

"Where are you?" Aoife muttered to herself, breaking to a jog for the stairwell. Spiraling down the stairs, she realized it was colder than the mansion as her teeth chattered. She shook it off, her mind reeling back to remember how to get to his room. She touched her knife for reassurance and kept walking.

Maybe luck was on her side. As she sped off on the floor, squinting left and right for the place, his door opened far ahead of her.

It felt like an old fashioned black-and-white movie: no sound, outside or inside of her. No heartbeats flooded her ears, no gasp or scream from her lips.

The door simply opened and Zexion looked out, back at her.


Don't you love/hate my sucky cliffhangers?

Aoife is all unattractive when she wakes up lol. But a (long-awaited?) reunion is up next time! What shall happen? Reviews are always appreciated (and wanted -coughcough-) and sometimes make me grin like an idiot.