Hi, everyone! It's been a while, hasn't it? But, that's besides the point at the moment. This is a "birthday present fic" for Prince of Tennis' Shaman - whom I'll have a note for in a minute - and I thought Jiro/Shu friendship was the probably the best present I could give, so that's why I chose that. Also, this is my longest oneshot ever - this thing is HUGE. XD That's also part of why it's so late... But again, that's besides the point (at least for now; I'll get to it in a minute). About the spoiler:


Another thing is that there will be some Jiro x Kluke x Shu. The triangle pairing is pretty much canon, and it's not the main focus of this story, so I don't think that will be an issue. Another thing I need to mention is this: In a couple of days (I'm not saying specifically, because I seem to be having trouble with my "deadlines" lately), I'm going to be uploading a oneshot that's sort of a "minor side event" of Maple Leaf. In that oneshot will be VERY IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENTS regarding the Blue Dragon anime, the Blue Dragon game, and my own fan fiction (respectively; they're not exactly connected to each other). There will be a kind-of-spoiler in it - it reveals who Marumaro will be paired with - but the news is important, so you'll probably want to at least take a look at the beginning note. I would have made the announcements here, but I feel that this isn't the time or place for them. Well, actually... I will give one of them, since it does sort of have to do with this story:

ANNOUNCEMENT: I am now planning on doing "birthday fics". What that is, basically, is that on your birthday, I would write a oneshot, drabble, or something like that (not a chaptered story) focused on your favorite character, friendships, pairings, subjects, etc. Preferably this would be for Blue Dragon (anime or game), but if it's not, that's okay too. If you want me to write one, you will have to let me know what day your birthday is... You don't have to tell me the year, of course. XD Also, I don't know everyone's specific favorites, so you'll also have to tell me what they are. And if you have any questions about this, just ask me. :)

So, with that, let me give my note:

Note for Prince of Tennis' Shaman: *sigh* An, I'm so sorry. I know this is five days late for your birthday, and I'm really sorry. I was sure I was going to make it before midnight, but I didn't. What happened was that on Saturday morning I got really sick, and that threw off my focus and slowed me down. I still thought I could make it, so I tried... But I wasn't able to. I ended up getting disheartened when I didn't finish it before midnight, so that slowed me down even more. Also, this required MAJOR editing - I think every paragraph in this story got edited at least twice. And, as I'm sure you can tell from the word count, it's quite long, so it took time to write it (more than I had originally thought). To top it all off, I forgot some of my original ideas for it, so I had to rethink a lot of things. So... All in all, I'm sorry - I don't know if this present will make up for it, but I hope that you like it anyway.

Well, aside from the disclaimer, I think that's everything I need to mention. Oh, there's one more important note:

IMPORTANT NOTE: Those of you who are reading Blue Dragon Beyond already know this, but in ALL of my Blue Dragon game stories, the characters are aged differently. In order to save space, I'll only mention the trio's ages - Jiro and Kluke are 14, and Shu is 12. By the way, Jiro's about a month older than Kluke, so sometimes she's younger than him.

I... really don't know how good this is. I had to rush through a lot of it, and I don't want to take up anymore time by rewriting the whole thing. What I will say is that even though it wasn't much, I put everything I had, all of my energy, into finishing this. This may, in fact, be the hardest I've ever worked on a story. So again, I don't know how well it turned out, but I tried as hard as I could, so I'll hope for the best. So now that I actually have nothing left to say, I present to you this story - read on!

Disclaimer: I do not own Blue Dragon. The events that take place in this story are just my idea of a few things that might have happened, but I do not claim them to actually be part of the original story.

The two-year-old shifted his feet, looking up at the large door in front of him, swallowing. He was nervous. Insatiably curious, as always, but nervous. He'd never seen a baby before.

But, apparently, there was something they shared in common - like he had never seen a baby before, the baby had never seen anyone but his parents. That was to be expected, though; he was still a newborn.

He looked behind him quickly as he heard his mother's laugh from the hallway - she and his father were in the living room, talking with the baby's father. The adults were old friends.

He turned back to the door. Inside, he knew, that the baby was with his mother, resting.

His mother had told him not to worry, that it would be good for him to see the baby... He trusted his mother, but her words hadn't made his unease go away.

He swallowed one more time - it was better to get it over with, he decided - then reached up and opened the door.

The room was quiet and still, covered in warm light that poured in through the window. He instantly felt bad about coming inside, as if he had disturbed a sacred peace.

He saw the mother right away. She sat in a wooden chair, knitting; she looked up and smiled at him.

His face flushed red, and though he was overcome with shyness, he resisted the urge to run back outside. He stepped inside, moving slowly.

"You must be Jiro." She broke the silence. Then she laughed softly, saying, "You look just like Kenichi... But your face is shaped like Natalie's."

He didn't say anything, but he nodded in reply.

Her smile grew a little, but was still gentle. "I think I know why you're in here... My son is down there, if you'd like to see him." She gestured to a basket overflowing with blankets near her feet.

He stepped cautiously towards the straw basket, then peered over the edge.

The little one had been laying in the center of the covers, his eyes closed. But when he felt someone watching him, he opened them; the first thing that came into view was a face he'd never seen before, the face of a young boy with dark eyes and hair. The baby smiled, reaching for him, making soft noises.

Jiro jerked backwards, blushing, a small gasp escaping him.

The mother giggled again. "He wants you to pick him up."

Why? He didn't say that out loud, though. Instead, he picked up the small child, holding him so they were face to face. The baby cooed happily.

"His name is Shu." The mother went back to her knitting, that same smile tugging at her lips.

"Shu..." He repeated the name softly.

Shu made a small, happy noise, then touched Jiro's cheek with a tiny hand.

Jiro felt a lump growing in his throat, a tightness starting in his chest. Shu seemed so small, so fragile in his hands...

At the moment, he didn't recognize the feeling he was suddenly overcome with. But years later, he would know it as the strong urge to protect someone.

One year old...

Jiro shouted in slight pain as Shu tugged on that lock of hair that fell in his eyes. It was a habit that the one-year-old had started about two months ago, and it wasn't one that Jiro was very fond of.

Naomi, Shu's mother, giggled from where she was cutting vegetables at the counter. Shu laughed, taking this as a good sign, and tugged on Jiro's hair again.

"Ouch!" Jiro held him just out of reach of his hair, his eyes slightly narrowed as he looked at Shu. "Can you please stop doing that?"

Shu just laughed again. Jiro sighed.

Since the day he met Shu, about a year ago now, Jiro had helped take care of him. He was still a little kid himself, but he did what he could. Shu's parents said that he was a big help, so that seemed to be a good sign.

But... Something was bugging him.

He'd been having dreams lately... In them, he would always be taking care of Shu... But then, something would happen - he would turn around, or close his eyes for a minute, something like that - and then Shu would be gone. Disappeared. Lost.

It scared him a little. Was he too young to look after Shu? Would he be too careless one day, and then something like that would end up happening?

Jiro looked sadly at the baby he held. "What do you think?" He murmured softly. "Are you not safe with me? Should we not be friends?"

There had been no change on Shu's face until Jiro's last sentence. Then, in an instant, his expression had changed to something akin to fear - he lunged toward Jiro and wrapped his small arms around the older boy's neck, holding on as if Shu was afraid that he would be taken from him.

Needless to say, a stunned Jiro had concluded that keeping himself away from Shu was out of the question.

He sighed, leaning his head on the top of Shu's. "I'm... I'm glad, actually." His voice was still quiet, like it usually was. "It would've been so hard to leave you."

Shu made a noise of agreement (at least, as much as he could being a baby). Then he turned his head and-

"Ow!" Jiro backed up just enough to glare at a now-giggling Shu. "... Did you trick me?"

Shu's response was to snuggle against his shoulder, melting away most of Jiro's annoyance. Jiro sighed helplessly.

Maybe Shu had tricked him. But he knew that Shu had refused to leave him, and though his scalp would probably disagree, Jiro supposed that was all that really mattered.

Two years old...

Morizon stepped forward. "But, Chief Copos, those strange earthquakes from a month ago-"

"-Will not interrupt the annual festival." The old man's voice was firm, leaving no room for objection. "We have had this festival at the same time every year for centuries. We will not break tradition for a simple act of nature."

Jiro and Kluke glanced at each other worriedly, which said a lot - the two didn't exactly get along, mostly because there was some "mild hostile dispute" when it came to the matter of which of them looked after Shu. But even both of them could agree that this was not a good decision.

Shu leaned closer to Jiro, squeezing his hand tighter in his own. He didn't really understand everything that was happening, but he remembered the earthquakes.

A month ago, about every other day, a few clouds would appear over the village, and an earthquake would come with them every time. Shu didn't really understand it, but he knew that it wasn't normal. He knew that it had been scary.

Jiro, noticing Shu's trembling, looked down and tried to smile reassuringly. "It's going to be okay."

Shu visibly relaxed. Jiro's voice was always soft, often unheard by most people. But for Shu, it was a soothing and familiar sound that had been there as long as he could remember.

"Don't worry." Kluke put a hand on his shoulder. She genuinely wanted to comfort Shu, but it was hard to tell if she was also doing this so she could take Jiro's place as the one to comfort him. "The festival is a lot of fun. We'll have a good time together."

After a moment's hesitation, Shu nodded. " 'Kay."

While the three children had been speaking amongst themselves, the Chief had announced that everyone would move to the end of the viewing platform so the festivities could begin. So, in a cluster, the villagers walked in that direction.

"Kluke, where are you?"

Kluke sighed. "That's my mom." She smiled down at Shu. "I'll see you in a few minutes, okay?"

After Shu nodded, she disappeared into the crowd, following the sound of her mother's voice.

Jiro and Shu were at the front of the group of people, so when they were close enough, the two boys ran forward so they could peer off of the edge through the barred railing; coming up here was a rare opportunity, and neither of them wanted to miss seeing the view.

Just as they had reached it, something happened.

The area turned dark, like when clouds pass overhead. Everyone looked up.

A month ago, when the earthquakes came, there had only been one or two purple clouds in the sky.

It was different now. The sky was filled with them, thick violet not allowing any blue to peek through.

Worry and alarm started in the villagers and spread; everyone spoke at the same time in low, upset voices. Chief Copos tried to be heard over the talking, tried to calm them, but he would not - or maybe could not - be heard.

"Ji-Jiro..." Shu had let go of his hand to grab the railing, but now he seized Jiro's hand again, holding it so tightly that it was almost painful. "Wh-what's going on?"

"I don't know." Jiro swallowed.

"Shu," Naomi cut through the crowd until she was behind her son, then knelt down and took hold of his shoulders. His hand accidentally slipped out of Jiro's when she turned him around. "Shu, we have to leave right now."


"Please, Shu. I have a bad feeling about this. Masaru, where are you?" She stood and looked for her husband.

"I'm here." He was at her side in a second. "Are you ready?"

"Yeah. We should tell Kenichi and Natalie. Then we can-"

And then there was a sound, like the earth itself was being torn apart.

Jiro turned around, almost instinctively. He noticed that the sand on the ground beneath the platform's cliff had been kicked up, as if a large herd of donkeys had just stampeded through the area.

And then the platform tilted, like it was being tipped over-

Even 10 years later, Jiro would not remember what happened in that next moment.

The next thing he did remember happening was waking up, feeling Talta sand against the side of his face. He heard sounds in the distance, voices, but he couldn't make out what was being said.

He started sitting up; pain shot up his arm. After wincing, he clenched his teeth and tried his best to ignore it.

He looked up from the ground, and was stunned by the sight.

The viewing platform... It looked like it had been shredded. Wooden boards were piled on the sand, some of them sticking out of the ground; there were a few boards that clung to the remnants of the platform, blowing in the wind like a wind chime made of wood. People were hanging off of the broken edge, struggling to pull themselves up; others were trying to help them.

And then his ears cleared - he now realized that was the reason why he couldn't hear before - and he heard it.

He heard all of the screaming.

Every villager still on the platform screamed for their friends and family - a name, someone's son, someone's wife, someone's grandparent, someone's friend-

Someone's friend. Shu.

"Shu!! Where are you?!" He spun around, looking frantically.

When Jiro had completely turned, he saw him.

He held his arms together, sitting on his knees, yelling for his parents. He was looking at a giant hole, made just recently. And that was when Jiro realized that he wasn't screaming for them to help him - he was screaming for them to come back.

Gathering all of his strength, Jiro pushed himself to his feet and sprinted towards Shu. When he'd reached him, he dropped to his knees next to him, wrapped his arms around him. "Shu! Shu, it's me!"

Shu calmed considerably, but he was still hysterical; he breathed shakily in short gasps. He whispered something under his breath, too low to hear.

"I can't hear you, Shu," Jiro leaned forward so his ear was more level with Shu's head. "What did you say?"

He whispered it again, but Jiro still couldn't hear him - Shu had spoken even lower than before.

"Hey, Shu... When we were little... Five years ago, during the Land Shark's first attack... When you whispered to me, what were you saying?"

Shu turned as white as a sheet. After a moment, he spoke in a hoarse whisper. "I told you what I saw."

"I couldn't hear you, though. What did you say?"

In a quick movement, Shu had curled up and clamped his hands over his ears, rapidly shaking his head back and forth.

That night, Shu had the worst Land Shark nightmare he'd ever had.

Jiro never asked him again.

Jiro was about to ask him for a third time, but that was when a loud yell echoed through the air:

"Get Shu off of the ground!!!"

Immediately looking up and behind him, Jiro saw Kluke pointing off to side. He followed the direction of her finger, and saw that what was indicating was a large, vertical boulder.

He felt confused. What in the world was Kluke talking about? Couldn't she see, the distress that Shu was in-

"Get him away from there!!!"

He was about to counter, maybe ask her "why" or "what did she mean". He never got the chance, though.

It happened again - that horrible sound.

Then he turned around, once again instinctively, just in time to see something push through the earth; Jiro and Shu were showered with ground and soil. When the two boys opened their eyes, Shu gave a short, sharp scream.

Jiro, always having an analytical mind, instantly began trying to figure out what the thing was. It looked... Well, it looked like a shark fin, albeit it looked more like a fin of the ancient sharks rather than the current ones that could walk on two legs. The difference was that this shark fin was enormous, and it seemed to be covered in rock.

Feeling Shu fall against him limply, Jiro looked down and saw fear written across his small face, the silent horror in his eyes.

The fin moved just slightly, and there was that same earth-tearing sound, though it didn't sound as far under the ground this time. Kluke screamed in the distance; Shu was unresponsive, not screaming or even moving, only breathing but faintly; Jiro had a bad feeling, that he needed to get himself and Shu away from here, because something very, very horrible would happen otherwise.

"Shu..." Jiro whispered. "Shu, we have to leave right now."

Shu sucked in breath harshly, and Jiro realized, belatedly and guiltily, that those had been some of Naomi's last words to her son.

The shark fin moved again, a little more than it had before.

Jiro stood, but Shu remained on the ground. He tried to pull him up, but he wouldn't budge. "Shu, please!" Jiro still didn't know what that fin was, but that bad feeling had started to grow. He wanted to get away from it now. In a hopeless attempt, Jiro pulled again, moving his foot backwards-

"No!" Shu threw himself at Jiro, and, surprisingly for someone of his age and stature, knocked the older boy to his knees. "P-please... D-don't go..."

Jiro grabbed him, absentmindedly realizing that while Shu had gotten heavier in the last year, he wasn't too big to be carried like he had when he was a baby. Jiro's was arm was injured, but he could carry him; he could hang on long enough for them to get away.

His voice was hoarse yet strong as he said, "Shu, I promise you that I won't leave you. I promise I won't let that thing do anything to you. But you have to let me get you out of here. We have to leave now."

Shu pressed his head against Jiro's shoulder and nodded. Relieved, Jiro stood again and started moving backwards-

The Land Shark charged.

Jiro dashed to the side. The fin, thankfully, missed him by just a few inches, but the earth sunk where it had cut through - Jiro's foot slipped on the sinking ground. He managed to push himself away and not fall in to the forming hole, but he twisted his ankle.

"Jiro, the rock!!" Kluke's voice again. "Get him to the rock!!"

Half limping, Jiro ran as fast as he could. He heard the fin moving again, moving towards him; he tried not to think about it, focusing on running forward and getting to the rock.

Both Shu and Kluke cried out simultaneously, and Jiro took that as a sign that the fin was almost on them.

In a desperate move, Jiro leapt towards the rock...

He hit the stone on his side, having moved as he jumped. The fin made a sharp turn at the rock, hitting and chipping it ever so slightly. It moved off into the distance; as long as it was far away from hurting anymore villagers, Jiro didn't really care where it went.

He rolled onto his back, still clinging tight to Shu, eyes closed and breathing hard; his heart was hammering so hard that he was sure Shu could both hear and feel it. Everything ached, and his clothes were torn in given places, but at least they were safe.

Shu whimpered then, burying his head further into the shoulder he was laying on. Where there was a rip on the neck of his sweater, Jiro felt something hot and wet, and he realized that his young friend was crying.

As a heaviness descended upon him, everything seemed to become a little more real. They were alive... Really alive. Unlike Shu's parents, and who knew how many other villagers.

He heard something hit the rock, a light sound like wood - he snapped his eyes open, rapidly looking to the right, and a small amount of tension left him as he saw it.

One of the planks from the once viewing platform was being propped against the rock. Jiro saw a villager place their foot on the plank, putting weight on it. A bridge... He thought dizzily. They're making a bridge to the rock...

His vision blurred slightly - he blinked hard, forcing himself to not fall asleep. Once his eyes had righted themselves, he saw a small person crossing over the thin, makeshift bridge. A few more steps across the plank, and he saw that it was Kluke.

Beyond her, he now had a better view of the platform remnants - most of the survivors were unconscious. And though they, too, were unconscious, he was hit hard with a guilty relief as he saw his parents.

He hauled himself into a sitting position. When Kluke had come close enough, he said, "Shu... Take Shu back across."

"I will. That's why I came over here." She said quietly; her voice sounded muted, revealing how much the last few minutes' events had taken a toll on her.

"Jiro..." Shu whimpered and held tighter.

"It'll be okay. I'll be right behind you." His head was swimming. He felt dizzy, so dizzy...

Though he was extremely reluctant to let go of Jiro, Shu seemed almost-equally happy to be with Kluke again, and clung just as tightly to her. Jiro supposed that Shu needed to be sure that everyone he loved hadn't been taken away from him.

Jiro had just leaned back on his hands to calm his spinning head when Kluke proclaimed, "Fushira!"

Shu's grandfather stepped onto the rock. "We need to get going! We spotted that thing - it's coming back!"

Jiro stood to join them - then everything along the edges of his line of sight darkened. Shu yelled his name, and Fushira rushed forward; the world felt like it was slipping away from under his feet, and then the dark at the edges obscured everything.

Three years old...

When you lose someone you care about, it can take a long time to heal. And some scars never really go away.

Jiro had experienced this in the last year - after all, about half of the village had been lost that painfully memorable night - but he couldn't imagine how it was for Shu. Everyone was so close in Talta Village that they were practically like family anyway. But, to lose both of your parents in one instant... The feeling of that must be indescribable.

For the longest time, it was as if Shu had been lost that night as well. No longer did he smile, no longer did he laugh; the bright light was absent from his eyes, snuffed out by a creature made of earth. And Jiro hated that monster for it, hated it so strongly that he was both surprised and scared by how much.

And then, one day, it changed.

For several nights in a row, when Jiro went to calm down Shu after one of his Land Shark nightmares - which had started a year ago, almost immediately after the attack on the village - he had trouble getting to sleep. So, one night, before he left to sleep over, Jiro brought a book with him.

After Shu had managed to fall asleep, Jiro, like he'd expected, had not been able to go to sleep. So, he opened the book he'd brought with him and read.

It had only been a few minutes when Shu stirred. Thankfully, he didn't awaken because of a nightmare; he just simply woke up.

Shu sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Jiro...?"

"I'm sorry. Did I wake you?" He closed his book.

Shu saw the book, and something flickered in his eyes - Jiro held back a gasp, not daring to hope...

For a second, it had looked like that light in his eyes had come back.

"What's that, Jiro?" He asked him quietly.

"Oh, this...? Well... I've been having trouble sleeping, so I thought I'd read a little."

Shu leaned towards him a little. "Can you read it to me?" There it was again - a flicker of that light.

For much of the night, Jiro read to Shu. He was tired by the time he stopped, but it was definitely worth it. More than worth it.

While he'd read to him, there had been more flickers, becoming brighter with each one, until that light had finally come back.

And then, very gradually, the smiles came back. The laughs came back.

Finally, Shu had come back.

Four years old...

"Shu?!" Jiro looked around the dark room frantically. "Shu, where are you?!"

His heart felt like it was being constricted. He felt so afraid - he couldn't find him.

If only he hadn't mentioned that book, none of this would have happened.

The two boys had overheard a conversation between Jiro's parents about an old book that had been lost in the attic. As soon as the talk had finished, Jiro had sighed longingly and said he wished he could read it.

Shu had run upstairs almost immediately, and now he was lost to a sea of various objects.

A memory came back to Jiro, of when he'd had the dreams of Shu being lost - he hadn't listened to them, and these must be the consequences.

In reality, the situation probably wasn't as bad as Jiro made it out to be. But in his mind, he could only think of Shu, that he was gone, and it was his fault.

If something happened to him, he didn't know what he would-

Jiro cried out as he tripped on something on the floor, and fell into a pile of old blankets.

His eyes had closed when he'd hit the blankets, and now he scrunched them tighter. Shu... I'm so sorry...


His eyes snapped open, his sight instantly landing on Shu's curious and blinking face. "Sh-Shu..." He choked out.

Shu brightened. "Jiro, look at what I found!" He lifted up the book; Jiro didn't even need to look at the cover to know that it was the one.

When Jiro lowered his eyes and didn't say anything, Shu knelt down next to him. "What's wrong?"

He looked up, eyes shining from tears held back, and gently grasped Shu's shoulders. "Please... Don't ever do that again."

Shu tilted his head. "Do what? Look for a book for you?"

"No," Jiro resisted the urge to groan. "I want you to stay close; don't wander off and get lost."

Shu smiled, eyes closed. "But I didn't get lost - I've been in the attic the whole time!"

Jiro sighed, a small smile tugging at his lips; these kinds of conversations with Shu usually lead nowhere, so there was never any point in continuing them. "Alright, fine. Just remember to stay where I can see you, okay?"

Five years old...


He didn't scream as he fell, but Jiro could clearly see the terror on his face, in his eyes.

As he quickly dashed down the hill, Jiro felt sick with guilt and self-hate - this wasn't one of those things where he felt guilty because he couldn't do anything to stop it from happening. No, this was directly caused by him, and nothing would ever take it back.

He reached the base of the hill, and was instantly flooded with relief - a small tree growing out of the rocks had broken Shu's fall. Jiro immediately ran over to untangle him from the branches.

He choked on tears that wouldn't stop as he pulled him out, seeing the bruises and cuts; considering how far Shu had fallen, something had likely broken as well.

As soon as Shu was in his arms, he yelled, "Someone, please, help him!!!"

The next moments were a blur to Jiro - he would remember them later, but right then, he had been too tired to recollect anything that had happened a second before.

The next thing he knew, he was sitting at Shu's bedside, inside of Kluke's house.

"Thank you, Jiro... For coming to save me..." After that, Shu fell asleep.

And then Jiro couldn't hold back the tears any longer - because Shu had thanked the person responsible for his brush with death.

If Shu knew, really knew, Jiro was sure that Shu would hate him.


His shoulder blades jerked upwards as he heard her voice. He quickly wiped away his tears and spun around - Kluke stood in the doorway.

She took a tentative step inside. "Are... Are you alright?"

No, I'm not. "Yeah, I'm fine."

Kluke looked at him carefully for a moment, and he moved nervously in his seat - the way she stared, it was as if she looked straight through him and saw everything he tried to hide.

She shook her head lightly, then moved closer to him so she stood next to him. "He's going to be fine. My parents said it's nothing that serious; he'll heal in a few days."

"He..." Jiro's voice caught. "He fell..." His mind screamed at him to stop telling her, but after that, he couldn't stop. The words fell out with his tears. "He was so afraid when he fell... I... I let him down..."

Before he could continue any further, Kluke placed her hands on his shoulders, causing him to look up. "Jiro. It's alright. You didn't let him down. It was just an accident. And even if it hadn't been... To him, you're his brother and his best friend; he loves you, Jiro. No matter what may come between you, nothing will ever change what he thinks of you."

He gazed at her in awe; his face was wet from crying, but no more tears had fallen as she spoke. He could see it clearly now, how special this girl was - she wasn't the little girl that had bickered with him over the smallest things. She was still a young girl, but she had grown and matured, and he could see that now - he could see how strong, kind and loving she was.

Thoughts floated in his mind: It wasn't an accident. He'll hate me if he ever knows. This is all my fault.

But in an instant, he pushed every thought aside. He lunged forward and hugged her desperately, sobbing into her dress. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, just being there for him.

That was the day he fell in love.

Six years old...

"Agh!!" Shu flopped back onto his bed. "I can't stand it!"

While he took out his frustration on a pillow, Jiro patiently waited for him to stop. When he did, Jiro spoke up, saying, "What's wrong, Shu?"

"It's this... this," Shu lifted up the papers and threw them down. "Math!" He spat it out the like it was the filthiest curse word in the world.

Jiro rolled his eyes. "It's not that bad, really. I think it's fun, actually." He wrote in a few more answers, almost cheerfully.

Shu gaped at him. "... Are you kidding me?"

Jiro looked at him with some confusion. "No. Why would I be?"

"But, it's so... horrible!"

A sigh. "Alright, fine. Bring it over here and I'll take a look."

Shu leapt from the bed and took a chair at the table, laying out the paper. "It's this whole thing," Shu gestured to the entire sheet. "It doesn't make any sense."

Jiro tilted his head to the side. "This isn't very hard. You shouldn't be having trouble with this, so I don't know why you are..."

"So what do I do?" Shu asked him worriedly.

Once again, Jiro rolled his eyes. "You don't say anything for five seconds and I figure out why you're having a problem."

He looked over the math questions - they were insanely simple. He didn't understand why Shu was having so much difficulty with them.

They continued to look over it for a long time - Jiro would work out similar problems on a blank sheet of paper, Shu would watch and then attempt to do the same with his own - but they didn't make much progress. Eventually, with another frustrated cry, Shu leaned back in his chair and yelled, "I can't stand this!"

Jiro sighed. He didn't know what to do... He'd tried just about everything he could think of, and still nothing worked.

And then he thought of something.

Standing, he strode over to his bookshelf, picking out a book, and then brought it back to the table.

"What's that?" Shu looked at it with curiosity.

Jiro smiled. "You'll see." With that, he read it to him.

It was a book on mechanics - it talked about things such as Eternal Engines and how they worked, the build of a Mecha Robo.

Shu took to the subject instantly. He listened intently, asking things occasionally, a light smile on his face the whole time.

When Jiro closed the book, he turned to Shu and said, "You could make those things, you know."

He brightened. "Really? How?"

"Well... First, you have to learn all of this." Jiro gestured to the math in front of them. "You need to know geometry to do a lot of what's in here," Jiro tapped the book. "And in order to learn geometry, you have to know this," he lifted a sheet of problems to emphasize his point, then laid it back down.

Shu bit his lip, looking from the book to the papers - Jiro presumed he was trying to figure out which was more worth it. He hoped Shu chose the math, because he didn't know what to do otherwise; this was his last chance.

Shu leaned back in his chair and sighed, closing his eyes. Jiro's shoulders sunk; well, that was that.

Suddenly Shu opened his eyes again, leaning forward, a look of pure determination written across his face. "Alright. I'll do it. I won't give up."

Shu was so like himself in that moment, Jiro couldn't help but smile at his friend, and then he started going through an explanation of the problems again...

He doesn't give up on anything, but first he has to have something to believe in.

Seven years old...

Shu sat on the floor of the workshop, trying in vain to connect several components of an Ancient machine. It was obvious to him that he couldn't do it - a project of this magnitude was far beyond his current knowledge - but he did it anyway, to take his mind off of-

"Shu." Jiro looked at him with narrowed eyes, trying very hard not to bang his head against the wall behind him. "Just apologize to her."

"There's nothing to apologize for."

"Don't even try that. You know that there is." Jiro, instead of hitting the wall with his head, opted to run his hands through his hair.

Shu looked at him sharply. "How can you say that when you don't even know what happened?"

Jiro gritted his teeth. "No, I don't know because no one will tell me. But what I do know is that you two are clearly furious with each other, and it's driving me nuts! If you won't tell me what happened, the very least you can do is go to Kluke and tell her you're sorry for whatever it was you did!"

"Jiro..." Shu sighed. "You just don't understand." He went back to trying to connect the pieces.

"Supposedly not, since you won't talk to me about it!" Inwardly, Jiro felt a little hurt that there was something Shu wouldn't share with him.

Shu looked at him then, a sadness in his eyes - he looked like he desperately wanted to say something. Then he closed his eyes tightly and shook his head. "It's nothing, Jiro."

"Oh, really? Well, that's a great relief that it's nothing, because you really had me fooled!" Jiro's sarcasm had been enough to make Shu wince. "Come on, Shu! Enough is enough! We both know that you want to go apologize, so why aren't you doing it?"

Shu glanced at him carefully. "Jiro... Do you ever feel weird when you're around Kluke?"

Jiro blinked in surprise, utterly stunned. "What?"

Shu shook his head rapidly, looking downwards. "Never mind, it's nothing. It's a stupid question."

Jiro ran a hand through his hair again. Shu was acting so strange today... What was going on?

Abruptly, Shu stood. "I... I'll do it. I'll go apologize." With a quick nod to himself, he started heading outside. "I'll see you in a little while, Jiro." As soon as he was finished speaking, he headed out of the room.

Jiro gaped disbelievingly at the door for a few moments, then headed out after him.

He wouldn't find Shu right away; it took a couple of minutes. When he did find him, he was with Kluke, and they had already made up - the two of them were talking cheerfully and good-naturedly, as if there never had been a fight.

They looked so... happy together.

Jiro was shocked by the sudden and sharp pain in his chest as he watched them.

It wasn't that he didn't recognize the feeling - no, he was familiar with it. When they were younger, Kluke had been the cause of that feeling many times. What surprised him, and even scared him, was that Kluke was no longer the person he was jealous of.

Eight years old...

Jiro shifted. "Ow."

"Same here."

"What is it for you?"

"Rock wedged in the middle of my spine. And you?"

"I... I'm hoping that it's a root, but I honestly don't know."

Kluke snorted at the boys' exchange. "That's nothing. I have two rocks on my back and one each poking both of my thighs. And I tripped on three roots on the way up here." She then looked to the side at Shu, glaring at him. "Honestly, Shu, I can't believe this is your favorite spot in all of Talta."

"Hey!" Shu pushed himself up on his hands, offended, hiding his wince as pebbles dug into his palms. "It's not my favorite spot's fault!" He narrowed his eyes further when Kluke giggled and Jiro flushed with embarrassment on his friend's behalf, but Shu continued regardless, "It's that stupid Land Shark! When it crashed into the cliff last month, it dislodged all these pebbles and rocks and stuff. That's why the windmill stopped working for a few days; me and Grandpa had to come up and fix it."

Jiro stared at Shu, completely amazed with him. It had been six years since Shu's parents were lost to the Land Shark... For certain things, six years may seem like a long time. But it seemed like such a short time for Shu to be able talk about the Land Shark, to get over the death of his mother and father. And then Jiro realized, no, Shu hadn't gotten over it. He'd just gotten the strength to keep going. Jiro smiled softly at him, feeling as proud as if they were actually related by blood.

"Well, next time you come up here to rid our dear windmill of cliffside debris, maybe you could be kind enough to clean up the mess afterwards." Kluke said reproachfully, then yelped - she'd tried to move off of the rock underneath her leg, but had only succeeded in lying on one that was much sharper.

A few more moments passed where the trio attempted to find a comfortable position - or, as the case was, a more comfortable position - and once they'd gotten as successful as they could be, they commenced with the main thing they'd come up here to do.

Cloud watching.

All three of them could admit that this would have been much more fun a few years back. As old as they were now - Shu being eight, and Jiro and Kluke being ten - they just halfheartedly tried to find a shape in the white fluff passing overhead. (Jiro and Kluke tried to get their guesses as close as possible to something, but sometimes the two of them thought that Shu was just picking shapes at random.)

But... This had been something that Shu used to do with his father - this had been his father's favorite spot before it had been his. And he'd brought his son up here, pointing out shapes that a young Shu was just starting to learn. It was a memory of a much happier time, something precious to him, and Shu wanted to share that with Jiro and Kluke.

And in four years' time, when they went on the adventure of their lives, it would not only be a memorable time to Shu, but a dear memory to both Jiro and Kluke - a time when things were a little more peaceful, there wasn't quite so much fighting, and the weight of saving the world was not yet on their shoulders.

Nine years old...

Jiro sat next to the foot of the bed, a book in his lap - it was the most comforting thing he could think of to do, in this situation - and laying on that very same bed was Shu, who looked up at the ceiling with muted eyes.

Earlier that day had been absolutely horrible - another Land Shark attack.

Two people had been killed by the monster, and it had also destroyed a good portion of the houses this time - most of the frames were still intact, but many things would need to be rebuilt, and a few villagers were thinking of moving their houses altogether (maybe to the cliff, some of them said).

Both of the boys' houses had been torn to pieces, though Jiro's house had been worse off than Shu's; as a result, they and their families were staying with Kluke and her parents.

The two of them were up late because they were waiting for Kluke to come to bed - she was helping her parents tend to the injured villagers, so she likely wouldn't be arriving for quite some time.

Suddenly, Shu, who hadn't moved in about three hours, rolled onto his side. "Jiro..."

Jiro put his book down for the moment. "What is it?"

Shu swallowed. "Jiro... Have you ever felt like you need to tell a friend everything, because you didn't know if you'd get another chance?"

Jiro completely put his book aside now. "What? What are you...?"

Shu scrunched his eyes closed. "I'm sorry... I-I'm saying stupid things again; just ignore me." He rolled completely around so he was facing the wall.

"Hey," Jiro said gently, laying a hand on Shu's shoulder. "I didn't say it was stupid. You just surprised me, that's all. You'd been so quiet, and then you said that all of a sudden..." He shook his head. "To answer your question, I suppose it would be yes - I did feel like that, but I changed my mind right after I thought it."

Shu turned to look at him. "Why? Why did you change your mind?"

Jiro smiled. "Because I knew that we would be okay." He didn't elaborate, didn't say when this had been - but there had been so many life and death situations were he could have thought that, it was easy to pick one it might have been. Then again, maybe he'd had that thought all of those times.

Shu curled up a little. "I... I guess I think that. But... Would you still mind if I talked to you about it?"

"Of course not." Jiro laid down next to him, their feet bumping just like they would when he calmed down Shu from his Land Shark nightmares. "Go ahead."

As the two of them laid flat on their backs, side to side, Shu told Jiro things - his secrets, his fears, his dreams.

He confessed that when he'd been young - and since he looked away with reddened cheeks, Jiro thought that this still might be true - Shu had said he'd wished Jiro was his actual big brother.

He told that he was afraid of losing Kluke and Jiro the same way he lost his parents - though he never, ever told Jiro what exactly had happened, he said that in some of the nightmares, it would be an exact mirror of that first attack, except that Jiro and Kluke were there instead of his parents.

He said that he dreamed of Talta without the Land Shark, where they could all be happy and not have the threat of that monster hanging over their heads.

As the long night drew on, Shu told Jiro about things he would normally hold back. Beneath them, villagers cried over their lost loved ones while Kluke and her family took care of them.

It was a heavy night, a very heavy one. But it proved one thing that always seemed to stay true for Talta - whenever someone started to fall, their was always someone else to lean back on.

Ten years old...

"No, no, no, no, no, no, NO! Everything's falling apart!" Shu grabbed his head, locks of hair poking out between his fingers, pacing back and forth.

"Shu," Jiro grabbed him by the wrist. "Stop that. Calm down. Everything is under control."

"No, it's not! It's almost noon and we're not ready! She's going to be here soon, and we're not ready, and- Coluti, get away from that now!!" Shu spoke with a tone that warned not listening to him would involve much pain.

Caught in the act, Coluti immediately leapt away from trying to sneak frosting off of some cupcakes. It was probably for his own good that he didn't, anyway - his mother had been the one to make those, and had spent all morning on doing it, so she would not be happy if she caught her son messing up her hard work.

Once the young boy had left the sweets alone, Shu dropped his hands into his head. "Ugh, this is not working out at all!"

"Look, you have to relax for a minute, okay?" Jiro let go of his wrist and instead held his shoulder. "Everything will be fine - let's just check everything that's supposed to be done for a minute."

"Okay..." He breathed in and out. "Um... Shifa is supposed to be wrapping the presents... Let me go and check..." Shu walked over to the door on the left, opened it, and- "Shifa, what the heck is going on in here?!"

Little Shifa, who was in the middle of a sea of ribbons, shrugged helplessly. "I don't know... It all just started coming apart..."

"Argh!!" Shu slapped a hand against his forehead. "That's it, I'm getting Lailala!" He stomped off angrily.

A moment later he returned with Shifa and Coluti's mother - before he could have another fit about "everything falling apart", Jiro calmly intervened and explained the situation. Lailala simply nodded, cheerfully saying that she would be more than happy to help.

After she'd left to go untangle her daughter, Jiro turned to him and said, "Shu, you need to take it easy. The only way we can make all of this work is if we take it with a cool head - if you panic every time something slips out of place, we'll never get anywhere."

"It's hard, though... When everything doesn't work out, it's hard to not get frustrated about it." Shu let out a long breath then. "... But, I guess you're right. I'll try not to get so worked up next time." He gave a quick nod to himself, then looked up again. "So, what's the next thing that we-" Shu cut off abruptly.

Jiro furrowed his eyebrows. "What's wrong, Shu?"

"Jiro..." Shu spoke very slowly. "You were the one in charge of watching the cake, right? But you're here with me."

"Oh, it's okay; the cake is fine." Jiro smiled, waving dismissively. "When I was in the kitchen, I, um, heard you freaking out. I was trying to figure out what to do, and then Fushira offered to take care of the cake for me so I could check on you. So... Fushira is watching it."

"Oh." Shu said simply.

Five seconds passed where nothing happened, when very suddenly, Shu grabbed Jiro by the arms, shaking him slightly as he yelled, "You did what?!!"

"Wh-what?" Jiro was completely confused. "Wh-what happened?"

Shu shook him again in aggravation. "Don't you remember what happened last year-?!"

"I wasn't helping with Kluke's party last year! I had that nasty cold, remember? I wasn't even here - I was afraid of making everyone sick."


"Shu, what has gotten into you all of a sudden?" Jiro glared down at him. "You're acting crazy!"

"You don't understand," Shu quickly shook his head, letting go of Jiro. "Grandpa, last year, he watched the cake and-"

As if perfectly on cue, it was that exact moment that from inside of the kitchen, there was a loud noise that sounded like a small explosion.

The second after the sound had come and gone, Shu let out an agonized cry, his arms spread in front of him as if he couldn't believe this was happening.

Jiro quickly bolted towards the kitchen door and pulled it open - then immediately reeled back as black smoke wafted in through the doorway. Then, hoping that he wouldn't regret it, he dived into the room to find Fushira.

Shu didn't really know what happened, just knew what he heard - another loud sound, Jiro screaming, and something like a pan hitting the ground.

And then, in another ironically "perfect" timing, the door opened, and stepping inside from the doorway was Kluke.

She gaped at the scene. "What's going on in here?..."

"I-I... I..." Shu managed weakly, unable to form words aside from that - yes, everything was definitely spinning out of control.

And they continued to spin out of control as Jiro walked in from the kitchen, stood next to Shu, and-

"Jiro... Is that... mud, that you're covered in...?" Kluke gripped the doorframe, as if the insanity was too much to handle.

"N-no," Jiro's face flushed a dark red. "I-it's cake batter." What a humiliating way to appear in front of your crush on her birthday.

"I..." Shu had tried once more, but failed, still not able to speak. With a sudden scream of frustration, he dashed into the kitchen and slammed the door.

When the door had closed, Kluke turned to him and asked, "Jiro, what in the world is going on in here?"

The tops of his cheeks still stained red, Jiro attempted to scratch the back of his head, but just further covered his hand in cake batter, so he immediately gave that up. "Well... Shu wanted everything to be perfect for your birthday... A-and I do, too!" He said quickly, blush spreading. "It's just... He felt that your birthday hadn't been as good last year, so I think he went a little overboard trying to get everything just right, and it all kind of slowly got worse from there..."

Kluke was about to say something, but that was when Shu opened the door - they heard the end of his sentence as he yelled, "-only cook together from now on!" Right afterwards, he shut the door.

"Shu... Come here." Kluke said softly.

He blinked at her in surprise, but did as she asked. As soon as he was in front of her, Kluke pulled him into a hug. "K-Kluke...?" His face had heated up suddenly, though he wasn't entirely sure why.

"Thank you, Shu." She said warmly. "You didn't have to do all of this, but I really appreciate that you did. Thank you." She pulled away from him, smiling brightly.

Then she turned to Jiro. "And thank you, too, Jiro." Before he could do anything, she crossed the small distance between them and hugged him as well. It hadn't seemed possible, but his face had gotten even redder. "I'm grateful for everything that you did; it means a lot to me. And thanks for keeping Shu out of trouble." Both of them giggled while Shu glowered for a moment.

When Kluke pulled away, she laughed. "I guess both of us need a bath now, huh, Jiro?"

He blinked for a second, then laughed with her, and Shu soon joined in.

"Come on," Kluke looped her arm through Jiro's, and took Shu by the hand, trying not to get any batter on him. "Let's hurry and get washed up - it wouldn't be good if I was late for my own birthday party, right?" They laughed, walking together, just happy to be with each other.

Eleven years old...

Jiro craned his neck upwards - the size of the ruins never ceased to amaze him. Quickly shaking his head, remembering that he was here for a reason and had no time to observe this place, he hurried inside.

He remembered the path fairly well - he and Shu had come in here about five years ago, since Shu had wanted to explore and see what they could find (they'd gotten into a heap of trouble, too, as going inside of the ruins was forbidden). Though they hadn't known it at the time, that trip had turned out to be very important - in this place, they had discovered something that helped formulate their current plan.

Jiro stumbled on the path, thinking that maybe he didn't remember the way as well as he thought he had. Just then, a voice called out, "There you are." Jiro looked up and saw Shu.

"Sorry I'm late." Jiro stepped down the small, step-like ledges until he was only a few feet away from him.

"It's okay." Shu looked down, and Jiro could see it then - the heaviness that had rested upon his shoulders since the latest Land Shark attack.

"Did you find anything yet?"

"Yeah. It's over there," Shu pointed to the pile of metal a short distance away.

"Alright, that's a good start," Jiro nodded. "We'll try and find some more, then we'll head back to the village."

They immediately set to work, looking through sand and rock for metal that they could use.

Though they wouldn't be able to exact the plan until almost a year from now - that would be when the Land Shark returned - the main idea was this: They would construct a large net using the metal they found in the ruins, and use it to form a trap - the net would be buried under the sand, tied with ropes. Shu would lead the lead the Land Shark within range, and when it was close enough, they would cut the ropes that held down the net, and a wooden mechanism would cause it to spring upwards with some sharpened wood to hold it in place. This would effectively trap the Land Shark. Then, Shu would take that sword and...

Jiro scrunched his eyes shut. As much as he wanted that horrible thing to be gone, he couldn't stand the thought of Shu being the one to end its life. Not Shu, not their innocent Shu-

"Hey, Jiro," Shu jerked his thumb towards the now-bigger pile. "Do you think that's enough?"

"No, not yet." Jiro's voice was quiet and shaky, but he couldn't help it after what he'd just been thinking about.

It was just then that Shu picked up some pieces of metal down by his feet, but tried to carry too many, ended up dropping a heavy one on his foot, and cursed loudly.

Jiro sighed. Well, not entirely innocent. But... Jiro looked at him thoughtfully. With Shu's innocence, maybe the language he used wasn't the deciding factor. He thought about that further, which lead him to analyzing Shu's characteristics.

Shu's heart always seemed to be filled with love, which he was all too willing to share with others - though most of them hadn't really met anyone outside of Talta, excluding the rare peddler who passed through, Jiro thought that Shu could become friends with a stranger instantly. Despite everything he'd suffered, he had carried his inner burdens without complaint and took everything that life threw at him. His naivety knew no bounds, yet he still retained a certain kind of wisdom. Shu... There was definitely something special about him.

"You're staring at me." Shu said, breaking the reverie.

"Wh-wh-what?!" Jiro flushed. "I-I'm not staring at you! Y-you're imagining things!"

Shu raised an eyebrow at him, looking at Jiro for a few more seconds, then shook his head. "Okay... Whenever you're done 'not staring at me', you can go back to helping me with this." He picked up the hunk at his feet and brought it over to the pile.

Jiro sighed again, then went back to looking.

Finally, Jiro announced that they had gathered enough. Shu laid his hand on a particularly big piece. "I might have to weld this."

Jiro looked over at him. "When did you learn to weld?"

"Ah..." Shu shrugged. "About a week back, I think."

You never told me, the thought plagued Jiro momentarily. But, so much had been going on... So much mourning... And then so much planning... He supposed there never would have been the time. Out loud, he said, "You have to be able to shape it just the right way, though - you can't ask your grandfather for help. He can't know about this, or we'll have to come up with a whole new plan."

Shu turned a narrow gaze at him. "I know that, Jiro. I can handle it."

"O-oh..." Jiro averted his eyes. "O-of course you can. I'm sorry." He was... a little sad, actually. In moments like these, it felt like Shu was growing up, like he didn't need him anymore. And that hurt a little worse than he would have thought.

Shu's eyes softened. "Don't worry about it. It's fine... Really, I'm the one who should apologize. I shouldn't have said it like that... I guess I'm kind of on edge because... Well, you know." He didn't need to elaborate; it was clear that he meant the attack, and what it had caused.

Jiro laid a hand on his shoulder. "I know." He looked up. "Come on - let's bring this back to Talta."

After laying all of the metal on a blanket that Jiro had brought, they tied it at the corners, creating a makeshift bag. Then they each took a side and hauled it up, walking out of the ruins while holding it.

They made their way back to the village quickly; neither of them had seen one before, but both boys knew from Jiro's books that there were monsters in the village outskirts.

Fortunately, they returned without incident. Once they were at the entrance to the village, the two rock walls towering on both sides of them, they set down the "bag". Jiro untied the corners, letting the blanket return to actually being a blanket, and began organizing the metal pieces from biggest to smallest; Shu went to go get some supplies for forming the metal into the wanted shape.

As he moved around the pieces, Jiro's mind started to wander, mostly wandering around the area of if this was a good idea or not. He still thought it was a good plan, but... There were so many things that could go wrong... If it did go wrong, Shu would be the one who was in danger. And that would be Jiro's fault. Again. He closed his eyes tightly, trying to push away that memory of when Shu fell off the cliff...

It happened again that Jiro's thoughts were interrupted by Shu's cursing, though he did it under his breath this time. Jiro snapped his head up. "What happened, Shu?"

"Burned my hand." He tossed the supplies onto the ground. "I was trying to find a hammer, so I looked through a pile of tools on the ground... But my back was hurting because I was bending over, so I put my hand on something to steady myself and, um... I put my hand on the anvil, but it was still hot..."

Jiro let out an incredulous breath, shaking his head. "How do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Just..." Jiro thought about it for a minute, then sighed and said, "No, never mind. It's not worth mentioning."

Shu gave a long sigh of his own, scratching the back of his head. "You're acting so weird today, Jiro."

"I know." He said glumly.

"It's okay." Shu patted him on the shoulder reassuringly. "You're probably just having a bad day."

Jiro thought momentarily about sharing all of his contemplations with Shu, but thinking about how that would turn out - most likely with questions that had nothing to do with the issue at hand - Jiro just moved his head in a defeated nod. "Yeah, that's probably it..."

A little while after that, Shu set to work on trying to reshape the metal. He'd been going at it for only a few minutes when he groaned. "It's so hard to do it like this..."

"Why?" Jiro looked up from drawing the layout of the trap. "What's wrong?"

"I'm chiseling metal. That's not easy." He sighed and started working away it again. "It can't be helped, though. There's too much risk of being caught if we do it in the workshop, and it's not like we can bring the hearth and the anvil outside... Well, the anvil, even though it would be hard, but definitely not the hearth. Speaking of which, I have no idea how we're going to weld this together..."

"Shu... Do you think that this whole plan is a mistake?" Jiro asked suddenly.

"What?" Shu stared at him. "No! Look, this is hard, but I don't mind that much. I'm sorry, I'm probably complaining too much-"

"No, it's not that," Jiro cut in. "It's just... Well, we're putting a lot into doing this... But what if it's all for nothing? What if it doesn't work, and we end up not only failing, but also in danger?" What if you get hurt? He didn't speak the last one aloud, but Jiro wondered if Shu could see the question in his eyes.

Shu's pause was short. "No. This is going to work. It has to." There was no room for doubt in his voice. Before Jiro could answer, he started chiseling again.

He watched Shu as he cut away the metal. Part of him said that Shu was right, but the other part said that this was a bad idea and shouldn't be attempted.

He thought of Shu falling off of that cliff, and knew very strongly that he didn't want that to happen again - he didn't want Shu to risk his life for some rushed plan that they had come up with in a response to grief.

But then he was struck with the thought, Isn't his life in danger every time the Land Shark comes? That definitely put a new perspective on things.

Looking at it like that, Jiro realized that Shu was in even more danger than their plan would put him in - at least doing this, they were taking a stand against the monster.

That was it, then - the Land Shark had tormented their village long enough. It was time for them to fight back.

Jiro thought of Kluke, sinking to her knees and sobbing into her hands right after the Land Shark had taken her parents away, and he pushed all remaining doubts out of his mind. Shu was right - this would work. It had to.

Twelve years old.

The sun was setting, moving ever closer to the horizon, casting an orange glow across everything its light touched.

It had been a week - a whole week - and Jiro couldn't take it anymore.

A week since Kluke's birthday. A week since Shu had started acting like Jiro didn't exist.

This was, of course, because of Kluke's response to their question... But Jiro shook his head - now wasn't the time to analyze those particular muddled feelings.

It wasn't her fault; he could never blame Kluke for it. Honestly, how could he really expect her to tell him how she felt? All three of them loved each other as friends, and very possibly as family - how was she supposed to choose between him and Shu? By choosing, Kluke would presumably break one of their hearts, and Jiro knew that was something she would never willingly do.

But... Shu hadn't taken it that well.

He wasn't angry with Kluke; in fact, though it hadn't seemed possible since they were so close, he seemed to be even more friendly towards her than he had before.

However, he was quite angry with Jiro. What had taken Jiro by surprise, though, was how he was displaying this anger.

Jiro had presumed, maybe wrongly, that Shu's anger would be forward and fiery, and that he would constantly be attempting to pick a fight. That hadn't been the case, though.

Shu did send a withering look his way every time he saw Jiro. But as soon as he'd seen him, he would try and get as far away as possible, or pretend that he wasn't there. And there were little things he did - a certain way he said things or the way he moved - that made Jiro think that this anger was... well, sorrowful.

The sun continued its descent - the light orange that had painted the landscape before was now a few shades darker.

"Two best friends torn apart by a girl..." He said to himself as he walked down the forested path. He sighed softly. "... This is the most cliche thing I've ever heard of."

But thinking about it a moment, maybe he was jumping to conclusions a little. The relationship between the trio seemed so much more complex than to be labeled so simply.

He didn't have time to mull it over, though - he'd made it to his destination.

He was right where Jiro had thought he would be - at the topmost cliff that overlooked the grassland of this cube world, sitting on a rock very similar to the one at his favorite spot in Talta Village. It hadn't been that hard to find him; Shu always liked high places.

Jiro had intended to approach him slowly, careful not to make too much noise with each of his footfalls, but that plan was thrown to the winds when he stepped on a twig.

Shu whirled instantly, probably on reflex, as he was halfway into a fighting stance - but froze when he saw it was Jiro. He didn't relax, though - actually, he seemed to tense even further. "What do you want?" He asked him, his tone quiet and cold.

He didn't know why, but that snapped something inside of Jiro. His hands clenched into fists at his sides. "What do I want?" He took a step forward. "I want to know what it exactly it was that made you start hating me all of a sudden. I want to have my best friend and my little brother back. I want to be able to tell my other best friend that I'm in love with her without it ruining everything!" Once he'd finished, Jiro started breathing hard.

Shu looked away with a pained expression. "Jiro..."

Jiro blinked as if he was coming out of a dream, then felt a flutter of embarrassment as he realized some of the things he'd unwittingly confessed. He wondered if Shu had noticed.

"I..." Shu started, pausing only to swallow. "I don't hate you, Jiro. Don't ever think that I hate you."

Jiro had the temptation to tell Shu the truth about that day back then, that day so long ago, but pushed it down. He had a feeling that Shu wasn't finished speaking, anyway.

"I am mad at you, though. Or was mad at you, I guess - hearing you say those things shocked most of the anger out of me."

"But why?" Jiro was surprised by the desperation in his voice. "Why are you so mad that you won't talk to me, that you won't even fight with me?"

"Actually..." He looked over at him. "I don't really know."

"What?" Jiro's head lurched back.

"I'm pretty sure it has something to do with Kluke's birthday." Shu sat back down. "I mean, we've been competing with getting her presents for like seven years now, but there was just something different this year. At first, I just figured that it was because we're getting used to a new world now, so everything would feel different. But now I'm not so sure that's what it is."

"Shu..." He had unknowingly moved closer to Shu as he talked, so now that he was next to him, Jiro put a hand on his shoulder.

"It's just..." Shu gave a frustrated sigh. "I feel all confused inside. I don't understand it. I've never felt like this before." He took a breath to steady himself, but it didn't do much good. "I feel happier around Kluke than I used to, and feel sadder when she's unhappy or upset, even though I have no idea why I feel like that more. And when I see the two of you together, and I see you both really happy when you're with each other... I feel so angry with you... And then I hate myself for it, because I know I shouldn't feel that way, and I don't want to." His breath hitched, like he was about to cry, and Jiro knew that he was struggling not to. "Jiro, what's happening to me?"

Honestly, Jiro was almost speechless. All of that time, Shu had been holding all of this in... And he'd masked it so perfectly; Jiro never had a clue, and he doubted that Kluke knew about it (knowing him, Shu probably hid it even more around her). But he couldn't help but feel guilty, that he should've picked up on these things sooner. Maybe he would have if there wasn't this growing distance between them that had started a few years back.

Jiro sighed then, and sat down next to him. Immediately, Shu rested on his shoulder. It reminded both of them of when they'd been younger, when doing this had been completely normal, and not something resorted to in a time of distress.

He was still trying to think of an answer to Shu's question when Shu buried his head into Jiro's clothes, trying very hard now to not give into the tears that wanted to spill. "I can't stand things being like this. All of these dumb... feelings!" He spat out the word as if it was one of his commonly used curses. "They're so stupid! I..." His voice softened slightly. "I just want things to go back to the way they used to be..." He looked up at Jiro. "... you know?"

And they both smiled, slightly bittersweet, because Shu had purposely used Jiro's most common sentence ender, a way to convey both apology and forgiveness; Jiro smiling with him had been the only thing needed for a mirrored reply.

Jiro glanced at the sunset; Shu had said and asked so many things, he had no idea where to start. But he knew that he couldn't leave it at this, so he tried his best... "Shu, you're entering a difficult time in your life... We did kind of save the entire world just a few weeks ago, but what I'm talking about is different. What you're starting to go through... Well, putting it simply, you're growing up. But at this stage, that involves a lot of confusion and things that are hard to understand; when it gets really bad, you'll feel like you're losing your mind. The thing is, though, that's normal."

Shu blinked in surprise from Jiro's shoulder - something this terrible was actually normal?

"It's going to be like this for a while... But eventually, it'll be over. It's going to be hard to get through, but it won't be entirely bad - once the worst of it is over, you'll be a stronger person..." Jiro looked down at him, then winked. "You know?"

Shu's smile grew; he closed his eyes. "Yeah. I think I get it. I just wish it was a little easier." He added sourly.

Jiro laughed lightly. "We all do. But that's just kind of the way things are, you know?"

"You're saying that a second time in a row?"

Jiro blushed lightly, embarrassed. "Well... Actually, just now, that was an accident."

Shu blinked at him, while Jiro stared back, for about half a minute, before the two of them burst out laughing.

Once they'd subsided into chuckles, Shu looked down. "Jiro... I know this is going to be hard, and it's not like I have any choice but to go through with it... But..." He lifted his eyes to meet Jiro's. "Will you be there to help me?"

Jiro stared at him for a moment. Then, his voice firm and unwavering, he said, "For every year in your life, there's been a difficult step you've had to take. I've been with you for each of those, and I'm not about to turn back now."

"Jiro..." Shu's smile was warm. "Thank you."

He shook his head. "No. I should be the one to thank you. I'm just happy to have my friend back. Come on," Jiro stood up. "We should head back; the sun's almost completely set."

As the two walked back, purple had already begun to appear in the sky. There was still enough light to see, but there wouldn't be for long.

"So, Jiro..." Shu started slowly. He was grinning, a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

"Y-yes?" Jiro found that look to be extremely unnerving.

Shu stayed silent momentarily, to draw it out for effect, then said, "Little brother, huh?"

Jiro flushed. Maybe he's more observant than I give him credit for.

... I can't believe I finished it. I'm so exhausted right now. A side note - I would like to thank Angel-chan, fan fiction author of Bonds Unbroken (if you're a fan of the friendship between Shu, Jiro and Kluke, I highly suggest you read that); the style used in that story is a big part of what inspired me to use the "year pattern" that you see here. Well... I know there are probably many things wrong with this, but I'm happy with certain parts of it, at least, so maybe it's not all bad. It may seem like things are missing in between the years, but that's kind of the point - these are just some of the harder times that Shu and Jiro have gone through together, and a few of the lighter memories. I hadn't intended it to be quite so emotionally heavy, but I think it turned out better like that. Another thing to mention: All of these scenes, except for the last one, occur in Beyond's storyline. And one of these things will be a key point in later chapters of Blue Dragon Beyond; it would spoil a lot if I said which scene it is, so I'm not going to, but feel free to guess. ;) Anyway, please let me know what you think in a review - I'm really worried about this one not being any good, so I'd really like to know what you thought about it. Feel free to ask questions in your reviews - I'll answer them as best as I can. So... I think that's everything. Thank you for reading! :) And one more thing: