Well, it's that time of the year again. I'm still trying for something serious and something for both Gunmetal and Deviant Hearts; it doesn't help that work's been piling up (leaving me dry of thoughts at the end of each day), but I'll keep trying until I get there.

And now for something a little different.

"That's impossible."

"I'm telling you, it's true," the other insisted morosely. "As much as I wish it wasn't."

Across the room, Squall at last removed his attention from his book and turn instead to where Cloud was standing in the bathroom. The blond was glaring daggers at his reflection, as though demanding an explanation of some sort. The reflection held its silence, but Cloud did not.

"I'm balding," he muttered almost pathetically.

"No, you're not," Squall answered patiently, though he refused to move from his seat.

"I'm losing hair as we speak."

"Cloud," the brunet broke in firmly, "you're incapable of balding. It's quite impossible for you to be-"

"No, it's not. Look."

Before Leon could so much as blink, he found that same spiky head thrust inches from his nose, triggering an instinctive backpedal; the back of his chair hit the wall with a loud "THUD".

"Damn it, Cloud, don't-!"

"Look," Cloud repeated sharply. Upon closer inspection, one could see that his finger was directed at his most prominent spike.

"… What am I looking for, Cloud?"

In answer, Cloud straightened again, his fingers still attached to the tip of the spike as he stared in disbelief at his fighting comrade. Finally, he spoke again:

"Twelve years ago, this used to be a lot longer, a lot more pronounced, and a lot sharper. Don't you remember that?"

"I wasn't around then," Squall reminded the other carefully. While this earned a moment of thoughtful consideration, Cloud went back to the point he was trying to make.

"Twelve years ago, it actually looked like a spike sticking out of my head. Now it looks like… well… hair."

Squall paused, suddenly not all that certain of what to say. When he finally did: "And… that's a bad thing?"

"Don't you get it? My spike is shrinking," Cloud blurted out at last in his exasperation. "It's receding away into nothingness; fading like the rainbow; dying like a-"

"I get it."

"No you don't," the blond snapped irritably. "Look at you: you got more hair."

"And is that my fault?"

"That's not what I meant…!" the man finally cried out, throwing his hands skyward as he started to lose control of himself. The other only watched with his own hands crossed over his chest.

"What do you mean, then?"

"I… you… this… well, look: everyone's looking better and better. Aerith looks great, Yuffie looks great, Cid looks great, and Tifa… okay, so Tifa's not as…" Cloud drifted off again as his fidgeting hands gestured desperately in front of his chest for the right word to say.

"… Endowed?" Squall suggested.

"Endowed as she used to be," Cloud continued without a hitch, "but she still looks really good. And then you, looking better than before! What do I get? Nothing. What do I lose? My hair."

"Now that I think about it," Squall interrupted, as he studied the one before him thoughtfully. "Didn't you use to have a wing, too?"

Seconds later, he wished he never brought up the stupid wing as Cloud at last lost it completely, storming back into the washroom while cussing in two different languages about having something thrown in his face just to have it ripped out from under his feet again. Staring after him, Squall cleared his throat carefully and asked aloud: "Cloud? Are you okay?"

"Damn you, Nomura! DAMN YOU!"

"… I'll take that as a 'no'."

This time, he received a venomous growl before something smashed hard and sounded very broken – a quick peek into the washroom revealed the need to install a new toilet seat cover. Cloud was leaning heavily on the sink with his head bowed. Unlike the fury of mere seconds before, he was now slumped in depression. Squall saw his cue to step in and he took it; entering the washroom, he placed a hand on Cloud's shoulder and squeezed once in reassurance.

At last, there was a soft, weary sigh, as Cloud spoke again. "… I can't do this."

"Do what?"

"You know… age gracefully." Squall chuckled dryly in response. But still, he sighed deeply before leaning against the wall by his friend's side.

"Worried about all those pixels you've gained since your eight bit and low polygon days?"

"That and my hair," the blond answered slowly. "And all those years of coming in and out of retirement. They could not just let it go, could they? They had to make the compilation…"

"And the collaboration," the brunet added. "And the collaboration's sequel, and the reunion. Now that I think about it, you really have the longest work experience."

"… I'm just tired, alright? Every time I live to see another birthday, I realize that it's not over, and it will never be. I'll always have to keep at this…thing. All I want is to just be done with it."

"Don't we all," Squall agreed wistfully. "But now I have to ask: what's with the sudden revelation?"

"I'm not sure myself… I guess I never really thought about it until now," Cloud admitted dully. "All that time that passed me by, and suddenly… here I am. I think I was happier being ignorant. What changed?"

"The written perspective?"

"I hate fan fiction so much now."

There was a second pause, as Squall tried to find the right words to say. Then he found it, and his hand was on the other's shoulder once more.

"I know it's not going to be easy, but I also know we're in this together now. No matter how much time passes us by, as long as there's a Kingdom Hearts installment, I'll be here with you; if we're going to keep experiencing these changes, then we'll be facing them as a team."

Cloud did not answer right away, but his response, instead, was off the topic by some. "Nice personality warp they gave you."

"Yeah, the sequel turned me from a moody teenager to a peppy caller of "Sora, Donald, Goofy"… I think I still hate it; it and the loss of my name and most of my background history."

"… Some things none of us will get used to, huh?"

"Not one bit."

And for a minute, words were suddenly unnecessary, as Cloud raised his head and turned to look at Squall. The other hero-turned-ally looked back, and as they shared a glance, they knew they truly understood each other. The contact broke with mutual smirking, and when one raised a fist, the other knocked his against it.

"Happy birthday."

"Screw you."