Things had changed.

She had started to crack.

Fractures in her carefully crafted visage were beginning to betray her thoughts. Good thing she was alone. All alone except for him.

Letting her eyes linger over the sleeping form on the bed before her, she held her breath as she rested a hand gently on his forearm. The smell of antiseptic burned her nostrils as she inhaled, leaning over him, the back of her hand barely brushing over the stubble on his chin. Lifting her fingertip to trace over the soft blonde tuft of hair and down the bridge of his nose, she smiled openly at him. His fine features captured her attention and she dared to let her finger tip caress the outline of his lips, ever so slightly. They were dry and cracked, but full and plush, and she was overcome with an urge to feel them. Her skin prickled with excitement, and she leaned forward to touch her lips to his. Her eyes drooped lazily and finally closed as she held her lips against his, not breathing, her heart now pounding out of control against her chest.

A rough hand seized the back of her head holding it in place against a now twisted face, as the once yielding lips turned hard and cold. Her eyes fluttered open to see he'd turned into a monster, but not just any monster, it was the same one that plagued all her dreams of late; a cie'th.

She awoke with a start and jerked herself upwards. Her breath came in shallow gasps as she fought to regain her senses. Rubbing her eyes, she took stock of the breathing, fleshy bodies of her comrades. Fang's arm was outstretched towards Vanille who slept soundly. Sazh was leaned up against a tree, arms crossed, snoring quite deeply. The fluffy yellow wonder twittered in it's sleep on his shoulder. She wondered what it could have been dreaming about. Hope was situated by the fire, near to herself, and Snow wasn't far away. Snow never let Hope get away from him these days. All there, all safe and sound. She sighed heavily and laid back.

Only a dream...

The camp was quiet. It had been hours since anyone had last tended the fire, and it smoldered defiantly. Things here were wild and untamed; dangerous and unpredictable. Here she felt foreign and unwelcome even though she had been touched by a fal'Cie of this world, and given a charge which only it knew the details of. Reaching a hand behind her head, her breathing returned to normal, and her mind started to wander through the contents of the dream. Her eyes widened as she remembered Snow, and her inappropriate actions. Groaning inwardly she ran a hand down her face berating herself for the dream her unconscious mind had felt the need to torture her with. Instead of betraying her sister's trust, she'd just rather give up dreaming. Hell, she'd rather dream about cie'ths for the rest of her life if it would keep her from dreaming about him ever again. She knew he was there, she'd seen him moments ago, but she didn't dare look at him twice. She wasn't sure how much more of this she could take.

It had been insufferably hot that day, and the evening brought no relief. They seemed to be in a very humid area of Gran Pulse, and it made for uncomfortable nights. She was no stranger to sweat, but sweating without actually doing anything was annoying. The cut of her clothes were already form fitting, but the constant second skin of sticky sweat made them cling to her all the more. Maybe a quick dip at the pond near the waterfall they had passed on the way to camp would do her mind and body some good. Quietly she grabbed her pack and set off back down the moss covered trail. While she trudged down the path, her thoughts strayed back to the dream. Overlooking the indiscretion on her part, she had witnessed Snow turning into a Cie'th before her eyes. She didn't want to admit the obvious meaning of the dream, but did her subconscious have to be so bloody blatant?

So uncertain were the days ahead that no one even knew what to say anymore. Oerba was their last chance. No one knew what would await them there, if anything. They all seemed to be careening towards a crossroads so that one destiny, or another, would be fulfilled. It would be great if they could escape their fates and somehow dismiss their brands, but if they couldn't and they failed their focus, they'd turn into monsters. If they fulfilled their focus, would they turn into crystal only to open their eyes again to a world they wouldn't recognize like Fang and Vanille had?

She wished she could say that was the first dream she had about one of her comrades turning into a monster. It wasn't. Each time a nightmare had worked it's way into her slumber she had awoken with a start, and checked the camp to make sure everyone remained flesh and blood. The closer they got to wherever it was they were going, the dreams became more frequent and more lucid. She had felt what she felt, and did what she had done in the dream because it had been just that, a dream.

She heard the gentle trickle of the falls ahead. Pushing the thoughts to the back of her mind, she descended down the flat planes of rock to the water's edge. A variety of tropical looking trees and flowers surrounded the pool, obscuring the waterfall that flowed life into headed towards that direction. Lightning was certain that everyone at camp was still asleep; she had been as quiet as possible when she gathered her things, but she couldn't take the risk of bathing out in the open. She'd never live it down if someone were to see her.

As she approached the falls the scene became a bit foggy, but as the cool spray infused the air around her it felt good on her hot skin. She hung her pack and sword case on a near by branch and sat down to undo her boots. Making quick work of the buckles, she pulled them off and placed them neatly to the side. As she peeled off each piece of clothing, she breathed a sigh of relief. Her movements were quick, but she grew impatient with the complicated pieces of clothing. She unzipped her knit top, stopping when she exposed the mark of the l'Cie on her chest. She stared at it for a moment, wondering how much time she had left before she would be at it's mercy. How soon would she meet with destiny?

She pressed the flats of her fingers to her lips as Snow's face regained its position in the forefront of her mind. She recalled how warm his lips had been. How they felt dry and cracked beneath hers, but how altogether marvelous. Muttering, she vigorously shook her head as if to physically expel the memory from her flustered brain. Shrugging the top off her shoulders, it fell softly on the smooth rock. Her no nonsense black bra quickly followed. Hooking her fingers under the waist band of her skirt, she slid it down around her hips and onto the ground, stepping out of it. Reaching towards her pack, she picked out small towel and tossed it aside. From the side pocket she pulled out a few bobby pins to secure her hair in a mess onto the top of her head.

She was ready. Her foot went in first. She sighed happily; the water was nice and cool. Wading in a bit farther, it felt good as it swirled around her thighs, washing the sticky sweat away. Under foot, the pool was lined with the same smooth rock as the path she arrived on. Leaning forward with her arms out, and bending at the knee, she pushed off into the water, keeping her head above. Slowly making her way into the middle of the pool with smooth steady strokes, she basked in the feeling of the water against her naked tested the depth, touching the bottom comfortably with the ball of her foot. It wasn't as deep as she thought it to be. Standing, water barely covering her breasts, she raised her hands to her face and patted it down. Again, as her fingers came into contact with her lips, his face came back to haunt her, but instead of shaking him away this time, she closed her eyes to see him more clearly.

When she first met him, she wondered what Serah saw in him. She thought him to be some big oaf who was all talk and no action. Snow Villiers. What kind of name is that anyway?She'd hated him. Lately though, her opinion of him was changing. No longer did she wonder what her sister saw in him. She wondered if Serah had seen Snow pushed to the limit as they all were now. He was brave, surely, and kind; always doing for others and expecting nothing in return. Physically he was an impressive sight; tall; strapping and well put together with a tight chest and a well proportioned body. It had been hard to keep her eyes off him when she had to bandage him up at the Estheim's. Lingering gazes lead to guilt-ridden ones when she caught herself thinking something inappropriate about her future brother-in-law. Suffice it to say, the idea of her recent dream had not been completely foreign to her, nor as repugnant as it should have been. He was very disarming with his boyish charm, mop of blonde hair and sweet demeanor, and that's exactly why she kept her distance.

He made her feel again; and she didn't like it.

She had decided to live the life of a soldier after her parents had died. Serah needed her protection more than ever since they'd gone. By adopting a new name she hoped to say good-bye to her painful past. In fact, she wanted to say good-bye to emotions in general. Emotions didn't do a soldier any good, they served only to make one weak. When she was around Snow, though, she felt exposed. It was almost like he ripped off the bandages that held her together; that made her strong. She decided early on it was better that she hate him; anything to keep him away.

With an exasperated sigh, she splashed her face with more cool water then waded back to land. Stretching her arms out in front of her, she breathed slowly now, willing the juvenile pitter-patter of her heart to stop. Even the thought of his good nature browbeat her cold determination to the point of ruin. So, with him, she may as well be as naked as she was now. She braced herself on her elbows and arched her back, offering herself up to the night air and the indifferent gaze of the moon. There was no one here to interrupt her thoughts, at least until the sun rose again.

The sound of rustling met her ear and she froze. Something was in the trees directly behind her. Her sword was too far away and she was naked. She'd take her chances in the water, at least until she could assess the situation. She caught a rough edge on the stone with her foot and pitched herself into the water ahead. Splashing as she regained her footing, she looked around alertly and called out to the darkness of the trees now in her full view.

"Who's there?" she said simply, her voice unwavering. "Show yourself!"

A few seconds went by, and some more rustling. A cloud drifted across the face of the moon, darkening her field of vision. She squinted towards the noise and strained to hear what more she could. Her heart beat hard but steady, adrenaline sharpening her senses. She wondered what manner of beast was creeping around in those trees.