Chapter 4

Those Who Never Were



It was over.

The thought rounded itself in her mind, so that Yuffie felt it echoed in the pump of her blood, cold and thick. It was over. They had nowhere else for them to run. The road simply ended.

Her eyes buzzed in her head, taking in the walls and the roof, searching and researching the room for an exit. The muscles in Colt's bicep tightened beneath her clinging fingers as though the strange intensity building in the depths of her stomach was being transferred to him. It was a burning frost searing through her veins like the winds against the face of DaChao. The sudden aches causing her to tighten her fingers further so that Colt tugged uncomfortably at his arm. When she didn't immediately release him he began to pry her fingers from where they had slipped to his wrist.

The sudden loss of contact ignited within her further.

"There's gotta be another door!" Colt called dragging himself to the wall and began pressing against the pale blue surface. "Help me!" The urgency in his voice draws out the growing flame within her so that she finds herself by his side instantly, fighting to contain the icy volcano growing within her while urgently running her hands along the wall. There had to be another way out. There had to be some hidden panel or door or something. Anything.

The first strike on the door came sooner than any of them expected.

It was like bullets in her stomach. Yuffie whirled to the door, wide eyed and pale, where only a few feet away Vincent stood sentry. There were creases along his forehead and his eyes were slim though locked towards the source.

Then that horribly shrill cadence began against the door.

No one spoke. Three pairs of eyes were transfixed on the steel of the silver door, where it seemed to be holding whatever had ridden the halls of Shinra and Grimm at bay.

Yuffie ground her teeth, nearly catching her tongue between them as she surveyed the room again as though an exit would have grown itself from the last time she had checked. It was a box. They were cornered like some small creature one of her cats toyed and teased.

"That's it!" She yelled, throwing herself into motion. There had to be motion. She had to do something. She wasn't going to wait for death to find her with four walls to hold her in. Whatever was out there, she was going to greet it the best way she knew how - with her weapon, and maybe a kick in the peels.

Vincent appeared before her blocking her path with his slim frame while his jeweled eyes glowed down at her. "It's safer here."

"Safe?" Instantly the sudden rush of anger and adrenaline within her veered towards the man before her. Yuffie clasped him mid arm and shoved, causing Vincent to stumble slightly, then readjust his feet. "We're trapped here like rats!"

Vincent shook his head slowly so that pieces of his inky black hair fell over his shoulders. "This is defensible. There's only one direction to defend." He motioned to the door where somewhere in the midst of the six beat cadence a note shrieked across it. "If there is more than one, then they'll bottle neck trying to come in. This," He paused turning letting the words register in her mind before finishing, "is defensible."

"It's - a - box!" Yuffie screamed over exaggerating the motions of her lips.

Somehow it wasn't a surprise when he remained infallible, ignoring her little tirade and turned to Colt. "How many rounds left?"

The soldier turned the gun over in his hands. "Enough."

"Then we wait." The gunslinger turned back to the door, a statue against anything that might appear.

She knew he considered the argument over, but Yuffie had never been one to take failure in stride, but this time she intended to be mature. Teeth grinding together she threw her chest outwards with her fists clenched by her sides and silently shrieked through her teeth at him. When all the energy released from her tense body she spun away from the man and crossed her arms against her chest. Very adult indeed.

It would have been silent, Yuffie knew, if it weren't for the bangs against the door. It was a six step cadence like the brass bells in the heart of Wutai that rang only when the land was under invasion in which they called out death. Death songs were so varied and somehow the same. Growing up as she had Yuffie had not been unaccustomed to death. Learning the ways of the ninja had been difficult for many, and there had been accidents. Hell, she had seen firsthand the affects of war with AVALANCHE on countless occasions, though there was something about this death song that was unnerving, the precision, the methodical timing. Monsters were not one, two, three, four, five, six. Monsters were glowing eyes in the dark or fat men in suites with big dreams and even bigger egos. Monsters were large tentacle creatures that crawled out from the sludge or aliens that fell from the sky and wiped away races. Monsters were not the ticking of a clock.

One. Two. Three. Four.

It was silent. The rhythm broken.

Yuffie held her breath and listened, catching herself leaning towards the door as she waited for "five" and "six."

No one could pull their eyes from the silver doorframe.

The silence was the worst. It was the waiting and not knowing.

As time began to crawl forward she let herself sink to her knees on the floor, feet slipping in opposite folds beneath her so that she was a pile of ninja limbs in the center of the floor. It would have been a comfort to have been against the wall, so that the cool steel was pressing into her back all solid and firm with the knowledge that nothing would be lumbering up behind her. Instead she sat with the metallic center of the Conformer gripped so tightly in her palm. It had always been a comfort.

"It could be a trick." Vincent said, taking a step back from the door. It was possible it was a trick. Many times when she was little and playing the hiding game with the other children, Yuffie had hidden herself at the corner of one of the houses and tossed a rock down the pathway so that it sounded as though she had left, then within a few minutes the other child would emerge from inside the house. Yuffie wasn't comfortable with the idea of checking the door, and was surprised when neither man offered to check. Weren't men supposed to be brave? Not that she expected Vincent Valentine of all people to so carelessly open the door, but that neither man even moved as though the idea hadn't wormed its way through their minds was in fact very surprising.

It was like being in a room with depression. No one spoke. They simply stared at the walls and listened to their jabbering friend silence ramble on about its horrible choice in colors for the walls. Pale blue wasn't really her color, and the light from the panels above bleached her skin to a near sickly paste. She had always been more of a hunter green, indigo or sometimes even a carnelian if the light was just right.

Yuffie hopped to her feet and strode over to one of the walls slipping down its length so that she rested against it and let the Conformer clatter onto the floor. There was too much time in the room. Yuffie stole a glance at her partners. Colt had settled himself on the floor to her left where his grip had loosed on his rifle, however he still held to it as though the weapon was salvation. However, Vincent hadn't moved. In that way that only he could, he remained a motionless guard glaring down any presence that might enter through the door.

It was like being in a healing house, pale walls, grim faces, and far too much silence.

She sighed, yearning for an end. "When I get outta here," Yuffie drawled staring up at the paneled lights. Someone needed to clean them. "I'm going to stop at the first ice cream parlor I see and buy them out of Chunky Monkey." Her mind wandered off to a hot spring evening in Junon where she had a cone of Strawberry that had already begun melting when she left the store. By the time she had made it two blocks there were pink stains on her shirt and the edges of her cheeks were glistening slick and sticky. "Or maybe Strawberry." Belatedly she added, "Or maybe both." The smallest chuckle escaped from within her, strangled in the heavy air of the room. "I can't ever decide which is my favorite. I'll just eat it all until I pop."

The tension in Colt's grip on the base of the rifle receded like an ocean wave. More comfortable he actually smiled, "When I get out of here, I'm going to ask Ava to marry me." He nodded more to himself than to anyone in the room. "It's the right thing to do."

The thought made her smile. Only a few years prior Yuffie would have rolled her eyes at the idea or proclaimed it some form of grossness, but time had run its fingers through her hair and whispered longingly into her ear until she had found the idea sweet. Even now the idea was simply more of a curiosity than what she would have labeled the average girl's dream, because she had never thought herself average. Average little girls didn't play with shurikens before dolls or spend their sixteenth birthday huddled soaking in a cave telling old Wutaiian ghost stories, and average girls certainly didn't travel with a labeled terrorist group fighting madmen and scientist all to save the world. Yuffie had spent far too much time trying not to be average that she had never really experienced or felt the call of a girl's dream, well, not counting that one moment. Several years ago when she had first met their well sculpted leader, she had immediately decided there was something about his hair that she had appreciated or possibly the lines the muscles in his arms made, but when she saw him split a Grand Horn clean in two the pit of her stomach fell away taking the bud of the crush with it so all that remained was hero worship.

Something she couldn't name stirred within her and she found that she had questions she wanted to ask him, but Colt had already moved on, finishing his list of reasons as towards why it was in the right for him to propose. Then he turned to the dark haired sentry near to the door they had entered. Yuffie's automatically followed and the two sat for a moment waiting for Vincent's turn. He shifted under their gaze.

"What about you?" The soldier asked suddenly impressing Yuffie with his forwardness towards the enigmatic Valentine.

It wasn't all that surprising when he answered seriously. "I'm going to debrief with Reeve."

Her skull cracked against the wall as she snapped her head back at the childlike honesty behind the words. A quick pang danced out around the room so that a web of pain sprouted about the back of her head. Stupid wall. First it trapped them with its horribly pathetic color palette and then it practically attacked her. Now she'd have a bump in the back to match the one in the front.

Of course Vincent Valentine would answer seriously rather than something fun or like a dream, not that he had ever been fun or dreamed anything other than nightmares. The idea fluttered about her stomach, and without warning she found the empathy morphing into anger. For the first time in her life she was able to keep the ice from soaking its way into her words and goaded. "Come on, Vincent. We told you ours."

Ever so slightly his head turned so that the strong line of his jaw could be seen above his shoulder. His shoulders slumped though whether from defeat or the weight of his thoughts she wasn't sure. "When I get out of here," The pale skin of his jaw disappeared behind the raven locks as he shifted away from them, head tilting slightly so that he was looking passed the ceiling. "I'd like to start living."

Yuffie hadn't expected him to give in and answer, and on the off chance that he did she would have expected something simple and boring.

Something akin to a sob choked in her throat. Vincent wanted to live, not just survive anymore but truly live. Maybe it was the loss of Chaos that had lifted something from his soul that had him searching or at least wanting to find what he had forgotten - how to truly live. Yuffie felt Colt's eyes on her, but she couldn't bring herself to meet his gaze due to the sting around her eyes. She ground her teeth together to fight back the tears.

How silly she felt on the verge of tears for Vincent Valentine!

Busying herself to keep the tears at bay, Yuffie sidled closer to Colt who stiffened and leaned away as she drew closer. The soggy stains of blood could be seen across the area above his knee. "How's your leg?"

"Hurts like hell." He said, not bothering to meet her eyes. Instead, Colt focused on pulling his leg upward some so that it was slightly bent at the knee.

A few feet away Vincent stepped forward, reaching out to the panel that controlled the door. Before she had a chance to form much of a coherent thought, Yuffie had leapt to her feet. "Wait!

Turning at the waist he paused.

"You're going out there?" The ninja bit her lip as the six beat cadence resonated in her memory. "What if it's still there?"

Crimson eyes flickered between her and Colt, their depths steeled. "Then we'll face it as one."

Then he looked at her, the lines of his face and the shadows of his eyes were stark and thin against his pale skin. She loathed that expression having seen it more times than she cared to admit, most often when she had done something wrong or when she was being lectured, which meant more often than not. It wasn't that she needed the approval, she told herself, but it was a desire not to screw it up this time and leave everything in a puff of smoke or struggling to survive. Not again. She would not mess it up.

Yuffie scooped up the Conformer and rushed to the gunslinger's side, adjusting then readjusting her grip on one of its spines. When she felt herself ready she lifted her gaze to Vincent. He nodded and then both turned to Colt. He was wearily watching from the floor where he had dragged his weapon back across his lap. A short jerk of his head let them know he was ready.

"Whatever comes," Vincent's voice was low and calm a great wealth of strength in the empty room. "It will come fast."

Not trusting her voice, Yuffie bobbed her head, her cape of dark hair helping to conceal the growing fear she felt welling around herself. She knew it was irrational. It had never been like her to worry, but those glowing red eyes were so unlike anything she'd seen. They weren't like Vincent's. They weren't...natural.

Fear was natural she reminded herself as Vincent reached for the release on the panel. It was many years ago when her old man wasn't quite as grayed that he had walked with her through the fields outside Wutai up to the Phun Cliffs. He had stood with her along the edge of the cliffs where the river poured like water from a basin into the warm waters nestled amongst the trees below.

Godo had stared down at the cliffs for many long minutes while she had stared at the clouds and the birds and marveled at how many more there were so far from town. Then his chin, not quite rounded with age or stress, tightened and he spoke without turning towards her. "Yuffie Kisaragi," As though she didn't know her own name, "This is where your grandfather taught me about fear."

"Grandfather brought you here?" She had asked, eyes lighting at the thought.

He nodded, only then dropping his gaze to smile at her briefly. "You see Yuffie; fear is only a natural part of life. Fear is the cause of bravery. One cannot be brave without the presence of fear. A flower cannot bloom without the sunlight and a seed will not grow without rain. One nurtures the other. Your grandfather taught me that in this very place" And then the child was lifted, his strong arms tightened to the neck of her shirt and raised her over the cliff. Tiny limbs had clawed and kicked, but her father had held her tightly the fabric stretching as gravity pulled her within it. "Child you will not set foot on this cliff again." She had struggled vainly, twisting and flipping her body in hopes to swing herself back onto the cliff. When her energy was spent she sagged against the fabric.

Nine years old and already so very stupidly brave. "I dare you."

Godo released her. Although she couldn't remember anything besides the air against her face, she did remember her father's face smiling down at her when she surface gasping and coughing out in the water below.

I dare you. She called inwardly to whatever was on the other side of the door, and bidden those glowing red eyes pierced through her mind.

Vincent pressed the release and the door zipped open.

The landing was empty.

Yuffie ducked under Vincent's arm as he crossed over her to spot the opposite corner. Immediately satisfied by the emptiness of the metallic walls in her corner she turned unsure if she should be more nervous about the sudden disappearance of their pursuers. The dread beginning to drain from her, she bolted to the railing and leaned over it to check the stair case below. Her toes lifted from the floor so that she balanced atop the rail with her stomach the tips of her fingers adding the barest of support until she felt a hand press gently against the base of her spine. When she glanced up Vincent stood over her an eyebrow raised at her lack of thought to conceal herself. The sight of the empty stairs beneath her brought her to lower herself back to the floor.

"Why would they just leave?" Colt asked from his place against the doorframe where he was panting and sweating from the exertion on his injury.

Vincent shook his head and allowed himself to glance over the railing to the bottom level of the staircase. "I don't know."

Nervousness began to slink its dark path back into the shadows of Yuffie's mind. "Boredom?"

"I doubt." Vincent started down the stairs.

"Wait!" She called waving her arms as if they could somehow help her to keep him from leaving. "You're going back?"

"It's the only way out."

"But what if it comes back?"

His next words chilled her not because of their meaning but because he continued his descent. "Would you rather wait here for it?"

Between his retreating form and the pale blue of the room, neither idea really sounded appealing, but the thought of meeting up with whatever had made those noises alone caused her stomach to do its own version of the a triple death flip she had invented two years ago in a wave of creativity. "Wait up!" She called, "Hey! You're not waiting up!" rushing to the railing where she hoisted herself effortlessly over it and landed on the section of stairs below.

Her sneakers pounding on the floor paralleled the quickening of her heart. Staying wasn't an option, but only because the room was blue.




The marks first appeared when he was eight. Long and spindly now, but they were small and circular at first, almost like freckles, until they began to crawl the length of his stomach and chest. As time passed and the marks began to dig their way across his arms like serpents beneath his skin he had become accustomed to the faint design along his body and the faint burn as the marks continued to unravel like ribbons along his body. He turned his arm over beneath the sunlight tracing the lines along his arm. They had grown more prominent in the years following his experience.

He pushed the sleeves to his garment back down to his wrist, feeling the brush of the fabric as the tailed section in the back rubbed against the back of his knees. Part of him had always intended to burn the gear once everything was finished, but another part had reminded him that although they had assigned it to him it was quite helpful with his Task. They had after all done extensive study and created something best suited to his particular Task. Although the marks had shown themselves at eight, it wasn't until much later that the first time it happened. For him it remained a clear memory. It had felt like walking through a waterfall with its thick pressure of cold that kicked him square in the face.

The man leaned back and stared up at the late afternoon sky, large and blue, such a wonderful color. His stomach lurched and he held firmly to the ground with his toes bending the soft woven shoes he wore. It had been too long since he had been above and he wobbled in the light, feeling as though he might fall upwards in the vast expanse without a roof to block his path. A city had been here the last time he was above in which he remembered a booming metropolis beneath a velvety black sky. There weren't any stars that night. Someone else might have seen it as a sign, but now the city was nothing more than a shit hole left for anyone that could stand the smell.

They had been forgotten. It had been such a long time since, since much of anything, but even the notion of being forgotten seemed ridiculous even to his own mind. How long had it been? The man counted to eight and then the years blurred as it was much longer, but the numbers wouldn't come to him. He tried again, counting to eight, but still the numbers eluded him. It had been a long time.

The building below him hadn't seen any movement, since his own departure that had removed the obstacles keeping watch. He frowned, checking the door for any indication that someone was inside. He would have rather enjoyed that part, just as he had enjoyed his small allowance in removing the guards.

Finally the shadows eased and a pale figure, the palest of them all moved from the shadows to the side of the building. Sickly white skin made paler by the darkness around him cut through the darkness, the other man beginning the trek away from the building towards the one he was perched atop. Lengths of almost white hair casted a stark shadow against the already pale skin. The man's robes were of the palest yellow, strikingly similar in shade to his eyes, the colors only adding to the ghostly effect.

"Lazarus." He called, hopping from the crumbling roof of an old convenience store to the stairs of an apartment complex that were hanging at an odd angle. Easily he caught his balance on the uneven surface and leapt to a small pile of crumbled walls. It surprised him as it always did to see the other man look up at the name. It wasn't really his name, that much he was certain, just as certain as Zen wasn't really his own, but like the others his name had crusted and peeled away from his memory with the lack of use.

"Tell me you had fun." He said, allowing himself to step the short distance to the ground. "You were given much more than I think is fair." Tapping a finger against his chin, he smirked beginning a game they both knew well. "Did you use them?"

Lazarus frowned, tiny eyebrows knitted together though they were almost invisible due to their pale color.

"I see." Falling into stride with the smaller man, Zen couldn't help but wonder why his companion had been given the duty. Each of them had received a Task, although some more pertinent than others, but Lazarus' didn't seem quite as tailored to the job that had been required.

The two continued along the road in a sort of half silence. Zen found himself making observations aloud and pausing occasionally to examine objects, whilst Lazarus merely nodded or sporadically lifted a bony hand and pointed to an object that he seemed to think would catch his interest. A particular object had Zen kneeling at the edge of another dilapidated building. He placed the fingers of his left hand to the object, letting them brush along the chilled smooth surface. In a torn and faded red dress an old children's doll lay face up, forgotten amongst the litter the buildings appeared to have regurgitated. Zen carefully lifted the doll, twisting its arms so that they were no longer behind her. For a minute, he said nothing, turning the child's toy over in his hands.

Like tiny pieces of confetti images fluttered about in his head, so jumbled amongst themselves that he seemed an onlooker in his own mind, and so he watched. From somewhere buried down deep in the graveyard like furnace that had been built within him the images briefly spasmed with life. There was the sound of the sea and the smell of freshly caught fish and the laughter of tiny voices all soprano and innocent. The silhouette of a young child began to form in his mind and as the image became clearer he found himself wishing for release from their hold. There were so many voices, and vague memories of a stone fireplace and laughter. There was too much laughter.

Lazarus placed a hand lightly against his shoulder, the touch jolting him from the onslaught of images. He hadn't noticed the other man's approach but by the gentle raise of his eyebrows he knew that he had been far away for longer than was necessary. Shaking his head as if he could physically remove the images, he returned them to the furnace so that what remained of them could be turned to ash.

Remarkably he grinned, looking up at his companion and held the doll up for display. "Kind of looks like you, doesn't it?"

Instantly Lazarus retracted his hand, face faulting into a very unappreciative look that bunched his lips together.

"Yeah," Tossing the doll carelessly back into the pile, Zen climbed back to his feet and began stretching himself as if nothing had taken place. "Your eyes are a bit lighter."

The blond let out a puff of air and strode passed along the road they had been traveling. Satisfied that he had regained control and ridden himself of the weakness, Zen followed at a distance until the two came to an old warehouse. It like so many of the buildings left in the ruined metropolis had seen better days. The slant of the roof and the shards of glass scattered about the doorway were only the beginnings of the buildings losses. It was a strong building to have survived so much and yet remain as a skeleton. It was no wonder why she had chosen this place.

Both men had to climb over a fallen beam and worm themselves beneath the remains of the second floor to gain entrance. No more than a few steps inside when a young lilted voice broke through the silence. "The twins are angry."


Atop an old wooden beam that still clung to its place laid the willowy limbed figure like a lioness, eyes gleaming down in the dying light. Amongst the ash and stone Nor's oddities weren't quite as severe. In the only other setting he'd known her she had seemed like a witch from old sea faring tales that he had long ago forgotten he'd ever known, with her hair knotted into tiny braids held fast by beads and scraps of cloth. The tan of her skin seemed dark against the pale white and red paint that wrapped like a mask along the area between her nose and eyebrows. Zen half expected her to swoop down from her perch and begin chanting in a foreign tongue whilst casting hexes upon him by the way she glared down at them with her almond shaped eyes.

"This one saw everything." She said, beads clicking together in distress as she turned her head from them so that she was watching them from the corners of her eyes.

Unsure exactly what she was expecting from him, Zen cast a glance at Lazarus, but the blond's face was a mask of indifference. Resigning, he sighed. "Where are they?"

"There." Nor jerked her chin to a side, causing the beads to rattle like bells as they fought to maintain their hold on her braids. "When last this one saw them."

Tiredly he rubbed the back of his neck where sometimes he could still feel the scars like tiny raises beneath his fingers. He didn't bother to thank Nor for the warning, simply turned to the direction she indicated and began down what was left of the ruined hallway. The familiarity of the narrow space to that of their own relieved him, only then causing him to realize just how much the open spaces unnerved him after all those years in the narrow halls of their confinement. From what he understood, familiarity usually lead to complacency, but with them it was a stepping stone that had helped construct them.

The twins were there. It wasn't a good sign.

Zen felt his pulse pause at the sight of the two. Together they were a frightening mix of oil and vinegar. The two were so completely a part of one another and yet so completely separate that he believed if one were stabbed the other would bleed.

Belatedly he realized he'd quit walking and that Lazarus had caught up with him, expression blank save for the almost imperceptible narrowing of his eyes.

Suddenly Harue stepped away from his sister and began down the hallway the two were in. Both stepped aside for the stronger of the twins as he neared, his anger emanating in the room like heat from a stove. Though whatever Zen expected from Harue was avoided by the other man passing without hesitation at the sight of them. Whatever the two had been discussing now occupied all of the man's mind leaving little room for him to sidetrack himself upon them. Just as well, as Zen had little desire to deal with the larger man's irrepressible anger. He was too much like a split power line, sparking and blazing at anything within reach.

Shizu's gaze suddenly locked on them. Even at a distance the fire was still apparent within the glow of her eyes. She motioned for the two to join her, the sudden nicety not going unnoticed between the two.

"Harue has gone on an errand." She said surprisingly calm when they entered the room.

It was another bad sign. That Shizu would send her brother on an errand rather than one of the others meant only one thing: It was a very important errand.

She shook her bangs from her eyes. "Explain to me why it has taken so long."

Beside him Lazarus did not stir, simply stared back unflinching under the dark gaze. He had to admit that he was impressed that the other man didn't recoil under the darkness of her stare. Even after the many years below and the purge they had put themselves through he still found the utter blackness of her eyes unnerving. They were an abyss of swirling black mass that pulled everything about him in as though they wished to devour him.

Then she turned to him.

"You and I have something we need to discuss."

Without question Lazarus immediately departed, pausing at the door to stare defiantly back at the slender woman. Whether she ignored the gesture or didn't see, Zen wasn't sure. He had little time to ponder the thought because the moment the blond had fully departed she smiled, all predatory and he was certain she wanted something from him. He only hoped it was something within his power to give...or that he wanted to give. "My brother has gone to," she pursed her lips as she searched for the right word, "fix, shall we say, a situation to our advantage, but I have my reservations you see."

He didn't like where this was going.

"I'm afraid that with his temper he may not be able to do so." She smiled something that usually softened a woman's features but on her it only seemed to harshen them. "If my brother cannot succeed, I need to know that you can. I need to know that if I ask you, then you will help me."

A minute drawled by as his brain struggled to comprehend. Something about this question seemed to pull at the fringes of his mind. It seemed like a simple enough question, but that Shizu wanted him to agree to help her sent his sensing into a jumbled flurry. His brain told him that her Task was manipulation and that the wording of the question would be crucial in the future, and that the blurring of his mind to think coherently was only part of her Task, but he found himself nodding anyways.

"Good." She smiled, tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear.

Minutes later Zen found himself standing within a doorway, staring up at the sky as the sun with her golden fingers began to slip away into the horizon. Had he a clearer frame of mind he would have been able to see that his plans were being falling more closely into line than Shizu imagined when she had asked for his help. He would take her help with all the strength it offered even if it was offered inadvertently.

Everything swayed about him. It was the exertion earlier finally catching up. With a hand to the doorframe to steady himself he waited for the burn along his skin to increase. When the fire within him did heat further he clutched at his stomach and coughed. Zen focused on the huffs of air coming from himself, having long ago learned that it helped to lessen the pain. He imagined the pale streaks along his skin, snaking its way along his body, reaching like fingers through his hair and into his head where he knew that it would be over. The key was to not over exert himself so as to use his full potential. It was under those circumstances that the blue vein like trails expanded.

When the pain subsided he rested himself against the wall, rubbing a hand through his short auburn hair.

"I'm fine." He called over his shoulder, so that Lazarus stepped into the dusk light.

The other man smiled, shrugging his thin shoulders lightly so that the long round sleeves of the robe waved around his tiny arms.

He shook his head, scratching at the now subdued burning sensation along his arms. "Yeah, I do say so." Motioning with his head for the other man to leave, Zen growled still out of frustration at having been seen with his earlier situation. "Not right now."

Lazarus sighed and began down the broken steps to the street, where he paused and turned as if to ask again about his condition, but instead his pale gold eyes set upon him in the same unyielding determination they had when he had gazed unflinchingly into Shizu's night eyes. Then he turned and began silently along the road.

Zen laughed without mirth at the idea of the white haired Lazarus staring boldly back at Shizu. But then again, he knew that the smaller man had his own dark secrets where maybe his own morbid thoughts were not aligned with the Twins' or his own. Whatever the case, he didn't bother to offer any remark. Instead, he raised his head to the heavens and allowed himself to fall into the sky.





The last six months have been difficult for me. I lost my job and a member of my family. It's been really difficult to find the desire to write. At last I'm finally coming out of the darkness. It's not easy, but I'm dealing with things a lot better than I originally was, so with depression receding my desire to write is returning.

This was probably the chapter I had dreaded writing the most purely because I have so much planned for my villains and I wasn't sure that the original way I had written them in fit with later chapters. I've also done some revisions on earlier chapters. It kills me to think how Grimm became Griffin and even once Grier in one of the chapters. Thanks to those that have reviewed! I appreciate every single one. As always, constructive criticism is always welcome.