Chapter Nine:…And the Light.

It was a silent and uneventful walk up the stairs to the gate of the bailey, with Cid and Terra only pausing long enough for Cid to lock the gates behind him. The pilot glanced at Terra, who was still silent, his head bowed silently, dark bangs hiding his eyes in shadows. With a shrug and flick of his toothpick the ex-pilot resumed his march, Terra following behind him as the two descended from the steps of the bailey and into the canyon pass that led to the mighty bastion that loomed over all of Radiant Garden.

They had made it halfway into the construction site when the air rippled a few feet away. Terra raised his arm, halting Cid, who glared at the sudden swirls of darkness that appeared in the air before they took shape into familiar armored Soldier Heartless, the creatures landing on their feet with a 'clank', their bodies jerking randomly. Cid scoffed while Terra raised his sword.

"The mornin' just ain't complete 'til the Heartless show up…" Murmured Cid. Terra stepped a few paces ahead before assuming his battle stance, grip on his sword tightening, blood-shot eyes narrowed. The Soldier Heartless crouched, dead yellow eyes set on Terra, heads twitching randomly.

Then, they leapt up and back, curling in on themselves and vanishing in another swirl of shadows. Cid blinked, eyes widening, his toothpick almost dropping out of his mouth. The ex-pilot stepped closer towards Terra, who dropped his stance to look around.

"Well… can't say I've ever I've ever seen 'em do that before." Muttered Cid to himself. Terra didn't respond for moment, and glanced back at the older man to simply say, "Let's keep going." And then the younger man resumed walking towards the bastion still looming ahead.

The older man however, did not follow immediately, just rubbed the back of his neck in a nervous motion. "I'm startin' to think I should've brought someone else along…" Cid whispered to himself, eyeing Terra warily before resuming his trek behind the younger warrior.

The castle was just up ahead, and then it was on to Ansem's computer and the information inside it. For Terra, it was a slight hope that within that computer was something that could help him defeat Braig and keep Aqua safe from the Freeshooter. For Cid…

It was answers.


The sun's rays easily pierced through the thin curtains, the light touching the bundled form still lying on the bed, locks of blue peeking out near the pillow.

At the bottom of the bed, a ball of blue fur watched silently, ears dropped, big eyes narrowed in concern while a second yellow colored alien floated back and forth slowly, gently crackling with electricity. Neither Stitch or Sparky had left Aqua's side all night, both keeping guard over the water maiden lest the 'bad man' came back to try and harm her as he had the night before. Despite the fact both alien experiments had been up all night, neither looked the least it tired and were on full alert for the first sign of anything strange.

Just then, Sparky's head jerked up, antennas crackling as his nostrils flared several times. Stitch looked up at his doppelganger, growling a curious "Hurr?" Before his nose flared up as well, catching the whiff of a fast approaching scent. Before either alien could react the door swung open and both experiments let out yelps, Stitch's ears flying up while sparks discharged from Sparky.

"Riiiiiiise and shine, sleepy-head!" Sang Aerith loudly as she quickly stepped inside Aqua's room, her beautiful innocent face lit up in a brilliant smile, emerald eyes sparkling. From where she lay on the bed, Aqua blinked, flinching a little at the sudden noise and movement, tired sapphire gems following Aerith as the flower girl quickly moved towards the drawn curtains and pulled them apart, letting the full force of the sun's light pour in, right on top of Aqua.

While the water maiden was groaning and pulling the covers over her head to block out the torrent of light, Aerith went on saying, "It's too pretty of a day to just sleep! Up!" She declared with a clap of her hands, once more circling around to Aqua's bed. When the brunette saw that the bluenette was still not moving, she folded her arms and sighed for a moment before promptly ripping the covers off, exposing Aqua entirely to the sun's light and the cool air of the morning, causing her to curl up a little and blink her watery eyes open in confusion.

Aerith merely smiled down on her, carefully folding the blanket before saying again, "Up! Shower and freshen up, I'll have some breakfast ready for you downstairs." And with that, she turned to leave but paused just by the door. Blinking, Aerith noticed the majority of Aqua's cloths carefully folded on her dresser. Frowning, she picked up one of the bell-sleeves, noting all the tears and stains over it.

Turning back to the water maiden who was finally sitting up and rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Aqua blinked when she noticed Aerith looking back at her, the bluenette

s bell-sleeve held carefully by the tip of the flower girl's index finger.

"Are these the only clothes you have?" Aerith asked.

Aqua blinked again, then nodded slowly.

Aerith shook her head, tutting.

"Oh, these simply won't do at all. I need to give the ma good washing and few new stitches ("Huh?" asked the blue alien from the floor below at the mention of his name). Well, I can tell you this is the last day you'll be wearing these rags because right after breakfast we are going shopping!" Declared the flower girl with an excited smile at the last part.

Aqua remained silent, watching Aerith as she collected her dirty and torn clothes while saying, "I'll get one of my extra dresses for you to wear today so you won't have to wear these again," Before looking back at Aqua, still smiling. When she saw the water maiden's unresponsive and melancholy look, Aerith quickly said, "Stitch! Sparky! Come downstairs with me!" And with that she finally stepped out of Aqua's room, though Aqua still caught her faint murmur, "I think she needs some privacy…"

Sparky followed obediently after Aerith, only pausing to look back at Aqua and then his blue furred cousin before quickly zipping after Aerith with a small crackle of electricity and faint hint of ozone left in his wake. Stitch was much more reluctant than his crackling cousin, hesitantly following after Sparky and Aerith before pausing to look back at Aqua, his clawed hands wringing each other, ears flat. Aqua gave him a gentle smile and nod. This made Stitch smile back slightly, ears perking up before he quickly scampered after Aerith and Sparky.

Aqua listened to the sound of his claws fade and after several seconds of silence, concluded she was truly alone and stood up, stretching a little and sighing deeply, sapphire eyes downcast. She stepped into the hallway, moving towards the washroom, deciding to heed Aerith's advice (Though she wasn't so sure how she felt about shopping…) when she noticed Terra's door partially ajar. She stared at it, telling herself she already knew what she would see if she opened it and to just keep walking.

She was not surprised when she walked over to the door and pushed it all the way open. Another lack of surprises when she saw no occupant and that the bed perfectly made, as if no one had slept in it the night before. Aqua stared into the empty room, her eyes filled with sadness.

She was not surprised he was gone again. In a strange way she was used to it now. Maybe because she a stronger suspicion of why he wanted to leave so badly.

Xehanort's portrait…

Braig's return…

And…

His eyes…

Those horrible golden flares.

It was too much for her and she couldn't imagine what it was doing to Terra.

It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair at all. They had been sent here for a second chance, a fresh start and yet all of the causes for their misery those years ago were rearing their ugly faces, threatening the happiness they had just managed to grab hold of.

Aqua raised her hand towards her face, fingers just hovering over her lips.

She could still feel him, his touch…

Her hand fell away.

It was a memory now, and she doubted they would ever hold each other the way they had the night before again.

She could not be his light if it would only force the darkness in his heart to the surface.

With a sigh so soft it was barely audible, Aqua closed the door and resumed her walk to the washroom.

Maybe this 'shopping trip' with Aerith could distract her…


The rest of the walk to the castle of Hollow Bastion was uneventful compared to the near Heartless scare in the canyon path. It was smooth sailing, as Cid liked to think of it. When they arrived inside the castle and the corridors that would lead them to Ansem the Wise's study, the ex-pilot was perturbed by the lack of Heartless. Even when Claymore had been up and running those annoying buggers would litter the halls, quickly getting blown up.

But the crumbling hallways were empty, silent save for the occasional 'drip' of water. Cid found the silence to be way to creepy. Terra wasn't helping matters, having fallen behind Cid and remained deathly quiet as ever, his bloodshot eyes hidden in the castle's shadows.

Cid exhaled a rather loud sigh of relief when they finally reached the lit corridor that led to Ansem's study. "Alright, were here," He said, flicking his toothpick and looking back at Terra, grinning. The younger man stared blankly back, eyes narrowed slightly, not from aggravation, but from pure exhaustion.

Sighing again and rubbing the back of his head, Cid marched up to the door and opened it, stepping inside and moving further into the office, stopping by a wall just past the lost sage's desk and by a bookcase. Cid looked back, watching impatiently as Terra stepped inside the office, his movements more sluggish then they had been on their way up here. The young warrior was closing the door when he looked over Ansem's desk and froze for a split-second.

Frowning, Cid followed his gaze, then raised a brow when he caught sight of the golden portrait frame…and the ruined portrait of Xehanort. Frowning and scratching the back of his head, Cid glanced back at Terra but the brunette was making his way towards Cid, no longer looking at the ruined portrait. Cocking a brow for second, Cid just shrugged it off before moving his hand towards a certain spot on the wall.

Terra was watching cid in confusion when the wall suddenly lit up, causing him to gasp and flinch back, his gloved hand moving over his eyes to shield them from the light. cid snorted, chuckling loudly at Terra's reaction as the light dimmed, and with it, the wall seemed to vanish along with it. "Bet'chu weren't expecting that?" Cid asked with a smirk.

Terra lowered his hand from his eyes, though they were still narrowed slightly, irritated from lack of sleep and the sudden brightness. "No…can't say I was," replied Terra quietly, looking back at Cid.

The older pilot just chuckled again before motioning Terra to follow him as he stepped onto the revealed metallic walkway. "Oh, we ain't even got to the cool stuff yet, C'mon." He walked towards a curve in the walkway before looking back at Terra expectedly, steely eyes impatient, toothpick upturned slightly.

Terra was suddenly a lot more hesitant to follow the ex-pilot. He was looking at the exposed walkway with sudden trepidation, bloody eyes looking over it as if he was looking at a trap ready to spring. Terra's intense scanning was broken by Cid coughing loudly.

"You wanna hurry it up there, kid?" The pilot asked, tone once more disgruntled, his expression set in a scowl, brow and toothpick raised. Terra flinched again, muttering, "Sorry," before finally stepping onto the walkway after Cid. No sooner had he stepped onto the walkway did he stumble suddenly and nearly trip, barely managing to grab the railing to support himself, his grip on his sword almost slipping as well.

Cid gasped, exclaiming, "Hey!" and moved towards Terra to help him, but the younger warrior waved him off and forced himself back onto less than steady feet. "I-I'm alright," Terra assured him. Cid sighed harshly, rubbing the back of his head vigorously.

"Jeez, kid. What the heck's wrong with you?" Cid demanded, peering down on Terra as the warrior tried to force himself back up with help from the railing. Terra stared up at Cid as he finally regained his footing, though he was still hunched slightly and paler than ever, redness of his eyes becoming even more pronounced. "It's…nothing," Terra finally said, wiping the sudden sweat that beaded his forehead away with the back of his glove. "Just a headache," he assured Cid.

Cid raised a brow, still scowling, toothpick rising as well, before sighing in disgust, scratching his head, eyes closing as he turned away from Terra while muttering, "Sheesh, I'm gettin' a headache too. Yuffie used to be the only one capable of doin' that to me…Gonna need Aerith to make sum of that herbal tea when we get back…" He trailed off; still muttering while Terra stumbled after him. The earth warrior was just as confused by his sudden fatigue and headache as Cid was annoyed by it. Terra vaguely remembered feeling like this when had first arrived in that office, but he had wrote it off as the combination of horror and disgust he had felt over his discovery of that portrait.

He was very glade he had burned it. Cid did not need to see it and Terra in the same room or he'd figure it out in a heartbeat and spill it to Leon. Or would he, Terra wondered as he followed Cid into a larger alcove.

Inside the alcove was a strange device attached to a wall. What ever its purpose was Terra couldn't make heads or tails of, but across from it was something he was somewhat familiar with. It was a computer terminal like the one cid operated back at Merlin's cottage, but much smaller and sleeker looking, akin to the ones Terra had seen on the giant ship where had first met Stitch ten years ago. But instead of just one single monitor, their were at least a dozen scattered throughout the room, connected to various places on the walls. The computer itself overlooked a huge open area with a massive machine made of multiple cylinder pillars jutting from the walls. Like the other machine, it's purpose was lost to Terra.

Cid's mood improved almost as soon as he laid eyes on the computer, sighing heartily and stepping up to it, hands resting on the keyboard. He looked back at Terra, who was rubbing his temple as the throbbing of his headache suddenly intensified. "Vanishing walls are cool, but this is the main event," Cid said, smirking with his toothpick upraised.

Terra lowered his hand, blinking slowly before responding, "Is it now?" Cid nodded, looking back at the terminal and patting the keyboard in an almost affectionate manner. "Yep," he affirmed with another nod before looking back at Terra.

"All the information we need is one of the files inside this terminal. Just gotta boot it up and we'll be in business." With that Cid flicked his toothpick and cracked the joints in his fingers before suddenly rapidly typing away at the terminal's keyboard, tuning everything out and ignoring Terra, who watched silently. Terra flinched again, left eye twitching as another painful throb of his headache pounded against his temples. Terra pressed the back of his hand against his forehead, hoping to ease the pain down, but it did nothing. He found himself wishing he remembered how to do a simple Cure spell, he noted as he lowered his hand, those had always been the best for treating-

Terra's eyes widened.

Then blinked, refocusing.

He blinked again, this time in disbelief, a feeling he had experienced too many times since arriving here.

Not a moment ago the floor under the strange device attached to the wall was clear.

Now two bodies were lying crumpled, faces down, under it.

Terra's breathing quickened slightly, not panting, but close too it, on the verge of panic.

He glanced at Cid out of the corner of his eye, but the older pilot was too engrossed in his rapid typing to pay any attention to Terra. The young warrior slowly forced his gaze back onto the floor, praying the bodies wouldn't be there anymore and it was just another trick of his eyes born from the terrible thoughts and pains that tormented him constantly. They were still there.

Both bodies were covered in white labs coats, the taller one having long blonde hair resting on their back. Terra couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman but he didn't care, his eyes draw to the smaller body which had gray hair. Dear gods, he thought as his eyes widened in horror.

It was a child.

Xehanort…had he…would he go so far as to-

"Ok!" Cid declared loudly with one final click of keys on the board, snapping Terra out of his daze. Terra blinked, quickly glancing at Cid as the pilot began to turn and face Terra. Terra snuck a glance back towards the floor.

The bodies were gone.

But of course , a part of his mind sneered.

They had never been there to begin with.

Breathing deeply, he glanced at Cid out f the corner of his eyes as the older man went on speaking. "Everything's booted up," He declared, grinning and flicking his toothpick before jerking his thumb over his shoulder towards the monitor and glancing back at it. "Should be just another few seconds-"

A loud chime reverberated through the room.

"Greetings Users!" A voice echoed from speakers on the monitor.

Terra blinked, looking around wildly for the source of the voice while Cid's grin widened and he chuckled once.

"Sup, Tron," He replied.

Terra blinked, looking back at Cid and muttering in confusion, "Tron?"

The monitor had brightened considerably and a second chime echoed through the room.

"Ah, hello Cid! This is a pleasant surprise! You usually contact me from your own terminal. You do not normally visit this terminal to access me." Greeted Tron cheerfully. Cid just chuckled once, flicking his pick again.

The monitor dimmed as Terra stepped forward, looking as confused as ever.

Cid chuckled again before looking at Terra, speaking again to explain. "Tron's a security program copied over by Ansem the Wise from a corporation called 'ENCOM'. A corporation from another world." Terra blinked, looking at Cid in disbelief.

Cid nodded and went on. "Ansem the Wise used the copied system to maintain his files and for town maintenance and private research. He copied Tron over to protect those systems inside the computer."

Terra could blink at Cid, completely flabbergasted. He took a step towards the terminal, hand extended as if to touch the keyboard. "There's…someone inside that computer? There's a word inside that computer?" Asked Terra, completely awed.

Cid scratched the back of his head, frowning, eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Well…it's a bit more complicated and technical than that, but essentially, yes." Cid affirmed, lowering his hand, steely eyes still on Terra.

Terra touched the keyboard after a moment's hesitation, whispering, "That's…That-"

The screen brightened on the monitor and a chuckle was produced from the speakers, causing Terra to flinch back in surprise.

"That tickles!" Exclaimed Tron.

Terra was too stunned to speak, while Cid just chuckled, walking towards the younger man and patting him on the shoulder. "Sorry, Terra, forgot to tell ya Tron's a little…sensitive," Explained the pilot, grinning from ear to ear. He didn't sound that apologetic, Terra noted with a scowl, he sounded more like he was trying not to burst out laughing.

The screen brightened again, a softer chime echoing. "'Terra?'" Asked Tron.

Said warrior blinked, looking at the computer, still unnerved by the fact there was a world and someone inside it.

"Terra, as in, one of the new Users?" Tron elaborated.

Cid nodded, flicking his toothpick. "Yep, this is him," He confirmed, patting Terra's shoulder again, making the younger man flinch and give Cid a sidelong glance.

"Fascinating," Tron breathed, the screen dimming before brightening again. "Another User like Sora!"

Terra blinked again at the name. "Sora?" He echoed.

Cid stepped away from Terra while saying, "Yeah, he's this kid who helped us all out in the past. Saved the universe a few times and all that good stuff. Nice kid, little dim."

As cid approached the terminal, Terra bowed his head slightly, eyes narrowed in thought.

"Sora…" He whispered again.

And then another sharp stab of agony tore through his head.


Dust.

Gales riding gales of hurricane winds filled with dust.

It filled his joints, ate at his armor, covered him in rust.

Movement.

Through the dust, through the gales…

Three of them.

They stopped in front of him.

The storm was beginning to die down but he could not make them out quite yet.

"Aqua…Ven…" He breathed, his voice, nonexistent and metallic echoed.

They watched him, but he still could not see them.

"Keyblade…"

His helm moved ever so slightly, trying to adjust his view. Something about the middle figure…

"Who are you?...I can feel it….we have met before….But when…" And then he finally saw them.

"No…it isn't you…"

This boy…tall, yet lanky, dressed oddly in all black, with spiked light brown locks, and familiar sky blue eyes.

Familiar…

But it was not…

Images of a young boy with silver locks and lighter blue eyes flashed in what was left of his mind.

"It isn't you that I have chosen…Why isn't it him?"

And then…

A sneering old face and a pair of amber eyes, like the centers of two burning flames flashed in his mind's eye.

"Xe…ha…nort…"

At the mention of the name, the three strangers suddenly took defensive stances, weapons in their hands.

"Is that you?" He wondered.

The Keyblade was in the boy's hands…Another unwilling vessel?

Rage.

Rage awakened inside him, the only emotion he had left.

"Xeha…nort…"

He began to rise, joints of his armor-his only body-cracking with displaced rust and dust. He had not moved from this position of penance for so long…But he would not let this man escape again.

"Xehanort!" He howled, right hand grasping the hilt of his mighty Keyblade, the ends of the Earth and unsheathing it form the ground.

He slowly raised it and lowered it to his side, the wind causing his cape to ripple in the wind.

His nonexistent eyes locked on Xehnaort and his allies.

This time…

This time he would not escape.


It was him again.

That boy in black.

He was surprised slightly when the boy and the source of Xehanort's scent arrived into the clearing on this island. Xehanort was surrounded by a miasma of darkness, obscuring his form, no doubt gathering his power to prepare for the imminent battle. Oddly enough…

His Keyblade had changed form.

He couldn't study Xehanort's form when the boy in black approached him.

'Boy in black' was no longer appropriate. He was wearing some kind of uniform…

The boy began to speak.

"Hey," He greeted cheerfully, smile bright and wide.

"Remember me? The guy you nearly killed?"


Someone was shaking him.

Terra snapped out his daze of memories lost, blinking several times and inhaling sharply. Cid peered at him, scowling, toothpick upturned. "Hey, you alright there? You kinda…dazed off on me."

Terra blinked slowly, breathing deeply. Then he nodded, saying lowly, "Yeah, I'm fine. It's nothing."

The computer screen dimmed and brightened again before Tron said hesitantly, "Ahh, I respectfully disagree, Terra."

Both Terra and cid turned to look at the monitor, Cid's brow raised slightly, an interested gleam in his steely eyes. Terra's eyes barely hid his sudden panic. "What, uh, do you mean?" He asked, mentally cursing at the slight panicked edge his voice had taken.

Tron went on.

"Well, your heart rate and blood-pressure are unusually high for a young man of your age. And not because of whatever panic episode you just suffered from. These high levels indicate almost chronic stress for a period of several days. Have you experienced any unusual symptoms in the last week, Terra? Blackouts, for instance?"

Terra froze.

Tron went on. "Losing consciousness or 'graying out'? Have you suddenly found yourself dizzy or disoriented? Clumsy or confused? Have you experienced anything like these symptoms?" Cid was looking at Terra while Tron went silent, both waiting for an answer.

This computer had it down to a 'T'.

Terra swallowed slowly, before responding carefully.

"No, nothing like that. I've just…had a rough week is all." Yet another half-truth wrapped in a lie. Tron was silent, the monitor dimming a little while Cid only continued to glance back at Terra curiously. Finally, the monitor brightened again. "…Well, alright then." Was all Tron said.

He sounded as about as convinced as Cid looked and Terra felt. But thankfully, the ex-pilot looked away from Terra, flicking his pick again but remaining silent as he once more approached the terminal. "Well, as fun as listening to you play doctor Tron, it's not why we're here."

"Oh?" Responded Tron. "Well, what is it that you need Cid?"

Cid crossed his arms before he replied, "You remember when I asked you to try and recover all those corrupted files? We were hoping on of 'em has somethin' on a guy named 'Braig'. That is, if you've managed to repair any of 'em."

The screen brightened again as Tron replied, "Ah! You're in luck, Cid! I have successfully recovered 54% of Ansem the Wise's research files!"

Cid scoffed a single chuckle. "Well ain't that convenient. Start a scan on all those files, keyword: Braig."

The screen darkened and Tron replied simply: "One moment please."

The screen dimmed further and there was silence.

Terra finally took a few steps towards the terminal as well, glancing at the screen for a moment, watching random ones and zeros flash across it. Then he glanced at Cid and asked, "You really think this will work?" He didn't want to confront the possibility that this whole trip had been a waste, but Terra had to admit he had never had any real luck…

Cid simply shrugged rather casually.

"It's a good as try as any other. 'Sides, I've got faith in Tron. He hasn't let me down yet."

At that moment, the screen flashed, lighting up as Tron's voice spoke up once again.

"Three recovered files found with keyword: Braig in their listings."

Cid smiled, then looked back at Terra saying, "And sometime's havin' faith can reward ya."

Cid looked back at the screen while Tera contemplated his words silently.

"Alright Tron, what are the files?" Cid asked the program.

Silence for a split-second before Tron responded promptly.

"One is a security report written on X/X/X…sorry, the file is still partially corrupted…detailing an injury this Braig person received while on duty. Specifically, his face. His right eye was blinded and his left cheek scarred." Cid glanced back at Terra, who remained silent, though his expression had become fierce. He nodded at Cid, who looked back at the terminal.

"Go one. What are the other two?"

Another pause, then the screen brightened once again as Tron responded.

"The second file seems to be some sort of study report written by Ansem the Wise. The file is still partially corrupted but there is something recovered worth noting, Cid."

Cid cocked a brow, toothpick rising a little. "Well, don't leave us in suspense Tron."

The screen darkened then brightened again. "My apologies. This report notes a unique ability this Braig character seemed to have possessed. Spatial manipulation."

At that, Cid just scratched his head. "Uhhh…wanna, clarify that?"

"Teleport"

Cid blinked, turning around to look back at Terra, who had spoken up.

"He could teleport," Terra explained.

The screen brightened, a chime ringing as if to affirm Terra's words, causing Cid to look back at the terminal.

"That's not all," Tron said. "This Braig could also quote "Open temporal rifts within the dimensional space around himself", end quote."

Neither Cid or Terra knew what to say to that. All cid could respond with was a simple, "Uhhh…" And Terra barely understood what Tron had said at all.

Tron spoke again. "In layman terms, this Braig had the power to open small portals around himself. He could throw something through one of these portals and it would emerge from a second portal not far away. A fascinating ability."

"And a dangerous one…" muttered Terra to himself. Braig had been right when he had said he hadn't shown 'half of what he could really do'. He had never seen him do anything like Tron was saying he could do. Had the sniper always held back on purpose, just to toy with Terra and make him think he had claimed an easy victory?

He couldn't afford to underestimate Braig again. It wasn't just Terra's own life that was in danger but everyone else on this world…

And Aqua…

Cid suddenly snapped his fingers and exclaimed, "That explains it!"

Terra blinked, once more awoken from his own thoughts to look at Cid in confusion before asking, "What? Explains what?"

Cid looked back at Terra before he started to explain. "When Claymore came back online, it rescanned the entire village and castle. The weird thing at the time, was that there were multiple readings of something' that was constantly jumpin' around all over the place. Claymore would pick it up in one spot and than it would appear in another. I had no idea what it was at the time, but if you and Tron say this Braig fella can teleport, then it was probably him jumpin' from one spot to the next."

Terra still wasn't sure what this 'claymore' Cid and the other committee members had been talking about was, but whatever it was, it seemed to be able to watch over a large portion of this world. So…could it possibly…

"Cid," Terra said, causing the older man to grunt in acknowledgement.

Terra went on. "Could Claymore…could it track Braig?" It was a big leap, but maybe…

Cid scratched his stubbly chin, eyes narrowed in thought. Then he slowly nodded. "Yeah…I mean, it couldn't lock onto him, but I've got the energy signature of his warps and that could help us pinpoint him wherever he's hidin' out in Radiant Garden. Heck, let's take it a step further and program Claymore to attack him just like any other Heartless."

Cid was grinning at that. Terra returned the smile…though his was less friendly. "That would be nice…" He whispered darkly to himself.

Cid cocked a brow, and was about to say something when Tron spoke up again.

"Um, Cid? Would you like to se the last recovered file?" Cid blinked, quickly turning to look back at the terminal. "Oh, yeah. Sure Tron."

The screen flashed and something appeared on it.

"It's a picture, not another file." Tron explained.

Cid stared down on the file, muttering a "huh," before looking over his shoulder and making a quick jerk like nod. "Hey, Terra. C'mere and look at this."

Terra did as beckoned, walking up to Cid and looking at the screen. Indeed it was a picture of Braig, exactly as he had looked ten years ago, once more dressed in his buttoned up purple guardsmen uniform. His face was as usual set in a cocky sneer.

Terra had to resist the overpowering urge to put his fist through the screen.

"That's him," He affirmed quietly, the anger barely hidden in his voice.

Cid nodded, once again crossing his arms. "Little out of date, but it'll do. I'll print a copy off and give it to Leon and Yuffie. They'll keep an eye out for him." Cid looked back at Terra, grinning. "Not a bad haul, wouldn't ya say?"

Terra nodded, smiling and breathing a sigh of relief. It wasn't much, but now he might be able to find Braig faster now with this new information. Cid looked back at the screen and said to Tron, "Tron, create copies of those three files and send them to my terminal back at Merlin's cottage, would ya?"

The screen blinked as Tron replied, "Of course. Anything else?"

Terra didn't think there was anything else, and he was rather eager to get of this place. His headache was starting to come back and he wanted to start looking for Braig as soon as possible. So you could imagine his surprise when cid suddenly said, "Yeah, there is one more thing Tron. I need you to pull up that file you found a file back labeled AN1."

The screen dimmed before Tron replied, "Ah. I see."

Terra blinked, very confused. And suddenly nervous. "What…what is it?" The earth warrior asked. Cid didn't look back at him, his face impassive and impossible to read as he replied slowly, "Terra…you ever meet a young name named Xehanort while you were here?"

Terra's heart stopped and his blood ran ice cold.

Silence passed for several seconds, and cid slowly glanced back at Terra out of the corner of his eye.

Terra swallowed silently, willing himself to respond in an even and clam tone. "No…I never met a man with that name." Now that was just a flat out lie.

Cid didn't look fooled at all. "Huh. Well, let show you this picture of him anyway. Might jog your memory. You'd be surprised who you meet throughout your life. A picture sometimes remind you of people you've met before, even if you never knew their name."

There was another chime, this one lower than the last one…

And the image of Braig was replaced with a new picture, a younger man in a lab coat, a purple ascot around his neck. His long hair was a silverish white, two long bangs framing his young and handsome face, spiked locks framing through the rest of his hair. Though the eyes of the young man were brown and the skin much darker than Terra's own…

Anyone who looked at this picture and Terra could easily see they were identical.

Terra didn't know what to do. His jaw was grinding down painfully, fury bubbling in his veins as he realized had been tricked. He glared at Cid, who didn't look at Terra, his steely eyes on the picture.

"Well…gotta say, you two have quite the resemblance."

Terra couldn't respond, wouldn't let himself.

The light from the lamps above seemed to suddenly play tricks with Terra's bloodshot eyes.

They had taken an unnatural…

Orange color.

Cid still had his back to Terra as the warrior began to slowly walk towards him, his grip on his sword so tight it was shaking.


Breakfast had been rather uneventful. Well, at least to Aqua. "Aww, you look cute in that dress!" Aerith said when she saw Aqua step downstairs in the dress Aerith had laid out for her on her bed. A simple article of clothing, a blue and white dress with a red camisole underneath. The only item of clothing Aqua was wearing from her own wardrobe was her metal shoes.

Though, even Aqua had to admit they went well with the dress.

Stitch, who was currently in the rafters, having been playing with Sparky peered down on Aqua, ears rising as his eyes widened. "Ooooh," he murmured at the sight of Aqua before exclaiming "Ichi bay!" Aqua blinked at the exclamation, looking up at Stitch in confusion. Due to his toothy grin, she could only guess that was some kind of approval in his native tongue. Sparky spiraled around a rafter before pausing to look at Aqua as well.

Aqua fidgeted under all this scrutiny, unconsciously rubbing the soft material of the dress between her forefinger and thumb. She had never liked wearing dresses, they had always felt too…loose. But she had to admit her only other cloths were too dirty and torn up to keep wearing.

Now that she thought about it, they technically hadn't been washed for at least ten years…

Aerith patted a chair, a plate filled with fresh eggs and pancakes waiting in front of it. "Sit! Eat up! Quickly too, please, I'd like to get to the shop early if you don't mind, it tends to get busier in the afternoon."

Aqua nodded slowly, still rather numb, and sat down, picking up her fork and idly poking her food. She really wasn't that hungry, but Aerith had gone out of her way as usual, so it was only polite. One of the major things Master Eraqus had always imposed on Aqua and Terra had been manners…

Thinking of that only made her mood blacker.

It was then Aqua noticed that she and Aerith were the only ones in the main floor of the cottage. Cid was not typing away at his terminal and Merlin was not going through his piles of books heaped in the corner. It was strange, not hearing them argue like always. How funny that she had grown used to it so fast…

Aqua blinked, her thoughts interrupted when she realized Aerith was saying something. "Oh, I'm sorry, what did you say, Aerith?" She asked, tone soft.

The flower girl was scowling playfully down on her.

"I said you need to start eating! Do you always drift off like that in the morning? Trying to fall back asleep, mm?" She asked teasingly with a wink of her emerald eyes.

Aqua felt her cheeks flushed, embarrassed, and she continued to stir her food while Aerith went over to the sink to wash some dishes. Clearing her throat, Aqua looked back at Aerith and asked quietly, "Um, where is everyone?"

"Merlin went to eat his breakfast up to his study," replied Aerith cheerfully, looking back at Aqua with another wink. "Although I think he just wanted to play with that toy train he brought back from his trip."

Aqua smiled a little at that, still just poking at her own food, waiting for Aerith to continue.

"Leon's out on patrol with Yuffie, they'll probably be back soon though," Aerith went one, before pausing for a few seconds. Finally, she said, "And Cid went off to the castle…with Terra."

Aerith hesitated, looking back at Aqua. But the water maiden was still just poking at her food, her face unreadable. "I see," she said, meeting Aerith's gaze evenly, sapphire orbs blank. "Did they say why they were going there?"

Aerith hesitated once again, and was quiet for a moment before saying, "Well, I only just caught them as they were leaving…but I think I overhead cid saying something about going to Ansem the Wises old computer to look for something."

That had Aqua frowning, confused. She knew Terra had no idea how to work a computer (Because she had no idea how to work one either), and she wondered why he would accompany Cid to the one in the castle. Then the obvious struck her.

Braig.

This had something to do with the sniper's return.

Just thinking of that one-eyed monster was enough to curb any pretense of eating breakfast. Pushing her plate aside, Aqua said to the flower girl, "Aerith, I'm not very hungry. Could we just go now, please?"

Aerith blinked in surprise but recovered quickly, smiling warmly. "Absolutely! Early bird gets the worm after all, right?" she asked with another bright smile. Aqua returned the smile, though it was a bit forced and lacked the natural warmth Aerith seemed to exude effortlessly. The flower girl walked over to the table, eyeing Aqua's plate and tapping her chin in thought.

"Hmmm," she hummed. "It would be a shame to just throw this out…Oh, I know!" She looked up towards the rafters and called, "Stitch!"

Almost instantly the blue ball of alien fur tumbled down from the rafters above, ears raised, eyes wide, toothy grin still present as he happily ran circles around Aerith's legs, yipping, "Yea! Yea! Yea!" The flower girl giggled at Stitch's hyperactive antics and reached down to playfully scratch him behind his ear.

"Would you like some left over breakfast? It's still hot!" Assured Aerith, smiling brightly. Stitch's eyes bugged out of his head and he exclaimed excitedly before leaping onto the table to sloppily (And noisily) devour Aqua's untouched food. The water maiden turned away, remembering how nauseating it was to watch Stitch eat the first time.

Just listening to him eat was still enough to make her turn a little green…

Aerith giggled again as Stitch rapidly devoured and finished the food in exactly two-seconds. "Aww, good boy! And you didn't eat the plate this time!" She said while taking said plate towards the sink. As she did she said to Aqua, "Just a sec while I grab my basket and wallet Aqua, and then we'll go, ok?"

The water maiden nodded and murmured an "Ok," while she waited. She blinked suddenly, feeling a soft tugging near her legs. Looking down, Aqua saw it was Stitch, who was smiling up at her. Despite herself, Aqua couldn't help but return the smile and petted the top of Stitch's furry head. He gave a contented purr, eagerly rubbing against her palm.

Just then a faint crackle and pop could be heard and in a flurry of sparks, Sparky appeared, circling around Aqua, cackling. Aqua watched Sparky circle just above her, his electric blue eyes locked on her and Stitch, and the yellow alien was also grinning toothily. Aerith was walking back over, basket in arm when she saw the two alien cousins by Aqua, she smiled again, saying, "Ohh, do you want to come with us, Stitch? Sparky?"

At that both aliens were scrambling around Aerith and Aqua, excitedly yapping away in their native tongue (Or just buzzing in Sparky's case). Aerith looked at Aqua sheepishly asking, "Do you mind? We really can't leave them here or they might break something."

Aqua smiled back and nodded in assurance. "It's fine," she said. "I was kinda expecting them to tag along anyway."

Aerith beamed. "Well, that's good! Alright, let's get going!"

With that, they left the cottage and headed for the market district, Aerith and Aqua walking side-by-side while Stitch and Sparky randomly darted ahead of them or lingered behind. The morning was silent and still, peaceful, the sun shining down from the strange purple tinged sky above. The falls were on, and their rumble was pleasant to listen and faintly feel.

Aerith glanced at Aqua and said, "You like this place. It's called 'Troian Fabrics', and they have all kinds of cute clothes."

Aqua had never been into 'cute', always practical. But she said nothing and only nodded in return, her thoughts elsewhere. Gold eyes and heated lips…

Aerith glanced at Aqua again, her smile flattering a little when she saw how distracted and quiet Aqua was.

"You're awfully quiet this morning," she finally said, causing Aqua to flinch, Aerith's words snapping her out of yet another daze.

"Is something the matter?" The flower girl asked, her bright eyes now lit with concern instead of their usual mirth, her smile turned to a frown. Of course it was obvious that something had been bothering the bluenette all morning, but it never hurt to ask.

Aqua just gave Aerith another one of those forced smiles. "It's nothing Aerith. I just can't seem to get out of my head this morning."

Aerith stared at Aqua, still frowning, eyes still filled with concern. Then she smiled back. Though it was not one of her cheerful and bright ones, but rather a forced smile akin to Aqua's own. Just more obvious.

"Well, alright. Sorry for asking, I know I've probably been chatting your ear off all morning."

Aqua shook her head. "No, you're fine. You haven't bothered me in the slightest."

Aerith genuinely smiled at that. "Well that's good! Because before this day is over I'll have turned that frown upside down!"

To that Aqua had to laugh a little, brushing a stray lock of her hair aside, and finally smiling for real. Aerith winked again, laughing as well. "See? Told ya! Now if I can just keep you smiling for the rest of the day…"

That had both women laughing as the finally rounded the corner to the stairs that led up to the shopping district, followed closely by the two alien cousins.

Maybe this shopping trip wouldn't be so bad after all, Aqua thought, still smiling a little.


Terra was only a few steps behind Cid, his grip on the sword Cloud had given him tighter than ever. His eyes still burned that strange orange color, and the light seemed to be playing tricks on the lighter parts of his hair, turning from brown to a fine blonde, almost white-

"Delete that, Tron."

That snapped Terra out of his daze of fury. He blinked several times, his eyes returning to their natural (but still badly bloodshot) color of cobalt, and the warrior took several steps back, his face filled with confusion and then shock when he saw and felt his tight grip on his sword. Cid was beginning to turn to look at Terra as Tron replied, "Acknowledged. File AN1 deleted from archives." Cid nodded, finally facing Terra. His brow furrowed when he saw Terra's panicked expression and the fresh sheen of sweat on his forehead.

"You alright kid?" the older man asked.

It was Tron who replied. "His heart rate has increased as well as his blood-pressure, suggesting panic."

Cid groaned lowly, bowing and shaking his head, hands on his hips. "Ahh, jeez, kid, calm down. Please tell me you aren't thinkin' I brought you up here just to show you that pic' and then have Leon come 'round the corner demanding answers." Terra narrowed his own eyes, fingers flexing around the hilt of his sword before tightening.

"I don't know…did you?" Queried Terra, who know eyed the corner of the entrance to that lab terminal in new suspicion. To that, cid scoffed again, shaking his head and rolling his eyes.

"Jeez, kid, you ever heard of somethin' called 'sarcasm'?"

Terra only continued to glare suspiciously at Cid, eyes darting towards the corner every few seconds or so. Huffing a sigh, Cid rubbed the back of his head before saying, "Look, I showed you that picture to prove a point."

To that, Terra only continued to glare silently at Cid.

So the former pilot went on.

"I don't know what your deal with Xehanort is, or why you two look so much alike. Heck, for all I know, it's a coincidence. Ever hear that sayin' 'bout everyone havin' a look a like out there?"

Still no response, though Terra's glare had lost some of its intensity.

Continuing, Cid said, "I'm just sayin' I don't care whatever it is because it's none of my business, ok? But I figured it pretty fast."

To that Terra quickly asked, "How did you figure it out?"

Cid scoffed, giving Terra look. "For real, kid? The way you was scowlin' at that burnt painting? Add to the fact I met Xehanort around the time I met Braig." Terra tensed but Cid only went on to say, "Nice kid, little too intense though. No real personality…"

He looked back at Terra, really looking at him now, steel bleu eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

"I got a good memory kid. I didn't need that pic to see a resemblance between you two."

With that, he went silent, waiting, watching Terra, who continued to glare back mistrustfully. Finally, the younger warrior sighed, his shoulders slumping, grip on his sword loosening and he ran a hand over his face. When he lowered it, Terra asked, "Well what do you want? An explanation?"

Cid scoffed yet again, shaking his head. "Kid, you've got a bad listenin' problem. I don't care. Other's peoples business ain't mine, and I don't make any great efforts to learn their business if I can help. The only reason I'm tellin' you all this is because I'm lettin' you know if I figured it…"

He paused to give Terra serious and intense look for a few seconds before finally finishing.

"Then Leon and the others are bound to eventually put two and two together."

If Tron had thought Terra had been having panic attacks earlier, he really was having one now.

Cid went on. "Leon doesn't trust you, even though you've only helped us. The longer you're here, the sooner he might suddenly get a wild idea like, oh I dunno, 'this guy looks like the guy who destroyed our world'. And if you thought he was houndin' ya now, hoo boy, you ain't seen nothin' yet."

Terra ran a hand through his shortened dark locks, inhaling slowly then exhaling sharply. He looked at Cid with confused mistrust. "Why are you telling me this?"

Cid shrugged casually. "Because I think you need to come clean, sooner rather than later. Like I said, I don't care, and for all I know, Xehanort was your long lost identical twin. Make's no difference to me." Cid removed his toothpick and jabbed it towards Terra in a surprisingly friendly gesture.

"I told you already Terra: I like you kid. You've gone out of your way to help us with catchin' Sparky and clearin' out the Heartless in this castle. You deserve some trust." The pilot tossed the used pick aside uncaringly. Cid looked back at Terra, expression serious for once instead of annoyed. "But while you got MY trust…getting' everyone else's is gonna be a little harder. Specially if you and Leon constantly go for each others throats."

Terra glared at Cid. "So you're saying I should confess to Leon and the others, who were just starting to ease up on their mistrust for me, that I look exactly like the man that destroyed this world and others. Yeah. That just screams 'Trust me'."

Terra expected Cid to get angry back in the face of his own rage, to scream some of his famous offensive obscenities.

But instead, the pilot just shrugged Terra's words off and looked back at the terminal, saying, "Tron, transfer yourself over to my computer in the cottage. I'm gonna need your help to reconfigure Claymore to track and attack Braig."

The screen brightened as Tron replied, "At once Cid! See you back at the cottage. Um, Terra…" The program trialed off before finishing lamely, "It was…interesting to meet another user like Sora." And then the screen flashed before powering down.

Cid looked back at Terra, eyeing him critically. "Look, Terra. It's better if the truth comes out before it turns and bites you. And believe me, it bites hard. You get me?"

To that Terra could only nod. He understood all too well…

Cid started to walk out of the lab but paused when he saw Terra wasn't following. "Yo comin'?" He asked. The younger man shook his head, walking closer to the terminal.

"No, I…I need a minute. Go on without me."

Cid shrugged again, expression uninterested as he turned and started to leave. "Alright. Don't be long. See you back at the cottage."

And with a quick turn around the corner and the sound of boots n the metal walkway, he was gone.

Terra stood alone in the lab, dark eyes staring at the dimmed monitor but not seeing it, as he was lost in thought.

Cid knew.

Well, he didn't know everything, but he knew there was a connection between Terra and Xehanort.

And it was like he said…

How much longer before someone else put it together?

But worse still…

How long until they realized just how dark his heart was?

Aqua knew now…

And an even better question:

How much longer could he keep his dark impulses at bay?

He looked at the sword in his hand.

Without even knowing it he had been prepared to…He had almost…

Terra gasped suddenly, his heart throbbing.

Pain tore through his head, but strangely enough, there was a sudden exhaustion filling him, his eyes becoming incredibly heavy…

He stumbled back, away from the terminal, and though he didn't feel it, his fingers went numb and he vaguely heard the sound of metal clattering against metal.

The room was spinning, everything beginning to blur into a hazy gray…

His body went limp and his heavy form crumpled onto the cold floor under him.

Darkness stole his vision, his consciousness…

And showed him dreams of a life he had not lived.


For once, Aqua was surprised.

Shopping had actually been much more fun than she had been expecting.

The shop itself was pretty standard for a cloths shop, with racks of various clothing articles displayed out, ranging from 'shirts to skirts' as Aerith cheerily put it. Not ten seconds into the store did it take for Stitch and Sparky to dart off, both aliens diving into random piles of clothing. Both Aerith and Aqua were bewildered by this until the clothing pile was tossed aside to reveal Stitch…

Dressed in a blonde wig, sunglasses, a grass skirt a pink flower necklace around his neck. "Maka maka!" Exclaimed Stitch excitedly as he struck a pose in his new clothes.

Aerith was cracking up at the sight, almost doubled over in laughter. Despite herself, Aqua had her hand over her mouth to stifle her own laughs at the ridiculous sight Stitch had made of himself. Stitch cocked his head in confusion, tipping his sunglasses down before turning towards Sparky, who had floated down closer to his blue cousin. Stitch babbled something to Sparky but the yellow alien could only shake his head, antennas crackling, and shrug, just as confused as Stitch was.

Still giggling, Aerith looked back at Aqua and said, "Well, if Stitch can find something to wear we can definitely find something for you Aqua." Aqua was still chuckling and when she turned to reply, she blinked, flabbergasted to see that Aerith had already darted off and was currently going through several racks of clothes one after another, looking at one item and considering it for a split-second before tossing it aside the next and moving on. Aqua watched silently, once more nervously rubbing the soft cloth of the dress she wore, more uncomfortable than ever.

Put her in a library with ancient tomes filled with magical spells and lost histories and epics, or even a battlefield filled with unspeakable horrors and she would be in her natural element. Put her in a dress in the middle of a clothes shop…

Aqua felt like a fish out of her namesake.

Stitch ambled over next to her, Sparky floating above him, tail of lightning crackling faintly as all three watched Aerith dart from one clothes rack to the next, tossing aside more clothes than she was getting. Stitch looked up at the taller woman and asked, "Ig?" Sparky likewise gave a curious buzzing growl. Aqua tipped her head, unsure of how to respond.

But just then Aerith reappeared in front of Aqua, causing the blue-haired female to let out a "yikes!" and flinch in shock while Stitch and Sparky yelped simultaneously, also stunned by the flower girl's sudden speed.

"These are nice!" Said Aerith, presenting a small pile of clothes to Aqua before pointing to a small booth covered by a drape and going on to say, "There's a changing room right there. Try them on!"

Aqua accepted the clothes, looking very unsure and uncomfortable but didn't voice her discomfort, just saying, "Ok," and headed towards the booth, slipping inside quickly. At least she could finally change out of the dress, she thought, laying the clothes on a small bench, ignoring the mirror pinned to the wall. Aqua held up the top that was on top of the pile.

She blanched.

It was really, really, short…

Maybe the dress wasn't so bad after all…

Several minutes passed as Aqua dressed and Aerith busied herself y going through more racks of clothes, pausing to examine a particular item every now and again. Stitch and Sparky followed after her quietly, with stitch casting nervous glances towards the booth Aqua was in every few seconds, nervously growling lowly and wringing his claws. Aerith smiled at the nervous alien, saying, "It's alright, Stitch. She's just changing. She should be out in just another minute or two-Oop! Make that sooner!" Aerith said when she saw the drape on Aqua's dressing booth pull back.

Upon seeing Aqua step out of the booth in the clothes she had picked out, Aerith stared blankly for a moment, Stitch and Sparky's gaze just as numb.

Then the flower girl let out an even louder squeal than she had this morning, with Stitch and Sparky's big eyes bugging out of their heads, Stitch's ears rising straight up while Sparky's antennas crackled fiercely. "YOU LOOK SO CUTE!" Aerith squealed, rushing over towards Aqua, Stitch and Sparky following behind slowly.

Aqua looked down at herself, face flushing furiously. She didn't feel cute. She felt…

Exposed.

She was wearing a black and white top…a very small one at that, leaving her midriff completely exposed. She also wore a black and white striped skirt…that just barely covered the tops of her thighs. She didn't have her stockings, leaving her long legs completely uncovered. She liked the light blue gloves to replace her tan ones she used to wear, and the black boots were comfortable than her metal ones, and her Wayfinder was displayed around her neck, and while it complimented the outfit…

Aqua had to admit she was really missing the dress at this point.

Barely able to contain her excitement, Aerith looked back towards one of the shop owners and said, "Well take these!" That had Aqua doing a double-take.

"Wait what?" She exclaimed a little more loudly than she should have. That made Aerith stop and look back at Aqua, eyes watery, lips quivering. "W-what? You…you don't like them, do you?" She asked, before sighing and lowering her head sadly.

Aqua mentally cursed at herself. Aerith was one of the few people on this world who had gone out of her way to help her and Terra in this time of need. So what if the clothes were a little…short. Aerith had gotten them for her with munny out of her own pocket. The least Aqua could do in return was be a little grateful.

"What? No that's not it at all, Aerith!" Aqua said quickly, somehow managing to keep the panic out of her voice. The flower girl blinked, looking back at Aqua, eyes still watery. Smiling reassuringly, (And rather convincingly at that) Aqua assured her, "I really like them. I'm was just surprised you wanted to get the so fast."

Aerith smiled back in relief. "Oh well that's good! But don't you want to wear them out? Instead of the dress?" She asked with a knowing gleam in her emerald eyes, the former verge of tears look gone in an instant. To that Aqua flushed again, quickly looking away and trying to say something, but only managing to get out, "Uh, um, well, you see…"

Once again smiling teasingly (But good-naturedly), Aerith replied reassuringly, "Oh you couldn't fool me Aqua. I've never seen anyone look more uncomfortable in a dress than you before. I though you might like those clothes better since their similar to the ones you wore before, wouldn't you say?"

Now that Aqua thought about it, they really were similar to her old clothes. She had to admit she liked the colors and they were short enough (If just a bit too short) and loose enough to not get in her way if she was in another fight. Aerith had done a great job picking them out.

Smiling for real this time, Aqua said, "Yeah, they are actually. Thank you so much, Aerith."

Winking again and smiling brightly, Aerith said, "Oh think nothing of it! What are friends for, right?" And with that the flower girl walked over to the store owner to pay for Aqua's new clothes.

The water maiden looked down on her new attire, no longer with a critical eye but a more appreciative one.

"Frens."

Blinking, Aqua looked down to see it was Stitch who had spoken, the blue fur ball smiling up at her. He pointed a single claw at Aqua's Wayfinder before stuttering out, "Ah-koo, wah, Air-rath, frens."

Aqua's smile softened and she reached to gently hold her Wayfinder, stroking the silver heart emblem at its center with her thumb and nodded back at Stitch.

This had definitely been a fun little trip…


"Hey! Is this how you wanted it?"

The sudden voice broke him from his reverie.

He tore his gaze from the higher monitors, his eyes drawn to the familiar form of Braig glaring at him form the terminal keyboard…

And then to the two bodies of that upstart Even and the useless child of Ienzo lying crumpled on the floor…

Strange wisps of both light and darkness rising from their forms…

"Xehanort!"

He looked back towards Braig, sauntering his way towards him, gesturing toward the bodies. "You wanna fill me in?" He demanded, single amber eye narrowed in aggravation.

Oh, how he tired of hearing that name…

Especially from him…

Raising his own hand out, purple lightning, darkness and only the smallest flash of light erupted in his open palm to herald the appearance of a mighty ebon and silver double edged blade in his hand.

The engraved demonic face within the hilt guard's blue eyes stared back into his dark brown orbs.

Such a strange weapon…

This…

Keyblade…

As that traveler had called it.

"I am…" he breathed, surprised by how distant his voice sounded…

So little emotion in it.

Braig gasped and flinched back, arms in front of himself in defense.

"Hey!" He exclaimed, single eye wide with shock at the sight of the Keyblade.

No doubt he himself had a similar look when the weapon suddenly appeared in his hand when his discovery, one of the creatures formed by the darkness of hearts…

Had led him to that door.

Braig took another step back, expression suddenly fearful.

"Do you remember now, or…" He trailed off before gasping, looking back at him in shock, eye wide with a sudden realization.

"Wait, did you never lose your memory?"

Too little too late.

His body seemed to move on its own as he lunged, dropping into a crouch before thrusting the double-edged axe-like tip of his Keyblade-

Directly into Braig's chest.

Right where his heart was.

He flinched once, and only once, his look one of pain, disbelief, outrage…

And fear.

Perfectly mixed together.

Light emitted from the wound, blood running down the front of his uniform.

"That's not my name." He told him, as Braig only continued to look in horror at the weapon impaled in his chest, his single amber eye meeting the single demonic blue eye at the blade's tip.

"I'm not…'Xehanort'." He spat that wretched sound out like poison.

Braig only had the strength to turn his head, feebly glaring and reaching towards him with his outstretched arm…

And then the light vanished as he sighed his last breath, and slumped to the floor, freeing himself from the Keyblade in a soft 'thump' and slight splatter of blood.

He lowered his weapon, rose from his crouch and stepped back several paces, looking down on the fallen Freeshooter's still body dispassionately.

Much like Even and Ienzo's bodies before, seconds after collapsing…

A ring of light flashed from the wound on his chest, and the wound began to glow as an orb of light emerged…

So even Braig had a heart…

His lips began to move once again as he declared:


"My name is…"

Pause.

He blinked, confused, then shut his eyes at the sudden light that assailed them, groaning lowly as it seemed to scorch them.

His head was pounding in a terrible migraine and his ears were filled with a low, droning, humming noise that was not helping his head at all.

Terra blinked slowly, his hand still covering his eyes, soothing darkness blocking out the harsh light.

It was then he realized he was sitting on something.

He blinked again, this time confused.

It was too hard to be a chair made of wood, and it felt more like metal. At first he was terribly confused, but then it all came back to him. Cid's revelation that he knew of his 'connection' to Xehanort, and then…

That sudden fatigue…

For a moment Terra wondered if he was collapsed on the floor but when he discovered his position of sitting down, his left arm resting on the arm of what had to be a rather large metal chair, no a throne, he forced himself to lower his hand from his eyes and open them, blinking away the white haze of light to recover his vision.

The light seemed to dim suddenly, then brighten again, and Terra realized certain sections of the wall were glowing strangely. As more of his vision returned, he saw that the glowing was coming from chains engraved onto the floor and leading to the walls, all coming from throne he currently sat on. More confused than ever, Terra looked around wildly, wondering where in all the worlds he was.

It was large chamber, completely constructed of metal with chains engraved into the walls and floors, leading into large, strange symbols. They looked like reversed hearts with three spikes jutting out from the tops. Breathing deeply, trying to keep himself from panicking, Terra looked wildly around, trying to find something, anything, that looked like a way out-

His eyes landed on something lying crumpled on the floor at the end of the chamber, briefly illuminated by the glowing chains on the floor. And he inhaled sharply but didn't exhale, his eyes locked on the object on the floor, wide with disbelief.

Very slowly, he rose from the throne on shaking knees, but somehow, he managed to keep his footing as he slowly approached what lie before him.

Finally he reached it, and he slowly sank back onto his knees, shaking his head, mouth working wordlessly, head shaking. Slowly, slowly…

He reached to place his gloved hand on the shoulder of the armor.

It was predominately colored blue, gray and black, and distinctly feminine in shape…

He knew whose armor this was.

He had seen her don it a dozen times, had been there the day she first summoned it…

It was Aqua's Keyblade Armor.

But that wasn't all…

Terra forced his cobalt orbs away from the armor and onto the likewise familiar weapon impaled in the floor just inches from it's own gauntlet, almost as if it was reaching for it…

Long and thin, the circular hilt guard likewise a mix of gray and black, while the shaft of the blade itself was a grayish blue, with two diamond shaped holes near the guard. The teeth of the blade was square in shape, but the design sported three small bumps. Like a snowflake.

Dangling from the base of the hilt guard, where it had lain still until a moment ago when Terra moved towards it, was a keychain, designed in the shape of a series of water drops.

The form was different…

But he knew this weapon anywhere.

Aqua had dubbed her personal Keyblade 'Rainfell'.

He didn't know the name of this one…

Slowly, almost carefully, he wrapped his hand around the hilt of the blade and eased it free from floor it had been impaled on. He stared at it in wonder, at a total lost. "Why…" He finally breathed out.

"Why is this here?"

And then the room spun again, causing Terra to gasp, dropping the Keyblade with a clatter. He clutched his head, fighting to stay conscious, to stay as himself…

But darkness did not steal his thoughts and mind again.

Instead, a soft voice whispered in his ear…


"I dived in after you…and I gave you my armor and Keyblade so you could live."


Terra opened his eyes, hand falling away from his pounding temple.

His expression was somber.

Once more, he reached down and grasped Aqua's Keyblade, holding it up once more.

Slowly, his somber expression faded to a faint smile.

She had sacrificed this to save him…Condemning herself to darkness…

It was only fitting he return it to her.

Then she will leave.

He gasped and whirled around, Aqua's Keyblade held at the ready.

But he was alone in the chamber.

Blinking, Terra stood slowly, looking around.

"What…who said that?"

If you return this to her…she will leave.

Terra gasped again at the sound of the voice, looking around wildly, even looking up at the ceiling and expecting to see Braig, standing upside down and sneering, barrel of his arrowgun aimed right between Terra's eyes.

But as he had seen before, there was no one in the chamber with him.

And the voice went on.

By giving her the means…she will depart this world…

Inhaling sharply, growling in annoyance, Terra snapped, "Why would she do that? She's stayed with me ever since we arrived here!"

The earth warrior allowed himself a smirk when the voice did not respond this time.

But then…

She knows now.

Terra's eyes widened.

She knows how close now your heart is to falling back into darkness…

So why would she stay? Return her weapon and armor…

And she will leave this broken world behind.

Such is her duty as Master.

Terra's grip on the Keyblade tightened furiously, the blade itself shaking slightly.

Slowly he stood up, once more looking at the blade and the armor.

Then, he impaled the Keyblade back where it had rested before.

Terra stared at the armor and Keyblade for another moment, contemplating.

She will leave.

With a heavy sigh, he turned away from the items and finally saw the door that led out of the chamber.

Without another look back, he started towards the door.

The armor and Keyblade remained where they lie; the light from the chains began to dim, until finally…

The chamber was engulfed in shadows.

And returned to sleep.


Aqua and Aerith were walking on the upper section of the market district, Aerith smiling brightly while Aqua was nervously fidgeting, looking over her shoulder every now and again for nonexistent eyes she felt like was on her, Stitch and Sparky following after the two women, though occasionally chasing each other off before resuming their pacing behind the water maiden and flower girl. Though she had started to take a liking to the clothes, she still wasn't going to get over this feeling of over-exposure they gave her. Aerith noticed her paranoia and giggled looking at Aqua and saying, "Relax! You look cute ok?"

She didn't mind 'looking cute', she did mind if some lecherous perv was eyeing her legs…

Still smiling, Aerith suddenly exclaimed, "Oh! You still haven't tried any sea-salt ice-cream!" Aqua blinked, her paranoid thoughts interrupted by Aerith's exclamation. "What?" She asked, very confused.

But Aerith was already moving ahead of her, calling back, "Come on! Mr. Scrooge's stand is just around the corner!" At the mention of ice-cream, both Stitch and Sparky were hot on her heels, happily yipping away. Aqua just stood there, watching them get ahead of her.

Again with ice-cream? What was so special about it?

Aerith looked back when she noticed Aqua wasn't by her side anymore. "Come on!" she called. "You've got to try some!"

Sighing, and deciding she'd have to try it sooner or later, Aqua caught up with her at Scrooge's corner. As usual, the old duck was behind the stand, turning just as Aerith and Aqua walked up to him. The duck's eyes lit up upon seeing them.

"Ach! Aerith, my favorit lassie! You've done and blessed me with yer pretty face twice in two days!"

Aerith giggled, hand over her mouth before she dropped it and replied, "Aww, you certainly know how to flatter a girl Mr. Scrooge!"

The old duck smiled, eyes closing, leaning on his cane with both hands. "Charm, my lassie! It's the secret to all my success!"

Still giggling, Aerith held up her hand, four fingers raised. "Four ice-creams please!"

Mr. Scrooge nodded, saying, "Right away, my fair lassie!" and started to move to get the ice-cream but stopped when he caught a glance at Aqua. Instantly, the old duck's shoulder slump and his beak fell in a frown. Sighing, he moved towards Aqua while saying, "Ach…lassie…forgive me for the other day."

Aqua blinked, looking down at Scrooge, very confused by the old duck's depressed disposition, having never seen him like that before. "What? What are you talking about Mr. Scrooge?" she asked, bending down to look at him eye to eye.

He sighed again before meeting Aqua's sapphire gaze and going on, "Yesterday, lassie. When ah asked about the young laddie, Ventus, ye left in such a hurry. It was not my intentions to upset ya."

Despite how sad and remorseful Scrooge sounded, Aqua couldn't help but smile. The poor old duck had been beating himself up for reminding her of Ven? Smiling in understanding and said, "It's alright. You didn't do anything yesterday. I just had a lot on my mind, that's all."

This instantly seemed to put Scrooge at ease, his beak upturning in a smile, shoulders lifting. Eyes closing as he beamed happily, "Ahh, lassie, you've put an old duck's heart t ease!"

That made Aqua laugh a little, and Scrooge chuckled as well before resuming his walk into his freezer while saying, "Now, let me get yer ice-cream then!"

Aqua rose back up, still smiling and looked a Aerith when she noticed the flower girl staring at her, also smiling. "That was nice of you," she said. Aqua nodded, replying, "It wasn't his fault at all, and I feel bad he thought he was the cause."

Aerith's smile slowly fell away, becoming a thoughtful expression.

But before she could say anything else, Scrooge returned with their four ice-creams, two in each hand.

"Here ye are, lassies! Four sea-salt ice-creams! Eat 'em slowly now, mind that dreadful bran-freeze."

He handed one each first to Aerith, then Aqua, and finally Stitch and Sparky. Aerith smiled again, saying, "Thanks so much, Mr. Scrooge!" and reached for her basket where her munny wallet was.

But surprisingly, Scrooge waved her off, making the flower girl blink in surprise.

"Ach, not this time, lassie. Free of charge."

Aerith looked honestly surprised.

"But that's so out of character of you, Mr. Scrooge!"

The old duck winked slyly.

"Aye, exactly." And then he walked off before Aerith could say anything, leaving the flower girl bewildered but smiling again before she looked at Aqua, holding her own ice-cream bar up.

"Cheers."

Stitch and Sparky promptly began devouring theirs, Sparky's antennas crackling to match his zeal over eating his treat. However, seconds later, the yellow alien squealed in displeasure and clutched at his head with his free hand, shaking himself vigorously. Aerith sighed and shook her own head.

"Mr. Scrooge did warn us about brain-freeze, Sparky. You need to eat it slow."

The poor alien was still buzzing lowly, antennas drooping while Stitch just pointed a claw and laughed at his cousin.

Which prompted his yellow cousin to send a spark of thunder at his blue counterpart, making him yelp and jump, fur on end, and his claws to lose their grip on his own ice-cream. Stitch cried out in panic when he saw his bar slip and fall onto the ground, cracking in half. Now it was Sparky who was pointing and laughing.

Stitch growled at his cousin, ears low, eyes narrowed.

Sparky buzzed an "Uh-oh," before screeching as Stitch snarled viciously and leapt to tackle his cousin. Spark disappeared in a shot of lightning though Stitch chased after his cousin in hot pursuit. Aerith just sighed at the two aliens antics.

"Can't take them anywhere, I swear sometimes…"

Aqua was watching the two chase each other as well, districted when-

"Hey!" "There's another one!" "Hmph."

A burst of blue, yellow and red flashed in front of Aqua, making her gasp and flinch back as those three pixies from the other day suddenly floated in front of her face.

Aerith saw them and sighed, shaking her head.

All Aqua could do was stare at the pixies, too caught off guard to even say something when the blonde one exclaimed, "Oooh, this one is prettier than that ugly orange one!"

The brunette with mixed matched eyes nodded and said, "I like the blue too!"

The gray-haired leather clad one, with her arms crossed as usual just said gruffly, "Whatever. Let's just grab it and go."

At first Aqua had no idea what they were talking about. But then the colors blue and orange finally sunk in and she realized they were about to snatch her Wayfinder! She instinctively placed a hand over her precious possession just as the pixies were leaning in.

When the pixies were blocked off from their prize, they each exclaimed, "Hey!" and looked up. When they saw Aqua's familiar face, the blonde huffed and put her hands on her hip, shouting, "Oh, not you again!"

The leather clad one snarled, "Hand that over."

The blonde nodded and exclaimed, "Yeah! We saw it first this time!"

Aqua gave the fairies a disbelieving look. "But it was around my neck."

The leather clad fairy snorted a, "So?"

Aqua furrowed her brow, meeting the fairies scowl with her own. "So it's mine."

The blonde shook her little arms in a frenzy while shrieking, "Nuh-uh! We saw it first! You got to keep that ugly orange one so we want that one!"

Aqua stood her ground while meeting the two annoyed fairies gazes evenly. "You can't have this," she said firmly.

The gray and blonde fairies were leaning closer in, about to-

"Sold!"

That sudden declaration made both the fairies and Aqua blink and turn their heads.

They saw Aerith placing a single yellow munny gem in her basket, smiling in satsifaction, while the brunette fairy held up a single white flower in triumph.

"Ta-da!" She said, holding the flower with both hands.

The blonde waved her arms in frantic no. "Ack! No! Don't spend our munny!"

The gray-haired one groaned, slapping her face. "You idiot! You know how hard it was to just steal that one munny?"

The brunette sadly lowered the flower, lips quivering. "But…but it's so pretty…"

The gray-haired one suddenly lunged forward, trying to snatch the flower, but the brunette dodged deftly. "Hey!" she exclaimed indignantly. "Give it!" Barked the leather clad fairy. The brunette fairy just stuck out her tongue and disappeared in a burst of blue.

Growling, the gray-haired one followed in a flash of red.

The blonde blinked, looking around and seeing she was alone. When she saw this, and Aqua's dangerous smirk, she let out a cry of "Eep!" she vanished in a burst of yellow after her companions.

Silence.

Then Aqua looked at Aerith and asked, "Does that happen a lot?"

The flower girl sighed, shaking her head before responding, "A little too often."

She looked back at Aqua, noticing she still hadn't touched her ice-cream. "It'll melt," She said.

The water maiden blinked, having once more been lost in her thoughts. She looked at Aerith, who just kept smiling and said, "You need to try it before it melts. Come on, you didn't eat the other one, you need to at least you try this one."

Aqua looked at the bar critically, noting that was colored a light blue, one of her favorite colors (Obviously), though she was slightly put off by the name of the ice-cream. Sea-salt? What in all the worlds was that going to taste like?

But after glancing at Aerith and seeing her encouraging smile (Was this girl ever not smiling?), Aqua sighed in defeat, shrugged, closed her eyes and took a slow lick from the bar.

Almost instantly her eyes snapped open, wide as saucers.

"Wow," she breathed.

This was really good.

Aerith giggled, winking.

"Told ya."

Aqua had to laugh as well. "Well, when you're right, you're right," she admitted.

Aerith laughed, but said no more, just enjoying her own ice-cream.

The two women stood there in silence, occasionally spotting Stitch and Sparky chasing after each other.

Unsurprisingly, it was Aerith yet again who broke the silence.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

Aqua blinked in mid lick of ice-cream. She looked at Aerith, sapphire orbs confused. "Talk about what?" she asked.

Aerith's smile was knowing now, no longer teasing, her emerald eyes soft and full of understanding. What exactly she understood, Aqua didn't know.

"Do you want to talk about what's going on between you and Terra?" Clarified Aerith.

Aqua froze, though her eyes did not widen, merely narrow slightly.

Ah.

She understood that.

"There's nothing to talk about," Aqua finally said, tone clipped.

Aerith sighed softly, brushing her brown locks out of her face.

"Aqua, I know it's none of my business…but…well, I lied to you this morning."

That made Aqua look at Aerith, expression confused, eyes mistrustful.

"This morning, I didn't just see Cid and Terra leave. Terra talked to me."

She paused, but Aqua just continued to eye her, keeping quiet, expression betraying nothing. Sighing, Aerith continued.

"He…he asked me to stay with you today, to be by your side, watch you and make sure you were safe. Safe from what, I don't know."

A certain one-eyed sociopath, her mind whispered.

Aerith met Aqua's gaze, her smile finally a frown.

"He sounded so scared and worried about you, Aqua. He didn't look like he slept a wink. I don't know what happened but I couldn't refuse his offer…but I…" She went quiet for a moment.

Finally, she said, "I don't think I needed to be by your side today…"

She looked at Aqua, emerald meeting sapphire.

"I think he needed to be by your side today."

Aqua remained quiet, slowly looking away.

Aerith watched her for several moments, fearful she had overstepped her bounds.

Finally, Aqua sighed, shaking her head and smiling a little.

"Stubborn man."

To that, Aerith could only smile back.

"Aren't they all?" She reminded her.

Aqua hummed softly, nodding at that.

Then she turned towards Aerith, finally, really smiling, not any of those forced fakes form throughout the day.

"You said Terra and Cid went to the castle, right?"

Aerith nodded, smiling back. "Yep, yep."

Aqua nodded, and took another lick of her bar before looking back at Aerith and saying, "Thank you so much for the fun day out, Aerith. And the new clothes, too. I really appreciate it." Then the water maiden started towards the stairs.

"Where are you going?" Aerith called after her, but their was a knowing gleam of mirth in her eyes.

Aqua paused just as she reached the steps.

When she looked back, she replied simply, "To where I should have been today."

And then she began descending the stairs, not moving really fast, but still taking them two at a time.

Aerith sighed deeply, smiling once again.

Well, there was one couple who might resolve their differences soon enough.

Now if she could just get those other two and-

Her whole body shuddered, her skin prickling with goose-bumps and she inhaled sharply and exhaled just as painfully, another painful shudder going through her.

Aerith nearly stumbled, dropping her ice-cream bar so her hand could clutch at her chest.

She breathed quickly, small beads of sweat dotting her forehead. The flower girl heard Stitch and Sparky's panicked cries and the two were by her side in an instant, Stitch peering up her, big eyes fret with worry. Aerith forced herself to smile reassuringly. "I-I'm alright, Stitch. Just…just some of that nasty brain-freeze, that's all."

Neither alien looked convinced.

Aerith righted herself, slowly raising her head to look around the rooftops, her emerald orbs lingering on the deepening shadows.

For a horrible split-second…

She had felt as if a blade had run itself through her chest.

Swallowing deeply, Aerith brushed the skirt of her dress and followed after Aqua down the steps, Stitch and Sparky on her heels.

While back at the shopping district…

The wind blew gently, carrying with it a single black feather…


Terra had managed to find his way out of the labyrinth underneath the lab. He had done his best to ignore the chained doors filling the brightly lit hallway that had that strange chamber at the end of it. Just looking at those doors made him uneasy…

Filled his head with the faint sound of people screaming in agony and pleading for mercy from the merciless…

Terra arrived back in the lab with the computer terminal, only stopping long enough to collect his sword, trying to keep his mind away from both the dark thoughts and memories of the monster that had worn his body like a new suit…

And the fact he had left Aqua's armor and Keyblade down below in that horrible place.

But every time he considered turning and going back…

She will leave you.

And that was enough to make him keep going forward, through the office and the crumpling, musty hallways.

Terra hated this castle.

Every time he came here he discovered something he simply didn't want to know. He felt like he was losing more of himself the longer he stayed.

He breathed much more easily once he arrived outside, pausing to inhale slowly, and exhale just as slowly. Cleanse himself.

What now, he asked himself, moving onto the platform that led to the canyon passes back to the bailey, and then back to town.

Cid had said they had a means of potentially tracking and locating Braig…But what would the Freeshooter being doing in the meantime? For that mater, what should Terra himself be doing?

He wanted to rest, he was exhausted. He had been up all night, sitting on his bed, door open, staring at Aqua's door, sword held at the ready in case the Freeshooter proved his cowardly nature by attacking them when he thought they would be most vulnerable.

Terra could still hear his mocking sneer.

"I've got my eye on the both of you."

Terra stopped walking, only halfway across the chasm that led into the canyon under construction. He tipped his head back, cobalt eyes scanning the cliff tops, jumping onto every shadow that shifted, lingering on cliff sides hidden in darkness.

"Where are you, Braig?" He asked to nothing. As expected, his response was also nothing.

Sighing deeply, shoulders slumping, he bowed his head, looking back towards the passages ahead-

He blinked, not even resuming his stride. Someone was approaching him instead, having just emerged from the canyon side. At first, because of the distance, he couldn't recognize the person at all.

But as they-she- got closer, Terra recognized her instantly.

He would always recognize her.

It was Aqua.

Panic filled him for a moment as he wondered if Aerith had done as he had asked when he saw she was alone. Even more panic filled him as he remembered had left her armor and Keyblade in that terrible chamber. But he forced himself to calm down, keeping his face blank as she continued to approach.

Though, as she got closer, Terra noticed her attire was…

Much different then what he was used too.

His eyes widened when she got close enough and he could really se what she was wearing.

As long as he had known her, Aqua had always dressed very conservatively, with only minimal skin exposed.

So you could imagine his dumbfounded look (His jaw was practically on the ground) when he saw how…exposed she was.

"You…" He breathed out when she finally stood in front of him, looking up at him from her shorter height. She looked…

"You look amazing," He finally said, rather lamely, he thought.

She blushed, looking away from his eyes, nervously brushing a lock of her hair from his face. By the gods, he loved seeing her cheeks color like that…

Then she looked back at him for a moment, seeming to study his face.

"You look terrible," she replied.

To that, Terra said nothing.

"Did you sleep any, last night?" she asked.

"No," was all he replied.

She didn't press the issue, as they both knew it was pointless.

They knew why he hadn't slept.

Silence for several heartbeats.

Then, "You…you really like them?" she asked hesitantly meeting his eyes again.

He nodded, smiling reassuringly. His brow furrowed slightly, though. "What brought this on?" He asked.

Aqua looked away again, casually shrugging. "Aerith took me clothes shopping today. She picked these out for me."

That had him grinning.

"I like her taste."

Aqua shot him a look, and Terra had to resist laughing.

Oh how he loved being around her…

She made the weight that seemed to have been crushing him since he first woke up in her arms in that dark realm much more bearable.

But then, Aqua said quietly, "She also told me you asked her to spend the day with me."

Terra's grin slowly faltered.

So, she had told her.

But knowing Aqua, she would have found out one way or another.

He nodded in affirmation.

"I did. I wanted someone watching you, making sure you were safe."

Though admittedly he would have preferred someone who could fight, but there was no way in all the worlds he would have asked Leon or Yuffie. He might have asked Cloud or Tifa, but he had no idea where either one of them was. Aerith was his next best choice.

Aqua sighed, crossing her arms before looking back at Terra, her face filled with…disappointment?

"I'm not the one who needs protecting." She declared.

Terra's eyes narrowed, though you could see the shock in them either way.

"What?" He gasped out.

Aqua kept her gaze even and level with his.

"You heard me. Terra, I'm more than capable of defending myself form a creep like Braig. I've beaten him before…but you, Terra…" She sighed softly, shoulders rising and falling. "You're the one who might need to be protected Terra."

Terra's eyes narrowed into slits, his jaw grinding down. "So. You think I'm weak?" He asked, tone even, but with the slightest hint of fury ready to bare its fangs.

Aqua shook her head. "No, I know for a fact you're strong. But you're only at half-strength, at best, without the Keyblade."

Terra made a disgusted noise, moving past Aqua suddenly. He looked over his shoulder, seeing she had turned to keep her eyes on him, but had not followed. He stopped a few feet away form her and declared, "I have power. I don't need the Keyblade."

Aqua's eyes expressed her disappointment at his words.

"You know where that kind of power leads."

He knew all to well…

He had been there, but she had lived in it.

Terra forced himself to look away from aqua, turning his back on her completely.

"It's all I have, Aqua. Everything else is gone. Taken away form me…"

By Xehanort.

Something warm slipped into his hand, making him jump and whirl around. Aqua had closed the distance between herself and Terra, her disappointment gone, replaced by deep melancholy.

"You have me," she reminded him, voice soft and pained.

He wanted to squeeze her hand and pull her close to him.

He wanted to hold her again like he had the night before.

But instead he wrenched his hand free and took more steps away form her.

"I…I can't be with you, Aqua."

If her expression had been pained before, their her eyes were filled with agony now. "But why," she pled. "Why not, Terra? You're…" She reached for something around her neck, grasping it gently. Terra saw a faint hint of blue.

Her Wayfinder.

The weight of his own, always in his pocket since she had returned it to him, suddenly felt much heavier, its presence painfully reminded.

She looked at him, and said so softly he almost missed her words completely:

"You're all I have left, too."

Oh, how his heart ached to see her in such turmoil, to be so close to her…

And knowing that he was both the source of her misery and how badly he wanted to console, but held himself back.

He couldn't touch her.

He couldn't…couldn't risk tainting her.

"Aqua…" He breathed, hedging a step closer to her, reaching for her but not touching her. He sighed, dropping his hand.

"I can't…I can't be with you…because…" He raised his hand, clutching his chest, feeling his heart pounding against his ribcage. "As long this darkness…this terrible darkness that I simply can't seem to escape…remains in my heart…" He dropped his hand, head bowing.

"…then I can't risk being with you and tainting your light."

Silence between them, the wind softly blowing, making the edges of his black coat ripple.

His eyes were closed when he felt a familiar warmth caress his cheek. Terra opened his eyes…and was surprised to see Aqua's smiling face staring back at him.

"Didn't I tell you," she asked quietly, her breath mingling with his.

"I will be your light…and…"

She clutched his hand again and raised it back to his chest, with both their hands resting over his heart.

She went on, voice still just as soft, "And sometimes…to cast out the darkness…the light has to expose it first." She reached with her free hand, stroking his cheek, just under his eye.

"I know your heart might always have darkness inside it…and that you could be led astray again…But I promise you, I will not let that happen again."

Terra sighed, turning his head, trying to pull away from her touch, but she guided his gaze back to hers.

"How?" He asked.

She smiled, laughing softly. "I told you, didn't I? Or were you not listening again?" She teased.

Despite himself, Terra smiled back, and found himself locking his other hand with hers that still stroked his cheek.

They stood there, hand in hand.

And then it was she who leaned in close, this time.

"I'll be your light," she breathed against his lips.

"And I'll help you escape this darkness," she said, just as her lisp touched his.

It was a simple kiss, much like their first one, innocent.

Terra pulled away this time, eyes closed, breathing heavy, as was Aqua's, who watched him with half-lidded eyes. As Terra began to open his own, she felt a moment's panic when she saw a flash of bright amber, like the heart of a raging fire…

But the momentary flash was drowned by proud, noble cobalt and Terra swiftly and suddenly pulled her into a tight embrace.

Aqua's heart soared.

He didn't pull away form her this time.

He wasn't going to run again.

Aqua returned Terra's embrace with equal fervor, whispering against his shoulder, "I promise Terra…I'll always be here for you…"

Terra held her close, eyes closed again, not hearing her words, but feeling her warmth.

The warmth of her body…

And her heart…

No one…

His eyes opened slowly…

Revealing burning amber orbs, with raging orange slowly bleeding over the amber.

No one will take her from me, he vowed, eyes slowly changing back to their normal color.

He would plunge into deeper darkness still if it meant protecting his light.

And he would not hesitate.

But for now…

He would enjoy the feel o her against him…

And savor nothing else.


It was night.

Late into the night.

The town was quiet and still.

The castle depths, quieter and stiller.

The terminal was dark and cold.

And then…

The screen flashed as fingers began to rapidly type away.

"What the" Tron gasped.

"Wait- How- Those codes- How do you- No! Wait! Stop! What're you- NO! You can't reactivate-"

But then the program went silent, and the screen flashed the words: SECRUITY OVERRIDE.

The keys continued to be pounded until finally, the hands went still.

A voice chuckled, lips curling into a sneer.

"End of line, man." Said Braig, amber eye glinting.

He bowed his head, chuckling lowly.

The chuckling grew louder, into laughter.

And louder still, into a full-fledged fit of insane cackling.

He was still laughing as he left the lab, his madness echoing around the empty walls.

While on the computer screen it now read:

HEARTLESS MANUFACTURE PLANT REACTIVATED.


(Reclines on my throne, decked out in my CLU 2 cosplay)

Greetings programs!

Guess what movie I've been watching?

Seriously, you'll never guess.

Hola, faithful readers! Trickster's-Inferno's-…god I go through usernames.

Screw it, call me whatever you want.

Chapter nine! Half-way there!

…yeah I don't like this chapter.

Hell, I don't like this story.

But popular consensus says its good, and who am I to argue?

Hey, I just realized what time it is!

(Final Fantasy victory fanfare plays)

It's REVIEW RESPONSE TIME!

…haven't done this in a while. I'm like three chapters overdue for this. I'm probably going to miss some responses (This always happens when I let the reviews pile on) So forgive me if I miss you.

Review Responses:

Yue Twili: 1: TWILI! (Glomps) Twili…Oh, ahem. (Unglomps). Yes they were now, weren't they? (Eye wriggle). Not bad for one night. This will be fun! But a pain in the you know what to write. 2: Shiznit just got serious. Oh, hell will look nice when I'm done with Terra and Aqua…

Archsage328: 1: (Snaps fingers. Cookies rain down on you.) That trick also works with plushies. Wait does everyone want Zack in this story? I love Zack, don't get me wrong, but he isn't even from Radiant Garden. And I'm pretty sure he's dead. Ironically enough, I was working on a draft for a Birth by Sleep and Crisis Core crossover set in Radiant Garden…but I chose to do this story instead. After reading so many reviews about everyone wanting Zack…I think I did the wrong one.

Jimbobob5536: 1: Yes, but it would be a cop out, ya know? 2: My muse usually just headbutts me like a cat and forces me onto the computer at random intervals.

Mauralucky7: 1: I'm not as awesome as many people seem to think. I love Braig too. He such a jerk. Thank ye, though I'm still convinced I suck at fluff and romance. Darn you Xehanort, you ruined the hot and heavy stuff. Thank you once again.

AquastormXIV: Hey, haven't heard from you in a loooong time. Thought you moved on. (As in got published). Let the craziness out, that's what I do. Thank you, but I'm still pretty convinced I suck as a writer in general. Come one, cut Terra a brake. He's been smacked around enough. (And he's gonna get smacked around some more before I'm done). Ah yes, heard about that one. I like messing with eyes, for they are the windows to the soul. I think he's his own moogle. (Crack) OH GOD MY LEG! Kupoooo!

Lucia Tsukiyomi-hime: 1: Pretty sure everyone knew it was Braig. 2: I think this chapter answered that.

RealmofDawn: 1: does six days count as fast?

Riku Uzumaki: 1: so the plot was boring and loose until now? Jk. 2: Your comments pretty self-explanatory.

Twilight Cardmistress: 1: Yes, but the multiple possibilities give me a headache. Its one of my fave couples don't get me wrong. Aw, Venven might show up. Don't be hating the Disney trio! This story doesn't want to end. I need to jam a stake through its heart… Damn it, everybody knew it was him. Well, good. Theyre a pain to write.

MEleeSmasher: 1: So…a story about Terra and Aqua…mostly Terra…and yet you think Ven is the crux of the matter. 2: Well let's see…he's had the roughest past I've ever seen, helped murder his foster father, got possessed by an old man and than committed universal genocide. He's allowed to be a little angry.

DarkNekoGirl92: 1: Holy crap double post! Holy crap double post! I didn't think that was possible… Just wait till next chapter, that one will blow you away!

Draconic: Yeah, he kinda was. Ok, seriously people. Where are guys getting Zack from? I MENTIONED HIM IN PASSING!

LovelyLadyAnne: 1: Ooh, long reviews fro ma new reader. I like… 2: Love? Hun? You're making me blush…

Delphigirl689: 1: I do a terrible job and nothing will convince otherwise…except Stephen King or Neil Gaiman. And I'm pretty sure they don't read fanfiction.

JoeyHazelLM: 1: Yore welcome, but you should be thanking CloudKittyVII.

Thudne-Angelsit. Rawr: 1: Wait, didn't I already respond to this? 2: Well, good for you, bad for them.

SirenMist: 1: I too am guilty of offline reviewing. Glad you like this. Cause I certainly don't.

Taeniae: Thank you.

TonberryBlue: Yet another reader I haven't heard from in forever. Well, I guess that's good. But I'm still convinced there are better works out there.

Guest: Ok.

MonMonCandie: 1: Oh my dearest MonMon, you give me lots of praise I simply do not deserve. But I thank you anyway. Hearing such compliments from a writer of your talent is flattering beyond belief, especially when I consider your TerAqua much better than my own. 2: There's plenty of things wrong with that chapter and this one. But if you and others like it…

Guest # 2: Continuation of BBS? You're reading the wrong story my friend.

Iceandfire66: I hope you don't mind I don't respond to this since we already chatted before. But its still good to hear form you.

Odette115: 1: Yay new reader! Wait, you read Lingering Vengeance? 2: Well, thank you. Seriously, you read Lingering? I had assumed that story had been forgotten by now. Enjoy Body and soul!

Well, I think that's it.

I think.

As always, love hearing from you guys…even if I don't deserve nay of this praise.

Till the next chapter everyone. Don't expect it anytime soon, I start college Thursday.

Quick off topic question: How does one go about getting a Beta? Cause I'm tired of finding really minor mistakes throughout my chapters. I need help with my editing.