Disclaimer: I don't have the rights.

A/N: Disregards ToS: DotNW.

A/N again: Unusual style for me... third person present tense. But whatevs:p R&R:D

They sit there. Three young women in a circle by a small campfire. It seems almost as though the night is about to swallow them, and yet at the same time, they are clearly not going to allow anything of the sort to happen. The way they sit, weapons within easy reach, proves it.

The oldest - Raine Sage - makes a sudden movement, turning to look at one of the others, Colette Brunel. "Colette…" she says somberly. "I have wanted to ask you something for a long time, but I'm not sure whether I should." An expression of mingled uncertainty and curiosity resides on her face.

The young blonde smiles cheerfully, the picture of friendly innocence. "Of course you can ask me, Professor." At her words, the third and final woman, Sheena Fujibayashi, snorts softly. Both of her companions turn to look at her.

"Is there something you would like to share, Sheena?" Raine asks finally, realizing the ninja isn't planning on speaking.

"No, it's nothing really," replies Sheena. "Just that I doubt you're really so willing to answer just anything, Colette." Her words are spoken gently despite her earlier laugh.

Colette leans forward intently, her face childish, her blue eyes round. "What do you mean, Sheena?" she inquires.

The raven-haired woman shakes her head. "What, do you really think I haven't noticed your nightmares? You're obviously still suffering from… back then, and you won't talk about it." Colette's smile evaporates. The firelight casts strange shadows on her face, and she shivers despite the heat from the dancing flames.

"No," she murmurs. "I certainly haven't forgotten, but I'm doing better." Her words are wobbly, and her face pales. Raine pats Colette's shoulders awkwardly. It is easy to see that she is unused to comforting others.

"Colette, it's alright to be hurting inside. We all are still, and we didn't have to go through the horrible things you did. We had a lot to deal with as well, but it was nothing compared to what you had," the half-elf says.

Colette smiles, but it is forced. "I know."

"You can trust us," Sheena tells her. "It's hard to talk about, I'm sure. But I learned the hard way not to bottle things up." Her face clouds at her own memories. "Don't make the same mistakes I did."

"Of course I trust you. Both of you. You two are my best friends. Even Lloyd and Genis aren't the same to be around. And I know that it would help to talk about. But even though it's been over a year, I still wake up screaming sometimes. It's not that I don't want to talk about what happened. I'm afraid to talk about it." She shudders again. For a moment, no one speaks. Then, Sheena breaks the moody silence.

"I still have nightmares, too. About Mithos… Welgaia…" She lets out a bitter laugh. "Hell, I still dream about Volt some nights. It's not an unusual thing to have nightmares, Colette." Colette releases a barely audible sigh at the soft words.

"Trust me. I know it's not unusual. I have them most nights. I've heard you whimpering in your sleep when you're around. Raine, there's no doubt in my mind that you have them, and how could Genis not? He's just a kid. He's one of my best friends, but he's just a kid. As for Lloyd… he can't even talk to me some days because his dreams." Her voice breaks, but she goes on. "Sometimes I worry he'll never forgive me… that he'll always blame me."

"Colette-" Raine starts. But Colette holds up her hand, seemingly oblivious to the tear running down her cheek.

"No, don't deny it; I heard him talking to Regal once a while ago. He'd dreamed he had to fight Mithos again… except then it was me he was fighting. I don't understand why, though! I mean, I tried to save the world knowing it meant my death. I tried to keep Kratos here for Lloyd. I tried to be the same person I used to be, back before I understood death and pain and hate. But I can't be! I cry now, sometimes. Did you know that I never cried until after? Even as a baby! And now I do… I cried for hours after I heard Lloyd say that!" She wipes her tear and then holds out her salty finger as if for proof, but her effort is futile. Tears are now streaming down her face.

"Oh, Colette… We didn't know how bad it was," Sheena says. She hugs the younger girl briefly, patting her back. However, she pulls away quickly, and the reason is clear: she's crying too. She furiously scrubs at her eyes and cheeks, attempting to stop the flow, but fails.

"I'm sorry," she says angrily. "I really am. This," she gestures at her face, "shouldn't be going on; it's Colette's moment." She shakes her head stubbornly, trying to erase the evidence of her sorrow.

"No, it's okay," Colette says gratefully. "Go ahead, talk."

Sheena nods. "Oh, okay…" She trails off. After a moment or two, Raine clears her throat, and Sheena starts. "Damn, this isn't easy." She brushes a hand over her face. Her deep brown eyes reflect the blaze in front of them as she begins, giving an oddly eerie quality to her words. "Ever since I was seven, after Volt, I had nightmares. Bad ones, full of death and screams and lightning. But I trained myself not to scream; the villagers already hated me. Orochi and Kuchinawa were the only ones who knew, and they comforted me sometimes. After I left Mizuho, they got worse than ever, with tests to see if I was worthy to live in them. I hated Meltokio and everyone in it until Zelos, who eventually managed to befriend me. But after a little while, things changed. He got into his duties and flirting, and I dealt with my life alone. Besides, his noble girlfriends kept us away from each other. Goddess, it sounds like some kind of dramatic love story or something," she says contemptuously, mocking herself. "But anyway. For some reason, the nightmares went away for a while. Maybe because of Zelos, I dunno. But when I got my assignment in Sylvarant and joined up with you all, they got worse again."

"I heard you at night sometimes," Colette remarks.

"Really?" Sheena says, surprise filling her words.

"Me, too," Raine agrees. Sheena reddens.

"Sorry if I, you know, ever woke you up or anything…"

"Nah. I'd just hear you come back near morning. I couldn't sleep half the time anyway. Literally," Colette assures her.

"I'd hear you leave," Raine says. "Where did you go? You couldn't have known your way around well."

"I'd go on walks to clear my head," Sheena explains, shrugging as if to say, I had to do something.

"Zelos used to lay awake to make sure you got back safely… he followed you sometimes," Colette says thoughtfully. "He was always worried. One night he didn't get back until dawn and then he cried."

Sheena passes a hand over her eyes, effectively hiding her emotions. "I wonder… if he were here…"

"He's only in the Tethe'alla side, Sheena. You could visit him," Raine points out. Sheena sighs, pushing dark hair away from her face.

"No. I can't. Not yet, anyway. He made them stop, you know. The dreams. After I had to… fight Kuchinawa. He helped me more than anyone else ever could. And then he just, just betrayed us, like it was nothing. Like I'd never meant anything to him, like he didn't know what he meant to me. Now I have nightmares about him - ironic, right? - and they're the worst, the ones I have the most often." Sheena grinds her teeth together and makes an angry noise in her throat.

"Sheena, he betrayed us to-"

"To help us. I know that, Raine, don't you think I know that? But I only dream of the betrayal sometimes. More often I dream of… of him lying on the ground, dead, only then he gets up… or it'll be after he rescued us from the trap and then Mithos kills him… sometimes… sometimes it's me who's the murderer…" She lets out a gasping sob. "I have dreamt about killing him. I don't have the right to visit him!" She breaks down completely, loud, desperate sobs issuing from her ceaselessly.

"When you dream that you're the murderer, is it a nightmare, Sheena?" Raine asks analytically.

Sheena looks up incredulously. "The - the worst I've ever had."

"Then you do have the right to see him. As long as you can honestly say the idea repulses you, cuts you to the core, then you have the right to be near him again," Raine says kindly. Sheena takes a deep breath, the sobs reduced to the occasional hiccup.

"I just don't think - I don't think I can. Just the idea of facing him after I…"

"It might help, you know," Colette offers up.

"Yeah, right. Has seeing Lloyd helped you?" Sheena asks bluntly.

"I don't have nightmares about Lloyd," Colette reminds her bitterly. "He has nightmares about me."

Sheena bows her head. "Sorry. I didn't think."

"It's fine." Colette's smile is not a true one, and a silence falls again, each woman in her own thoughts. Colette's normally baby blue eyes look almost gray and are troubled. Sheena's dark brown orbs are bright with tears, and Raine's blue-gray ones are almost scared. The one thing all three pairs have in common is how oxymoronic they are - closed, yet wide open.

Perhaps following such a train of thought, Raine speaks. "They say eyes are a window to the soul," she says, almost to herself. "Do you - do you believe that?"

Sheena glances at the wise teacher. "I, I don't know. I've never really thought about it, I guess. But actually, in a way they could be. It's how you see emotions, after all," she points out.

"No," Colette disagrees. "A soul is more than what you see in someone's eyes or face. It's what makes you human. It's your whole personality, I think."

"Well, no one ever said someone's entire soul is visible through their eyes. You can't see every room of a house from a window. Your eyes just reveal a tiny part," Sheena counters.

"Good point," Colette concedes. "Why, Professor?"

"Well… I was simply thinking of, well, Virginia," Raine replies. Her words are quiet enough that both other women have to lean in to hear her. "What I remember most about my childhood is her eyes. They were very dark, almost black in my memory, but everyone knew they were blue. And so serious. She never looked happy or excited, just grim." Her voice cracks. Colette scooches over and sits next to her, taking the professor's hand. Sheena follows suit on Raine's other side. The half-elf clutches the hands gratefully. "And then seeing her again so recently in Exire… Her eyes weren't anything like before. They were so blue, and empty, but happy. Happier than I'd ever seen her in my childhood. And that's why I was so angry, why it hurt so much. A doll, a fantasy, made her happy when I couldn't. And poor Genis, after years of imagining the perfect mother, it must have been such a let-down. It was for me, and I already knew she wasn't perfect." A cry escapes her lips, then another and another. Soon she's bawling. Sheena and Colette look at each other over the older woman, apparently at a loss as to what to say or do. Especially because Raine isn't prone to displays of emotion.

But the two are spared the burden of deciding what to do by the arrival of a fourth companion. A young pink-haired girl silently steps out of the darkness and into the ring of light.

"Hey, Presea," Sheena says quickly.

"Presea, hello," Raine sniffs, looking up.

"Hello, Raine. Sheena, Colette," Presea answers. Her voice betrays little emotion, but it is no longer the monotone it once was. Her words are now laced with concern as she looks at the silver-haired woman crying. "Raine, are you well?"

Raine gives a watery smile. "Yes, yes. I just was having a minor breakdown." She is mocking herself. "I'm glad you were able to come. What made you so late?"

"I was completing a particularly difficult assignment in Ozette. It is nearly rebuilt now." The girl gives a small smile at the thought. "They still dislike me there, though." The smile disappears as quickly as it came.

"I'm sure they don't, though!" Colette exclaims, but Presea shakes her head slightly at the encouraging words.

"You are incorrect. They find me unnatural and disgusting. I am staying just outside the village. When it is completely restored, I intend to live there, although finding work or lodging will be difficult. Having a child's body is extremely inconvenient." She sets her huge ax by the fire and bends her knees beneath her, sitting karate-style.

Sheena looks angry. "They ought to accept you, after everything you've done for them!" she rages. "They're ungrateful pigs! They're prejudiced-"

"Sheena!" Raine reprimands. "They are simply narrow-minded. You don't know them. Their actions toward Presea are inexcusable, but there is no need to be so rude!" Sheena blushes at this scolding.

"Sorry, Professor. Sorry Presea." Raine rolls her eyes, and Presea inclines her head slightly in acknowledgement.

"Presea," Colette says suddenly. "Do you really feel old, or do you just feel like a really, really mature child?" She tilts her head. "Sorry if you don't want to answer…"

The question is unexpected, and Presea looks taken aback as she ponders the question silently.

"Er. You don't have to answer or anything," Colette adds, mortified.

"No, it is all right," Presea tells her. "I am simply unsure as to how I should respond. I do not think about it very often."

"It's actually an interesting question. Are you an adult in a child's body, or a child who has lived too many years?" Raine asks rhetorically. "You obviously didn't age at all in those years, but your intelligence is that of an adult's. However, that may be from your exsphere, or it could be from so many years of life." Her eyes are alight with the thought, and she stares hard at Presea.

"Raine. Sh," Sheena stops her. "Let Presea talk."

The teacher looks around and flushes. "I apologize." For the second time, Presea nods her head to accept the apology.

"I - I don't know what the technical term for my predicament is," she says slowly, sounding for the first time like an uncertain child. "But… I am certain of several things. Firstly, I know that my body has indeed begun aging again. I also know, however, that I have a maturity greater than that of a young girl's. I have been alive for more than fourteen years, but I do not have the experiences of an adult. But none of that tells me whether I am a child or an adult. When I think, when I observe, it is often as an adult. Yet, when something happens to upset me, I cry as though I were a child. I have grown taller now that Yuan has given me a Rune Crest. My strength has lessened somewhat, though I am still stronger than the average thirteen- or fourteen-year-old girl, but I could no longer transport sacred wood if I tried."

Raine makes an intrigued noise. "I wonder why that would be. Rune Crests did not change Yuan, Kratos, or Mithos in that way. Did Yuan put some sort of enchantment on it, perhaps?" Her eyes gleam.

"Raine, stop it," Sheena snaps, sounding irritated. "Presea isn't a subject for you to study and examine."

Raine looks offended. "There is no need whatsoever to-"

"Professor… Sheena just means you ought to let Presea finish, and to…" Colette trails off with embarrassment.

"To have some tact," finishes Sheena, rather tactlessly herself.

"You're one to speak," Raine retorts.

"Guys, please let Presea talk," Colette pleads.

"Thank you, Colette. But I do not have much more to say on this subject. I have not yet figured out what I am," Presea whispers, staring into the campfire. "I don't know."

"I don't think it, um, matters," Colette says hesitantly, sweetly. "I think it's more about who you are. You're my friend. You're all of our friend. But if it matters to you, then I'll tell you what I think." Presea looks at her, hope in her eyes. "I think you're kind of both." She stops, leaving the words hovering.

"How so?" Raine asks thoughtfully.

"Well... I think maybe you are a child. Like, you still have to learn and grow to be an adult. But you went through so much that you're emotionally an adult. Even though you went through years of... well... nothing," Colette says hesitantly.

"I see," Presea says softly. "I see."

"Presea, have you begun going through puberty?" Raine asks out of nowhere. Presea's cheeks turn faintly pink.

"Yes, I have," she answers. Raine smiles, a smile tinged with excitement.

"Wonderful! So the Rune Crest has restarted your aging process... I must see Yuan about this..." She trails off into mutters that sound ominous.

"So you're kind of a regular fourteen-year-old," Sheena summarizes. "Do you have your period?" Her tone conveys idle curiosity.

"Sheena, that's personal!" Colette cries out, giggling.

"What?" Sheena asks, laughing as well. "It's a question! I got my first period when I was twelve! In fact, I'm on it now. I have cramps!" Colette bursts into astonished laughter. Raine stops muttering to stare at them. Presea is blushing. "Have you, Presea?"

"I... I... Well, yes, I have," she stutters out, for all the world an entirely average teenager who has never saved the world.

"How many times?" Raine asks clinically.

"Only - only once."

"Welcome to the world of women," Sheena says sardonically.

"Are you confused about anything?" Colette asks kindly. "We can explain."

"Well, when it happened... No woman in the village was willing to explain things... and I didn't know what to do..." Presea says slowly, embarrassed. "I had to ask someone nearby... and Regal was visiting..."

"You didn't!" Sheena exclaims, laughing hysterically.

"I had to," Presea says. "I had to ask someone." She seems both humiliated and amused. Raine's eyes are wide. Colette is doubled over with laughter.

"Goddess - how did he react?" Sheena asks between spurts of laughter.

Presea now seems to have gotten over the embarrassment, and she smiles almost mischievously. "He was very embarrassed," she admits. "He explained certain things about the human reproductive system to me while blushing and stumbling over his words. He has not visited again yet. I believe he thinks it will be awkward."

Now all three of the other girls are laughing. "That is so funny!" Colette says.

"Regal gave you The Talk!" Sheena adds, still laughing.

"I can only imagine how badly he botched the job. At least it wasn't Lloyd," Raine chuckles, rolling her eyes comically. The three continue in this manner for a few moments before calming.

"Okay, now," Raine says, when they are done laughing. "Do you need a better explanation?" Presea shakes her head mutely. "Are you sure?"

"Perhaps another time," Presea declines.

"When do you get it again?" Colette asks.

"I am not sure."

Raine shakes her head. "You should start keeping track, or at least have a general idea. That way you can be prepared. Of course, since it just started, it may not be regular yet. Eventually it should even itself out."

"I am not sure how often it occurs. Regal did not tell me," Presea explains.

Sheena's eyes widen. "Wow, he's kind of an idiot, considering how smart he is. You get your period once a month, Presea. Did he explain about pregnancies?"

"Yes, of course," Presea responds, looking relieved to know something.

"And how to get rid of cramps?"

"...No, he did not."

"Don't eat chocolate, even if you want to, that makes them worse," Sheena advises. "Take it from me. I learned the hard way."

"And if they're bad, find Raine or someone to cast First Aid," Colette says. "It doesn't always work, but it sometimes helps."

"Do stretches twice a day. That often makes them less painful," Raine tells Presea. The girl looks rather overloaded by the new information.

"Trust your body," Colette continues. "If you feel like you're about to get your period, you probably are."

"And if you feel out-of-control, like your emotions are everywhere, that's normal. There's not really anything you can do about it," Sheena says unhelpfully.

"But you can talk to us, of course!" Colette hastens to say.

"Yes, of course," Raine agrees.

"Thank you for your help," Presea says. "I am very grateful."

"In Iselia, it's kind of a taboo subject," Colette says. "Even my grandmother didn't really want to explain it to me. I had to beg her for information. So even now it's a little embarrassing for me to think about. But don't be afraid to ask for help!"

"Mizuho was the same way," Sheena concurs. "But at the Imperial Research Academy, I asked a girl for help. She was sort of like a sister for me, she's only three years older than me. She explained things well. And once I was older, we complained about our periods together, and guys."

"Do you still talk to her?" Colette asks.

"Not much," Sheena replies, sounding a little bitter. "She, well, became a Zelos groupie. And, you know. I was the country bumpkin. In order to get into the clique, she had to renounce me. And she did. We made up a couple years ago, but... well, you don't forget things like that."

"That's horrible," Raine says sympathetically. Colette and Presea nod.

"Nah, I got over it," Sheena says, shrugging unconvincingly. The others, however, know better than to pursue the subject. The silence stretches on for a long time.

Finally, when the fire is dying, Colette speaks again. "I'm glad we did this," she says honestly. "It was really... refreshing to be able to talk about all this."

"Me too," Raine says simply. "I needed this."

"I think we all did," Sheena states.

"You're correct," Presea murmurs.

"I'm glad we did this," Colette repeats, then yawns. "But I need some sleep now. Good night, everyone. Sleep well. I mean it."

The other three chorus their good nights. The four all lay down on their bedrolls and, one-by-one, drift off.

Not one girl around that campfire has a nightmare.