~O~

Power flowed around me in waves. I kept my eyes shut, but even then I could see the multi-colored streams pass by. It was frightening, but thankfully not painful. The feeling was almost like someone passing close to me – not enough to touch – but enough for me to feel a presence. Shivering, I waited, listening to the sounds of wind rushing by.

Awaken.

Sluggishly I managed to struggle my eyes open and look around at my surroundings. I stood in a vast empty expanse of white with no sign of anyone around. Why was I not where anyone else was? Was I not going to get my heart? Did I have to do something in order to get it? A sudden hunger from deep inside me (the same as before) crawled its way to the surface, dropping me to my knees. For a moment, I no longer felt like myself, I was more animal than anything.

When I'd regained control, I asked the void in a small voice, "Where am I?"

Locked deep inside the Heart of all Worlds…

Cautiously, I attempted raising my hands and looking down at my body. No longer was I just some vaporous creature. I had a form. Marveling, I followed the movement of my black arm with my eyes as it passed through the air, leaving behind a faint ribbon of darkness as it went. My wish to not disappear had come true.

But you are only an Incomplete.

"What does that mean?" I asked worriedly, halting my movements as I scanned the vastness for any sign of who I was talking to.

You are the remains of a broken connection.

Broken? If I was broken, then shouldn't I be in some sort of pain? Turning, I felt my heart sink in answer. Lying face-down a few feet away was someone very familiar to me, though I'd never met him before in my life.

Do you see, now?

Closing my eyes, I nodded. All of what tied the two of us together blossomed in my heart, making it ache. This was my creator. The light that I had seen had been his Heart. Kneeling next to him, I gazed at his pale, lifeless face and asked quietly, "What happened…?"

He sacrificed his Destiny to save the Worlds, and in doing so, became your Destiny.

"…come back…"

If he was me, then how was I supposed to become complete? Without him, or his Heart, I would remain what I was and wander this place until I eventually disappeared and became nothing once again. As if reading my mind, the voice called down to me:

It is in your hands now. The power to create comes from the connection with a certain Heart.

"It's the boy waiting for him, isn't it?"

Do you hear his call?

Nodding, I smiled to myself. Thinking about the one waiting…calling for his light…for me to come back made me feel warm all over with happiness.

"…please…"

Nothing is without a cost. You will no longer be your own…you will be his.

Looking back down to the red-headed boy, I studied the freckles dusting his nose and smiled once again. We were bonded together already. His light and my darkness…were one and the same. And in a way, I wouldn't be completely gone. A part of me would exist inside him, making him strong. I wasn't scared of disappearing anymore.

"…don't leave me…"

Will you answer the call?

Lying next to the boy, I took up his hand in my own and closed my eyes contently. I could hear the other's voice pleading from far away and focused on it. Soon, I allowed my incomplete heart to open to the connection, and was suddenly flooded with a vast array of emotions. I didn't even have the chance to cry out before the white void around me vanished and I fell.

Return, Protector…

~O~

Something far away, connected with my heart. Like a fire, it roared to life, causing my eyes to fly open in shock and awe. I couldn't believe it! Following the feeling, I looked up at the sky. From out of the hundreds of lights coming off of the Worlds, my heart picked out the one that grew steadily closer. But it wasn't an ordinary glow. As it streaked down from the sky towards me, I saw that a thin layer of Light flowed around what looked to be a ball of black undulating Darkness.

As the projectile crashed into the water, the shock wave knocked me back. My skin was scraped raw as I skidded into the woods, but I didn't even seem to feel it. In the next instant, I was pushing myself back up and running to the edge of the water. My jaw dropped as I gazed in awe over at the powerful energy hovering over the surface of the river. It was nearly three times my size, and roiling like it was alive. The water around was bowed and nearly perfectly smooth. Could Fai really be in there?

Intending to swim out to where it sat, I attempted jumping into the river, only to find that it had grown hard enough to stand on. Not wanting to waste anymore time, I sprinted out. What I saw as I neared made my heart clench. Suspended inside was Faitouru, but…something was wrong. As I leant in for a closer look, I saw the glowing pale yellow eyes of the figure snap open.

Was this some kind of joke?!

The Darkness surrounding him fell away, leaving behind faint writhing wisps, and the black creature that he now was. Falling to the ground, tendrils of shadow clinging to his body, I realized that I'd seen hundreds of thousands of Heartless give off the same sort of energy. But none could have prepared me for this.

Holding my breath, I reached towards him and asked tentatively, "Fai…?"

His head snapped up at the sound of my voice, fixating those eyes on me. A surge of power grew around him, tossing his hair from side to side in a self made wind. Anger, confusion, and hunger flowed as magic formed around his hands, creating huge claws. He was a Heartless. With an echoing cry, he swiped them at me. I only just rolled away in time.

Holding my hands up as a sign of peace I called over pleadingly, "Stop, I'm not going to fight you!"

It was like he either couldn't understand, or didn't want to. Using the Darkness, he sent shadowy projectiles at me with lightning speed. Calling out my Keyblade, I knocked them away and continued to try and reason with him. Back and forth we continued like this, until finally he stood swaying on the balls of his feet, trying to make sense of everything. The Darkness fell away as he clutched his head, letting loose a cry that was a mixture of his real voice and the Heartless'. And that's when I saw it. On his chest clearly emblazoned directly over his heart, was a glowing white emblem. From here I couldn't see what it was exactly, but I didn't need to. Right there was the answer I needed; hope.

"Fai, look at yourself, this isn't you!" I called, watching as his eyes flicked down at his body. Was he coming to realize himself? I saw the faint traces of recognition coming back as I slowly stepped forward. Now it was my turn to protect him.

"Do you remember that day on the Islands when I dared you to catch a crab?" I asked keeping my eyes locked on his. "You got so mad at me. You said you'd never speak to me again because it pinched your finger."

I chuckled, thinking about how devastated I'd been when he'd said that. Fat tears had been rolling down his cheeks as he clutched his finger and ran. Looking into the Heartless Fai's face, I could see the inner struggle happening. Continuing quickly I said, "I felt so bad, I went down to the water and made the crab pinch me a couple of times. Then I went and found you hiding and showed you."

He was slowly calming, so I finished, "You took one look at me, hit me upside the head and even back then told me I was an idiot! But right after, you hugged me so tightly and held on until you'd stopped crying."

Taking a chance, I followed the direction my heart was telling me to go, and strode up to him. Stiffening under me as I wrapped my arms around his shoulders, I could feel the Dark powers radiating into my body. Confidently, I held him close and sensed the hunger in him swell and then – amazingly – begin to ebb away. The whole time we stood, I thought of all the memories we'd shared, hoping he would remember and come back.

Before I could react, his hands slammed into my chest, and I was flat on my back. Looking up I saw Fai staggering away from me, writhing as the Darkness began falling away. Scrambling to my feet I rushed to his side and watched as the small mark on his chest slowly began shifting. Pulsing with energy, it began sucking in the Darkness, changing from a blinding white to a deep black. And before I could process the transformation, the real Faitouru that I'd been friends with for over three years, gasped and opened his amethyst eyes. Staggering and looking around wildly, they met my own in shock and confusion.

I couldn't feel the bond of the Protector anymore, but it still seemed like a missing piece in my heart was falling back into place.

Without warning, the water beneath us snapped back to its original state. We plunged in. I came up spluttering and laughing, unable to stop myself. He was back! And when his head of strawberry curls sprang from the waves, I tackled him back in out of sheer joy. It was incredible knowing he was here and alright.

"Sora!" he coughed. "What's going on?!"

"I have no idea!" I answered cheerily, still keeping a firm hold on his shoulders.

Gently, his hands began pushing at my chest as he huffed, "Look, I'm glad to see you too, but this isn't the best place for a reunion."

Motioning to the river we were currently submerged in, he managed to detach me from him and shoot an exasperated look over his shoulder. It was like he never left! For a moment, I watched as he swam away from me, smiling like the moron I was. But when the happy haze began to dwindle, I remembered that there were a lot of questions still left to answer. The biggest one being: what had happened to Faitouru?

~O~

I will go to the Doors,

And I will give you my Heart.

As I neared the river bank, breathless, a hand extended down under my nose. Glancing up, I couldn't help but offer up a small smile as I caught sight of Goofy grinning happily down at me. The others were behind him all looking like they were staring at a ghost. Dragging me up out of the water onto the mossy ground, I felt like this whole meeting had taken on a surreal quality. All my friends, originating from different worlds, were all in my special place in Junction.

Donald asked, "What happened?!"

"Yeah, we heard this crazy loud boom, and then we were flat on our asses as an earthquake came from this direction." Axel called, motioning out to the river and mountains beyond.

Kairi – nudging the tall red head disapprovingly – added, "We were worried Sora may have gotten into trouble, so we came running."

"Okay," Sora said exasperatedly, clambering out of the river with Riku's help. "I don't always get into trouble!"

The number of skeptically rolled eyes in his direction answered that statement. Ignoring that, the King strode up, took my elbow, and asked seriously, "Golly Fai, are you alright?"

"Yeah actually," I answered, glancing down at my body. Everything seemed where it should be. No limbs missing. I wasn't even tired! But there was this strange stinging on my chest. Rubbing at the spot, I suddenly froze. Under my shirt and the pads of my fingers was something raised on my skin; sort of like a scar, but…

Not wasting any time, I lifted the hem of my shirt and peered at my chest. The normal scars were there, but sitting over where my heart should be, was a strange looking mark. Radiating an undulating power, the black mark in the shape of an intricate key glowed black.

"I thought I saw something there," Sora muttered, peering thoughtfully over at me.

"What do you mean?" I asked worried.

His brilliant blue eyes met mine from across the space between us, feeling like a knife cutting through me. I'd never seen him look so solemn. He proceeded to explain what had happened after I'd fallen away into Kingdom Hearts. Apparently after the others left to give him some time to mourn for me, he'd sent a plea up to the Heart of all Worlds to give me back and had gotten an answer. I fell from the sky causing the ground to shake as I crashed into the river. Sora ran out to me, the water solid enough to keep him on his feet, and that's when he saw what I'd become.

By now my lips were drawn into a thin, worried line; enough to make them white with anxiety. The way he paused, and shifted under my gaze only confirmed my suspicions. It wasn't good. When he did continue, I felt the bottom fall out of me. The thing he described was a…a monster; something not quite Heartless, and not quite human.

"But…you heard my voice." Sora continued reassuringly, stepping close. "You heard me, and you came back. That mark sort of sucked away all the Darkness."

Everything went cold. Panic was slowly seeping in through the cracks that had begun forming in my shell of confidence. How could I be anywhere near my friends without that...thing being in danger of coming out? They were just asking for their hearts to get taken by someone that was supposed to be looking out for them. I wasn't safe.

"Fai…?"

I shook my head, stepping back at the same time. I had to think. There had to be some other explanation for what I had been turned into other than me being a killing machine. I couldn't accept the fact that I would be lusting after hearts from now on. Clutching the mark on my chest, I stopped suddenly. The horror from my newest discovery felt like it had just fried my brain.

"I…I don't have a heartbeat…" I whispered, utterly taken aback. It should have been trying to burst from my chest from all the excitement, but there was nothing.

"What?!" everyone cried in unison, all trying to rush in to see for themselves. But I couldn't let them get near me.

Holding out my hand, I attempted calling out my Keyblade to try and keep them at bay. But there was nothing; no familiar white flash, or weight in my palm. So…where was my Keyblade?! Feeling like I was going to be sick, I let my legs give out, sending me to my knees. Hands fluttered around as voices blurred together asking if I was alright. But there was only one person I wanted to talk to right now; the only opinion that mattered to me. Lifting my chin, I raised tear-filled eyes up and met the gaze of my best friend.

"What am I?" I asked Sora, voice thick with emotions.

Shaking his head back and forth, mouth agape, he stared down at me like a fish out of water; utterly at a loss. Before things could get any more confusing, the King stepped up, hand falling heavily on my shoulder as he said, "Listen fellas, this isn't the time or the place for this kind of talk. We should ask Master Yen Sid about what's happened and figure out where to go from there."

He was right of course. But it didn't stop me from feeling like my world was crashing about my ears in a torrent of unwanted mystery. Nodding, I took in a deep breath to steady myself and rose shakily to my feet. Sora's hand on my elbow stopped me though. Keeping his sad eyes on me, he muttered, "Come with me…"

We passed through the dense trees along the river bank to the next clearing. As we came up on my special spot, I first saw the Door – broken now – and then I spotted my "Mother" lying unmoving a little ways away. It was strange. I didn't expect to feel upset when she was gone. I knew that it was coming, but…she had been there for the majority of my life; watching over me. Didn't that mean she cared at least a little bit? Kneeling next to her, I thought, 'Maybe someday I'll miss you…'

"Goodbye," I whispered, brushing my fingers against her cold hand.

Glancing over my shoulder, I sent Sora a silent 'thank-you' before asking quietly, "Will you help me put her over there?"

Together, we propped her against the old oak tree – the same one I'd spent thousands of afternoons sleeping under. Letting my worries fall away for a moment, I realized how at peace she looked; almost like she was sleeping herself.

"C'mon…" I mumbled, turning to head back to where the others were waiting.

The silence was thick, but not because I was thinking of Sora. I'm not even sure what I was brooding about anymore. But just as I was feeling like I was about to start getting emotional I heard my best friend ask softly, "What happened after she took you?"

That's right. None of them had any clue about what Aqua and I were trying to do until just now. I guess that meant I'd need to fill them in, and try to sort through it with them. Glancing up, I could see the toll it took on him in the back of his eyes, not knowing what had happened or what was going to happen to me. Stopping so I could face him properly I asked in a small voice, "You know I'm sorry for all of that, right?"

He blinked in confusion before answering, "It wasn't your fault. I never thought that ever!"

"Oh c'mon, I would've questioned me too if I were in your shoes." I said skeptically, trying to tell him that it was alright.

For a moment, he seemed to still want to fight that thought, but then his walls broke and the tears started clinging stubbornly to his lashes making him look like a little kid. Balling his hands into fists, he began thickly, "Fai, I was so worried. I just –"

"Sora, Fai! We need help finding a way out of here!" Riku called, sounding only slightly anxious.

Why did it seem like the others were interrupting all the time?! Everything may have changed, but some things sure stayed the same. Now too embarrassed to talk, Sora quickly made his way through the trees to them. Shutting my eyes and biting the inside of my cheek, I forced myself to stop from blowing up at them and trailed after, simmering quietly to myself.

As we came into view, the others waved us over. They all sat in a circle, looking like they'd just broken off a serious discussion. Axel was the first to say, "Well, we're screwed!"

"What the – why I oughta –!" Donald cried, looking as frustrated as I felt as he attempted jumping the red head.

Holding the oversized duck back, Goofy called over, "What Axel's tryin' to get at I guess, is that we can't open up another Door."

"You opened a Door? When?" I asked, utterly confused.

"That's how we got here!" Kairi said, smiling up at me. "Sora thought of using the connection between Merlin's grotto and this place to come save you!"

I was still amazed that they'd figured that out; especially since it was Sora's idea. Catching Riku's eye, I raised a brow in question, to which he answered with a shrug. Kairi continued, "Kingdom Hearts heard our call and opened it."

"Well then, why don't you just open another one?" I asked.

Rolling his eyes, Axel called over, "If it was that easy Shorty, we would have done it by now."

"Nothing happened when we tried just now…" the King answered, adding a warning tone to his voice as his eyes flicked to the red head.

Puffing out his chest, Sora stepped forward importantly, grinned, and called, "I'm here now, so let's try again!"

Rolling my eyes, I watched as they all grouped up and summoned their Keyblades. Glancing back at me Sora questioned worriedly, "Aren't you going to help us?"

Letting my gaze fall, I muttered, "I can't…"

"Aw gawrsh Fai, whaddya mean you can't?" Goofy wondered, coming up at placing his hand on my shoulder consolingly.

"Exactly that," I whispered, holding out a shaking hand to demonstrate the loss. "It's not there anymore."

"What?!" everyone cried unanimously. Sora most of all, looked horrified at the realization. But before things got carried away, the King held up his hand and cut through the chatter, "We cannot discuss this now. We've got to think of a way out."

At the reminder, I drew my lips into a thin line, I nodded. He was right. There were other more pressing matters. According to Aqua, this place was extremely difficult to get out of. The only way she and I were able to get in so easily was by using a Dark Corridor. I stepped back next to Donald and Goofy, giving the others a solemn go-ahead. Sora looked like he wanted to argue more for my sake, but when he saw the look on my face, he promptly closed his mouth.

"Okay everyone, think of home!"

All eyes were closed in concentration. I watched the tips of their weapons for any signs of power, but nothing happened. Lounging back on the moss in defeat, Axel called up lazily, "Told ya so!"

"Shut up!" I spat. "Why are you even here?! And how did you get that Keyblade?!"

Sure the last time I saw him, he'd sacrificed himself for Sora's sake in Betwixt and Between, but before that…he'd tricked my memories and tried killing me!

"Ah, so you're still mad about whatever I did back when I was a Nobodie? How boring…"

"Are you trying to say that you're not responsible?! Cause I have a hard time believing a piece of –"

"Faitouru!" Mickey cut in dangerously. "What's done is done. The important thing to realize is that he's on our side now."

Anger pulsed up from my core, sending my skin into a fit of crawling vibrations. But, I couldn't let him get the best of me. I only had to look at Sora's face to see what Roxas would think if I took out my rage on him.

"Fine…" I muttered, letting my fists drop to my side. "Can't we call Chip and Dale? Have them send a Gummi ship?"

"I'm afraid there's no signal to contact them."

"How did you get here?" Kairi asked, directing the question to me.

"My Mother used her powers over the Darkness to make a Corridor." I answered, having a hard time swallowing past the lump that had newly formed in my throat. Not only was I reminded that the woman that raised me was gone, but also I was somehow tied to the Darkness after passing into Kingdom Hearts. I knew what they would surmise before even they did.

Phrasing the question carefully, Riku asked, "…do you think you could open one for us?"

If anyone other than him had asked, I might have thrown a punch. Out of all those gathered, he was the only one that knew what it was like living with Darkness inside. Clutching the mark on my chest, I felt the blood drain from my face as I answered faintly, "I…I don't know…"

"Do you think you could try to –" the King started.

"No! I won't…!" I cried shakily. I don't even remember when I was that thing. All I had to go off of was Sora's account of my trying to eat his heart. There was no way I would put him in danger like that again.

And almost like he could hear what I was thinking, the spike headed idiot stepped up and explained with a soft smile, "We can take care of ourselves, not that we'd have to anyway. You didn't hurt me then, and you won't hurt any of us now. I trust you."

What a moron. Why did he always have to go around saying stupidly optimistic stuff like that? It was annoying, but…very welcome.

"Alright…but I don't even know how to use that other side of me."

"Just try," Riku said encouragingly over Sora's shoulder. "It can't control you if you won't let it."

I was still wary of changing, but their confidence in me was making me feel more at ease. Not enough to drive away my inner voice screaming for me not to do it though. Taking a few steps back, I motioned for them to stay away. Sora, looking like a lost puppy, ran over and said low enough that only I could hear, "Don't worry, I'm right here. I'll bring you back..."

Biting my lip, I gave him a quick nod of understanding before 'shooing' him over to the others. Once I was standing alone, I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the river just beyond the trees and the wind brushing past my cheek. My mind centered in on the mark over my chest that always seemed to be smoldering with a deep power. The warmth grew the longer I focused. Soon, I wasn't even thinking. I didn't know where I was.

"Faitouru…! Fai, listen to me! You can do this!"

Was that Sora? Why did he sound so far away? He was right there, wasn't he? I just needed to open my eyes.

Slowly, I peered out into the woods, everything looked so strange; like seeing through the surface of rippling water. I could make out the others; all standing around me looking worried holding their weapons and Keyblades in their hands. I'd let the Darkness gain too much control. It was just what I was afraid of. Staggering back in horror, I quickly made the plan to run away as fast as I could. But then I heard his voice again.

"Fai, look at me!" he cried, stepping right up. I could feel the intense urge to puncture his chest with my claws and rip out the thing I most craved, but his eyes found mine in the sea of confusion making my body freeze.

"Remember what I told you? I'll bring you back every time, but first you need to open that Dark Corridor."

A sense of relief flooded me, clearing my vision, allowing me to focus even more on him. I didn't know what I was planning on doing. His heart was there for me though. I could feel it radiating. It was almost like a small part of it was channeling into my own chest filling the aching void. Relying on that feeling, I was able to push back the want and raised my hand thinking of where we needed to go. The power tore through the Darkness, making a pathway. I'd done it!

"Let's go!" Mickey called. "It might not hold for very long!"

The others quickly sprang into action, heading straight into the Corridor. Before I could do anything, I felt a hand cover my own. Looking down, I saw Sora dragging me after him. Why wasn't he afraid of me? It would be so easy to take his Heart from him. He wouldn't even know it happened. Does he…does he really trust me that much?

Walking through the Dark Corridor wasn't anything like it used to be. It was like taking a stroll across a meadow it was so normal. No pain or loss of strength. I really wasn't a Protector anymore. Once we were out on the other side, I felt my powers fading. Sora braced me as the last of the transformation happened, leaving me slightly light headed.

"Great job, Faitouru!" Kairi cheered, giving me a small hug. "I knew you could do it."

Smiling weakly, I glanced up at the crooked tower flanked by billowing pale orange clouds. I really had done it. I'd gotten everyone safely to Master Yen Sid's tower. As a wave of happiness and pride rose up, my vision faded into nothingness.