Author's Note: First off, I apologize if there's anything contradicting to The Spirits Within in this. It's been years since I watched the movie (I really need to watch it again), but I've tried to keep it canon to the best of my ability. But some things had to be changed to make the story work. For instance, the characters' age differences might be somewhat different. And Aki knows Neil, Jane, and Ryan in this (when it was clear she didn't in the movie). But my reasoning for that is they went to school together, but didn't ever really cross paths so Aki didn't remember ever having known or seen them in the movie. Anyway, I should shut up before I spoil this whole story. Enjoy (I hope).

Say Say, Oh Playmate

It was a day like any other in the shiny playground that belonged to the elementary school children. Though it did actually have sheen to it, adults mostly looked it at admiringly because it was a shining beacon that kept their children safe from the true horrors of the world. The place was like many others that way. There were schoolyard scuffles, boys picking on girls because they "liked" them, fights over who got to kick first in kick ball... Yeah, it was a mundane place that teachers could just kick back and remember simpler days.

Unknown to them, however, there was one little girl who was already much more adult than they were. A girl who when she grew up would have the kinds of troubles their imaginations could have never begun to conjure up. But that's a story for another time.

This story, however's, biggest surprise in that for once a cliché would be proved true. A boy did pick on a girl because he liked her. They were the only ones the adults would be right about. Because they were soul mates, and Aki Ross (who would want to hear the end of it because she didn't believe in soul mates and the like) would never be able to escape the ribbing she got for falling for Gray Edwards.

Say say, oh playmate
Come out and play with me

And bring your dollies three
Climb up my apple tree

All of Aki's life, whenever her mother would describe her to strangers, they'd all assume she had brown eyes. Apparently, it was some sort of belief that only brown-eyed people could become ecstatic over things. Apparently only they could have perfectly round, and dilated eyes when they came in contact with something they'd dreamt of their entire lives. And if one had hazel eyes (Aki's actual eye color), they couldn't feel anything other than love for people. They were too calm, collected, and concise to become excited over things they had no way of proving.

Even at the age of eight, Aki had acknowledged that these people were idiots. But apparently she broke all stereotypes. She, a hazel-eyed brunette (don't even get her started on the things expected for brown haired people), was the biggest science lover there was. More than once, her father had snapped a picture of her face when she looked at constellations (or something of the sort), and her wide hazel eyes were held permanently in the still for anyone to see. Aki had thought more than once (since her father doted on her far more than necessary, and always used pictures of her as his screensaver) that she looked as though her eyes had been digitally altered when she saw something worth her time. Did her pupils really get that big?

But if there was ever any proof that what people held onto could be a load of garbage... It was certainly her mother's friends that said, "A hazel-eyed person can never be that enthusiastic, or that unrealistic, about far-fetched ideas."

Aki, as many would soon find out, loved nothing more than to prove people wrong. So her favorite past time at recess had come to pass. Though it was true it was against the rules to climb the towering oaks (and that was enough incentive right there for Aki to prove she wasn't a cookie-cutter child), it wasn't because of that that she'd dreamed of climbing a certain one for years. It wasn't even due to the massive height of the thing (the which of had made Aki have to strategically plan for years just how she'd go about conquering it).

Rather, the trunk of the tree was the kind of brown she was certain people imagined her eyes to be. It certainly matched her hair well enough. But what really made her want to do this... was because of the blue leaves sprouting from it. Aki had never seen an oak tree like it in her life. She was almost positive the blue of the leaves was unnatural. So she wished to pluck them from their high nest so she could study them. And she also wanted to flaunt that a blue-eyed gal (because on rare occasions her eyes could look that color) had risked everything to get similar colored leaves. Today was going to be a day of reckoning. A day in which all of her dreams came true. A day in which the annoying Gray Edwards messed everything up.

The eight-year-old watched horrified as the baseball the boy hit went sailing right into the tree she'd been sizing up, and tore a birds nest right out of it (but somehow managed to stay stuck in the tree even when knocking the nest out). Aki squinted against the glaring rays of sunlight that she was now subjected to. The massive birds nest in it had always provided nice shade on the side of the tree she'd come to dub as "her side". The fact that Gray had knocked something out of the tree that had been part of it for as long as Aki had known it was enough for her to find some irritation at the bully (even more so if a bird had been in the nest; thankfully none were, but they'd still lost their home). But what really made Aki furious was that now the janitor would bring out a ladder to retrieve the baseball. And since he always forgot to put the ladder away...

He'd taken the challenge away! And if Aki didn't know any better, she would have sworn he'd done it on purpose. After all, no one had ever gotten a ball stuck in her tree before. Aki had begun to think such a feat was impossible. And now, the day she'd finally decided to throw caution to the wind and follow her dream, Gray had had to go and ruin it for her! Now that there was a ladder now, there was no way she'd be able to calm her racing heart into climbing the tree without it. She supposed she could still just use the ladder and climb up it before recess was over (at least that way there'd be a chance she'd get caught and in trouble), but it just wasn't the same. Maybe she should just give it up. It was probably a sign anyway. Everything she'd planned now was for naught. So it had to be. It figured. Her whole life she'd been looking for signs, and now that she got one she wished she never had.

Furious, Aki thought she'd save the janitor some work. Climbing up on the ladder (which was a little wobbly and therefore a little exciting), Aki climbed up and grabbed the baseball. She was almost certain she was leaving indentions in its surface via the fingernails she was digging into it, as she thrust it back towards Gray with much more force than necessary. She was pleased when he not only caught it, but also seemed to have a hurt arm afterward. And here he'd always made fun of her in gym! Granted, she had a baseball glove on (it had been part of her crazy idea on how to climb the ginormous tree) that she'd won, by accident, from a major league baseball player (so it was probably top notch and making her a lot more skilled than she'd be normally), but she was still pleased with herself. She noted that Gray was sending her a dark look even as he rubbed his shoulder and had a friend lend him an ice pack she'd been nursing her black eye with.

At once, Aki was indignant. Oh he was just playing it all up, wasn't he? She doubted she'd hurt him that bad. But it wouldn't be Gray if he didn't milk his injury for everything it was worth, would it? But to take a cold compress from a friend that had really needed it... He was pure evil.

Crossing her arms angrily, Aki forgot that she was still standing on the ladder. With the change in the placement of her weight, the ladder tilted and Aki found herself somewhat soaring through the air. Thankfully, she found herself on some of the branches she'd planned to go for first in her attempt to climb the tree, but she wasn't sure how long she could keep her balance. And she seemed to have kicked the ladder away. Either that, or the branches were farther away from the tree's trunk than she'd ever realized. Nah. That couldn't be it. Her calculations just couldn't be wrong.

Yeah... she wasn't fooling herself, either. What was worse was that she wasn't fooling herself into believing she'd be okay. Granted, Aki had never been much of a believer in things she couldn't see, but if it would keep her from falling and making a fool of herself (and probably getting hurt, too). She would have gladly formed a new hypothesis to explain how one's positive outloo-

With a squeaky noise, that any other time Aki would have protested could never come out of her own throat, the girl found herself falling towards the ground. Her hands reached out desperately for anything she could latch onto, but she couldn't get a real hold on anything. She felt like she'd never stop falling, and that she wasn't taking too long to descend, all at the same time. And then, she found herself encased in something soft, and everything she thought she'd ever known came crashing to a halt. "When you fall from somewhere high, it's soft? Well, how strange. Everyone must be lying then; I wonder why they would, maybe their reasoning's affected oddly from the sho-"

"Will you shut up, Romanticizing Moss."

Aki froze. Her muscles locked, her rambling ceased, but her mind was working much faster. The fall hadn't gotten her adrenaline up, but someone else had. Gray Edwards had her cradled in his arms. Gray Edwards had just saved her. She'd thought as Gray Edwards as "soft". Yep. Her reasoning must have truly been affected, but that didn't explain his actions. Why on earth had he caught her? How had he? Especially after she'd just "hurt" his arm. She'd never doubted her worst enemy's intelligence (she was arrogant enough to think anyone butting heads with her had to be smart), but now Aki was beginning to wonder if Gray was as foolish as everyone else around her. It would explain why she hated him so much.

Yes, his desire to play baseball instead of kickball couldn't be because he didn't want to get in stupid arguments with his friends, like she'd once thought. He just wasn't smart enough to realize that by playing a less popular sport, he was isolating himself from his followers. Err... friends.

"You can put me down now," Aki snapped. She didn't know which was worse. Being saved by the vilest of vile people, or finding out he was unworthy of such loathing. Or maybe it was something else. Something in the back of her mind. Something she couldn't make sense of at the moment.

The boy dropped her without anymore reason. But before he did, Aki was horrified to figure out what the other awful feeling was: when Gray was holding her, she felt warm and safe. It was similar to how she felt when her mother held her. She fought the urge to scrub at her tongue (even though she hadn't been kissing Gray's hand like Jane, across the playground, was Neil's). It was nothing, right? Absolutely nothing. She had nothing to worry about. Boys had cooties, and there was no way she'd ever want to be friends with this jerk.

After all, he'd just thrown her down. Despite what she'd asked, he could have done it gently. He should have- yeah; she wasn't fooling herself, either. Gray offered Aki a tentative smile, and though she hadn't gotten in trouble for climbing a dangerous ladder and tree, she did for giving Gray a black eye so he actually had reason for his ice pack.

Slide down my rainbow
Into my cellar door
And well be jolly friends

Aki swore that if her "friends" tried to invite her to another stupid social gathering one more time... Shaking her head to rid it of her angry thoughts, she set to work in preparing the microscope she'd come to school early just to use. It turned out, that when she'd been falling to her death from a tree (that didn't seem nearly as big when she looked at it from the eyes of a middle schooler), she hadn't exactly pulled up nothing when she'd been trying to save herself. Nope. She'd gotten a handful of the very leaves she'd been seeking. She'd still been irked that she hadn't been able to climb to the highest vantage point of the tree to get them, but she wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth, either. Even if that someone was Gray Edwards. It turned out that he hadn't only caught her that day, but the way she'd been sandwiched in his arms had kept her from releasing the leaves to the winds when she hadn't even known she had them. Though she almost had lost them when she'd clocked Gray one. When she realized she had the leaves, and had nearly dropped them, she'd pulled back a little so she could hold onto them instead of giving Gray a broken nose. And she knew she would have, too. Along with the black eye. She had been a feisty little kid, hadn't she?

But thankfully she was a little less violent now. But that wasn't exactly a good thing, either. She didn't care about much anymore. She assumed part of the problem was just adolescence and being new to the "friends" thing. But she had to wonder if all of the hurtful things people had said to her had darkened her.

There was no point in thinking about it. No, she just had to put away her emotions. She was a scientist, after all. Such a thing should have been easy. She'd gotten used to dealing with hate from religious people. She'd also gotten used to people being mean to her just because she was smart. And the insane idea she'd had for a while to find a way to dial down her IQ. Yeah... fix a problem resulting from being smart by using her smarts, she certainly had a lot of street smarts. Not. It was a good thing that Gray had talked her out of that one.

Dammit! Why was she thinking about Gray? He was the source of a lot of her problems, wasn't he? He certainly was for what she'd just done. How she'd injured her fingers from rapidly switching slides she wasn't sure, but she somehow had. She was such a freak. And a failure at anything physical. What had happened to the girl that had kind of injured Gray's arm via throwing a baseball? What had happened to the girl that had climbed ladders and trees with the best of them? Where was the rebel that didn't care what people thought of her? It seemed all of those people were gone, and Aki didn't know how she felt about that. At least, that was what she was playing at. The tears that glided down her cheek let her know exactly how she felt about a lot of things.

Aki was so lost in her musings (something she rarely let herself do when it came to her feelings), that she didn't even notice someone had come to sit beside her until he was in her personal bubble, and copying her usual stance of holding her hands under her chin, and getting up close and personal with the object of her fascination. "Ouch. How'd you hurt your hand this time, Romance? You know what, don't answer that. I'd rather you answer how you've kept those leaves in such good shape. You used to carry those around like little girls did their dollies, but I see you took better care of them then they did. You know, I never did believe your crackpot answer for liking them. Carrying about stereotypes? Please."

Aki laughed somewhat at Gray's silly speech. When she turned to face him, she hoped that it wasn't obvious she'd been crying. And, yet, part of her wished he would see. He cheered her up like no one could. If she could show him the root of her fears, maybe he could make them go away completely, but alas. She wasn't trusting enough to do such a thing. Instead, she flipped the light on (all the better to see Gray with), and hoped they would get caught in here. Because even though she'd been rather sad the last three years, she had to admit that after she got in trouble for hitting Gray, and they oddly, forged a friendship... the years that followed had been the happiest of her life. Would she find something similar if she got in trouble this time? She was working with the magical tree's leaves, after all.

Rolling her eyes at herself, Aki decided it was best to act like she normally did. So she poked Gray in the ribs, and gave him a small smile. "Hey, I believed that at the time. I was a silly eight-year-old. Of course, I was worried about silly stuff. I should have been thinking about how there are no other leaves like this in the world."

She expected Gray to make some kind of sharp remark at her words, so she was shocked when he didn't. Glancing over at him from the corner of her eyes, she noted that he was giving her a contemplative look. Aki bit her lip in confusion. She'd seen Gray give her this look many times. She'd dissected what each and everything he did and said meant... save for this one look. It made her uncomfortable, but it was a different unease. Not the one she'd felt for being cootie-infested for a boy saving her when she was eight. But at the same time, it was the scariest feeling of all.

Especially when Gray reached a hand across the table, and tucked a piece of Aki's hair behind her ear. "Sometimes I think you're still just as silly. I'm glad. I wouldn't want you to lose yourself because of..." Gray trailed off, but Aki didn't miss the wistful tone he'd had before cutting himself off. "Anyway, I've got to say I'm surprised you took this long to examine the leaves. Aren't you afraid their makeup might have changed with time? But knowing you, this is probably the millionth time you've looked at them, huh?"

Sometimes Aki swore Gray still liked picking on her. Why else would he say the thing she'd find the most hurtful? She sure as hell was ashamed she'd taken so long to check them out, and she didn't need Gray pointing out her flaws to her. She ticked her fingers on the lab table annoyed, as she prepared to give him a piece of her mind. But there was that tentative smile again. It seemed as though she'd been wrong, when she was eight, in thinking he was mocking her with it. He really was just trying to be nice and make conversation. It just had to be coincidence that a lot of times his "kind words" were low blows to Aki. But she wasn't exactly nice when she'd yell (or hit) him as a result, either. It was like a closed circle. They both just needed to stop what they thought was right, but their love/hate relationship had become such a part of them... Who would they be without it?

Finally, Aki decided to take the high road. "Unfortunately, this is my first time viewing them under such a high powered microscope. They're not easy to come by. And the one my parents gave me is really for kids. It's a magnifying glass pretending to be-"

"Are you trying to tell me a genius like you wasn't allowed to use the school's microscopes until now?" Gray asked with a raised eyebrow, as he caught onto where Aki was going with her tale.

Aki ducked her head sheepishly at Gray's compliment. Even if it was actually certifiably true, she didn't always enjoy the praise. Rather, she didn't enjoy the hate that came with being gifted. "Umm..." Aki began unsure (which she instantly hated because she was never unsure about anything, but her insecurities were coming into play again). "I don't think they believed I wouldn't just use the microscope to goof off. They're not used to a student taking things so seriously. Much less one who's been asking to use one over and over since she was eight. In their defense, they are expensive. They probably thought I would break it."

"Ahh. I'm distracting you for your long awaited research; I should go." Honestly, Aki rationalized it probably would have been for the best, but as Gray began to get up (and probably mill about in the cafeteria until school started), she found herself unable to let him leave. It was dumb, really. He probably would have had a much better time with his... their friends (especially since he was being good and not bothering Aki, as she examined the leaves' particles again and again), but she was glad to have him there. In fact, she almost felt like he needed to be with her on such a momentous day. If he'd never been there when she'd fallen, she might not have been around to realize...

"These leaves are alien. In fact, that very tree might be, too! There is nothing like them in this world. Simple tests like, by just feeling the texture, proves that they're one of a kind. In fact a dichotomous key..."

"So you're saying… I don't know, that, a meteor flew over Earth and some bits of it fell off, and led to this tree's creation?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying!" Aki didn't think she'd ever grinned wider in her life. She also doubted her hazel eyes had ever looked so big. They looked as wide as saucers, as the eighth grader got to her feet, and looked Gray in the eye eagerly. She imagined she was probably smiling a thousand watt smile, too. She'd never been so relieved in her life. Everything she'd done that day had been worth it! Far more than worth it. Everything she'd risked on the idea that...

Everything she'd risked… Man, was she an idiot. She'd become friends with Gray that day. She'd fallen... fallen for him (even though she'd never admitted it to herself until now), but why was she so afraid to act on her emotions? Why was she so afraid to have friends? To be loved? The way Gray was looking at her reverently, and the way his mouths formed the words, "You're amazing, Aki," told her all she wanted to know.

She hid the leaves away in the science lab (so someone else could discover what she had someday), and looped her hands with Gray's. Hand in hand, they began walking to the cafeteria. And despite the warring feelings in her heart, it was Gray that seemed the most confused. "Where are we going?" he asked as he brought Aki to a stop in the hallway (much to the aggravation of many students walking past them), and looked at her sternly. "You just made the discovery of a lifetime! Everything you've wanted for years... why would you hide it away in Mrs. Leroy's cupboard?"

"Because they weren't meant for me, Gray. At first, I hadn't even realized I had the leaves. And I ripped them when I pulled them from the tree. Despite their sturdiness, I destroyed them somewhat, but I got so much more. Something better. From the ashes of that, I got what I should have wanted all along."

And if Gray had needed any more clarification, he didn't after Aki planted a loving kiss on his gaping mouth. He quickly responded, though. Even with Neil and Jane's own downfall plaguing his mind. But they had to be opposite of them. They had to. They always had been, but Gray wanted it now more than anything. Because... because he loved Aki.

He imagined he had, in someway, since he was eight. And he'd never be able to bear it if he lost her. And even though Aki said she was over the fears, and pain that had plagued her her entire life, he was afraid she would call it quits. Who was he without her? Who was he without their relationship? At the moment—as he pulled her closer to him and broke the rules in another way—he didn't care that he didn't have the answer. It wouldn't be until later that he would

But the world can spin so madly
And love can hurt so badly
And stories end so sadly
But this is not the end

It would not be until after high school was over and done with that the fairytale would begin to fall apart. Looking back on it, Aki wondered if it even would have been possible for bad things to happen in her last days of school. It was a dream, a dream she never had wanted to wake up from. It had seemed her idea about getting over her fear of people had proved to be a good one. Aki had blossomed those years. Not just as a social insider, but as someone more notable in the world of science. Now that she was more amiable, she could really be regarded and respected in that world. Her dreams were coming true in every aspect, but she had to admit that Gray was holding her back. Because... because her beliefs in aliens (that Gray had always laughed at) was coming back to haunt her, and she had to be the first person to act on it. She simply had to. Otherwise, it could all be too late.

"We may have had disagreements in the past, Aki, but this is ridiculous. To pretend to date a science genius just for better standing in the community? What happened to the girl that didn't care what people thought of her? The girl that wanted to prove stereotypes wrong?"

Aki sighed through her nose (which unfortunately ended up coming out as a snort; not exactly what she needed in this situation), and eyed Gray with the tiny smile he'd used to give her. The only difference was that it didn't reach her eyes. Somehow, they'd switched places. Gray had all kinds of hope for their future and Aki... Aki was becoming more independent. She wouldn't say she'd reverted back to the way she'd been in middle school, someone that had been against interaction in general, but she was now strong enough and confident enough to stand on her own for what she believed in. "It's not going to be a big thing, Gray. Just enough for people to listen to me. You know there are older people that think just because I'm a woman, just because I'm not married, I-

"You know I've proposed to you more than once." Aki laughed slightly, as Gray put his hands on his hips in a gesture similar to what she'd do when she was irritated. His attempt at lightening the mood seemed to be working. Did she really look that foolish when she was mad? If she looked foolish, maybe she was that in her defensiveness. In what she wanted. How had they changed so much? Aki had always used to know what she wanted for herself, but now she couldn't be sure at all what to do with the choices she'd been given.

They were currently in the office she'd been given by Doctor Sid. Doctor Sid was such a great man. Aki found that it was often the inspired, new age professor that took her seriously at all. People had never taken Aki's genius very well. It was hard for people to believe. Aki, like many visionaries before her, was different.

And, of course, no one had been able to swallow what she'd said about the the genetic makeup of leaves of all things coinciding with bits of rock they'd found as a national security risk on the old playground. Her old playground. Right next to where her tree had been before it had up and died. If only she hadn't given those leaves away. Looking back on it, it was rather dumb. She could have held onto new ideals and keep such an important find. But that would have defeated the purpose, wouldn't it? Well, if nothing else she could have put them somewhere other than the crazy chemistry teacher's classroom. She wondered what accident-prone freshman had probably destroyed them in their thesis. When she'd ventured back to get them one time, all that was left was residue. Where the wind had failed to take the leaves away from her when she was eight, the door opening out towards the greenhouse had.

Paying attention to the matter at hand, Aki noted where Gray's focus lie. Instantly, she stole the designs for the barrier cities from his hands, but it was too late. Even if he didn't speak to the public (and despite his desire to be a soldier to keep people safe, Aki didn't think he would), his disapproval was as evident on his face, as the love in his eyes (that she'd finally figured out that was what the look was) had been ever since the eighth grade. "I had nothing to do with it, you know," Aki said with stung pride whilst hitting him on the hand with the folded paper. "But just because you aren't listening to logic doesn't mean other people aren't-"

"And you must be so sure of the fact to want to find someone else to convince the populace. Aki, it's not that I don't believe you. I've realized long ago never to doubt you, despite how annoying it can be that you're always right," Gray paused here, and smirked at Aki. As odd as it was, Aki found her face flush at the look. Even though she knew she loved Gray, and he her, sometimes it was hard to believe that the bully she imagined was him. Rather, that there had been no bully in the first place. It was hard for her to believe she could be loved so thoroughly. It also meant a lot to her that Gray loved her despite their disagreements. That instead of losing his head over their different ideas that he would poke fun at them. Or that he would just talk to her so sweetly, quietly, and sincerely to try and get her to see his way... to make her see how much she meant to him.

And just like that, the wrongness of what she was doing was crystal clear. "Gray, I'm sorry."

"You've tried so long to convince me there's something after this. Don't back out on me now that I finally believe."

That was true. For some reason, after they'd begun dating, Gray had thought that it wouldn't last. That Aki was either too good for him, or her long believed notions would make her push him away. He'd even said that she might resent him someday. As if she could ever think that about someone like Gray. Oh god... what had she done? What had she been thinking? Especially when... especially when she'd been having certain dreams lately.

"How did we end up like this?" Aki asked, as she faced Gray with her arms crossed over her chest. She was happy when the slight movement allowed her arms to brush along his chest. Though they had too many issues to just run into each other's arms and pretend nothing was array, Aki was pleased that there was less of a barrier between them than she'd anticipated.

This room was so very similar to her middle school science lab. And, of course, the science lab connected back to that magical day when she was eight and allowed herself to befriend Gray. It was funny that back then she'd thought that that was the wrong decision. And now it seemed awful to her that she was letting certain things keep them apart. But she, like everyone, had been forced to grow up after graduation. And in growing up, she'd been forced to put aside the childish idea of miracles. At the moment, it would have been a miracle if the entire world didn't fall apart.

"We don't have to be like this, Aki. You know I've always loved you, and that I always will. However, when I brought you out into the light, I hadn't meant for you to lose the old qualities you held onto. You may think you've matured, but I think you've just evolved into what people want you to be. You haven't-"

"Grown," Aki finished Gray's sentence for him, but it was he that was touching her as tentatively as he had when they were in high school. Aki remembered the first day well. And it was as much as a dream then that it was looking back on it now. She wished she could hold onto it and all of its meanings forever. If only…

Gray and Aki were sitting in their high school cafeteria. Gray had his arm wrapped around Aki snugly, but she could feel the anxiety in his muscles. She could understand well. While it was true she was a little worried for getting in trouble for PDA (getting in trouble on the first day of her high school career would be a troubling thing, indeed), what she was really conscious of was how much meaning gestures like his arm around her meant. Though they'd been dating since the eighth grade, it somehow seemed like a new thing entirely now that they were in high school. It might have had something to do with all those cliché stories where romance didn't really start until then.

Aki knew for sure, on her part, that it hadn't seemed as much like dating a year ago. Not that Aki didn't love Gray even then, but when you were in junior high, you lacked certain maturity. And a means to actually act like a couple. As you couldn't drive, you usually acted more like friends because you were forced to hang out at each other's houses.

Yeah… things seemed to be changing a lot since then. And Aki was enjoying every minute of it. When she'd been little and had dreamed of making herself remembered for something, she'd never imagined she could have someone with her. Aki wanted to change the world, to make it a better place, and heroes usually were meant to be alone… Or so she'd thought. With Gray, though, she couldn't imagine ever being without him. It all just felt so natural. Maybe she'd been wrong to ever think things couldn't work between them. More over, maybe she'd been wrong in believing Marvel comic books.

As she sipped on her favorite Coca-Cola Icee, Aki couldn't imagine how life could get any better. Gray was silent as he munched on his Doritos, but that was to be expected. Thankfully, it was a comfortable silence. Aki didn't know what she would have done if it wasn't. Especially since they'd lost more and more friends over the year. Not in a bad way, they'd just somewhat drifted apart. They'd all gone to find their dreams, and Aki was happy for them. Especially since she wasn't complaining about the quality time it left her with her boyfriend. Most of the time, it didn't even seem like there had been a time before it was just Gray and her.

Like right now a boy and a girl, that looked vaguely familiar (even more so than the African American boy with them) were in some kind of heated argument. Honestly, Aki had to admit she thought she knew all of them. She just couldn't put her finger on it. Especially since it seemed to her the boy and girl with the amazing tension ought to be kissing instead of arguing. Of course, the same probably could have been said about her and Gray a number of times.

Aki was distracted from her thoughts when Gray threw a piece of Dorito at her hair to get her attention. Apparently he now thought it a good time to converse her in conversation. Aki rolled her eyes, as she pulled the Dorito piece out of her hair, but even that was with an accompanying grin. She just couldn't help herself from enjoying her time with Gray.

"I've been saying for five minutes now that I want your help scheduling before they're locked in."

Huh. She hadn't heard that at all. She also doubted she ever would have guessed that was what Gray wanted. Sure he was looking at his papers (a few times even bumping her with them, as holding her and looking at them was difficult to do simultaneously), but he'd never really seemed to care what classes he was in before as long as he got a lot of credits. She wondered what the difference was now. She had a feeling it was specified in the name of the building. High school. Or, more exact, he was probably thinking about his future. Suddenly it seemed as though a rain cloud had come to ruin the perfect picture Aki had painted.

"You want to change your schedule now? Do you have interest in a new class or something? Did they add something new?"

"Actually, this combat class seems kind of neat. Especially if people are right and in a few years the world won't only end, but aliens will dance on our dead bodies."

Aki shot Gray a look at that. Though she didn't think he was making fun of her per se, she knew he was certainly having a go at "crazy theories" people were having lately. Aki wasn't entirely sure what she thought on the subject (the leaves she'd found seemed to be hinting at something, though). But she didn't exactly like it when Gray discredited people in the science community. She would have said all of this, if she hadn't noticed the true interest in his words (underneath the joke).

"You'd make a great soldier," Aki admitted, as she purposefully looked away from him. There was no need for him to know how much she didn't want him to pursue something that would take him away from her. Especially since it'd be very unfair since she was looking at anything people were offering her in science. "In fact, I always thought you might do something physical as a career. You like helping people. You like saving people, even if it is in a way different than my desire for it. A way that scares me. If nothing else, I guess it makes sense why we're together."

What on Earth was she saying? She could barely even make sense of what she meant. What was Gray supposed to take from that? And she'd sworn she wouldn't let her own emotions get in the way, so why had she? Why couldn't she have contained her fears for one moment? She'd used to be good at it, but now…

Aki pulled away from Gray's embrace, and slumped in her chair, as she buried her face in her hands. Gray was rubbing comforting circles in her back and she wished she could tell him to comfort himself after the cruelness she'd just afforded him. She was the worst girlfriend ever. Of course Gray ought to follow his dreams, and of course she ought to want him to. Did she not get that in all the stupid comic books she'd used to read?

"Aki, you don't need to feel bad about being afraid I'll get hurt," Gray whispered as if reading her mind. Aki had had to wonder if Gray did have personal access to her thoughts on many occasions. Either that, or he had an Aki dictionary. "In fact, I rather appreciate it. And I find it amusing that you're worried about making me upset because you're worrying. You really must love me. And that must mean I was right in calling you 'Romancing Moss', after all."

At that, Aki had to pull her hands from her face and laugh out loud. Even if she didn't get what that had to do with anything, it was nice to hear the funny nickname again. It was nice to see just how far they'd come. "Didn't you call me that because you thought I was a science freak and, therefore, would love to study moss and the like?"

"Yes, I admit that's true," Gray admitted embarrassedly, as he seemed to somewhat shift away from Aki, and rub the back of his neck. "And I think I came up with 'romancing' because the first letters were actually what your last name started with. But I'm sure you noticed I eventually just called you 'Romance' for a while. The truth, Aki, was that I liked you even when we were kids. That was part of the reason for the name, but when I realized you were in love with me… well, I shortened it to 'romance' because I hoped you and I could share that."

Suddenly, Aki couldn't even seem to remember why she'd been fretting before. Her heart was ignited with a light and life that only Gray could awaken in her, and she was overcome by her love for the man. Right then, she knew they'd be able to get through anything. Even if their dreams kept them apart somewhat, they'd still be together and find their way back to each other. Aki knew this just as much as she knew the Earth revolved around the sun.

Well, when she ended up kissing Gray she thought the world might revolve around him, but one mustn't blame her for her lust-addled thoughts. They were breaking the rules again, in way of French kiss, but this time they didn't get caught.

As Aki looked back on that memory, it suddenly seemed so true that Gray was right. By letting others affect her, she hadn't grown at all. She didn't feel like she'd really spread her wings since that moment with Gray. Her roots were being held down, but the minute she found she didn't want that, Aki found herself soaring through the air. It was like when she'd been falling from the tree, but this time she was aiming for Gray to catch her, and he did just that. Aki's knees gave out, and Gray dragged her feet across the ground, as he pulled the sobbing girl to him. She clutched to him for everything she was worth.

Why on Earth hadn't she been doing this? Especially with the horrid dreams she'd been having about him dying. Was that, then, why she'd been pushing him away? Because she didn't think she could take the pain if she lost him through the universe's will? It was a silly thing to think for more than one reason. But mainly because she knew she could never be without him. Even if it was of her own doing. She'd die without him because Gray did so much more than help her grow. He allowed her to live.

"Please don't leave me. Please stay like this with me forever. Please." Gray hugged Aki tighter to him, and kissed her head in answer, but it didn't do much to relieve Aki's fears. It was nice, yes, but she couldn't get over the feeling that this moment would become as dream like and unattainable as her perfect high school years with Gray. Aki felt as though this was a perfection she'd forever strive for, but never be able to obtain.

'Cause you still have my heartache
And I still have your sweater
And things they will get better
Oh no, but not today

Aki wasn't entirely sure how long she sat in the unnerving room that had saved them and simultaneously destroyed Gray. She sat, of course, in the council room where she'd revealed she'd been infected by a Phantom, and therefore was able to go about her plan with Doctor Sid. It was a great room, but also a terrible one. General Hein hadn't sat idly by after Aki's news. And everything that had happened here did result in them winning their planet back... but it also led to Gray's sacrifice. And though the black bird she'd seen had been a welcome sign, a proof that death wasn't the end, it wasn't the sign that she had wanted. She wanted Gray back more than anything. And she wished she could have been able to tell him that. She hadn't spent nearly as much time with him as she would have liked.

Going on her quest with Doctor Sid had been well worth it, but she'd lost precious time with Gray. And when they didn't see eye to eye (probably due to him always being the levelheaded one of them, and at the shock of everything that had been happening), she'd just let the wall stay up. She should have gotten back with him much sooner than when they were in outer space. She should have done so much, but now it seemed as though it was too late. Resting her head in her hands (much like she had in their high school cafeteria that time), Aki rubbed at her temples and just wished for the world to rewind.

What had happened to the good times? What had happened to when they would figure things out together, and it seemed to further prove they'd bring the best out of each other for forever? Like when Gray had spoken up on her behalf quite a few times before she left. When they'd become engaged not just so she could get a face other than that of an eccentric girl, but because he really wanted to support her in everything she did. Aki had always felt like she was lost at sea in her world; it had only been Gray that kept her from floating away completely. He was her anchor, and she wasn't at all sure what to do without him now. Was saving Earth—a planet that had not only lost so much—but Aki was so unsure of, really worth it?

As soon as the words started to hold weight in her heart, Aki just as soon felt a tugging motion there. Startled, she clasped her hand over her chest and tried to wrestle the pain into submission. Was she just imagining it, or was it something else? She didn't have a Phantom in her anymore, so she shouldn't have been dying or anything of the sort. But then again, nothing she thought she'd known had gone according to plan. What if the infestation had left some lasting trauma on her organ? As much as death seemed a welcome relief (especially after losing Gray and the friends she'd all but forgotten about: Ryan, Neil, and Jane), she couldn't allow herself to succumb to the temptation. She wouldn't leave Sid alone, but more than that, if she willingly let herself go now, it would be a slap in the face to Gray. She could just imagine how he'd tell her to stop romanticizing the idea of death or something of the sort.

It was hard to believe she'd once hated Gray. That she'd hated him and his nickname for her, and had thought he was just mean to her. What she'd give for those blind days now. Even if she had to live an eternity as an eight-year-old that didn't understand Gray at all, she would have taken it gladly over a life without him. To sleep perchance to dream. But that was dangerous thinking, too. If she fell too much into the dream, a reality she longed for, she would probably never wake up.

And the Earth needed her. It always had, and she'd thought she needed it. It was only now that Aki understood that she'd needed Gray more. He was her reason for wanting to live. He was her reason to want to fight for their planet: the strength behind her frail will. She really was nothing without him. He made her see so much she couldn't anyway else. She needed him. But the Earth needed him more.

Ironically, she'd always thought she'd come up with some amazing discovery to help mankind. She'd thought that Gray's path, though noble, could only lead to destruction. Why, then, had he been the sole savior of the Earth, and she only destruction? Gray had worried about her growing, but it was really him she should have been worrying about. Maybe if he'd become as seasoned as that tree she'd dreamed of climbing all of those years ago, maybe none of this would have happened. Maybe if they would have come full circle that way...

It would be just as she was thinking in spirals, that everything would spiral into control. Normally one would have said they'd spiraled out of control. Because, really, what was happening before her eyes oughtn't be happening. But to her it was a miracle. The dream she thought she'd never obtain. To her, the world seemed to turn on its axis, but as she'd had things backwards all along, she finally found herself righted into the way she was supposed to be.

Coming soaring out of one of the room's cabinets was one of those alien leafs from long ago. If she were thinking rationally, she would have realized that her old, crazy chemistry teacher had been more than a teacher. She'd been a highly respected genius herself, and had been invited to this room a number of times. So of course it made sense that the leaves could be here.

What didn't make sense was that they were completely whole again. Not even the tears she'd given them at eight were still present, but they were remarkably the same leaves. They had to be. The tree was destroyed now. So what did it mean? Aki remembered how rough and difficult it had been to tear the leaves. It was as though they had been meant to last forever. If that was the case, did that mean they'd regenerate their lost pieces if they ever did get damaged? It was the only explanation she could make up.

Rushing for the leaves that were blowing towards her in an odd wind (right towards where she'd felt the pain in her heart, she might add), she picked one up, and noted that even though the leaves no longer had any wear, there were the slightest bit of prickly parts where she'd once torn them (and they'd been torn in other ways since), but that was the only thing to show how they had been. If she had to compare it to anything, it'd be Velcro.

But the blue was not unfamiliar! How had she been so blind? It was the same blue humans had turned when the Phantoms had stolen their lives! Though Aki had known the tree was alien, she'd never guessed they'd been from the same dead planet as their aggressors. But if what was destroyed was meant to heal that meant. That meant...

Tears brimmed in the corner of Aki's eyes, as the strangest hypothesis she'd ever come up with began coming true before her eyes. Gray was being brought back. If she had to guess, she would assume all of the humans would be brought back in order of most recent kill to the first. Aki would have worried that the Phantoms themselves would come back, but she knew that wasn't possible. She'd negated them. They didn't even exist anymore, and Aki was very keen on pretending they never had. She had to wonder, though, if the Phantoms could heal themselves... how had their planet and life forms been destroyed?

As it was, that was a question for another time because all of the dreams Aki had always scarcely believed would come true, were coming to her faster than she could comprehend. For once, she was glad to not be dissecting every key thing she was witnessing. There was only one thing she cared about at the moment, and the rest could wait forever. Gray wasn't fully formed yet, but truly giving faith a try for the first time (without any underlying qualms), Aki threw herself at Gray knowing he'd catch her.

He did. He was in the form he'd been just before his soul had been taken. He was holding onto her hand, and she could hear the "I love you" he'd spoken as clearly in her ears, as she felt her echoing words on her own heart. "Gray!" she exclaimed as he reformed just enough just in time to catch the logic ignoring girl. He made an oomph noise as Aki slammed into him roughly, and she unfortunately bent his arm back in a way that looked a little unnatural (clearly he hadn't been as back in flesh as she'd thought), but neither seemed to care.

In fact, never had Aki heard such music to her ears (despite the brief pain the sound meant for him). And that included all the amazing and beautiful things he'd said to her over the years. Because despite all odds, he was alive. They'd made it to the other side. They'd found there was something beyond death and were better for it. Love. Love was beyond death. Even in Gray's death, Aki had never stopped loving him, and though she hadn't had the opportunity to ask him yet, she knew he had probably had the same experience. And now... and now their love for each other had not only reunited them, but also had saved the world. They had achieved the impossible, and it was all because of a stubborn girl who wanted to disprove stereotypes, and a boy who had caught the silly girl with leaves clad in her hands. Where they'd gone from then had led to the happy ending of this story, and wherever they went from now could only get better. It led to the new beginning they'd been looking for. The new beginning after the end of the world, the new beginning their love-hate relationship had led to.

So, I'm afraid, dear reader, this story mattered much more than I let on. Much more than any one person can let on. But at the end of the day, all that matters is that a boy teased a girl he liked, and through that an amazing love was born. A love that will last forever, and be the start of a new world where they will teach others to love and not to abuse. Forevermore they'll be together, and so this is not the end. Not today.

Aki ignored Gray's question of, "Is this the room where you made yourself Hein's target?" and kissed him soundly. This time, he kissed her back even with the initial shock, and he didn't have a doubt in his head. It was just like when they'd been dared to kiss as five year olds and be "play mates"; where their initial hate had started, but unlike the silly boy that had teased Aki and drove her away in response, this Gray would never let her go. As the leaves flew around them, Gray knew (because he realized the truth of the leaves like Aki had) that their love would be immortalized.

Author's Note: This story did NOT want to end, but I'm so glad it did! I really liked this despite how long it took to write and edit. And, yet, I'm somehow still unsure about it. Drop me a review and tell me what you think.

If anyone reads this, that is. I know this movie wasn't that popular (and is the reason Squaresoft had to merge with Enix). Even fans of this movie complain it had nothing to do with FF. I really like it, though, and this pairing, so it seemed right that I write something for it. Because, honestly, I have for pretty much every other FF I know.

And sorry for any mistakes I made, though I checked for them a lot, this story is LONG and I probably missed stuff.

This story is for The Infinite Dani-Chan Replika who's my bestest friend in the world. Even though I don't know if you like this movie and/or pairing, this story was solely inspired by your "Say Say, Oh Playmate" Ven/Naminé video, so here you go :)

Fans of KH and/or VenAmi should check that video out. Just search "Say Say, Oh Playmate" by SnowKissDani. Actually, if you hear the song lyrics I based this off of, it would probably help a lot. It's "Forevermore" by Katie Herzig.

And kudos to anyone who notices certain quotes I used in this. I think I was unconsciously trying to make TSW more FF-esque. If only they'd put Aki in KH or something. A doctor/scientist person would probably be a good help to Sora, but I know they won't do that :/

Also, I might cosplay as Aki for an anime convention this coming weekend so wish me luck on that.

Anyway, I've ranted enough. Review if you read/liked. I think this might be one of my best stories. I liked creating a background for Gray and Aki. I think I did a good job, honestly. I love background stories because it makes me love people and pairings more.

Also, Troy Baker is awesome (he's the voice actor for Snow in FFXIII). It was partly finding out he liked The Spirits Within (and my decision to cosplay as Aki) that really pushed me to finish this story.