{summer in winter}

The little village was not what she had been expecting from a faerie refuge. It was pretty, all white and grey stone and bright red and black bricks. Trees twisted high into the sky, appearing like pale malformed giants in the darkness. Wind whistled through the leaves, and she stuck closer to Rhyme's side when she began noticing gleaming red eyes in the shadows.

Rhyme glanced up at her, and she smiled. "Don't worry, Princess," she said. "No one will hurt you as long as Neku and I are here."

Xion looked at the orange haired boy. He was taller than her, his face solemn and soft, and he resembled a child in some ways. He had a sweet face, but a cold demeanor. It made her try and keep her distance from him. She wondered if the young knight, who she learned was only two years older than her, would truly defend her against the monsters that lurked in the dark.

"I know," Xion said, returning the smile. "I've never been around faeries before, though. I'm just a little… um…"

Rhyme laughed. "You're spooked, is all," she concluded, shaking her head. "I don't blame you. Sometimes even I find myself frightened of fae."

"With good reason," Joshua chortled from ahead. Rhyme glanced at him, her eyes flashing in the dark. Xion knew that girl was angry with the king of faeries, but it seemed as if he'd been trying very hard to make it up to her. "Many fae are horrible creatures, and humans are easy prey."

"You should keep a tighter leash on them," Rhyme murmured. "Laws go the way kings direct."

"I'm only the king of some faeries, Rhyme." Joshua shrugged, his body shifted in the shadows ahead of them. "And I can't fight nature. Fae hunt humans. They murder children, steal hearts of maids, and smash skulls of men to gulp up their brains. I have no call over the ways the gods made us."

"I suppose," Rhyme said. She tilted her head back, her eyes landing on the stars the speckled the sky. Xion noticed she watched the stars quite a lot, and she was itching to ask why. "But even so, Joshua, you should take great care in where you plant your feet. People follow the ways of their king." She looked at him then, and she smiled knowingly.

Joshua said nothing in response to that, and Xion wondered if Rhyme had finally struck a cord with him. Xion looked to Neku, and she saw that he was smiling as well, like Rhyme had just told a jape, and only they knew the meaning of it. Xion found that she admired the little changeling for her boldness. She did not seem to fear Joshua, even if he was her king.

She was relieved when they stepped into the small inn, warmth tickling her face. She pushed back the hood of her cloak, glancing around the little room. There was a hearth, and a few round tables and chairs. It was cozy enough. Neku immediately dropped beside to fire, tossing his own cloak aside. Rhyme followed him, though she kept her milky colored cloak draped around her.

"Josh," the barkeep greeted, his voice full of dull surprise. "You do realize that you can tell me when you're coming, right?"

"And ruin the suspense?" Joshua laughed, and he tossed his ashen hair from his eyes. "Never!"

"Hello, Mr. H," Rhyme called from the fire, smiling widely at the barkeep. Mr. H glanced at her.

"Ah, you brought the whole gang." The man rubbed the back of his neck, hunching over a little. He glanced at Xion. "Plus one. Do you want me to go wake up Shiki? She'll throw a fit in the morning if she finds out the lot of you were here, and no one told her."

"I can go get her," Neku said, rising to his feet. "She's probably sewing right now anyway."

Xion watched as he disappeared up the stairs, and she noted Joshua's smirk. "Now if I didn't know any better," Joshua said, cupping his chin, "I'd say Neku was smitten with your little pixie— wouldn't you, Hanekoma?"

"He's human," Hanekoma said with a shrug. "I wouldn't blame him. It's Shiki we should worry about."

"Why?" Rhyme piped up, her eyes widening. "Shiki's nice. She wouldn't hurt Neku."

"Oh, Rhyme, that's not the problem," Joshua sighed. "It's because Shiki is a fae, and Neku is a human. It would not work."

"Why?" Rhyme repeated, lines of confusion creasing on her forehead. "Neku isn't a bad person, and neither is Shiki. They'd work it out if the truly wanted to."

Hanekoma sighed as well, and he scratched his head. "You don't get it," he said. "You're just a kid, so I don't blame you. But faeries… they can live thousands of years and maintain their youth. Neku will die long before any of us have reached mid-age."

Rhyme's eyes widened in a flash of fear and confusion, and Xion's stomach twisted at the thought. It was like one of her love stories. Fate intervened between Neku and this girl, Shiki, it seemed…

"I wouldn't think too much on it, Rhyme," Joshua said quickly. "To be honest, Neku isn't quite the creature of love, so I believe his feelings for Shiki are purely platonic right now."

Right now, Xion thought sadly. She remembered how long it took Terra to even entertain the thought of falling in love with Aqua, and she felt a great sorrow for Neku. He had his entire life to develop feelings for this faerie. But it wouldn't be enough.

"So, Josh," Hanekoma said, changing the subject as carefully as he could. "Why exactly are you here?"

"Can I not visit my old friend?"

Hanekoma laughed, and Rhyme did too. "No, you can't," said Hanekoma. Joshua opened his mouth to object, but Rhyme spoke first.

"You have an ulterior motive to every move you make, my liege," she said. "You cannot blame him for the assumption."

"Oh, please!" Joshua rolled his violet eyes, his head rolling back. "It's not as if he's any better."

"I'm your humble servant," Hanekoma said with a wicked grin. "My liege."

Joshua smiled at him. "Did you tell that to the Queen of Summer as well?"

Xion sunk beside Rhyme, utterly crushed with confusion. They babbled back and forth like this, Rhyme putting in a few words before sinking into the background again. She found herself thinking of Riku, the faerie knight who had tried so hard to defend her from Joshua… for what? He didn't seem so bad. She wished she could apologize to him, help him through the grief of the girl he lost, but… Riku was still a stranger. So were these people. She had to remember that.

Neku appeared with a small faerie in tow, and Xion stared. She was reminded of the way Rhyme had looked when they had first met, though the girl was taller, and her skin was a normal peachy hue. She had brown hair that fell to her jaw, pinned with a flower, and her teeth were jagged and pointy. Her eyes were the scariest thing, all black, no pupils, and no irises, not a color gleaming behind her spectacles except for the ebony.

"Rhyme!" she gasped as the younger faerie stood. "Oh, why didn't either of you tell me you were coming? I was making you a dress!"

"I hope you didn't design it," Neku quipped. Shiki glared up at him.

"I didn't," she huffed, hugging a stuffed cat to her chest. "But maybe I should design you something."

"I wouldn't wear it."

"Yes you would!" Shiki scowled. "I know you would, you'd feel bad if you didn't!"

"No I wouldn't?" Neku rolled his eyes as Shiki pushed him, and Xion giggled. Rhyme smiled beside her, and Hanekoma barked a laugh. Joshua simply watched. "Stop pushing me."

"Only if you stop being so rude!"

"Hey, break it up!" Hanekoma called. "As much as I enjoy you folk, this is my establishment you're in, and it is currently closed. Buy a room, or tell me why you're here and get out."

"Now," Joshua said, "that's rude."

"He's right," Rhyme said carefully. "We should tell him why we're here."

"I take it that it has something to do with the little black beauty," Hanekoma said, jerking his head at Xion. She blinked, and glanced at Rhyme.

"Oh yes," Joshua said. "Hanekoma, meet Princess Xion of the Heartlands."

"Josh, kidnapping a princess is not really the way to go if peace is on your mind."

"I don't plan on keeping her." Joshua smiled, and Xion thought he looked especially cruel. "Not for much longer, at least. I was hoping you would keep her for a few days while I sorted out… other things."

"That's fine." Hanekoma shrugged. "I'm not into the details, so don't clue me in. The less I know about your schemes, the better."

"It's for the good of the world," Joshua said firmly.

"I hope you're telling the truth." Hanekoma sighed, and Xion saw that he looked much older now, years and years of age wizening his features. Hanekoma had the body of a man in his mid twenties, but he was so much older… Xion could see that now.

Joshua turned toward the door, and Rhyme and Neku stiffened. It seemed as if they were not entirely keen on leaving just yet. Then, Joshua stopped, and he looked back at Hanekoma.

"Oh," he said loftily. "Also, I would like to speak to that pirate you're hiding from me… oh, what is his name? Neku?"

Neku blinked at Joshua, his mouth falling open. "Pirate…? What—?"

"I'll send him down," Hanekoma stated. Xion saw his lip twitch, but no one said a thing.

"What's happening?" Aqua gasped, nearly dropping Vanitas on the deck as Roxas's twisted shrieks reached her ears. She stared as the last ray of sun blinked over the horizon, and she pushed through Xigbar and Luxord to see what was happening. She bit back a scream of her own as the sight of Roxas's distorted body writhing against the wooden floor. No one dared touch him, it seemed, for his eyes were wild, and the braying of claws against the boards scratched in her ears.

His body bent and snapped, and he howled, his skull caving in with a jarring crack, and his bones shifted beneath his skin like snakes beneath a blanket. Aqua's grip on Vanitas tightened, and she stepped back, watching his hair recede and spring across his twisting body. His bones stopped shifting, and now his skin rippled, his muscles contorting beneath the stretch of flesh.

"Somebody help him!" she cried, her eyes flashing toward the spectators.

"You're mad, Cal," Xigbar hooted. "No one wants to touch wolfie. Especially not while he's changing!"

"No," Aqua said, backing away as Roxas's body went still. "That's silly."

"You say that," Axel hissed. "But look at you. You're just as scared as everyone else."

She froze, and she looked at Roxas. He was suddenly alert, his blue eyes darting wildly, and his mouth pulled back in a vicious snarl. He's right, she thought. Oh gods, that can't be Roxas…

The wolf was too large to fight, and she had to step back again the moment he turned on her. His teeth glistened in the twilight, pale as the sky above and longer than her pinky finger. She felt Vanitas's head shift, and his body shuddered against her back. He was gaining consciousness, and Aqua found herself wondering if he'd kill her right then and there.

She reached out towards the wolf, impulse taking her, and as it leapt at her she flicked her wrist upward swiftly. Roxas let out a soft yelp, his snout crashing into the magic that pooled around her fingers and formed a concrete shield in the air. Aqua stumbled back, and Roxas howled, hunching his shoulders as he glared.

Aqua rounded on Xigbar. "Get Roxas off the deck," she commanded, her voice harsher than she'd expected. "Luxord, you help him!"

"What? Cal— sweet, naïve, Cal, listen." Xigbar smiled widely, and he leaned back, his one eye narrowing. "We don't take orders from a greenboy like you."

"Oh?" Aqua's lips twitched, and her arms were quivering from Vanitas's weight. He wasn't as heavy as she'd expected, but she still had difficulty holding him for such a length of time. "I'm sorry Xigbar, where is my sense? Roxas is the captain's right hand man, shouldn't he be giving the orders?"

Xigbar looked startled as her eyes flashed to the wolf, and he was snarling at her shield. "I think he wants you as a snack," Aqua said softly. "I doubt Vanitas objects."

"You little—!" Xigbar's hand flew to one of his pistols.

"Do as she says!" rasped a voice at her ear.

She stiffened at the shift in Xigbar's gaze. He stared at her face with his one blazing eye, his entire demeanor changing. His eyes traveled down toward her chest, but of course he saw nothing, for her breasts were bound tightly with bandages. Then, Xigbar hooted.

"You sly bitch!" he cried. His lips drew back, and she saw his yellowed teeth gleam against the twilight. "All this time you've—"

"Be quiet!" Aqua snapped. She was tired of this man's comments. "Did you not hear your captain? Get Roxas off the deck!"

Xigbar's expression flickered, his rage flaring for a moment, before he smiled easily and spun away from her. Luxord watched her curiously, but said nothing, and joined Xigbar as he approached the wolf. The pale sky above them was melting into darkness, the red hue of the sun completely drained from the clouds. All there was now was white and blue and black, like a fresh bruise.

"Axel," Aqua said as the man edged near her. "Steer the ship west."

His narrow red eyebrows rose, and he glanced at Vanitas, who was stirring a little more. She suspected he would command to be put down soon enough. "Aye," Axel said crisply. "West then… to where, exactly?"

"The Heartlands," Aqua breathed, and in her mind she sunk into the sand and gazed at the starry sky, and beside her a boy would hold her hand and whisper the constellations… but that was a dream, and that boy was a prince, and nothing would change that.

The dungeon stank of piss and mold, the stones all damp from the streams that ran through the castle, and the water would seep through cracks in the grout at times. He tried to keep to the middle of the cell, but it was no help when the walls leaked and the floor flooded, sending him into an ankle deep pool of floating straw and the frozen corpses of mice.

Riku had been thrown into the cell perhaps a day earlier, just after Kairi had managed to treat his wounds. He felt a great appreciation for the little mermaid now, and he felt sorry that he had not reached out to her before this point. She needed help to keep her legs, and he wasted a week trying to get Xion back, when all he accomplished was getting thoroughly poisoned by iron, and then thrown into the dungeon for being a recognized fae.

Faerie. He'd gotten so wrapped up in his need to protect his naïve humans, he forgot for a short while that he wasn't one of them. The Skylands had strict laws on fae, and so he wasn't so surprised when they locked him deep beneath Heaven's Keep— some of his new neighbors sang songs of their wretched home, calling it a frozen hell. It wasn't hard to see why. By the third cell flooding, ice was caked to his breeches, and his entire body was numb.

The Skylands, and their Ruler of the Sky, and their Castle of Heaven… it was no place for a faerie, and his cell was built for the purpose of torturing any poor fae who had the misfortune to get caught within the land. The bars were made of pure iron, and so Riku took to pushing himself as far from them as possible. Still, the acrid hot smell burnt his nostrils, and he could taste the brittle metal on his tongue, hissing and sweltering.

Neku had done a number on Riku, and that was to be sure. Now it was difficult to remember what exactly had transpired that week, but he recalled being stuck in a loop, and just when he thought he was out, Neku would appear, solemn and aloof, and the torture would start all over again. Riku wasn't foolish enough to think that it was all Neku's doing. No, this was Joshua, as a punishment for trying to keep Xion away from him. Still, it only proved Neku's loyalty to the king, and Riku couldn't help but wonder if he'd been the same, once upon a time. He tried to remember how he'd felt when he'd been given to the young Summer Queen, who had taken to him with a shy smile and a gentle voice. She was never like Joshua in the beginning… but he'd changed that, and now he regretted every word he ever spoke to her.

I should have died with her, Riku thought miserably. She was my queen, and I was her knight, and I failed her.

When he slept, he saw her face floating above him, and when he woke it was still there. After a while he wondered if he'd died as well, but he was too cold to truly be gone, so he figured he was feverish. He watched her move about the cell, her pale gold dress streaming behind her, and she hummed a song about white faeries under a hill.

He spoke to her, in a dream, or maybe while awake, and he told her what he thought. She glanced at him, her eyes as reflecting a far off sea, and she laughed. "You're too noble, Riku," she said in a voice of wind chimes and ocean waves. "Why would you want to be dead with a horrible person like me?"

"You're not horrible," Riku objected. His queen tilted her head. "You've never been horrible. I'm the horrible one— I was the one who told you to be harsher."

"That was for my own good," she argued, and she smiled wanly. "And it was I who chose to love a human boy. That was what killed me, Riku, and you had warned me from the very beginning not to trust him."

"I told you to kill him," Riku whispered. "That was a mistake. You shouldn't have killed him. You shouldn't have had anything to do with him. He wasn't a normal human, and now he's—"

"A monster," said the queen bitterly. "Yes, I know. That's my fault too. I made monsters everywhere I went, and now I make monsters from beyond my grave… but, Riku, please don't die. I couldn't bear it if you were lost as well."

He stared at her, and he felt so confused he could barely breathe. She was close now, her face hovering above his, and she cupped his cheek in her palm. Riku blinked at her, and for a moment he recalled all the times he had imagined her so close to him… fantasies of a young and foolish knight. He moved to pull away, but her lips were against his before he could object.

She was soft, and warm, and it was such a gift in his numb suffering that he couldn't help but lean into her, his hands moving into her flaxen hair, and she smiled against his lips. There was something strange about the way she moved, her lips parting for his, and her fingers roaming his chest and grasping his hair. He wondered if she'd ever done this for the damned human boy, if her breath had ever warmed his withering, icy soul the way her kisses warmed his frozen skin.

His dead queen sat upon his lap, her skirt pooling around his legs, and he felt her slender hips against his own. Her fingers trailed across his jawbone, fire lay where their flesh met. He tried to recall if she'd ever been so bold while alive, but for some reason he could only remember her timid laughs and quiescent voice. Besides, she'd never shown an interest in him like this. This was a fever dream… that was the only explanation, and Riku grew angry with himself. This was his queen, and he was tarnishing her memory by dreaming like this.

Riku tried to pull back then, but the dead girl's kisses only became more desperate, and her tongue tickled the roof of his mouth. She tasted like snow, and sobs, and regrets, and her breath shuddered against his skin. She held him close, her teeth gnashing against the tender skin of his lips, and he struggled with his own desire. This was not her… she was dead, and it was his fault.

He pushed her back, forcing their lips apart with a trembling gasp from them both. She was still too close, her chest heaving against his, and her eyes flickered across his face. There was a flicker of bemusement in the depths of them, and she blinked. She jumped of him, her body falling into a small heap among the damp straw. Her body changed then, and Riku forced himself to sit up. His dead queen stumbled to her feet, her eyes flashing around the cell.

She was different. Her face was rounder, childlike, and her body was younger. Her eyes looked almost the same, only there was no recognition in the sparkling blue, nor a hint of an old sorrow. Rays of sunlight fell from her hair, spilling over her shoulders and onto the stone floor of his cell. She pushed herself as far from him from possible, her back bumping against the iron bars of his cage.

"Who are you?" he croaked, lost for words. She was not a faerie, nor was she his queen. He was loosing faith that this was a dream. It felt so real…

"Where am I?" she sputtered, her fingers against her lips. "How did I…?"

Her body flickered like a flame in the wind, and with a soft sigh she was gone.

Riku jolted from the reverie, his body numb with cold, and ice crawling across his knees. None of the warmth of the dead girl's kisses carried over from dream to wake… and Riku felt himself losing faith. He dropped his head into his hands, hissing at himself. This was stupid. His queen was dead, and he'd grieved long enough. Vow or no, he had to move on, and be sure not to make the same mistake twice.

As if his thoughts had been heard, a sudden burst of noise pushed at the iron bars. Riku's head snapped up, and he blinked as the light of a torch stung his eyes. The sound of keys jangling, and the calling of his name made Riku's heart jump into his throat. Sora. Riku knew before he even saw the boy's face, and a laugh of disbelief slipped from his lips.

"Idiot," Riku gasped as his friend dropped to his side. Behind him was Kairi, her fist tight around the torch. "Your father… you fool, you'll only get in trouble for this!"

"He already wants to force me into marriage," Sora snickered. "What worse could he do?"

"Sora." Riku grabbed his friend's arm, and he smiled gratefully. Sora grinned back, and his other arm hooked around him, dragging him to his numb feet. "How did you get out of the Hightower? Is Ventus back?"

He noticed how Kairi's shoulder's hunched at the mention of Ventus's name, but he didn't comment. Sora frowned. "Nah," he said. "Ven's in Arcanum. He's going to try and find Terra's— oh, he's the prince of the Heartlands by the way— girlfriend."

"The prince of…?" He thought of Xion, and his stomach flipped. That stupid girl's brother, the very person he had been protecting her from, was here. Riku had half a mind to hunt down the possessed prince and finish the job. "Never mind. Am I going to get a chance to speak with your father?"

"No!" Sora scowled, dragging him from the cell. Kairi followed, slowing to fit Sora's pace. "Gods, I just saved you, I don't want you to get thrown back into this place!"

"But," Riku said, his mind whirring. "I'm still loyal to you, and your family. Even if I'm a faerie…"

"Not a chance!" Sora frowned, and he looked up at Riku. "You'll get sent away, Riku. They'll lock you up and try and find what makes you tick until they kill you. That's what happens to faeries here, and I can't let that happen to you!"

Riku had never thought King Cloud a cruel man… not until today. "Where will I go?" he asked distantly.

Sora's grip on his shoulders tightened, and in the soft glow of the torch, Riku thought he saw tears in his eyes. He's still a child, Riku recalled solemnly. I'm old enough to be his great-grandfather… I always forget.

"I don't know— if I were you, I'd go home." Sora smiled up at him sadly. "One day, I'll be king, and you can come back… but that day is not today."

You know, I love this story. I wouldn't be updating it if I didn't, because let's be honest here, reviews kind of fuel my existence on this site. Thank you, everyone who has reviewed. Everyone who hasn't is a loser!

Anyway, if you actually do give a shit about this story, please review? I'm losing faith in it. I mean, it's not writer's block, it's just... disinterest. I can write it fine if I sit down, I just don't want to because I always feel like I don't have enough feedback to sit my ass down and continue with the plot.

Happy Halloween, if I don't update again until then (I probably won't, which means I'll have to wait until November, which means maybe I'll update this once in like a month? NaNo. But we'll see). Also, I enjoy make-out scenes. Like you guys have no idea. If you're confused about that part:

Riku was dreaming about his queen while Namine was also dreaming about his queen, and so she kind of took on his queen's persona and made out with him. Dream meshing. Yeah.

I imagine Riku said in response to the last line, "No shit, you dumb fuck."