MANDATORY AUTHOR'S NOTE: Sorry this update took longer than the last ones, but I was trying to decide where I should cut this chappie off. I figured it out, though, so don't expect a LONG chapter, but it's decent. WITHOUT FURTHER ADO!

DISCLAIMER: This disclaimer applies to the entire story. Kingdom Hearts and any and all things having to do with it do not belong to me. However, the plot and plot events are entirely MINE, along with the band Destiny's Embrace, the use of the word Hikari as a name, and the characters' personalities. I also don't own Doritos or Revlon, lol.

NOTES: This story is rated M.

ENJOY!

~x~

Chapter Twenty-Nine

~x~

Kairi had never thought she'd say it, but . . . She was bored. Out of her mind, amazingly bored. It had been two days of nothing but sleeping, and practicing fighting and sparring with Vanitas and Tidus. Roxas did nothing but mope and pace around the kitchen all day, speaking to no one. Sora was never around, though nobody knew where he was going off to, nor how he was managing to disguise himself and all that spiky hair.

Just what was he doing out there all the time?

Kairi flicked a strand of her crimson bangs out of her eyes and frowned. She wished she had a rubberband to tie her hair up, but alas, she was without many things in this empty house. She knew it was a frivolous thing to be worried about in the situation she was currently in, but it kept her mind off of darker things. Darker things such as the imagery that flashed through her mind when she thought about what could possibly happen to them if the Organization caught up to them. If they found them, would they kill her? Would they kill everyone? What could they have in store? She couldn't remember ever being more frightened, save for the times that Riku had gotten to her.

"Good, Kairi!" Tidus exclaimed happily as Kairi blocked one of his punches with a swift, spinning kick in mid-air. "You're getting so much better, seriously."

Kairi merely smirked and got back into her base position, fists up and knees bent-just as Vanitas had taught her. The raven-haired boy himself was standing off to the side with his hands on his hips, watching Tidus and Kairi train in silence.

"What?" Kairi complained, shooting him a sour look. "What am I doing wrong this time?"

"It's your form!" Vanitas spluttered, throwing his arms wide as if he'd been waiting to say this. "You're not loose enough; you're being too rigid. The more tight your body is, the harder it's going to be for your reflexes to kick in fast enough. Remember, these guys are seasoned. They'll shoot you mid-punch if you can't disarm them."

Kairi rolled her eyes, though she knew in her heart he was right. She was being too rigid. But it wasn't that she was doing it on purpose, honest! Her mind was too preoccupied, and she couldn't stop wondering if one of these punches or kicks might be what saved her in the near future. She was just plain scared. Not to mention, she hadn't really spoken to Sora since their argument back in the hotel room. She was still a bit miffed with him for always being so distant and controlling.

"Try it again," Vanitas ordered, crossing his arms over his broad chest. "Try it again, and don't stop until you get it right."

"But how do I know when I've got it right?" Kairi protested, still crouched in base position.

"When you aren't doing it wrong anymore," Vanitas said with a disarming grin.

Well, looks like Vanitas and Sora shared the same smartass attitude.

There was a flash of blue in the corner of her vision, and Kairi barely had time to duck before Tidus punched her in the side of the head. Gathering her wits about her, she placed on hand on the floor behind her and swept her left leg out in a half-circle, knocking Tidus off of his feet. He fell backward, and Kairi lunged forward with catlike grace, landing on top of him with her gun (safety on, of course) pointed directly into her face. He grinned up at her, both of them panting.

"How was that for doing it right?" Kairi asked, sticking her tongue out at Vanitas.

Vanitas merely raised one eyebrow as if to say, "What are you talking about?"

Confused for only the briefest of moments, Kairi's gun was knocked out of her hand and her wrist was grabbed in a vicelike grip. Wrapping one leg around her hips, Tidus rolled her beneath him and wrapped one hand lightly around her throat, pinning her opposite wrist to the carpet.

"Never lower your guard," Tidus teased, getting to his feet and dusting himself off.

"Ugh, this is so stupid!" Kairi muttered, rubbing her rump gingerly and glowering over at Vanitas. "When do I win?"

"Who says this was about winning?" Vanitas asked incredulously. "This is about preserving your life and giving yourself the chance to either kill or escape. So far, Tidus had killed you a hundred times over, road block. In real life, all it takes is once."

Kairi pouted and stormed off to the bathroom to spalsh water upon her sweaty face. This was getting frustrating, and Kairi was starting to get discouraged. Every time she thought she was doing things right and finally able to say she could do it, it was wrong. She was trying so hard, and it wasn't good enough, and it was overwhelming her.

But she knew she couldn't dwell upon it. Kairi had made a vow to protect her friends and get stronger, and this was how she was going to do it. She needed to listen to Vanitas if she wanted to stand a chance against the Organization.

Her faculties settled, Kairi held her head high and strolled back out to the sunlit living room. She saw that Tidus was waiting for her and so was Vanitas, so she quickly lowered herself into base position. Narrowing her eyes, she wasted no time.

Kairi made a dash for Tidus and he immediately aimed a left hook toward her. She faked toward it, ducked to the right and rammed her open palm into his gut. She was much smaller than him, but it winded him nonetheless. As he leaned forward, the breath rushing out of him, Kairi was like lightning. She fisted her hands in his hair and yanked his head downward to meet her knee. He cried out in pain as a distinct crunching noise sounded out and stumbled backward, one hand gripping his now-bleeding nose and the other arm flailing about wildly in shock. Kairi jumped up a foot or two into the air and whirled around, her hair a crimson fan around her body, and the heel of her foot smashed into his cheek. He spun around twice and collapsed onto the ground just as Kairi landed deftly on two feet and turned to salute Vanitas.

"I thought you said this wasn't about winning?" she challenged.

Vanitas's jaw had dropped and he was staring at her in dumbfounded awe.

"I . . . I take it back. Holy fucking shit, Kairi, that was . . . What the fuck just happened?" he cried, running his fingers through his unruly black hair and grinning like a madman.

"What just happened?" Kairi repeated as she knelt down beside the unconscious Tidus and pinched the bridge of his nose to quell the bleeding. "I did it right. Now, help me get him up and into the bathroom . . ."

Sora came home at some point while the three friends were in the empty bathroom, using Tidus's own tee shirt to staunch the blood that was flowing from his nose. Tidus was exclaiming how proud he was of Kairi for finally getting it down when Sora materialized in the doorframe, looking alarmed.

"What the fuck happened to you, dude?" he demanded, looking around at the three in bewilderment.

"Kairi happened to me, dude!" Tidus laughed in awe, his blue eyes sparkling. "She knocked me out in two moves."

"You know how to fight?" Sora asked her, eyebrows shooting up.

"Vanitas and Tidus have been teaching me," Kairi explained as she worked to help Tidus.

Sora exploded a split-second later and began roaring, "You've been teaching her to fight?!"

"Oh, calm the fuck down, crazy," Vanitas scowled at Sora. "You're the one who didn't want her to have a gun. This is an alternative form of protection."

"Then what's fucking tucked in to the back of her pants?!" Sora hollered, sounding out of his mind with anger.

Kairi knew her V-neck was riding up in the back, showing the rear of her skinny jeans, where the gun was tucked safely into the waistband, but she didn't care anymore. She'd already told Sora to stop telling her what to do, and yelling at her wasn't making her any more inclined to change her mind.

Calmly wiping blood from Tidus's face, Kairi merely retorted, "Don't tell me you forgot what a gun looks like, Sora."

"Okay, wow. Wow," Sora snarled sarcastically. "Treat me like I'm the idiot. Like I'm just this bad, horrible guy who tries to control you. Well, fuck all of you. I'm so fucking fed up with this shit."

Vanitas, Tidus, and Kairi stood in the large bathroom and looked at each other in astonishment at Sora's sudden outburst. It had been expected that Sora would react in such a way, but it wasn't expected for him to say what he'd said to Kairi. Sora had stomped off to the stairs and gone up to disappear into the darkness and emptiness.

"He better get his shit together," Tidus said, his nose sounding clogged.

"Easier said than done," Vanitas sighed. "Guys, I think he's really overwhelmed right now."

"Yeah," Tidus agreed. "He's doing the best he can, but I don't think he knows what the right thing to do is."

As Vanitas and Tidus continued to discuss Sora's well-being in the bathroom, Kairi left them to go see how Roxas was doing. The other boys might have been playing into Sora's asshole pity party, but Kairi knew that boy like the back of her hand. He was trying to get his way, so he was throwing a fit. Typical Sora, and Kairi wasn't going to fall for it. He didn't get to cuss at her and yell at her like that, and then get her sympathy. No, she was going to ignore him until he came down and apologized to her.

"Hey, Roxas," Kairi said, leaning against the doorframe.

Roxas was still pacing.

"Hey," he murmured, arms crossed tightly over his chest and eyes downcast. He looked sadder than Kairi had ever seen him-like the weight of Namine's death was pulling him down deeper and deeper into an abyss from which there was no rescue or return. It was scary to witness, especially since Roxas was as much her close friend as Namine had been.

"How you holdin' up?" Kairi asked, brushign her hair behind her ears.

It took him a long time to say anything, but Kairi waited patiently. Nobody had really gone to talk to Roxas since they'd arrived at this house. He was probably going out of his mind.

"I keep going over it in my head," Roxas whispered, pointing to his temple and looking at Kairi with wide, tear-filled eyes. "I keep thinking . . . Thinking about the f-fact that I was there. I was fucking there. It was at my concert."

Kairi took a step closer to him, compassion filling her heart. She knew exactly how he was feeling, those intense feelings of guilt being mirrored in her own soul.

"Roxas," she said haltingly. "It's not your fault . . . Nobody predicted that it was going to happen."

"But maybe I could have prevented it. Maybe I could have protected her, or . . . Or . . . Maybe even stepped in front of her, I just . . ." He broke down, and Kairi immediately rushed ot his side.

Petting his hair with one hand and embracing him with her other arm, Kairi tried her best to soothe him. He was crying so hard that she was forced to lean up against the counter for fear of them sinking to the floor together. Nobody had loved Namine more than Roxas, but Namine had been Kairi's best friend. If any two people should share the burden of grief, it was Roxas and Kairi.

"I know it hurts," Kairi said softly as he sobbed heavily. "I know. But it will get better with time. Trust me." She tried not to think of Hikari, but it was hard.

Roxas clutched at the back of her shirt desperately and continued to cry, but Kairi knew he had heard her. Perhaps if someone had been there for her like this when Hikari had passed . . . Maybe things would have turned out better. But Kairi knew well that it didn't do to dwell on wishes and dreams because they only brought you sorrow. It was better to accept and live your life. If that was one thing Hikari had taught her, it was that you had to live your life for yourself and not let unchangeable matters hold you back.

You had to be strong.

After awhile, Roxas drew back and wiped his eyes, his face splotchy and red from crying so hard. In this state, Kairi could see all of the freckles on his face and she was reminded of the fact that he was actually a redhead. Her mind traveled back to the night when she'd asked Vanitas if Roxas was her brother, remembering how she had found nothing out because Tidus had interrupted their conversation to ask for Vanitas's help with something. Kairi didn't know what he'd needed help with, but Vanitas had looked so relieved to have an excuse to leave that it infuriated her. Still, she didn't ask him again because it was obviously something that would breed contempt later.

But it didn't change the fact that she still desperately yearned to know the truth.

Sora and Roxas were related by marriage, so Kairi's relationship with him wasn't in question. What was in question was whether or not Roxas was her brother, and who had known if he was. Because if any of them knew a secret like that and never told Kairi, she wouldn't be able to forgive them. Especially Sora. If it were true-if Roxas were truly her brother-then how could Sora hide such a thing like that from her, when she was without family in the world? It wasn't like it was something that needed to be hidden, was it?

Unless there was more to the story than Kairi had any idea of . . .

"Guys?" Vanitas rapped sharply on the doorframe leading to the kitchen and gave them both a small smile. "Are you guys hungry? Sora's making a run to the store."

Kairi didn't even bother to ask if it was safe for him to do that. He would go anyway, regardless of the safety matters. Sora probably believed that it was better for him to be caught and killed than for any of his friends to, and it frustrated Kairi. She wanted to fight her own battles and make her own choices, damn it. She felt like other people had been pulling the strings for too long: first Riku with his abuse, and then Sora with his secrets. No more was she going to allow herself to be controlled.

"I'll go with him," Kairi announced. "In fact, maybe we all should go. We're safer in a group."

"No." Sora stepped up behind Vanitas, pulling his black Zine hoodie with the white-liend zipper on and zipping it up. He was wearing black skinny jeans and his black Vans, so Kairi figured that was part of the "disguise" he used when he went out for hours at a time doing God-knows-what.

"It's not smart for you to be going off by yourself, Sora," Kairi said slowly, trying to control her temper. "It would be better if we all went, because if they come after us, they'd have to contend with the five of us while they only have four people left."

"And what makes you think that you're ready to hold your own against-" His words were cut off as Kairi pivoted backward on her right foot and kicked him directly in the lower abdomen with her left. He lost all of the oxygen in his lungs and fell to the kitchen floor on his knees, clutching his stomach in pain.

Without so much as another word, Kairi stepped around him.

"Let's get going you guys," she said to her dumbstruck guy friends. "I'm hungry."

~x~

Kairi, Sora, Roxas, Tidus, and Vanitas arrived at Target within the hour, moving as quickly as possible through the store to get their food. It was packed due to some sort of video game release, so they at least had the cover of human bodies to melt into just in case the Organization members happened to be following them. It was unknown whether or not they knew what Vanitas's car looked like yet, though it was highly likely that they did seeing as that was the only car they'd been using. Still, the fear was enough to keep the group on their toes and alert.

Unfortunately, the crowd was so thick and pressing that they got separated at some point. Kairi stopped in the middle of the Revlon make-up aisle and looked behind her and in front of her for any sight of spiky hair from any of her boys. She saw nothing, and decided to keep going toward the food. They didn't have much time to waste, and she was sure they'd all remember not to leave the store without meeting by the front doors first.

Weaving her way through families and singles alike, Kairi made it to the produce aisle and began to select her favorites. They didn't have a microwave or electricity in the house, so the only things she could pick out were fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, and processed snack foods. She grabbed a basket and filled it as quickly as she could without drawing too much attention to her black-clad self.

Tidus appeared beside her momentarily, dropping a super-size bag of Doritos into the basket and smiling down at her. "Everyone's in the candy aisle, don't worry," he informed her. "I'll stick with you, though."

"Okay," Kairi said, throwing a couple more furtive glances around her. She saw a few faces she recognized from her former school, but they either didn't seem to recognize her back or they simply didn't care about her presence because no one greeted her or anything. She supposed it was for the best, since they were in hiding from a notorious and murderous gang.

Heading to where the bottled water was kept, Kairi stood in front of the shelves with Tidus and debated which was smarter to get: 24 individual bottles, or a few gallons of water. This is what sucked about Target—you go in for a quick run and end up spending hours and leaving 200$ shorter than what you came in with. The redhead was quickly turning her fear into frustration, finding that this was taking much too long.

"Tidus, just grab the . . ." She trailed off when she felt the distinct feeling of eyes upon her. Hand still poised in midair, pointing at the waters, she turned to look at the end of the aisle. Her heart ceased beating in her chest and her words choked themselves off in her throat.

Larxene.

Kairi dropped her basket, grabbed Tidus's hand, and screamed at him to run. Their feet pounded against the surface of the floor as they shoved their way through all the people, trying to reach the candy aisle as fast as possible. Kairi tried to remain calm and remember her training, knowing that now might be the time when she'd have to use it.

As if on cue, someone jumped out in front of them and leered, reaching for the front of Kairi's shirt. Kairi could feel her gun in the waistband of her jeans, but she knew better than to draw a weapon in a store full of children. Instead, her reflexes kicked in and she did what she had been practicing for the past three days.

Xaldin reached for her, but Kairi swiftly side-stepped him and turned herself to face his arm. She grabbed his wrist and yanked him forward, directly into an elbow jab to the ribcage. He grunted in pain and tried to wrap his arms aroudn her, but Kairi was prepared for him. She twisted aroudn to face him and clapped her hands against his ears as hard as she could, disorienting him and causing him to sink to the floor entirely.

"Nice!" Tidus cheered, grabbing onto her hand again and pulling her away from the stunned man. They resumed their mad dash, seeing that the aisle where the others were waiting was just yards ahead of them.

Kairi couldn't believe that she had actually done it! She had actually managed to knock a real human being to the ground twice today (no offense to Tidus, of course) using only what Vanitas and Tidus had taught her. She felt amazing. She felt strong and proud—like she was becoming her old self again and finally able to protect her friends should the need arise.

Suddenly, Tidus was no longer beside her and he was writhing on the ground in pain as his blood spread out from his wounded leg.

Wait . . . How had his leg been wounded? And why were Kairi's ears ringing?

Everyone in the store was screaming in horror and fear, stampeding toward the doors as the Target employees anxiously tried to herd them out as safely as possible. Kairi felt herself being buffeted around by all the bodies, and inside her head she was crying out in terror because Tidus had been . . .

Shot?

Why does this keep happening?

Kairi didn't have the time to think about it, because the next thing she knew, she couldn't breathe and darkness surrounded her vision. She still heard the incessant, echoing ring in her painfully throbbing eardrums, and she felt someone grabbing her arm and viciously yanking her in some random direction.

No . . . Kairi thought in despair. They're taking me . . . It's all over, it's . . . What's going to happen to me?

And then the darkness eclipsed her entire body, and she saw and heard nothing more.

Sora . . . Don't let them hurt me . . .

~x~

A/N: I know, I know—it was short again, lol. But I can't make the chapters long without giving away too much in each chapter, dangit! I'm hoping the next chapter will be much longer, though, hehe. I hope you enjoyed it! What will happen to poor Kairi? And was Tidus really shot? Will he be okay? UNTIL NEXT TIME!