"In love I have never felt so much joy. In love I have never endured so much pain."


Heroism Part III

Tokuichi cringed in weary pain as he sat down onto one of the kitchen's stools next to the refreshment bar. Leaning back into it's seating he ran a hand through his damp hair, heaving a reminiscent sigh of his long, much needed shower. Looking down at the locked cabinet in front of his legs, Tokuichi seriously considered breaking the lock and drinking all of his problems into oblivion through multiple shots of imported Saki. Knowing that acting on such temptation would only cause him more grief later on, Tokuichi decided to just find some comfort in the bottle of water he'd grabbed from the fridge earlier. After drinking over half of the sweet, life-giving liquid Tokuichi closed his eyes and replayed the events of that day in his mind counterclockwise. Beginning with the fire and his terrifying, but incredibly self-satisfying heroic actions, to being depressingly obese, and then regressing back to the reason as to why he had become that way in he first place.

Alona, Tokuichi thought as he sighed her name in his mind. It had been a little over two months since they'd broken up, and yet Tokuichi found that he couldn't get the girl out of his mind any easier than he could while they had been together. He always found himself thinking about her, what she was doing, who she was with. Tokuichi allowed himself to let out an aggravated grunt as John came to mind. It just felt so hard for him, and despite the fact that he had been the one to initiate the breakup; he thought that things were starting to become a bit unfair. It wasn't that he didn't want Alona to be happy, of course he did. He was glad that she'd found someone to make her smile and to give her the unquestionable trust that she deserved. OK, well, maybe not too happy, considering how she was with another guy, but why couldn't he find someone else? Why couldn't he move on just like she had with John? Was he paying for his decision? Did karma just like kicking him in the forehead? It just wasn't fair.

Tokuichi was about to let out another grunt, only this one sourced from depression, had he not seen a light glare against the kitchen floor tiles out of the corner of his eye. Holding his breath for some unknown reason, Tokuichi made himself as still as possible as he waited for the person holding the light to make their entrance. Tokuichi nearly choked on his gathered air when he saw who entered the kitchen. It was none other than Alona and floating above her up-righted palm was a small glowing orb. It also wasn't just her presence alone that caused Tokuichi to nearly lose his composure; it was what she was wearing. A yellow tank top, so small that it could have been mistaken for a sports bra was all she had covering her upper torso other than her hair, which rested in it's loose natural state around her shoulders. Her gray sweatpants, though appropriate in themselves, were hanging so low on her hips that they could put a new meaning in the phrase 'Little to the imagination'. And oh did he imagine, which wasn't really his fault, it was like male law or something.

Watching her move straight towards one of the refrigerators located in the kitchen, Tokuichi couldn't help himself as his male hormones worked evil thoughts into his mind. He stared at her shapely hips, swaying hypnotically to and fro, trying desperately not to imagine his hands lying upon them. Finding himself actually drooling out of the left side of his mouth, Tokuichi literally gave himself a light smack in the face, trying to regain any control over his mind that he could. It really didn't work in his favor though, because when Alona let out a small gasp as she turned around, causing her shirt and chest to shift freely, Tokuichi knew that she wasn't wearing a bra under that top and all hope of self-control was quickly lost.

"Tokuichi?" Alona asked as she used her powers to concentrate the orb's light in his direction.

Tokuichi squinted at the light before using his own powers to create a dimming effect over his eyes, which in turn actually freaked Alona out a little. The entirety of his eyes had turned pitch black in response. "It's nice to know that I haven't been forgotten." Tokuichi said lightly as he looked away from her and at anything else that would catch his attention. Were those new handles for the cabinets?

Alona ignored his quip with passive dismissal. "How long have you been down here?" She asked, taking a step towards him, but quickly changed her mind and returned to her previous venture towards the refrigerator. "And when did you get back?" She added as she levitated the ball into a hovering position over her head as she scanned the fridge for a midnight snack.

"Maybe half an hour ago." Tokuichi replied simply as his eyes wandered over to her leaning backside. Don't look, Tokuichi told himself as he yanked his vision away from her direction once again. "What are you doing up so late anyway?"

Alona's upper body did a strange jerk, which he took as a shrug. "Couldn't sleep, and then I got a little hungry so...hey, there's some pretty good stuff left over from dinner in here, you want a bite?"

Do I ever, Tokuichi said in his mind as he stared at her backside again. "Sure, as long as it doesn't look like a hamburger." Alona raised her right arm a little so that she could give him a questioning look from under it. Tokuichi just shrugged in response. "I had this freaky nightmare about them. They were squirting ketchup and throwing pickles at every person they could find. Then they would turn into burgers, too. It was titled 'Revenge of the Hamburgers: The Last Bun'. Scary stuff." He finished off with a shudder.

Alona laughed as she pulled out half of what was a whole apple pie along with a small jug of milk. Bringing it over to the table, Tokuichi at least had enough sense to stop staring and get some forks and cups for them to use. Bringing them back he was surprised to find a tub of vanilla ice cream suddenly sitting next to the pie. "I just love it when food appears out of nowhere."

"Near the speed of light, remember?" She countered with a teasing wave of her hand. "Besides, what's apple pie without vanilla ice cream?" Alona asked with a smile as she took her fork and plopped a huge helping of vanilla onto half of the pie. "So, what did you guys do?"

Tokuichi smiled as he poured them both a serving of milk. 'Saving lives and fighting sprites' was what he initially wanted to say, but he figured he'd save that until Orion was around. The innuendos wouldn't be the same without him. "Oh nothing much, just talked about some things that both of us had been thinking about. You know, man to man. What about you? What have you been doing?"

"Sleeping." Alona said before she swallowed a mouthful of pie and ice cream. "Mm, that's so good." She added with closed eyes. "Before that I did my homework, worked out a bit, and talked to…John."

Tokuichi would've had to of been deaf to miss the hesitation before she'd said John's name. He wasn't really surprised seeing as to how they hadn't really talked about the guy, or anything concerning the other's love life at all since their break up. It was like that saying he'd heard once, something like 'let sleeping cats lay down' or something like that…or was it dogs? "So you two are doing pretty good then?" Tokuichi tried to ask in what he hoped was a careless tone.

Alona nodded slowly as she licked her lips. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."

Guess, Tokuichi repeated in his mind, guessing is good. "Why the guess?"

"I don't know. There are a lot of other factors playing into it." Like you, she added consciously as she looked up at him. Even though she was with John-well, technically they weren't together. John hadn't asked her out so the relationship that everyone supposed they were in didn't even exist; which was something that she wasn't really upset about. In fact, Alona was still dreading the possibility that he would ask. It wasn't that John wasn't a good guy. He really was. It was just he wasn't…he wasn't Tokuichi. "He's not the type of guy I want to be with."

Tokuichi let out a snort of laughter. "You could've fooled me. The way you two walk around like you're joined at the hip I figured that kids were on the way."

"It hasn't been like that." Alona said with a frown. The statement had both agitated and hurt her feelings. "We're just friends. He hasn't even asked me out yet."

"Disappointed?" Tokuichi asked sardonically. "And just friends? What, you going back to your old ways again?"

What's his problem, Alona wondered as the negative emotions in her heart rose to another level. How could he even say that? "You have no right to say that to me. I changed to be with you, and I'm nowhere near the type of person that I used to be. And you're referring to my past as if I was a slut or something. I mostly just flirted around, a lot." Tokuichi had opened his mouth at that statement, but Alona beat him to it. "Yeah, I did a few other things too, but I'm not the one that went on a sexual exploration streak with a row of waiting and willing girls, now am I?"

That statement effectively shut Tokuichi's mouth, actually making him forget anything that he had planned on saying. Ok, so he'd…explored...and gone through some things with different girls, but in no way was he just tossing his body to any accepting female. The girls he had been with he'd known and talked to for a while and eventually became friends with them. There's no way he'd do anything with a total stranger. He had those things good people had...those life rules...morals! "Maybe not, but I never broke anyone's heart. Anything I might have done happened with the consideration of the other person's feelings in mind. Also I wasn't the one that was known for stepping all over people, Alona, you were." Tokuichi responded before he dug into his apple pie for the first time.

Alona found that she couldn't come up with anything to say in response. Back then she really didn't think about the other person's feelings. As long as she wasn't the one getting hurt she didn't care, but Tokuichi had changed that. Throughout all the pain and insecurity that she may have forced upon him during the situations they'd been in, he was still there caring for her, loving her like she wasn't flirting with other guys. No, she'd never cheated on Tokuichi, even in the first few weeks of them going out. And the only excuse she held for her shameless flirting was that Tokuichi was probably doing the same thing when she wasn't around. But, in reality, that's all it was in the end; an excuse. Probably one of the many reasons as to why he still doesn't trust me, Alona thought to herself miserably. "You're right, I was known for doing that. Of course, unless you think I'm doing that to you now." Tokuichi looked up from the apple pie to stare evenly into Alona's eyes. "Is that what you think Tokuichi? That I don't care about how you feel? Or did you think that I was always cheating on you, going behind your back and flirting in some emptied hallway with some random guy? Is that why you don't trust me?"

"Omweshy," Tokuichi began with a mouth full of apple pie, which he was quick to swallow when Alona narrowed her eyes and raised a fist. He then cleared his throat to start again. "Honestly, no, I didn't think that you were running around behind my back. At least, that's what I was hoping. I was just always waiting for you to just do it. To find some guy and then I'd start hearing things around the school, and then I'd confront you and you'd say the same thing that you said to every other guy you had hurt in the past."

What do you want me to say? Alona said in her mind the same time Tokuichi had said it out loud. She knew that phrase well, even though she hadn't used it in a long time. She used to say it to Tokuichi when he would come up to her and ask her if she'd been flirting with the guy she'd been talking to just a moment ago. As much as she hated to admit it, it was her own little way of saying 'I hurt you…yeah, so what? It's in the past.' Alona shivered as she watched Tokuichi try to put all of his attention into eating the apple pie, adding more vanilla onto the desert than was statistically healthy. It had never occurred to her that her old ways would put so much fear into Tokuichi when it came to their future. She guessed that it was just easier for her since she wasn't the one getting hurt, but really the fear of that alone was the reason as to why she had become that way in the first place. Don't, Alona chided herself as the painful memory began to take shape inside of her mind, you'll only end up crying in front of Tokuichi. You already have his disgust. You don't need his sympathy. "I'm sorry." Alona whispered out as she placed her fork onto the plate. Tokuichi looked up, very surprised by her apology. It wasn't something the girl did often. "I would never hurt you on purpose, you should've known that."

"I did, and I still do, but accidents happen." Tokuichi replied softly. He felt bad for bringing up old dirt, but she needed to know how he felt. The talk that they'd had before breaking up had been so…unresolved. They hadn't talked about everything enough to come up with the answers that the both of them needed. If we had, Tokuichi reflected solemnly, I probably wouldn't be wishing that I still had her.

Tokuichi's heart broke even more when he saw Alona struggle with the effort of trying not to cry. Putting down his own fork, Tokuichi leaned over and reached out, placing a hand on her cheek. Alona closed her eyes, causing her tears to overflow, and leaned her head to the side, rubbing her right cheek into his hand. She missed his touch; the warmth of his skin and love that flowed into her through them. Tokuichi let out a shaky breath as he watched a sad, but happily reminiscent smile take shape upon her face. You're so beautiful, Tokuichi told her from the bottom of his heart. Alona's smile began to crinkle with the threat of newborn tears. I just want you to know that.

"Do you always tell that to girls you break up with?" Alona asked jokingly as she began to regain her composure.

Tokuichi found himself leaning towards her before he even knew what was happening. "No, you're the first."

"Do you always try to kiss the girl a few months after you've broken up with her?" Alona asked; her once tear stained face instantly dry thanks to some speedy actions on her part.

"It depends really. First of all she has to be beautiful." Tokuichi began as he continued his slow journey towards her.

Alona raised her eyebrows at him. "Oh really?"

"Killer bod, you know, that works too".

"Mhmm." Alona said as she leaned back playfully.

"And when their first name begins and ends with the same letter, sexy." Tokuichi whispered out smoothly.

Alona reached up with her left hand and cupped it on his cheek, pulling him to a stop just before reaching her lips. "You forgot one."

"And what would that be?" Tokuichi asked quietly as he suppressed a shiver. She's so close, he thought to himself as her breath gently played across his lips. Tokuichi couldn't take it anymore. He was going to kiss her. He had to.

"She'd have to be stupid." Alona added lightly, but with a hint of sincerity; having the decency to try and control her laughter.

Tokuichi swore there was a record scratching somewhere in the distance. Opening his eyes with an exasperated look on his face, Tokuichi found Alona still as close as she was before. Only now there was a crooked smile on her face as she tried her hardest not to laugh in his. "You know, you're cruel for a beautiful woman."

Alona patted his cheek apologetically as a few chortles of laughter made an escape from her imprisonment. "I know. Oh, and if you ever try to kiss me again, I'll…" Alona stopped in mid sentence to jump into Tokuichi's chest as the lights to the kitchen turned on. It took Tokuichi a second to realize what she'd done considering how she'd used her powers unconsciously. He'd almost let her drop, catching her just before she sank past his waistline.

The two watched as Na Xue floated into the kitchen dressed in a matching suit of plain white, silk sleeping wear consisting of a full ensemble of pants, a long sleeved shirt, fluffy slippers, and an eye cover that was now latched to the top of her head. Her hair was cropped up into a messy bun and she surprisingly didn't have her glasses on. Alona and Tokuichi couldn't tell if she was squinting or not since her eyes were actually that far closed. As Na Xue started looking for something to eat out of one of the refrigerators, Tokuichi looked down at Alona the same time as she looked up at him and began to lean towards her with his lips puckered out. Alona rolled her eyes before gently pushing his face away from her with a silent sigh. Tokuichi chuckled silently and had been about to do it again if the pie and the ice cream they'd been eating hadn't suddenly began to float over their heads. The two looked up and watched as their late night snack made its way over to Na Xue whom was now facing their direction. "Hey!" Tokuichi interjected at the loss of his food, even though he didn't really want it anymore.

"Hey nothing. You," Na Xue said directing a finger towards Alona. "Need to get some more clothes on because you're just killing the poor boy. And you," She said switching her fingers direction. "Need to take a cold shower before you poke somebody's eye out. The both of you need to get your acts together before something unfixable happens. And if there are any more lost desires secretly shared between the two of you I'll have you both fixed and sexually numb from the neck down. I could feel your emotions all the way upstairs, in my sleep. Goodnight!"

Na Xue exited the kitchen with her midnight raid trailing behind her before turning off the lights all together. With Alona's little orb as the only source of luminosity once more, Tokuichi set Alona onto the floor again as they both contemplated what had just happened. "Did she…did she say that she would have us fixed?" Tokuichi asked Alona with a laugh.

Alona laughed with him, though her level of amusement wasn't as strong as his. She learned a long time ago to take heed to Na Xue's words, whether she was being serious or not. Her friend's words held reason, and there was always a specific reason for her words. Alona shook her head at her mind's somewhat sensible redundancy. "I'm going to bed. We have school tomorrow and I'd rather not get my eye poked out."

Tokuichi blushed and quickly changed the subject. "Hey, what were you going to say before we were interrupted?"

"Oh, you mean about what I'd do to you if you tried to kiss me again?"


Alona smiled at him before starting her walk towards her room, extinguishing the orb of light. "I'd slap you."

"Oh." Tokuichi said to himself in the darkness. "Yay."

Orchid felt like she was in a dream. Still dressed in her sleeping attire, Orchid had opted before hand for them to wear more clothing since winter was practically on the next day's doorstep. Orion simply assured her that he'd keep the both of them warm since it took very little concentration now for him to have a heated aura around him and anyone else nearby. He kept his word as she hadn't been cold since they'd first set out into the night. With only the addition of fuzzy slippers on her feet Orchid and Orion made their way to the cliff where he'd first gotten his wings. She hadn't known where they were going, but when they got there and he'd explained to her that he would need a small drop off because he'd never flown with anyone before, Orchid's anxiousness to experience flight without any of mankind's inventions began to deteriorate. It wasn't that she didn't believe in Orion's flying ability, it was just that jumping off of a cliff in someone's arms and into a dark ravine hadn't been part of her plans that night, but it only took a confident look from Orion, a promise of her safety, and the feeling of him picking her up into his arms and holding her against his shirtless, toned chest to erase her fears. Of course, they came rushing right back into her when he jumped off of the cliff without the slightest warning.

Orchid laughed silently in her mind as she remembered the moment. She wasn't even able to scream because she'd lost all of her breath in the initial dive. Thankfully, it had only taken Orion a mere two seconds to gain his bearings and lift them up into the cloud filled sky. From then on Orchid was more than assured that Orion would keep her safe. The night was beautiful with the stars twinkling brightly amongst the darkness of an endless horizon. What had really taken her breath away , though, was Orion. Even now, as she looked into his eyes and away from the near dawning sky, Orchid still couldn't believe that he'd told her he loved her. She knew that it wasn't as if he'd confessed his undying love, no where near, and she hadn't either, but to know that she loved him and to hear him say that he loved her in return; that's all she had been hoping for. Orchid didn't even want to imagine what it would have been like if Orion hadn't reciprocated her feelings. She'd probably never of been able to face him sincerely again.

But he did, Orchid thought as she stared at Orion; watching as his hair whipped around his well sculpted face. It was obvious from his expression that keeping the two of them aloft wasn't the only thing on his mind. He was thinking of something and Orchid didn't have a clue what it could be. Suddenly feeling a little impulsive, Orchid reached for his far cheek and pulled his face towards hers, planting a heavy kiss upon the one nearest to her. Orion, caught completely caught off guard and diverted from whatever thoughts that had been hovering around inside of his head, lost concentration for a moment as they both took a dive towards the ground. Orchid let out a small squeal and hastily wrapped her arms around his neck as they took to a rapid descent, but Orion brought them back up before they came anywhere near the ground or passing trees. Sorry about that. Orchid sent him with an apologetic smile as their hearts began descend from their once elevated paces.

Orion suppressed a smirk as he took them higher into the air. What if I hadn't pulled up in time? You'd have gotten us both killed for a mere kiss.

Mere kiss? Is that all they mean to you? Orchid asked, her smile changing into a playful one. I'll just have to keep my mere kisses to myself then.

Orion stopped his climb as his smirk broke through and quickly formed into an impetuous smile. If you do that I just may have to drop you.

Orchid looked down and unconsciously wrapped her arms around him tighter as she looked at how far away from the ground they were. She felt as if she could fall for a good couple of minutes, maybe even a little more before she'd hit the ground at the height they were at. Orchid cringed inwardly at the thought of such an unwanted demise. You wouldn't. You love me, remember? Even if it's just a little bit.

You'd think that wouldn't you? Orion asked as he slowly loosened his grip. Orchid gripped his neck with almost all her might as Orion completely took his arms from around her waist and underneath her legs. As Orion watched Orchid cling to his neck with a death grip and closed eyes, a question entered his mind. Orchid, do you trust me?

"What?" Orchid asked vocally as she opened her eyes.

Do you trust me? Orion asked his face now free of expression, though his eyes articulated the importance of the question.

Orchid didn't answer immediately as she took time to think. She was sure that he wouldn't mind considering the weight of the question. In truth, the answer was already there, waiting on the tip of her tongue. Orchid knew without a doubt that she trusted Orion. She would place her life in his hands at any time without the slightest bit of hesitation. After a moment Orchid realized she was actually doing that exact thing right now. Trusting him with her life as he practically held her in his hands. Well, he's not holding onto me now though. That's when an idea hit her, a crazy thought; an idea so crazy that it bordered the depths of insanity. I trust you, Orion. I trust you with my life.

Do you really? Orion asked with a raised eyebrow. He'd seen the sudden shift of emotion in her eyes. The strangeness of that emotion was enough for him to lose all sarcasm in his previous question.

Orchid smiled as she gave him a short, soft kiss on the lips. Yes…really. She replied before letting go of his neck and spreading her arms, taking a free fall dive through the sky. For the second time that night Orchid lost her breath as Orion's warmth slowly seeped away, allowing for the crisp night air to ascend upon her senses.

Orion did not see that coming. Diving after Orchid when the shock of her actually letting go of him had dispersed, his wings beat furiously as he raced to catch her falling form. Orchid watched with a face lightly painted with fear as Orion desperately tried to reach her. Though her lungs were fighting to bring air into her chest, and her body was frozen still, her mind was working just fine. As it slowly broke down the situation for her the fact that she could die was barely the most pressing of received information. Orchid found herself focusing on what his body was telling her. The worry, tittering on the brink of fear, that she read from his eyes, the all-giving strength put into each wings beat, and the hand reaching out desperately to save her told her more than Orion would probably ever be able tell her using words. Orchid could now see what exactly had entailed in those three words that he'd spoken to her earlier. That love was hardly the only ingredient put into the phrase. She just hoped that maybe, if she had the courage and the second chance, she could talk to him about it one day.

Orchid had only fallen for no more than four seconds before Orion swooped under her and snatched her from mid-air. Orion quickly spotted a clearing on the ground and made his way over there. When he landed onto the frosted grass, Orion didn't even put her down as he glared down at Orchid, still holding her tightly to his chest.

"Are you crazy? You could've gotten yourself killed. If you wanted to prove that you trusted me all you had to do was say so. What if I hadn't caught you, Orchid? What if I didn't make it in time? What if-I could've lost you! Just…augh!" Orion finished off with a shout equally mixed with adrenaline and relief. "I'm never taking you flying again unless you're strapped to my chest." When she didn't raise her head from its lodged position in his neck Orion began to get worried. "Orchid, are you alright?" Her body had stopped tremoring, but Orion still wasn't sure if that had been her or him shaking from the little stunt she'd pulled.

Orchid looked up at Orion with watery eyes before lifting her left leg into the air and wiggling her bare foot a bit. "I lost my slipper." She said quietly.

Orion breathed out a laugh before looking up at the sky. She's going to be the death of me one day. "Let's find it then."

"Orion?" Orchid said as she rested her head back onto his neck.


She let out a long breath. "I trust you."

"Yeah," He said with a genuine smile. "I know."

"Things are so different here." Toku whispered to himself as he sat in the second floor library staring out of its tall, wide screened window. He'd been there for most of the night and morning swimming in the oceans of his thoughts. Once again awakened from sleep by nightmares of his time, Toku soon found himself wondering about the horrors that the younger circle would face. It wasn't the first time the subject had come to mind. The possibilities were too limitless to be left alone to certainty. Hopefully, he wished with all of his heart, they'll go through nothing like what I've been through. Even if they did, with everyone as close as they were, he knew they would make it through.

The friendships that the eight were forming in this time were so much stronger than the circle he'd been a part of. For one, he and Orion had hated each other for a good portion of the time. Conflicts of seniority had been the main cause. The girls never really got along with Niabi whom was always causing problems. The Na Xue he'd known was a little crazy; which he didn't really blame her for with the hearing of voices, feeling everyone's emotions, and seeing spirits and the like. Orchid's infamous temper was always out and unchecked in his time; very unlike the serene and, at times, timid one here. The teen he knew now was a complete contrast in comparison. Except, of course, when she's angry, Toku thought with an amused smile. Orion had been even more withdrawn than the present version. In fact, Tokuichi could barely remember ever hearing a complete paragraph being spoken from the prior. Ena surprisingly hadn't changed at all. Still all smiles and butterflies in a world that's anything but. Drake, very surprisingly, was cockier here than he was in the future. Something Toku really didn't think was possible. Alona, thankfully, wasn't as 'free' with her mind and body as she was in his time. As for the younger Tokuichi... Toku smiled and shook his head. Sometimes he couldn't even believe it was really him. Yeah, he liked to say a joke every now and then, but his younger self was just ridiculous.

Remembering the sight of Orion and Orchid walking towards the forest earlier that morning, Toku couldn't help the warm feeling spreading through his chest at the memory. Toku had greatly anticipated their first meeting. He knew what they were and what they stood for. They were soul mates; the absolute affinity of love and its wonders. The two of them would show the world an unparalleled love that probably wouldn't be seen for millennia after it's passing. Both of them were blessed and cursed with such a gift. Fated to find, love, and die with each other. Whether it was through a short or long life they would be happy; the only true reward that the two would receive after their long life of trials.

Toku then remembered what had transpired between Orion and Xyra before they'd found him. Sided with a horrible feeling, Toku wondered what the meeting of those two would bring about. The Orion of his time had asked him a question once a few weeks before the final battle. It was something that he'd never forget, because even now he still didn't have an answer. If you had to choose between the love of your life and your soul mate, who would you chose? Tokuichi whispered aloud, Orion's voice echoing in his mind over his own as the window fogged slightly with his words. Toku's mind began to slip into thoughts of what the world would have been like if Orion had chosen Xyra over Orchid. Would he have been able to save her as thought he could? If not, would he have fought them in order to keep his love safe? And would he have gone as far as to kill them to make it so?

Stepping away from dismal predictions of a time long passed, Toku took to thinking of other, more positive differences between this world's time and his own. He almost laughed out loud when the relationship between the younger versions of himself and Alona came to mind. He had never actually dated Alona as this time's Tokuichi did. They'd only been the best of friends, and even though moments of lust had been shared between them, love was never included. Drake and Ena had actually gotten married in his time, but Toku wasn't too sure of how that would turn out here. Na Xue had married, also. A psychologist, strangely enough, that they'd met during their travels. Even Niabi had been married, but lost her husband during a battle early on and since that day had deprived herself of any male contact.

As for myself, Toku thought morbidly as a familiar ache clenched his heart, I couldn't have been happier with any other woman. Their relationship, as short as it was, had actually been mostly a secret. And when everyone found out, Toku shook his head at the memory. The circle had almost been torn apart. There had been two sides, three if you included Niabi who claimed not to care. Orion went raving mad when the secret had been discovered. Almost killed me really, Toku thought nostalgically as he raised his hands in the air and stretched, but after multiple bruises, sprains, and a broken arm and nose things seemed to work out. The fact that the broken nose belonged to Orion after his lover had punched him dead in the face made it all worthwhile. That, and their relationship had eventually been accepted, of course. Yeah, things were different, but one difference that made all of the others seem so small was that the eight in this time seemed to have a better chance. They would be prepared and ready for Xyra's arrival. He would do everything he could to make sure of it. Toku was just glad that he still had time to prepare.

"This food gets better and better every year you guys, I'm telling you." Lor said as she dipped the remainder of her pizza crust into a small bowl of ranch dressing. The first half of the day had already ended without much happening. Orion and the others had the typical training session in the dome before school and classes went by without much of a hit. Other than Tokuichi making continuous cracks about super heroes and how it would be so cool to be one, lunch too seemed like it wouldn't be out of the ordinary.

"I'll never understand how you eat your pizza like that." Sakura said with a sickened look at her friend's food. "And you say the same thing every year. It's the same old, school cafeteria food."

"No." Lor said as she held up a hand and finished chewing her mouthful. "Go to America and eat in one of their school cafeterias. Then you'll know what real poison tastes like. This is gourmet."

"You can't even spell gourmet." Tokuichi jumped in with an evil smile; which shortened into a smirk as he looked at Sakura. "And how would you even know what anything tastes like when everything's chicken to you anyways?" Sakura shrugged it off impassively.

"I can too spell it. G-o-r-e-"

Aiden bit his lip to keep from laughing. "Wrong gore, Lorelei."

Lor made a face at him before sticking her tongue out at Tokuichi. "Whatever. You can't spell gourmet either."

"Ha, as if. I got seventh place in my primary school's spelling tournament." Aiden had to cough in order to cover up the laugh that came out from his friend's declaration. 7th place was far from impressive. "Oh, you don't believe me? Check this out. G-o-"

"So-" Aiden jumped in, stopping the two's bickering before it got out of hand like always. Tokuichi gasped melodramatically at being interrupted before mumbling incoherently as he shoveled food around his plate. "Anyone hear about the fire last night?"

Orion's eyes flashed over in Tokuichi's direction with hope that his friend wouldn't do what he thought he would. The gigantic smile that suddenly appeared on his best friend's face told him he'd might as well have hoped for Daren's head to spontaneously combust. "A fire, you say?" Tokuichi asked with strange optimism considering the topic. "Whatever happened?"

"There were two, actually. A fire over at some abandoned warehouse and one at the Auyong residence. You know her Orchid, that freshman girl on the junior varsity squad for the cheerleading team?" Orion and Tokuichi shared a glance. They thought she had looked familiar. "Well anyways, while the firemen were taking care of the warehouse they say that these two guys ran in and saved the kids that were trapped inside." Aiden told them as he sat up in his chair. "The people there said it was something right out of a movie."

"Wow." Tokuichi exclaimed, putting way too much excitement into the word. "That is so cool. So, do they know who the guys are?" Tokuichi spoke the question in an eager rush.

Aiden shook his head. "Nope, but they think that one of the guys had a dark tan or was dark skinned, either one. They weren't sure since the sun was set and the both of them were wearing black suits. They may be rich though. One of them was seen driving away in some expensive car."

"Man, it would be so cool to be a hero wouldn't it?" Tokuichi asked dreamily as he stared up at the ceiling. Orion gave a brief roll of his eyes at his friend's behavior. He was actually surprised that Tokuichi hadn't just blurted out the truth already. Shifting his gaze across the table Orion froze when he saw Orchid looking at him with a leveled gaze of her own, her eyes squinted in thought.

A dark tan, huh? She asked as she continued looking him up and down. Dark skinned...

Orion kept eye contact for a second before getting up from his seat. "I'll be back. I'm still a little hungry." Being sure not to make any eye contact with Orchid, Orion made his way over to the pizza parlor and pretended to look at the menu. Truth was he was far from hungry.

"Isn't it great how people get dark tans at the brink of winter? Of course, I wouldn't know considering how I just burn under the sun." Orion hung his head as Orchid's words floated to him from behind. He could just see her standing there with her arms folded and an 'I know everything' look plastered on her face. "It's also funny how you never even told me the whole story last night. Unless I forgot the part about you running into a burning building and saving lives. You did it on purpose didn't you?" She asked accusingly.

Orion turned around only to find Orchid in the exact position that he had pictured her in. "I just never got around to telling you. You know that if you had brought it up again I would have told you the entire story. We just got sidetracked."

"Sidetracked, huh?" Orchid asked as the bell rang for the end of lunch. Orion, realizing his poor choice of words, never thought that the saying 'Saved by the bell' was ever going to apply to him. After returning to the table, everyone else was off to their next class while Orion and Orchid still had to toss their trays away. She smiled as Orion took her book bag from her. A habit of his that made her affection for him grow constantly. "How about you tell me the whole story this time?"

Orion gave her a glance out of the corner of his eyes. Orchid had her eyebrows raised with expectation. I'll tell you about it later when everyone's there. I'd rather not repeat the same story twice. It'll be hard enough with Tokuichi there as it is.

He'd probably take all the credit for himself. Orchid mused with a smile.

Orion smirked at her. Pretty much. "You think you got a part for the play?"

"I don't know." Orchid said as she clasped her hands together behind her back. "I'm nowhere near as good of an actor as some people I know."

"Alona is pretty good isn't she?" Orion asked, knowing full well she was talking about him. His already known suspicion was confirmed by the low-eyed look she'd just given him. "The only reason I'm any good at it is because there were some…things…that I was required to have talents for when I was younger."

Orchid gazed at Orion with affectionate knowing. "Something in your past?" Orion nodded, but didn't say anymore on the matter. Even though Orchid wanted to know as much about Orion as possible, she knew that she'd have to wait until he was ready to talk to her about it. He'd done the same for her and there was no way she'd destroy the sanctity of their friendship because of her own selfish wants. "Either way, you're good. You're probably the lead."

"I'm not that good." Orion said with a shake of his head as they reached their Home Economics classroom. Opening the door for Orchid to walk in, Orion immediately jumped in front of her as about five microphones were shoved into their faces.

"Mr. Phoenix, how does it feel to be a hero?"

"Orion Phoenix, did you even think about the consequences to your own life as you ran into the building to save the children's?"

"Mr. Phoenix, do you know the Auyong family personally?"

"Orion, did you and your side-kick have any idea what you were doing or was it just some foolish boys dream to be a hero?"

Orion closed his eyes as his warrior instincts began to die down. These people were lucky they didn't lose an arm or something. And was it him or did that reporter just call Tokuichi his sidekick? Orion almost laughed at the thought and was about to answer the bold reporter's question until Tokuichi's voice echoed down the hallway. "I am not his sidekick. It's the other way around."

Amidst the bright flashes of cameras and the lights of the video cameras Orion glared at Tokuichi through his already squinted eyes. I blame you for this by the way.

Yeah, I love me, too. "Dude, check it out, photographers." Tokuichi replied stating the obvious and showing all of his white teeth. "I guess they found out our identities."

"You think?" Orion asked blandly as they were ushered together against one side of the hallway. It felt more like to Orion though that Tokuichi, Orchid, and himself had been corralled like cattle. Their class was put on hold as not only had the interest of the student's pulled them into the hallway, but the interest of Miss Crane had also been caught as she followed them. Orion looked down at Orchid to see her bashfully creep as close to his side as possible, holding her head down, completely unsure as of what to do. Orion's right arm found it's way around her waist in a comforting manner. A blush flowed into Orchid's cheeks as she looked up at him with a thankful smile. Adamant voices continued to poor upon the three as they attempted to do their best to answer their questions, but every time they attempted to answer one a different reporter would interrupt them with another. Almost to the point of frustration, Tokuichi was about to yell out for them to quiet down when one woman pushed her way through the crowd with a microphone of her own and a bundle in her other arm.

"Mr. Initaka, Mr. Phoenix, I have something that belongs to each of you." She said as she held out the tops to their old school uniforms. The reporters quieted down as the two took their individual tops, still dirty and filled with holes from the fire. "You can call me Miss Nagazawa, I'm an old friend of the family you two risked your lives to save. Thank you, by the way, for your bravery. The family is doing well if you haven't heard yet, and their home is being rebuilt thanks an anonymous charity."

"We're glad to hear it." Orion told her with a smile as they took their jackets. He knew he'd forgotten something. "Please give them my regards the next time you speak to them."

"Of course." She said with a nod. "But what I'd like to know, Mr. Phoenix, is what exactly had happened. We have the stories from many eye witnesses and the family, but I, as well as the rest of the people here, would like to know what happened from the heroes mouth's themselves."

Orion looked over at Tokuichi who was already looking at him with a wide grin. Waving a hand at his friend to go ahead and retell the event, Tokuichi went into full detail about what had taken place that night. Of course, he had to change a few things up a bit and add a few extra 'truths' here and there. Orion had to correct his friend a few times when he began to take things out of context, but it actually surprised him how close to the real story Tokuichi had stuck to. Close being the main word of focus. "And that's pretty much how it went."

"So Mr. Phoenix," One of the closer reporters asked as he wrote something down. "Who is this lovely young woman standing by your side?" Orion and Orchid looked at each other and then back at the reporter sporting their own distinctive hues. It was then that Orion jumped into his nervous habit and rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand while Orchid began to tug at her hair. The reporters obviously thought the two's embarrassment was a great time to take more pictures as camera flashes once again ensued.

Tokuichi walked up behind the two and put an arm around each of them as he smiled for the cameras. "Oh, these two here, are the unofficial couple of Chi of Life. It's taking them a while, but the whole school as a bet going on that they'll get together sometime soon. It's bound to happen, we're just trying to figure out when. They're killing us with suspense really." Orion and Orchid each glared at Tokuichi from their respective sides. Seeing that Tokuichi's focus had suddenly been drawn to the right over Orchid's head, Orion scanned the hallway to see what exactly his friend was looking at. No more than a good fifteen feet away stood Alona and John outside of their classroom with her leaning against the wall and him in front of her. Her class had just begun to file out to see what was going on and the two were staying behind for obvious flirtatious reasons.

Orion could see with his peripheral vision Tokuichi's eyes widen as John began to lean towards Alona, whom didn't show the slightest inclination of moving. Just as John's lips were about to touch hers the lights in the hallway and perhaps the whole building flickered off and on multiple times before staying restored. Orion watched as Alona moved away from John, the kiss never happening thanks to the malfunction of the lights. Supposedly, Orion thought to himself as he looked over at Tokuichi. His suspicions were confirmed as he watched the area around Tokuichi's pupils go from black to their natural brown. Though the now present scowl and angered look in his eyes stayed present. "And Mr. Initaka, is there a special someone in your life also?"

Tokuichi blinked in surprise at the question and looked away from Alona and John's approaching forms. "Excuse me?"

"I asked if you yourself had a girlfriend, Mr. Initaka." The man repeated.

Tokuichi looked back at Alona and John before gazing about the crowd surrounding him. Seeing Mei present as on of the students in the front Tokuichi had a short, mental deliberation before making his way over to her. "Mei, did I tell you how beautiful you are today?" He asked as he held out his hand towards her.

Mei took no time to think about what was going on before following the act. "No, I think you forgot. I'll forgive you just this once." She said, taking his hand with a smile.

Bringing Mei back over to Orion and Orchid's side, Tokuichi tried to ignore the insane looks his two friends were presently giving him. "Ladies and Gentlemen, I'd like to introduce you to Mei Teng, my girlfriend." The looks on Orion and Orchid's face were of classic shock as the photographer's cameras went on a flashing spree. Even Mei had the decency to look somewhat surprised, but that quickly faded as a large grin over took her face as the two posed for the pictures. Orion and Orchid looked at each other with concern as the multiple consequences for Tokuichi's brash decision began to form in their minds. What had their friend just done?

"Can you believe that the heroes are actually from our school?" Alona asked with some excitement, though it was more from the rapid pace that her heart had once been going at than her actual interest. That had been close. She'd almost let John kiss her back there, and even though Alona felt that she'd avoided dangerous ground, she couldn't help but wonder if the kiss would have happened or not without the lights going out.

John shrugged, obviously a little put out. "I guess. I have to give it to whoever they are because I know I wouldn't have been able to do it. It was pretty stupid really. They could have died. The firemen arrived just shortly after they'd gotten the kids out."

Alona wasn't able to stop the flash of disdain towards John that came with his last statement. The children could have been dead in those short few moments before the firetrucks had arrived if it hadn't been for the two individuals. Standing on her toes, Alona pouted her lip when she realized she couldn't get a good look at the two heroes. "I can't see them."

John being a good bit taller than her looked over and through the crowd of heads and cameras, finding the identities of the heroes with some difficulty. "I don't believe it."

"What, who is it?"Alona asked, her curiosity climbing to new heights as she hopped up and down in attempts to get a good look.

John closed his gaping mouth as he looked down at her. "It's Phoenix and Initaka, and Avalon and Teng are with them."

What, and they didn't tell me? Why didn't Tokuichi tell me-oh, I'm gonna...wait...Mei? "Why is Mei there?" Alona asked as she stopped jumping.

"You haven't heard?" One girl said as she and her friend turned around. The girl that had spoken turned and looked to be on the verge of a breakdown while the other looked as if she'd actually been crying. "Tokuichi just announced that they were dating."

Alona's heart froze as her mind processed the information. Tokuichi and...Mei? It just didn't make any sense. Putting a hand over her heart, Alona looked around to find that everything had slowed to a crawling pace. She watched with a heavy heart as John's eyes slowly blinked and his mouth moved with irregular speech. The clicks of the camera's, the low roar of almost a dozen reporters tossed questions, and the ramblings of the students swamped her senses as a hollow feeling seeped into her heart. The intesity of it was starting to become too much as Alona found herself becoming short of breath.

"...Did you hear me?"

Alona looked up at John to see his face scrunched with worry. Looking around she realized that everything was back to normal. "Wh-what did you say?"

"I asked if you were, OK? Do you want to get out of here?" John asked again. Alona could only nod as she allowed John to take her away from the scene. Looking back to see where Alona and John had last been Tokuichi found the two walking away from him with John's arm snaked around her shoulders. Anger bubbled in his chest as he watched the two leave, though a nagging hint of regret somehow stinted that anger. Almost like he'd made the biggest mistake of his life.