[A/N: I don't own Ninjago or any of its characters, only my characters and this story. I also apparently think I have all the time in the world, since this took so dang long to finish. This is, however, the final(ly) chapter. Sorta sad, but also a load off, since I have so little time in the last couple of years to do things I want to do compared to things I must.

Thanks so much more than you can ever know to all of you who've continued to read this, and a special thanks to all who've written remarks and reviews. It's my bread and butter! And ForestBornNinjaGirl, I appreciate your beta-reading and keeping me on track with the story line!

For the purpose of better appreciating one of the scenes in this chapter, my head canon of the heights of the residents of the Bounty are as follows, from tallest to most-vertically-challenged: Cole is 75 inches, Kai and Zane are 73", Jay is 69", Wu is 68", Arwyn is 67", Nya is 65", Lloyd is 51", A-Cappella is 11". (HA!)

Remember I'm old school, and this story takes place before the Great Devourer way back when. Hope you enjoy the wrap-up. Leave a note :)

Chapter 28: Revolution

Reclining against the padded arm of the game room couch late the next morning, Arwyn lightly dragged her closely-trimmed fingernails along Cole's scalp, combing back his thick black mane as he lay on his back between her thighs, her chest his pillow. Heavy-lidded, his eyes lazily followed the fantasy video game Kai and Jay were working on, while Zane's long legs were draped over the arm of the only upholstered chair on the vessel, his nose in a book.

Wu had declared one last day of rest and recuperation before they got back to their regular grueling training schedule, and they were determined to enjoy it to the fullest doing absolutely nothing.

"Ya know, your hair's long enough to make a cute little ponytail spray back here." Arwyn gathered the locks from the top of Cole's head and pulled them back to the crown. "If you let it all grow another three inches or so, you could have a real ponytail."

His torpor interrupted, he let her know quickly, "I'm not doin' a man bun."

"Did I say 'man bun'? I believe the term I used was 'ponytail'."

"Same thing. Been there, done that."

Jay looked up from his trouncing of a boss. "You've had a man bun?! You never told us that! When?"

"Back when I was travelling and exploring. Didn't really have a lot of chances to get a trim. I had a full beard, too."

Zane put his book down. "Quite an interesting concept."

"I'd rather you clean-shaven," was Arwyn's honest opinion. "But I'm sure you looked amazingly hot. Got any pictures?"

"I looked like a wooly mountain man, and no pics, thankfully."

"Prob'ly smelled like one, too," Kai guessed.

"I bathed! …When I could."

Arwyn tried to visualize the length of his facial hair. "How long did you grow that?"

"About six or seven months. It got kinda bushy." His eyebrows lifted at the memory. "The village girls seemed to like it, though."

The curious look on Arwyn's face hardened. "Really…"

"Yeah…" Even knowing he was treading dangerous territory, he couldn't help but shoot his mouth off like they were hanging out in a men's locker room. "They always wanted to get their hands on it."

"They asked to pet your chin-chilla?!" Jay egged him on through a laugh.

Seeing it was getting under her skin, Kai intentionally fanned the flames of Arwyn's possessiveness. "And I bet he let 'em."

Cole grinned like the testosterone-flooded guy he was. "Well, yeah, sometimes…"

"More importantly…" Zane flashed a wide smile, fueled by an evidently erotic thought. "I bet they let him pet theirs."

Arwyn's fingers curled in her fiancé's hair at the suggestion, tightly scrunching it and bringing him back down to earth with a wince of discomfort. "Uh, actually, Z, I didn't ask to do that, and…babe, that really kinda pinches…"

Reluctantly unballing her fists, she patted his head nicely. "Not sorry." Her feelings about the subject had probably gotten through his thick skull. "Anyway, as I was saying earlier, you could grow it out again if you wanted."

"Nah, not gonna. It'd have to be as long as yours, and I'd have to pull it up all the time to keep it from hanging in my face the way yours always is…" He flipped a spiraling curl away from her cheek. "That would get uncomfortable under my helmet and give Kai something to cut off during the next round of pranks."

The potential prankster made a face in thought. "Yeah. He's right."

"And as for a beard…" Reaching up and back, he cradled Arwyn's head in his hands with a smile. "I don't want anything stopping my lips from getting on any part of your luscious body…but maybe I could grow a short bit on the chin…"

"Aawww! I wuv you!" A kiss on the nose was his reward for the sexy, sappy statement, and assurance that he'd been reinstated in her good graces.

Giving each other a look at the romantic mush, Kai and Jay went back to the game. Meanwhile, thoughts of his date with Sofiya that night, and what he hoped to do with her, drifted through Zane's head.

"Jay, honey," Nya appeared at the door, looking like she had something on her mind, too. "Could you meet me in my room? We need to talk."

Silence swamped the room.

His focus on the quest gone up in a puff of smoke, Jay looked up anxiously. "'Talk'?"

"Yes. I've been thinking about things while I was looking over some blueprints…well, I've been thinking about things for a while now, actually, but…I think we need to have a talk."

Immediately reminded of his discussion with her in the bridge a few days ago, Kai piped up, "You gonna have 'a talk' or 'the talk'? There's a big difference."

"'The talk'." Her hand went up to stop him before he started. "But I don't want you butting in." It was hard enough bringing this up with Jay. She didn't need Kai complicating it.

"She wants to have 'the talk'?" Cole sat up between Arwyn's knees. "Jay, I can't believe this! You were so hot for me to bear my soul to Arwyn, but you've never had 'the talk' with Nya?! After all this time?"

Jay's eyes grew big and round, a bit like a cornered animal's. "I don't know what y—"

"Dude!" Kai's game controller bounced off the mat he sat upon. "It's time you had 'the talk'! Lay it all out and quit stringing my sister along!"

"Kai…" There was a promise of pain-filled payback in Nya's tone if he turned this into a big fight.

"Indeed, you must," Zane chimed in. "Cole has had 'the talk' with Arwyn. Even I have had 'the talk' with Sofiya."

"Well, whoop-tee-doo for you two," Jay came back sarcastically. "But I—"

"That's it." Cole lifted Arwyn's leg high and ducked under it, standing from the couch. To Kai, he proclaimed, "It's past time." At the other's concurring nod, they broke and ran for their bunkroom.

"What are you guys—" Straightaway, Jay was up and flying past Nya. "NNNOOOO!" He knew what they were after.

In the bunkroom, Cole snatched the envelope from between the mattresses of the bed above his while Kai held Jay back at the door.

"NO! You can't mess with that! That's not yours! That's not for YOU!"

"Give it up, dude! It's time to grow a pair!"

Skirting past the slap fight that had broken out, Cole headed back to Nya. The little paper package was held high above his head when Jay broke free from Kai and ran up to their tallest brother, hopping next to him in an attempt to capture the mysterious prize.

"Gimme that! Give it back!"


Leaping onto Cole's back in an effort to slow him, Jay hung on with one arm around his neck, the other flailing for the envelope. "STOP! Give it to me!"

As if he didn't even notice the extra weight he was carrying piggyback, Cole continued toward his goal, handing off the envelope like it was a baton in a relay race when Kai caught up and passed him. Purely to annoy, the receiver waved the packet just out of its owner's reach before presenting it with a flourish to his sister in the game-room doorway. "Read this."

"No, don't! I'm not ready!"

Nya regarded her boyfriend with only a negligible amount of sympathy. "Put him down, Cole."

"I'm not holding him." Cole's hands came up shoulder-height to show he wasn't restraining anyone. "He's hangin' on. I think he's afraid to fall from that height."

"I'm not afraid!" Dropping from Cole's back, Jay went for Nya, but ran up against Kai who'd stepped in between them. "Just don't read that!" he yelled past the interfering brother. "I don't have enough yet!"

"Enough what?" she asked, already beginning to lift the flap of the envelope with her name on it.

"Nerve," Cole reckoned.

"Balls," Kai corrected.

"HEY!" Jay objected. "I mean money!"

"Just read it," Zane advised, so she yanked out three handwritten loose-leaf pages.

"Okay, fine!" Fighting it was getting him nowhere, so, like a kid not getting his way, Jay folded his arms over his chest and leaned heavily against the wall. "Just not out loud, alright?!"

Granting him that, she read the letter silently while he brooded, and everyone else looked on patiently.

["Dearest Nya,

If you're reading this, then I must've died in some awesomely heroic way (probably saving all of Ninjago), and you were going through my things searching for sentimental keepsakes to remember me by and actually dug between my mattresses and found this. Otherwise, I don't think you'd ever dig through my things, and God knows I don't have the guts to say these things out loud yet, and I have no idea why.

But, if the guys are reading this—I TOLD YOU TURDS TO STOP SNOOPING THROUGH MY STUFF! There's nothing for you to see here! Stop reading this IMMEDIATELY and put it back! (PS—I licked every square inch of this letter and envelope, inside and out. In the morning BEFORE I brushed my teeth.)

Now back to Nya…Babe, I've loved you for a long time, really since the week we first met. Maybe not the first DAY, since I'm not sure I believe in love at first sight (it sounds kinda farfetched and fairytale-ish) maybe it was more like the third or fourth one, but it was DEFINITELY during the first week. I knew I was in love with you, but I wasn't really ready to actually DIE for you until the moment I knew you accepted me for everything I was…even for everything I wasn't.

You helped me gain my True Potential for the first time that night by making me realize I have value just the way I am, and I will always owe you for that. In fact, every day I'm trying to repay you. I do and say crazy stuff because I want to brighten your day and make you laugh. Sometimes when I act like I'm having trouble with a mechanical project (and it's all an act—I always know what I'm doing), it's because I want to make you feel even more competent and needed than you already are. And I get you to spar with me, not just because I want somebody with different moves, but because I don't want you to feel so left out. I also know it boosts your confidence when you whip my butt…and, no, I don't throw the fights…

I have to be honest about this. My debt to you keeps growing, because for every little thing I do, you do three more things that totally knock me out! I make you laugh, but the sound of it and the way you roll your eyes at me sends me whirling faster than Spinjitzu. I have you helping me with engine stuff, cuz I honestly love working next to you and watching the way you twist up your lips when you're thinking really hard. And when I'm trying to go easy on you when we spar and you're holding nothing back, I'm thinking about how wild it's gonna be later when we're making love…That's usually why I lose…but probably not the only reason.

(BTW, I'm still amazed that you even let me get close enough to even TOUCH you…and I want to say THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!)

You could say I fall in love with you again and again because of all the little things you never even know you're doing. I have no freakin' idea what I've done to deserve a lady like you, but I hope I don't stop doing it!

Anyway, the point is that I want you know that I am grateful for every minute of every day with you! You're pretty much the reason I get up in the morning! (Well, that and Cole's threats of handing me my ass.) There's no denying it, I love you, and I want to make you as happy as you make me, and I SWEAR I'm gonna tell you all of this one day soon. Right now I'm just hoping that you get the hint that I love you by all the things I do for you, whether you know about them or not. (Like all those chores of yours that never need doing since I've already done 'em!)

On the flip side, you know I'm not always the perfect guy. No. Really. I can't exactly promise to ALWAYS make you happy and to never screw up. We both know I'll probably break that promise (though not on purpose). But I WILL promise to always try my hardest to do my best in everything, and when I DO screw up (and, yeah, we both know it's a sure thing), I'll do my damnedest to fix it better than it ever was…

And finally, NEWS FLASH! I'm saving up for an engagement ring for you! I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and I want to get you a really nice ring with diamonds and gold and platinum and everything beautiful that you deserve! I'm afraid it's gonna take me a long time to get the right amount together, though, since it turns out ninja don't make any money, and Wu frowns on pawning the Golden Weapons. So far I think I only have enough for one that would probably turn your finger green…

Okay, so now you know my dirty little secret and I really hope I finally got brave enough to give this to you instead of letting you find this after I'm dead, cuz you're SMOKIN' HOT, and I can't wait to get my hands (and the REST of me!) on you ASAP and FOREVER!

I'll love you 'til the end of time, my gorgeous samurai! (And then for at LEAST a day and a half after that…)


(PS to Kai: Just in case you read this all the way to the end—Sorry it's making you think about me getting down and dirty with Nya, but you'll just have to deal with it, cuz it's a fact of life, bruh. If I'm dead, it doesn't matter, anyway. If I'm alive…Bring it on! I'll take whatever you can dish out later. Your sister's extremely worth it! And, again, you're not supposed to be reading this!)

(PSS: Oh, and, Nya, if you think it's gross, then I didn't really lick all over this paper. Well, I started to, but it cut my tongue…)"]

When she'd finished, Nya looked up from the written declaration of devotion, face flushed, eyes glimmering. "Jay…Why haven't you just said all this before?"

Alternating his gaze between her and the floor, he gestured helplessly. He'd thought about it at length time and again and hadn't been able to figure it out himself, but if she wanted an explanation, he'd take a crack at giving her one, just like he'd give her anything else in Ninjago she asked for, even if he had to make it or steal it.

Pretending she was the only one there with him, he forged ahead. "I've tried, believe me, I've tried so many times, but every time I do, I open my mouth and look at you and…and you look at me…with those glittery, rusty-brown eyes that remind me of cinnamon sugar…and I think how you're so beautiful inside and out and so smart and so high above me—it's like you sparkle and glow, and I wonder 'why in the world would she wanna be with me?' and my tongue gets tied up in so many knots—along with my stomach—I just…" His shoulders slumped. "I just can't."

The other men stood around him like, "Whhaaa…?" The girls, however, had both fastened glistening moon eyes on him as if he was The Most Amazing Prince Charming riding up in chainmail made of stars.

Shoving Kai aside, Nya threw her arms around Jay's neck. "Oh, my sweet little grease monkey! This is all I need! I don't need an expensive ring from you to prove that you love me! Just a word, a sign, a symbol. It doesn't matter what it looks like or what it's made of—it could be a twist tie off a loaf of bread for all I care! This was so perfect! I love you so, so much!" Her lips on his in an extended, smoldering kiss saved him from having to come up with anything else.

"Ugh." In mock disgust, with one hand on his stomach, Kai put the other on Zane's shoulder for support. "Somebody get me a bucket, I'm gonna puke!"

Warily lifting his brother's hand with a finger and thumb, Zane bade him, "Direct the ejection of your stomach contents away from me, please."

"Whoa," Cole marveled at Jay's inability to verbalize this particular emotion. "Jabberjaw at a loss for words, ever. Never thought I'd even get a mental picture of that."

"I can give you one," Kai offered, suddenly cured of his imaginary nausea. "It's a fantasy of mine. Involves lots of duct tape. Oh, and, for the record, Jay, I've read that letter—we all have—and I didn't care that you slobbered on it. After having so much of your sweat and blood all over me, I'm immune. But you probably shouldn't let him touch you, Nya. You never know what he's got. He is a nasty little junkyard rat…OOF!"

Having smoked Kai's ass in a tackle to the floor, Jay leapt up and sprinted for the bunkroom before his friend could rebound, hollering back to Nya, "If ya wanna get off this ship for the afternoon in the city, I'll be ready in a jiffy!"

"Meetcha up top!" she called back, already running to change.

Later that evening, the rugby match between the Jamanakai Jawbreakers and the Ninjago City Nutcrackers was brawling into its second half when Jay and Nya blew into the game room at about eight forty-five. In a tee and cotton shorts, with his long, lean legs stretched out, Kai had claimed the entire couch as his domain and didn't even bother to unglue his eyes from the TV.

Lying on a pallet on the floor, Cole analyzed the teams' strategies while Arwyn caught up on her reading. Unlike Kai, they gave the newly-arrived couple their attention right away. To attract her brother's notice—as always, with the knowledge that she had little time before she lost it—Nya hopped between him and the battered ballers to make a happy announcement without further ado.

"We got engaged!"

"AAAAAHHH!" resounded as a squeal of joy from Arwyn, a pained outcry from Kai.

"I'm so excited for you!" Jumping up and down with Nya, Arwyn hugged her hard.

"Dammit, he actually went through with it," Kai muttered, covering his eyes with a hand.

Cole was laughing hard at the mixed reactions. "So you finally took the plunge, eh, Jaybird?"

"Yeah, she must've slipped something in my drink. I think I was drugged." He got lightly shoved by his new fiancée.

"Ha! This is how it really happened," Nya revised. "When we left here, we had lunch at this hip outdoor café called Skyfire—you'd love it, Arwyn, you gotta get Cole to take you there later—"

"Except it's kinda pricey, Cole," Jay interjected. "But you can save some coin if you skip the appetizer and split something big, like the 'Superbolt Platter'."

Nya kept right on with her story. "After lunch, we went up to the top of the Ninjago Tower to check out the view since it was so sunny and beautiful…"

Jay continued with his advice. "Also, order water as a drink, it's free."

"We were up there for a few minutes, when all of a sudden—"

"Oh, and you might wanna skip dessert, too, cuz—"

"JAAY!" Tips on frugal dining weren't what the women wanted to hear.

"Oops. Sorry."

Nya held herself back from clamping a hand over his mouth. "So, anyway…All of sudden, Jay hops up to stand on the railing and starts yelling to everyone who could hear about how much he loves me! It was unbelievable—and a little embarrassing," she had to admit, elbowing the town crier who stood by blushing under his freckles. "Security guards freaked out and came running up and made him get down, and when he did, he dropped down on both knees—both knees—and proposed—begged me to marry him—right in front of everybody!"

Out of the side of her mouth, Arwyn whispered to Cole, "Did you give him a few helpful hints?"

His grin was unapologetic. "I may have mentioned groveling would really help his chances."

The romance of it all was lost on Kai. "Omigawd, Jay, you are so pussy-whipped…"

"I am not!"

"And you suddenly came to your senses and told him to forget it, right?" Nya's brother asked her hopefully.

He got back a long-suffering look sideways. "Kai. Really." Dismissing him to focus on Arwyn for true appreciation of her story, Nya continued rapidly, "I'm almost ashamed to say it, but he actually made me cry! I couldn't believe it!"

"Neither could I." Jay put an arm around Nya's shoulders. Seeing proof that she was genuinely moved by his performance had actually boosted his confidence and made him feel even better about finally doing it.

"And right then, for some weird reason, it started raining on us—it was really strange—just there over the Tower…"

Jay scratched his head. "Don't know where that came from. Wasn't a cloud around…"

She didn't give it a second thought. "So we took off in the Storm Fighter to get out of it, and while we were cruising around over the city, we talked about rings and our parents' engagements, and that gave us the idea to do this." On cue, with huge grins, Nya and Jay stuck out their hands, side-by-side, displaying bright new tattoos on their little fingers.

Kai recognized the symbol immediately. "The red string of fate! Like Mom and Dad had!"

"Exactly! I told Jay about it, and he insisted we do it! My left hand and his right so it looks like they're tied together when we hold hands, like our destinies." The uncharacteristic dreamy look given to Jay had him kicking himself for not having had 'the talk' months before.

"Oh, I know that story!" Admiring the art on Nya's finger like it was a three-carat rock, Arwyn gushed, "Couples meant to be together are connected by invisible red strings that never break, only stretch! That is SO SWEET! I love it! Now I want one!"

"Uh, no," Cole shut that idea down right away. His original proposal in the kitchen weeks before had included a suggestion which she had nixed. "You refused my tattoo idea…so just…no."

"Yeah, but yours was gonna say—"

A fingertip went to her lips while he tried to seem stern. "Inadmissible. It's still 'no'." In response, her front teeth were bared and clamped down on the end of his digit before he could remove it to safety. "Uhhh…"

Nearby, Kai was still less than impressed with Jay's idea, grumbling, "Yeah, real sweet. And cheaper than a ring. Guess we'll have to get a movie deal or dig up some pirate treasure before you get one of those."

"I'm working on it!"

"Right." With a finger, Kai motioned over the top of the sofa cushion. "And just to let you know, as my brother-in-law, you'll be eternally at my mercy when you finally do get married!"

"Uuggghhh…" Jay rolled his eyes and his head at the same time. "Like you don't give me enough grief already." Done with Kai, he kissed Nya's cheek. "I'm gonna go shower." With lips still held against her glowing skin, a work-stained hand slid into the back pocket of her jeans. "But we could save water if you wanna join me in there…"

"Jaaayy…" Though it was a tempting invitation, she was very conscious of who was in the audience. "Not in front of—"

"You could save water if you're in a full-body cast, too," came the lightly-veiled threat from the couch.

"HA!" was thrown back triumphantly by the smooth talker who reluctantly pulled his hand from Nya's pants and moseyed into the hall. "Ya can't scare me with that! Not with the Tears on board!"

Going back to the game, Kai griped, "I told Wu he was wasting it on him…"

"Well, I'm really happy for you, my little lightning rod!" Popping up from his mat, Cole wrapped Nya up in his arms and pecked her glossy, ebony crown. "You've bagged a great guy!" He grinned mischievously into her joyful, upturned face. "Of course, you could do tons better, but I'm pretty sure Arwyn's not open to sharing…"

"Not even for a minute, buster!"

Letting go of Nya, he whirled around to the girl readying to deliver a kidney punch behind him and whisked her off her feet with one arm behind her knees, the other around her back. "Well, then, c'mon, woman!" Butterfly kisses rained on her neck and collarbone, making her catch her breath, in love with the man and his attention. "All this talk of love has me seriously burning for a big chunk of yours! I'm taking you to the 'grotto' where we can…uh…'meditate'!"

"Baby, you can take me anywhere!" With gusto she gave him the green light as he toted her down the corridor. "Just, please, take me!"

Nya watched them go, already exhilarated with her own happiness and feeling even more elated by her friends'. However, turning toward Kai, she caught his quick, troubled look away from the pair and back to the TV. Sensing a problem, she leaned over the back of the couch to place a tender kiss on his temple.

His eyebrow cocked suspiciously at the affectionate gesture. "What was that for?"

"Just letting you know I understand." A sympathetic smile went his way. "Watching those two must be hard for you."

Could she see straight through to his heart? His gaze shifted quickly from hers. There is no way "You lost me."

"Then lemme spell it out for you, and get all up in your bizness!"

Dropping his feet to the floor, he cleared a spot on the cushions as she vaulted the back of the sofa to plop down next to him. "We got back to the city yesterday morning, you haven't been with Renata in a couple of weeks, and you're still here. Why? You must miss her. When are you gonna see her again?"

"Oh, that's what you mean." The tightness in his chest loosened slightly. "Not any time soon."

"Why not?"

For a moment, Kai fiddled with the remote. He hadn't planned on sharing the news so soon, but…I'm sure Zane'll be blabbing it later, once Sofiya gets an earful… "Ehh…While you and Jay were getting engaged…we were breaking up."

"Oh, sweetie, no!" Her good mood took a nosedive. How could she be so blind as to be happy when her brother obviously wasn't? "What happened?"

The rugby game vanished with a resigned punch of his thumb on the power button, and he let his head flop back on the cushion. So much for trying not to think about this shit… "I called her up to let her know I was around—see if maybe she was free and felt like catching a movie or something—and it probably wasn't the best time. She was in a mood…I was in a mood. We got to talking, and…some things got aired."

As he looked back on it, he hadn't been all that disappointed when she'd said she was too busy working on a paper to go to a movie. But when she'd followed that up with saying they needed to 'talk' and should probably meet later for a coffee, he'd noticed the comlink heating up against his wrist and had to remove it. Jay had made it heat-resistant especially for him, but if this conversation went the way he thought it would, it might not survive.

Since Wu had declared they wouldn't be near the city for more than two or three days, he'd told her they may as well talk now if there was anything she needed to get off her chest. So she had. He found it easier to pace alone in the bunkroom while glaring down at the personal communication device than to face Renata across a table in a crowded café while she basically told him why he wasn't worth her time.

"What it boiled down to was we both aren't what the other person wants. She's shopping for a guy with a degree, a day job, money, somebody who'll always be around to come running at Her Highness' beck and call. A blacksmith-ninja who only comes into port every few weeks doesn't make the cut. She even had the nerve to call our relationship boring and stagnant."

Though he tried to laugh at that last part, it was the only thing that had legitimately stung. Not only was he not around enough for her tastes, she was royally pissed off that he kept dodging her attempts to go all the way with him, even though she made it very plain she was his for the taking every time they were alone. It wasn't that he didn't want to do it—gods, he so wanted to do it!—it was simply that it had never felt right.

The guys would think I'm a frickin' dweeb, but, I'm seriously glad I didn't waste my first time on her.

He had his suspicions that she wasn't lonely, however. "And, of course she denied it, but I'm pretty sure she's already got some judge wannabe she's getting busy with in the back of a Beemer." Without raising his voice through the whole conversation—which he was proud of—Kai had accused her of that very thing using much more vulgar terms, which had set her off. It was just desserts for some earlier ugly remarks of hers questioning his loyalty and attacking his manhood.

Nya stroked his forehead gently, ruffling the hair at his temple, her blood pressure going through the roof. How dare she?! I am gonna tear that little bitch down! "Kai, honey, I'm so sorry…"

"Ah, don't be. I should've seen it coming. And apparently I didn't care about her like I thought I did since it's not hurting my feelings all that much. She wasn't exactly measuring up to my standards, anyway. Renata's really smart and pretty, but she knows it, and I can't have a woman who thinks she's better looking than I am, right?" A chuckle escaped him, but she didn't find it amusing.

"But, for being so hot, she's kinda cold, and she said and did a bunch of stuff that got on my nerves." If he was totally honest with himself, this breakup was more of a relief than anything else. "I need someone different—a woman who's not high-maintenance, doesn't hate my bike, can cook at least as good as I do, likes kids, is willing to leave Ninjago City…someone I'd die for."

Her brow became a question mark. "Hmm…and do you have some wonder-woman in mind?"

Actually, he was trying not to put a face on the model, but if she wanted one, "Uh…Mom?"

"That'll work." She bobbed her head in agreement. "Well, obviously Renata's not worth your trouble. You're too good-looking, smart, caring, and everything! Any girl would be blessed to be with you, and the right one's out there somewhere, and we'll find her pronto!"

'The right one'…"Thanks for all that, Nya, but let's not worry about it, okay? I'm not in a big hurry, and, besides, I have everything I need right now right here on this ship." Putting his arm around her shoulders, he pulled her against his side for a tight hug. "But let's forget about my thing. You just started a new chapter, so let's be happy about that." The grossed-out face he made got her to smile. "Even if it's with Jay."

"Even if what's with Jay?" The aforementioned, freshly-showered ninja came swaggering into the room, smelling it up with the aroma from his 'Foxylove' body wash.

"That's the million-dollar question, isn't it?" Kai sneered up him. "What's with Jay?"

Ignoring him, Jay came around to plunk himself down on the other side of Nya. "I've got my sights set on Cole's leftover 'better-than-sex' cake. I bet it's not, but how 'bout we go get some?" He sneaked his arm around her waist, his eyebrows waggling. "I'll let you eat it off my chest…"

Kai didn't care to be ignored. "At least she won't get hair in her mouth."

"Hey!" Jay was so easily baited. "I have chest hair!"

"Oh, you're right, Studly, I forgot about those two."

"It's not like you've got a bunch, either!"

"I don't get mistaken for a ten-year-old at the beach." By now, they were both leaning over Nya from either side, facing off.

"Neither do I!"

"Time out!" Sliding under the ninja bridge, Nya got off the couch. "Now that you two have compared the fur on your nice, manly bodies…" Grabbing Jay's hand, she hoisted him from the couch. "Let's go get dessert, love." Turning back to Kai, she kissed him on the forehead, knowing him well enough to understand he'd appreciate being alone. "Gonna be okay?"

A reassuring thumbs-up accompanied, "Better than."

Sadness tainted her smile as she tugged his ear. "I love you."

Ah. If only he could have someone else say those words as well…and mean them as more than a friend. "I love you, too." And if only he could say them back

Once the couple had left the room, he sat staring absently at the dark TV screen. He didn't really feel like going back to the rugby game, and even though he could hear Jay's braying between bites from the dining room, the silence around him was irritating. He couldn't even focus on a ticking clock—it was digital.

Instead, thoughts he'd tried locking up in secure little boxes were straining the hinges, noxious clouds of conflict seeping out from under the lids. Slamming them shut, Kai scrubbed at his face, pushed himself off of the couch, and stomped up to the main deck.

At the prow, he stopped, facing into the wind from the west where the rapidly-dwindling last light of day was draining over the edge of the Sea of Sand.

Far in the distance off to his left shone the lights of Ninjago City, but he didn't even grant them a glance. It was where she was, and he didn't care. There were too many other, more important things—more important people—on his mind to waste any energy stewing over her. If she wanted to go screwing around with every damn ambulance chaser in the city, she could have at it. Somewhere out there was someone a helluva lot better, and when he damn well felt like it, he'd get to her.

For now, and for the next few weeks or months, their mission against the Serpentine, against Garmadon, took precedence. I need to concentrate on that… He breathed deeply of the dry, cooling air. And keep other things off my mind…

Scowling into the falling night, he caught his fingertips exploring the new scar he shared with Cole, the one that marked a point in their histories like the carving in stone of heroes' exploits. The one that would serve as a reminder of what kind of hell they were willing to go through for one another. As if he wouldn't remember without it…

Unbidden, details of his struggle with Cole, images of Arwyn and Renata, flew around like taunting wraiths, ricocheting in his tired mind. Surely something had to slow these thoughts and feelings, these things he was trying to ignore, things he didn't want anyone to know, things he couldn't let anyone know. Fingernails sank into his palms as his hands balled into tight fists, the sensation making him grimace, demanding his focus, compelling him to squeeze harder until his forearms quivered.

The frustration, the guilt, the rejection, everything gnawed away at him. Within seconds, mounting inner chaos brought forth twin pillars of fire blasting out into the deepening darkness as if from a pair of cannon. The explosive expenditure of energy, coupled with the magnificent, blistering sight, awarded him a small fraction of blessed release.

"That was absolutely WICKED!"

Dowsing the flame-throwing with a jolt, Kai swung around to confront the undetected witness to his emotional outburst. "SHIT, Lloyd! What the hell?! You almost made me frickin' crap myself!"

"Wow! Four cuss words all in one breath!" The boy was too impressed with the swearing to even think to apologize for the startling intrusion.

Jabbing a finger in Lloyd's direction, Kai ground his teeth in irritated embarrassment. "Do that again, and you're gonna hear ahelluvalot more!"

"Take care, young one…with your fire…and your language." With a glowing lantern in hand, Wu's pale figure glided down the steps from the bridge. "You may now have regenerative abilities to a degree, but the same is not so with this flying bundle of kindling."

Sufficiently chastised, the elemental bowed respectfully low right away. "Sorry, Sensei. Just letting off a little steam."

"Understood…considering what you have endured lately." The head of the ninja clan set the lamp on the weather-beaten railing when he reached Kai's side, then addressed Lloyd. "Nephew, your bedtime draws near. Go bathe, and ready yourself." Bending, he lightly swatted a puppy rear to stop the toe-licking he was getting. "And take A-Ca into the shower with you. You both need soap."

"Aww! But I wanna see it when Kai shoots off more fire!"

"I'm done with that, Charmander!" Kai went back to staring out toward the west, propping crossed forearms on the top of the balustrade. "Go hit the shower, like Sensei said."

"Okay, fine." Although Lloyd wasn't ready to go, he knew when arguing wouldn't do him any good. "G'night, Uncle."

"Good night, my dear lad." When the youngster had run off with the dog in his feet, Wu gave all his attention to the son of a man who'd been a close friend. "I cannot help but see your spirit is plainly in turmoil. Who has wronged you?"

Kai glanced down at himself, half-expecting to be colorfully glowing. "Uh…Nobody."

"So, what have you done wrong?"

"What makes you think Idid anything wrong?!" The question unintentionally snapped out.

Even in the limited light, Wu's level look said to keep calm, the answer should have been obvious. "It would stand to reason that should be my next question." He assumed a position mirroring Kai's. "What, then, have you done that is right?"

"Why in the world would that cause me turmoil?"

"We are all expected to take the right path." Wu stroked his long, white beard, slipping into the role of guru. "However, the right path is oftentimes tortuous and rocky. Perhaps there is something relating to that which you would like to discuss."

His teacher may have been getting warmer, but Kai wasn't falling into the trap of stretching out on anyone's therapy couch. "Nah. There's nothin' I wanna talk about."

From the corner of his eye, Wu observed his temperamental student for a moment, wishing he knew of a way to get him to confide without demanding it. Genuinely disappointed, he turned his gaze out into the infinite sky where a few stars were slowly blossoming. "Then I must respect that…and I understand. It is not always easy doing that which is right. Heroes are faced with many responsibilities, obligations, wrongs to amend. Sometimes the best course of action is not in his best interest, but must be made for the good of others. The trials of a hero are many, the rewards, few."

A hero… He's calling me a hero. Kai smirked vaguely at the thought. …Hero

"Are you certain there is nothing you wish to share with me?" When Kai barely shook his head 'no', Wu reluctantly gave in and pushed away from the ship's railing. "Then I suppose it is time I took my leave to begin my evening meditation." With a pat to the young man's solid shoulder, he departed for below deck.

Watching him amble away, Kai swiftly considered whether or not to stop him with a newly-hatched request. He didn't have to. He could just let the old man go on his way, and he'd be able to spend a few more minutes alone indulging himself with a roll in a hot, messy, unconstructive bed of angst. Or…he could act on the idea germinating in the back of his mind.

If he didn't ask, it'd be no harm, no foul. Life would just go on. But if he did, he'd be stepping out of his comfort zone, doing something he wasn't really used to doing. And if he went through with it, would the gods see it as a redemptive act, an atonement for his most recent 'sins'? And whether they did or didn't, if he was rewarded or not, would it make his offer any less meaningful in the long run?

The balance tipped, and he stood straighter, filling with a deeper sense of purpose. A hero should do all that a hero can do.

Two nights later, upon his return from a short, late-evening mission with Kai, Cole's long legs were bringing him down the below-deck hallway toward the bunkroom in a hurry, drawn closer every second to the source of not-yet-bridled power he sensed. As soon as he got into the room lit by only one lamp, he laid widening eyes on the lone person present and slammed the door behind him. "Good gosh, a dream come true! My beautiful, almost-naked fiancée waiting for me in my bed…and with ice cream, no less!"

Dressed for bed in a wine-colored camisole and shorts, she gave him a saucy grin from under Jay's bunk. "And none of it's for you."

He paused in placing his hooded helmet on the nearby dresser and squinted one eye at her. "Excuse me?"

A bare shoulder lifted and dropped coolly. "It's what you get for running off with Kai and not taking me."

"We're not rehashing that again!" His boots, vest and jacket were peeled off like they were on fire, bringing him quickly down to undershirt and pants. "But you're about to give me some, and pronto!"

She coyly shrank back toward the wall, half-intentionally making ample room for him to join her on the twin mattress. "Who says? It's mine, and I don't think you deserve any!"

Ducking under the bunk above, he slid onto his bed, stretching out close alongside her. "Tough noogies! What's yours is mine, and what's mine is mine, so I'm taking it, anyway! Gimme that!" Though she tried to keep it from him, he grabbed the spoon from her hand and dug into the quart of peanut-butter-and-fudge ice cream she hugged close, coming up with a healthy-sized scoop which went straight into his mouth. "Uummm…Thish isshooow goot."

"Well, great." The icy container was surrendered. "There goes what little I was able to hide from Jay and Lloyd…"

"Mmgh!" Through a brain-freeze grimace, he asked, "And just how much have you already eaten?"

"Only two bites!" The number was recalculated to be more honest. "Maybe three…or four. I just came in here a couple of minutes ago to wait for you. You two were pretty quick."

"Didn't want to waste time getting back to you." He leaned in for a kiss to her neck, missing his target when she playfully evaded him.

"Sweet talk is not gonna get you all the ice cream, Bucko." She snatched the spoon back and helped herself to the frozen dessert. "Now back to the other thing—I know you didn't necessarily want to return and do that little errand, but I appreciate that you didn't give Kai any flack over it."

"Hmmph. It's not like I had much of a chance to argue about it," he muttered before accepting and swallowing a bite while she did the 'some for me, some for you' thing. "His timing was right on the money yesterday morning, asking Sensei Wu right in front of both of us, knowing you'd be all gung ho and back him up." Cole's expression turned faintly resentful. "It's like you two had it all planned."

Arwyn shot him a doubtful look. "It wasn't planned. You know better than that."

"No, I don't really," he shrugged, not meeting her eye, loosening his grip on his insecurities. "The two of you seem kinda…I dunno…friendlier…since the canyon, like you share a bond now or something…"

She frowned, hesitant to admit that he was right to an extent. "Well, we all fought through a lot back there…"

"And now you feel…closer to him?" The tiny, anxious furrow between his brows, the faint, vulnerable, higher-pitched note in his voice was caught by his soulmate, making her heart skip a beat. Surely he doesn't think he could be replaced? His losing sleep over some matter or another was nothing new, but she couldn't let his fears be fed over this.

"In a way, maybe, but it's not like you think." Easing her head down to his pillow, she tangled her fingers in his coal-black hair and gently turned his face to hers. "My life's heart, no man will ever be closer or dearer to me that you." Although just sweetened from the ice cream, his lips were still warm when she pulled them down to meet her waiting mouth and whispered against them, "You have absolutely nothing to worry about."

Lulled by her kiss, by her breathy pledge, he pulled her body closer against his and drifted into a strong sense of security and love as warm as a down comforter, as cozy as a secret, shaded bower, one that melted away any and all of his anxieties over a possible jilting or betrayal.

Gratefully, they sank into the deepening embrace that could last forever, that held hopes of leading to more…If only a frosty container hadn't been squished between their chests, keeping things from overheating. Drawing back from Arwyn before the remaining ice cream liquefied, with her last statement on his mind, Cole made a face like she had read him totally wrong. "Pfft! Who's worried?"

"Um hmm." She rolled her eyes and lifted the cold little bucket away from bare skin to avoid frostbite. "In any case, no matter your feelings on the subject, considering how Kai was wishing Hiro dead earlier, I think it's great he had a change of heart and wanted to help him. And you can act like you would've argued not to do it, but I'm pretty sure you're only ticked cuz he was selfless and compassionate before you for a change."

"Huh." He really had no way to argue that previously unspoken fact, so he played 'baby bird' and let her fill him up with more ice cream. "Whadevah."

"How'd it go, by the way?"

"Mmm, not bad." Cole thought back to a little more than an hour before when the mission of mercy proposed by Kai had gotten kicked off in the questionably-named village of Sanctuary. "He and his father were home when we dropped down there, but it took quite a few minutes of explaining that we weren't up to no good before they let us in the house. They weren't very convinced when we told them about the Tears—go figure—however, they agreed to give it a try…until Kai pulled out his kunai and told Hiro he'd have to cut him." He chuckled at the memory. "The kid about lost it, then."

"Hmm…I totally understand. Having Kai coming at me with a sharp, pointy object upsets me, too."

"Yeah, so I suggested we let his dad do it, and it all worked out fine after that." Satisfaction at a job well done had him grinning. "When we took off, they were happy as two clams, celebrating his new baby-blues."

"That's wonderful! At least something good came out of all this. But, ya know, I should've been there to see his eyes change." Arwyn poked his shoulder sulkily with the spoon, leading him to contradict her with a brief flip of his bangs.

"That's a negative. You didn't need to be there."

A halfhearted grouse was obligatory. "You never let me do anything."

With a knuckle, he lifted her chin so his lips were centimeters from hers and remarked patronizingly, "Cuz when I do, you get yourself shot."

The punch to his rock-hard abs let him know "That was not my fault!"

"Ooh, you're right!" Conceding that point, he grabbed her fist and kissed it, taking custody of the spoon at the same time. "Look, to make it up to you, how about I get Wu to let you drop the Fang Blades into Torchfire Mountain when we get there? We oughta be able to pull that off without a hitch."

"You say that, but with the way bad things keep happening every time we turn around, something's bound to go wrong." Just thinking about the future, near or far, was enough to demolish Arwyn's peace of mind lately.

"Nope. Nothing's gonna happen." Cole was trying to stay optimistic, relying on the law of averages. "We're due some good luck. We're gonna fly over, drop the Blades in, and break the Serpentines' rotten, stinkin' hearts since they won't be able to call up Super Snake. After that, all we have to deal with is whipping you into shape for the Final Battle."

"'Whipping' me?" That didn't sound very nice.

"It'll be open and shut," he nodded definitively. "Case closed."

"I guess we can hope…" The phrase was coming out of her mouth, but she wasn't really feeling it.

"C'mon, don't fret—If we can live through all that just went down, we can do anything." He scraped up the last lump of ice cream and presented it for her. "Here, have the last bite, and forget about the rest for right now."

"That's mighty sweet of y—ikes!"


They both peered down at the soft ice cream he'd accidentally on purpose let drop from the spoon before it had quite made it to her mouth. Slowly it slipped over the curve of one breast, down into her cleavage, and out of sight, raising little frissons over olive flesh.

She puckered her lips at him in pretend annoyance. "Well, thanks for that. Now you have a nice, cold little mess to clean up."

"Fear not, m'lady…" As he lowered his lips to the milky trail, the glint in his eye vowed that to serve her would be his pleasure…as well as hers. "I am so on it…"

A/N: Aaannndd...done. Please leave a note. Namaste~