A/N: It's been far too long since I've updated, and for that I'm sorry. All that having been said though, I hope this chapter will make up for such a long time waiting. School and work has kept me very busy, but I hope that with some clever scheduling, I'll be able to update at a more regular pace now. As always, please R&R and let me know what you thought.

To Elemental Queen - Good, because there's a lot more to come. Enjoy.

To RidleyM-LP - Don't jump the gun on the love train just yet. Samus has decades of emotional and mental trauma to trudge through, so you're going to see quite a bit of character development before any romance comes into the picture. It will happen of course, but it's going to take some time.

To Skullsplitter98 - Well, as always, I'm pleased you're enjoying the story. The Metroid franchise has been a favorite of mine since I was little. I mean c'mon, a badass female protagonist with a shattered past? Love it. Anyway, new chapters should be coming a little more often now, so be on the lookout.

Disclaimer: I own nothing having to do with the Metroid franchise in any shape or form.

Chapter 7: To Lose is to Win

"They're breaking through, high priest!" a young Chozo warrior announced as he fired a few shots downrange.

Gray Voice watched the approaching horde of metroids. He found himself strangely calm as his death approached, though he knew he should be terrified. Instead, he picked up his staff and made his way calmly to the young warrior's side.

He nudged the young Chozo and motioned to the chamber behind them. "Take everyone that is left and escape the planet. Do not argue and do not look back." He then offered a gentle smile to the warrior and said, "Find a new home for our people, Gilded Feather. Await the Newborn's return, and help her in any way you can."

The young warrior knew better than to argue with his high priest, and reluctantly nodded before bounding away, ushering the few warriors that were left into the escape capsule and closing the door.

Gray Voice's gentle smile didn't falter as he watched the last of his people leave their home. He then pressed his palm against the console beside him, and sent his mental command to it. Within seconds, he felt the rumble of explosions sealing the shaft that led from Tourian to Crateria, and watched as millions of gallons of Zebesian acid spilled into the cavern that he stood within.

He watched the burning liquid approach for a moment before turning his eyes heavenward.

"I am so sorry, Samus. Please forgive me."

The scalding liquid overtook him and the hundreds of metroids present, and Gray Voice was no more.

"No!" Samus shouted as she bolted awake, covered in sweat and tears. Her breathing was shallow and panting, and she fought to keep her heart from leaping out of her chest.

It had been nearly a year since Samus had a dream as vivid as that, and she was convinced that it was more than a mere dream. She knew the Chozo saw the universe quite differently than most beings in the cosmos, both literally and metaphorically. Over time, she had become increasingly sure that what she saw in such dreams was not mere fears, but actual events that the fabric of the cosmos was choosing to show her. What she didn't know was why.

She finally caught her breath and lay her head down on the pillow again. "Dreamer, why must you torment me?"

"Samus?" spoke a deep voice from her right.

The call nearly caused her to scream in surprise, as she had forgotten she was not alone in the room. Thankfully though, it only took a moment for her to calm down and look to see the burning eyes of Heartseeker as he gazed upon her from the floor.

She swallowed and took a breath before answering, "I'm alright."

Those fiery eyes studied her for a few moments before he reluctantly nodded. "Okay."

Heartseeker wanted to talk to her about whatever she had dreamt, but knew when to leave her to her thoughts. True that he considered her a friend, but he knew that she may not see him the same way. He didn't hold it against her, as he realized that because of all she had been through trust and friendship were likely very difficult concepts for her. So instead, like most times, he let the issue drift away, unspoken of. The fact that she held so much inside just made him worry more, however.

He pushed himself up off the ground and stretched out his wings before announcing, "I'm going to take a quick fly along the beach. I'll be back later."

Samus nodded mutely and watched as he left, finding herself feeling strangely empty with Heartseeker gone. She quickly pushed the feeling away and stood, determined to not let a nightmare ruin a good day.

After an hour or so, Samus was washed and groomed, and found herself eating a small breakfast of eggs akin to chicken eggs, a ham-like cut of animal meat, and an assortment of fruits. Samus reminded herself to thank U-Mos the next time they met, as she knew that such fare was not common food for Luminoth, which meant he had went out of his way to get such things.

As she chewed on a bite of the meat and eggs, she mused aloud, "Hmm...what to do today…"

She knew that she wished to train with some of the Luminoth, so as to possibly learn some new skills or pass on some of her own, but beyond that she had no idea. After all, training all day, every day would make a vacation pointless, as she would be doing what she did most of the rest of her life. So instead, she turned her mind toward other possibilities.

Samus gazed out of the open window, breathing in the ocean air as she smiled gently. "A day at the beach it is, then."

She quickly finished her meal and washed it down with a fruit juice before washing her dishes and putting them away. She then focused for a moment, willing her suit to change into something a little more beach-worthy. Not that she'd ever been to a beach to just relax, but she had wished to do so nearly all of her life, and human beach-wear was very popular among recreational clothing.

As she opened her eyes, Samus was pleased to find herself wearing a short pair of swimming shorts that cut off mid-thigh, and a strapped top that fit comfortably across her chest and shoulders. She sighed happily as the cool ocean breeze brushed across her skin, and left the house to have an enjoyable day at the Aetherine beach.

Samus had spent nearly an hour on the beach trying to relax, but couldn't find the ability to do so. She wasn't so blind not to realize that the reason why was because Heartseeker was not present. He had become a daily sight in her life and a person of common social interaction, with which she could let her guard down and simply...be. She had no need to be subtly tense around him, nor did she need to probe his intentions to find out what they were, and how they would affect her.

He was simply a friend.

If Samus was honest with herself, he was her first friend not brought about directly from her career. True that Anthony and Adam could be considered friends now, but originally their alliances between each other had come about from work. Samus knew that she at least would not have sought out their company had there been no mission-specific reason for it. This meant that the connection she had with Heartseeker was a first for her: a friendship she had formed simply from being around him.

"Maybe that's why things seem so lacking without him around." she mused aloud to herself.

Being as solitary as she was, wishing for another's company was a new concept to Samus. She didn't need Heartseeker near her: she wanted him near her. Unfortunately, with this being so new to her, Samus made the mistake of asking an unanswerable question: why did she want him around?

Sure, he was a decent fighter. And yes, he had a convenient use as a Hunter in space, as he had no need for a ship. Still, none of that mattered to Samus. She couldn't think of a reason for why she wished for his company, beyond simply that it was "nice".

Samus growled to herself. "Nice" wasn't a good enough reason, not to her. It didn't make sense. Samus disliked things that didn't make sense.

A loud Ridley-like roar blew through the landscape, and immediately Samus found an unbidden smile on her face. Lucidly, she found it strange that what should be a terrifying sound was instead a welcome occurrence, for she knew it meant Heartseeker was approaching.

She looked up to see the familiar xenomorph as he wheeled overhead, flaring his wings and bleeding away his speed so that he landed much more gently than the day before, and on his hands and feet.

Samus pushed herself up from the sand and made her way over to him, commenting, "That was much better. I'm pleased to see you're improving."

He turned around toward his mentor and smiled. "One cannot learn without making mistakes, and I learn quickly. You of all people should know that."

Samus smiled again and nodded. "I do, and flight is a very useful skill to have. Honestly, I envy you."

Heartseeker grinned toothily and nudged Samus gently as he sang, "~Samus is jealous!~"

Samus simply rolled her eyes and shoved him playfully before jerking her head toward the house behind her. "There's plenty to eat if you would like some breakfast before we head to the temple."

He shook his head and patted the part of his thin abdomen where Samus assumed his stomach was. "No thank you, I've already eaten. I caught some weird fish-thing and ate that. Seemed pretty tasty, so I think it was alright to eat."

Samus raised her eyebrow at this. "What did it look like?"

Heartseeker thought for a moment before answering, "It was big - almost as big as you - and its jaws were separated into three pieces."

She nodded in awe. "Wow...that was a blogg. They're known for being quite the aquatic predators, and you said you ate one?"

"Yes. I will admit that it put up a bit of a fight, but I was stronger." he answered with a triumphant grin.

Samus nodded, still a little surprised that he bested one of Aether's top-tier predators so easily. "Well, I am pleased that you're unhurt. You are unhurt, right?"

Heartseeker made a point of theatrically looking himself over. "Well, I think everything's here."

As he was turning in a circle to inspect himself, Samus noticed a few shallow scratches on his armored hide. Some she recognized as the result of a few of their more rigorous training sessions, but one in particular was new…

And bleeding.

Samus sucked in a hiss of air as she moved toward Heartseeker, her hands making contact with his side as he turned. "You're injured!"

Heartseeker was a little surprised at Samus' strange amount of concern for such a small wound, but welcomed her care all the same. He shrugged as he raised his right arm to allow her better access. "That blogg-thing got a lucky bite on me, I guess. No big deal."

Samus almost wanted to argue the point with him, but quickly realized that he was reacting in much the same way she would to her own wounds. So instead, she gently pulled him aside toward the house behind them. "Well, come on. It's not too bad, but we need to clean it out and wrap it. I don't know if any of the bacteria on this world are dangerous to you, so I want to try and prevent any and all infection." Samus leapt up to the deck and motioned for her charge to follow.

The tall hybrid felt a little surprised at Samus' sudden concern, but also knew when she would not be swayed. So reluctantly, he obeyed and flapped his great wings once, propelling him into the air to land next to his mentor. Once again, he felt Samus' hands upon him as she grasped his large clawed hand and began to lead him through the doors and into the kitchen of the large beach house. He couldn't help but feel how soft and warm her hand was compared to his, and silently, he decided he liked the feeling.

Samus was mentally berating herself for her carelessness though.

"I shouldn't have let him go off alone." she seethed to herself. "He's not used to the type of danger that I am, and the Aetherine seas are much too big for a blogg to be the most dangerous thing in it."

It was at that moment that Samus had to admit to herself that she did care for him as more than an obligation. It didn't matter to her that she was responsible for his wellbeing, nor that he depended on her for so much; she cared about him for none of those reasons. By the Dreamer, she liked him. Samus Aran hardly liked anybody.

"Dangerous thoughts, Samus." she scolded herself. "Stay focused and don't let your emotions rule you. They can get you killed." Even as she thought that, she couldn't help but feel it was incorrect.

As the two entered the interior of the building, Samus pointed to a large cushioned chair. "Sit."

Heartseeker wore a bemused frown as he took the seat provided, but couldn't help but feel oddly amused at the bounty hunter's behavior. He had never known her to behave like this before, but he supposed that his experience with her was rather lacking, all things considered. He only knew "Samus: Bounty Hunter" after all. He knew little to nothing of her life before they met, nor was he particularly privy to her mannerisms outside of her career. As far as he could tell, she lived from mission to mission, taking shelter where she could and staying away from civilization for fear of being captured. Though, he knew her well enough to know she did not fear capture for her own sake, but rather the sakes of all those who depended on her. He could scarcely imagine the amount of pressure she had on her shoulders every day.

Samus inspected the wound on Heartseeker's side before stepping away and fetching a small square of soft fabric, which she assumed was a dish towel. She then turned the tap on and wet it before bringing it back to her friend and kneeling beside him, beginning to gently pat the laceration to clean it. Much to her surprise, Heartseeker's blood was red like a human's, which made her absently wonder what else about him was humanlike. She shook the thoughts away and returned to her work.

"You need to be more careful, Heart." she scolded softly. "I don't want you getting hurt without me around to look out for you. You could die, and..." Samus trailed off and shook her head. "Just please be more careful."

Heartseeker nodded as he watched his mentor tend to his wound. "I will show more care in the future. However, I must remind you that I am not as helpless as you seem to think. If it is true what you and Adam have told me, I do not believe there are many living things that could best me."

"At full-capacity perhaps," Samus stated with concern, "but you are far from being as experienced as Ridley himself. I have no doubt that you have the capabilities within you, but you lack real battle experience." As she continued to dab the wound, Samus sighed gently, looking to meet his eyes. "I just don't want anything to happen to you, Heart. You're one of the only friends I've ever had, and I can't afford to lose the few I have."

Heartseeker felt an odd desire to toy with Samus a bit, so he slyly asked, "So I'm not just an asset, am I?" She shot a glare at him, but said nothing as she continued her work. Having never been so close to Samus when she was dressed as she currently was, Heartseeker spent some time taking in the many scars that she had upon her, and found himself frowning. He realized he didn't like the idea of Samus being hurt, and before he could stop himself, reached out to gently run a claw over one of the more prominent marks on her shoulder.

Samus tensed immediately, looking up at Heartseeker with a raised eyebrow. "What are you doing?"

Realizing what he was doing, Heartseeker jerked his hand away and averted his eyes. "S-sorry, it's just..."

Samus went back to her work and sighed. "I know. Not a very pretty picture, is it?" Heartseeker said nothing, so she continued. "That one was actually from when I was on the BSL station during the X-crisis. An X parasite mimicking a subject named Serris attacked me, using its ability to move at incredible speed to attempt to eat me. It nearly succeeded when it caught me in its mouth during one of its passes, but a charged shot to the roof of its mouth made it release me. Adam ordered me to rest and recuperate after that, which was fine because I had trouble walking, let alone fighting." She continued dabbing Heartseeker's wound, but reached with one hand to touch the scar. "Absorbing a few of the free-floating X parasites healed me up pretty quickly, but this scar remains. It's one of many reminders that I should never become too confident in my abilities, because overconfidence can get me killed."

"But you're not alone anymore." Heartseeker replied firmly, catching Samus' gaze with his own. "You have me now."

While she didn't respond aloud, she couldn't help but smile as she thought, "I have him now."

"You should smile more often." Heartseeker replied after a few moments of silence. "It's nice to see you smile."

Realizing that her cheeks were beginning to warm with a blush, she dipped her head down under his arm, pretending to look closely at the wound. After a moment she stated, "The wound seems to be clotting just fine. Let's dress it, and then we can spend some time relaxing." Without waiting for a response, Samus began looking around for something akin to gauze to wrap around her companion's body. After a few moments of searching, she let out a defeated growl and returned to Heartseeker…

Only to find him drooling plasma into his clawed hand.

After a few moments of collecting the fluid-like energy in his palm, he pressed it against his wound, emitting a hiss of pain as his side began to smoke a little. Just as Samus was about to stop the clearly insane hybrid before her, he pulled his hand away to reveal a blackened spot of hide where the cracked armor had been fused together.

Samus pulled back when she realized her face was closer than necessary to inspect the wound, and shrugged her shoulders. "Well...um, I guess that's one way to do it."

Heartseeker smiled and motioned to his side. "During one of Adam's exam sessions, he found that growth of the cells that make up my chitin can be stimulated by exposure to raw energy; seeing as how plasma is made up of ions, it qualifies nicely."

Samus frowned. "You can heal yourself with plasma?"

Heartseeker shook his head. "The wound is still there, it's just covered by my chitinous armor; it's like a bandage really, but one my body can make on its own. The wound still needs to heal, but now it's protected while it does so."

Samus ran her fingertips over the fresh armor, smiling softly as she did so. "That is a very useful ability. I almost wish my armor could do that." She sighed wistfully. "Adam has tried upgrading the nanomachine technology of my suit, but it seems that he still has much to learn before he's on par with a Chozo when it comes to creating armor and weaponry."

"So your suit is one of a kind?" Heartseeker queried.

Samus nodded. "It is. True that there are likely other Chozo powersuits out there in the cosmos, but mine is truly unique; it answers only to my genetic code, and is by nature modular, since the Chozo that raised me knew I would be traveling a lot."

"Modular?" Heartseeker replied, unfamiliar with the term.

Samus smiled before focusing inward, bringing the power of her suit to bear and waiting as the armor phased into existence on her body. She then pointed with her hand to the red, orange and yellow suit. "When referring to my suit, 'modular' means that I am able to assimilate new technology into it as I go throughout my travels, and the suit's nanocomputers will actively work to identify and implement any technology that is familiar or previously unknown. It only reacts to energy-based or biological technology though." She then pointed to the small grappling beam slung under her left arm. "This, for example, I picked up as a free-floating energy source, but in the past I've also procured it from biological enemies." She shrugged, dismissing her armor and reforming her Zero suit into the comfortable clothing from before. "As long as the information is there and undamaged, my suit can probably find a way to use it."

Heartseeker nodded, now fully understanding how she could overcome such overwhelming odds in battle. Her skill alone was legendary, but balancing her raw abilities was a suit that magnified her physical attributes vastly increased her durability, and provided her with a deadly arsenal of weapons that she used to great effect in battle. Furthermore, should she find a new useful ability that an enemy had, she could very well gain that ability as her own. She truly was the most formidable single force the galaxy had ever known, and Heartseeker was quite happy she considered him a friend instead of an enemy.

"My admiration for you has somehow increased further." he replied, smiling down at Samus. "It seems that every time I speak to you, I learn something else that makes me proud of who you are, and what you've done. I feel privileged to know you, frankly."

Honest flattery was not something Samus was accustomed to (not including Adam, of course), so she was forced to turn her face away as her cheeks flushed with blood in embarrassment. It wasn't the first time she'd been complimented, nor would it be the last, but she knew that Heartseeker did it not to gain her favor in some way; he was merely telling the truth. After all, it wasn't that Heartseeker couldn't lie, but he chose not to. Having a very logical mind led him to find direct approaches the best, which included the truth.

For Samus though, it was recently filling her with strange emotions she wasn't experienced with - emotions like gratitude, and true happiness.

After composing herself enough to look at her friend, Samus once again looked him over for any further injuries before stepping away and gathering the few squares of cloth she had used to clean his wound. Placing the soiled rags into the sink and running water over them, she tried to sort out just what she felt toward Heartseeker. Happiness was the first thing that came to mind, though she tried to appear aloof. Other than that, the only other thing she could identify was "warm". Not warm in the sense that she did not feel exposed to the elements, but rather it was a warmth that spread through her body and soul whenever she spent time around him. The sensation began in her core and spread to all of her extremities, leaving a fuzzy tingling feeling within. She found herself fighting the desire to smile nearly constantly, lest she look like a fool. Most confusing of all was the realization that she actually slept better - all the way through the night, more often than not - when he was nearby.

It was mildly disturbing for her to find that some small part of her actually wanted to lay on the ground next to him when they slept later on that night.

As Samus went about mechanically washing her hands and the different surfaces that were now lightly spattered with alien blood, she tried her best to disassemble her thoughts. Piece by piece, she began to make sense of her feelings:

Samus had lost her parents from a young age, and very clearly remembered their deaths. While she was indeed taken in by the Chozo and raised as one of them, her surrogate family were not known to be a physically affectionate species. Samus never felt unloved or neglected, but as a human, she desired to be held and kissed goodnight by her father. She had been forced to lock away said desires as she was raised to be a warrior of the Chozo, but that didn't mean those wants completely disappeared. Samus suspected it was why she subconsciously wished to be close to her new friend, though she was still uncomfortable with casual physical contact.

Being raised to be able to combat the evils of the cosmos had its own slew of mental and emotional issues that came with it, of course. Beyond the hardened emotional shell she wore every day she lived, repeated betrayal and loss had hardened her heart over many lonely nights, during which she often cried herself to sleep. Samus quickly learned to deaden the pain by distancing herself from all others, since if she never became close to anyone else, they couldn't hurt her. With Heartseeker, that wasn't an option. He had slowly begun to work his way into her thoughts so that there was now rarely a time when she didn't think of him. During adolescence ‒ the time when a normal young woman was supposed to be learning to deal with her emotions and how to socially relate to others - Samus was being trained to survive in a hostile galaxy, forced to place her emotions aside. Now, with the first actual friend she'd ever had, it seemed those repressed emotions were bubbling to the surface. Much as Samus had tried to run from it many times, some part of her was still human, and humans were nothing if not emotional creatures.

So, it seemed Samus' recent feelings toward Heartseeker were because of a suppressed part of natural human development; yes, that made more sense. Besides, it was a more comfortable explanation than any other possibilities.

"When does it stop, Samus?" his voice called, bringing her back to reality.

Samus turned towards her charge quizzically. "I'm sorry?"

Heartseeker pointed to her with the corners of his mouth dropped into a frown. "I have known you long enough now to address something that Adam is either too respectful or too afraid to: you do all within your power to help those that need it, and protect the helpless, but what do you do for yourself? When is the last time you actually did or said something with your own gain in mind?"

Samus' gaze hardened just a bit. "I'm a bounty hunter, Heart; I get paid for the hunting I do."

He shook his head, motioning to the open air around them. "Aether would not exist if it were not for you, yet you received nothing from eradicating the Ing. Neither did you get anything out of destroying the BSL station with the X parasites, nor cleansing the Bottle Ship. Following orders would have caused the deaths of quite possibly the entire galaxy." He stood to his full height, nearly hitting his head on the ceiling above. "So be honest with me now: why did you really do it? Why did you save me? Am I just your prize since there was no one to pay you?"

Samus had just recently come to terms with the fact that she actually liked Heartseeker, so for him to imply she might just think of him as just a trophy...it hurt. In fact, it hurt far more than she expected from mere words. Conflicting emotions arose within her, and she found herself wishing to verbally correct him quite loudly, but also wanting to just...cry. Never before had Samus felt so torn between two different things. She didn't like it; she hated feeling this vulnerable. Her emotions bubbled to the surface, and since she was feeling so exposed, she found herself speaking painful words before she could even think about them.

"When I saw you in that tank, I knew I had the opportunity to seize a valuable asset that no one else would have access to. Even so, I could have gotten along just fine if I'd left you there." she snapped before she could process what she was saying. After the words left her mouth, she wished she could reach out and grasp them before Heartseeker could hear them, as impossible as it was.

Heartseeker spent a long minute in silence, so much so that Samus was unsure he was even breathing.

Gulping and realizing she had just verbally attacked her only friend in the galaxy, she began to compose an apology. "H-Heart, I'm s-"

She never had the chance to finish, as the tall hybrid turned and briskly left the room, taking to the sky before Samus could even make it outside.

Hours passed as the Light of Aether faded to give way to night, but Samus saw no sign of Heartseeker. Shame gave way to worry, and worry gave way to fear as time rolled on with no return of her charge...no, her friend.

"Why did I even say that?" she mused silently to herself, slamming a fist against the wooden deck she sat upon, looking at the Aetherine sky with tears running down her cheeks. "Why did I want to hurt him that badly?"

"It's when we feel the most exposed that we seek to make others as vulnerable as we are." answered a voice from the roof above, just before a familiar Luminoth sentinel dropped to the deck she sat upon.

Normally Samus would have been mortified from being found in such an emotionally compromised state, but at the moment, only one thing was on her mind.

"Do you know where he is?"

U-Mos sighed, his breath sounding like the faint buzzing of bees in a garden to Samus' ears. "It wasn't hard to find either of you with such strong emotions floating around in the air. At first I worried that one of my own people was the cause, but lo and behold it was you and the young Heartseeker that are bleeding such feelings of pain."

"Please," she croaked out, her voice raspy from hours of crying alone, "I need to find him. I never should have said those things; I didn't mean them."

"Then why say them?" U-Mos asked calmly. "To stop that behavior, you must understand why you did it. Think about why you did it; find the answer and you can overcome it."

Samus was willing to do whatever it took at this point, and so forced herself to analyze what she had been feeling during her interaction with Heartseeker. She knew that when he began asking questions about her desire to sacrifice for the good of others, she felt anxious. However, when he insinuated she gained nothing from what she did for others, it made her irrationally angry for some reason.

In honesty, Samus was unsure why she did what she did. She knew it was right, and she knew that was a part of the reason, but there was something else within her that demanded her to deliver justice when it was needed. It was a part of who she was ever since she was little and…


"He asked me why I rescued him from that ship, a-and he insinuated that he was a prize that was won." she murmured, sniffling a bit. "A bounty hunter wouldn't do a job that didn't offer a bounty, would she?"

U-Mos considered her words carefully. "Perhaps you're no longer a bounty hunter then. That doesn't mean the great Samus Aran cannot still hunt bounties, but it isn't who you are. You've overcome that part of your life, and now desire to do what's right because…" He let his last words linger.

Samus thought back to her early life, which was when her desire to mete out justice first took root within her. It was then that it became quite obvious where said desires came from: the loss of her parents. She had felt what was right and good had been taken from her, and so grew to desire a way to right those wrongs in the galaxy. Her training and powersuit offered her a way to live out that life and bring about true change in the galaxy, all under the cover of a simple bounty hunter.

She saved him because she wanted to believe that no matter the physical appearance, she could pass on that same desire to do what's right to another...so that she would no longer be alone in the universe.

With her realization in mind, she stood and turned to the Luminoth, wiping the remnants of tears from her eyes. "I need him, U-Mos; not because of what he can do for me, but because he's my friend. I need someone that understands me and is on my side - someone that takes an interest in me because they care, not because they want to use me." She then glanced away. "But I'm afraid, sentinel. I'm afraid that if he finds out just how messed up in the head I am, he'll want to leave me behind."

"We all have our own trials to work through, Samus." he answered sagely. "Not even I am without my own faults, and none of us can escape it. Remember this though:" he moved closer and placed a comforting hand on Samus' shoulder, "Heartseeker only has you in the galaxy. You are everything to him, so please, treat him as a friend instead of an obligation."

Samus sighed sadly, her breathing still a bit shaky. "What if I mess up again?"

"You will," U-Mos answered immediately, "but if you are open and honest with him, he will understand; I am sure of it. You are inexperienced with people Samus, so you must expect to make mistakes. However, so long as you work to better yourself, I am confident he will be by your side - he is learning as well, after all." U-Mos considered something for a moment before stating, "If you wish to find your friend, you may find him in the Hall of the Honored, which was once a place where we pay homage to great warriors and leaders of the past that are no longer with us. What was once known as the Hall of the Honored Dead was renamed when a living warrior earned her place within for her efforts in saving a people and world that were not her own."

Samus was frozen in shock for a moment. "You didn't."

U-Mos smiled with his eyes. "I did nothing. The people who you saved cried for a way to honor you, and I allowed them to do so. After all, while you cannot be the sentinel of the Luminoth, there is no rule stating we cannot give your name and actions a place of honor within history. I believe one who risks her own life to save a group of people she did not know deserves reverence."

"U-Mos," she began, choking on her words, "this is too much. I don't deserve all this."

The Luminoth sentinel shook his head firmly. "Perhaps you have simply gone too long without praise for your deeds, Samus. While I know you do not act as you do for glory, everyone deserves praise for good deeds, especially ones so great as yours." He then pointed toward the Great Temple in the distance. "We can discuss that later, however. For now, there is a broken heart that you must mend."

With only a moment of thought, Samus summoned her armor and leapt to the beach, dashing off toward the Temple Grounds.

Heartseeker felt broken. As the months had passed he believed he had begun to chip away at the ice that surrounded his mentor's heart, but it seemed she was still reluctant to let anyone in, no matter who they were. He had hoped that with time and a bit of effort, he might be able to get her to open up a bit to him, but it seemed such efforts were in vain. Samus Aran didn't want to let anyone in, and the mere thought caused Heartseeker pain.

"Samus Aran: the Hunter." he read aloud, reading the strange Luminoth hologram. "Savior of the Luminoth and Conqueror of the Ing. Warrior of Light." He sighed heavily and rested his weight against one of the pillars making up the central ring of plaques. "I am well aware of who 'the Hunter' is, but who is Samus Aran? It appears no one knows, and the woman herself seems unlikely to reveal that information."

"What if she wishes me to leave her now?"

The thought came unexpectedly to his mind, and with it followed a wave of loss and loneliness. Heartseeker was quite sure that any who met him without Samus around would judge him as an enemy, seeing as how his visage was more than a bit intimidating, and it was likely there were few in the galaxy that would ask questions before shooting. Heartseeker knew he was frightening to look at - he had come to terms with that fact long ago - but he had no fear of what others might think of him, because he had assumed Samus would always be by his side.

"Lesson learned:" he mused silently, "do not rely too strongly on another, lest they abandon you."

While it was true Samus hadn't actually said she wished for him to be gone, her words were cold and harsh in a way he had never known, even upon their first meeting. Where once he felt welcome in her presence, he now found himself second-guessing every interaction they'd had in the past.

"Was she merely...putting up with me out of some sense of moral obligation?"

The sound of a metallic thud upon the stonework ground behind him caused Heartseeker to turn toward the intruder, and for some reason hoping that it was an enemy to fight, so that he may find an outlet for the pain he felt. Instead, he found himself looking at a familiar armor-clad woman who approached him with an oddly unsteady gait in her step that spoke of either an injury or emotional distress.

When she removed her helmet, Heartseeker had his answer.

Tear-tracks upon her sullen face were clear as he waited for her to approach, and red, puffy eyes spoke of hours of crying. She looked haggard and more vulnerable than he ever remembered seeing her, and a part of him was frightened at the sight of his mentor looking so broken. Samus was known far and wide as "the Hunter", and even the very shadows seemed to fear her. What Heartseeker saw before him, though, was the very epitome of sadness and regret. Today she was not a warrior...she was, for the first time he could remember, simply a grief-stricken person.

Samus stopped her approach when they were a mere foot away from each other, and conflicting thoughts within her caused her to pause. For the first time that she could remember, Samus was at a loss of what to do. One part of her wanted to fall to her knees in front of Heartseeker and beg him to forgive her for the harsh words she spoke, while another part of her whispered that all this was a waste of time - in the end, everyone would leave her like they always did, and she would once again be alone. Loneliness and solitude were things that Samus was well acquainted with, but lately, she found that she did not want to be alone anymore; the mere thought of traversing the cosmos without Heartseeker by her side terrified her for a reason she couldn't readily identify.

"Why are you here, Samus?" Heartseeker asked. There was no accusation or anger in his tone; rather, it was a simple question.

Samus licked her lips nervously and stepped a few paces closer, internally joyous when Heartseeker did not retreat from her. "I…" she began, only to falter as she tried to put her thoughts into words, "I shouldn't have said those things earlier...any of it. It wasn't true in the least, and I'm sorry for doing it."

"If it wasn't true," he shot back, a growl entering his tone, "then why say it? What was the reason for wishing me such harm? Have I not proven my worth to you by now?" As the words tumbled out, his voice began to crack and break with emotion. He swallowed hard and raised his lowered eyes to meet her own. "I have never purposefully brought any sort of harm upon you, so why did you feel the need to place it upon me?"

Samus fidgeted, her shame forcing her eyes away from his. "I was afraid." She swallowed shakily and took a deep breath, raising her armored hand to wipe away some of the wetness from her eyes. "The truth is, you're becoming very close to me, and I'm afraid of what that may mean."

Heartseeker's anger was now replaced with concern. "What do you mean?"

Samus closed her eyes tightly in an attempt to try and stem the tide that welled in her eyes. "Everyone that I have ever cared about - everyone - has died." Her voice dropped to a whisper as she fell to her knees, slumping from exhaustion. "You've become one of those few, Heart...and I don't know what I would do if something happened to you. I won't survive losing another."

Heartseeker's thoughts completely focused on Samus and her wellbeing now, his previous feelings of hurt and betrayal fleeing as dust in the wind. Reacting on instinct, he stepped forward and kneeled in front of her, raising her chin with the curled joint of one finger. For the first time since he'd known Samus, she didn't shy away from the touch. As their eyes met again, he offered her a sad smile before reaching up and brushing a few errant strands of hair away from her face.

"I will be damned if I would leave you alone in the universe." he whispered, tilting his angular head down so that his forehead rested against her own.

Without warning, Samus' power suit dissolved, and Heartseeker became the recipient of a powerful hug around his neck from a powersuit-less woman. Sobs erupted from her throat as all of her well-tended emotional walls came crumbling down all at once, and every fear and worry she felt flushed out of her simultaneously. She held on for life, for pain, and for hope.

"P-please don't l-leave me, Heart…" she choked out between sobs, only now realizing exactly how lonely she had been all those years with no home, no family, and no friends to call her own.

Heartseeker, thought stunned by this severe change in character, brought his arms and wings up around Samus, holding her tight against him. The pained and terrified pleading from the woman tore at his heart, and he was silently thankful that he lacked tear ducts, lest he lose himself to weeping as well.

"Never, Samus;" he answered quietly, wishing his wings could block out the pain for her, "I'll never leave you alone again."

As the Light of Aether gave way to night, Heartseeker lent his presence to Samus as she liberated herself of some of the fear that had defined her for so long.

As Heartseeker laid Samus gently upon the bed in the beach house, he couldn't help but feel as if quite a bit of progress had been made between the two of them. Only time would tell how much at the moment, but it seemed that now, at least, Samus was ready to admit to herself just how much his friendship meant to her.

Caressing her cheek gently with a curled digit, Heartseeker pulled the cloth covers over her slumbering form as she slept off the mental and emotional exhaustion that she had dealt with today. Today had been stressful for them both, and though it began on a bad note, he felt that things would be better from here on out.

As Heartseeker settled himself on the floor not a foot away from the bed, he did not notice the small contented smile that Samus wore as she slumbered.

For the first time in as long as she could remember, Samus began to dream a good dream.