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Their encounter with the Arrancar had allowed their Mark to escape. That had been an irritation, but Saix had borne it. At least none of them had been seriously hurt in the altercation this time, although Saix had adamantly refused to acknowledge the twist in his gut and cold lump that had sat in his chest at the thought of it. Aerith was a sweet girl, if naive in her insistence that Saix was nicer than he seemed, deep down, and that his grumpy exterior was just a front, but Lea....

With Vexen gone, and whatever he'd shared with the man lost, Lea had neatly stepped back into his old position as the most important person in Isa's life. And it was Isa, around Lea, sometimes at least. More often than it had ever been without him, that much was certain. They'd both changed so much, with everything that had happened, but Axel seemed to struggle less with acting like Lea than Saix did with acting like Isa. It was like being engaged in an internal war between his heart and his head, between the smart thing, and the right thing, and Lea made it easier to do the right thing.

Though Saix was loath to tell Lea anything of the sort, and he especially wasn't about to admit to him that the idea of losing his best friend again had made his blood run cold and his insides tie themselves into a knot.

So he hadn't mentioned anything to Aerith about the fact that he'd been able to attack with Lea's chakra against the Arrancar, even though she knew more about chakra than either himself or Lea, and he hoped it hadn't occurred to Lea to ask, either. He wasn't sure if he wanted to know the answer, assuming she had one, but he was sure he didn't want her to know about it happening at all. He had a strong suspicion she'd consider it evidence that he was nicer than he let on.

Fortunately, the subject hadn't come up in his earshot, despite the long trek as they tracked their Mark. It had made its way towards the border with Bancour, and they'd been forced to cross the platforms on the Nam-Yensa Sandsea to follow it.

There was, Saix knew, a distinct sense of not wanting to waste the time they'd already invested. They'd gone this far in tracking the wretched chocobo eater down, and now its evasion of them was becoming a personal affront. Saix had, one evening, when they'd settled to camp for the night, under stars that Saix refused to admit he enjoyed watching, suggested they tie his chocobo up and use it as bait.

Aerith had disapproved almost as much as the chocobo had, and Saix had grouchily resigned himself to a continued association with a bird that he was going to be able to smell for the next year. Trekking through the heat of the Sandsea hadn't helped at all on the odour front, and the combination definitely hadn't helped Saix's mood.

They'd been tracked by Urutan-Yensa at one point, too. Saix had itched for a fight, but had refrained from starting one in deference to the idea of getting their main task over with and not getting sidetracked. They didn't need unnecessary fights depleting their resources if they could avoid them. Still, Saix would have been glad of an excuse to take his irritations out on something stupid enough to invite him to do so.

They'd alighted the platforms that marked the crossing over the border into Bancour, and the signs of their mark were a little more encouraging. The chakra signature was fresher, and it had clearly encountered some more Urutan-Yensa on its way through and made short work of them. They didn't use chocobos, so they wouldn't have been defending anything but territory, but they'd got in its way, and the impression left behind by a fight lingered in the area.

He glanced over towards the other two. They were in Bancour now, officially, although in practice the border here wasn't monitored and the difference could only be found on a map. "A sprint may have us on it," he said, his voice steady, and not betraying the relief at this hunt nearing an end.
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