"It's time to wake up Aqua."
Aqua gave a startled gasp and sat up, taking in a deep breath for what felt like the first time in years. She groaned and clutched her head, feeling dizzy, confused, and a little nauseous. She slowly opened her eyes, seeing herself sitting on a white, marble-like landscape hanging over an endless abyss.
She turned her head and looked around, pausing on seeing the Door to Darkness before her. Only... it was different than she remembered. Gone was the beautiful pure white door with stainless glass on the top. In it's place was a reinforced door, barred shut and armored, as if to resist any and all attempts to force it open.
It took her a moment to remember why. "I... I nearly destroyed the door..."
Slowly she stood up, her eyebrows furrowing. "But... it was repaired? Wait, where's Terra? The last thing I remember... I... stabbed myself with my Keyblade to expel Xehanort. Terra... he was there, he wouldn't have just left me here, he..."
Aqua's eyes went wide and her body went rigged. She fell to her knees and screamed as she was bombarded endlessly with countless memories. She saw herself, no, she saw her Heartless, as it engulfed Radiant Garden in darkness, ripping out people's hearts to feast on. She saw her Heartless and Terra clash. She cried out each time her Heartless hurt the man she cared for.
Was the pain she felt when it won, when her Heartless cast Terra aside in favor of a World's Heart and consumed it.
On and on the memories went, of countless lives consumed in a heart-born hunger. She saw her friends clash with her Heartless time and time again. The pain it inflicted on them, the agony, the torment of fighting against a mockery of their friend, she could see it in their eyes. Then... two new boys entered the memory... no... she knew them. Sora... Riku... they had been taken in and trained, they tried to help fight the Heartless, but it wasn't enough...
So many times... so many times she hurt them... so many times she nearly killed them...
A memory, of Ventus laying near comatose on the ground, of her Heartless's hand embedded in his chest trying to rip out his heart, only for Eraqus to step in and save the boy. It... it destroyed Aqua to see him like that. To realize her Heartless... her own darkness... had nearly killed her friend...
She wanted to sob and cry, to give outlet to the pain, but the memories showed her no mercy and gave her no chance to grieve in their onslaught. On and on they went, and slowly, her friends started appearing less, they stopped standing a chance against the heart-gorged heartless and they knew it. Very few things could stand against it...
She saw a trio of monstrous demon-like creatures, Baal, Mephisto, Diablo, stand up to her briefly, angel's and mortals stepping in to pick up the slack when they began to fail...
She saw a giant mountain of a place called Olympus, gods and titans and mortal heroes rushing at her to stop her onslaught...
She saw a winged castle in a place called Alexandria, bathed in light, flap it's magnificent wings and banish her from it's world...
But so few worlds had such kind of monumental power. Most fell before the power of her Heartless and it's army. Numbness crept over Aqua as the memories sped along. So many worlds... so many people...
Her Heartless had been committing genocide against the entire Realm of Light, devouring all hearts and light...
Then a girl in Keyblade armor came into view of the memories, rushing at her not to fight, but to hug her? Calling the Heartless 'Master Aqua'?
Wait... that girl... the light she radiated in the memories, a heart of pure light...
Oh... oh no... she knew... she knew who that girl was!
"K-kairi..." whispered Aqua, "Please no..."
She screamed in anguish as her Heartless nearly destroyed Kairi's heart, trying to use it to feed off Aqua's memories sleeping in her heart. She remembered a different memory then, not from the heartless, but from herself. It was hazy, but clear enough to understand she had met Kairi in the ocean leading to the Realm of Sleep, sacrificing her own suspension out of sleep to help prevent Kairi from falling to slumber.
It was the smallest of comforts, in the sea of horror that was spilling into her memories.
Again and again her Heartless came after Kairi, torturing screams out of the girl to awaken more and more memories. The only slight satisfaction she got out of the memories was the grim fate her Heartless gave to Xehanort's own Heartless, enslaving it to her will and destroying it's sense of self.
Finally, she came to the door, still broken, of Kairi and Sora facing off against Xehanort's Heartless, destroying it. Then...
She wailed as her Heartless ripped Kairi's heart out of her chest and devoured it. There were not words to describe the despair she felt...
But then there was light.
It ripped out of the door and engulfed the Heartless, and through Kairi, destroyed it.
A faint memory, of Kairi's heart leading her own to the door to help heal it stirred. Then, entrusting Sora with the girl's heart for safekeeping before she had fallen fully to sleep.
The memory onslaught ended, leaving her ragged and raw.
She dry heaved.
She tried to empty her empty stomach over and over, gagging over the horror that her darkness had caused the worlds. "What... what have I done?!"
She sat there, despair and depression overwhelming her. "I... I ruined everything... I could have ended it, I could... I could have stopped Xehanort..."
Instead? She had succumbed, she had, as she had always been warned of by the Master, and by Terra, she had succumbed to her darkness to try to inflict as much pain on Xehanort as she could, and... and this... was the result.
"Terra was right...," she whispered.
"You saw what I saw Ven, she's willingly turning to the darkness for power. It hasn't even been a week since the exam, yet she gained that kind of power by succumbing to it," said Terra, "How long will it be Aqua before your darkness swallows you whole? How long before it corrupts you and makes you hurt those you care for? Hurt us?"
She remembered his words at Radiant Garden... and how true they had been.
Was she even capable of performing the Inheritance Ceremony? She had never became a master... but... Xehanort had said she would have been one if it were up to him, and Master Eraqus had said something along those lines as well. Ignoring that, being a wielder brought on responsibilities and dangers... could she really inflict those upon a Princess of Heart?
Could she not? If she hadn't been there, then Kairi would have died...
This sweet little girl would have DIED!
Aqua bristled at the agonizing thought. After Master Eraqus retired, it would only be Terra, Ventus, and her as Keyblade Wielders to her knowledge. They couldn't possibly be everywhere at once, protecting everyone at once. Kairi needed to be able to one day defend herself from any darkness that would dare try to harm her...
"How long will it be Aqua before your darkness swallows you whole? How long before it corrupts you and makes you hurt those you care for? Hurt us?"
Even from Aqua herself if what Terra had said were to happen...
How could she have done that to that sweet innocent girl? Inflicted on her a task and fate so cruel...
"I knew things could go badly, I even acknowledged it, but I still went through with it, I'm a monster...," she whispered.
She sat there in brooding depression until her head started to hurt again. She recognized the sensation, and cried out as suddenly more memories started to bombard her. Of waking up outside a mansion. Lost, unable to feel, not knowing where she was, or who she was, without a memory to spare. Of going into the mansion, and residing there for years, alone, save for the people in black coats, Nobodies, who tried to continually spy on and recruit her...
Until a young girl accidentally broke down the door and changed her life...
Olette, sweet dear Olette...
She saw the girl try to worm her way into the Nobody's none-existent heart. It hurt Aqua... hurt her so badly, to see the girl try to please her so much, and yet get not a smile in response. The girl was determined, to say the least, to keep trying, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year.
The only small relief that Aqua got, was that her Nobody took up the mantle of defending the world, Twilight Town, from the Heartless and any Nobody that dared think of harming those that dwelled there. She watched as her Nobody, while it could not feel, came to treasure Olette in it's own way, prioritizing her above all else.
Kairi and Sora stumbled into her life.
And were promptly rejected after telling the Nobody the truth of who she was, selfishly choosing one world over the whole...
Not much later, an oddity came into the memories. A girl who looked so much like Kairi, but called herself Xion. Her Nobody thought it might be Kairi's Nobody, but Aqua herself wasn't so sure...
She watched, a soft smile on her face, as Xion tried to worm her way into the Nobody's heart as well with a pure innocent nature. Sitting on the clock tower, eating ice cream, glancing out at the sunsets, she could appreciate the moment far more than she knew her Nobody had been able to. Xion came back a few more times, along with a red haired Nobody named Axel, and a blonde named Larxene. The woman that didn't sit well with Aqua, but, Xion appeared to be trying to change the woman for the better.
Then, things started going wrong. First she learned that Xion had been out of it for a week, then Axel came to ask her to provide sanctuary for Xion if needed, then the girl whose hair had started going red and Axel both came back seeking it. Only for... Braig? No, for Braig's Nobody, Xigbar, to come and reveal Xehanort's Nobody's plans.
She watched, her heart aching, as Xion knocked the two men out and left on her own to stop Xehanort. One way or another, she knew it would be the last time she saw the girl in these memories. It came true, but not nearly in the way she thought.
When Kairi entered back into the memories, dressed in Xion's coat, and told them of the true nature of Xion as a replica and the sacrifice she had made to save Kairi's heart... it... it broke her heart...
"It's because of me... again... and my choice," she whispered in anguish.
She watched depressed as her Nobody finally agreed to go offworld and help sort out the mess Xehanort was making. Convincing Kairi's friends and family to help, storming the castle, the pain that Kairi and Xion felt at Larxene's death, working through the remaining Nobodies...
"Maleficent," whispered Aqua in shock.
What in the world had become of the witch?! She had turned herself into some kind of... just... 'abomination' was the only word that came to mind for Maleficent and the monsters that came in behind her. It was like the witch had somehow merged Nobodies and Heartless together. The skin crawling sensation the witch and her creations gave off... was this... was this her fault? She heard Maleficent tell her Nobody that she had paved the way...
She understood a second later. "The books... I left her with all of Xehanort's knowledge and of course she'd seek power... what have I done?"
She had little time to dwell on the horror of her failures as the memories continued. It was a painful jolt to see the Keyblade Graveyard again, for Xehanort to slip memories into her Nobody to try and overwhelm her...
"Wait... he has my memories?!" she exclaimed.
When she had tried to extract his heart from hers... had it not been an even cut? No, of course it hadn't, she hadn't even aimed or try to think it through. She had just carved into her heart with the Keyblade and ripped him out driven by fear and desperation. Dammit, stupid, how could she be so stupid? If she had acted calmly... if she had taken the time to try and slowly extract him instead of brute force ripping both his and her own heart out, none of the last ten years would have happened...
On the other end of the spectrum she noticed something.
She couldn't remember any of the memories she had gained by absorbing Xehanort's heart.
She caught up with herself as the memories continued and the battle against Xehanort started. It frightened her how powerful the man had gotten by trying to merge with his artificial Kingdom Hearts. How in the world were they supposed to fight against that? She watched the struggle anxiously... and then Xigbar fell and died...
And then her Nobody considered why he died so willingly, his words, and the oddity that had been Xehanort not trying to land a blow on her...
In that moment, her Nobody theorized that if both a Heartless and a Nobody of someone were to perish, the original self would be reborn.
Then, the last memory was her Nobody putting that theory to the test...
BEFORE THE BATTLE WAS EVEN WON!?
Aqua leaped to her feet, terrified. "NO! What happened to Kairi!? Did she win? Did she survive? Stupid IDIOT Nobody!"
Forget her misery and pain over the memories! She had to GO! If he had won, she knew she couldn't fight Xehanort alone with that kind of power. He wouldn't have killed a Princess of Heart, just captured her. She needed... she needed her friends if she were to stop Xehanort and save Kairi...
She suckered in a deep breath and aimed a hand forward, feeling inwardly for her darkness. She hated tapping into it after all of this, all that she had seen, but she had no choice...
She felt a familiar chill of darkness and rush of power before a Dark Corridor opened. She steeled herself and walked through, coming out at the summit of the Land of Departure. Her legs wobbled as she walked down the mountain at a pace far slower than she knew she should be going. Guilt, anxiety, uncertainty, they all pried at her, saying she had no right to be here anymore in this land, no right to ask her friends for help...
She knew they were right too...
She came to the courtyard before the keep, where she had fought the Master to save Ven's life. She paused there, staring silently at the ground, the memory of the battle washing over her. She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, letting it out, and opening them. It was time.
She stretched out her senses, it was probably a good idea to see if they were even home at the moment. One by one she felt their presences...
Her eyes went wide with happy surprise. "Kairi..."
She felt Kairi's light, her pure light, emanating from within the castle. The girl had won! She had beaten Xehanort?! It left Aqua flabbergasted, and yet, proud.
"You're a far better keybearer than I ever was Kairi," whispered Aqua.
She frowned. Something felt... wrong... with the light she felt with Kairi. No, not the light, from Kairi herself. She closed her eyes and tasted the air, focusing her senses.
She felt it from Kairi, washing out from the girl like an unstoppable tide.
Something was wrong with her...
"Your apprentice needs you right now, she's hurting so much."
The words echoed in her mind. She shoved aside and bottled up everything plaguing her. She forced a passive mask on her face, showing no emotion. Forget her own troubles, Kairi needed her! She walked up the steps to the castle and pushed open the doors silently. She could hear faint words from up the steps in the throne room. She ascended the steps slowly, listening.
Her heart ached to hear Terra's voice for the first time in so long. "Any change with her Sora?"
The pain in the boy's voice made her falter and go still half-way up the steps. "No... she's just... she hasn't done anything but sit there and cry or just stare at the wall for days now... I could barely get her to eat at first, now she just doesn't even look food, or even acknowledge that I'm there anymore."
Ven's voice rang out, so similar to her memories, yet sounding a bit more deep than she remembered, not as youthful. "Ah jeez, poor kid."
"I suppose we may have to consider force feeding her until she's... pulled herself together," came Eraqus's tired voice, "She's strong, have faith Sora, she will recover."
"I... I hope so, I can't stand seeing her like this," whispered Sora.
Aqua shook her head and snapped herself out of it, ascending the rest of the way up. She stood at the top of the steps, glancing at the thrones, at the gathering of people there. She took them all in within the span of a moment.
Terra was as she remembered him, clothes and all. Though, his face was a bit more worn, his hair a little longer, his body a bit more muscular and toned than she remembered. But the power from him... it left her surprised. He so far exceeded the strength she remembered feeling from him before. He had grown much in the last ten years as the Steward of the Land of Departure.
Ven... oh gosh! He had grown so tall! He was even taller than Terra now! Oh man... she was the shortest of the three of them now. A soft smile played across her lips as she took him in. He was still dead set on wearing that goofy set of clothing he had. White on one half, black on the other, crossed by a black cloth with House of the Keyblade Master's symbol. Though, it was a bigger version to fit his taller body. His eyes still had that kind gentle look she so cared for, but... with it... was a hardness that she never wanted to see in them. Oh Ven... how she had made him suffer...
Eraqus was as she remembered, though, his hair looked to be showing signs of turning gray.
Her eyes flickered to see a Mouse of all things sitting on one of the thrones, dressed in a red zipper jacket. Was that... the Mickey that had been there at the Keyblade Graveyard?
She noted Yen Sid standing next to the man, same as ever, even ten years later.
On the flip side, standing next to Terra was... wait... was that Aurora? The Princess of Heart? What was she doing here?
She pondered it briefly before dismissing it and glancing at the two boys... at Sora and Riku...
She distinctly remembered those spiky brown locks as Sora's. While she couldn't see his face with his back turned, she figured he would look mostly the same, but older. He had a white haori, paying homage to Eraqus, except it was lined black instead of red. Underneath he had a dark red shirt with a white zipper going all the way down to his pants. His bottom was baggy, and stopped at his knees. On his hands were two white finger-less gloves with a blue buckle wrapped around them with the symbol of the house of Keyblade Master's on the top of the gloves. He also had on a set of Keyblade armor on his shoulder.
The other boy, Riku...
She remembered that silver hair of his, going down to his neck. She caught a glimpse of a serious, but kind blue eyes, his face calm but focused. He bore a tight yellow sleeveless shirt with a brown X shape coming down from the collar. He was well toned for someone his age. His bottom half bore a blue hakama, paying homage to Terra if she had to guess. The boy was his apprentice after all if she recalled. Connecting his two halves was a belt with that symbol of the House of the Keyblade Master'sn. On his hands he had black gloves, a little below his wrists, brown bands.
The final member was Axel. Spiky red hair, black Organization coat, teal eyes, and those odd markings under his eyes. But speaking of his eyes... for a Nobody, they showed a good chunk of emotion, most being grief...
She shook her head and refocused as Terra spoke, "Alright Sora, just... go back and keep an eye on her."
Sora sighed. "Yeah, I will..."
"I'll go with you kid," said Axel.
"Actually Axel, I believe you agreed to tell us more about the Organization yesterday," said Terra.
"Aww come on, the Organization's toast, and I wanna keep an eye on the kids," said Axel.
Terra's head started to turn. "And we appreciate it, but, there's no guarantee they're all gone. The more we know the..."
Terra trailed off as his eyes landed on Aqua on their way to Axel. The first thing that passed through them was fear and anticipation. She could tell the first thought that passed his mind was of her Heartless, and as much as he had a right to default to that after the last ten years, it hurt. Then, confusion played across his face, he by now had noticed the differences.
The others saw the look on his face and turned to follow his gaze. Surprise played across their faces.
"Uh... Axel, didn't you say Aqua's Nobody died?" said Sora in disbelief.
"Uh... she did," said Axel, confused.
Terra stood up, his eyes no longer held confusion, only shock. "That's... that's not her Nobody... nor is it her Heartless... it's..."
"Aqua... is that really...?" said Ven, standing up from his throne, disbelief on his face.
She wanted to run to them, to throw herself at them, and hug them to oblivion. To cry into Terra's shoulder, and ruffle Ven's hair, but... she wasn't here for herself...
She took a shaky breath and started forward slowly, stopping a bit from the stunned group. "Where is my apprentice? Where is Kairi?"
That seemed to snap them out of it.
Terra brushed passed the group and stood in front of the group, Ven doing the same, just staring at her, exploring her body with their eyes, taking in a sight she knew they hadn't seen in ten years.
"It's you...," said Terra in disbelief, "How...?"
Ven didn't wait for an explanation, he threw himself at her and wrapped her in a fierce hug. "AQUA!"
She yelped as she staggered a bit under his weight and strength. "E-easy Ven!"
"Don't easy Ven me!" he yelled, tearing up, "Aqua... it's you, you're alive... you're... you're back..."
"Ven please... I need to go see Kairi," she tried
Ven blinked a few times, took a ragged breath and separated. "You need to...?"
He sighed deeply, a sad smile crossing his face. "You haven't changed a bit Aqua... still seeing to others before yourself..."
She returned the sad smile. "We'll talk later Ven, I promise."
He pointed down the hall. "She's in the Princesses's suite. Just follow the light."
Aqua turned to go, only for Terra's hand to clamp on her shoulder. "How?"
"Terra, I said we'll talk later...," she began.
"And we will, but I have to know, how are you here?" he asked, a forceful tone to his voice, "Are you truly you?"
"Terra!" said Ven, a little angry.
She closed her eyes, pained by the question, though he had every right to ask it. "My Nobody figured it out shortly before she died. If someone's Heartless and Nobody are killed, their original self is reborn."
She opened her eyes and stared at him. "It's me Terra, as much as I don't deserve a second chance, it's me."
Terra's hand slowly fell off her shoulder, his face furrowed in thought, and a bit of irritation. "I'll save the 'deserve a second chance' part for later. Aqua, your Nobody couldn't have shared that critical piece of information with Kairi? Saved her from all of this pain?"
Aqua winced. "I'm... not happy about that either."
Terra slowly shook his head. "I suppose your Nobody was just as brash and impulsive as you were."
Aqua bristled a little. "Excuse me?"
There was a hint of a smirk on his face. "It also means then, that Kairi's family may be back as well. The girl might not have lost what she thought she did."
Terra turned and approached Axel. "Check Traverse Town for them, and if they're not there, go check in Radiant Garden, alright?"
Axel nodded and saluted. "Got it boss man."
Terra scoffed. "Boss man?"
Axel grinned, but said nothing in response before leaving through a Dark Corridor.
With that, Aqua turned and walked away, following the sensation of pain filled light...
Terra watched her go, his heart in a flux in a way it hadn't been in years.
It was her, truly her.
Aqua was alive.
She was back.
Right in front of him.
The weight of it hadn't quite hit him yet, but he was certain he was going to feel it later.
He turned to look at Ven, who had the biggest smile on his face, not one seen since he was a teenager. "She's back Terra... we got her back again..."
Terra smiled too. "Yeah, and this time Ven, were not letting her go."
Ven nodded. "Damn straight.
Terra turned to look at the group. Eraqus was pleased, a soft smile on the man's face. Mickey and Yen Sid seemed thoughtful. Riku was as stoic as ever, though, he thought he caught a certain twinkle in the boys eyes and the beginnings of a smile. Aurora seemed a little uneasy, but, she had never really interacted with Aqua outside of her Heartless, not to mention Aqua's darkness could clearly be felt, so it was understandable...
It didn't explain why Sora seemed so uneasy and uncertain. Curious, not the reaction he'd expect from the boy... maybe it was because of Kairi...?
"Sora? Do you wish to go with her to see Kairi?" asked Terra.
Sora slowly shook his head, a worried look on his face. "Master Terra... if she's back... then... what about Xehanort?"
All happiness left the room instantly and a coldness settled in as a rigidness and alarm filled everyone present.
Aqua said that if a Heartless and a Nobody were destroyed, the original self was restored. Both of Aqua's had been destroyed... but so had Xehanort's...
If he was back... if the original Master Xehanort was back...
Oh dammit, this could all start over again...
He could lose Aqua all over again...
Terra's eyes slowly narrowed. "Yen Sid."
Yen Sid slowly stepped forward. "Yes Master Terra?"
"I want you to observe and search the stars, use your magic, anything you can think of, try to see if you can come up with any clue to see if Xehanort is truly back," ordered Terra.
Yen Sid nodded. "Very well."
He turned to his old master. "Eraqus, I want you to refresh yourself on everything you can remember about him. His fighting style, abilities, everything you can recall. You trained alongside him. If he's back, then you're the only one here that's had actual experience with him that we can turn to."
Eraqus nodded slowly, a clearly troubled look on his face. "Very well, but, Aqua herself may have a more up-to-date knowledge of his abilities and..."
"We're not involving her in this," said Terra.
Eraqus frowned. "I'd assume she'd already know."
"Eraqus, if the thought of Xehanort being alive had crossed her mind, she wouldn't be here. She'd have gone off alone to kill him, to eliminate the threat he'd represent to us, and for revenge," said Terra.
"Terra, that's...," began Ven.
Terra shot him a look. "Ven, you know it's true."
Ven frowned. "I... suppose..."
"I don't want anyone mentioning this to her, got it?" said Terra, glaring around the room, "We just got her back, and I'm not losing her to that man's mad ambitions again. If she figures it out on her own, then we'll deal with her involvement, but otherwise, she is to be left out of it. Kairi is to be left out of it as well... the girl's suffered enough as it is without worrying over Xehanort. Not to mention she has a... damaged passenger... in her heart that doesn't need to be put at risk."
He paused on his apprentice. "That means curb the anger, got it Riku? You're not the only one Xehanort hurt."
Riku's face had grown furious over the thought of Xehanort being alive, but he worked it away. "As you wish Master."
Terra ran a hand through his hair. "Out on your missions, if any of you get any clue of Xehanort being back, report it immediately, and be on guard. His Heartless and his Nobody by extension even though we never fought it, are nothing compared to the real Xehanort. He is a full fledged Keyblade Master of darkness, and is not to be underestimated under any circumstance. Do not take him on alone."
There was a collective nod.
"We'll wait on Yen Sid's observations before we make any move to go looking for him. If he is truly back, we will act before he causes another ten years of strife and ruins countless more lives," said Terra, "Until then, keep a tight lip."
He turned his eyes towards Aurora, shifting focus. "I don't wish to impose more than normal, but... would you be willing to make a bit of a feast tonight? I... want to celebrate Aqua being back."
Aurora nodded, a soft smile on her face. "Of course Terra."
He stood there, letting the reality of Aqua being back hit him again.
It should be a much warmer sensation...
Xehanort clouded over everything.
Terra's fists clenched tightly. Xehanort had taken Aqua from them once, it would NOT happen again.
He frowned heavily before a different, and much more pleasing thought occurred to him. "Ven..."
Ven turned to him. "Yeah?"
He gave the boy a soft smile. "There's something of Aqua's I think we need to give back to her, ten years overdue."
Ven's eyes furrowed in thought for a moment before going wide, a huge grin spreading across his face. "Yeah..."
"Let's go," said Terra, turning to walk away, Ven following suit, up towards the old abandoned attic storeroom...
Aqua stood outside a door, the sound of a soft, yet deep sob emanating through it. She hadn't had the courage to walk in yet, just... pained... by all she had forced upon the girl by turning her into a Keybearer.
"I should never have forced this life on you," whispered Aqua to the door, "You were a little girl had no idea what you were asking for, I should have known better, been more responsible... this pain... should never have been yours to bear..."
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out before slowly pushing the door open.
Kairi sat on her bed, legs pulled up to her chest, arms wrapped around them. She was still dressed in Xion's Organization coat. Her face was so tear stained and raw it almost made it hard to identify her at first, if not for the obvious red hair. Her blue eyes, eyes she could remember being so happy as a young four year old girl, were instead tainted by a pain and grief and emptiness that threatened to squeeze Aqua's heart until it popped. She looked dazed, unaware of anything, simply staring at a wall blankly, sobbing every now and then.
"Kairi... what did I do to you?" Aqua whispered.
The girl just... it hurt to admit... looked broken.
Aqua slowly walked over and sat down on the bed. "Kairi?"
She waved a hand in front of the girl's eyes.
She gave her a light shake. "Kairi... please..."
Aqua closed her eyes and took a ragged breath. She let it out and opened them, scooting over to the other side of Kairi against the wall. She gently took the girl and turned her, laying her head on her lap. She hesitated briefly before starting to run a hand through the girl's hair, trying to be comforting.
She was surprised when that of all things got a slight reaction out of her. The girl flinched a little, murmured something quietly under her breath, and closed her eyes, tilting her head more towards Aqua's hand. Aqua smiled softly and continued. Slowly, Kairi's breathing evened out, though, she continued to mumble something.
Aqua bit her lips and leaned down, trying to hear what she was saying. "Thank you miss Aqua for saving me from the monsters. I'm sorry you got hurt..."
Aqua blanked for a moment. What was she going on about...?
"I wish I was big and strong and a hero like you," the girl mumbled.
Something about this sounded... familiar...
"Miss Aqua?" mumbled the girl.
Wait a minute...
"Y-yes?" mumbled the girl.
It sounded like she was holding a conversation with a memory if Aqua had to guess.
"Ahuh, I wanna grow up to be just like you and protect all the other little girls like me!" murmured Kairi.
Aqua closed her eyes painfully. She knew what this was. This... Kairi was reliving when she had been chosen as a Keybearer, that time in the infirmary in Radiant Garden's castle...
"So? If I can help people by beating up mean monsters and making tears and cracks go away then I wanna! I don't do takesies-backsies!" murmured Kairi.
Aqua knew what came next, and spoke it aloud, whispering it into Kairi's ear, "In your hand, take this Key. So long as you have the makings, then through this simple act of taking, it's wielder you shall one day be. And you will find me, friend—no ocean will contain you then. No more borders around, or below, or above, so long as you champion the ones you love."
Kairi shivered at the words, shaking a bit. "Gnnn..."
Aqua remembered the next part, remembered how she made a promise that she had broken. "One day Kairi, when you're older, I'll come back for you. I'll be your master, and you'll be my apprentice, I'll teach you all about being a Keyblade Wielder. About the worlds, about yourself, about the light and the darkness."
Kairi shivered again. "Y-you promise?"
Tears started going down Aqua's face as she lied to the memory, just as she had lied in the past. "I promise."
Kairi took in a ragged breath, but made no other action, the murmuring stopped, and she just laid there. Aqua continued to run a hand through the girl's hair, staring down at her sadly. For a time, nothing happened, not a sound was heard but Kairi's steady breathing.
Finally, the girl slowly turned her head to look up at Aqua. "Master... Aqua...?"
Aqua smiled down at her, and not sure what to say, gave an awkward greeting, "H-hey there..."
The girl just laid there, staring up at her in a daze. Aqua watched as slowly, awareness started to come back into Kairi's eyes. Kairi blinked, and then sat up, glancing around the room in confusion.
"Where...," she murmured.
"Umm, you're in your room in the Land of Departure," offered Aqua.
Kairi turned her head to look at Aqua, simply staring at her with no reaction whatsoever. Aqua though was making a countdown in her head. About five seconds if she had to guess...
Kairi blinked once, blinked twice, and then jolted as if she had been struck by lighting, fully aware at last. "W-what?! Aqua! You... I saw Xehanort... he killed... you disappeared..."
Aqua gave her a soft smile. "Well, he did kill my Nobody."
"Your Nobody...?" murmured Kairi, confused.
Aqua felt the girl stretch out her senses and probe her, disbelief crossing her face. "You..."
Aqua saw it, the moment Kairi connected the dots, the girl's going wide and her body going rigid. "You... you're..."
Aqua couldn't help but wince painfully as Kairi screamed at near top of her lungs. "MASTER AQUA!"
Aqua was rammed into the wall as Kairi lunged at her in a full force tackle hug. "You're alive! Your back!"
Kairi started sobbing full force, burying her face into Aqua's chest; Aqua slowly put her arms around the girl, hugging her tightly. "I'm so sorry Kairi, for everything."
She started running a hand through the girl's hair, a hand rubbing her back. "It's alright Kairi, it's alright."
She waited for the girl to run through her sobs of relief, giving her as much time as she needed.
At last, Kairi pulled her head away and looked up at her. "How... how are... you here?"
"Well... my Nobody figured if someone's Heartless and Nobody are destroyed, the original person comes back, turns out she was right," explained Aqua.
Kairi worked the information over in her mind for a moment before her face changed. It wasn't in a good way, and it made Aqua start to sweat as pure, unadulterated, rage played across the girl's face.
Kairi grabbed Aqua's shoulders and started shaking her. "WHY DIDN'T SHE TELL ME? WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY?!"
Aqua flew into a full on panic, not sure how to react to the girls rage, and not liking her head getting bashed into the wall over and over again. "I don't know! She didn't think to say it! I'm sorry!"
"YOU'RE SORRY?!" Kairi roared at her.
Aqua thought fast, and while she knew she shouldn't say it until after Axel confirmed it, she needed a way out of this without a concussion. "Your family should be back too!"
Kairi completely froze up. "They... they're..."
"You're serious?" she whispered, the raw hope in her voice so palpable it hurt.
"They should be," reconfirmed Aqua, "Terra sent Axel to go check Traverse Town and Radiant Garden."
Kairi closed her eyes and took a ragged breath, and opened them, there was equal desperation and disbelief in her voice. "This... is this dream?"
"No, it's not," said Aqua sternly.
The reaction she got to it wasn't what she expected. Instead of Kairi looking happy, she just... her face turned tired, ragged. "..."
"Kairi?" asked Aqua.
When the girl didn't respond, Aqua took a slight risk and pinched her arm.
Kairi jumped a little and glared at her. "What was that for?"
"Just in-case you didn't believe me," teased Aqua, a little nervous Kairi would grow angry again.
That girl was scary when she was pissed.
Kairi said nothing, simply staring at her, her face tired and a little blank. She glanced down at the bed, closing her eyes, and gave a sigh far to heavy from someone so young.
"So... damn tired," muttered Kairi.
"Well, staring at a wall all day for days on end isn't exactly sleeping," said Aqua, "Get some rest Kairi. You need it."
Kairi turned to look at her. "Will... you still be here when I wake up?"
Her eyes asked the question her voice didn't. 'Will you still be real?'
Aqua heard the unasked question regardless and gave a small smile. "I'll stay right here until you do. Come here."
Kairi crawled to Aqua and laid down in her lap, closing her eyes, breathing shakily. Aqua's hand was getting a little tired from the repetition of the movement, but she she started running a hand through the girl's hair again until she drifted off.
Aqua figured she was going to be here for awhile. She grabbed Kairi's pillows, setting one behind her back, and gently lifting Kairi's head up to set one under her. She pulled Kairi's blanket out from under them and tucked it over here up to her neck.
Aqua sighed and ran her other hand through her own hair. She wondered what was going to happen now. Terra and Ven had been happy to see her at first, but would that still be the case later on? She knew, she knew without a doubt they... they were going to have to have a talk. Not any talk.
About her failure.
About what she did.
What could she honestly say? There was no defense for what she did, putting her own desire for revenge against Xehanort over the safety of the worlds as a whole.
She didn't know what she'd do if they banished her for it, for her sins, for what had happened over the last ten years...
She had no where else to go and no one else to turn to...
There was Twilight Town.
Not to mention...
Aqua smiled sadly, remembering what her Nobody had asked of Kairi as she died. Even in her last breaths, her Nobody had been worried for Olette. The girl deserved an explanation, either way, of what had happened. Not to mention Aqua's gratitude, for trying to be there for her Nobody.
On that note though, she really... wasn't sure to think of her Nobody, her... self but not self. She knew full well what to think about her Heartless, HATE, but... her Nobody... to just sit in Twilight Town that entire time, not helping the worlds, not seeking answers...
Even with only bits and pieces of memories, it should have been enough to drive her. Yet... it hadn't. The memories had embedded themselves in Aqua's mind, it was hard not to see the Nobody as just having been a part of herself. She wanted to dissociate herself from it, and especially from her Heartless...
They had been her.
Were a part of her of her even now.
The body she resided in, and the darkness in her heart.
She sighed heavily. "What am I going to do with myself..."
She had an entire decade of genocide in her memories... she didn't know how the hell she was going to deal with that. Repressing wasn't going to work very well, even if she tried to use magic to help with it. Even if she tried to erase her own memories, they'd still lurk in her heart. If she didn't wake up in the middle of the night screaming from nightmares, she'd be very much surprised.
She really didn't want to though, not for herself, but for the others... she knew such a thing would be torture for Terra and Ven if they let her stay here...
She'd find a way... she had to...
Aqua glanced up to see Sora peaking through the door at the two of them. He looked down at Kairi, a soft smile at his face, before glancing up at Aqua with uncertainty.
There was another one whose life she had ruined... another she had inflicted the burden of being a Keybearer on. She wondered, how much had he lost compared to Kairi? How much pain had her decision to choose him put the boy through?
"Is she okay?" whispered Sora.
Aqua hesitated. "She's... just sleeping for now. I got her out of... that state, but... she needs time."
"Thank you," whispered Sora with heavy relief.
Aqua gave him a small smile, but didn't respond.
The boy hesitated for a moment before entering the room and sitting down on a chair next to the bed. "I'm umm... glad your back."
"Thank you," she offered quietly, not so sure she deserved the chance to be.
Sora gnawed a little on his lips before bowing his head, "And... I'm sorry... I'm sorry for not keeping my promise to protect her... I failed, miserably..."
Aqua stared sorrowfully at the boy, guilt eating away at her. "Sora... you don't need to be sorry. I... I placed a responsibility on you I never should have. You were just a boy back then, and... any pain she felt... can be laid at my feet far before it can be laid on yours."
She could see it in his eyes, that he wanted to argue against that, but, he merely sighed and took the obvious, if but true way out, "More like it can be laid at Xehanort's..."
Aqua's eyes tightened a bit at the man's name. "True enough."
Sora's eyes turned to Kairi. "How long do you think she's going to be out for?"
"To be honest, she ought to rest for a few days, if not longer. I may not have an exact time-frame for everything, but how much of a rest has she honestly had since... she defeated my Heartless?" asked Aqua.
Sora bowed his head. "She only had a month of sleep inside of me before Xehanort stole her heart. Being consumed alive by Xion... had to be a pain and torture unlike anything I can imagine, not that I really blame Xion. She didn't know, and when she found out, she gave herself up for Kairi, even though it hurt Kairi so much to lose her. Then... when she came back to us after beating Xehanort... she just... well... you saw."
Aqua glanced down at Kairi mournfully. "It's to much for someone so young to go through..."
Her eyes furrowed. "Though, I'm very curious about something. About how Kairi got so strong so quickly, especially when being eaten alive."
"Huh?" said Sora.
"Sora, I... know how strong Kairi was before she went to sleep inside of your heart. It doesn't match up, even with Xion helping her, how strong she was when she fought through the Organization and Xehanort," said Aqua.
Sora frowned. "Xion... was abnormally strong, I do remember that when we fought. Something... happened to her, between when Riku fought her and I did. Xion was... at least three times as strong as I remember Kairi being for that fight, and at the end... Kairi actually took over and talked to me."
Sora grew a bit frustrated. "Dammit Kairi... I still can't believe you did that. I worked up all the nerve to actually come out and say it, to try to get you to stop, but you just knocked me out before I could."
"Say what?" asked Aqua curiously.
Sora's face immediately turned beat red and he looked away. "Uh... n-nothing!"
Aqua went looking back and forth between Sora and Kairi before she connected the dots, a wide smile spreading across her face. Oh... THIS was going to be fun. It had been way to long since she had teased someone.
"Sora... do you like Kairi?" she asked in a teasing tone.
Sora's face burned even more. "W-well..."
"Hmmm...?" she said aloud.
"N-no...," he said.
Wow, he was trying hard to avoid it.
"Oh? You don't like her? Well that's a shame, she's a nice pretty girl after all," said Aqua teasingly.
Sora scowled. "Nice being the questionable term."
Aqua raised an eyebrow at that. "Something I missed?"
"First time we really met, she booted me in the stomach," said Sora, an oddly wistful tone in his voice.
Aqua stared down at Kairi for a moment before having to bring her arm up to block a fit of laughter.
"It hurt mind you," said Sora crossly.
He grew hesitant. "But... you're wrong. I... don't like her. I..."
"Well," he muttered.
His voice grew so quiet Aqua almost missed it. "I love her."
All the tease went right out of Aqua, she stared at him, astonished. "Sora..."
She smiled warmly at the boy. "That's so sweet..."
"She's strong, never gives up, can be so confrontational and aggressive at times it'd be funny if it wasn't so scary," he admitted, "But, deep down, she hides her kindness, her gentleness, her softness. I saw it... when she took over Xion, when she laid herself bare to me and told me she couldn't kill Xion, that she was going to sacrifice herself for her replica..."
Sora sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "It takes someone special to be willing to do that."
"I just wish she'd let others in, let us help her, let me help her," said Sora with frustration, "She always struggles on her own. Unless things got bad, and I mean really bad, she'd never show how much she hurt. I'd take it all away if I could, but she doesn't let me... let anyone. Then... it just spills out and overflows when it becomes to much, become impossible for her to withstand, like this..."
Aqua stared at him, speechless. She didn't think she'd seen or heard anyone lay it bare like that before... wow...
Sora sighed again before smiling sadly at Kairi. "I swear she's going to be the death of me one day."
They both shared a soft chuckle, staring down at the girl as time ticked by...
...until a soft knock came at the door quite a few hours later as the sun was setting outside, and Eraqus's voice sounded. "Sora? Aqua? Dinner will be ready shortly."
Aqua bit her lips and glanced down at Kairi, shaking the girl gently. "Kairi? Wake up."
"Mrhhh... five more minutes Leon...," murmured Kairi.
Sora laughed a little. "Did that to me too the first time I tried to wake her up."
Aqua shook her again. "Kairi, wake up, unless you want to miss dinner."
Aqua and Sora both laughed at the audible growl from the girl's stomach; Kairi slowly sat up, groaning, rubbing her eyes. "What time is it...?"
"Uh... six ish I think?" said Sora.
Kairi blinked a few times, her face slowly turning into a glare as she looked at him. "Sora, what have I said about you being in my room?"
Sora grinned and scratched the back of his head. "Whoops."
Aqua giggled a little at that, amused by the antic.
Kairi froze at that, her head sharply turning to Aqua. "Aqua..."
Relief played across the girl's face. "You're really here..."
"I told you I wasn't going anywhere," said Aqua softly.
A deep raw smile broke through, one that reminded Aqua so much of the little girl she remembered. It was a relief to see the girl could still smile like that after all of this...
The knock came again and Eraqus spoke once more, "Be down at the mess hall in three minutes."
Sora stood up and made for the door. "Alright, time for some grub!"
Aqua scooted to get off the bed and stood up, Kairi did the same. She was a bit surprised when Kairi slid her hand into hers, grasping it tightly, as if she were afraid Aqua would vanish if she let go. Aqua glanced down at her curiously, and Kairi gave her a weak smile in return, clinging close. She felt a tremor run down the girls arms, the girl's face tight with repressed emotions. She might have been pulled out of that state, but it didn't mean she was okay. Hopefully the news Axel would bring would set her at ease.
"I assume this place hasn't changed to much, but, lead the way Sora," said Aqua.
They followed the boy down the halls. The structure hadn't changed much. Any damage that had been done to the place by Xehanort after Aqua's battle with Eraqus had long since been repaired. To be honest, the tapestry, ornaments, and even the carpentry in certain rooms looked like it hadn't even been changed in the last ten years. Then again, dealing with a Heartless Apocalypse was more important then home decor.
At first glance through the door, the mess hall hadn't change either and...
That smell coming out of the room...
Aqua felt her mouth start to water...
She blushed a little when her belly rumbled as well. Kairi gave a soft giggle and nudged her to the door. They walked into the room, and Aqua's eyes went wide to see the assortment of foods being laid out by Terra, Ven, Eraqus, Riku and Aurora. The corn on the cob was the first thing to catch her attention, follow by the assortment of various meats and veggies and... oh was that shepherds pie Ven was carrying?!
Ven saw her look and tilted the pot slightly to give her a view, grin on his face. Oh man... it was!
Terra glanced over at them. "Have a seat."
"I can help if you want and...," began Aqua.
Terra shook his head. "Tonight is on all of us Aqua."
She gave him a stern look in response.
Terra chuckled. "There will be plenty of nights for you to help out to come. You and Kairi just sit down and relax."
Kairi tugged her to the table and they sat down.
"Uh, that doesn't include you Sora, get your butt in the kitchen and help bring it all out," said Ven.
Sora was caught red handed, butt half way onto the seat of a chair. "Aww man..."
There was a collective laugh as Sora sheepishly went to the kitchen to help out.
Aqua glanced around. "Where's um... Mickey I think it was? And Yen Sid?"
Terra paused for a second. "They're star gazing, checking something out for me."
"Star gazing?" asked Aqua curiously.
"Yen Sid can read the stars, in a sense," explained Eraqus, "He uses it as a way to look for dangers or things out of the ordinary."
"We have him do it daily," added in Terra quickly, "Nothing to be concerned about."
Aqua studied his face, noting a slight tension in it. She decided not to press, to be frank, she had no right to anymore. He was the Steward of the Land of Departure. She... was just a fool who had succumbed to darkness after toting the line for so long. To be honest, she didn't think she should even consider herself a Keyblade Master anymore...
Aqua stared down at the table silently. "..."
"Is... something wrong Master Aqua?" asked Kairi quietly.
Aqua gave her a brief forced smile. "Nothing, just... thinking."
Kairi hesitating, looking like she wanted to press, but went silent.
"You know, you don't have to call me 'Master'," said Aqua, "If your thinking about what I said back in Radiant Garden all those years ago, I was just teasing."
Kairi gave a small smile. "Okay... Aqua."
Though, Aqua was curious... and had the opportunity to tease...
"So, which one of those lunk heads taught you to wield?" asked Aqua, shooting a smile in Ven and Terra's direction as the two men raised their eyebrows at her in response.
"Actually, Master Eraqus was the one who primarily taught me for the month or so of training I got in, well, when I was here and not out on missions with the others anyway," said Kairi.
"Eraqus huh?" said Aqua, glancing over at her old Master.
"Training another teenager was... an experience," said Eraqus, a wry grin on his face.
Aqua kept a faint smile on her face. Though, she was... a little troubled to have Eraqus teaching again after what he had...
That wasn't fair to him.
She remembered, through her Heartless, she remembered the times the man had saved Ven from her. Fought alongside the others to safeguard the light and beat back the darkness. Eraqus had long since paid back his dues for his mistake, even as critical a mistake as it was and...
Wait a second.
The second half of what Kairi had said caught up to Aqua and she turned to look at the girl. "Month or so...?"
Kairi hesitated. "Umm... they only recently found me in Traverse Town. It's where I ended up after..."
She trailed off uncomfortably, not wanted to say it, but Aqua knew.
After her Heartless had consumed the world...
Aqua hoped she masked the pain in her eyes well enough and focused on the weight behind what Kairi had said. "You defeated Xehanort's Heartless, and his Nobody, with only a month or so of training on how to actually use a Keyblade?"
Kairi grew a little timid. "Erm... yes?"
Aqua stared at her, astonished.
"W-well, S-sora fought just as hard as I did against Xehanort's Heartless... a-and you, Xigbar, Axel, and... Xion... helped with his Nobody," stammered out Kairi, "N-not to mention my dad taught me how to use a sword years ago, it's not too much different from fighting with a Keyblade."
She hesitated. "I... wasn't strong enough to do any of it alone..."
Aqua's face softened. "You shouldn't have to be Kairi. You did well. You're... to be honest, a far better wielder than I ever was, and your training hasn't even really started yet."
Kairi looked a bit stunned, speechless at the praise.
"Aqua, no offense to Kairi, that's not really fair to yourself," said Ven.
Aqua turned to frown at him.
Ven set down the food he was carrying. "Aqua, you never had the chance to be who you were, to grow into who you would have become, after what Xehanort did to your heart."
Aqua pursed her lips. "I wont make excuses for what I did, Ven."
"Nope, none of that," came Terra's voice as he walked back into the room, "The past can be saved for later, right now, we're focusing on the present. You're back with us again, after ten years of us believing you were lost. Aurora made a fine feast for all of us, so enjoy both it and being back amongst friends."
Aqua sighed, but couldn't help eying the food put on the table.
They finished a moment later, along with Yen Sid and Mickey 'poofing' into the room with the sorcerer's magic.
Terra clapped his hands together. "Dig in."
Aqua had her plate full and was digging in within the minute. She didn't realize how absolutely ravenous she was. She was through two corn on the cops, a helping of meat and mashed potatoes, before she caught onto the sound of someone snickering.
She looked up, noticing that most of the room was eyeing her with amusement, and spoke with a mouthful of food. "Rwhat?"
Ven looked like he was trying not to bust a gut. "What happened to 'mind your table manner's' Aqua?"
Aqua blinked a few times, and glanced down at herself. Embarrassment washed over her at the sight of sticky hands, her face covered, and some of it even on her clothes. She swallowed, reached for a napkin, and wiped herself off.
"Uh... s-sorry, just feels like I haven't eaten in... well...," she began.
"Ten years?" said Terra, eyebrow raised.
"Yeah," she admitted.
"I will admit," said Yen Sid, "The status of the body after being... restored... is a curious thought that has invaded my mind. Does it simply pick up where it left off? As if nothing happened to it? You do not appear to have aged a day in the last ten years."
Aqua frowned, contemplating it. "Well... when I first woke up, I felt a bit dizzy, confused, and nauseous. I'm not going to even go into what it felt like to get my..."
She caught herself before she said 'Heartless's', "...Nobody's memories just rush in and embed themselves in my mind."
"You remember everything from her?" asked Kairi, curious.
Aqua nodded and started reaching, with her utensils this time, for the next piece of food. "I do, and I owe Olette a very big thank you the first chance I get for putting up with my... er... her crap all these years."
Kairi smiled a little. "She seemed like a good friend to your Nobody."
"If I may Aqua, I am curious, as my knowledge of the subject is extremely limited at this point," said Yen Sid, "You almost claimed ownership, instead of saying your Nobody. To you, does it seem as if she was but a part of yourself, or someone else?"
Aqua frowned again and set down her utensils, eyes furrowing in thought. Truth be told... it was the former, not the later. The memories were as if they were seen and experienced herself. Yet... she didn't WANT to claim ownership, because... if she did for her Nobody... she'd have to for her Heartless as well...
"Questions can wait until a later time...," began Terra.
"It's fine," said Aqua, "I'm a guest in your house, you all have a right to ask what questions you will."
Terra narrowed his eyes, and he took a tone that sounded so much like Eraqus back when he had to give a hard lesson. "Aqua."
The tone commanded her attention. "This is your house too."
Aqua was silent for a moment. "Even... after all of this? All that happened?"
"Especially after all that happened," he confirmed.
Aqua gave a sad sigh and glanced down at her plate. "..."
"Now, miss starving lady," said Terra, his tone easing into a teasing one, "I want at least three, preferably four, plates filled and eaten before your done here."
"Are you trying to make me fat?" she asked, amused.
Terra just chuckled and resumed his own eating.
Aqua stared at the plate for a moment before turning to Yen Sid, deciding on an answer, as much as she dreaded it. "In a way... I suppose my Nobody was a part of myself. It's... difficult, if not impossible, to try and dissociate her memories from my own."
Yen Sid nodded, but asked no further questions and made no further comment.
The table ate slowly, light banter between most. Though, Aqua was more than aware of the glances sent her way, and... to Kairi if she saw right. She did a quick check of the girl. She was eating quietly, sneaking glances towards the door...
Oh, she was waiting for Axel.
It was probably eating her alive, worrying about whether her family was restored or not.
She put a hand on the girl's shoulder and spoke quietly. "Have faith Kairi. They'll be back."
Kairi turned her head to give her a weak forced smile before turning to her food.
Aqua, to her own chagrin, found Terra's demand might actually happen. She finished her second plate off and started on her third, more than ready to gorge without end. The taste and sensation of food in her mouth... she treasured it in a way she never had before.
She paused, feeling a slight ripple of darkness out in the throne room, a Dark Corridor. She felt Axel's presence, and did her best to mask a grin. Hopefully he had good news.
She waited with hopeful anticipation as she followed his presence to the dinning hall and walked in. "What? You all started without me?"
"Plenty left over," said Sora, "Dig in!"
Aqua's eyes flickered to Kairi. The girl looked about ready to scramble out of her seat and lunge at him for answers. She watched as Axel nonchalantly moved to a table and grabbed a plate. He kept his back, intentionally if she guessed, to Kairi as he went about his business. The man sat down and started eating.
She could practically feel Kairi boiling.
"Oh, by the way Kairi," said Axel after a few mouthfuls, "Your dad expects you to be over in Radiant Garden for lunch tomorrow."
Kairi's eyes went so wide Aqua entertained the brief notion of her eyeballs rolling out. "T-they're back!? They're alive?!"
Axel grinned. "Yep. A bit tired and really confused, but they are."
Kairi gripped the table, shuddered a little, and let out a heavy sigh of relief. Aqua could tell it was taking a lot of effort for the girl not to cry in relief. Kairi composed herself and resumed eating, a very happy smile on her face, and a lot of the tension going out of her body.
Aqua smile deeply at the sight. The girl deserved a happy ending after all of this.
They finished up a bit later, and to Aqua's annoyance, wouldn't even entertain the idea of her helping clean up. She and Kairi were shooed out of the room and found themselves alone in the throne room.
Aqua stared at the thrones silently, a memory of herself and Terra sitting on them watching Ven take his Mark of Mastery exam stiring in her mind. "Hmm..."
"Something wrong Aqua?" asked Kairi.
Aqua shook her head. "Just living in the past."
"I wonder if my room's still here," she murmured, heading down a familiar hall.
"Oh, I never even thought to see where you once slept," said Kairi bashfully.
Aqua frowned briefly. That sounded a little... odd and obsessive. Aqua shrugged it off and continued walking. She was a bit surprised when the hallway she turned and started down grew dusty. It was as if no one had been down here in years...
Her face fell a bit. It probably hurt them to much to pass by her room...
She slowly walked, dust kicking up as she went. She came to her door and slowly opened it. She coughed a bit when dust flooded her lungs and she flapped her hands to dispel it. Her room was exactly as she left it the day before she left to find the Door to Darkness under Xehanort's influence, minus the layer of dust...
That wouldn't do at all.
Aqua tapped into a bit of her magic and help up her hand, forming a small gravity spell. Dust began to swirl and pick up, condensing into it.
"Kairi, would you air out the pillows, bed-sheets, and curtains please?" asked Aqua.
"Sure!" said Kairi, rushing off to do so with an odd eagerness.
Within minutes layers of dust were swirling through the air into the spell. Finally, when not a spec more came, she opened a small Dark Corridor and dumped the condensed dust ball through.
"Where'd you send all that gunk?" asked Kairi.
"Umm, somewhere in the Realm of Darkness," admitted Aqua sheepishly.
Kairi giggled a little before pausing. "The Realm of Darkness huh? I... tried to go there once, searching for Kingdom Hearts, what's it like?"
"It's not a place you'd want to go to," said Aqua firmly, "Those of darkness may find sanctuary there, but those that actively bear the Keyblade, and those filled with light, would find themselves devoured in such a place."
Kairi frowned briefly. "Well... that doesn't exactly tell me what it's like."
"Well... it had rising pale rocky terrain, cracked and emitting strange light blue energy. The sky was pitch black, yet off in the distance, I could see it taint purple. The atmosphere, the place, it's stench reeked of darkness. If I didn't so actively wield the darkness, it might have been oppressive," said Aqua.
"It's... where the Heartless live, where they're suppose to reside. They don't venture into the Realm of Light unless drawn out by something or called," said Aqua.
Kairi absorbed the information before asking, "Why'd you go there?"
"To train," answered Aqua before sighing, "For three weeks, I trained myself in the Realm of Darkness and with Xehanort's stolen book, and I still failed. I... failed everyone."
"Aqua...," murmured Kairi with uncertainty.
Aqua moved to sit on the bed, a loud creak emanating from it. She could feel the weight building in her chest, it had slowly been building all day. It cried out for an outlet.
"Kairi... I'm sorry, for everything I put you through," said Aqua softly, "I should never have forced this life on you."
Kairi looked at her, bewildered. "Forced? I asked to be a..."
"You were four years old Kairi, did you honestly understand what you were asking?" asked Aqua, pained, "Knowing what you know now, would you still have wanted to become..."
"Yes," said Kairi quietly, but not without determination.
Aqua stared at her in disbelief.
"The only thing I wish I could have changed, was what I did on the day Radiant Garden fell. I ran with Grandma, instead of believing in her stories, having faith in the light," said Kairi.
Aqua's eyebrows furrowed. "I don't understand."
"That no matter how deep the darkness is, there is always a light," said Kairi, sadness and guilt on her face, "If... if I had gone to you, pushed through that darkness, went to your Heartless and reached for you. I could have saved you, pulled you out of that thing, restored you, and prevented the next ten years of suffering for everyone."
"Kairi...," said Aqua, stunned, "That's... to much to expect of so young a child... you couldn't have known, and it was never your burden to bear. Especially as a Princess of Heart..."
Kairi stared her down. "I believe what that echo told me Aqua. I could have saved you, but I didn't."
"Echo?" questioned Aqua.
"It's... kind of strange. I first heard his voice in a dream, before I awakened my Keyblade," said Kairi, "Riku told me those dreams, a dive to one's heart, were sacred things to be kept private, but..."
The girl glanced up at the ceiling. "The voice had me pick a weapon, made my friends and family ask me questions. He toild me..."
She looked to Aqua. "Like the Recusant I seek, my adventure began at dusk..."
Aqua closed her eyes and recited the words from her own dream, that night, so many years ago. "Your path will be dangerous, with nothing but the dead of night awaiting you, with dreams of the dawn as but a distant memory."
"You... had the same dive?" asked Kairi, surprised.
Aqua smiled sadly and opened her eyes. "Well, you did say 'like the Recusant I seek', that Voice called me that in the dream. He... the echo as you say, appeared to me as a transparent cloaked figure, before I had to make my choice. On whether to merge with Xehanort, or try to extract his heart from mine."
Kairi nodded slowly. "The echo appeared to me just before Sora and I confronted your Heartless for the final time. He's... the one that reminded me not to give up on you. I thought sleep was death, that you were really gone. I just wanted to put your heart to rest, he reminded me, he told me to never give up on the dreams etched in my heart..."
Kairi smiled a her. "And here you are."
Aqua pondered it. "So, your dive came true... but..."
"But what?" asked Kairi.
"Mines only half done," murmured Aqua, troubled, "He said I would stand before the door again, and have to make another choice."
Kairi frowned. "Hrm..."
She sat down next to Aqua. "At least this time, whatever happens, I'll be here with you, Master Aqua. Together, there isn't anything we can't do."
Aqua gave her a small smile and ruffled her hair. "You're a sweet kid Kairi, you really are."
Kairi smiled faintly before frowning. "No..."
She summoned Oathkeeper and Two-Become One, laying her Keyblades on her lap. "We, will be here with you."
Aqua hesitated. "Can... you still hear Xion?"
Kairi bowed her head. "I... haven't really heard her since Larxene died..."
Kairi paused, her eyes going wide. "Oh! Larxene..., she should be back too!"
Aqua nodded. "Should be."
Kairi frowned. "But... I have no idea where I'd even find her. I don't even know what her real name is..."
"Could ask Axel," suggested Aqua.
Kairi nodded. "I will, hopefully he knows something."
Kairi frowned, contemplative. "But... it's not the same. It wont be the same, me sitting up there, on that clocktower instead of Xion..."
She sighed, banished her keyblades, and hugged herself. "I want her back..."
Aqua put a hand on Kairi's shoulder. "We'll find a way Kairi."
"How?" said Kairi, "She doesn't have a body to go to, and her heart... its... its in tatters inside of my own... I have no clue how long it will take for her to heal. It could take years, decades... and that's only if she doesn't pull another stunt like she did with Larxene. She shouldn't have taken control then, I could feel how much it hurt her to do."
"Have... faith Kairi," said Aqua, "We'll find a way."
Maybe it was cruel to say, but think otherwise. Because, she sure as hell didn't have the faintest idea how they could do anything for the replica. If Xion's heart was in tatter's, hanging onto Kairi's for dear life, could it even recuperate at this point? And Kairi brought up one hell of a problem, how could they get her a new body?
Something must have bled through, because Kairi glanced at the floor, sighing heavily. "Xion..."
They sat there in silence for a time before Aqua glanced outside at the falling sun. "Come on Kairi, it's getting late. You have a big day tomorrow going to see your family after all this."
Kairi smiled faintly. "I guess..."
The girl hesitated. "Umm... would you be willing to come with me? I want to introduce you, the real you, to them."
"Sure Kairi," said Aqua faintly.
Kairi brightened. "Alright, well, see you tomorrow then."
Aqua nodded and watched her leave before sighing and whispering to herself, "Honestly Kairi... I only came back to see if you were safe, and to help you recover. I'm... not really sure I have a place here anymore."
Aqua stood up and left the room, walking down the hallway silently to the throne room, descended the steps, and left the keep. She walked outside as night fell, glancing up at the stars. It was a sight she felt like she hadn't seen in so long a time. So quietly walked up the mountain, listing to the stream run down it as she crossed the bridge on her way up. She came to the center of the summit and slowly raised a hand, feeling for her darkness to make a Dark Corridor...
"We hope you're not planning on leaving us so soon Aqua," came Terra's calm voice.
Aqua winced and turned her head, sighting Terra AND Ven sitting quietly on the edge of the summit. Her face burned with embarrassment, she hadn't even noticed or felt them there. Oh man she was busted...
"Er...," she mumbled.
Ven glanced at Terra. "Told you she'd try."
"That predictable?" she asked a bit bashfully.
"Yes," said both of them at the same time, making her chuckle nervously
Terra rose to his feet and walked over, Ven doing the same.
Terra crossed his arms. "Aqua, why?"
She bowed her head. "Terra... I... I have no right to be here anymore, after what I did, everything that happened... it's all my fault Terra..."
"No Aqua, it's not just your fault, it's all of our faults," said Terra, "And while you did make a grave mistake, so did we."
"What did you two possibly do?" she asked in disbelief.
"We never really helped you when it mattered," said Ven, "When you were struggling with a cracked heart those years the three of us trained together, that week you struggled with Xehanort's influence when we thought he was gone. We knew something was wrong, we felt it in our hearts, but we never acted on it until it was to late. We just acted like everything was fine..."
He grew quiet. "And we lost you because of it."
"Ven...," she whispered.
"Whats worse Aqua, is that we gave up on you," said Terra, his voice heavy and plagued with remorse, "I remember, at the Keyblade Graveyard, when I told Ven that he could be lost in the deepest darkness, but I would never give up for fighting for him, for both of you."
Terra closed his eyes. "But I gave up. I told your Heartless I had no more tears to shed for you, that I had came to terms with what happened to you a long time ago."
Terra strode over and wrapped her in a deep hug. "I'm sorry Aqua."
Aqua choked a bit, unable to form a reply, all she could do was hug him back and start crying softly into his shoulder. Ven came over and joined in the hug, the three of them, united again at long last, in a shared misery.
"It... it should never have happened...," she sobbed out, "D-damn him... damn Xehanort..."
"Shhh Aqua," said Terra softly, "Forget him. He's... gone now, its all over. You're back, and all that's left is to pick up the peices where the fell, and... well... I have something to give back to you."
"We," said Ven.
Terra glanced over at him. "Well, she never chucked it at your head."
Ven smirked. "Ah shut up and just give it to her."
Aqua glanced back and forth at them as the trio separated, confused. "Give what?"
Terra reached into his pocket. "Something you gave to me a long time ago. You told me to give it back to you when you returned, well, you're back."
What he pulled out of his pocket made her eyes go wide, and every part of her body tingle. "That's... it's..."
It was her wayfinder...
She stared at it, a sadness creeping across her face. The wayfinder had gone dull over the years, its colors faded. She could hardly feel anything from it, the connection she had woven into it from herself had gone almost completely silent. The magic in it was almost all gone...
Terra glanced at Ven, nodding to him. The boy grasped the wayfinder with him, and slowly, they offered it to her. Aqua hesitated briefly, before she slowly and tenderly reached out to grasp it...
Aqua gave a gasp when light burst from the charm. She felt it re-ignite, tapping into her magic to replenish itself and restore it's connection to her. The colors grew vibrant, and within moments, it looked as new as the day she had made it. Two lines emanated from it, moving into the pants pocket of her friends, drawing their wayfinders out.
They still had them, after all this time...
The three wayfinders rose into the air and touched briefly, a spark of light running through them, before they settled into their owners hands.
In a way Aqua hadn't done in over a decade, she took her wayfinder and clutched it to her chest, tears streaming down her face, as a warmth emanated from it into her chest, into her heart. "Terra... Ven..."
They smiled at her, but said nothing. There was nothing to be said. When they offered her a hand, she took it readily, walking back to the keep, hands clasped within her friends. When she laid in her bed to go to sleep that night, she clutched the wayfinder tight to herself, it's light granting her a peaceful sleep, free from troubles and the nightmares she thought would plague her...