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Year X

Aqua has never thought of raising a kid, not even when she was still a Witch. It was the furthest thing from her mind. Then again, she was also more afraid of dying than she is now.

The young woman, blessed by destiny, was turned into a vampyre six years ago now. It wasn't until a year later that she had traveled here, to Hollow Bastion, to be among her fellow, as the humans call them, blood-suckers. She hadn't expected to be ostracized and drug up to a platform, declared a monster and sentenced to die immediately.

It's the fate of all half breeds as she was later told. A half witch-half vampyre isn't something the world wants – much less any half breed. But all those years ago a man – no – an Elite Vampyre swooped in and saved her from that fate. He took her into the castle where the other Elites lived and had her trained. He told her what was expected of her and that he could trust her.

In only a few short months she had turned into the one thing that would help devastate the other races in the coming wars. But even with all her power over spells and the skills of a vampyre the thought of a child makes her take a deep breath – something she hasn't done in years.

She calmly walks down the long halls of the castle, trying to think through whatever plans Xehanort has concocted. Of course she's tried to ask Xemnas, the Elite who rescued her, about what that silent man is thinking. Even still, she hasn't receive a straight answer. She can't think of saving the child either; no one goes against Xehanort since he's the strongest of all the vampyre. Although she scoffs at the thought; no man is stronger than a city of well-fed vampyre. Even so, if she tried they'd simply end up dead.

In fact, she'd be right in believing if that was attempted then Xehanort would either kill her in front of the child or make him do it himself.

Forced from her thoughts, she stops dead in her tracks at the sound of someone running. Of course there's never a sound when a vampyre moves, unless they've just been turned and are still clumsy.

No, she can smell the blood of a human and hear the heart as it beats rapidly; fear, sorrow, the raw need to survive. The sight of the small boy barreling towards her forces all doubts away. She crouches down just as he gets close, coming to an immediate stop so that he doesn't run into her.

His small fists rub at his face; cheeks flushed, eyes rimmed in red, and tears streaming down his cherubic countenance. He's not more than ten yet he's thinner and shorter than most children she's seen. Of course growth spurts don't happen till later. It doesn't make his situation any better — only worse.

"Shhh… it's okay now."

Aqua reaches up to pull his hands down. Her fingers brush away some of the straggling tears. Smiling sweetly, she rustles her hand through his black spikes that reach out in random directions. His bright blue eyes stare up at her curiously, seeming to lose his fear as he steps a little closer to her. That is, despite the abnormal golden eyes that gaze back at him. "See, I won't hurt you little one."

"Aqua, what do you think you're doing?!"

She inwardly cringes at the gravelly voice yelling at her. In a breath's time the old vampyre is before them. Swiftly, she stands and moves the child behind her. The boy buries his fists into the light blue dress, keeping close to her legs while hiding his face. Aqua remains firm in her stance even as the older creature takes another hunched step forward.

Everything about him sets her on edge: From his gleaming golden eyes to the bald scalp and silver goatee. The dark black cloak sways about the ankles of his slender boots. White gauntlets contrast greatly to the rest of his attire, one of those glove-clad hands pointing towards the little boy.

"I asked you a question."

Everyone knows how he looks down upon the hybrids, how he's tried to rid the country of them. She only stands a chance thanks to the whimper from behind her. Because of the fear she can hear she's able to hold her ground and push back against his demands. "I'm protecting this child."

"He needs no protection! Now step aside."

"You have no right to scare a child. I refuse to allow you to harm him."

She watches as his eyes seem to darken with hatred and his mouth begins to open. Yet nothing comes out. His eyes only glance to the side at the interruption behind him. Relieved, Aqua gives a grateful smile towards her mentor. His amber eyes show weariness from these antics. Silver hair falls down to rest on his shoulders with some hanging to the sides of his face.

"Xehanort, the council is ready to discuss your plan."

He turns to Xemnas, hands clasping behind his back. "Yes, yes I'm coming." The two vampyre hurry off, their elegant strides slow to Aqua's eyes yet a blur to the curious child's.

Feeling as though a weight has lifted off her chest and a boulder placed on her shoulders, she sighs heavily. A tug to her dress draws her attention back to the small dark haired boy. As he lets go of her she turns and kneels. But as she smiles he seems to catch sight of her fangs and he immediately takes a couple steps back. Having this boy fear her makes her undead heart twinge with hurt. Doing her best to hide them, she holds out a hand.

"My name's Aqua. What's yours?"

"V….Vanitas," he mumbles as his fingers tighten into the rim of his tattered white shirt. Brown shorts hang lopsidedly from his slender hips, showing just how skinny he is. His toes, as he has no shoes, curl against the crimson rug stretching down the hall.

"Vanitas, do you like stories?" His eyes seem to shine and he nods sheepishly. "I have plenty of stories I can read to you, if you'd like to come with me?"

Vanitas debates this in his mind, still wary of her because of the fangs. His big blue eyes look up at her with pure curiosity. "You're not going to eat me?"

She can't help but giggle at him, the innocence of his inquiry causing her to reach out and brush at his cheek. "Of course not, I wouldn't dream of it… Actually, if you want, we can go hide from that scary Vampyre."

"And you'll read me stories?" She nods and this causes him to lose his fear, his small body moving closer to her. His toothy grin is accompanied by his hand taking hold of hers. "Let's go!"

Aqua curls her fingers around his hand, her heart breaking at how small his hand is compared to hers. Nonetheless, she stands and smiles down at him. "Alright. Let's go, Vanitas."

It's not long after that, that Vanitas falls asleep. The two lie in her large bed of dark blue sheets. She lies on her back with Vanitas curled up on her right side. The book is forgotten on the bedside table, having actually finished the whole thing. She smiles down at him, tracing a finger along his face to push some of the black spiky hair to the side.

He squirms at the touch, brows knitting together as if he were worried or in pain. But he only mumbles, "," he clutches at her more at the last one, his face burying into the side of her breast as he calms back down.

Sleep takes a hold of him once more and Aqua can only worry. She knows she can't protect him forever – especially once tomorrow comes. Xehanort will get him back one way or another and she won't be able to resist. He would have her killed and if she's to protect this little boy she has to live. For now, she realizes all she can do is watch.

Year XI

The small tray of sweets she's gotten the chef to prepare are surely to be to Vanitas's liking. The variety of cookies that slide slightly as she opens the door make even her want to try a few bites. No matter what it is it's always the top quality of food, drink or blood served all day round. And she always makes sure that she has some for when Vanitas needs to hide away and recover from whatever it is Xehanort does to him.

Aqua has never gotten Vanitas to talk about it and, honestly, she never will. She doesn't want to push him into doing so or force up those memories that make him shake at night. No child should have to fear going to sleep and she does whatever she can to make it a little easier on him.

Hallways barren of any life, Aqua is surprised to see one of the only other Elites she actually gets along with. Rather, they don't have any qualms with each other. His eyes are as golden as the sun itself and makes her wonder just what color they used to be.

This altered color doesn't seem to compliment the shoulder length pink hair like it should. The long black cloak he leaves unbuttoned swishes about his legs as he stops before her. "Needed a snack?"

She smiles softly. "No, this is for Vanitas."

He gives a sigh and crosses his arms over his chest, the white button up tightening around his biceps as he does. "You can't keep doing this. Xehanort isn't happy. He could-"

"Marluxia," she starts, as if to warn him that she won't back down from any of this. Not when she's let Vanitas suffer by not getting him out when she could. "It's fine."

"And what happens if Xemnas can't convince Xehanort to let you do what you want anymore?"

Aqua adjusts her grip on the metal tray. She knows that better than anyone. The line she walks is so thin she's afraid it'll vanish if she turns her head the wrong way. But there's something deep inside herself, something she hasn't felt in so long, that tells her to keep trying. Vanitas needs someone.

"I'm well aware. But Xehanort isn't here for a few days so there's no need for Xemnas to do so." She takes a deep breath. "There's something wrong,Marluxia. I can't just let Xehanort do what he wants."

"I'll do what I can too… No one should have to be on the front lines in this war. Especially since this ceasefire is a farce."

He huffs at the end of his sentence, clearly fed up with everything that's being decided. Yet she does expect those words to come from him. Even though he doesn't always approve of the decisions that are finalized, he does follow along.

Beginning to walk past him, Aqua gives him a soft smile. "Thank you. I'll do what I can for you in return."

Marluxia stays rooted to the spot as she continues on her way. He brings a hand up, clasping it over his heart. She reminds him of someone he's long since lost, someone his mind can barely even remember at this point. But he does know the others can't be trusted. He hurries off to his own tasks with the thoughts of betrayal lingering in his mind.

All the while Aqua walks tall down the corridor to the child who waits anxiously for her to return. Her room is his safe space after all. It's the one place that Xehanort doesn't dare tread. If he does need Vanitas returned then he quickly summons Xemnas to do so.

Opening the door, she sees Vanitas perched up on her window seat. The very one that looks out over the city. It's not a wonderful sight but to Vanitas, who is never allowed out, it's breathtaking. He turns at the sound of her entering the room and grins wide. "Are all those for me?"

Aqua giggles while lightly nudging the door shut once more. "You'll just get an upset stomach if you eat this many."

Still, she strides over to him. Vanitas scoots over, allowing her to sit beside him, as he pulls the robe closer around his body. Aqua can only imagine how long he had been without a shower. Then again… it was probably all week that she didn't see him.

"Now Vanitas, answer honestly. Have you eaten anything today or yesterday?"

He grips at the plush material and scowls. Vanitas grumbles through grit teeth, "I wouldn't call it food."

Aqua brushes her hand against the back of his head, long slender fingers splaying through the dark spikes of his hair. "Then you can have them, but I can get you something else too. Sandwiches, chicken, fish-"

"Um… Aqua?"

Their eyes meet and those beautiful blue that stare back at her are all consuming. Her brows knit together as she hands him the plate. "What is it?"

Vanitas takes it with a mumbled thanks. He finds the words hard to push out. As if by giving them life then he's already lost. Yet… he has to tell someone even if there's still a thread of doubt that worms into his heart. He wants to trust Aqua so bad it hurts. After all he's spent almost a year with her already.

Biting into one of the treats, Vanitas keeps his eyes on the plate. "Why can't we run away?"

She sits there for a moment, swallowing hard at the question. Of course she wants nothing more than to whisk him away to a normal life but that doesn't mean it's an option.

Everyone praises the Elites and holds them up on pedestals — they can do no wrong. But she's also a hybrid… her words mean nothing, despite her status. Not to mention she's virtually alone in her opinions on anything.

"I… Vanitas, it's more complicated than that."

"But running away is easy, you just do it!"

He stands up suddenly and sends the plate toward the floor. Thankfully Aqua has good reflexes and catches it before it hits the ground. Glaring at her, Vanitas smashes the cookie between his fingers from his tight grip on it. The crumbs and chunks fall to the tiled floor.

"Is it because you're one of them? He… he told me you…"

Aqua sighs and sets the plate down on the seat. She spreads her hands down the front of her dress as she kneels before him. "Vanitas?" she begins.

He's angry and confused, she knows. Which is why she slowly and gently takes his hands in hers. Looking up at him, Aqua nods. "Everything they've said about me is probably true. I've taken many lives because Xemnas saved me, I thought I owed it to him. The world is cruel… If you want to survive sometimes you do things you don't want to."

"So… would you eat me too?"

"Of course not!" she declares while giving a shake of her head. "You're very precious to me. I could never do that." Aqua stands up and proves this by placing a kiss to his forehead. "Which is why we'll leave tonight."

The declaration catches Vanitas completely off guard. So much so that he takes an immediate step away from her as she straightens up all the way. "You- But- We can?"

He's a little flabbergasted. Not to mention the confused look on his face. Aqua can't help but pat the top of his head. "I don't see why not. Xehanort isn't here and by sunrise we should be able to slip out while everyone is asleep." Aqua hums in thought while moving to her closet. "We wouldn't be able to take much with us."


Vanitas huffs and sits back down on the window seat. Cookie after cookie, he eats while watching Aqua dance about the room. She's too busy with the sudden plan that she doesn't notice the slight smile on Vanitas's lips. They both know this could backfire. Even as young as Vanitas is he's well aware that this attempt is almost fruitless.

He's happy despite that. Not only would be be able to get out of here but he'd be with the only friend he's ever had.

Aqua has always done her best to keep him tucked away, dress his bruises or scrapes, and even get him clothes or food. It's why he trusts her and no one else in this dreary castle. Even so, he's scared. Deathly scared of losing her. More so than dying. After everything he's been through that hardly seems like a bad thing anymore.

Reaching down, Vanitas rubs at his side where he knows a rather nasty bruise is lingering even a few days later. It takes Aqua several minutes before she finally stops with a huff. On the end of the bed sits a small rucksack bag with a single leather strap. She's already put in a change of clothes for the both of them. Now all that remains is some food.

"Vanitas," she begins. "Finish those and get some sleep. I know you're probably not tired but we have to be up at dawn. I need you fully awake."

He watches as she turns away, leaving him behind in the room to go gather anything else they need. Vanitas can only stare down at the cookie to realize it's not to his liking. It's too sweet. Just like Aqua. His stomach churns and knots up at the realization of what he's done — just what he's sparked. He meant it as a test to see if she was serious and not just working alongside Xehanort.

But this… no one would be that devoted to a lie.

Not Aqua.

Vanitas swallows hard and goes to the bathroom for a glass of water. The floor is cool underneath his feet as he stands there in front of the mirror. The glass reflects back at him just what he thinks he is — what Xehanort confirms he is.

Disgusting. Useless. Human.

He can't save anyone. He's powerless unless he conforms. He's nothing without the brawn the blood a Vampyre can give a mere mortal. All he can do now is accept the pain and the agony, grow stronger from it.

Yet even before that he has to endure the years of pain until his body is able to handle the transformation. It's only when Xehanort deems him worthy that he'll grant his wish of strength — strength to end his own suffering.

It's just not what he wants.

Vanitas chugs a glass of water and wipes his face. The short trudge back to the bed ends with Vanitas flopping onto the bed face first. He buries himself into the black pillows and closes his eyes. Pretending he's somewhere else is the only way he'll ever get to sleep.

Meanwhile, Aqua is busy trying to hunt Marluxia down. He's just never where she expects him to be. If she assumes he's relaxing then he's in the garden and vice versa. Which is exactly where she finds him — tending to some of the roses.

The coat he normally wears is draped over one of the nearby benches. The sleeves of his shirt are rolled up above his elbows while he snips and trims the bushes to allow the flowers to flourish properly. He turns at the sound of her, the heals of his boots clicking against the stone as he does. "You have that look in your eyes, Aqua."


He cuts one of the roses away and extends it toward her as she gets closer. "You should be with that child tonight, protecting him. Yet here you are with a fire in your eyes. Have you decided something?"

"I… I have to protect him."

"I see."

She takes the offer of the flower, holding it up to smell the scent. Meanwhile, Marluxia gives a hum of thought. "And is this something you've decided or are willing to act on?"

"Both. If all I can do is help him escape at the cost of my own life… I'm prepared for that. He deserves to have some kind of normalcy. Not this… torture."

Marluxia glances over his shoulder with a warning, "He can't ever be normal again."

"I…" Aqua stares over at him.

It's not that the words aren't truth. She just doesn't want to hear them. It means that there's no going back and that this brat, but with a sweet heart, won't ever shake off what he's been through. Not enough to be understood by those unwilling to even look at a Vampyre.

"I can't let that stop me."

"No one will help you out there. You're a hybrid and will be one with a human child latched onto her leg. If you could give me some time, perhaps I'd be able to help you."

Aqua stands suddenly. Her head is held high and her mouth is set in a thin line. She's not used to having an offer of help. Especially from Marluxia. He usually talks her down and gives her something to calm her nerves — a special tea made from what he grows in the gardens. To have some kind of support is unnerving. Still… it's not enough.

Her hands ball into fists. "I'm sorry. I can't. He's either going to die or Xehanort will turn him. Or… both." Aqua turns, "I'm not asking for your help or your permission."

Marluxia turns and grabs her wrist. "Aqua, I want to help."

"I don't want you to. If this goes… I need someone I know I can trust to watch over him instead."

Reluctantly, he lets go of her. "I can't promise anything."

Aqua smiles at him over her shoulder, "It's okay." She knows he'll do just as she asks regardless of his answer. He did the same thing for her after all. After the evenings where Xemnas forced her to train until she couldn't stand it would be Marluxia who whisked her away to heal.

She's merely passing on the small favor to Vanitas.

As she walks away she knows very well that she might not make it through the morning. Yet it might be the only chance that she gets. Xehanort leaving the castle is rare. There's no telling if she'll get another opportunity before Xehanort makes his move. No, she has to throw caution to the wind and go for it.

Standing before her bedroom door, Aqua places her hand over her heart. "Please give me the strength I need, sister."

She knows she's a fool. But when she opens the door and sees the frail body curled up on her bed she's sure she can't back down. Even if it does mean she's a fool and will end up failing — she'd give her life a thousand times over for this boy. For this purpose.

He doesn't deserve the same regime she's had to endure and surely worse even still. Looking back, she can imagine Xemnas was far nicer to her than Xehanort would have been.

Aqua quickly shakes the thoughts away and slips inside. The door softly clicks shut behind her. Grateful that she's able to not make much of a sound as she moves about the room, Aqua continues to prepare. It doesn't take very long and she still manages to get in a small nap — not that she has to have it. Her body has run on less after all.

By the time she has to wake Vanitas up she's already gotten everything secured in the bag. He should have enough rations for them to get to another town or the Land of Departure — whichever happens first.

Aside from that she's also changed into more battle ready attire. Gone are the flowing dresses she usually wears while in the castle and to replace them is a pair of black shorts with matching tights beneath them. White boots reach only slightly past her ankles. Her navy colored top covers up her neck yet has scooping cutouts toward her chest. Not to mention her upper back has another cutout that shows much of it.

The only thing she wishes she didn't have to do was craft a few potions. They're nothing damaging or explosive but they could aid in their escape if she manages to use them properly.

Around her waist is a simple belt with hooks along one side to hold the potions via a string. They're strong enough to not break during fighting but Aqua knows just how to snap the wire with a flick of her wrist. Only one hook doesn't hold a point, instead two long daggers.

It's all practice to her. Although if she had more time she would have made more than three. She sighs as she drags her fingers through her short hair before sliding on fingerless gloves. They aren't normal gloves. Oh no. One has runes and patterns resembling water while the other has wind.

They're all she has to work with. There will be no time to switch equipment in the middle of a fight. Not if she's caught by any of her fellow Elites. She takes a deep breath. There's no time like the present to get this plan started.

Aqua stops by the side of the bed and pats Vanitas's shoulder. "Ready to go?"

He gives her an incoherent mumble that splits off into a yawn. Vanitas pushes himself up off the bed, but she can tell he's groggy to say the least. The only problem with a human is they're slow about everything. Well, almost everything.

She hands him a glass of water. "I managed to get some shoes that should fit you. Once you feel ready, we'll go."

Vanitas nods, downing the entire glass before deciding to speak. The nerves that rattle around in his stomach make him want to hurl. There's so much at stake and he knows it might not even be worth it. Not if he loses Aqua. She's the only one that's ever cared if he's in any pain. Yet here he is, about to cause her so much of it.

Gripping the glass in his hands, he's not sure if he wants to go now. Suddenly he's painfully aware of all the bad that can happen from one tiny little dream to get as far from here as he possibly can.


He looks up at her and immediately she can see the fear that haunts the depths of those pools of sapphire. She gives him a reassuring smile and kneels before the bed. Her hands reach out, covering one of his own. "I'm going to protect you. Nothing bad will happen, okay? Don't you want to see the world?"

Her confidence, whether he truly believes she's oh so powerful or not, wins him over to a large degree. There's part of him that wants nothing more than for them to get out of here. Which is why he hurries off the bed and takes the shoes, clothes and jacket she hands him.

It's Aqua that tugs the hood up over his black hair. "Now… if anything happens you're to run as fast as you can, okay?" She removes one of the potions on her belt and gives it to him. "This is like sunlight in a bottle. All you have to do is smash it against the ground. It has salt in it, too. So use it to escape if I tell you to."

His brows pinch together, confused. Why would he have to leave her behind? She said they'd escape together right?

But she doesn't allow him to let his worries come out. Instead she marches over to the door once he's tied the laces on the worn out sneakers — the best she could do on such short notice and without drawing suspicions at that.

"Now, stay as quiet as you can. Everyone might be asleep, but it's better to be silent, just in case."

Vanitas grabs the bag off the bed and slings it over his shoulder before she can even tell him to. He gets it. All she can offer him is a chance. Even if that means he has to leave her behind. He stops beside her as she opens the door. A pat to his head is all she gives before leading him out of the room.

The safety net the space serves as shatters the second they do so. They can still turn around and pretend none of this is happening. But once they make it around a few corners and down several corridors there's no going back. The only thing in front is the uncertain future.

For the most part it goes smoothly. They only had to change route a couple times because of a few guards or random workers finishing up their tasks. The sun, just beginning to shine through the dense clouds, is the perfect opportunity. All they have to do is make it through the courtyard and then the gates. To which she plans to simply scale the side with Vanitas on her back.

Just as they make it halfway through the courtyard, hugging the sides of it as to not be seen, she senses it. Vanitas is behind her and she panics. He's only a step away but she doesn't want to take the chance. Aqua spins around and pushes Vanitas into a rather lush bush that gives a little under his sudden appearance.

The pain that shudders through her is explosive. After all, silver bullets work just as well on them as werewolves. There's only one vampyre that has such good aim and zero presence. Glaring at the man that seemingly appears out of nowhere, Aqua grabs the daggers from her side.

"What do you think you're doing, little bluebird?" The man flashes her a wicked grin. He holds his pistols loose in his hands but she knows not to be deceived. He's fast and accurate.


"Oh, well that's fine with me. But you can't take any precious cargo with you." He nods over toward where Vanitas is struggling to pry himself away from the vegetation. The long black and gray ponytail sways as the vampyre shakes his head. "You should know better."

Aqua swallows hard, ignoring the red that begins to drip down her arm. She doesn't have time to worry about that. "He's not cargo, he's a boy. Something you should remember, Xigbar."

Laughter mingles with the fog of a new day. It's just as cruel as the morning sun is to vampyres. Xigbar's expression darkens as he lifts his guns, aiming them straight at Aqua. "I thought you were smarter. You can't think you'll be able to betray us and fly away."

She grabs one of the flasks on her belt and rips it off, hurling it straight at the gunslinger. He knows it's not going to hit him. It falls short, landing between them, and sends out a dense smoke screen that quickly covers the area. It only gets thicker thanks to the fog.

"Hah! You think I can't see you, bluebird?" A shot rings out following his words.

Aqua sidesteps just in time. Yet she's careful to go away from Vanitas. It's best not to draw attention to the boy who's finally pulled himself to his feet. She doesn't look at him. No, she keeps her eye on the smoke and wherever she hears the slightest bit of rustling as Xigbar moves about.

"Vanitas, plan b. I'm going to get you on top of the wall and I'll meet up with you later."

"That- No!"

"Don't- Nngh!" Aqua skids back, her hands waving forth a shield of air to repel the bullets that try to hit her. They click against the stone as they fall before her feet. She conjures forth water with the other. The string of liquid spins around her like a hoop on her hips, flicking at whatever flies at her. "On the count of three."

She can't give him the chance to argue. Leaving his side is the last thing she wants. But if it means he can have some freedom she'll stay and fight whoever dares to stop her.

"That's pretty sloppy, thinking you can say your plan out loud like that."

Aqua scoffs as she cartwheels forward to avoid a trio of shots at her feet. "I just don't see you as a threat," she retorts.

"Well aren't you clever."

The noise is far closer than she had thought possible and she can't react fast enough. He's trained far longer than she has. Not to mention he's the one that helped teach her the ropes of being a vampyre. The heel of his boot digs into her back before she's sent even closer to the place she had been trying so desperately to escape from.

Xigbar throws one gun into the air and grabs at her leg, bending down to trip her up. Aqua kicks at him with her free foot. It breaks his hold and allows her to roll off to the side before perking back up into an offensive stance. That is, just in time for Xigbar to hold out his hand and catch his gun.

She needs just a handful of seconds. Nothing more, nothing less.

The warmth of the magic generating around her fingers is the only comforting feeling she has. It spurs her onward. Those very fingers wrap tightly around the hilts of her daggers. The elements embedded into her gloves takes form as the blades — just as sharp and deadly as actual metal.

Aqua puts all her weight back into her legs. One chance is all she'll get because she knows if anyone won't fall for the same trick twice it's Xigbar. He's craftier than he looks.

Surging forward with wind and water flowing around her like a barrier, Aqua seems like an unstoppable force. Yet she knows better. She doesn't need to see his face to know there's a smirk there. The smoke clears as she charges through straight at him.

Xigbar plants his feet and prepares to be the rock she runs into. Aiming down the barrels, he knows just where to aim to stop her. Aqua, however, has other plans.

Only a couple long steps away, she throws the hilts at his feet. The second they leave her hands the magic leaves them. Instead she grabs for another flask. Another step and she smashes it between her hands.

Inky black flies up in their faces. Xigbar is thoroughly blinded no matter how viciously he rubs his sleeve over his eyes. Yet Aqua is fine. The water that blocked the spell becomes useless and splashes onto her feet.

It doesn't matter, she's already done what she needs with it. She holds out her hands and wills for the magic to reach out for the handles she discarded previously. They're just as special as the gloves, these hilts.

The magnet spell she placed on them has them flying back toward her grasps. They're barely in her hands before she stabs them into Xigbar's shoulders, shoving him backward. The surprise of it all is what does him in for the moment. Otherwise she could never overpower this vampyre. She has to play dirty if she wants to win.

Xigbar's back hits the stone with a yell. But she's already off of him. Her shafts are back on her belt as she runs over to Vanitas. The boy is wide eyed and open mouthed, unable to believe what he's seeing.

"Vanitas," she urges while picking him up. "Grab onto the wall when I throw you up. There's trees or a bush or something — just find a way down and hurry about it."

"Wait, no, Aqua you can't-"

She doesn't give him a chance. Grabbing him, Aqua tosses him up in the air. At the last second Vanitas manages to grab onto the edge. He pulls himself up so he can straddle it. Those blue eyes show only fear when he looks back toward the castle.

Vanitas turns to her, "Aqua, watch out!"

His reflexes are far slower than Aqua's. The warning comes late but Aqua senses the attack either way. She shoves away from the wall just in time to miss being grabbed by a pair of large hands sheathed in black gloves. Spinning around, she glares at the vampyre before her.

"Why do you do this, Aqua?"

"Because it's not right."

"I spared you. Gave you everything you've asked for. And this is how you repay me?" Xemnas takes a step toward her with a long sword in each hand. They're plain and have no guard — pure offense.

Aqua knows better than to rush at him head on. She merely needs to stall enough for Vanitas to escape. And there's only one way she knows how when it comes to Xemnas.

"I'm only doing what you taught me to do."

"To betray me?"

Aqua shakes her head. "To protect what's important to me." Her eyes don't have to look to see that Vanitas is lingering, unsure if he should really leave her. But as long as he can hide the herbs she's rubbed into the backpack will conceal his scent until he can move. She just has to make him leave.

"I'll do whatever I have to so he can escape. If that means I have to fight you, I'm sorry. But you know this isn't right."

She charges forward; yellow eyes narrowed and fingers clenched into fists. Magic surges around her hands. There's no way the spells will hold up against Xemnas. Although that doesn't stop her from trying.

Vanitas watches in horror as Xemnas dismisses his blades. They clatter to the ground mere seconds before his hands grab her wrists, stopping her from so much as touching him. She doesn't let that deter her. Aqua kicks up off the ground and brings her legs in. Feet planted against his chest, she kicks with all her strength to free herself.

He takes several steps back. Even so he doesn't act as though it bothered him in the slightest. The fact that she was able to put distance between them gives her a mental edge. Just as she's taking that move forward, she gasps.

Xemnas is before her. His fingers are clutching at her neck, biting hard at the skin through her shirt. Aqua winces and tries to pry them away. Except it's pointless. Her hands fall limp at her sides as a trio of bullets lodge into her back.

Tossing her to the side as she begins to lose consciousness, Xemnas sighs. "Is that all…? Is that the breadth of your heart?"

Xigbar glares and huffs, "That wasn't fun at all." He's still rubbing at his face but the stain of the spell won't be leaving so soon.

The fear that begins to grow in Vanitas's chest has him throwing all caution to the wind. He wants to leave, but he wants Aqua to be okay more than that. The wall isn't very big and even if it was it wouldn't stop him. He falls into the courtyard, his back toward the bushes that tried to keep him captive in the beginning.

Xemnas glances over at him. "Hurry inside."

Vanitas crawls off the foliage and runs straight past both Xigbar and Xemnas. He doesn't notice the others coming from the castle. All he can focus on is getting to Aqua. The backpack plops onto the ground, unable to carry it anymore, before he drops to his knees before her. The only thing he keeps with him is the flask she had given him.

"What do you think you're doing, brat?" Xigbar goes to walk over to him but Xemnas holds out an arm. It's then that Xigbar notices just who has come to see what's happening.

All Vanitas can do is glare at the old vampyre that strides toward him. Marluxia is at his side, not daring to show any emotion whatsoever. Xehanort chuckles, "I see you're finally taking an interest, my boy."

"Tell them to leave her alone or I'll break this open!"

Vanitas clutches it to his chest as if it's the only thing keeping him safe. He knows they could subdue him with ease and finish what was started. But he'll be damned if he doesn't try. He'll try like he's never tried before. Because this time he thinks he can actually save the person he cares about.

"Ah… I see. One of those little spells." Xehanort keeps his hands clasped behind his back as he strides toward Vanitas. Of course he stays a few feet away just in case the child tries it. "I'll tell you how to save her if you never attempt to leave. You'll finish your training and do as I say."

Swallowing hard, Vanitas knows Xehanort is true to his word. He says what he means if it's to further his plans, something he's quickly come to learn. There is one thing he knows. He's important. There's no reason Xehanort should risk keeping either of them around.

Not that it stops him from glaring at the accursed vampyre. "Fine, please tell me!"

Xehanort gives a wave of his hand, "Blood from a human heals us faster and allows us a rare chance to extend our lifespan."

"Then…" Vanitas glances over at Aqua.

He's scared — terrified — to have to go back to that cold empty room where he's to be 'trained'. Except he's sure he'd go back there regardless. At least this way he can keep a friend. Someone to help him get through it.

There's a signal that Vanitas misses. One that has Marluxia tossing a small dagger toward him. It skids across the stone and stops short of hitting up against his knees. Looking at it does nothing to Vanitas. But there's something that he realizes when he picks it up, shaky fingers curling around the handle.

The kind… the weak…the selfless… They all die under the boot of those unafraid to push someone into the mud.

Vanitas brings the sharp edge to his palm. Making a cut is easy, holding back the tears isn't. He shoves the fear down along with any sadness that tries to bubble up. He'll be strong — get stronger — and he'll protect this silly woman in return for everything she's done. All at the same time as never getting any closer. Not when Xehanort is watching him with those hawk like eyes.

The droplets of red drip onto her parted lips. It's not very much, not before Marluxia is grabbing at his arm and yanking him to his feet. He's shoved toward Xehanort with little care. To which the old vampyre turns. "Now my boy, follow. We have work to do since you're keen on interrupting my sleep."

He glances over his shoulder only once. Chest aching just as much as his hand, he watches as Marluxia scoops Aqua up into his arms. There's a gentleness to it which puts him at ease. Anyone is better than Xigbar or Xemnas after all.

Vanitas swallows his pride and proceeds after Xehanort, "Yes… Master."

Marluxia idles. He waits for everyone to reenter before he dares take a step forward. It's only so no one knows that he'll sit by her side until she wakes up. After all, he's the only one that will be willing to tell her about the barter that child made for her life. The only one that can keep her from letting it take her into the deep dark abyss of regret and failure.


Sitting upright, Aqua gasps. Her wide eyes frantically look around and try to take in her surroundings. The quick movement startles the young woman entering the room at that very moment. Brown eyes are full of fear as she seemingly melds herself to the door.

"Ah.. Um.. Is there anything I c-can get you M-Master Aqua?"

She brings up a hand to her face. There's so many emotions that race through her at one time — so many conflicting thoughts and questions — that she's not sure how to respond. Not to mention how good she feels. It's such a drastic change from the usual that it's distracting.

Aqua closes her eyes. "I'm… not sure." Finally looking up at the human girl, Aqua gives a smile in hopes of calming her. "Would you mind fetching Marluxia for me?"

"Of course ma'am!"

Turning and running out of the room, the maid doesn't dare look back. She'd do anything to get away from any of them. Aqua is sure of that. But the humans who have nowhere to go always end up in this god forsaken country. It makes her miss her home so much.

"Glad to see you're awake. Took longer than I thought it would."

"What do you mean?" she asks Marluxia as he strides into the room, careful to nudge the door shut behind him. "Why am I… still…"

"Alive?" He moves to her window, tugging the curtains aside. "Because that boy you're so fond of asked for it."

Her fingers curl into the blanket atop her. "So he didn't escape."

Marluxia can't help but chuckle. "There's no way he'd leave you there lying in a pool of your own blood."

Aqua knows Marluxia is the best healer here aside from herself. She's also aware of just how badly she was hurt thanks to Xigbar and his deadly precision. "Thank you for-"

"All I did was carry you inside and clean you up." Marluxia takes a step to the side, arms crossed over his chest. He glances at her from the corner of his eye, wanting to see her reaction more than anything. "You should thank the kid instead."

Lips slightly parted and brows drawing together in confusion. She's a mess of questions as her thoughts feel as though they'll spill over. Aqua looks up at Marluxia, as if pleading for him to lie to her. "What does that mean?"

Marluxia walks over to her bedside. "Your body feels like a feather. Your instincts are sharper than they've ever been." He gives a wave of his hand, "And you're overwhelmed because it's the first time you've ever tasted human blood."

Horror washes over her face. It's exactly what Marluxia expected. Crimson tears, that she doesn't even realize are there, tumble down her cheeks. They drip onto the sheets as she stares at him, unable or perhaps unwilling to believe those words. Admitting and accepting means there's no going back.

He tentatively reaches out, placing his hand on her back. But Aqua doesn't cave or fold in on herself. Even with the tears streaming down her face she still pushes the sheet away and crawls to the edge of the bed. Marluxia watches as she stands up only to sit back down immediately.

"I told you, you're overwhelmed. You're a hybrid so they probably haven't even given you faerie blood yet."

"I… I don't care. Where is Vanitas?"

Marluxia sighs and trots around to stand in front of her once more. He doesn't need her doing something… reckless. "If you try to leave this room and do anything, I'll have to restrain you. Understood?"

She raises a brow, "What happened?"

"The details have been ironed out while you were asleep. But to be frank, the boy agreed to whatever demands Xehanort has as long as you're alive and safe. No harm can befall you or he'll turn heel."

"No…" she mumbles. The next second she stands up and grabs at the front of Marluxia's shirt. "No! He can't! They'll turn him into a-"

"Monster. A human that's been pushed to his limits and then turned into a vampyre. He'll be a force to be reckoned with. Besides, if that works then Xehanort can continue this method with those that want to help him."

Aqua hears none of it. Even though she knew what he was going to say far before it left his lips, it still makes her heart sink. He wasn't supposed to stay. He should have left when he had the chance. Yet despite it all, they're back where they started if not worse.

"I…I don't…" Slowly, she lowers her head into her hands. "Please… leave me."

"Hmm…" Marluxia turns and makes for the door. "I'll be outside."

He knows she won't try anything. Not when he can hear those soft footfalls nearing the room. If she wasn't so distraught she'd be able to pick up on them as well. The door doesn't even shut upon Marluxia's exit before a smaller body slips into the room.

Marluxia glances back at the two of them and shakes his head. It might be worth it to bet on them. Anything to right the wrongs that have happened and steal the victory from Xehanort's clutches.


She hears his voice yet she can't bring herself to look at him. Her voice, muffled against her hands, barely reaches his ears. "I'm so… so sorry."

"Don't be."

There's a trill of 'sorry' that continues to leave her lips. It's as if he's turned on a faucet and then broke the handle off. Seemingly no end in sight, Vanitas's brows furrow. He doesn't know why she's so upset. After all, they're both alive. That should count for something!

"Stop!" he shouts as he grabs her wrists, forcing her hands away from her face. Vanitas glares at her until he sees the red smeared across her cheeks. It outright confuses him. His expression softens ever so slightly. "You're bleeding?"

Aqua blinks a few times. She's stunned at the outburst coming from what she thought was a child incapable of doing so. He had been so mild mannered until now. This - this - is something new.

"No… No it's okay." She tries to give him a smile but she can only imagine how horrifying she looks at the moment. "This is what happens when we drink human blood. It's too strong."

One of Vanitas's eyes squints as he tries to gauge if she's lying to him to make him feel better. It's an obvious route she goes. This time he settles on believing her. Letting go of her hands, Vanitas huffs angrily. He's clearly still upset with the situation but says nothing else.

Which is good for Aqua. She's far more concerned with the white bandages wrapped around his hand. "Are you okay?"

Reaching out for him is what causes Vanitas to jerk backward. "I'm fine," he mutters as he glances off to the side. It's strange to see him act this way after all this time. "I have to go. He only gave me a few minutes."

"Vanitas, you don't have to do this." She begs him, "Please, just back out of the deal."

He takes a step back toward the slightly open door. "No. He said I could leave whenever I want. I just don't want to." Vanitas turns on his heel, biting at his lip as he does. "I, uh, I'll see you later."

Aqua stares at his back while he leaves. It's hard to do — let some kid secure her safety. Even more so when all she can think about as he stood there was the lingering taste of his blood on her tongue. She slowly crumples forward. Her forehead hits her knees.

She can't give up. Won't give up. But she just doesn't know — what can she accomplish now?


Sitting on the edge of the bed, Vanitas glares at Aqua's back. He's very unhappy. His deal was supposed to keep her safe and the next thing he knows she'll be away from him. It's already been two years of fighting, what difference could she make?

"This is stupid."

Aqua turns to him as she puts her gloves on. "I don't like it either, but we don't have the luxury of going against the order." She smiles and sits beside him. "It shouldn't be for long. Marluxia told me that one last push should get… the desired result."

Vanitas raises an eyebrow, "Then what's wrong?"

She's almost afraid to say the words. Speaking with Marluxia more when he's able to come back from the front lines is haunting. Aqua can't imagine her own kind being drug out into the light and killed if they don't agree to support Xehanort. Not to mention the faeries and Xehanort's unbridled anger towards them.


Sleep hasn't graced her life in the past months. She just doesn't know what to do. Glancing over at Vanitas, she hesitates. Is it right to slaughter others to keep the person you love safe?

Nothing makes taking a life right. Something her parents always told her and her sister every time they practiced spells.

"I'll be back soon," is all she replies with.

Vanitas is obviously displeased with this response. But he doesn't know what to do. He wants to be selfish. Yet Xehanort won't have any of that. The old coot has been faithful in their deal and he doesn't want to tempt fate. Not when he's so close to gaining enough power to get them both out of here.

To where he's not a burden for her to carry around.

Aqua turns on her heel and just misses the look on Vanitas's face. She swallows back the sigh; he's becoming such a smart young man that she can't hide anything from him. Aqua doesn't hesitate in dipping down and wrapping her arms around him.

"A-Aqua, what are you d-doing?!"

"I thought you liked hugs?" She pulls back, patting his spiky black hair in the process. "Or are you too old for that?" He resides in pouting, glaring off to the side instead. Scooping up her duffel bag, she makes for the door. "I promise, Vanitas, I'll return before you know it."

"If you don't I'll come find you."

"I'll hold you to that," she says with a smile and a wave over her shoulder. She intends to simply leave it at that, careful not to say anything else. The longer she lingers the more dangerous it gets.

Over the threshold, down the halls and right to the entrance where Marluxia waits she goes. He raises a brow, "Did you make sure you had your snack before we leave?"

"That's not funny and you know it."

"My apologies," he replies with a smile. "How's he holding up?"

Aqua adjusts her grip on the bag and how the strap digs into her shoulder. "As well as he can."

Marluxia begins walking. She hurries to be able to walk beside him. Part of her wishes he could switch it out so that she wasn't given Vanitas's blood to drink now and then. It's not very much but even the slightest amount has her feeling as though she's floating.

Which is why she's their trump card. Her extra power boost combined with the spells she can weave will be undeniably devastating. Not to mention she's a beast on a leash — unable to disobey. She simply has to survive and go along with whatever that child is planning.


"You sure cleared that group out fast. I'm impressed you only managed to kill a few."

Aqua glances over at Marluxia. He says that but her hands are still slick with red. "Still too many for my liking."

"Hm, I suppose you're right." Marluxia claps a hand onto her shoulder, "Come, let's take a break."

They begin walking back toward the camp when suddenly Xemnas is before them. His icy stare is enough to make Aqua take a step back. But he's not looking at her, his gaze is on Marluxia.

"I wish to speak with you."

Marluxia seems as cool and smooth as ever, seemingly not even bothered by the look he's being given. "Lead the way."

Aqua can only stare there, completely frozen as Xemnas strides away with Marluxia in toe. It's concerning. She tries not to think on it for too long and simply continue toward the tents. But there's something that eats at the back of her mind.

They're going so far out.

She's halfway to the rest of the vampyres when she stops dead in her tracks. Aqua can hear it; someone gasping out her name. Her senses are on fire as she pivots on her heel and springs toward where the two went off to. The rubble of the small city dares to trip her up if she underestimates her abilities.

For a moment she hesitates. The smell of blood and death is overwhelming to the point where she's losing the trail. Her gut demands she find them. When she hears Xemnas speaking she knows exactly why.

"Betrayal isn't tolerated."

"I can't be a traitor if I was never loyal," Marluxia smirks back at him.

It's the last straw. Xemnas doesn't flinch. He stabs one of his silver blades through Marluxia's chest, to which the latter didn't even try to dodge. Not that he could with his back against the wall and wounds littering his body.

Aqua stares. She can't believe her eyes — the fact that her only friend is slumping to the ground. Xemnas gives a flick of his sword and sends the splatter of red onto the stone path. His eyes glance at Aqua as he walks toward her. "Burn the body then return. That's an order."

Moving isn't allowed until Xemnas is far out of range. It's only then that she rushes forward to Marluxia's side. She knows there's nothing she can do. Her healing spells can't save him from one of their weaknesses — not when Xemnas made sure to pierce his heart.

Even still, the pink haired man hangs on long enough to give her a smile. His fingers uncurl and in those black gloves she can see a piece of paper. All he can manage to get out before blood gurgles in his throat are two words, "I'm sorry."


Aqua doesn't know how she's managed. The return trip "home" has been a miracle if any. There was no reason for her to be there, nothing but to witness a warning. She hasn't had anything to drink in the days it's taken to come home either. Stepping over the threshold to her room, Aqua finds herself surprised.

The door clicks shut.

She's not sure if she's happy or displeased that he's asleep on the end of her bed. On the floor is a thick book that he must have been reading. Moments like these let her forget what's happening. Sometimes, that is. Other times she looks down at him and feels nothing but despair. A fearful dark hole that she dares to look into and know if she lingers in it she'll be swallowed whole.

"Vanitas…" she says while gently touching his shoulder.

After a few tries Vanitas finally begins to open his eyes. Dark lashes flutter against pale skin, trying to quickly wake up when he catches sight of her blue hair.

"You're back?"

She gives him a small smile. It's one that's hard to force out. "I am." Sitting down beside him, after he sits upright, Aqua scoops up the book on the floor. Aqua hands it to him, "They decided they didn't really need my help."

Vanitas looks at her. Truly sees her and the pain that etches through her. Something happened but he doesn't know if he should ask. Uncertainty tends to grab hold of him more than often lately. "Sorry for-"

"Don't be." She stands up suddenly and stretches her arms high above her head. "I told you my door is always open."

Doing so gives Vanitas a view of her back and the scars that linger on her skin. Even as a vampyre he's learned they can receive them. If they don't heal fast enough or have enough nourishment to do so it results in nasty memories imprinted in the skin.

Much like the marks from the wounds Xigbar gave her.

The ones that show how he almost failed to save her. He's just as afraid as she is living in this castle. The simple desire for her to be happy — for the light in this bleak darkness to be free. He'll do whatever it takes to see her smile. Even if it gives him a hundred times as many scars as she has.

Vanitas reaches up, unconsciously ghosting his fingers against the lowest of the bullet wounds. The one that's just above the low rise of her top. The touch makes Aqua turns on her heel. Her gaze locks onto his beautiful sapphire eyes and suddenly she wishes she could teach him how to live without her.

She'll only bring him to ruin. This she knows.

Aqua attempts to say his name, to tell him to hurry and leave the room, when her voice cracks and breaks. Vanitas raises a brow. "Aqua?"

Dropping to her knees is the least she can do. Vanitas stares at her with concern in the depths of his eyes. He just doesn't know what he can do. That is aside from what she's done for him when he felt small all those instances in the past.

Vanitas scoots to the end of the bed and pulls her forward, enveloping her in his arms. Her face presses against his t-shirt and she can't help but pinch her eyes shut. She refuses to cry. Yet she does remain still and let the warmth from this frail human wrap around her.

Her own arms circle around his waist. It's only then that he knows he's doing the right thing. That she won't be upset with him when he presses one hand to her shoulder and the other to the back of her. Running fingers through her short tresses, Vanitas hurts. Only because she does. He's so angry he could spit fire and rip apart the one that's made her so sad.

Of course he'll learn later on just what the cause was and who did it. Craving revenge for her darkens him. But for that one moment he's simply a boy that cares so deeply for the woman that's taken care of him. Just a human that wants the person beside him to be happy and live.


Dear Aqua,

I know you won 't understand what's going on for a very long time. All I can ask is that when someone takes my place and wishes to befriend you, trust in them. Whoever they are will be able to help you and that boy if he manages to make it through the training.

Whatever you do, don 't believe a word those murderers say. They want to break your spirit. And if they can't do that then you'll be a pawn to be used to hurt Vanitas later.

If you can escape before my replacement arrives then I can rest in peace. If not, please remain strong and remember only one name should the time come — Eraqus.

I have no regrets aside from not helping you get that boy out sooner. I can only hope you both and my sister can forgive me. Thank you for everything you 've done my dear friend.