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the merry-go-round of summer

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“Why are we doing this again?” 

Naminé shot Vanitas a fond, if exasperated, smile before turning back to the sketchbook delicately balanced on her lap. “Because we promised Sora we’d go.”

“No,” Vanitas scoffed. “ You two promised Sora we’d go.” He pointed an accusatory finger at both  Naminé and Ryuu, perched beside her and watching her color. “I had no say in whatever garbage you’ve signed us up for.”

A smile to match  Naminé’s quirked Ryuu’s lips. “You missed a spot here, Nami,” he whispered with a point to a small white space in a sea of blue on the paper.  Naminé muttered a small thank you and shifted her colored pencil to the blank spot while Ryuu turned to Vanitas. “You didn’t get a vote because we knew you’d say no, and we outnumbered you anyway.”

Wha- “Then you shouldn’t have made me come along anyway!” Vanitas sputtered, hands thrown in the air. On cue, the Gummi Ship rocked and swayed as if irritated along with Vanitas, and he pretended that it was absolutely for that reason and not because Sora had just deployed the landing gear. “I could have been training back home while you two frolic around doing nonsense.” The Land of Departure being home was still a foreign concept, one that didn’t roll from his tongue easily, but it’s the closest thing to a home he had. It would have to do.

“We promised Sora we’d all go,”  Naminé repeated. She picked up a green colored pencil next. “So we had to make you come along.”

“No one’s fooled by your Tough Guy Hates Fun act right now anyway,” Ryuu chuckled. “You barely put up a fuss when Sora said it was time to go.”

And- Well- Okay. He had Vanitas there.

But being contrary was Vanitas’s whole shtick, so he crossed his arms with a huff and flopped back in his seat right as the ship rocked again to land. Barely a minute later, Sora called out a gleeful “we’re heeeeere!” from the cockpit before a rush of air accompanied the opening of the ship’s hatch.

The first thing Vanitas felt was heat. And humidity. He should not have worn a hoodie.

In Vanitas’s defense though, it’d been a long, long time since he’d set foot on The Destiny Islands, and last time he’d been wholly uninterested with the weather and more concerned with baiting Ventus back to the badlands. Now though, when Vanitas was here for a boardwalk fair at Sora’s insistence with their large group of Keyblade wielders, the sticky heat hit him full force. Yeah, the hoodie was a bad idea.

Still, he followed  Naminé and Ryuu out of the ship with minimal grumbling, squinting as Sora barreled past them to greet the rest of their group currently disembarking from the second Gummiship. Lea was already half-yelling jokes and banter at Roxas and Xion, and the others chattered along with each other as they all followed Sora, Riku, and Kairi’s lead to the main island boardwalk. It’s not a long walk there, and Vanitas wasn’t really sure what he expected to find when they got there but-

“It looks like Disney Town .”

It sure wasn’t that .

The boardwalk was decked out in lights, sounds, and smells, a whirling buzz of people and carnival rides and wow okay this was a lot. Vanitas blinked as he tried to take it all in, and a quick glance at his companions showed they were in a similar state.  Naminé had brought one slim hand up to shield her eyes from the colorful lights, meaning Ryuu looked almost puzzled by the sights before him.

“Hey!” Vanitas barked with a poke to Ryuu’s shoulder. “Why do you look so surprised? Shouldn’t you have some memories of this kinda thing?”

Ryuu batted Vanitas’s hand away with a grimace. “Yeah, memories . And unclear ones at that. This is… way more than I was expecting.”

Naminé hums in response. “It is… quite a lot.”

Warm, heavy hands thump onto Vanitas and Ryuu’s shoulders as Sora pops up in between them. “It’s a lot of fun, I promise! Just take it piece by piece and do whatever you want!”

A scoff leaves Vanitas’s mouth. “I’m not here to have fun . I’m just making sure these two-” he jerks his thumb at  Naminé and Ryuu “- don’t get lost or something stupid like that.”

“Riiiiight,” Sora drawls with a smirk. He pats Vanitas’s shoulder with another thump. “Well, have fun with that! We’ll all meet back here later tonight so keep an eye on your phones!” And with that, Sora bounds ahead to link arms with Riku and Kairi as the three head into the fair itself, the rest of the Guardians of Light trailing after them.

The remaining trio hesitate, all three staring with squinted eyes at the whirling lights and taking in the corny music accented by the delighted screams of children. 

Ryuu speaks first. “Do we really have to?”

“We did promise Sora…”  Naminé replies, but her heart definitely doesn’t seem in it. She’s always preferred quieter, calmer spaces, quickly overwhelmed by excessive noise and sensation. Vanitas frowns at the bit of nervousness he sees on her face and meets Ryuu’s teal eyes in a glance. The near protective determination he finds there rivals his own (not that he’d admit it), and so Vanitas finds his decision made for him.

“Well then we might as well stop wasting time and fulfill our end of the bargain,” he sighs, adding a little extra dramatic flair to it. “C’mon, hopefully the others will wear themselves out early and we can go home.” Vanitas stuffs his hands in the pocket of his gray hoodie and trudges forward, his combat boots clomping loudly on the wooden planks of the boardwalk.

“If it gets too much we can always find a quiet spot to rest,” Ryuu assures  Naminé as the two of them follow along. “And we don’t have to ride anything you don’t want to.”

“No,” Vanitas calls over his shoulder. “ She doesn’t have to ride anything she doesn’t want to. You are riding everything in this place just so I can laugh at you.”

The little huff he gets in return causes a smirk to slant on Vanitas’s face. “We’ll see about that!” Ryuu snips. “First one to turn down a ride loses!”

“You’re on, nerd!” Vanitas laughs back. “Now hurry up or we’ll sit at the damn entrance the entire night!”

Vanitas takes off in a jog, laughing as he hears Ryuu and  Naminé scramble to run after him, and soon the three of them are in the thick of the lights and sound. It’s not as bad as Vanitas had expected, and even  Naminé seems to be charmed by the festivities from her position sandwiched between Vanitas and Ryuu. Her mouth forms a little “o” as she marvels at the games and food stalls and rides. It’s sweet, if Vanitas wanted to be honest, which he doesn’t. Not really.

Still, it’s… pretty sweet.

“Alright, what first?” he asks, hands shoved back in his pocket. There’s a roller coaster he’s personally dying to drag Ryuu onto, and the ferris wheel seems tame enough for  Naminé. Was she afraid of heights though? Vanitas bit his lip as he tried to remember any signs of fear from her when-

“How about the carousel?”  Naminé quietly suggests.

Vanitas turns to look in the direction of her pointed finger, and- ah. Yeah. That’s definitely  Naminé’s speed. All cutesy music and a colorful menagerie of saddled animals statues ready for new riders. It’s very Disney Town to him, but he can manage it at least once.

“Sure,” he shrugs. “I’ll go get us tickets.”

A few minutes and an exchange of munny later, Vanitas meets Ryuu and  Naminé in the carousel line. He tries to look bored as Ryuu and  Naminé chatter happily about the carnival and how  Naminé likes it, but there’s something like warmth in his chest, something that he’s learning is maybe the feeling of being safe. Of being wanted. Of being accepted.

So, when it’s their turn to hop on the carousel, he hands over a few tickets and follows his friends to a small grouping of animals with minimal complaint.  Naminé chooses a neon yellow seahorse for the ride, while Ryuu picks a white tiger. Vanitas, for his part, thinks a standard horse will do, even if it is bright blue, because it’s near the other two and he doesn’t particularly care either way. He hops atop the statued creature and chatters aimlessly with Ryuu and  Naminé until the little bell rings to signal the start of the ride.

Instantly,  Naminé is charmed as the seahorse rises up and the tinny carousel music plays over the speakers. Ryuu laughs at the gleefully startled expression on her face, and even Vanitas can’t help a small smile that he tries to hide in the hood of his jacket.  Naminé giggles her way through the rest of the ride, commenting “It’s so much more fun than in Sora’s memories!” as the carousel starts to slow.

They ride the carousel two more times before moving on. Vanitas can’t bring himself to be too miffed about it.

The next couple hours are spent alternating between challenging Ryuu to increasingly dizzying rides, joining  Naminé on something calmer, or eating way too much fried fair food than is strictly healthy. They cycle through each attraction, some multiple times, before  Naminé finally calls it quits on Ryuu and Vanitas’s challenge after they both leave the fifth consecutive ride of the roller coaster swaying on their feet. 

There’s more food and a few attempts at the carnival games (Ryuu wins a goldfish at one, and Vanitas laughs at the confused look he gives it), but soon Vanitas can tell his companions are feeling the lights and sound and sights a little too intensely, just like he is. All three of them had spent much of their time in darkness and quiet, and even though the fair was more fun than Vanitas expected, it was still.. A lot.

Ryuu speaks up about it first. “Looks like the others are still going at it,” he murmurs with a quick glance at his phone, careful not to disrupt the tiny fish he held in a plastic bag. “Why don’t we go down to the beach for a while?”

At that suggestion,  Naminé perks up. “Sure! It’ll be nice to go to a beach one our own for once.”

“What, like a summer vacation?” Vanitas mumbles under his breath, but he follows the other two towards the nearest beach entrance anyway. They walk a ways from the fair until the noise starts to fade into a background hum. The sun is starting to sink below the horizon when  Naminé finally says they’ve found a good spot. 

“We should start a bonfire!” she chirps. “That always seemed so much fun! I bet we can find enough driftwood if we look.”

It takes fifteen minutes and a brief war as Ryuu and Vanitas throw pieces of wood at each other, but in the end they manage to gather just enough driftwood to light with a fire spell to create humble fire. The islands never really get cold, Vanitas knows that even without the extra memories, but he has to admit that warmth of the fire still feels nice. It reminds him of that safe feeling from earlier, only now it’s more intense, more concentrated.

Truthfully, Vanitas hasn’t been with the Guardians for very long, and much of the time he has spent has been taken up by reacclimating to being alive . Even more of that time has been spent with Ryuu and  Naminé nearby, the three of them naturally drifting together as they all struggle to find their place in the worlds. Even more truthfully, Vanitas has noticed that since he’s been back, since he’s found himself roped into this unlikely trio, the world seems a little less frustrating and a little more… bearable.

He’s still loud and abrasive and angers quickly, but the anger always dies down faster, the desire to irritate never gets as intense, and the weird voids he’s always felt in his heart don’t seem as deep and unpassable anymore. For the first time in his existence, Vanitas thinks he actually has a couple of friends, a couple of people who want to be around him and who he wants to be around too.

He has no plans to tell them but it’s… nice. Really, really nice.

The fire continues to crackle at his feet when Vanitas notices  Naminé and Ryuu on the other side of the fire huddled around the little goldfish he’d won earlier, and when he tunes into the conversation he hears them discussing supplies they’ll need for the little creature. His first instinct is to pitch in with some snide, teasing remark, but right now Vanitas is pleasantly worn out from the fair and comfortably warm, even in his hoodie. 

And, maybe he’s feeling pretty damn safe in the knowledge that he might finally have a place to belong. Maybe .

“You two are gonna give this fish the frilliest tank in existence with what you’re planning,” he quips, scooting around the fire to join their huddle. “This guy needs something intimidating and powerful to show he means business.”

“Vanitas!”  Naminé laughs. “He’s a goldfish. I don’t think he really cares what his tank looks like.”

“But I do,” Ryuu chimes in with a smirk. “And I definitely don’t trust your decorating skills, Vanitas.”

Vanitas brings a hand to his heart in mock-offense. “You wound me, Ryuu! You haven’t even heard my idea yet!”

“Don’t need to.”

“Hey!”

The sun finishes its descent as their bicker and laugh together on the island beach, and Vanitas thinks that for a trio that’s never really had a summer vacation before, this is a pretty damn good start.