Kingdom Hearts II

Water So Pure

By LuckyLadybug

Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! It was directly inspired by the prompt "Holy; to bathe in water so pure..." at the new 20 Heartbeats community at Livejournal. I took it quite literally. It takes place a few months after the events of I Don't Feel Enough for You to Cry. It's a very subtle piece, with some blatant fanservice, and hopefully what I wanted to get across will come through.

Even though Hollow Bastion was most known for the little town grown around the foot of the now-abandoned castle, and the blue canyons surrounding it, there were other quaint and beautiful locations in that world. Somewhere on its opposite side were many woods and several accompanying villages, where those who had "fallen into ruin" were wont to reside in order to be away from the general population. That was not the sole forested area; there was another that was much closer to the main city.

Deep within its leafy sanctuary was a hidden pool, rumored to have mystical powers. It was said that those who bathed therein would be given a keen sense of tranquility, and that any wounds or scars they possessed would be healed, due to the purity of the water. Oftentimes, small animals or birds would scamper about and play on its shores, seeming very peaceful indeed.

Now, late at night, the creatures were slumbering at their various homes, and the moonlight sparkled upon the gentle liquid. Even when darkness had fallen, the depths appeared as clear and smooth as glass, or as a diamond. Gentle ripples upon the surface testified as to the presence of a being, even before the form came into view.

From a distance, through the dense brush and trees that shielded the little body of water, the figure's well-built upper torso could be seen. Slowly it bent down, scooping up some of the water in its strong hands before pouring it over its masculine chest. The pool's contents reached to his waist, when standing upon the bottom, but already he had dunked the rest of his body several times. His face was wet, the bangs plastered against his cheeks and his ears.

Floating around him were the drenched ends of his hair, which, strange to some, gained his knees when he was not in the water. The moonlight touched upon each lock, each strand, making its rich silver hue all the more pronounced, and almost gossamer. But despite the unusual color, it was not proof that this man had lived for quite some time. It was simply the natural pigmentation that he had always possessed.

Physically, and chronologically, he was not that old---certainly not beyond thirty years. But when one looked into his eyes---bright green with the color of emeralds, or of the sea---it was obvious that he had experienced enough to be decades elder to his current age. He carried on his shoulders not the weight of worlds, or of even one world, but of his own, past mistakes. And that is a burden that can be many times heavier than the globe Atlas is rumored to hold.

Even if his dark deeds did not always loom in his mind and heart, he held a constant reminder of them---what he considered a deep and lasting curse. Gracing his powerful back were three deep blue wings, of varying size and stamina. Several years previous, when he had died the first time, he had been restored to life again---with these extra appendages as part of his payment.

The largest sprouted from his right shoulder, and unlike the other two, it had never been retractable. It was partially folded at the moment, but even if it was entirely unfurled it would be difficult to pinpoint the exact location where dragon's claws had torn into it the past year. It had healed well, the feathers growing back in their usual thick clusters, but there were still occasions when it pained him---generally when the weather was ill.

There was not a wing opposite it, for reasons still unknown to him. Perhaps, it was to give a further appearance of being lop-sided and unbalanced. It had certainly taken him many months to master the ability of flying, especially with only one wing. Most of the time, he utilized the smaller wings below it to assist him with navigation.

The other two added limbs protruded from his lower back, and were usually kept under his coat, when he did not have them withdrawn into his body. But he had not taken them in for the last few months.

The left wing was perfectly normal, and he had it spread to its full length. It was rare that the last feet of the lower wings did not reach the ground, but now this one was raised, stretched across the top of the water. Every now and then, a feather came loose and would skim the crystalline surface as if it was a miniature sailing vessel.

The appendage opposite to it seemed weakened. A third of the way down, it had folded over itself. It had been crushed the previous year, and even though it had recovered enough that it could still be useful, it had never regained all of its previous strength. Mostly he could only implement it in gliding for short distances---though on good days it was strong enough to flap again.

He spread all three of the wings wide, which would have made quite a spectacle if any other sentient creature had seen him. Flapping them with a swift motion, he sent a shower of rain in all directions.

He smirked to himself in a self-depreciating manner. Why was it that he had come here in the first place? He had never believed that his wings would be taken from him, since it seemed to be his current superiors' will that he keep them. But maybe he had thought that his damaged wing would be entirely mended, or that the scars on his body would vanish.

Most of them had already faded. But sometimes, if the light was right, the remnants of three deep slashes on his chest would be made manifest.

He shuddered involuntarily. More of the dragon's work. He could still feel the talons as they had raked through his skin, reaching the bones of his ribs. He had never known true pain, he decided, until he had been mauled by that beast.

Maybe he had wanted the waters to soften the horrific memories he held of that experience, when he had died the second time. Not that he believed anything could lessen such ghastly recollections. His physical anguish was probably something else he would always be figuratively stabbed with, as well as the mental and emotional agony he carried from both that treacherous episode and from all the times he had deliberately hurt others.

But somehow, no matter what he had done, Zack had always been there for him. It still bewildered him, how his former compatriot in the military could continue to care about him. He had walked the fine line between anger and hatred, and had fallen onto the wrong side of it. And perhaps worst of all, he had taken those feelings of abhorrence and had channeled them unfairly through his sword. He had believed that his rage and hatred made him stronger---but it had been his downfall in the end.

Of course, Zack had always made it perfectly clear that he disapproved of his ally's actions, and when possible, he had done whatever he could to defy them. But at the same time, he had always let the other know that he would remain a friend, that he would never give up on the silver-haired man, and that it was because of the devotion he still held that he could not stand by and allow the darkness to engulf someone so dear to him. It was largely Zack's influence that had caused his heart to begin to soften once more.

That had not stopped him from meeting his demise in the past, but sometimes he wondered if it was responsible for him having been sent back. Perhaps his supervisors had determined that since someone such as Zack still cared, there was still some level of hope for such a hopeless case. He would most likely never know. But it did not matter much, anyway. What mattered was that he was, indeed, back.

He sighed. Maybe he had come here just wanting tranquility after the frustrating day he had endured. It seemed that he and Cloud had been riling each other with more success than was even usual, and that was not a small feat. They got along badly enough as it was, though they had been desperately trying to be more civil with each other since Cloud had learned of his rival's friendship with Zack. Sometimes they managed. Sometimes, they did not.

Cloud was such an irritating and unwilling pupil. Though his teacher was not any more compliant. They were both misfits, actually---thrown together through a strange twist of fate.

He cupped his hands again, reaching into the water and withdrawing enough to splash into his face. He was assigned to help Cloud overcome his inner darkness, but was that even possible without first eliminating his own inner darkness? He did not still loathe others, but he loathed himself.

Smirking, he tilted his head backwards to gaze up into the leafy roof above him. The moon twinkled between branches, illuminating his dripping face. Could he ever learn not to despise himself? That seemed too impossible. He always felt so wretched. Still, perhaps it was expected of him. Perhaps the judges who had sent him back even found it needful that he should forgive himself.

He stifled a grim chuckle. That could never happen.

He walked forward now, to the smooth marble steps leading out of the pool. He had been here long enough. Slowly he stepped out onto the velvety grass, again spreading his wings and then bringing them close to him. They twitched and fluttered rapidly, the excess water spilling down into the green blades. Then he gathered his hair, wringing it out as well, before reaching for a towel he had draped over a low-hanging branch.

As he began to dry his upper torso, he idly glanced at the lower right wing. He smirked again when he saw it curled over itself. Of course, these problems would not be corrected. He had never actually believed the rumors about this place. It was serene, a quiet haven from the outside world, but not anything more.

Oh well . . . at least he was no longer furious, as he had been when he had arrived. It was time to go back and see if he could salvage things with Cloud. After all, he did not have much choice. He was bound to the other. It was not an especially pleasant existence, but at least he was alive. And Zack was still around as well. That was something that meant quite a bit to him.

He finished applying the towel and took down the clean clothes he had brought. As he slowly pulled on his shorts and his trousers, his hand accidentally ran over the scar on his left side. It had not faded as much as the slashes in his chest, perhaps because while recovering he had occasionally tried, out of habit, to roll onto that side to sleep. And whenever he had attempted it, the pain had pierced him again and he had been forced to abort the effort. But the damage had been done. It was still plainly visible, and always would be.

Straightening up, he reached behind him for the leather suspender straps and brought them over his shoulders, crisscrossing them on his chest.

As he was adjusting the decorative belts on his boots, a sound in the brush made him start. What had been awakened? Was it dangerous? Instinctively he reached for the Masamune as he looked up. A fox darted out into the open, and upon seeing him, quickly fled into the next bush. It had apparently been as startled as the human it had discovered. Shaking his head, the silver-haired man released the hilt of the sword and propped it once more against the tree trunk.

Grabbing his red-trimmed coat last, he held it behind him and maneuvered the uppermost wing into the hole he had cut for it. Then he let it slide onto his shoulders as he pushed his arms into the skintight sleeves. The lower wings poked out from under the coat's flaring ends, hanging down on the grass the way they usually did when he did not have a reason to raise them off the ground.

Upon wrapping the old clothes in the towel, tucking it under his arm, and taking hold of his sword, he was ready to leave. Pushing through the branches and bushes the way he had come, he began to make his way back to Hollow Bastion. He could easily teleport, if he wished, but he had decided to walk.

Heh, he thought to himself, maybe the water did have a certain power after all. Maybe, it had as much power as one was willing to give it. He had wanted tranquility, and he had received it because he had carried a belief that he would locate it here. But though he also wanted his wing to be normal again, no amount of mind over matter could restore it.

Perhaps this was another lesson that he was supposed to learn. Some things could never be altered, once executed.

He smirked up at the star-filled sky. He should have learned that long ago. Maybe more of Zack's optimism had leaked into his soul than he had realized.