My only warning is a tiny bit of sexual situations in the middle....Sex, is what I mean, of course.

The Dreams of the Heart

Sometimes when Sora sleeps, he drowns.

He dives headfirst into immense bodies of water, not unlike the dreams he's had before. Only his legs don't work and his lungs don't breathe. He merely floats, suspended as light curls in enticing streams around him, slithering past his body are bands of incomprehensible text, neat scrolls of some ancient language from lifetimes ago.

There's no sound in this world, only an all-encompassing silence. A fleeting thought crosses his mind, something he can never remember back in his own body, but suddenly the shore is rushing forward, wet sand sleeting under his shoes and he breathes again for the first time, and it hurts.

The sand is black where he stands and he knows he's been here before. Only it's strikingly different than he remembered.

"What...?" His first words come out like a gasp.

"You weren't meant to come back." A woman, sheathed in the pale moonlight, speaks. Her speech both smooth and alive, and at the same time, not. The rocks form a fortress behind her, cracked with tendrils of electric light.

"Where is this?" Sora asks, the water lapping silently against his ankles.

Blue eyes watch him carefully and the woman sits. Her legs covered in dark stockings with metal warrior's boots on her feet. "Somewhere you don't need to be."

There's an aura about her, something that begs age and experience, and insinuates an expertise of power, especially one in magic.

"It's easy to lose yourself here, Sora." She warns, voice suddenly low and foreboding. "Easier still to escape. You simply have to know the way."

"You know my name?" Sora almost feels like his words are being written for him, like they've been rehearsed. They seem to materialize in his mouth and spill out as if on cue. He joins her on the ground, curious now.

She smiles, kindly. "Everyone knows your name."

Sora can sense a certain sensation from her as she lightly touches the back of his hand, her fringe of ocean-colored hair falling over her gentle eyes.

The keyblade

"Try to remember, Sora. Where are you right now?"

"I'm at home, on my island." Sora feels a pulse of a foreign pressure pulling the back of his mind, pulling away from the dark beach and his consciousness fades as smooth as glass on glass. "In my room." With each word, he pulls farther away from himself. "I was...sleeping."

A glimpse in her eyes and it becomes clear that it's the woman and her easy magic pushing him away, just from something as simple as a touch. She is far more advanced at sorcery than any of the other wizards and witches Sora's met in his time. She makes it look like child's play.

"Wait--" He protests. There's many questions he needs to ask first. How do you know my name? Why are you here? Why do you have the keyblade?

Who are you?

"Hush now, Sora. It's time to forget." The woman commands gently, her hand closing over his eyes. "Let go of this memory. Forget this place. Forget me. And take nothing back with you." It's like no spell Sora had ever encountered before, and he slips fast, breathless and as quick as death into nothingness, hearing only her last word as he fades. "Sleep."

When Sora wakes, he feels grim and his mind is painfully clear.

Despite her efforts, Sora remembers the dream two days later.

It's hard at first, only fragments and static come back when he tries, but he can clearly recall the soft lines of her face, the brightness of her eyes in the dark. The reminiscent hum of the keyblade reacting to her touch with the familiarity of a relative, feeling the presence of another keyblade like a brother or sister.

Sora consorts with Riku first, only because, besides the King, he's the only other experienced wielder he knows of. He would understand the complexity of dreams and their hidden meanings, things like that he'd always had more ability in interpreting.

"It's like a dream, I guess." Sora frets over a fraying band on his pants, trying to decipher his thoughts, but they're everywhere at once and still muddled by the haze of sleep. Riku's silence is patient and his eyes contemplative. "But not. I mean, she's more real than that."

"She?" Riku's gaze drops to Sora's fiddling hands and his fingers freeze, curling immediately into his palms.

"The woman on the beach. She seemed like she was stuck there, and when I talked to her, she knew my name. She said 'everyone' did."

Riku shrugs, though through his bangs, Sora notices his eyebrow raise just slightly.. "Sounds like just a weird dream to me."

"Yeah, but I've had dreams before, remember? And those were real, they came true."

"Are you actually worried right now, Sora?" Despite his easy tone, Riku looks him over with underlying scrutiny. Sora licks his lips and keeps his eyes on the distance, even when Riku's hand claps lightly against his back. "Don't get all bent out of shape, it's probably nothing."

"Maybe." Sora insists, stubborn.

"She's pretty, huh?" There is accusation in his playful words and Sora falters, nearly listing off the trunk he'd been sitting on. Riku shifts a little more comfortably against the tree with his arms crossed over his chest.

"Wha—Wait, what does that have to do with anything?" Sora flushes, bringing up an arm, half shielding his face. Riku chuckles.

"I just don't think you'd care so much if she wasn't." He says and Sora's just waiting for the schoolyard "You like her" teasing, but it doesn't come, not exactly. Instead, Riku just smiles knowingly, and it's almost embarrassing enough.

"It's not like that." Sora defends, weakly, and it really is true, because she was just a figment of his imagination, really and whether or not she was pretty had absolutely nothing to do with it.

"Of course not." Riku says finally, placating enough that Sora let his shielding arm drop back to his lap. "Dreams are like that, you know. It's not a big deal. Every guy has 'em." He shrugs and offers Sora another smile, more supporting than teasing and Sora can't help but think he's got the wrong idea.

"It's not like that." He repeats, more firmly.

"No, I get it. Lonely girl on a dark beach. Good dream."

"No, you don't get it." Sora wheezes, turning inexplicably red. He really should have more control over this type of thing, but alas, Riku has an ability to fluster him like nobody else can. Sora really can not have him assuming such things about him. "We were just talking. Barely."

"I know." Riku says, eyebrows rising to arch in a mild surprise at Sora's desperation.

"I don't think you do." He stares down his friend with more intensity than necessary, but he figures, if nothing else, it will get his point across.

Riku breaks their little staring contest first, pushing off the tree with a light laugh. "Is this really how you want to spend your Saturday, Sora? 'Cause we could literally do this all day."

"Fine with me." Sora says, still defensive.

Riku snorts. "You're such a kid...Come on, let's get some lunch. This sun is killing me." His first words are said under his breath, but before Sora has the chance to protest, Riku is already crossing the bridge back to the main island.

The next time Sora dives, he knows exactly where he's going.

The memory still fresh in his mind, he bypasses the stream and comes out on the edge of the dark beach; the moon still half-mast in the sky, casting his shadow in a wide arch up the sand.

The beach is vacant, and Sora, having come here with purpose, feels almost crestfallen. It's not like he'd ever had any luck remembering dreams anyway.

"Your heart is stronger than I anticipated." The figment, the woman, is back, standing in his peripheral vision, arms folded delicately over her chest.

"You have the keyblade" Sora says immediately, before she can send him away again, and she seems startled, blinking wide eyes slowly.

"Yes." Her response is quiet, defensive. She turns and walks back toward the rocks.

"It's not just a piece of metal, Sora. The keyblade is many things, many of them great, all of them powerful. You don't know even half of its abilities." She continues, " You are so young."

"I'm not that young, you know." Sora follows, curious as always. "So? Teach me."

"I'm not a teacher, Sora." Her words are clipped, exasperated, and Sora falls back a step.

He changes the subject, bringing up the question of her identity again. "So, you gonna tell me your name?"

"I don't think that would be appropriate."She sighs, seating herself on the broad side of the rock. She'd changed from the person Sora met the night before, tired now, her patience noticeably thin.

"What? Whaddaya mean?" His inquiry goes without answer. Sora watches her carefully, arms folded under his chin. Her eyes never stray from the ocean. "How did you get here?" Sora asks softly, thoughtfully. "You're all alone."

The woman's expression shifts thinly and Sora grimaces, knowing he'd said too much.

"Time to go now." Her hand reaches for his face abruptly and more out of desperation than actual fear, Sora dodges backwards, the keyblade forming habitually in his hand.

"But...I'm not ready yet." Conviction fails him, and his blade is still raised defensively when she descends from the rock, shoes silent in the black sand, her own keyblade slim geometric steel in her right hand.

She strikes fast, leaving little room for hesitation, and Sora counters, reminded of his first encounter with Roxas, of the ruthlessness and ferocity of which he attacked, only the woman's expression doesn't reflect any of his Nobody's animosity. Just a weak frown of disappointment. Sora can feel her eyes critically judging his stance, his readiness. Her blade pointedly testing his strength, and when she withdraws, he can tell she is not entirely thrilled with his performance.

"Don't come back here." She says finally, back turned, ocean-blue hair brushing the tops of her shoulders.

"But--"

"Don't argue. Just go."

That mystical pressure returns and, once again, Sora feels the edges of the dark shore slip away like a fine powder in the wind.

"There are so few wielders left." She makes a quick motion with her hand, a dismissive wave, and her keyblade retracts away in a flash of light. "You can't stay here. The longer you do, it risks your heart."

"How long have you been here?" Sora put his keyblade away, finally, now that it was clear danger had passed.

She turned her head enough that only her profile was visible, smiling again for the first time since Sora arrived in this place that was part dream-world, part-reality. "Long enough."

Her form falls away and Sora wakes, once again.

"Wake up already, Sora. I know you can do better than this."

Sora licks sweat from his top lip, tasting more than that, a tiny hint of blood on his tongue. It was a bad block, he knew that even without Riku's criticism. A sloppy feint and a poor defense. He'd never been that careless before, even when training under Leon in Hollow Bastion.

"Sorry." He mutters, taking Riku's outstretched hand, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet.

"It's cool." Riku assures him, though his expression looks doubtful. He and Kairi exchange a look over his shoulder. "Clear your head, we'll do it again."

Sora prepares his stance again, defensive. He knows this, he knows how Riku fights. Blocking and countering should be as simple as breathing, yet still, his mind strays to the mystery woman on the beach.

His next counter is better, albeit still slow with distraction, a fact that he knows Riku noticed. Thankfully, he suggests a break that Sora grudgingly accepts. His arms ache in protest once the steady weight of his keyblade tapers away and he wilts back onto the sand, legs stretched outward and exhausted.

"What's up?" Riku is at his side, kneeled down. There's a foreign emotion there in his eyes, worry, anxiety, but he keeps it hidden behind an almost perfect mask. Tensions are high now that they had received the bottle; each day is just waiting now. Waiting and training until the King will someday come calling on them once again.

Sora tries to pretend the anticipation isn't effecting him, but it's not as if it isn't showing already. The fatigue, the strain and stress wearing him down and building up and wearing back down again.

Sora tells him he hasn't been getting enough sleep lately. That it's nothing to worry about. Riku doesn't look convinced, but he nods and advises Sora to go to bed early tonight.

He does.

This time, she's not alone.

There's a man with her and when Sora arrives, he falls into a respectful bow, directed at her, not him. He's unfamiliar, yet somehow not, and old memories, old pain brings up the name (Ansem. No wait—not Ansem) Xehanort and Sora can't for the life of him figure out why, because in reality the two look nothing alike. This man is both dark and light, more dark than light, like the dark brown hair that frames a seemingly gentle face. And the woman seems to know him for she hesitantly touches his cheek and the man smiles, taking her hand in his, in a gesture of worship, almost.

"Master." His voice is a smooth tenor, underlying static making it inhuman, a recording. Fake. At the man's words, she yanks her hand away as if scalded and with a quick, violent swipe of her arm, his form disintegrates like a hill of marbles. She hisses out a breath, fingers shakily covering her mouth. Diamond tears forming in the corners of her eyes.

"Aqua?" Sora says automatically, in a voice not quite his own, but still his, and he isn't quite sure how he knows this, but it's like he knew it his whole life. He kneels at her side—her on her knees in the sand—offering a comforting embrace.

He doesn't even feel the pressure this time as she forces him out, off the beach and worlds and worlds away in a matter of seconds, where he wakes in his bedroom.

His floor is still sand, and his ceiling miles of dark sky as his mind struggles to catch up with body. It's torn in two, stuck here, stuck there. All the while a voice is ordering, "Go back, go back. It's Aqua. Go BACK."

Sora fitfully falls back into sleep.

"Aqua!" It's the first sound out of his mouth, and then the attack comes out of nowhere, a keyblade swung upward in wide vicious arch; Sora barely blocks with his forearm, stumbling back a step, summoning his own weapon in instinctive panic and a frantic need to put distance between them.

The blood feels cold on his skin but the pain that should come never comes as his muscles jar with a force of another unexpected attack, the snick of metal on metal sliding together, his struggle to keep up with her. Aqua fights like raw lightning, fast and hard and unforgiving, nothing like Riku. She's unpredictable in her movements, furious in her attacks. Fearless and agile.

"Wait, Aqua--"

"I told you leave!" She raves, pushing him back with each strike, sparks firing up between them. Sora can't fight back, something tells him not to, the voice from before (VenRoxasVen) tells him to let her be angry. Let her have just this one thing. "Stop bringing them back to me!"

"Aqua--"

"Every time you come back, they come with you," She knocks Sora backwards, on his back in the sand, the waves crash behind his head. "Ven, Terra." Aqua takes a second to steady her breath, lowering her keyblade. It hangs in her hand. "They come back."

She growls, quietly, gripping the hilt of her keyblade with waning anger. "You have to go. And I mean it this time, do not return."

"Wait," Sora breathes, grimacing at the slick of blood on his forearm. Aqua frowns, really focusing on him for the first time. She looks almost guilty. The cut pulls closed and the dark ink-black of his blood fades away. "I need you to teach me."

"No." Whatever guilt on her face disappears briskly, staunch intensity taking its place. "You cannot learn."

"What? Why not?" Sora sits up in outrage, keyblade left forgotten at his hip. "He called you Master, didn't he? A keyblade master? That means you have to--"

Sora jumps as the tip of her blade met his nose, extended so far he had to move away from it. "I don't have to do a damn thing." Aqua snaps, breathing through her teeth. "And I'm not a master, so don't call me that."

Her eyes drift down to Sora's discarded weapon and she retracts her own, letting it disappear back to its own realm. "The keyblade is not a tool, Sora. Don't just leave it there."

Sora blinks, reaching for it, but Aqua beats him there.

"You cannot learn," Aqua begins, picking up his keyblade for him and extending its handle out towards him. "because you have such little respect for your blade."

Sora takes the hilt in his hand, but Aqua doesn't release it. "I--"

"The keyblade is a prideful and cavalier weapon. You can imagine it doesn't appreciate being left on the ground." She finally let go, allowing Sora to hold it on his own now. "Remember he chose you."

"Yeah." Sora watches his own reflection in the metal's surface, small and curved and blinking back at him with dubious eyes. "Sorry." He feels silly when he says it to the keyblade, but it practically hums in appreciation, vibrating lightly in his palm.

Aqua smiles, if only very slightly, folding her arms over her stomach. "Lucky for you, he has a sense of humor."

Sora mirrors her smile with more enthusiasm, his reflection looking back at him with cheerful eyes. "How do you know so much anyway?"

"I was trained to wield from a very young age. Something, sadly, you weren't able to take advantage of." She says, with pity. "There are many things, because you were self-taught, that you most likely won't ever learn how to master." She holds up her hand to halt his protest. "Even if I were to teach you."

"Oh." Sora gives his keyblade one last look before letting it rest back in its own world, watching it teleport away in a ray of quick light. "So you can't help me?" He can't help the disappointment that tinges his voice and Aqua grimaces, her jaw tight as she surveys the dark horizon of ocean meaningfully.

"I suppose I..." She begins, then amends, shaking her head. "No, you don't belong here. It's much too dangerous."

"It's not like I haven't been here before, you know." Sora says, insistent. Defiant. "And nothing happened to me that time either."

"Yes, I know. You and that other wielder." Aqua sighs quietly, remorse evident in her expression. "I wasn't here then."

Sora frowns, confused. "Well, how do you know that then?"

"This place doesn't have many inhabitants. It's only darkness." She explains. "It carries...memories of people, of places. That's what makes it so difficult to leave once you get stuck. It doesn't like to let go."

"So, you are stuck here?"

"It is kind of like limbo, except I don't believe I ever died. I'm just...trapped."

"But, if you can send me back, why can't you send yourself, too?"

Aqua shakes her head, sadly. Bitterly. "It doesn't work like that. You need someone on the outside, too. Someone to remember you and bring you out." Sora recalls Kairi's letter in the bottle and the door of light it created, clenching his teeth hopefully.

"What if I remember you?"

Aqua laughs, her mouth crooking sarcastically. "Do you love me?"

"Huh?" Sora blurts, startled. Aqua laughs again, a bit of dark humor there, before smiling apologetically.

"I told you it doesn't work that way. It takes a very strong bond."

Sora sighs, worrying his bottom lip with his teeth. Aqua watches him with an amused silence, waiting for him to give in. To apologize and say he can't save her. He swallows away whatever bit of nervousness is hanging around in his stomach, taking a few steps in her direction.

"Okay."

"Okay?" Aqua reflects, blinking in sheer surprise. Sora stands in front of her, perhaps a little too close, but to him, it was necessary.

"Aqua," He licks his lips hesitantly. "I...I love you."

"What? No!" She lightly shoves him back, becoming steadily more flustered by the second. "Stupid boy, I didn't say confess your love to me!"

"But you said--"

"That's not what I meant!" Aqua blushes, near hysterical. "Do you have any idea how much older I am? You were a baby when we first met, for worlds sake!"

"Oh," Sora coughs, feeling her own embarrassment rubbing off on him, his ears growing hot. Then her words registered. "Oh! That was you?"

"Yes!"

"I remember that." Sora smiles gently at the memory, all prior embarrassment forgotten. Aqua puffs out a heavy breath, exasperated, composing herself.

"I can teach you some—what I can, anyway. It's not much, but it'll help."

"Really?" Sora practically thrums with excitement, deciding to forgive Aqua's not-entirely-serious eye roll, if only because she finally agreed when she could've just as easily barred him from returning to this world.

"You've had some sword-training and basic magic lessons, which is a good start, for what it's worth. But you haven't been trained to use a keyblade. That's entirely different." Aqua balances herself on the edge of a boulder, several heads above Sora. He watches her carefully, knowing her abrupt method of attacking when he least expects her to.

His keyblade, usually quite a healthy weight in his right hand, feels just a fraction lighter than usual. "How is that different?"

"You have to prove yourself to your blade, Sora. You're not just its master, you're its partner. It is nothing without you, and you are nothing without it." Aqua holds her keyblade as if it were made of air, its steely exterior seemingly perfect for her.

"I wouldn't say 'nothing'." Sora mumbles, only to be ignored.

"You have to be in sync, you and her—or him," She amends, gesturing to his own blade. "Remind yourself that you're working together. You grow stronger together. It feels lighter now, doesn't it?"

Sora blinks. "Yeah. It does."

Aqua smiles, satisfied. "Good. Now," She switched her stance to a defensive one. "hit me."

"Ah," Riku grunts as his keyblade flips out of his hand, and Sora just barely contains his look of triumph, managing to stifle it considerably. "You've gotten a lot better." Riku admits, still smug, even in the face of defeat. It lessens Sora's victory only slightly.

"I've learned from the best." Sora says with a smile, keyblade resting like a breeze on his shoulder.

"Good." Riku summons his blade back to his outstretched hand. "'Cause that was just a warm-up. You're gonna need those lessons."

"Oh, so you're ready to lose again?"

Riku chuckles. "Not likely."

At 17, Sora finally grew into his own body, gaining that little bit of height he'd always been missing, nearly rivaling Riku at this point. It makes countering that much easier, giving him that extra strength it takes to throw him off balance. He's much more battle-capable now, more adequately equipped. More confident in his abilities.

Riku himself grew, as well, his stature becoming similar to that of Leon or Cloud the last time Sora had seen either them those couple of years ago, sturdy and strong and resilient, making him perfect sparring material.

Battles like these are much more frequent, becoming a daily routine, sometime twice a day now as the waiting for the King was coming down to the wire. They wait on a razor's edge, knowing it would be any day now. Not that Sora is wishing for it, but the feeling is still there, unfortunately.

Sora parries Riku's next move, laughing because it had become good exercise as well as second nature fighting like this. Thoughtless, effortless. His keyblade a constant and welcome presence in his heart. Thanks to Aqua.

Just as Sora is looking for any weak points in Riku's defense, the sky opens in a roar of engines, familiar sounds, visibly startling both of them.

It's a Gummi ship that banks on the beach on the farthest, more remote side of the play island, the King's seal emblazoned brightly on the door like a beacon. Sora blinks, at first in wonder, then excitement, somewhere hidden in all that, a grim realization.

Riku shares a look with him, suddenly serious. Sora nods, and Kairi hops down from where she was watching their match, following with a calm determination.

"Again?" Aqua smiles, gentle as always, her tone carrying a soft suggestion within it. "Haven't you learned enough already?"

"I need to be absolutely ready." Sora insists. "There's a lot resting on this last battle. I...I need to win."

Aqua traces the length of his keyblade with searching eyes. "It's changed." She notes with a fond, knowing smile.

"Yeah, I know." Sora can't help but grin, because the morphing of the keyblade's appearance meant that it really is his now. It transformed to fit him, and him alone.

"That's good." Aqua lightly touches the tip of his blade with her fingertips, feeling it thrum with power and energy, both kinetic and potential. "You're almost fully synced with him now."

"You're not going to summon your keyblade?" Sora says finally after waiting for several long expecting seconds.

Aqua shakes her head, sitting on a nearby rock, folding her hands in her lap. "You don't need this anymore. I'm done teaching you."

Sora feels a pang of disappointment, only for a moment, before dismissing his own weapon.

"Really?"

"You're as good now as you'll ever get." She shrugs. "There's nothing more for me to give."

"Oh." Sora swallows, opting to watch the ocean with her. The empty, empty ocean bordering an empty, empty beach. Abruptly, he grins, joining her on the rock. "Well, at least let me repay you then."

Aqua laughs, softly, her voice like bells. "What could possibly give me that would be any use here?"

Sora shrugs, leaning his weight on one arm, hovering just a bit too close. "Freedom." He says in a cool whisper and Aqua visibly shivers, recoiling away just slightly. Her eyes just a bit too wide.

"Don't be silly." She waves him off, dismissive. Though almost hesitant. Hopeful. "I'm still so much older than you."

"So? Like that matters to me." Despite her constant backing away, Sora continued to move forward, unperturbed. Unlike himself, Aqua hadn't aged since they met, her hair still the same length, brushing the very tops of her shoulders, face pretty and young, about 18 or 19 or so. Sora knows in reality she isn't quite that young anymore, but it hardly bothers him if he can't tell anyway.

"What do you think you're doing?"

Sora smirks. "I think I love you, Ms. Aqua."

"This again?" Aqua makes a quiet yelp as his mouth brushes her ear. She wedges her foot in between them, promptly shoving him off the rock. "You get away from me, you hormone-addled teenager."

Sora laughs from the ground, playful Sora again. "I really think I do. Y'know, I can get you off this beach if I wanted to."

"No, you can't. I told you it doesn't work like that."

"You said we had to have a strong bond." Sora shrugs. "I'd say we're pretty close."

"Oh, really?" Aqua peers down at him over the edge of the rock, resting her elbows on the edge. "What do you know about me, Sora? I mean, really know about me?"

Sora purses his lips, pretending to be in deep thought. "You're a keyblade master."

"And?" Clearly unimpressed with his answer, Aqua crosses her arms over each other, fixing him with a stern look. "Is that what you love about me? My title?"

"Well, you're a good teacher, too." Sora frowns, failing to understand where her sudden hostility was stemming from.

"Thanks." She bit out, rolling away from the edge of the rock and therefore, out of his line of vision.

"Hey," Sora got to his feet, brushing sand from his clothes. "I didn't mean it like that." He chews his lip. "It's just, you've done so much for me. Naturally, I wanna help you too."

Aqua lie on her back, staring straight up into the sky. The dark, starless sky. "You can't."

"I'm gonna fix everything, Aqua." He smiles, determined. "Even this—especially this. I promise."

"Heard that before." Aqua intones, blinking slowly.

"You're lonely without me, aren't you?"

"What?" Aqua snaps, her eyes narrowing in a quick glare.

Sora chuckles. "I think you are. I think you miss me when I'm not around."

She snorts. "I miss Terra." Sora frowns. "I miss Ven. Not you." She sighs. "I miss my old life. This isn't the way it was supposed to happen. We were all supposed to masters. Not just me. Not just me alone."

"It's not so bad, Aqua." Sora speaks, but his voice doesn't. His face makes an expression of sympathetic kindness. Aqua looks startled for a second, blinking questioningly at him, almost in wonder.

"Ven?"

"It really isn't so bad. I'm happy enough, here. That counts for something, right?" Ven's voice laughs outside of Sora's mouth. "I mean, I'm not alone. I've got Roxas, and he's...fun, to say the least."

"I'm glad you're okay." Aqua says, finally. Her eyes tear up and Sora reaches up to brush them away with his thumb when they fall.

"I'll get you out of here, Aqua." Sora nods with conviction. "One way or another."

"Stupid boy." She hisses, although she seems grateful, if only because he brought Ven—the real Ven—to her.

It is only for a brief moment, but Sora presses his lips to hers, softly, fully expecting a slap afterwards, knowing he deserves it anyway. She doesn't respond mostly, becoming rigid under his hands. It would be more disappointing if Sora hadn't have expected it already.

"Sorry," Sora chuckles, a little embarrassed. Aqua blinks at him, still partially lying on her back on the rock. She opens her mouth as if to say something, a hand descending carefully on her lips.

"You..." The rest of her sentence is a whisper. "...idiot."

"I should go. Got a big fight ahead of me in the morning, so..." He closes his eyes and prepares himself to wake; he only just learned how to do it on his own, so even on the rare occasion that Aqua does not send him away, he can still leave.

There's a sound, a "No," or "Wait," but Sora can't tell, the hand curled around the collar of his shirt is much too distracting, the fingers hook behind his neck, pulling him gently forward, the light cool of breath on his lips before contact. A kiss.

It begins slow, just her mouth on his, then the gentle warm slide of her tongue. His eyes still closed, his hand finds the slender curve of her waist, the other bracing himself against the rock. Her arms curl hesitantly around his neck, her mouth moves fluid, legs coming up and bend at the knee. A quiet moan is made between them, that even the roar of the waves don't drown out.

Aqua strokes a hand down the side of his neck, the hard edge of his jaw, years and years devoid of real human contact all unraveling at once, a fact that tears through her whole being in shivers under Sora's hands. She continues to nip fragments of kisses from his lips even as he pulls away, standing up straight. He runs a thumb over her mouth and smiles, telling himself that he can always come back.

"Wait for me." He says, needlessly, brushing her bangs back from her face.

Aqua swallows and nods, closing her hand deftly over his eyes. She sends him away, slowly, so he can still feel her hand there when he wakes in their little hotel room in Radiant Garden.

Sora's body feels destroyed and broken. Dizzy with disorientation, clothes tacky with blood, exhausted beyond measure, he sleeps.

"Sora!" The slim outline of Aqua is above him, kneeled over his body, he can almost feel the sand if he concentrates hard enough. The waves crash nearby. The pain fades away, comes back like the tide, then fades away. He's in between two existences.

"Aqu--"

"No, Sora, you have to wake up." She covers his eyes, and Sora can smell the warm of her skin. He doesn't fade. Her hand and her magic and the pressure is all there, but he won't fade. "Come on, you'll die if you sleep now, Sora. You have to wake up, on the other side."

Someone pulls him from the other side, Aqua pushes from here.

Sora wakes, in agony, on the right side, Riku healing him from above, chaos behind him. "Come on, Sora you have to wake up."

It hurts. For the love of the worlds, it hurts.

After the battle, despite his close brush with death, Aqua is the first thought in Sora's mind.

She embraces him immediately once he arrives on the beach, checking him over out of habit because he couldn't possibly be hurt, not here. She knows this, she has to, but she does it anyway, and Sora lets her, if only so she won't look so scared any more. Back in his body, he's safe—asleep in his little hotel bed, slowly healing, but not here. Here, he's in her arms.

"Stupid, stupid boy." Aqua threads her arms around his neck and Sora breathes in her scent, her warmth, burying his face in the crook of her neck.

"I'm okay." He murmurs and she kisses him, gentle, tender, curling her fingers in his hair and then it turns hungry, pleadingly, begging for everything she'd been neglected of for so many years in this godforsaken world, all alone.

Sora is nervous for a second, embarrassed that he's so inexperienced. Aqua waves him off with barely patient smile; she's already pulling at his clothes—right there, kneeled in the sand, her knees on either side of his hips.

"You're a quick learner, right?" She laughs as he blushes.

Sora forgets to breathe as she rides him, his right hand clasped in her left, his other resting on her hip, too afraid to touch anywhere else. Too afraid she'll just disappear if he moves. She's so beautiful like this, all moon-kissed skin and tiny breathless moans. He watches her rise and fall rhythmically, soft curves giving way to soft curves and more than anything he just wants to kiss her.

"Ah," Sora's breath stutters awkwardly, tripping over syllables, squeezing his eyes shut as she grinds down on him gently, eliciting her own quiet cry of pleasure. "Aqua." His voice sounds unbelievably loud next the near-silence of the ocean.

He says something here, maybe meaningful, maybe not, but quickly forgets it as coherent thought yields to ecstasy and nothing in the world—this one or any other—matters so much any more.

Only her.

The worlds are safe.

The worlds are safe, once again, and they can go home, anytime. Sora decides to stay in Radiant Garden just a little longer, and catch up with everybody and to rest and recover.

Aqua won't let him back in though. Whenever he sleeps now, he stays suspended in the stream, the ocean of light, and can't reach the dark beach, no matter how hard he concentrates. It's like it disappeared. Like it simply ceased to exist.

He knows she's still there though, because he can feel her. He can sense her keyblade and her energy, but for whatever reason, their bond is still not strong enough for him to pull her out. He feels annoyed mostly, and confused and hurt, unable to understand what he did wrong for her to ignore him like this.

Sora considers asking Kairi how she did it, how she brought Riku and him back to the light all those years ago, and then it occurs to him that they are friends, and they had been friends for almost 10 solid years. If that isn't a strong bond, Sora just doesn't know what is.

Friends...

Did Aqua have friends?

Right. Terra. Ven. She was always talking about them.

But...Terra was incapacitated. And Ventus was...

He was...

"Duh." The voice is internal, coming from somewhere deep inside. In sleep, Sora can access that part of his mind easily, even though he hadn't done so in quite some time.

The inside of his heart is boundless white light, crystal clear sand, a very blue, blue ocean. It's the complete opposite of the dark beach.

Inside his heart, there is his perfect world: the stretch of ocean beyond, a half-constructed castle that he is sure he first dreamed up when he was 5 or 6 that sits right on the shore. Behind that are vivid green mountains in the distance, covered in every lush tree imaginable, the warm sun high up above. A grand ship is docked in a rustic-looking harbor, brightly colored songbirds perched all over the ropes and sails and on the shafts of innocuous-looking cannons.

On a carved stone bench in the castle courtyard, there's Roxas, entirely too comfortable here, obviously. Sora's heart is his home, and had been for over three years now. He smiles as Sora approaches him, offering his other that blue ice cream that he loves so much.

"You're late." Roxas says simply. He stills looks fifteen, a fact that he quickly amends once Sora is close enough to make out clearly. He scrutinizes Sora's face for a second, aging himself accordingly. It had been a long time since they'd seen each other face-to-face, after all.

Sora takes the offered ice cream, joining him on the bench; It is warm from the sun overhead. He watches, amused, as Roxas stretches out his legs, clearly marveling at his newfound height. "You could've done that yourself, you know." Sora comments.

Roxas shrugs, cheerful. "Never occurred to me before."

"Where's Ven?" Sora asks, eager to find out how to return Aqua to a real world, a real plane of existence.

"You should know." Roxas licks his ice cream deliberately, taking his time. Curiously, despite the humidity, it doesn't melt.

"Sora." That voice again, almost like Roxas' but a tone or two different. He can tell it's Ven by his clothes and because, unlike Roxas, he hadn't altered his own age at all. "I don't think we've officially met before now." He extends a hand, which seems entirely too formal for someone living inside your heart, but not wanting to appear rude, Sora shakes it anyway. "So, you need my help?"

Roxas grins, propping his shoes on a gold filigreed footstool that he summoned in front of the bench. "Now we're talking."

"This is your plan? You're gonna use some...fragment to pull her out? This mystery dream girl of yours?" Riku finds a seat on the trunk of a low-bending tree. The denser forest on this side of the island provides a thin canopy overhead of low trees, the perfect cover for opening a door of light. The island kids barely come over to this side, so it was relatively safe.

"I think it's sweet." Kairi says with an encouraging nod at Sora. She folds her hands in her lap and Riku flicks a crumpled leaf at the side of her head. Plucking a young coconut from the branches, she lobs it back at him with a surprising amount of accuracy and Riku huffs, sliding further down on the tree trunk.

"How do I start?" Sora asks, pretending not to notice their blatant flirting.

Kairi pauses her giggling at Riku's expense long enough to tell him, "You have to think about her, real hard. You have to picture her with you here, right now."

"Let's get this over with already." Riku urges impatiently. "There's a ton of mosquitoes down here."

Kairi rolls her eyes, playfully. "Such a baby." Despite herself, she whacks at few insects off her arm, looking to Sora with the same urgency.

It is simple enough to picture her, Aqua. Her ocean-colored hair, her soft eyes. The fullness of her lips and her gentle smile. He pictures her in front of him, with him, standing down on the beach, with the sun in her hair. The smooth feel and smell of her skin.

These images double themselves in his mind as Ven pulls from the same memories somewhere on the inside, as well as some memories Sora himself had not had. Ven's memories of her are ones of strong friendship and a die-hard devotion. Camaraderie. There is love there too, a genuine love that is pure and clean and perfect.

Sora abruptly feels an incredible sadness from Ven, and it almost overwhelms him to the point of tears, but then it disappears immediately, something apologetic filling the void afterward.

There is no light at first, and it seems like their efforts aren't working. Riku and Kairi watch from the sidelines, curious and doubtful all at the same time. Riku sighs and it looks like he's about to say something, but the color of ground in the clearing seems to bleed white and he understandably loses his words.

The air shifts soundlessly and then there's just a single solitary door there, wide open and too bright to look directly into.

It stands empty for a long minute and then there's a boot, trimmed in metal and built for a warrior. She enters from the bottom up, her feet, her legs, her hips and hands and arms. Outside of the portal, she brings her hands up to cover her eyes, her bangs spilling haphazardly over her knuckles.

"Aqua?" Sora's breath feels limited and short, eyes marveling at the length of her hair, as it now spilled down to the middle of her back. The changes to her body were slight. A fraction of an inch in height, a more matured fullness to her hips and breasts.

"Sora." Aqua breathes quietly behind the cover of her hands. "Did it work?"

"Yeah." He laughs, exhilarated. He stifles the urge to proclaim, 'I told you so'. "Yeah, it worked."

Hesitantly, finally, Aqua drops her hands, at first surveying the ground beneath her feet. She looks at the trees all around, at Kairi and Riku, saying their names quietly under her breath because in some other life, she'd met them before, then at the fragments of blue sky that shown through the canopy.

"It's so bright here." She laughs suddenly, as if startled, bouncing a little on her feet. "The sky is so blue. And it's so humid. There's a temperature here!"

Sora can't help but smile as she wanders around the clearing, touching each and every thing she could.

"There's bugs and leaves and—oh, there's birds! Sora," Aqua covers her mouth with a trembling hand, overwhelmed. "There's birds." She says in a whisper of wonder, her whole body shivering from the shock.

At some point, Riku and Kairi saw it best to sneak off, for they aren't in the trees like they were the second before and Sora wonders if it was the no doubt look of goofy adoration on his face that drove them away.

"Not such a bad place, huh?" Sora sidles up behind her, threading his fingers through her hair, caressing her slender shoulders. Ventus smiles somewhere from the depths of his heart.

"Are you kidding? It's--" Her words fail her and she simply gestures emphatically with her hands, at the air around them, the wildlife and the foliage. "Perfect."

Aqua tells him she wants to see the ocean—the real ocean—and Sora obliges, taking down her to the beach. It's empty, but far from lonely, and the sight of the water, endless and infinite and so blue (not black), brings tears to her eyes.

"I'm dreaming." She mutters and Sora mouths a silent confession against the side of her neck, whether she hears it not much less important than the fact that he says it and absolutely means it, for once.

The waves crashes against shore still, a sound that is inevitable, unavoidable, but standing on the beach—just the two of them again—with her in his arms, it's the first time in a long time that Sora has been so relieved that isn't a dream.

-end-

My favorite part of this whole story was writing Roxas' part. WTF.

No, seriously, I really love this piece, and I hope someone else enjoys it, despite the strange ass pairing. o_O Sorqua ftw.

Reviews are love.