~*For A Friend Worth Dying For*~

She would do everything in her power to bring him back…or die trying.

~***~

Aqua had never felt so…tired.

Her entire body ached all over, and she almost began hating the pulse of her heart, because it ended up sending a bolt of rippling agony across her whole body. Sleep was a distant memory, insubstantial as smoke, a rapidly fading pleasure that she'd never get to experience again.

Because, no matter how much her muscles screamed and her brain berated her for taking one painful step after the next, no matter how much she wanted to curl up near Ven's slumbering form in the white castle she had just created, Aqua wouldn't rest until she at least located Terra.

Terra had to be somewhere…

Her deep azure eyes wearily opened, and she clasped the star charm she had made—it would bring them all back together, she just knew it—and forced herself to keep going.

Because the physical pain she could handle. It was the idea of her dear friend being gone forever that made her want to claw her heart out until she was bleeding on the stones…

Aqua shook her head, dislodging such morbid thoughts, silently promising Ventus that she would return…with his heart.

But first, he'd want her to find Terra. He didn't need to be awake for her to know that.

And the lone Keyblade Master walked on.

~***~

A hunch had sent her to Radiant Garden.

Master Eraqus would have called it her "woman's intuition" with a smile on his face…

Aqua clenched her teeth against the tumult of despair that was raging against her defenses, seeking for a hole so it could spread and consume her until she was broken and battered and a shadow of her former self. She would not fall to the Darkness.

She looked up. The sky was a deep, bleak gray. Storm clouds were gathering, but not a droplet of rain fell. There was no lightning flash or even a roll of thunder. The heavens were featureless, and the sun showed no sign of appearing soon.

I hope that's not an omen, the Keybearer thought with a sigh. Her footsteps echoed loudly in the city, covered in shadow, with no one else out and about. It confused her, since Radiant Garden was usually full of activity. Aqua heard the occasional gurgle of a fountain as it operated, but besides that, the gold-edged ivory buildings were soundless.

She turned a corner, straining her ears for any sound, holding herself together through sheer willpower.

Am I the only Keyblade Master left?

The concept was staggering. If there were any more Keybladers, she'd be the one to teach them. Her. A girl that had just recently graduated from apprentice to Master. She'd never be able to…

A strangled sob of self-pity caught in her throat, and irritated, Aqua shoved away all emotion besides determination. She would rescue Terra and Ventus. She had to. Everything else could wait.

A slight sound—strangely familiar, like metal hitting metal—reached her ears. Her head slowly lifted, thinking it might just be a wind chime.

Her breathing stopped.

Down a small slope and in a clear stone plaza, was Terra.

Aqua didn't even wait for her mind to catch up with her feet. She started towards him, her steps becoming faster and faster as a wild hope blossomed in her chest and destroyed all reason. She turned a blind eye to the things she would have noticed otherwise, had she been paying more attention.

Like how white his hair was, and how his eyes were a vivid yellow, and the blank expression on his face as he stared at the sky.

But it was Terra, and her heart beat out her thoughts, swelling until she imagined it would burst.

Coming to a halt in front of him, Aqua gazed at his face, feeling a smile tug at the corner of her mouth. "Terra?" She asked tentatively.

Slowly, very slowly, he lowered his head and looked at her. His still expression didn't shift. As if the movement was unfamiliar, he carefully raised one arm and reached out for her.

Aqua's instincts kicked in, roaring in her ears a warning.

Get out of the way!

It was too late, though, for the words to save her. She took several unsure steps back, but Terra suddenly snapped his hand out and closed iron fingers around her throat.

Aqua gasped, scrabbling at her throat as he held her off the ground as if she weighed nothing, trying to get air down into her lungs. Terra stared at her with an awful, vacant look.

Darkness waved around his form, and her eyes widened as she struggled to breathe. He hadn't blinked once. Terra, his voice oddly blacker, deeper, intoned slowly, "Who…am I?"

Her heart almost collapsed right then in shock, and she was so tired. Aqua was nearly ready to let the choking shadows crash down on her head like waves from the shore…

But she didn't.

"This…is the power of Darkness…" Aqua managed to choke out, horrified. The Darkness had stripped her friend's being away. The Darkness had taken Terra from her.

No…Terra's still there! I won't give up on him! He'd not give up on me.

This single, undoubtedly true fact gave her the strength and courage to speak again, and she started to relax her movements to reduce the energy she was burning. Trying to escape his grip was futile. "No." She growled. "You're Terra."

His face relaxed slightly, his countenance confused. "Terra…you say?" The creeping blackness around his form vanished, to Aqua's relief. Unexpectedly, his grip slackened and she dropped to the ground unceremoniously.

Landing on her feet in a low crouch, Aqua gulped down air, noting only absently that Terra's hand was still extended, as if he was still holding her. She looked up, watching helplessly as he clenched his head and started groaning, and she knew he was in some sort of turmoil that she couldn't rescue him from.

Both of his palms covered his face as his entire frame shook. The girl straightened up as Terra suddenly snarled, "His heart has already disappeared within the Darkness!" His voice was even more distorted now, and goose bumps rose on her skin.

Aqua gasped as he went on.

"He himself has been swallowed whole!"

In a crackling of deep violet lightning, a twisted black and silver Keyblade sprang into life in his hands. Terra's familiar, dear face became distorted as he glared down at her, yellow eyes flashing triumphantly. He brought his arm back and prepared to strike.

Adrenaline spiked through Aqua's body, washing the weariness away. She leaped nimbly back a heartbeat before the weapon sliced down on her, flipping through the air and landing at the base of the small slope she had walked down only minutes before.

She found herself remembering what adrenaline existed for. The human's reaction to danger.

Aqua fixed her gaze on Terra…or the imposter, Master Xehanort, in his body.

Fight or flight?

A dozen warm memories played through her mind. Of Terra and Ventus and Master Eraqus, home and safe at the Land of Departure, before any of this had ever occurred.

Preparing to call her Keyblade, Aqua chose the only logical answer.

Fight.

"My name is Master Aqua," she said in a clear, calm voice. Her tone sharpened as she went on, holding her Keyblade sideways and displaying the elegance of her blue, star themed weapon. It was a stark contradiction to Terra's vicious sword. Drawing her arm back, she demanded, "Return my friend's heart!"

Terra watched her assume her light battle stance impassively, his eyes gleaming brightly. "How can I return what is lost?"

Aqua glared, feeling her blood boil as she gazed at the person that was her friend and yet…he wasn't. That meant she couldn't kill him without…without killing Terra. If her friend was even in there.

Her heart constricted again.

No, he has to be in there! He just has to!

During her moment of distraction, Terra had plunged into the ground in a burst of blue-black Darkness. Aqua stayed lightly on her feet, her muscles tense as she waited for—

A battle roar emerged from behind her, and she jumped swiftly back, landing easily and staring her opponent down. He smirked, unbothered, completely at home in his stolen body.

Fury raged inside of her and Aqua decided to strike first.

She pounced, swinging her Keyblade and clipping his unarmored shoulder. The teeth of her weapon bit into his flesh with a satisfying thud. Terra became a blur of shadowy energy, streaked with glowing tendrils of light sapphire, as he charged at her, Keyblade extended, like a rhino chasing down its prey.

Aqua cartwheeled out of the way, feeling the wind generated by his attack blow past her, causing a ripple to run through her hair. She took a hit to her side, gasping as she felt the warmth of blood trickle down her waist. She hastily threw up a magical shield, and Terra smashed into the crystalline barrier, rebounding off of it with a sound like a bell. Whilst he was unbalanced, she managed to get a few swipes at him before he recovered.

Terra immediately started a chain of attacks, each movement of his weapon accented by a stream of Darkness that leaked off of him like oil. Aqua barely managed to keep her guard up, and she suddenly found herself thrown back into the past.

Aqua's Keyblade clattered to the ground as she fell on her back. The sun was unexpectedly blotted out, and she looked up to see Terra offering her a hand. Getting to her feet, she gave him a playful glare. "You won again."

"That's because, physically, I'm stronger than you."

She flicked her wrist sharply, bringing another shield into existence. Terra retreated, his eyes baleful as he waited for it to fall. Aqua stepped past her own barrier, savagely slashing with her Keyblade as she used speed to bypass Terra's sheer strength.

He pushed her away with a tide of Darkness, then became a shadowy bolt again, racing around and around and around her as he tried a hit-and-run tactic. Aqua prepared to toss up another magic guard when he came to an abrupt halt and fired energy spheres at her.

Hurriedly, the girl reflected them with magic, but before she could retaliate, she was back on the defensive as Terra continued to charge around the plaza. Another shield was constructed, and he bounced off of it in a fashion that would have been comical, if she wasn't fighting for her life.

Aqua broke into a sudden, vicious attack sequence that took Terra off guard. He started retreating as each of her combos landed, and on the final strike, he ended up being knocked a few feet away. His dark aura changed to a deep red, and he was instantly back in front of her.

Light, give me strength.

His Keyblade ripped into her chest, and she struck out.

If I lose…who will save Ven?

Darkness was sapping at her vigor, a cold presence with an eternal hunger.

Please.

A golden energy infused every cell within her, though she wasn't even glowing on the outside, she seemed to be on the inside. Aqua broke past Terra's offense, sending him away with a strong swing to his head. He stumbled back briefly before shifting into a wild charging spree again, but Aqua was ready this time, effectively repelling him with barriers every time he came too near.

Changing tactics, Terra stood away and tried firing dark globes at her. Aqua sent those right back his way, her eyes grimly determined as she advanced closer and closer. An unreadable shadow passed through Terra's eyes, but she thought it looked like frustration.

Three times he warped around her, leaving behind a black-red portal, and three times Aqua countered him, relying on her magical guard since it seemed to foil him the most. Terra gave a snarl of rage, bolting around her once more, but this time to escape. He performed a quick healing spell; however the green force didn't seem to really help, since he was still staggering.

Aqua held her own as he repeated his attacks, each one becoming more frantic and desperate until he was driven almost insane with rage as she thwarted him. She kept calm, her thoughts on Terra and Ven and the promise in her pocket to reunite them. Her own energy was stable.

Terra came at her again, and this time, she went to meet him instead of waiting. She twirled elegantly, and fire spun around her, striking him quickly across his chest and face.

He howled in pain, stumbling back and shaking his head from side to side. Aqua took the time to heal herself, idly watching the magical pink petals fall to the ground at her feet.

"No, too far…too far…" Terra muttered, his Keyblade disappearing.

"Do you give up?" Aqua asked coldly, sounding every inch a Keyblade Master.

"No…the Darkness…" Throwing his head back, he suddenly yelled to the heavens. An odd blue substance surrounded them, locking the pair inside the plaza. Aqua could see no way out.

Very well, then.

"You cannot save Terra!" He spread his arms wide and bellowed again, shadows spreading from his form like a disease. Aqua gasped in horror as his scream echoed, and a distorted, twisted groan joined his own.

Terra was hovering a good foot above the ground.

And behind him was a demonic form, a deep blue monster with white bandages on its face and body. Its huge claws curled inwards, and its dead yellow eyes found Aqua's instantly. Its body had a huge, heart shaped gash in its center, and where it should have had legs, it had a tail instead that snaked into Terra's back.

The two tendrils that came off of its triangular head twitched spasmodically, and Aqua grimaced, fighting back a scream of her own as she felt the Darkness mauling her senses. It was an overwhelming sensation, as if she was being swallowed alive by a cold blooded creature.

Terra…Ven…I won't give up!

Her resolve gave her strength. Her resolve gave her courage. And as "Terra" crossed his arms and smiled at her, the monster threw its arms wide and bellowed.

Aqua didn't change her stance, preparing for another grueling battle. Her body protested against it, but she ignored its complaints.

She locked on to him instead, and letting the Light fill her with its energy, she dove straight for Terra. Warping out of the dimensions and back in again, she hit him so fast that he couldn't even react.

Because he wasn't. He was slightly flinching, but not making a sound as he took the attack.

Emerging in the air, she shot downwards, striking him three times in a row, leaving behind an explosion of pale blue every time she connected with his form. Aqua didn't know what else to expect, and as she gathered her strength for another go, she braced herself.

Terra, arms still folded, gestured at the ground. An energy force surrounded him, and his monster vanished into the floor. Aqua began rapidly cartwheeling out of the way as the black beast chased her, like some sort of demonic shark. Every time it took refuge in the tiles, a dangerous ripple of Darkness forced the girl to flee from it as fast as she could.

It returned to Terra after a while, and Aqua sprang towards the imposter, ripping mercilessly into him with her Keyblade, though careful not to rupture anything that would kill him, like his throat. She was aiming to subdue and capture, after all.

The monster roared, drawing its hands back and firing two bolts of cerulean at her. Aqua took one to the leg, staggering as a cold fire blistered her skin. Pain erupted in her entire body, but the girl didn't collapse. As she tried to get air back into her lungs, Terra's creature struck at her again.

She flipped away, cautiously eyeing it. Since Terra didn't seem to be attacking himself, she concentrated on the monster he was controlling.

Is that…an Unversed?

The black beast slipped into the tiles again, and she scrambled to escape, firing spheres of Light over her shoulder occasionally in an effort to hit it. Terra and the creature suddenly streaked towards the sky, and came back down as a meteor leaking rivers of Darkness.

Aqua almost fainted there and then as it hit her full on.

A crushing wall of oblivion pressed down on her senses, but she struggled against its deadly embrace and healed herself instead. Aqua barely managed to avoid the clutches of the monster as Terra advanced, still looking utterly unconcerned.

He thinks he can beat me, Aqua realized. He has no doubt that he can.

She left some magical mines for the fiend to blunder into, and she let loose with a barrage of fire after an opening emerged. Terra growled this time as the flames collided, and Aqua went back to avoiding his pet's shark-like attack pattern.

Aqua slipped through a gap in the creature's defenses, going at Terra with her Keyblade. He countered suddenly, and the demon vanished as his Keyblade pressed down on hers, breaking her guard and shredding the skin on her arm and shoulder. She quickly healed herself as the possessed Keybearer stepped away to re-summon his monstrosity.

The fight was starting to badly wear her down. She had to do something, quickly, or she would die here on the stones of Radiant Garden.

She grappled with Terra and the monster at his back, slicing and slashing, only to hurriedly run whenever they started to retaliate. Aqua switched into Fire Blazer mode, hurling tongues of flame at her opponents with more and more ferocity as she battled against her death.

Ven would never wake up if she lost here. Terra would never be saved.

Aqua reflected the two spheres of pure Darkness that the black beast hurled at her, and it was when Terra recoiled that she saw her chance.

A blow to his chest tore him open from one shoulder to the other, and with a roar of pain, Terra suddenly warped her.

She barely had time to start running as Terra's pet began sending more violet globes her way faster than she could counter. The world was suddenly made out of pure gold, orange, and yellow. It was like running through the sky when the sun was beginning to rise, walking on beams of light.

Aqua noticed for the first time that Terra was slumped over, his demon protecting him. His Unversed-creature. She locked on to him and used the Light to phase to his side, hitting his exposed back.

The strange dimension vanished, and Aqua continued striking at Terra, ignoring the various wounds that were openly seeping blood across her body as his beast tore into her.

Powerful claws sank into her flesh, trying to hold her still, seeking to draw her back into that golden world.

Aqua broke free, ignoring the horrible sound of her own flesh tearing, and drove her Keyblade home into Terra's chest, careful not to hit his heart.

He gasped, eyes widening before drooping. He fell to his feet. The barrier trapping her with him began to dissipate, and the demon faded from existence, a nightmare leaving the world of waking dreams.

"Curse…you…Key…blade…" Terra groaned. Aqua stepped back in case it was a trick, though her entire being ached to hold her friend in her arms as he stood there unsteadily on his feet.

Retreating, holding his shoulder in one hand and his weapon in the other, he hunched over, breathing hard. Aqua watched as a beautiful yellow light encased the upper half of his body, and Terra seemed just as surprised as she was, staring at his hands. The yellow of his eyes were dull in comparison. He said through gritted teeth, "Fighting back again?!"

Aqua gasped. Fighting back…was Terra really there?

He seemed to be trying to move, but his body was jerking abruptly instead, as if struggling against an invisible force.

He moaned, standing straight with his hands raised slightly from his side. Uncomfortably like a puppet having its strings jerked and held at an angle.

Hope returned to Aqua at that moment, because she swore she saw a flash of dark cobalt in the burning yellow of his gaze. "Terra! You're there, aren't you?"

He looked straight at her, and Aqua saw him. Not the person in him, but the being that owned the heart of this body. Terra, her Terra, stared at her almost apologetically before growling and forcing his arm to move, slowly. His Keyblade lifted from his side…

Holding it over his chest, Terra, in his own voice, snarled furiously, "Get out of my heart!" He stabbed himself. Just like that.

Aqua was too horrified to react for a second as a black force shone around the Keyblade's teeth. Then she yelled in anguish, "Terra!"

His Keyblade dropped to the ground and vanished in a flash of multicolored light, most of the shades dark. Terra's eyes rolled back, his lids drooping, and his monstrosity slowly came back to life. Aqua tensed, but it was sagging too, the shadow surrounding it faltering weakly.

Darkness fell in chunks from its form, creating a pool on the ground. Terra was swaying on his feet, and God, it was still his eyes watching her. The Terra she knew.

The beast collapsed into the crater of Darkness, and Terra did the same, sliding backwards and landing on it. He was visible for only a second before the icy tendrils began sucking him in.

"Terra!" Aqua called, as if he could still hear. Without a second thought, she jumped in after him.

There was a flash of light in the shadows.

Aqua rode her Rider, armor on to protect herself, willing her vehicle to greater speeds as its blue fire propelled her down, down, down into empty black air.

The only thing on her mind was Terra. He was there, and he had to be saved.

She spotted him, unconscious, sailing towards the bottom of the void. She forced the engine of the Rider to go faster, yelling, "Don't fall to the Darkness!"

Managing to catch his limp hand, Aqua glanced up and saw the Light was fading. If they lost that, they would be stuck here forever. She heard the labored hissing of the craft as it struggled to hold their weight and reach their destination at the same time.

Riders weren't made for two.

If only Terra was awake! This way, we'll both end up falling into the Darkness. Aqua knew they couldn't reach the Light together.

It occurred to her, then. They couldn't reach it together.

Aqua dismissed the Rider but kept her armor in the position she had been in just a second before, holding Terra in her arms. She pressed her Keyblade into his hand, closing his fingers around it. Maybe he was conscious, even if just barely, because he tightened his hold on the handle.

"Our bond," she told him softly. She summoned all the magic she had left inside of her, which was barely any at all, and pointed towards the far away Light. "Go!"

There was a golden glimmer, as brilliant as a shooting star, and then Terra was suddenly off, white hair flowing gently as he soared towards the sky, back to Radiant Garden, her armor carrying him there.

Aqua smiled as she saw him reach the Light. Someone would help him. The city was full of good people, she knew. The last amber ember faded into oblivion, and the girl finally let her weariness envelope her, sliding into the shadows without a fuss.

"Ven…I'm sorry." She said to herself, hoping he could somehow hear and understand. Her eyes closed. "It doesn't seem like I'll be able to go wake you up right away…But I will, someday, for sure.

She herself didn't know it, but a white radiance took her in its soft embrace as soon as she had finished her words.

~***~

Aqua was walking.

Always walking.

Everywhere she looked, there were only black-gray stones covered with strange, glowing blue lines. She could feel the Darkness licking at her skin. If the Light was here, it was hidden by the immense shroud of shadow.

There was only one path in this world. She followed it.

Each step should have hurt. But it didn't. Everything here felt so strange, backwards, as if time itself had reversed. Or vanished. Or maybe it was the absence of life. There was something missing, but she couldn't put her finger on it.

"I don't know how far I've walked…" Aqua said to herself, just to hear a voice. She brushed her hair back. "Or how much time has passed anymore."

She heard a sound then, a peculiar whoosh, like air sliding past. She turned, and gasped as a huge, black creature with drooping, twitching tendrils on its head and big yellow eyes stared down at her. There was a gaping hole in its chest shaped like a heart.

Aqua summoned Eraqus's Keyblade, gritting her teeth and preparing for battle.

Another one rose, then another, then another, forming from wisps of smoke and shadow. The odds didn't look good. She didn't even know what these things were.

Gazing around, she studied their small wings and elongated fingers, muscular frames and animal-like movements. Hunters. They lived here, most likely.

Her nerve suddenly deserted her. Aqua lowered her Keyblade, looking at her reflection in its silver-white surface. "Maybe I should just give in to the Darkness here…" She couldn't do it. She was so tired. Weary. She had failed her friends, really. Trying to save them. Terra might have died from the wounds she had given him, or he could still be possessed. And Ven! Even if Terra was okay, Ven was locked away. Terra wouldn't know where he was.

Raising a gigantic fist, one of the Darksides—though Aqua didn't know it—prepared to smash her into the ground. Aqua didn't even shift her position.

Twin flashes of light popped into existence, shooting towards the creature and puncturing it. It died just like that. Aqua gaped as the pair of Keyblades—they were her friends' Keyblades, Terra's and Ven's—passed by overhead and swiftly destroyed the other monsters, leaving behind trails of sunshine and small bursts of bright energy.

Then they melded together, shot skyward, and faded from reality.

All in less than a minute.

Aqua just stared for a few seconds, and then she blinked and smiled, laughing a little.

Surprised, the girl touched her face. "Since landing in the Realm of Darkness, I'd forgotten to smile…"

Taking her blue star charm from her pocket, Aqua gazed at it. In its depths, she saw the same shade of azure as Terra's eyes, and Ven's.

In her mind, she saw Ventus grinning at her, bright and cheery and full of courage.

In her mind, she saw Terra smiling at her, stoic and teasing and full of determination.

In her mind, she saw Eraqus nodding at her, solemn and wise and full of understanding.

In her mind, she saw Mickey beaming at her, energetic and strong and full of compassion.

In her mind, she saw all the friends she had made across the entire universe, sending her their love and wishes and dreams and hopes. She saw Zack Fair with his ridiculously brilliant, friendly smirk. She saw Cinderella and Prince Philip and even the Destiny Islands kids. Sora, Riku, and Kairi. Three children with amazing stories ahead of them.

Her will returned.

Aqua smiled wider, looking up at the dark ceiling of the cave. She imagined she could hear the sea crashing against the shore, though exactly why she did not know. Some instinct told her there was surf and sand up ahead, if only she would go out to meet it.

"We're all connected."

And Keyblade Master Aqua started off once more.

~***~
My God, finally finished. This is the companion piece to Ven's concluding battle, since I did his, I did Aqua's. I plan on doing Terra's too, sooner or later.

A very special thank you to Strwbrymilk on YouTube, since I used her English translations of Birth By Sleep to write this.

Apologies in advance for any typos.

Mind dropping a review, perhaps? I work pretty hard on these!