A/N: Like I said before, anything that I write involving post game canon involves Namine possibly living with the BBS trio in LoD. A little head canon since I can't see her fitting anywhere else. (She'll just be out of place with Axel, Roxas and Xion in Twilight Town. And Ven seems the type of person to freely accommodate her. See Outsider. )
Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts is the property of Square enix and Disney. This is just fanwork.
She wasn't that fond of autumn. The colors were beautiful in their golden and fiery glory, but she preferred the much more beautiful colors of spring (not to mention it was cold). All the trees and plants slowly wither and seem to sleep, an idea she's not so fond of anymore. Especially since this was Radiant Garden. But then again, the worlds has changed around her in her time in the Dark Meridian. The once beautiful Radiant Garden which was filled with flowers was now only slowly getting back to its feet. Machines piled in one corner were mixed with the almost leafless trees and brown grass, and the crisp autumn air made Aqua shiver a little from her seat at the Bailey.
Earlier, she and Terra had driven to the world, her to visit the old friend that was now ruling the world once more, him to "fix a few things." She had accepted his decision without question, and he told her to wait for him here so they can go home together. After all, it's not like she can fly back home on her own, lacking her armor and rider.
It was still hard to believe it had been almost twelve years. Up to now, it was hard to accept everything had changed. Granted, at least the Land of Departure had been easily restored now, but Aqua felt as if, like Ven, she had been sleeping for twelve years. Most of the friends she has met before had grown, including the three children she had seen such promising futures. And now, they were heroes.
"I really can't believe it..." she whispered to the air, reminiscing the delight and confusion on Sora and Riku's faces when they saw her, Kairi looking as if she's trying to remember far off memory herself. It was heartwarming in a way to know they all grew up together, and was as close as she, Ven and Terra were.
"Can't believe what?" a voice prompted from behind, and she turned around to see Terra walking leisurely towards her, hands in his pockets. The stray leaves scattered around crunched satisfyingly under his shoes, and Aqua decide he fitted in quite well with the atmosphere of the season.
"Everything. Twelve years was... an awfully long time, wasn't it?" she murmured thoughtfully, turning her attention back to the view of Radiant Garden's Castle, which was almost finished. The sound of more leaves crunching followed as he made his way to sit beside her, pulling one knee up as he usually did.
"Too long..." he murmured in agreement, and she felt her throat constrict horribly.
Of course. It was harder for him. It had been the hardest for him. For her and Ven, they barely felt the twelve year difference. They were frozen in time. But for him, he had to suffer horribly all these years.
Her hand hesitated awkwardly, unsure and almost reaching out. Even up to now, she still felt as if it was all her fault for not being able to save them both properly. As she lowered it slowly back down, Terra's head turned just in time to look at her, his hand swiftly grabbing hers gently. Aqua flinched, eyes training themselves at the ground distantly below as another breeze brushed past them, colorful leaves flying with the wind.
One, two moments passed. He held her hand like that as he closed his eyes, his fingers enclosing around hers warmly. And as if almost reading her mind, he reopened his eyes and gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
"It wasn't your fault."
Aqua bit her lip.
Everyone had been telling her that. Ven and Terra both repeated the mantra to her many times already. But the guilt stayed somewhere within still, and sometimes it would bubble up and rise to the surface.
"I wish I could have done more. If I only knew... I should have tried harder." Aqua said bitterly, memories flashing by in her mind and her brain trying to think of ways she could have handled the situation better. She always thought she had done all she could, but now, in retrospect, it didn't seem enough. It was even dumb. "I was stupid, I didn't realize-"
"You've done enough." Terra cut her off sternly, eyebrows furrowing together. "Haven't you thought about how Ven and I would fare if you hadn't been there?"
Swallowing a lump in her throat, she remained silent for a moment after his words, her free hand curling up into a fist at her side. She knew. It was enough for her to remember the golden eyes of her friends while they were possessed. "I know. But... "
"It's my fault to begin with, if you remember." Terra argued with a frown, looking sterner by the minute. "I let that monster use me for his plans and fell right into his trap, endangering us all. If I had been smarter, things wouldn't have happened like this in the first place."
The air was quiet as Aqua found no response to his words. Terra had done nothing but tried to shoulder all the responsibility on himself the moment he had "returned" (to the point that it bothered even everyone else.) It was harsh to watch him go through more pain, but he kept assuring her and everyone else that he deserved it. He never deserved it. They were in this together. And it wasn't his fault alone. Even still, Master had given her that duty to watch him carefully. She could have helped. Helplessly, she pressed her forehead tiredly against his arm, feeling his grip on her hand relax lightly.
Aqua knew they were useless words now, as the words felt so empty as she said them. Everything happened already. Time would never go back. No magic could ever set things right. Like time and everything else, it was something that had already passed, and something that could never be taken back. Nevertheless, she felt the fingers around hers slowly rearrange their grip so their fingers intertwined, Terra remaining quiet at the apology.
They shared silence for a few moments. She thought back to the past, past all the suffering, past all the pain (even the joy? She wasn't sure anymore.) The days where they were just mere apprentices under Master, where it was all about competition, and eventually, taking care of each other once Ven arrived, felt so far away now. Feeling rather awkward and uncomfortable with the silence, she pulled away from him hesitatingly.
"Things changed, hasn't it? For all of us. I wish..." her gaze followed the world before them. Red, brown colors and trees and plant life almost dead as winter slowly dawned. It seemed to emphasize her words, memories of the bright flowers a four year old Kairi had once given her coming into her mind as she sighed wistfully. "... I wish sometimes that things remained the same. That any of that hadn't happened."
"Do you really hate change that much?" Terra shifted beside her to look at her properly and Aqua returned the raise of the eyebrow with a small frown.
"What do you mean?"
"I didn't like autumn before." he elaborated, and her confusion deepened. What were they talking about again? Maybe Ven was right. Terra was more... eccentric now. As a side effect to what happened to him. But she didn't interrupt, listening as he continued on.
"But... now I can see that I'm not so different from it." Another autumn breeze flew by, and Terra grabbed a maple leaf with reflexes that can rival Ven's. It crunched lightly underneath his grip as his blue eyes stared at it, not really studying it. "Dying, cold. Lacking color. Everything seems to sleep."
Aqua opened her mouth to interrupt him, to tell him to stop saying that, that he's not like that.
"Autumn reminds us of change. Even if everything dies and withers..." Terra continued on, allowing the withered leaf to fly away as a breeze flew past them, before glancing back at Aqua. "There's always going to be a distant spring in the future. Which means there's still hope."
The look he gave her made her breath stop, his words burning into her mind as if someone forged it. "I loathed what happened to me. but that didn't mean I lost hope entirely. Half the time, it was easier to give up. There was no light. My mind was half dead, my heart cold and buried in darkness. But I always had hope that things would get better. Change will come."
Terra finally broke into a small smile, giving her hand another gentle squeeze. "Nothing remains the same."
.. Aqua could only smile, feeling something wet travel down her cheek.
A warm hand reached up to wipe the tear that slid down, and she forced out a little laugh. Bowing her head, she placed one of her own gloved ones to rest against the callused and rough hand, inhaling a mild scent that gave her feelings of warmth that traveled from her stomach to her heart. He was alright now. yes, that. that was all that mattered. Things had changed.
"I understand." she murmured.
Aqua felt the hand withdrew the moment Terra's task was done, and he gave her the familiar smile she had seen on him oh so long ago when they would be kidding around. "Then, can we go home now? I'm slightly worried about Ven being there alone. Well, not alone, with Namine there, but still."
The idea of the boy setting the kitchen accidentally on fire in making them something was a lessened threat as of late because of the presence of the blonde girl, but nevertheless, it was still a threat. Aqua dabbed at her eyes hastily with another small laugh, nodding. "Mm. Have you done all that you need to do here?"
Terra spook his head, standing up and giving the scenery before them another glance. after a while, he put his hands in his pockets again, glancing back at aqua. "Not quite. i have one more thing to do. No, show you."
Tilting her head to the side curiously, she stood up as well and walked over to him as he walked a little ways off, summoning Gaia Bane. The tip glowed as Terra summoned a portal in midair, and Aqua turned her attention to it. The portal opened, rushing wind scattering more leaves around, until a figure emerged from it.
Aqua gasped as her old armor materialized in mid air, shining as brightly as if it was new. As the portal dissipated, it floated down to the ground gently, and Terra smiled at her. "... 'Xehanort' had originally kept it as a reminder of the one friend he couldn't remember. 'Xemnas' locked it away."
With slightly shaking fingers, Aqua knelt down and ran her hands across the once familiar helmet, the shoulder guard, the breastplate... With a silent command, the armor disappeared in strands of light, traveling to her elbows. The moment it was gone, the two guards on her sleeves felt heavier, but familiar and pleasantly so. She turned back to the older apprentice, biting back another urge to restart the waterworks.
Terra only smiled again, before pulling something else from his pocket.
Rain Storm's keychain glinted in the autumn setting sun, and he tossed it at her. "Here!"
The Keyblade materialized in mid air as if almost anxious to welcome its old master, and Aqua caught it deftly with a twirl, relishing the feeling as her fingers pressed against the metal once more. She performed a few more spins and twirls with it, giggling at the familiar feeling before catching it from mid air one last time. Catching Terra's eye, she saw him grinning at her while he was watching, crossing his arms over his chest.
"A show off, as always." he smirked, and she didn't have the heart to tell him off.
Instead, Rain Storm was dismissed, and she ran for him, flinging her arms around his shoulders and burying her face at the crook of his neck.
She felt him stiffen at the sudden show of affection, a few seconds passing before his own muscular arms wrapped around her body tenderly, pulling her gently closer. Aqua inhaled deeply as she closed her eyes to stop her eyes from smarting again, nuzzling against his skin as she murmured "thank you" against him. He only replied with a small "mm", a hand gently resting on her head.
Autumn. The third season in the cycle. The time when everything living seems to slowly die.
Aqua didn't know when they finally pulled away, but once they did, Terra motioned her that they should be heading back, and was more than willing to agree.
It's cold, and bitter, almost as winter. And even animals finally shy away from the world at this time. In some worlds, people associate it with spooky and dark things.
Radiant Garden didn't seem more desolate as they walked along the leaf-strewn ground, heading for the plaza where they can summon their Riders freely. In fact, aqua found the warm colors more vibrant, more cheerful. especially with the warm hand enclosed around hers as they walked.
But there's something about the fallen leaves, the withered trees and the chilly air that makes it almost sadder. There's a certain charm about it. It's the last glimpse of living things we get before the cold winter. And that's what makes it more precious.
"Do you want to race back to the Land of Departure? Just like old times." Terra challenged after summoning his Rider, eying as she summoned Rain Storm as well. Aqua hesitated, glancing up at the sky. The wind blew at her hair, and she smiled as she dismissed it, looking back at him.
It reminds us change happens. Winter will come, as the darkest, but soon enough, spring will appear. Nothing remains the same. And...
"No. Can I ride with you still? It'll take me some time to get used to my Rider again." she reasoned slowly, and he nodded. After getting on, he held out his hand to help her onto his Rider, and she took it, sitting behind him as usual and wrapping her arms around him from behind. The large Rider lifted into the air, the pressure scattering the leaves around as the engine roared. Aqua pressed her cheek against the warmth of his back, smiling to herself. after all, this was all the chance she could get before they hit space and they have to summon their armor. This was the kind of change she definitely liked.
Sometimes, changes are for the better.
Autumn wasn't so bad after all.