This has to be... one of the longest chapter of anything I have ever written. I'm kinda proud of it. Death and destruction and more creepiness than even I could handle in one sitting. Thank goodness this chapter is done. One more to go.
Chapter 4 - Night
It took time for Terra to realize what he had done, and it didn't happen until the adrenaline in his system died down. When the adrenaline in his blood ran dry, his Keyblade dismissed itself and the proof of his actions collided with the ground, lying in a puddle of fresh red blood. There was no sound; even his breathing was mysteriously absent to his ears. Everything in the room felt… dead. Terra couldn't even tell if he was breathing anymore, the blood pounding so fiercely through his arms and head that he couldn't feel anything else.
Riku lay crumpled on the floor, lying like a rag doll amidst the redness all around him. There was nothing evident on his face, only blankness, as his eyes started off into nowhere, all light absent from them. He didn't move, not even to blink, and his chest was still, not a single sign of life present.
Terra was too dumbstruck to move, but his mind was full of panic. 'I… I killed him? I killed him. I killed Riku. I killed the fucking Prince! Oh, damn it! What do I do? He's dead. He's dead, and I killed him! I'm so screwed. I'm so very, horribly screwed. I killed the prince in front of his father! In front of the King! What do I do?'
The numbness in his limbs finally began to fade and he found he could move. He looked over at the King, not sure what his next move should be. The King didn't even seem to acknowledge the Captain's presence, staring at the body of his son with wide eyes. Terra wanted desperately to say something to him, but nothing came out of his mouth.
He took a deep breath and, head spinning, he tried again. "Your Majesty… I…"
"No," was the King's simple reply, not even taking his eyes off the floor. "Not a word."
"Enough. Please. No more. Enough has already been done."
"He was trying to kill you!" Terra snapped, though the words sounded hollow, how they always sounded when he tried to lie about something he couldn't deny.
The King finally turned his eyes on Terra and the young man wished he hadn't. In his eyes was the most malice and spite that Terra had ever seen, layered over deep despair and unfathomable anguish. A shiver ran down his spine as he realized that it was all directed at him, but the feeling died half way down his back. "You've done enough, Terra. Now I want you to leave. Get out. Now. Leave and never return. Never show your face here again. You've done enough."
Terra wanted to protest, but all his words died before he could even draw the breath to say them. It was useless to even try. He could feel the cold feeling creeping into his soul, a dark, festering pain that he had worked all his life to avoid. All of a sudden, his vision started blackening around the edges, struggling to breathe as he felt the room closing in, his panic making everything spin.
He lingered, watching the King carefully kneel at his son's side and cradle the teenager's body in his arms. Terra felt even worse, realizing that not only had he killed the prince, but that the King would have to bury his only son. The older man managed to keep his expression composed, the tears rolling down his face betraying how he really felt.
The despair radiating between the occupants of the room became too much for him to bear. Bowing his head in shame, the former Captain backed out of the room and stumbled along the hallway, using the wall to try to keep the floor from throwing him off his feet, unaware of the long bloody gash in his back dripping a crimson path in his wake.
Terra hated life.
He didn't hate living; it was exactly the opposite. He wanted to life for as long as possible, accomplish many things, maybe even travel the world. He had ambitions, dreams of becoming someone important, someone special. It had been this way for as long as he could remember.
It would be more correct to say that Terra hated fate. He had dreams he wanted to fulfill, but fate had placed him in a fairly large predicament, one he was having problems working out.
Terra had been born into a poor family, one that was barely able to look after itself before he came along. He was always a burden on his parents, his father told him many times, one that they could have done without. Terra always reasoned that it was his parents' fault, but he never openly complained. Even if he was a burden, he loved his family very much and did everything he could to help, from doing a large number of chores around the house to taking on any odd jobs he could get, even if he was too young for them. He wanted to show them - not just his parents but the entire world - that he could make something of himself. It was what drove him forward, pushing him to work harder each time.
It was through all the jobs and chores he took on that he had come to develop his muscles. He was the strongest of all the kids his age, though he knew none of them. He was always too busy working to have any time to himself. All the work during the day tired him out to the point that he fell asleep as soon as he lay down.
In spite of all this work, his family sunk further and further into poverty.
Terra knew his father was the problem. Living in poverty drove him to drinking, and the money he used to pay for his outings was money they needed to survive. It wasn't fair that they were being driven further and further into the ground by his father's horrible habits. Still, he made no effort to stop it, not sure what would happen if he dared speak up. He'd come across his fair share of drunkards in his short life and knew better than to make one angry. Well-learned fighting skills were one thing, brute strength was another, but fighting an unpredictable opponent was a lost battle.
One night, he was woken up by a loud crash. The moon was full, casting a pale light through the windows. It was like a scene in one of the multiple horror stories he had heard on the job, stories with rabid animal-people that ate people under full moons or creatures from beyond the sky kidnapping people to turn them into unspeakable abominations. Normally, Terra brushed those stories off without a second thought, writing them off as childish and wasteful, but something about the atmosphere sent shivers down his spine.
Another crash had come from the kitchen. He could make out some swear words, meaning that it was probably his father coming home from another drinking session, before there was a thump on the floor. Figuring that his father had passed out, he got up and decided to go help his father to bed. As he had expected, he found the drunk sprawled on the floor, one arm pinned under his body.
He reached down to grab his father's arm and drag him along the floor, but something about the situation felt wrong. Wanting to satisfy his sensation, he figured that his father had left the door open and that it was the cold night air giving him chills. He had turned towards the door only slightly, enough to see that it was shut, before the sensation returned, flaring in full force.
'Drunk people never remember to close doors,' he realized half a second before he noticed that his father was moving. Terra's reflexes sprang into action at the last second and he managed to dive out of the way as the knife stabbed into the floor where he had been standing.
There was a dangerous look in his father's eyes as he pulled the knife back out of the ground. "Enough is enough," he said, his words slurred, but the malice in them was clear.
In that moment, as his father raised the knife for another strike, Terra felt his heart stop and his instincts kick in. He rolled out of the way of the second lunge and kicked at the knife before it could be pulled out of the ground again. His father swore loudly, nursing his hands, and Terra jumped him, wrapping his legs around his father's waist and grabbing at his neck with one hand, his hair with the other. They struggled with each other for a moment, each trying to claw at the other to the best of their ability. His father pulled at his hair, nearly yanking it clear from his scalp. Terra retaliated by biting down into his father's exposed arm.
The fighting stopped as his father nursed his arm, but suddenly Terra's world tipped backwards. His father slammed himself backwards into the floor, scrunching his son under his weight. Terra felt all the air leave his lungs and heard something crack. He coughed and rolled onto his side, trying to get air. Even that simple movement sent ripples of pain cascading through his body. He recovered himself enough to see his father's crazed eyes and the moonlight glinting off the knife, but with no energy to do anything, he could only watch.
The knife came down in a swift strike, looking like it would make its mark in his chest, but something diverted it, making it dig its way into its wielder's leg. His father howled in pain, ripping the knife out of his leg with one hand while he used the other to grab his wife by the neck, choking the air out of her. He yelled something and she gasped something back, an argument that Terra couldn't decipher through the pain. They could have been speaking another language for all he knew. All he could tell was that his mother's life was in danger.
Mustering all the strength he could, Terra pushed himself up and tried to breathe, making slightly better progress even though the pain was getting worse. There was blood on the floor from his father's leg, a nasty puddle spreading out in the darkness like a cloud of death sweeping over the land. The argument reached a higher volume, bringing his thoughts back to the present. His father was waving the knife in his mother's face, pointing it in Terra's direction occasionally, apparently not having noticed that the boy was recovering. Using this to his advantage, Terra threw himself at his father again, latching onto his arm in an attempt to wrestle the knife from his hands. His efforts were rewarded when his father pulled his forearm free long enough to drive the blade into Terra's side.
Everything happened in a flash. Terra felt himself hit the floor, letting out a cry of agonizing pain. His mother screamed as well, throwing herself at her husband. She grabbed at the knife. He turned on her in one smooth movement and stabbed her up under her ribs. There wasn't even a chance for her to scream. Her eyes rolled up and she dropped to the floor, motionless.
Terra lay where he was, struggling to keep himself conscious. He watched his father pull the knife from his mother's corpse, the blade catching on her ribs as he tried to rip it up and out. With the knife back in his hands, his father stood up and started stumbling across the floor, working his way back towards Terra. Halfway across the floor, he tottered, losing his balance, falling on top of the son he had tried to kill. Terra could feel the weight pressing on his injuries, but none of that mattered. His father wasn't breathing. Both of his parents were dead.
Terra lost consciousness sometime after that, as his next memories were of waking up in the hospital, the sun shining in through the windows. He was in so much pain that he almost wished he was dead. The doctor and nurses fussed over him, assuring him he would make a full recovery, but that didn't solve any of his problems. He was alone, the worst thing in the world, no one to take care of him but himself.
And that left Terra where he was now: discharged from the hospital, not wanting to go home but having nowhere else to go and no one to go home to. He took to wandering the streets, ignoring the whispers that followed him everywhere he went. Instead, he concentrated on any other sound he could find, hoping to get his problems off his mind. It was through this that he heard the crying.
Aqua huddled in the alleyway, trying not to cry and failing miserably. She curled up between the junk-filled boxes, hugging her knees and trying to disappear amongst the trash. 'It's where I belong,' she assured herself, 'I'm only as good as the trash.' She didn't like telling herself that. In fact, that was the one thing she didn't want to be true. She wanted her life to have meaning, to be wanted by someone and not have to hate herself. The trash, however, disagreed.
The people walking along on the street ignored her, probably oblivious to her pained cries. She didn't mind it. It was probably for the best that way. If everyone ignored her, she could dissolve herself into the unwanted junk and disappear for good.
Footsteps broke her chain of thought and she stopped crying. They sounded different from the ones on the street, slower, approaching her spot. She pulled her knees closer to her chest, blinking her eyes to try to clear some of the wetness from them. If she had to run, she needed to see where she was going. The footsteps got closer, even more hesitant than before, stopping a split second before the flap of the box she had been sitting in was lifted up. Startled, Aqua screamed. The other person, obviously as startled as she was, yelled and stumbled backwards, letting out a grunt of pain as they tripped and hit the ground.
Aqua looked over her company. It was a boy around her age with more muscles than she saw on most adults. He looked strong, much stronger than anything she could contend with. If it came down to a fight, she knew she'd have to use every dirty trick in the book to escape. She shifted in her box, sliding her legs underneath her in preparation to spring an attack.
He held up one hand, the other behind his back. "H-hold on! I'm not going to hurt you or anything! Just calm down!"
'Oh yeah, sure. And then you'll use whatever's behind your back and take me down. I know how these things work.' With a wild snarl, she jumped out of her crouch and tackled him fully to the ground, pinning his shoulders down with her hands. Her knees rested on his chest, pushing into his stomach. She watched as he gasped and grimaced, feeling his shoulders shake in her grasp. 'That's not struggling. He's in pain! I didn't think I hit him that hard!' Immediately, she clambered off him, crawling back towards her box, making sure to keep her eyes on him.
He gasped for air for a few minutes, his shaking hands digging into the dirt as he tried to get his breathing back to normal. "This is… how you…treat some…one wh-who's trying to… help you…?" he breathed, sounding winded. "Sheesh."
She rested on her haunches, ready to attack again. "Who are you?"
"Name's Terra," he answered, sitting up. "Nice to meet you."
"What do you want?"
"When did it become a crime to worry about other people?"
"What are you worried about me for?"
"I heard you crying."
Aqua cringed. He'd heard her. His was exactly what she wanted, someone who cared enough to wonder why she was upset, and she'd attacked him. Her temper ebbed and she felt her cheeks heat up in shame. "I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to… you know, attack you like that."
"It felt like you meant it," he chuckled, groaning a bit more as he shifted to lean up against the alley wall. "Sorry if I scared you. I'm just… not very good with people."
She caught herself giggling. "It seems like it. You scared me more after I attacked you, though. What's wrong with you?"
"I just got out of the hospital. Not a very pretty situation, but…" He lifted up one side of his shirt, showing her the bandages wrapped around his torso. A patch of it had been dyed a light pink, the stain becoming redder as it got closer to the middle.
He looked down and saw the stain. "So I am," he muttered, not at all affected by the mark. "You hit me harder than I thought."
Aqua shuffled closer to him, pressing her hand lightly to the injury. He didn't react, only watching her carefully as she ran her fingers down the damp area. 'It looks like a knife wound, a kitchen knife to be more accurate, and it looks deep. What happened to him? Who would want to stab him with a kitchen knife?' "Do you have spares? I could wrap it for you, since it's my fault."
He shook his head. "It'll be alright. The wound is mostly healed. Besides, I don't think this is the cleanest environment to be changing bandages in."
"Oh, right," she muttered, embarrassed.
"So, what's your name?"
"Aqua, huh? Well, it certainly fits," he added, pointing at her hair. She smiled sheepishly. "Mind telling me why you're out here with such undesirable company?" He indicated the trash with a jerk of his thumb.
She opened her mouth to reply and stopped, feeling her throat tighten up in nervousness. She wanted to tell him, tell anyone at all, but the words would never come out. Every time she tried to say anything about it, she remembered why she had ended up in her situation: the fact that her parents had died in an accident when she was a baby, too young to remember them; all the struggles she had endured in the orphanages, the scolding and the beatings she had received from her peers and from the adults; the terrible fire that had burned down her only home and killed almost everyone inside… She felt particularly responsible for the last one. No one was more relieved to see that horrible building go up in flames. She had watched it as it burned, standing so close that she could feel the heat rolling off it.
What had ruined it was the smell. The smell of burning bodies, cooking flesh and charred hair. It made her gag. And that was when she had heard the screams. They rose up into the air like a symphony of wails, piercing the smoke and flames to stab into her heart. She had almost passed out. By the time anyone had come to start putting the fire out, she had long run away, her soul too scarred by the screams to dare ask anyone for help.
'No one wants someone like me. I didn't start the fire, but I might as well have. I did nothing to help anyone. I watched them die, and I enjoyed every second of it.'
"If you don't want to talk about it…" Terra started, leaning to one side so he could meet her eyes, "Then you don't have to."
Aqua couldn't hide her confusion. "Huh?"
"It's up to you whether you want to tell me or not. It's fine with me either way. Still… one thing bothers me."
"And what would that be?"
"Your present company," he said, pointing to the trash again, "I don't think the rats make very good friends."
Something about his words stung, making her think back to her desire to talk about what happened. She opened her mouth to snap out a sharp reply, but before she could get a sound out, her stomach interrupted, growling a low grumbled that made Terra smile.
"Sounds like you haven't eaten. Come on," he grunted, pushing himself back to his feet. He held out a hand to help her up. "Let's get something."
She stared for a moment, caught off guard. "You… you're taking me with you?"
"You don't want to?"
"No! I mean… Why? Why are you spending money on me?"
He chuckled. "You meant to say 'wasting it on me', right? Don't worry about it. I've got plenty of money as compensation for my hospital stay. Besides, it's my treat."
"Alright," she agreed reluctantly, letting him help her to her feet. "You're sure about this?"
"Absolutely. And, from the looks of it, you need a place to stay. You look like you've been sleeping in the trash."
Aqua put her hands on her hips, giving him a half-smile. "Let me guess. You're going to suggest I stay with you."
He seemed slightly taken aback by her change in attitude. Eventually, he gave her a quick nod. "Something wrong with that idea?"
"Your parents won't mind?"
"No," he said rigidly, and Aqua noticed something in his eyes that disappeared almost as suddenly as it appeared.
'Is that… shame? He's ashamed? About… his parents?' A dark idea crept into the back of her mind. 'Are his parents the ones that did this? They stabbed their own son? Why would they…? No, I can't start thinking about that. This is a chance. I'm being given a chance to start again, start from the beginning.' She grabbed his hand. "Let's go eat. We'll work out something after it."
He smiled. "If you say so."
Ven bent over, picking the piece of armor up off the floor in front of him. "It's Terra's. There no doubt about that," he muttered, turning the golden metal helmet over in his hands, "Wonder why he dropped it…"
Behind him, Aqua and Sora said nothing. He glanced back at them, watching their hesitation as they walked. Something was wrong with them, but he hadn't discovered what it was quite yet.
After the Prince had disappeared, Ven had circled the bush, looking for a way in without coming into contact with the dangerous plant. The thorns on the bush, probably the poisonous part, protruded out, long and jagged, over the hole, leaving only a 5-inch diameter space above the black opening, making it impossible to get by. Finally, he had resigned himself to the fact that there was no getting in and decided to head home, mentally marking the spot off as he made his way back. 'I might be able to figure out a way around it later, so I have to remember where it is. I want to find him and talk to him about what that dreams means.'
By the time he had gotten back home, the sun was below the tree line and everything was submerged in shadows. He had run into Aqua just outside, half-dragging Sora behind her. Sora looked disoriented, as if whatever was on his mind was something he didn't like, but when Ven asked about it, Sora didn't respond.
"That's not the problem right now," Aqua assured him. "Have you seen Terra or the Prince recently?"
Ven opened his mouth, going to tell her about the exchange in the forest, but he changed his mind at the last second. 'I want to keep this to myself for now. I don't want to tell Aqua about that man when it's obvious something else is going on.' "No, not since this morning. Why?"
"There's no time to explain now. We have to find them."
That's when they had run into the armor littering the hallways. A few of the staff, the few that were employed there, were eyeing it suspiciously. None of them claimed to have seen its owner, though, setting them back to square one.
Ven looked back down at the helmet in his hands. "Nothing else to do but follow the trail, right?" he muttered to himself. His armor clicked as he walked down the hall.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," he heard Aqua say from behind him. He looked at her over his shoulder. 'She doesn't look good. Whatever happened out there to make her and look like this must be connected to whatever's going on between Terra and Riku.'
He turned around a corner and stopped dead in his tracks, dropping the helmet in his hands, the suddenness of the action causing Aqua and Sora to crash into him with a clatter of armor. Ven pulled off his own helmet and added it to the pile on the floor, making sure he was seeing what he thought he was. "Terra!"
Even from the other end of the hall, Ven knew something was wrong. Terra was wobbling, drifting blindly from one side of the hallway to the other, moving forward in uncontrolled collections of stumbling steps. His head was down and he was clutching at one arm as though the action would keep him standing upright. There was a tear across the front of his shirt, but it was hard to tell anything more from the distance.
Ven took off down the hall to meet him, feet thumping against the floor. Terra looked up at the sound and Ven felt his chest tighten. His friend looked tired, his eyes barely open, and his skin was paler that normal. There was a dead look in his eyes. Aqua and Sora ran over to join them.
"Ven," Terra croaked out, cracking a weak smile. He reached out, his hand shaking, and ruffled Ven's hair. "We must look so pathetic in your eyes."
"Huh? Terra, what's going on?"
He shook his head, wobbling so much that he lost his balance and fell against the wall, barely managing to stay on his feet. "We're just trying to live our lives, these useless things, and we're not getting anywhere."
Aqua stepped forward to try to steady him, pulling him up by his shoulder, but he stumbled and fell forward, taking her down with him. Ven caught something red out of the corner of his eye and turned to the wall. There was a smear on the wall, little streams of blood rolling down from the main patch. He didn't have very long to notice it, the long bloody gash down Terra's back commandeering most of his attention. The crimson liquid had soaked through the back of his clothes, the bottom half of his shirt and his pants sticking uncomfortably to his body.
Aqua was panicking. "Terra, what happened? How did you- No, not time for this. Sora, Ven, go find a doctor." When neither of them moved, she raised her voice. "Now, damn it! Go!"
Sora jumped, blinking a few times before his motor functions kicked in and he ran off to find help. Ven tried to move, but he couldn't will his legs to move. He was staring at the blood. 'It's like in my dream. All the blood, and none of its mine.'
"Ven, go find help. I don't know how much longer…" Aqua started, trailing off as she looked down at Terra.
He was getting worse by the second, his breath coming out in ragged gasps. When Aqua tried to lift his shirt and get at the wound, he cringed, sending himself into a short fit of shakes. "Let… Ven stay," he breathed, quieter than before, "I know…I'm dying…"
Aqua shook her head, brushing some hair off his face. "No, we're going to save you. Just hold on a little longer," she assured him, her voice cracking on the last word.
"It's…enough," he chuckled. "Aqua, come closer."
Fighting back sniffles, she leaned over, careful to avoid pinching him with her armor. Ven saw his lips move, saying something too softly to hear, and Aqua choked up, placing a hand to her face. "I feel the same, Terra. I always have. Please, just hold on a little longer. Everything will be fine, I promise. Please, for me."
Terra coughed once, a hollow painful sound, and managed another smile. "You… shouldn't make… promises… you can't…" He took another weak breath, trying to finish his sentence, closing his eyes in concentration as his eyebrows furrowed, but the breath came out, his face relaxing, his words unfinished.
For the longest moment of Ven's life, no one said anything. He stood there, willing Terra to move, internally begging him to finish, all to no avail. The only sound was Aqua's sobs, increasing slightly in volume until she finally broke into tears.
"This didn't need to happen," she wailed, trying to keep her voice in check, "None of this needed to happen."
Ven wanted to say something to comfort her, but he came up empty. "Aqua…"
"Don't!" she snapped, wiping unshed tears from her eyes, only to have them replaced by more. She carefully laid Terra's body out on the floor, brushing another strand of his sweaty hair off his face before she stood up. "Don't say anything, Ven. Don't even try to explain this. I've had enough of things like this. Terra decided how he wanted to live his life, and I decided how I want to live mine." With one last shake of her head, she started to walk away.
She stopped. "What?"
He cringed at the sudden lifelessness in her voice. "What… what did he say to you?"
"What he wanted to tell me a long time ago."
Without another word, she walked away, leaving Ven alone with the eternally still form of his best friend.
Ven noticed Terra's strange behavior almost instantly. It wasn't hard to see that he wasn't acting like himself, especially when Ven had been living with him for the past nine years. He never really thought too much about it, though, as it never seemed to affect anything Terra did. The change was more in the way he held himself, a little less confident that usual.
It escalated only once, when Terra had pulled him aside. He had been walking along a hallway on the way to lunch when Terra had grabbed him by the back of his shirt and dragged him around a corner into another hallway. It left Ven slightly disoriented, stumbling back against the wall while Terra checked around the corner.
"Wha…? Terra? What's going o-" he started, but Terra clamped his hand over Ven's mouth.
"Quiet. I need to talk to you about something and I don't want anyone else to hear this."
He sighed, sliding his hands into his pockets. "Why me? Don't you usually tell Aqua about this kind of important stuff?"
"This is something I can't talk to her about."
''Can't talk to her about'? I've never heard of anything that Terra and Aqua couldn't discuss. Is he sick or something? Or…did he hurt someone? Aqua would be furious if she found out he did, even accidentally…' "What happened?"
"Nothing… happened, exactly… It's complicated."
Ven crossed his arms. "Complicated enough that Aqua wouldn't understand?"
"Complicated enough because Aqua is involved."
"Aqua hurt someone?"
Terra stumbled on whatever he had planned to say and looked down at his friend in confusion. "Where did you get a crazy idea like that?"
"Well… You know Aqua gets mad at you do something she doesn't like, and she doesn't like it when you hurt people, so I thought…" He trailed off, realizing how embarrassing his interpretation was.
The tension broke as Terra laughed, ruffling Ven's hair affectionately. "Only you could come to a conclusion like that… No, Aqua hasn't done anything wrong. It's something else."
"Promise not to tell anyone?"
"Not even Aqua?"
"Especially not Aqua."
Ven nodded. "Secret is safe with me, Terra."
"I…" He paused, taking a deep breath before quickly breathing the rest of his sentence out. "I like Aqua."
There was a long moment of silence as Ven absorbed that knowledge. "You mean, like her like her? As in, you lo-"
Terra clamped his hand back over Ven's mouth. "Not so loud! But… yeah. It's like that."
"Wow. So that's why you've been acting so strange…"
"Terra, you're my best friend," Ven pointed out, smiling confidently. "It's impossible for me not to have noticed. So, when did you realize this?"
"A little while back. It's… it's complicated."
"And when do you plan on telling her?"
Terra turned to stare down the hall, hands deep in his pockets. "I'm not."
"Listen, Ven… The reason why I don't want anyone to find out is because… well, I guess I'm afraid. Right now, I like what we've got, Aqua and I. She's been my friend for a very long time. What I'm saying is that I don't want that relationship to change if it's not going to change for the better."
"You mean… you'd rather just stay friends, as opposed to her flat-out rejecting you?"
"If you have to put it so pointedly," Terra grumbled, cringing, his jaw line tight, "yes. That's why I don't want you telling anyone. Promise?"
"I told you, your secret is safe with me."
"Good. I'm heading off to lunch, then. I'll catch up with you later." Waving over his shoulder, Terra ambled off. Ven watched him go, contemplating what he had learned and wondering what would be done about it. Knowing Terra, if left to his own devices, nothing would ever come of it.
"It's nice to know what he's thinking, since he so rarely speaks his mind anymore."
Ven jumped at the voice and spun around, almost tripping on his own feet as he tried to interrupt his action and jump backwards in surprise at the same time. Aqua reached out and steadied him, moving from her relaxed stance against the wall.
"Aqua! H-how long have you been…?"
She patted his head softly, her other hand tangled in her hair. It was on the long side, curling up behind her shoulders, making her look a lot more feminine than her usual style did. "Standing here? Long enough. I heard the two of you and decided to see what was happening."
"So you… you know?"
"I've known for a while, Ven, but I just wanted to hear him say the words. He's been… keeping his distance lately. I was starting to worry about him, but I think I can let him off the hook now that I know what's been troubling him."
Ven gauged her reaction, taking a close look at her face. Aqua watched him in turn, staring at him until she broke out into a fit of laughter, Ven joining her. "So, I wanted to ask, Aqua… Now that you know how Terra feels, what do you feel about him?"
"It's…" Aqua blushed, staring at her feet. "It's… pretty much the same. You don't come to realize these things when you've been friends as long as we have, but sometimes things start to change and… well, become something more. That's how I feel about it, and I'm sure he feels the same."
"And you're not going to do anything about it either?"
"I think… Terra will know when that time is right. When he knows, that's when he'll tell me. Until then, I'm hoping things can go back to normal."
Ven looked over at her before turning his attention back down the hallway, where Terra had long disappeared from view. "I hope so too…"
Vanitas stretched out his arms and legs, cringing when his sore body protested and shuddering at the wet squelch that accompanied his movements. All of his joints felt tight and uncomfortable, but in some strange way, he had never felt better. He felt like all the weight on his shoulders had been lifted, leaving him with an overwhelming sense of relief that seemed akin to weightlessness.
The connection suddenly dropped him back to reality like a ton of bricks to the face, the memories flooding back to him: his meeting with Riku; the encounter with Ventus; the untimely demise of his Master, which he himself had orchestrated; and his vivid encounter with Xion. He felt his body begin to revolt against him and pulled himself a few feet across the floor before his stomach voided itself, leaving a rotten puddle of smelly goo that made his nose itch as a result.
Trying to stand up, Vanitas felt his body protest his movements, feeling like every inch of his skin was contracting in an effort to drag him back to the floor. He wanted to go back to sleep, blood pounding violently in his ears, his head spinning in disjointed loops. A touch on his shoulder sent adrenaline roaring through his system, startled and near-frightened, worried that his lack of mobility would kill him.
His heart skipped a beat as he looked up, meeting Xion's eyes for a long moment. Her hand on his bare shoulder was warm and comforting, easing out some of the uncomfortable tension. His eyes traced her figure once, but the inviting hunger he had felt hours ago had long subsided, filled only with something akin to happiness or pride. 'Xion is free from the Master, and yet, she chose to stay with me. She chose me, and I chose her.' He sat up, sitting on the back of his feet, and reached up to grab her hand off his shoulder.
"Are you okay?" she asked, holding his hand tightly, concern clear in her eyes in the dim light.
Vanitas managed to nod, his muscles all over his body as stiff as boards. His skin was beginning to bother him, realizing that it was probably his scars acting up again, a constant tingling vulnerability that made his blood run cold. 'This feeling… doesn't happen suddenly. I've been vulnerable for a while, so why hasn't…?'
Xion spoke as if she could read his mind. "You're safe now, Vanitas. The Master is gone. You're free and no one will hurt you. You're safe here… with me…"
"I know," he said, pulling her in for a kiss. Her lips were warm and soft, fragile but steadfast. She returned his kiss with the same fervor, the same intensity that she had before, with no hesitation or regret. He could feel it through her lips, as if the contact had made them one, a bond forged in fire and utterly unbreakable. "But what I don't feel safe with," he muttered as they pulled apart, his lips curling up into a sly grin, "is this filth we're lying in." He guided her eyes downward to the bloody slop coating the floor, leaving a pinkish coating to their skin and sticking to their hair in wet clumps.
Xion made a disgusted face, breaking out into a fit of giggles when he imitated it. "Alright, alright. I guess it's time for a shower, then?" She made to stand up, but Vanitas snaked one arm around her waist, pulling her down into his lap. "Let me guess," she laughed. "You want me to join you."
Vanitas returned her smile with one of his own. "You know, you need to stop reading my mind like that."
"I would," she countered, "if you weren't so easy to read."
"Then I don't need to explain my reasoning, do I?" he returned. He shifted to his feet, picking her up in his arms before setting her down carefully. He held out his hand and she took it, cuddling close to his side. 'Cleaning up this mess can wait. I have bigger things to take care of. The people of this dump of a world need to know that there's a world up above them. They need to know that they're not being held down here against their will by that sick freak like we were.'
As they stepped out into the hall, they ran into a maid, who gasped and shielded her eyes, drawing in closer to herself. It wasn't until then that Vanitas remembered that they were completely naked. Blushing slightly, he cleared his throat. The maid looked up from under her the bangs of her blond hair, keeping her gaze on his face.
"You, listen to me. The Master is dead. I'm the master of this place now, got it?"
The maid let out another gasp of surprise before attempting to compose herself. "Y-yes, M-m-master!"
"Have everyone in town gather in the courtyard in the morning. I have some announcements and I want them all present. Understood?"
"Yes, Master," the maid replied, closing her eyes to give them a respectful bow. When Vanitas and Xion were down the hall and out of sight, the maid opened her blue eyes and glanced over her shoulder in their direction. "All will be as you desire, Master Storyteller…"
Kairi could never figure out exactly when she had fallen in love, but when she realized that she had, her entire world began to revolve around him. She watched him day and night, from the moment he woke up until the moment he went to bed. She didn't know exactly what made him so attractive to her. Maybe it was the way his hair shifted when he turned his head. Maybe it was his smile. Maybe it was the way the muscles in his arms expanded and contracted when he swung his Keyblade. Whatever it was, Kairi loved him for it and she couldn't stop herself from looking.
The idea of different kinds of love never occurred to her, as she had never encountered any other kind before. Besides, she knew he loved her and that was all that mattered. What other kind of love did she need? To her, he was a god on a pedestal that only reached down for her, his singular goddess. He never showed love to any other girls. His interactions with Aqua, the only other girl he had any business with, were formal and practical, straight to the point and over once the necessary information was exchanged. There was no love there, not like she showed her. He loved her, and she loved him.
After her discovery of how deeply her love for him ran, even the slightest touch was enough to send a volley of pleasant shivers down her spine. She dreamed of him on those nights, rocked to sleep by the memory of his fingers on her skin and her attempts to recreate them. No matter how hard she tried, nothing felt the same. Only he could make her feel so special, which is why she hated how introverted he had become. They had played together all the time as children, but now it seemed all he wanted to do was read. She wanted him to spend time with her, hold her and touch her, make her feel good inside and love her. 'He ought to act more like a brother,' she decided one night. 'He ought to act more like he loves me.'
On an impulse, she went to his room and knocked. She had never been in his room before, so she didn't know what to expect, at least hoping he would let her in. She knocked again after a minute when there was no response. Finally, there was a gruff call of "Come in", followed by a loud slam and a curse. Carefully, Kairi pushed open the door.
Riku was standing at his desk, picking some heavy books off the floor. Kairi felt a blush come to her face and her skin start to tingle in excitement when she saw him, dressed in only his boxers and a loose t-shirt, his hair falling over his shoulders like a silk sheet as he leaned over. When he saw her, he tilted his head towards the bed, offering her a seat. Nervously, she scanned the room as she went to sit down. The furniture was the standard, having nearly all the same fancy wood furnishings as she did, though there were small differences. Everything seemed simple, practical, which suited his style, and somewhat bland, whites and grays being the prominent colors. He was adding books to the already daunting pile on his desk, a few more books still open on his bed. She could almost picture him, his form thrown across the bedspread, eyes carefully scanning each word on the page, and her heart skipped a beat.
"Isn't it a little late for you to be walking around?" he asked suddenly, making her jumped. He had walked up beside her while she was distracted, closing the books on his bed before taking a few back to his desk.
Kairi sat down. "Oh, I… I wanted to talk to you."
She opened her mouth to reply but closed it almost instantly, finding that she didn't have a good enough answer. She had come to see him, wanting to be by his side. For some reason, she couldn't tell him. She wanted him to know just how much she loved him. "I never get to talk to you much, so I figured… There's no harm in wanting some conversation, right?"
"I guess not," he muttered, looking down at the book he was holding. With a shrug, he placed it on the top of one disorganized stack and returned to his bed for another. "Fire away."
"Do you remember… what we were kids…?" she asked, lying back on the bed.
Riku cringed slightly. "I wish I didn't…" he muttered darkly, his grip on the book in his hands tightening. He placed the door on his desk and then sat down next to her. "What about it?"
She rolled onto her side to look at him. "When we were kids, everyone used to say that you were so stubborn and picky that you'd never get married. Remember that?"
"I do. They still say it."
"Well, I heard some of the maids talking…"
"Don't call them 'maids', Kairi," he lectured, looking down at her. "It's rude."
She smiled. Kairi was never lectured by anyone, not even her father. Only Riku did, trying to school her into behaving properly for her illustrious position. She listened, if only just because she loved the way he sounded when he scolded her. "I know. I heard them saying that at this rate, you'll have to marry me, since I'm the only girl you're ever nice to."
Riku cracked a smile. "True, but let's hope it never comes to that."
"You're my sister, Kairi. I can't marry you."
He let out a sigh, lying back on the bed next to her, using his arms as a cushion for his head. Kairi watched the muscles in his arms shift under his skin, wondering what it would be like to touch them. "Kairi, there are certain things you just don't do. Marrying you siblings is one of them. It isn't right."
"This is a weird thing to press," he said suddenly, looking over at her. There was a critical light in his eyes, as if he were trying to stare into her mind and see what she was thinking. "What brought this on?"
Kairi settled onto her back again, hoping it would mask some of her expression. "What is it that makes being siblings so… restrictive? You're my brother, and yet we hardly spend any time together."
"That's not because we're siblings. That's just because I'm busy."
Riku's eyes because serious, though his voice remained teasing. "Minding my own business, like you should be doing."
"I worry about you, that's all. You're always working so hard, but for what? You're never any happier for it."
"My happiness doesn't mean a thing. I'm working for the happiness and wellbeing of others, and that's good enough for me."
Kairi glanced over at him. "For… my wellbeing as well?"
"Yes, everyone. Once things are taken care of, then thing'll be better. Then we'll spend some time together. I promise."
"Sounds good to me," she whispered, rolling onto her side. She draped her arm across Riku's chest and snuggled into his side, feeling the warmth of his body and the sound of his heartbeat in her head. He recoiled slightly, his body stiffening and his heartbeat picking up.
"Kairi, what are you-?" he began, but she cut him off.
"Do you love me?"
He paused. "Of course. You're my sister."
"How much do you love me?"
"Kairi, what do you-?"
"Because I love you so much." She shifted her weight again, drawing herself up and onto him, pinning him to the bed. He was too surprised to fight back, letting her get a firm grasp on his wrists. She slid her legs overtop of his, splitting them apart until her waist was pressed firmly against his, leaning forward until her chest was against his, their faces only an inch apart. She could feel his labored breath against her cheeks, the heat sending powerful shivers down her spine that threatened to break her hold over him. "I love you so much, Riku, and all I want in return is you to love me the same. And you do love me, right? So there's no problem. No problem at all."
Without any thought or hesitation, Kairi leaned in and pressed her lips against Riku's, forcing him into a kiss. He strained his arms to try to break her hold, but she dug her fingernails into his wrists and he stopped struggling. The sensation was perfect: his lips were warm, warmer than the rest of his body was, soft and firm all at once. She kissed him deeper, more passionately, tasting him and burning the taste into her memory. His chest rose and fell quickly, panicking, his heartbeat erratic and restless against her own.
Finally, she felt the tenseness in his muscles loosen and he returned her passions, kissing her with the same frenzied fervor that she was giving him. Kairi lost herself in the moment, losing control of her muscles as the pleasure threatened to overtake her. In the split second, Riku pulled his arms from her grasp and pushed, throwing her onto the floor with a loud thud. Pain coursed up her spine and she cringed, looking up at Riku in surprise. He sat up, panting, wiping his mouth off on his wrist, staring at her in horror.
Kairi opened her mouth to voice her confusion, but Riku spoke first. "Get out of here."
"Now!" he shouted, his voice echoing in the room. She had never heard him get so angry. Somehow, it made her want to be near him more. Kairi rose to her feet slowly, watching him, wondering if maybe he would change his mind. The coldness in his eyes didn't change. "Get out. Right now."
Obeying, Kairi left, closing the door behind here. There in the hallway, she leaned back against the door, listening closely to what was going on. She could hear Riku swearing under his breath, followed by a crash so loud that she jumped. There was more swearing before everything was silent, leaving Kairi alone in the hallway, the only sound coming from the beating of her heart. She stood there was while, basking in the pure pleasure she had felt from their meeting. It wasn't enough, she had decided, but for now, it would do.
Only that night, with the touch of her brother's skin lingering on her, was Kairi able to feel true happiness.
King Eraqus wandered the hallways of his castle listlessly, overcome with grief. His only son was dead, killed before his eyes by a young man he trusted with his life. He had foreseen a confrontation between the two of them, as the two had never seen eye to eye, but he had never expected something so violent or a conclusion so bloody.
Though a strict father, Eraqus loved his children deeply. He had lost his wife during the birth of their twin daughters, so none of the children had known the love of their mother, not even Riku, who had not even turned one year old at her death. Eraqus had done his best to care for them with as much love as possible, dividing all his time between the kingdom and his children. When Xion had gone missing, Eraqus had devoted as much of his efforts as possible to finding her. The search and continued for months on end until all of his advisors agreed that he was putting the kingdom in danger.
Eraqus, with a heavy heart, had given up one of his children, and that had spawned the deep rift that now divided them. Riku in particular had never forgiven him. The three had been playing when Xion was taken, and Riku had nearly been hurt badly trying to protect her. Eraqus knew that his son blamed him for what had happened, and things had only become worse. Soon enough, Riku had dissolved into granting him only the barest acknowledgement, spending more and more time on his own. Kairi had taken everything in stride: she was not overly broken up over her sister's disappearance, but she seemed to have drifted off into a world of her own, often distracted for no apparent reason. The family had fallen apart, and Eraqus could do nothing to save it.
When he reached his room, the entire wing of the castle was in darkness, the lamps not yet lit. The staff was probably still occupied with the dead prince, nothing of the young man's treason revealed to anyone. The king closed the door behind him and walked to his window, staring out at the moon.
Eraqus jumped, spinning on his heel so quickly that the edges of his coat flew out in a wide circle, slapping against his thighs before settling back into place. When he realized who was standing in the shadows, he let out a sigh of relief. "Oh, Kairi. I'm sorry… You startled me for a moment there. Can I do something for you?" Normally, Eraqus wasn't one to send his daughter away, but he was too exhausted to deal with her. He wanted to sleep.
Kairi stepped out of the shadows and into the moonlight, her long hair obscuring her face. She was still wearing her dinner dress, a flowing gown that looked as though someone had wrapped her up in a gigantic pink ribbon and tied it at the back with a bow. Something about her, the way she held her, seemed sullen, tired. "I wanted to ask…" she said quietly, stepping forward until she was standing in front of him. She placed her hands on his chest and grabbed onto his coat. Her hands were shaking. "I wanted to ask… if what I heard was true… That Riku is…"
'Ah, so that's it. She knows.' "I'm sorry, Kairi. It's true. Riku is… gone." Eraqus choked on his words, trying to find a way to comfort her. He couldn't even comfort himself: how could he even attempt to help her? "I'm sorry."
"So it's true…" she muttered, her voice thick with depression.
Eraqus reached out and placed his hands on her shoulders, which were shaking as well. "You should go lie down, Kairi. All of this must be hard for you."
"It is," she replied softly. "All of it's… very hard for me… But…"
"You don't have to worry about me."
Eraqus' eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Kairi was shaking even more, but she sounded… happy? "And why is that?"
Kairi looked up at him for the first time, giving Eraqus a split second to register the deranged smile on her face before there was a loud ripping sound, accompanied by what sounded like a butcher's knife slicing up a steak, metallic and fleshy. Eraqus instantly felt all the strength in his body leave him and, with a slight push from Kairi, he fell onto his back on the floor. He could taste blood. His vision was blurring and his head was spinning violently. Using the last of his strength, he managed to look up. He could see Kairi's face, her insane smile, over the handle of her flowery Keyblade, which was now buried up to the hilt in his chest. He saw her open her mouth to speak as his vision finally faded to black, her last words drowned out by stifling, unending silence.