Set in the Realm of Darkness.
This is a continuation - a rather unplanned one - for one of my other works, To Die at Your Lips
I am not quite sure if you would need to read that other one in order to understand this one, but I would still suggest it, just in case.
This is dedicated to Orochimarisu, the first reviewer of my first story.
DISCLAIMER [I do not own Kingdom Hearts, or that Quote below the Title] DISCLAIMER
TO DIE AT YOUR LIPS
How fortunate it would be to be your tears...
To be born in your eyes, to live on your cheeks, and to die at your lips…
In the Realm of Darkness, the sound of footsteps could be heard. But it could be mistaken for the ticking of a clock, the swing of a pendulum, the way it sounded so rhythmic and constant.
"How long have I been down here…?"
She could not be certain how many times she had asked herself that question. She could not even be certain if she had truly said it aloud, or the dense silence had made her every thought sound as if she uttered them. She stopped walking, and placed a hand on her chest as if to feel her beating heart, to reassure herself that somehow her heart endured. She held her blue Wayfinder pressed between her hand and her chest.
"How much longer until I see them again…?"
She gasped, summoning her Master's keyblade and spinning around in one swift movement. But she did not know where the voice came from. It seemed as though it were an echo, surrounding her, rather than coming from a single source. She stood steady for a while, guarded, but she could find no sign of a coming threat. There was only darkness, shadow upon shadow; no movement disturbed the blackness that she had grown so accustomed to.
"I… I must have imagined it," she finally concluded, lowering her guard but not dismissing the keyblade. She walked on, head bowed, watching her feet move, one after the other.
She stopped again, her defenses up, but this time she did not have to look around her. She could see him now, directly ahead of her, a faintly visible silhouette. He took slow steps towards her, and she narrowed her eyes warily at him.
"Vanitas…" she murmured, a hint of disgust in her voice. She knew she could not be mistaken. However, he seemed different as well. He was no longer storm black and blood red; rather, he was ebony and snow, shadow and light…
She thrust her keyblade forward when he came close, stopping him in his tracks. She could see her face reflected on his helmet, her tired features filled with anger.
"I will not hurt you…" he said, and she noticed that he was unarmed.
Still, she held her weapon at the ready.
"How… Why…?" she couldn't decide what question to ask.
"How did I get here? Why am I still alive?" he offered.
She did not respond.
"Aqua… I am not here. And I am not alive."
"I told you; I'm sick of your nonsense!"
With an angered cry, she attacked him. All he did was dodge her strikes, moving just far enough out of the reach of the blade. "Stop…" he said, in that same deep, monotonous voice.
"Why did you come here?" she asked. "What do you want from me?"
"My freedom," he replied, leaping back.
She lowered the keyblade slightly, leaping away from him as well. "What?"
"Memories of you, they keep me here," he said. "Those cursed what-ifs and why-nots…"
The frustration in his voice was laced with regret and sadness, and Aqua found herself lowering her keyblade. "What do you mean, memories of me?"
He stepped towards her, arm outstretched, fingers reaching for her.
"Stop right there!" she said, raising her keyblade again.
"I must show you the memories, so you will understand."
"Just tell me," she said through clenched teeth. "What do you want?"
He paused, letting his outstretched hand fall limply to his side. "A kiss."
She felt bile rise in her throat at the mere thought of it. Was this some kind of sick joke? Did he really expect her to just let him? She stepped further back. "Don't you dare come any closer!"
"I have all the time in the world. And so do you."
She clenched her fists. He was right.
Vanitas summoned his keyblade, and she noticed that even that had changed appearance. She was guarded for a moment, now that he, too had a weapon, but all he did was hold the keyblade by its shaft and extend the guard out towards her.
"I will not hurt you," he repeated.
She stepped close enough to take the keyblade, and stepped back once more.
"Will you let me show you?" he asked.
She held both keyblades in her hands, her grip on them unyielding. She paused a moment to study him, but with his helmet on she could not see his face, much less read his eyes.
Finally, "Alright. Show me."
He once again walked towards her with an outstretched arm. She resisted the urge to run away. Soon he was only an arm's reach from her, but he stopped there. His fingertips touched the center of her forehead and he brought her back to Neverland, after her hard-won victory.
She lay unconscious, at the mercy of her adversary as he leaned over her unmoving form. She lay helpless, completely vulnerable, simply because by an act of fate, he woke first.
And so close to her, he could inhale her sweet scent, and feel the warmth of her breath on his lips. He was vaguely aware that every time she exhaled, a tiny breeze was dancing from between her lips and soaring to his own. He wondered what it would feel like to close the distance between them, to catch that tiny breeze before it escaped her lips…
He leaned still closer, intending to touch his lips to hers, to find out what it would feel like, taste like. And the distance between them was only a hair's breadth, when he felt a sharp jolt. It was as if a shock, like lightning, had prevented their lips from meeting…
"Why could I…not kiss her…?"
She shoved his arm away and moved back, the images, the foreign emotions, fading as soon as their contact broke.
"You…!" she said, appalled and sickened by the thought of him so close to her.
"I thought I was merely curious…" he murmured softly.
"What do you mean by that?" she said, not liking the tone of his voice now any more than when it sounded malicious and spiteful.
"Exactly what you think I mean…"
"No!" she said. "You… You're a creature of darkness! You're not capable -!"
He laughed, mirthless, but not cruel. "For a heart such as yours, even pure darkness will falter."
She gave him an icy glare. "You are on your own.'
She flung his keyblade back at him and it fell to the ground at his feet. With that, she dismissed her Master's keyblade and walked away, turning her back to him.
He watched her retreating form as he picked up his own weapon and dismissed it as well. He meant it when he said he would not hurt her. And quietly, like a shadow, he followed her.
Time passed, or at least she believes it does. In this Realm, one can never be certain. She had no means to measure the passing hours, or days, or however long it has been. She is only aware, vaguely, that she has passed that arch innumerable times before, or this pathway, or those shadows. It could've been years now, just as easily as it could have been a single day…
Behind her, Vanitas followed. He did not speak, and his footfalls made no sound. She only knew that he was still there because she could feel his presence, clinging to her as if she was his lifeline. And perhaps she was, but she wanted nothing to do with him.
Now and again she would stop walking, sit down, and think.
She would bring to mind memories of her home, of her friends. They were all she had; they were all that sustained her in this empty, shadowed world. If she could, she would lie down and sleep; her dreams the only true respite from this black prison. However, she could not close her eyes, not with Vanitas so close to her.
"You could end this," he told her.
She pressed her lips into a hard line. "Leave me alone."
"You know what I need from you."
The sound of waves hitting the shoreline filled the air around them. She was seated on the cold, damp sand, her legs tucked to one side. "I am not going to… Never…" she hissed.
"Then I cannot leave."
She glared at him, but he still sat down beside her. He spoke again.
"I spent a long time searching for the answer, for why I am still, in some ways… here…"
"What are you?"
He looked at her, her face reflected on his visor. "I am only an embodied sentiment, a part of the Vanitas you know. The part that you have never met."
"Regardless," she said with unmasked hostility. "I can never forgive you for what you've done."
"I don't need your forgiveness, Aqua," he muttered. "Nor do I want it. I am here for one purpose, nothing else matters."
She did not answer.
"To look, and be unable to see; to hear, unable to listen; and to touch…unable to feel…" he said, his voice a faraway whisper. "To know only one thing, desire only one thing, and to have it denied you. Could you ever hope to understand what this is like?"
"Do not speak to me as if you have a heart."
"You would need a heart to feel. And I still feel… Envy."
"Envy for what?"
He reached for her, and she almost cringed away. But his words were beginning to get to her, the ache in his voice reaching out to her empathetic heart. He touched his fingertip to the corner of her eye, and drew a line down to her lips. "For this."
She turned away from him.
"As much as it disgusts you, that memory is what keeps me here. That what if…why not…?"
Aqua bit her lip, her breathing strained to keep her emotions in check. She was conflicted. Did anyone really deserve this fate? Was it truly possible that this sentiment remained here because of such a trivial, unsatisfied want? Is this even real or is it an illusion the darkness has created to mock her, to torment her further?
It was his next words that finalized her decision. "Aqua, please…"
She breathed in the cold, stale air. She knew she could not deny him; her heart would not let her. Vanitas did not come to life of his own accord; he was drawn out of Ventus in order to do the bidding of a more sinister heart.
If he had remained in Ventus… If the boy she had known and loved as her friend had never parted with this darkness, could she have cared for him the same? Would she have accepted his dark half the way she had accepted his light? Has she not, after all, done the same for Terra, whose darkness ran deep in his soul?
This sentiment pleading for his freedom, could she blame him? Could she spend the rest of eternity with this shadow at her heels, feeling his regret, his desperation, knowing that she had the power to release him?
She sighed, a slow release of her rage and of her intolerance. She could forgive this part of him. For although she can understand nothing else about this lingering sentiment, she knows that it was he that allowed her to live. She knows that as she lay unconscious on that plateau in Neverland, vulnerable and oblivious, it was this embodied emotion that held Vanitas back.
"Alright…" she whispered, and in the blink of an eye, he was kneeling before her.
She hesitantly removed his helmet, lowering it onto her lap, and for the first time saw the face behind the black visor. She gasped. He looked so young, so innocent. His boyish face framed by locks of unkempt black hair, his skin pale and smooth in the faint, white light. But those amber eyes... She could see flames in them, darkness swirling in their endless depths. It was as if he was a child corrupted and destroyed beyond hope of deliverance.
She turned away, unable to face him. "I… I can't do this…"
He did not move away. "Close your eyes. It will be easier that way."
And she did as he asked, shutting her eyes as tightly as she could. She felt his gloved hand on her chin, pulling her face to his. Her lips began to tremble, knowing what was coming next. But he did not rush. He caressed her cheek with one hand, while the other gently rested on the back of her neck. She felt him lean closer, until his lips were lightly brushing hers. Closer until, finally, her warmth became his.
Her heart thundered in her chest and her mind reeled, but her body softened. She was leaning into him now, as he was leaning into her. She felt tears begin to fill her eyes as the enormity of what she was doing dawned on her. But before she could do anything else, the contact faded. He did not pull away, and neither did she. He simply faded. She felt his solid, physical form one moment, and then it slowly lightened until she could no longer feel his weight at all.
She opened her eyes. He was gone. She bowed her head, and let the tears fall, though the reason for her crying escaped her. Through her blurred vision, she saw that on her lap, his helmet still lay, and her reflection was once again on its visor. One of her teardrops fell on its gleaming black surface, sliding down as if from his eye to his lips.
And then that, too, as she held it in her hands, became no more than air…