Set in an Alternate Universe.
I truly enjoyed writing this.
So I hope you enjoy reading it.
Although, I would have to ask you to excuse my portrayal of Zexion.
I am not familiar with him at all.
Also, this is kind of an experiment.
I hope it doesn't get confusing or anything.
DISCLAIMER [I do not own Kingdom Hearts] DISCLAIMER
Once upon a time…
"And they lived happily ever after…" she said, watching the young boy fight to keep his eyes open.
"Is it…over already…?" he said sleepily as she closed the book.
"Yes," she answered, smiling. "Now keep your promise and go to sleep…"
"No," he said, frowning defiantly.
"I've finished the story. You promised you would sleep then, Riku."
He yawned. "The story isn't finished," he insisted. "You have to tell me what they did next."
"Well, I suppose they would get married."
She chuckled. "No, not right away…"
"Then that isn't the end yet," Riku complained.
Aqua sighed as she stood up from the chair and sat on the edge of his bed. She kissed the boy on his forehead, saying, "Close your eyes and I will continue the story."
He narrowed his eyes distrustfully at her. "I know what you're trying to do, Aqua."
She laughed again. How annoying it was that the little four-year-old did not think like one. "I am trying to get you to sleep, Riku."
"I don't want to, unless you finish the story," he said, though he yawned yet again.
"I did," she said, brandishing the closed book. "See? There's nothing more."
"But you know what happens next," he said. "You said they would get married."
She sighed. "Yes, I supposed so, but I am only guessing, Riku…"
"Then tell me more of your guesses," he said, his eyes shining.
Aqua pressed her fingers against her temple. The longer this conversation went, the less sleepy the boy was bound to get. "I'm not good at making stories up," she said.
"You told my mom you were creative," he said.
"Well… I…" She had no idea what to say. He was telling the truth, of course. Before her first day babysitting Riku, his mom had told her that dealing with him was different from dealing with other children. And Aqua did say she was creative, and she was sure she could handle him. Riku was not supposed to hear that conversation, and she was surprised that he even remembers it since it was several months ago.
He was looking at her expectantly, his aquamarine eyes boring into her in a way that one would never expect from a child. "Well?" he asked.
"There are different forms of creativity, you know… This just happens to be one of the forms that I'm not good at."
The little boy was quiet for a minute, and then suddenly, he shouted, "Zexion!"
Her eyes widened. "No, Riku!" she hissed, but her reprimand was too late because there came the sound of a door opening and closing, followed by footsteps.
Aqua breathed deeply. She rarely encountered Zexion, the older brother. He was rarely around, and on the rare occasions that he was home, he was always locked up in his room. And he had a habit of leaving the house at odd times, which was why his parents never trusted him to watch Riku. It was not that Aqua disliked him, though. In fact, she felt attracted to the handsome introvert, but that only served to increase the apprehension she felt whenever he was around.
And tonight he had asked her to make certain that Riku did nothing to bother him, which was why when she heard his voice, she stopped breathing.
"This had better be important," he said.
Her back was to him, but she was sure he was standing in the doorway with a blank expression. His ocean-colored eyes, though, would be shining with impatience.
"It is," Riku answered.
"And, what is it, exactly?"
"Aqua is being stubborn," the boy replied.
She could imagine the smirk on Zexion's face as he said, "Yes, as she seems to have blatantly ignored my earlier instruction…"
"She won't finish the story," Riku said.
"I already did," Aqua argued, trying to gather her patience and hold it together.
"Did you?" Zexion's voice was closer now, and Aqua was sure he was right behind her.
"Yes," she replied.
"No," Riku insisted. "She told me they lived happily ever after. Since when does that mark the end of a story?"
Zexion sighed. "You read him a fairy tale…"
"It was what he wanted," Aqua said, her brows furrowed.
"You should have known better," he said, though not unkindly. And Aqua knew he was smirking again but she did not dare to look. His smirk always made him so much more attractive, and Aqua did not trust herself not to blush.
"She said she isn't good at making up stories," Riku said. "But you are, right, Zexion?"
"Yes, but I am not going to finish the story for you, Riku," Zexion replied.
"I have better things to do."
Aqua ran a hand down her face. "Zexion…" she said, still not looking at him. "Please? Riku will only sleep if I finish the story…"
After a minute of silence, Zexion sat on the chair that Aqua had vacated earlier. "My parents could offer me a mountain of gold, and I still would not agree to do this," he said, his eyes on her. "Are you aware of that?
And because he was practically right in front of her now, she could no longer escape his gaze so she raised her eyes to meet his. To her relief, he was smiling a little. "I… I will make it up to you…" she said, for lack of a better response.
"I'm sure you will," he replied, and for some reason, his words made her cheeks grow slightly warmer. She wished she had longer hair, so that she could cover her blush, but the best she could do was hope that Zexion would not notice.
"So, shall we?" he asked her, and she nodded. "Where are we, exactly?"
It was Riku who answered. "The prince saved the damsel in distress from the evil sorcerer. And now, they are about to head home."
Zexion frowned. "Well now I see what you mean. How is that a proper way to end a story?"
"I know," Riku agreed.
Aqua resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Alright, we have established that it is an unacceptable ending, but how would we continue?" she asked.
"I want to know about their journey home," Riku said.
"That would be too long, Riku," Aqua murmured as she fixed the blanket around him.
"One night, then," Zexion said.
"Now wouldn't that be a bit too short?" Aqua asked. "What could we possibly have them do in one night?"
"We could talk about how they fell in love."
Again, Aqua felt her face flush, and was grateful that she didn't have to answer because Zexion continued, "So what are the names of our prince and lady?"
"Their names were never mentioned," Aqua said, breathing slowly so that her blush would fade.
"Of course," Zexion muttered. "What else could you expect from a fairy tale?"
Riku sighed. "So, just pretend you're the prince, Zexion, and Aqua is -"
"What? Riku, don't be silly," Aqua said, slightly flustered.
"I'm serious," the little boy said. And his expression truly was serious. "You could even act it out, if you want. I think that would be great."
"Riku…" Aqua groaned.
"Please?" he pleaded.
Aqua frowned, wondering how this got so complicated. "I don't think your brother would want to do something like this."
"On the contrary," Zexion said, and Aqua felt her heart flip, "I think it would be far more interesting than simply reciting the story."
"It's settled then," Riku said. "Story time."
Aqua fiddled with her hands as Zexion cleared his throat. "So, the sun has set and we need to rest for the night. We are…?"
"Sitting by the campfire…?" she offered weakly.
He nodded. "Would you like to start?"
Aqua hesitated. "I…"
"You should thank him for saving you," Riku offered helpfully.
Zexion gave him a look that said, "You should be trying to sleep." He then faced Aqua and gestured for her to begin.
She swallowed the lump in her throat and tried to immerse herself in the story…
They were in a small clearing in the woods, and a campfire provided light and warmth. The only sounds to be heard were the crackling of the flames and the rustling of the leaves whenever a breeze blew. He was sitting close by, watching her, and she whispered, "Zexion… Thank you…"
"There is no need to thank me," he answered, in a rather princely fashion. He looked at the flames, the orange light changing the color of his eyes. "What kind of a man would I be if I left a damsel in distress?" He smiled at her, and she turned away shyly.
"Still… Thank you…" she insisted. "I shudder to think of what might have happened if…"
"Enough, Aqua," he said. "You are safe now."
For a moment, they sat in silence, watching the flames. Or, rather, they both pretended to. Each one stole glances at the other, as if searching for some sign. He cleared his throat. "Aqua," he began. "Do you find my company unpleasant?"
"Oh, no," she said, shaking her head a little, her head bowed. "Not at all…"
"Is there something you dislike about me?"
"There is nothing to dislike about you," she said, almost inaudibly.
"Then why do you not sit closer?"
She blushed. "Uhm… I…"
"Would you mind?" he asked as he stood up. And, without waiting for her answer, he crossed the very short distance between them and sat beside her.
She felt her heartbeat quicken, realizing that his hand was less than an inch from hers. She said nothing, and they once again fell into an awkward silence. She tried not to think about their closeness, but it was difficult. She could hear him breathing, she could smell his scent – which reminded her oddly of crisp parchment and a fresh, clean smell that she could not quite identify.
"The truth is… I was afraid that I was too late, that something had happened to you," he said suddenly, his brows creased. "Do you find that odd, coming from a stranger?"
"You are not a stranger," she said.
"Well, we met only this morning."
Smiling, she teased, "But I have known you your entire life, Your Highness." And he was reminded of his status, and of hers. "You are not a stranger to me. If anything, I am the stranger; someone who should mean nothing to you."
And it was true; she was not royalty, nor a lady of the court. She was a mere peasant, someone he was never supposed to meet. Yes, she was exceptionally beautiful for a peasant; in fact, so beautiful that a sorcerer abducted her intending to make her his, but princes did not mingle with the commoners. Or, rather, they should not.
He smiled. "I have known you for a very long time, as well," he said. "And you mean far from nothing to me…"
She seemed surprised, looking at him with her eyes wide.
"I have always admired you from afar," he admitted, "but I could never come closer, because your world and mine are far too different, separated by many barriers…"
She lowered her gaze. "…Well, the barriers have not gone. We may have met, you may have rescued me, and we may have this night… But you are still who you are, and I am who I am. When we return home, this will be no more than a forbidden memory."
"Will it be a cherished one, at least?"
Her cheeks flushed. "Yes," she murmured. "Yes, of course."
Silence came over them for the third time, and the wind circled them. Aqua wrapped her arms around herself, shivering slightly. Zexion tentatively brought his arm across her shoulders and felt the goose bumps on her bare skin. "Are you cold?" he asked.
She hesitated, but finally said, "Yes, a little…" She did not want him to let go.
He moved even closer, their bodies now pressed side to side. "Forgive me," he said, "for being so ignorant of your discomfort."
Aqua shook her head. "Your apology is unnecessary…"
After a while, she laid her head on his shoulder and sighed contentedly.
"Did you ever consider that maybe there was a way to break those barriers?"
It took him a while to respond and when he did, his voice was very soft. "I have thought about that countless times. There are ways…"
"Please," he said, laughing a little. "I refuse to believe that you do not know the answer to that."
She smirked and blushed freely, seeing as how her face was hidden from his view anyway. Of course she knew the answer. Love. "Did you ever consider that a possibility, for you and I?"
"Well, would you have taken me seriously if I tried?"
"Of course I would have…" she whispered.
The wind blew again and its whistling in her ears sounded strangely euphoric. The leaves seemed to sway with more energy, as if they were cheering the young couple on. The flames danced to and fro, as if it was ecstatic that Aqua and Zexion were so close…
"I think Riku is asleep."
Aqua sat bolt upright with a sharp intake of breath. She had forgotten about Riku and she blushed with embarrassment. "Right," she said as Zexion stood up.
He wasn't looking at her, and for that she was grateful. Judging from the heat she could feel on her face, she was probably blushing up a storm. She busied herself with tucking the blanket a little tighter around the young boy, who looked positively angelic while he was asleep. She kissed him on the forehead, like she did earlier.
"Pleasant dreams, Riku," she breathed softly.
She then stood up and stepped out of the room, following Zexion. He still had not looked at her. She turned out the lights and closed the door slowly behind her. Only then did they finally face each other, and Aqua noted that his expression was rather emotionless. Handsome, definitely, but emotionless…
And she inwardly cursed her mind for being such a girl. She and Zexion were just pretending, for the sake of a little boy, and she allowed herself to become so absorbed in it that her sense of reality was completely distorted. Even now, looking at him, a part of her thought – or even hoped – that some of the words he had spoken had truth in them.
"Zexion… Thank you…" she said.
"For saving you?" he asked, smirking, and she realized she had used the exact same line she did earlier, when they were acting out the story. She even said it in the exact same way.
Her face flushed. "Well, technically you did," she said, a little defensively. "Riku was never so difficult before…"
"For someone who supposedly is no good at making up stories, you did quite well," Zexion said. "Or… Was that not made up?"
Aqua was so sick of her incessant blushing, and she looked down at her feet in an attempt to hide it. "Uhm…"
He laughed, soft and deep, and Aqua only felt even more embarrassed. But she was spared having to answer because they heard the front doors open, announcing the arrival of Zexion and Riku's parents and also the signal that Aqua could leave.
"I should go," she said heading towards the stairs.
"Aqua," he called when she had taken a few steps away.
"Yes?" she asked, daring to look at him.
"You will make it up to me," he stated simply.
She turned away hastily, feeling the same familiar heat on her face, and nodded once. Then she hurried downstairs. As soon as she was out of sight and earshot, Zexion went back into the bedroom they had just exited. He turned on the lights, and Riku was sitting in bed, wide awake.
"Well?" asked the little boy.
Zexion smiled. "It would seem that I am indebted to you."
Riku smirked, not unlike the way his older brother did. "You're welcome." He nestled back into the comfort of his blankets and Zexion turned the lights out.
"Good night," he said.
"Wait," Riku called just before Zexion closed the door.
"You know, a while ago, she said the prince and the girl he saved were going to get married," he said. "She thinks that's how the fairy tale ends."
"Is that so?"
Riku nooded. "Uh huh. Do you think so, too?"
Zexion smirked. "I don't see why not."