Despite the fact that I'm labeling this Terra/Aqua, Terra doesn't really show up until the end. It's more of Aqua and Riku talking about Terra. The labeling is because that's what the pairing is. Anyway, enjoy.
That was the only word she could think of to describe it. Other words came to mind, fouler words that leaked into her mind from places she never dared go, but she forced herself to think of the better alternatives. It wasn't the best word for her opinion, but it was the nicest of the ones she came up with.
Aqua stared out into the night, watching the stars in the sky flicker in their dance of light. It was usually heart warming, something that showed her the brilliance of the universe, that the worlds were safe. It was a little disconcerting that she wasn't really in control of it, but it was better then nothing. Usually, looking at the stars helped her mood. Not tonight.
Tonight, Aqua stood at the top of a hill, leaning over the railing and watching the lights go out. She loved being in Radiant Garden, but the homesickness was catching up to her. She wanted to go back home, back to the Land of Departure. She knew, with some information from Yen Sid, that they could fix the place up, bring it back from the brink of darkness. The only thing stopping her from rushing back over there was exhaustion and injuries.
She wasn't the one who was tired. That was Ven. All the fighting they had done lately had worn the little kid out. He was fast, agile, and nearly unstoppable, but he'd had a lot on his mind the past few weeks and it was taking some time for him to reboot to one hundred percent. The injuries were Terra. He managed to get his body back, thanks to Sora, but he'd suffered a lot of injuries in the resulting battle. The goofball that he was, he insisted that he was fine, which only served to make his injuries worse.
So, without anything else to do, Aqua had time to dwell on her thoughts and feelings, hoping to try to come up with an explanation for why she felt so conflicted. The worlds are safe, Ven is awake, Terra has his body back, I'm out of the Realm of Darkness, Xehanort is gone for good…So why am I so stressed out? What's the matter with me? I have to pull it together!
She leaned farther over the railing, watching a small group of fireflies float through the air below. They twirled and twisted through the dark, a bright light shining its way through adversity. The comparison made her smile, but the feeling didn't last long and she was back in her confused state of mind.
I want to understand this feeling, but I haven't got any clues as to what it could be…I could ask Kairi or Aerith… No. I can't. I wish I could. These feelings are too personal, though. I don't want to share these feelings with anyone. I can't ask anyone for help because then I'll lose the importance these feelings have to me…whatever they mean. Oh, I'm so confused. I wish I had some kind of sign, something to explain all this…
Aqua jumped at the voice, too lost in her thoughts to hear the footsteps on the stone. She spun around, her Keyblade springing to her hand in light and rose petals. It comforted her, having her weapon in her hands, allowing her to cut a path through the darkness with its light. In this case she didn't need to fight, but the knotted panic in her chest didn't lessen.
Riku held up his hands defensively. "Didn't mean to startle you."
"What do you want?" she asked, adrenaline and tension still holding her. She remembered Riku from her first visit to the islands, a small boy with a bright light and an even brighter mind, a loyalty to his friends that reminded her of Terra. She had wanted to keep that light safe, protect it from the darkness that had eaten her friend alive, but when she met him again, her worst fears had been realized. His presence had been exactly like Terra's, steeped in darkness, and it nearly brought tears to her eyes. Much to her horror, Sora was perfectly fine with it. In fact, he did more than accept it: he embraced it! No matter how much she wanted to argue, she listened to her better judgment. She remained polite and kept her mouth shut. It didn't change the fact that his presence made her uneasy.
He didn't even flinch. "Wondering why you're wandering around at night like this."
"Should I not be? I'm pretty sure I have the right."
"You do," he muttered, "but you're standing in my spot."
Caught off guard by his comment, she quickly sidestepped out of the way. He took her place at the railing, looking out over the rest of the town. His eyes were bright in the dim light, she realized, as if reflecting the few remaining lights from the windows below.
"You shouldn't be out here so late."
He gave her a slight smile. "I could say the same to you, but as you said, I have the right."
She grumbled, leaning back against the railing in her new spot, trying not to meet his eyes. It annoyed her how calm he was and how uptight it made her feel.
"Something on your mind?"
"Why do you think there is?"
"Because otherwise you'd be asleep. I heard from Ven that you have plans to go home."
Why did Ven tell him that? "Yes. And? I have a lot of things to think about in preparation for that. I wanted some peace and quiet."
He looked at her and their eyes met. Aqua couldn't hold his gaze, breaking her eyes away and back out over the city. She felt like his eyes were drilling into her soul, looking into her thoughts and figuring out things he shouldn't.
"I'm well aware of the fact that you don't like me."
She was caught off guard again. "Huh?"
"I'm not an idiot. I can read the signs, Aqua. You constantly avoid me, avoid looking at me, and avoid addressing me directly except in front of others… It's obvious."
"Sorry," she said, not at all meaning it.
He shifted in the corner of her vision. "I know you're not. Don't need to lie about it."
"Then what do you want me to say?"
"How about the truth?"
She blinked and looked at him. He didn't look even slightly angry with her. He was perfectly calm, relaxed and open. He wasn't being sarcastic? He actually wants me to tell him the truth? It was too startling for her to comprehend, and she felt the words pouring out of her mouth before she could control them.
"It's not really you. I don't have a problem with you at all. It's the darkness I have a problem with."
This didn't seem to surprise him. He sounded disappointed more than anything. "Of course. It always is."
Aqua felt her heart ache. "Riku, I'm sorry. Really I am. I didn't mean… You're not…"
"It's alright," he interrupted, waving her off, "I'm used to it. It doesn't bother me as much anymore."
She felt her heart ache more, dismissing her Keyblade. How many people has he had to face for this to become commonplace to him? How much has he suffered because of it?
"I know what you're thinking."
"I don't want you feeling sorry for me. There's no reason for you to."
"But because of this-"
He turned his eyes on her again, the irritation evident in them. "I'm the one who made the choice. I don't need people feeling sorry for me for a decision I made."
"Whether it was a conscious decision or not is still up for debate."
"Tell me Aqua, why is it that you hate the darkness so much?"
The answer, to her, was obvious. "Darkness pulled my friends apart. It stole our master's life and reduced my home to rubble. I wandered in darkness for so long that I forgot how to smile. All of the problems I've encountered, all the people I've fought, have all turned to darkness."
He mulled over the information for a moment, watching her carefully. "Personally, I think you confuse 'darkness' and 'evil' too easily."
"There isn't much of a difference."
"And that's where you're wrong."
Aqua felt her temper flare. "Why, pray tell, is that?"
"'Darkness' and 'evil' aren't synonymous. Just like 'light' and 'good' aren't." Aqua opened her mouth to protest but he cut her off. "Don't say they are. You're probably the only one who still holds that opinion."
"And because no one else thinks it, it's wrong?"
"Not the point. The point is that with all the people who argue against your opinion, you haven't even stopped once to question it. You follow it blindly and faithfully, and because of that you're missing very important information."
I follow it because it's all that's left of our master. It's what he believed in until the end and I don't want him to be the last one. I want to keep that one little piece of him alive. I know no one else is… "Even so, I can generalize. Darkness is a power that evil people use."
He shook his head. "Those are two opposing points. An evil person who uses darkness and a person who uses darkness becoming evil aren't the same situation. You've met evil people who used darkness, but not everyone you know who uses darkness is evil."
"But the potential is there, and it's there more for people who use darkness than for people who use light. Darkness only has more potential to hurt people. That's why I wanted to keep people like you away from the darkness. That's what I was hoping Sora could do…"
"How many years ago was this?"
"And you expect someone like Sora to remember?" Riku chuckled.
Aqua didn't even smile. "I was hoping he would…"
"There you go again, putting the blame on someone else. I admit, my reasons for choosing the darkness at first were selfish, self-centered, and irresponsible. I made a choice that almost cost me the lives of my friends and ownership of my own body, but not one day since then have I ever wished things to be different. Sure, I wish none of this had ever happened, that we could have just stayed on our islands and kept on dreaming our wild dreams; things rarely ever work out that way, though. All I know is that I'm glad I made the choices I made after that. I chose to let things move forward instead of dwelling on the past. I chose to use the darkness to my advantage instead of letting it drag me down, and I know that things wouldn't have turned out as well as they did if I hadn't."
"It's still hard for me grasp. Darkness is evil to me, plain and simple."
"Anyone who uses any power has a reason for it. If that reason changes, that power doesn't change; only its nature does. Someone who uses the power of light can use it to hurt people just as much as someone wielding darkness, and someone wielding darkness is just as capable of protecting someone they care about as someone wielding light."
Aqua glanced over at him, trying to decipher his expression. "That's your reasoning for it. You accept darkness, let it be a part of you, because your reason for using it is good? You use the darkness to fight…"
"I use it to protect the people who matter to me, no matter what I have to do for it. It's something Terra and I share in common."
"That's… what Terra thinks…" Feeling her heart pick up speed, Aqua shook her head and cleared her thoughts. The knotted feeling in her chest only intensified. She turned around, leaning against the railing. She didn't want to see anything but the faint lights in the distance. "Terra's darkness isn't his fault. It's ours- No. It's my fault. I believed watching him was in his best interest, but I didn't take his feelings into account. I made him believe that he couldn't trust us anymore, that he couldn't turn to us for help if he needed it. If I hadn't made him feel so isolated, he never would have had to face Xehanort alone and none of this would have ever happened…"
Her confession was met with silence, the only sound in the air belonging to the insects and the wind rustling through the sparse plant life. Finally, Riku started to laugh.
The blood rose to her face, embarrassed. "I pour my heart out to you and you start laughing at me? That's the last time I ever tell you anything!"
Riku signaled for her to calm down, taking a few deep breaths to regain his composure. "I'm sorry. It's just… Now I see what this is really about."
"This isn't your problem with darkness. It's more or less about your problem with Terra's darkness, or more specifically… Terra himself."
"What do you mean?" She could see a patronizing smile making its way to Riku's face, but she didn't understand the meaning.
"You do have a problem getting around the darkness in people, but that's not really why it's upsetting you. The problem you have with it is that because of it, you're forced to group Terra in with people you naturally dislike."
"Because he's my friend!"
"Because it means he'll always only be your friend, not anything more."
It hit her like a slap across the face. Oh no. No, no, no. He's saying that… that my problems is… that I… and Terra… that I like him? Romantically like him? That I'm feeling all this confusion and distress because I'm in love with Terra and can't express my feelings because of his darkness? "That's impossible! I can't…like Terra!"
"It's pretty obvious."
"It is not!"
Riku shrugged. "Terra has already made it clear that he's responsible for what happened, which seems to hold some foundation in fact. Ven believes that everyone should share the blame, that no one in completely responsible and no one is completely innocent. You're the only one claiming responsibility for actions that aren't your own. You're claiming responsibility for Terra's mistakes. With the severity of what happened, I'd say that goes beyond friendship."
"That doesn't mean anything. I wasn't able to look after my friends. Of course I'd think everything was my fault."
"I know how people act when they're in love, Aqua. I've watched Sora and Kairi at it for years. Don't think you can convince me otherwise."
"Love is different for everyone."
"Then why are you so adamantly denying it?"
That tripped her up. Why am I denying so much? I shouldn't be this embarrassed about it if he's wrong. Ugh, he's right, isn't he? I just wish he wasn't so smug about it… "Hypothetically, let's say I did like Terra like that. I wouldn't have the first clue about what to do about it."
"I can help with that, I guess."
She smiled slyly at him. "Advice from the guy who got dumped for his best friend? I think I'll pass."
"If there's one thing I learned from that experience, it's what not to do," he replied, his voice just as snarky as her own.
"Then what would you have me do?"
"Simple. Watch and learn."
Aqua turned to him, expecting him to do something to demonstrate. When he didn't move, her eyebrows dropped. "Explain that one to me."
"Watch him. See how he interacts around other people, especially other women, and then make a comparison to how he acts around you. From there, you can judge whether or not he likes you."
"And then what?"
"Tell him how you feel."
I have to admit, it's a pretty good idea. And I think…I do like Terra. The more I talk about it, the less conflicted I feel. It's a weight that's being lifted off my chest, and it feels nice, knowing that I have an idea of what to do. "Sounds good to me."
She chuckled. "Hypothetically."
"Good." Standing up straight, Riku stretched out his back, the little crackling sounds of his joints audible in the silence.
"To bed. I've had enough excitement for one night. As you said, I'm pretty sure I have the right."
"You've made your point. …Riku?"
He glanced over his shoulder, he faint light still in his eyes. "Don't mention it. Really, don't. I don't want Sora hearing about this."
"Your secret is safe with me."
Aqua returned to their temporary house and turned on the light in the hallway, making sure all the doors were closed first. She checked the clock. 2:49 AM. Way too early to be up, but too late at night for her to get any real sleep. Knowing Ven, he'd be up at seven and be demanding breakfast within the hour. It was just enough time for her to lie down and take a nap.
Instead, she stopped in front of one of the doors, one closer to the end of the hallway. Terra's room. She internally debated with herself if she should go inside, just to check on him. I've seen the way he acts around everyone else. He does treat me different, but it's hard to say if that's because he likes me or because I'm the only female who is really his friend. Carefully, she pushed the door open, making sure to do it silently.
Terra was lying on his side, one arm draped across the length of the bed so that his hand was hanging over the side. His other arm was tucked under the pillow, his chin resting lightly on the thick muscles of the upper half. The sheets had migrated down to his waist and his baggy shirt had ridden up, the bandages around his midsection almost giving off a hazy glow in the faint light. His hair was an absolute mess, more so than usual, strands of it splayed across his face and stuck to his neck. Despite the haphazardness of his appearance, his face was the epitome of calm, his lips parted slightly as he breathed through his mouth.
Aqua stood in the doorway, watching him with the light in the hallway before she stepped into the room and flipped the light on. Terra reacted instantly, jumping slightly in panic before covering his eyes with his arm, squinting against the sudden brightness.
"Aqua? Huh… wh-what's…?"
She walked over to the side of his bed. "Nothing. Nothing is happening."
His eyebrows arched in confusion. "Then, why are you…?"
"No particular reason."
"You look like you haven't slept. Is something wrong?" he asked, blinking a few times to adjust his eyes to the light before he lowered his arm.
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely," she smiled, leaning over and placing a light kiss on his forehead. "I'm sorry I woke you. You can go back to sleep now."
Terra looked at her squarely, the edges of his mouth turned up in a slight smile. "You sure you don't want to tell what all of this is about?"
"I'll tell you when we get home." Aqua walked back to the door, switching the light off on her way out. Behind her, Terra grunted and rolled back into his sleeping position mumbling out one last reply before she left.
"I'll be looking forward to that conversation."