ENTITLED: After Our Ending
FANDOM: Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep
LENGTH: 2,000 words
SETTING: Realm of Darkness, a week after the game ends.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Kingdom Hearts. To be completely honest, I barely even know what's going on anymore.
NOTES: Totally Cait's fault. She encouraged my Aqua worship because she is a bad, enabling sort of friend. Shame.
SUMMARY: On drowning, passion, and ones who fall because they never learned to run fast enough. — Aqua, Terra, Vanitas


When she was younger, she'd have dreams about Terra leaving. Nightmares, really. Ones where she went looking for him, and nobody seemed to remember who he was, and she kept trying to prove that he'd existed but couldn't because she didn't have anything of his and his room was emptied out and the names he'd cut into the old sycamore tree had been wiped away and—

And then something happened. Something. She couldn't ever remember the climax beyond the pressure of fear on her throat, and those nights she woke up choking.

Sometimes she wondered if she was in love with him.

Loved him, certainly. As a brother and a companion and a rival and a friend. The way she loved Ven, but not quite how she loved Ven, because Ven was— a job. Something she was responsible for. And she wasn't allowed to be responsible for Terra. But.

But.

But sometimes when the day was hard and the sweat in her hair had dried, she just wanted to lean on him. And sometimes when he went away—more and more as they got older and he learned to step with weight—sometimes, she'd—

Well, it'd—it'd be sort of easy, anyway. It would make sense.


Was supposed to be easy. Wasn't. Wasn't easy when it felt like her every waking moment was spent running, racing time in a battle where she always lost and things began to fall around her. Master Eraquis. Ven. Terra. Terra who was gone even when he stood right in front of her, the slant of his eyes right even if the color was wrong, familiar shoulders shifted into a different posture, and—

Terra never smiled like that.

And he hit. He hit her harder than he ever had before, because the old Terra would have checked himself unconsciously. He was always pulling back on her and Ven and sometimes even his enemies, so...

She didn't know how to find him. She didn't know how to find someone who'd lost themselves within their own skin. Like Ven. Ven in his cold tower made out of riddles and mirrors and walls that drank down your shadow. A deception of light.

Both her boys lost somewhere.

She spun her back over his blade, rolled over it, almost—footwork, it always came down to footwork, down to the basics—and with a silent heart and stilled mind and numbing body, she cut him down.

Terra.

He took three steps backwards, cage-body torn with bruises, and as he fell his eyes were again the color of violence and hunger. The color of storms, and sinking to a close the way his body sank into darkness.

And she ran. Even though she knew he wouldn't have wanted her to. Even though she was never allowed to be responsible for him, to wait for him, to be the girl and not the warrior, she ran.

She sacrificed, just as the shadow boy had said she'd ought to.


"No, really, you're boring. Your conflict. Spare me. The girl or the warrior, the princess or the fighter, the heart or the blade?" Behind his mask, his eyes surely rolled, "Really. Precious."

"If I'm so boring, perhaps you shouldn't spend so much time following me around," she suggested, fingers curling around the handle of her weapon. "Keep doing it and I'll start wondering if you haven't got any friends."

"Friends? Oh, sure. Friends. Like the ones you have, I'm sure. The ones who're so glad to finally shake you," he taunted, hanging like spilled ink across the candy-colors of Disney Town. Shadowing her.

She ignored him, striding purposefully through the alley, eyes dragging over every corner as though a familiar face might, at any moment, reappear.

"They aren't here," Vanitas added, when it became obvious that she didn't mean to answer him.

"As if you'd know."

"Who's to say I haven't already killed them?"

Her lips thinned. Just a voice. He was just the voice of doubt. "They're more than a match for you."

"Really," he drawled, now with an edge of nasty amusement. And then his next step was an offbeat, a fast scratch against the ground so she ducked and rolled instinctively, felt the wind of a missed death across her bared back just before he kicked her viciously in the ribs. She skidded, found her feet and the magic that ran through her like a second set of cold veins. She'd always favored ice.

When she froze his feet to the ground his body kept moving forwards, so that his momentum brought him crashing into her, and they both fell to the ground. She kicked and clawed and spit as he did the same, too close for keyblades, and he laughed open and raw into her ear.

"They're weak. You're weak. You can't even play your part. You can't even wait at home quietly. You can't save them and you won't give up yourself for fear of your own weakness! Pathetic!" And he went on laughing until his teeth found the bare skin of her shoulder and tore into it, hot and vicious and mean. His mask was half-off, now, knocked askew to reveal a surprisingly soft jaw line.

She cut off her scream, and knocked him off, scrambled upright and tried to drive her keyblade between his ribs but wedged it only between the cobblestones, so quick he was to slip spaces, and he always liked to appear behind her so she knew to spin—to cut—

"You know what I think?" a dark murmur as they struggled, the ground metal screaming between them, "I think I should take them apart in front of you. I think I'll tie you up and make you watch as they die. And you won't be able to do anything. You'll just sit there and watch. Would you cry? I think you would. Maybe then you'd realize how useless you are!"

"SHUT UP!"


She shook awake, though the darkness beyond her matched the kind behind her eyelids. Darkness. She was afraid to speak. Afraid of it stealing down her throat and settling somewhere deep within her. Growing. Tainting. Terra.

She shook her head.

Terra was fine. Terra was out. And better. He'd be better. And he'd come looking for her, and—

She froze. No. No, he couldn't come. Not down here. Not into this nothingness.

The shadows beyond and before her shifted, and there was an echo of cold laughter in her ear, delighting in her nightmares.

She focused, took a step. They'd been small, at first. She had been afraid of walking off the edge of some mighty cliff and tumbling—perhaps forever, or perhaps to a quick death. But she wandered more quickly now. Perhaps she almost welcomed the possibility of plunging into the black.

Always had been good at drowning.


"Hold your breath."

The bubbles rushed up her nose, tickling her clenched eyes and feathering through her air. She pried her lids apart, turning to find Terra at her side, cheeks ballooned and eyes opened.

She reached out and cupped her hand over his mouth, holding in the oxygen. He rolled his eyes at her, kicked back and summoned. Part of training—had to be ready to fight, anywhere and anytime.

When he swung, the water dragged at his usual force, so the blow that could have folded her ribs only pushed her to the side. A silent, frustrated hiss slid through his teeth in a shiver of silver that danced up to the surface.

It was silent underwater. So much water. So much for her to bend and shape and freeze.

But the command stayed locked in her sealed mouth, the magic restrained by nature. Her head had begun to burn. She caught his second blow with her palm, let him finish the swing and then dragged herself towards him, hooked her fingers into his neck and pressed, pushed against the bone.

Another bubble, shaking with the force of his cough, and her vision was hazing—what was the point of strangling him when she couldn't breathe either?—and they broke apart at the same time, thrashing for the surface.

Terra started coughing soon as he could, and his face flooded with color. Master Eraquis watched calmly from the edge of the pond. She extended her hand, helped drag Terra to the rock she was braced against, heaving exhausted air into her lungs.

"Tactics," her master lectured, "A battle is more than just mindless attack. Aqua, you rely too strongly on the power of words. You shouldn't have gone within arm's reach of Terra. He could have snapped your neck twice as easily as you his. And Terra, you insult Aqua by holding back on her. It is well and good to value the safety of your comrades, but unwise to forever restrain yourself, else you find yourself unable to control your power when the time you are required to use it comes. Trust Aqua to handle herself. She is a warrior equal to your power."

The pair of them nodded weakly, swallowing.

"Again."


Sometimes her tired eyes saw light. Flashes of it leaking through in the corners of her vision, that then dissolved back into darkness when she turned her head to look. Always more emptiness. More darkness. A place without shadow, without gray, without exception or allowance of variation.

And her boys made of shadow, made of nothingness. There to fill the empty spaces beside her. She reached down to grip her only star.

Warrior and girl went forward, lost but still moving, and certain in the knowledge that beyond her lay something. Something she could only see on the next step.

And the next.

Next.


"He won't ever come for you."

He came from the blackness.

"No," Aqua said, though she kept her teeth shut and let the word seep through, her first word in-forever, perhaps. "You're dead. You're dead and I'm dreaming."

"You've thought that before," laughed Vanitas, "But you never had the nerve to check, did you? To make sure. Cut off my head. Rip out my heart."

"You don't have one."

He smiled. A place without light, but still he smiled, still she saw, saw the strangely soft face, the rich and empty eyes. "But I remind you of someone."

"You are nothing like Ven—!"

"Don't compare me to the spare. You know I didn't mean him."

She swallowed, closed her eyes. Still there. He was always there. Just a shade. Just a voice in her head.

And she used to have dreams of Terra leaving.

"I don't need him to come for me," she said, drew a breath and let it out. "I just need him to be safe. Him and Ven. And they are. They're out."

"Sure," Vanitas drawled, gliding along with her, a dark companion, "So why haven't they come for you?"

Her jaw tightened.

"Face it. They're gone. You've got nothing. You can't save anyone, least of all him. He was gone a long time ago. You can't save somebody born damned."

"Terra is stronger than you will ever be," she whispered, and on the next step, found nothing but air.

Then water.

For a moment, she sank. Stunned, and complacent, and the dark whisper was gone from her head, gone from the silent water. Everything was silent below the surface.

And she remembered how his mouth had felt against her palm, dragged down to grimace even as his eyes had smiled.

And she kicked for the surface that glinted with the moon's forgotten light.