Set in Olympus Coliseum.
Before the fight between Aqua and Zack.
This is an extended version of the hundred-word one shot WishingDreamer5 wrote for the prompt Impossible.
(Chapter Forty-One of her story: 100 Hopes and Wishes)
I semi-begged her to let me do this because I have been writing about Vanitas too much. Hahaha!
I also asked if she wanted to make this a fic trade between us, but we'll see, since she is pretty busy.
Anyway, special thanks to WishingDreamer5 for letting me use her work as inspiration.
Oh, and I just thought to mention since this thought is kind of significant to the story.
When I fought Zack with Aqua in Birth by Sleep, the battle was ridiculously easy.
DISCLAIMER [I do not own Kingdom Hearts or that Drabble below the Title] DISCLAIMER
Zack could feel Aqua's eyes following his movements, as he was training.
It was impossible not to like Aqua, he pondered. She was smart, caring, a good friend, good at magic, and the list went on. He didn't know many girls like her.
As Aqua quietly watched Zack, she couldn't help but think it was impossible not to find him cute. With his optimism and that big smile plastered on his face, he was able to make Aqua smile, even though she was so worried about Terra. He reminded her of Ven, although Zack seemed to have even more energy.
Phil ushered them through the passageway in the vestibule leading to the arena, but instead of going to the battlegrounds he turned them sharply left. He pushed them to walk along a lengthy passageway, with a colonnade on each side and lit only by flickering torchlight, until they eventually reached a hallway lined with doors.
"Just hang tight," he told them and turned around to leave.
Aqua, with brows slightly creased in confusion, studied her surroundings. The place made her feel uneasy; it was cramped, the air was stale, and there was hardly enough light to see clearly. The hallway looked as though it could go on forever, the way it faded into shadow where the torches were no longer lit. She swallowed down her discomfort and looked at Zack. He seemed right at home with that ever-present, eager smile as he walked just a little further down the hall and entered the third room on the right.
Aqua followed him, stepping into the same room as well, and the wave of uneasiness increased. She felt as though she had just walked into a prison cell. The space was akin to a simple rectangular box with a relatively high ceiling and only that small doorway as the exit. The stone walls of their room made her feel trapped and she did not like standing on rough stone, covered with a thin layer of sand.
The only consolation was that there was a row of tiny windows at the highest point of one wall, touching the ceiling almost. Judging by the quality of the sounds coming from outside Aqua could tell that they were underground. Those windows were the only source of light but Aqua noticed that there were unlit torches at each corner of the room.
Zack was walking towards one corner now, clearly to light a torch. And while he was working on that, Aqua set the other torches aflame with a practiced flick of her wrist.
"Woah!" Zack exclaimed at the sudden flood of firelight as he spun around, his own torch still lifeless. "How did you do that?"
At his amazement, Aqua smiled and blushed a little. It had been a while since anyone was surprised by her magic. Ven and Terra were so used to her proficiency with spells and Master Eraqus expected it; so whatever was amazing was normal, and anything short of amazing was a disappointment. And so to amuse Zack a little more, she casually flicked her wrist one more time and the fourth torch joined the others in casting an orange glow about the room.
Zack was grinning now, and Aqua couldn't help but see Ven in his eager expression. "What else can you do?" he asked her.
"You'll have to wait and see," she said.
"Hiding your strengths, huh?" he questioned.
Aqua had to laugh at the tone of his voice, which sounded so much like Ven when she would refuse to teach him the spells that were too advanced for him. "No, no," she said with a small shake of her head and a slightly teasing smile. "It's just that I would rather you be surprised later on."
Somehow, his already-wide grin still widened. "You're keeping it from me so that when I get shocked and distracted later you can use it against me!" he accused. "That's low, Aqua. Low and sneaky…"
Aqua raised her hands up. "No, that's not what I intend to do!" she said in her defense. "I… I just meant…"
Zack laughed. "Just kidding," he said in the middle of his laughter, worried that she was taking his joke seriously. And by the look on her face, she obviously was.
She lowered her hands and sighed out a small exhale of relief.
"Feeling better?" he asked her.
"You looked a bit stressed a while ago," Zack explained.
"Oh," Aqua murmured shyly, realizing that he had noticed her tension. "I'm alright, thank you." And she really felt fine now, the uneasiness having been swept away by his voice and his laughter.
As she looked about the room again, it was less like a prison and more like a simple waiting room now. There was a ledge on one wall where they could sit as they waited, a low platform to one side covered with rushes and a sheet where they could lie down and rest, and a wide niche on the third wall where decorative pottery was placed.
And perhaps that was all that this room was; a space for the fighters to lounge about in before their battle started. Although she did not have to go here for her previous battles and she couldn't be sure about that, so she decided to confirm the theory.
"Uhm, Zack, what are we supposed to do here exactly?"
"We wait," he said simply and Aqua almost rolled her eyes at herself at the obviousness of the answer. "They're prepping the arena for us. Didn't you watch the last fight?"
Aqua shook her head and Zack laughed. "You should have," he said. "It was a good one, but now the grounds are a mess."
"Oh," she muttered.
Zack started squatting and swinging his arms back and forth, that same odd exercise he was doing when Aqua was asking him about Terra.
And he could feel her eyes on him as he warmed-up. She was following his movements very closely and even though he had already done this exercise in front of her before – and in front of a lot of other people, too – he felt a little self-conscious this time. Maybe it was because she was quiet now and focused on him, or maybe because they were completely alone, or maybe…
He allowed his eyes to wander in her direction for a second. It was impossible not to like her. His subconscious was already coming up with a list of reasons why Aqua was so attractive and as the list went on and on, Zack felt grateful he wasn't the type to blush. Moments like this would tug at his lips and make him smirk, but smirking was not as incriminating as blushing. Aqua would not interpret a smirk as an indication of him – maybe, possibly, probably – liking her.
But if he blushed, he was screwed.
"Zack?" he heard her say, in a tone that sounded very curious.
For a second, he thought maybe Aqua could see past his smirk, but he kept his cool. "Yeah?" he replied.
"Why do you do that?"
He stopped, standing upright, relieved. She was only wondering about what he was doing, not what he was thinking. Or feeling, which would be harder to explain than what he was thinking. "This exercise? Well I guess because I don't really like just standing around," he answered.
Her eyes widened a little and she shook her head. "No, I'd rather not," she mumbled. Although she trained alongside Terra and Ventus, their regimens were different. The boys did more physically taxing exercises and tests of strength and stamina, like this one that Zack was doing. Aqua had a routine that focused more on her flexibility than anything else.
"Oh come on," Zack said, urging her. "It's not like we have anything better to do, right?"
She was only able to stare him down for about a minute. Then, sighing, Aqua gave in. "Alright, I'll try it."
"Great!" Zack grinned and demonstrated slowly for her. "See, it's simple; you just bend your knees like this while swinging your arms out. Then you pull your arms back in while you stand back up. Easy, right?"
"I… suppose so," she mumbled as she got into position. She tried it once. "Like this?"
"Exactly!" Zack said with approval and he resumed exercising.
Aqua tried to keep pace. She succeeded for the first few sets but after a while, she began to feel the strain. Her body may be accustomed to training but it had its own system. This was new, and her legs were ready to protest.
Zack, on the other hand, looked unaffected at all. In fact, there was a determination on his face that reminded her of those training days with Terra. He would always urge her to run faster, climb higher, swim farther. He liked showing off that he was stronger than her – not that she minded very much. Terra looked at training sessions like competitions and Aqua was used to that. But it was odd seeing such a trait in Zack who she hadn't really considered was all that similar to Terra.
"You have to squat lower than that, Aqua," Zack said, without missing a beat.
Aqua groaned very softly. "I can't keep doing this," she said, standing up. Her knees shook once, but held her weight. She could still feel her calves aching but she ignored them.
"Giving up already?" he asked her, stopping, too.
"I'm sorry, but I'm just not used to this kind of training," she said.
That seemed to puzzle Zack, as if he only knew one kind of training method and couldn't understand why a great fighter like Aqua couldn't do something this simple.
She laughed softly. "Why don't you try what I do?" she said, knowing that like Ventus, Zack would probably understand better by experience and example.
Stepping away from him so that she had more room, she took a few deep breaths and stretched a few times before beginning her simplest routine. It involved leaps and spins and splits and what looked like – to Zack anyway – impossible body contortions.
When she finished, she almost laughed at the bewildered look on the face of her adversary-to-be. "That… That is not training, Aqua. That's dancing," he said. "I don't dance."
And this time Aqua could not hold back her laughter. "I'd show you how to use those moves in battle, but again I'd really rather surprise you later on," she said, teasing.
Zack frowned, although the amusement was clear in his eyes.
"Come on, Zack, try it," she said. He hesitated and Aqua added, "If you don't, then I guess it means I win."
A spark flared in his bright blue eyes for a moment and Aqua knew she had pressed the right button. He had a competitive spirit, just as she had thought earlier when she was attempting his exercise. He stepped into a position just like the one she had assumed.
"Okay, can you do it one more time?" he asked.
She nodded and repeated the routine. He watched her carefully, making small motions as he watched, and when she was finished he puffed up his chest. "Okay, here I go!"
The first attempt was disastrous. The second was not much better. The third was so terrible that he actually swallowed a bit of sand when he fell over and was choking for a good five minutes while Aqua rubbed his back, concerned. It was her simplest routine, but perhaps she should have simplified it further because Zack was obviously not used to these kinds of movements.
"Do you want to, uhm… stop?" she asked, careful not to use the words quit, or give up, because they might just spur his ego. It did not help anyway because he shook his head stubbornly.
"One more," he said, rubbing the sand off his lips.
And as he gave it a fourth try, Aqua found herself smiling and thinking that it was impossible not to find Zack cute. That face he made while training, all focused and beaming with optimism even though he wasn't doing so well, was so adorable it actually made her blush.
It amazed her how he could make her feel so comfortable and how he could make her smile even though she was burdened with so many worries. She admired his cheerful attitude, his perseverance; he was like a combination of Terra and Ven except he was far more humorous than the former and he was surprisingly more energetic than the latter.
Aqua bit her lip, fighting back a laugh, as Zack failed yet again. He got up quickly, though, and brushed sand off his clothes. "Enough, Zack," she said. "You're tired…"
"No, I'm fine, I'm not giving up," he said, determined.
Aqua placed a hand on his arm and he faced her. She smiled kindly at him. "Then you win."
"I gave up, didn't I?" she said.
He thought it over for a moment, and then he grinned. "Oh, right! I win!"
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes, again thinking about Terra and Ven who she could easily appease just by telling them they win, too. Instead, she tittered at his happiness, blushing all over again
Tired, Zack fell back onto the little makeshift bed with his legs dangling off of one side. "Whew," he said. "I'm beat."
Aqua lay down, too, in the same position, carefully setting at least a foot of space between them. "Me, too," she said. She listened to his tired breathing and frowned. It was her fault that he was so tired, so she casually touched the back of her hand to his and slowly sent pulses of Cure between them. She thought it likely that his pride would not be too happy about receiving this kind of help from her, but it would be fine if he didn't notice.
They were silent for a few minutes, and then Zack asked, "You said Terra was your friend, right?"
"Why do you want to find him so badly?"
"I need to make sure he's alright. He is very important to me," she answered, her worry resurfacing suddenly.
"Oh," Zack said, in a resigned tone. "Okay..."
"Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing," he replied, inching his hand away from hers.
They fell into silence again. Aqua frowned a little as she looked up at the ceiling and wondered what Zack might be thinking. She turned her head to face him and was surprised to see that he was looking right at her. Her face suddenly heated up and she looked up at the ceiling again. From the corner of her eye, she saw him smirking and it only served to deepen her blush. Feeling terribly flustered, she resolved to just stare at the ceiling until it was time for the battle to start, forcing herself to think of anything other than Zack.
She had no way of knowing that they were both thinking of Terra; her with worry and Zack with something a lot like envy.
An hour later, Phil came to tell them that it was time to go. They followed him out of the room, across a couple of passageways, and finally to a hallway that branched out at the end to two different passages. "Okay, Zack to the left and Aqua to the right," Phil said. "Whenever you're ready."
He left them, probably to head down a different corridor leading to the stands. Aqua nodded at Zack and turned away to follow her assigned passageway but Zack stopped her.
"Aqua, hang on," he said.
"Hmm?" she answered, facing him.
"You said you had to make sure Terra was alright. Is he in some kind of trouble?"
Her hand, clenched in a loose fist, came to rest over her heart as she answered. "I'm not sure…" She looked away from him and lines of worry appeared on her features as she frowned. "You told me he saved you from the darkness. Well, Terra is… I may have to save him, too. I have to find him before..."
Her voice faded into an inaudible whisper, more like a tired exhale of breath than actual speech. Zack moved closer to her and gently lowered her hand, unclenching her fist. And when she was looking at him again, he nodded. "I get it."
He could see that her eyes were glazed over with a firm determination – one that put his own ambitiousness to shame. He had never seen a stronger resolve than that which she exuded now. And for a long while, he just gazed into her eyes the way she gazed back into his, as if they were measuring one another's conviction.
In the seriousness of the moment, neither one noticed that he still held her hand in his and it was more a subconscious motion that his fingers sought their places between hers until his fingertips brushed the back of her hand. Surprisingly, she responded, tightening her hold slightly at around the same time that her cheeks began to color. And his lips began very slowly to curl into a smirk.
Then she seemed to realize that the mood was getting far too somber. She managed a smile. "That's why I'm not letting you win this time, Zack."
He played along, laughing. "I'm not going to go easy on you, either."
Aqua would have made a quick remark at that but they were interrupted by the sound of a throat deliberately and loudly being cleared. "When I said whenever you're ready, what I really meant was get out there, right now!"
Zack and Aqua sprang apart as Phil came between them, the blush on her face deepening. Zack scratched the back of his head, his smirk slipping into an easy grin. "Sorry, Phil," he muttered.
With hands on his hips, the satyr stared at Zack expectantly.
"We're going, we're going!" Zack said, chuckling before he looked back at Aqua. "Hey. I'll get stronger. I'm going to be a hero, too," he said. "Like Terra."
Aqua blinked once, not quite understanding why he thought it necessary to mention Terra as a benchmark. But she controlled her expression so that her confusion did not show. She gave him an encouraging nod.
"I'm sure you will. I believe in you." And she allowed the honesty to ring in her voice because she knew Zack would make a wonderful hero; determined, optimistic, strong, handsome…
Her face flushed even deeper, her cheeks as red as cherries, and she looked away as she mentally slapped herself. Physical attractiveness was not a requisite for becoming a hero! What was the matter with her?
Zack was smirking at her, his eyes shining. "Well, let's get this show on the road?"
"Sure," she replied softly and they parted ways, with Phil mumbling something incoherent as he left again.
As the sound of Zack's footsteps faded behind her, Aqua placed a hand over her frantic heart, the same hand that Zack had held. She could still feel the warmth of his touch on her fingers and that only made it more difficult to attempt to focus for the fight up ahead.
Zack, too, was trying to wrest control of the furious battering ram trying to break through his chest. He was still smirking as he thought about Aqua. It really was an impossibility not to like her.
Her smile, her blush, the way she brought her hand up to almost touch her lips as she laughed, they were so charming. And the grace of her movements belying the power behind them was captivating. And that strength of heart that he could see clearly in the light of her eyes… She was amazing, and Zack knew that at this moment he was done for.
As if he could ever dare to stand between her and whatever she wanted. As if he could ever put himself first now that she was so deeply embedded in his mind and heart.
He groaned a little, wrestling with his pride. He could not believe he was seriously going to do this. "Okay," he told himself as he neared the end of the passageway. "You win, Aqua…"
Having decided, Zack stepped out onto the battlegrounds. Aqua was across the arena, looking calm and determined. They both assumed their fighting stance, surrounded by the sound of the spectators cheering. And Zack found himself smiling because he knew that at the end of this match, they will be cheering for her.