Set in the Land of Departure.
I know I should be working on other things.
And other stories.
But I needed this.
DISCLAIMER [I do not own Kingdom Hearts] DISCLAIMER
THE OLDEST OF WAYS
Are you courting me?
Aqua rolled her eyes at Terra, smirking, placing her hands on her hips. It was one of her rarer, sassier poses. "Oh, thanks, Terra," she said with a bite of sarcasm.
Beside her, Ven laughed, clutching his stomach. They were in the middle of sparring when Terra suddenly made an inappropriate joke about Aqua. Or, to be specific, a part of Aqua. He did not intend to make such a joke, especially not in front of her, but what's done is done and now Aqua and Ven were laughing at his expense.
And Aqua, like she did so often nowadays, was looking at him as if to say, "You are such a guy." It was the kind of look that made Terra feel horrible inside because it seemed to imply that he would never be anything other than the kind of guy to joke around with and the kind of guy that just pushes all her buttons wrong and... and...
Sure, she did not seem offended. In fact, she looked amused. It was as if living almost her entire life with boys had numbed the part of her female mind that should feel offended. But Terra knew that what he said was offensive. But he didn't mean it to be. He didn't even mean to say it, he just...
Still. Even though he didn't mean it, Terra knew that Aqua's subconscious would consider this and remember this and use it to dock points off him when - or if - he finally musters the courage to tell her that he... he wanted...
Terra frowned, frustration suddenly overpowering whatever attempt at logic his mind was trying to make. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked away from them. His thoughts stubbornly settled on the one thing that was not confusing at that moment: he did not like being laughed at.
"I'm done for the day," he said.
The laughter died down and Aqua and Ven looked at each other with puzzled expressions.
"Wait, what do you mean?" Ven asked Terra. "We just started!"
Terra ignored him and walked off, back into the castle. Ven turned back to Aqua. She had a sad, guilty shimmer in her eyes. "Was it... something I said?" she asked softly.
"What?" Ven half-pouted, half-frowned. "No way. I'll go find out." He ran hurriedly after Terra.
Lying in bed with his pillow crushed in his fists, Terra roared. He felt so stupid. He hated feeling stupid. He had been biting back such jokes and remarks for weeks just to clean his reputation in Aqua's eyes and now he goes and tells her that her... that she...
He roared again, just as Ven skidded from the hallway into his room. "What's going on, Terra?" he asked. "You were the one who wanted to spar in the first place, now you quit on us just when we're having fun?"
Terra mumbled. "Not now, Ven," but the boy just poked his arm repeatedly.
"You're upsetting Aqua," Ven said, knowing that it was a sure fire way to get Terra's attention.
Sure enough, the pillow was shoved aside. "It was just a joke."
"Yeah, we know," Ven said. "She's not upset about that."
"What?" Terra glared at Ven. "Then what in the world is she upset about?"
"You're done for the day."
"She's upset about that? After what I said, she picks that to be upset about?"
Ven shrugged. "What's the big deal? You've done it before. You've said a lot of jokes about her -"
"Don't! I know what I said, I don't need a reminder, Ven!" Terra sat up in bed and scratched the back of his neck in frustration.
"Okay, okay," Ven answered. "But why are you being weird about it?"
"It was... inappropriate..."
"Then why did you even say it?"
"I don't know, I just... I wasn't thinking. Can you stop interrogating me?" It was weird, admittedly, having Ven question him like that. Sometimes, the curiosity and persistence so innate in Ventus was annoying.
"Okay, but can you just go spar with us again?"
"Not now," Terra mumbled, lying back down. "Maybe tomorrow."
Ventus stared at him for a minute. "I think I know just what you need!" he exclaimed. "Wait here, Terra!" And he ran out of the room.
Terra shut his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Little brothers could be such a pain in the neck. How could Ven possibly know what he needed when he did not even know it himself?
It was half an hour before Ven came back, his arms full of books. He dumped these onto the bed and said, "You should read these, Terra. They'll help."
Absently, Terra picked one up and read the title. Dusk to Dawn. It sounded unassuming, but he frowned at the picture on the cover. There was a silhouette of a man and woman embracing with a setting sun as the background.
He picked up another one. Missing Pieces. This one had a picture of a young girl crying softly, back to back with a young man who looked just as grief-stricken.
The third one was not any better. Come What May showed a knight in shining armor standing hand in hand with a princess, both with determined expressions, framed by dark clouds and flame.
"Ven? What is all this?" Terra asked.
"Aqua used to read them to me..." he said a little awkwardly. "That one is her favorite. She read it to me like a dozen times."
"Oh... Okay, and?"
Ventus grinned, "Read them. They'll help."
Terra doubted that. When Ven insisted that he knew just what he needed, the last thing Terra thought he meant was a bunch of romantic novels. He was expecting a glass of water, or a cookie, to be honest. "Help with what?" Terra asked.
"With Aqua," Ven replied as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Well, see you later, Terra!"
"Wait, what?" Terra asked, but Ven had already disappeared down the hallway. That boy could run faster than a rabbit being chased by a fox.
Terra stared at the books again. There were about half a dozen. What exactly did Ven mean by saying these would help him with Aqua? Ven couldn't know what Terra was thinking and feeling and planning. Could he?
It was a month before he finished reading them all. Actually, he couldn't even believe he read them at all. But after much prodding from Ventus - whose persistence was difficult to ignore - he read them. Every single one.
And then he saw Aqua in a new light. He saw her not only as the independent, strong-willed Keyblade Wielder that she is, but also simply as a girl. And he began to see himself in a new light, too.
Maybe he could be that knight in shining armor, who would stay by her side no matter who or what stood against them. Maybe he could be that guy who, despite having hurt her, knew how to fix the broken pieces and make her better than new. Maybe he could be that man with whom she would want to spend the rest of her life -
He blinked a few times. "Yeah?"
Aqua laughed. "Are you alright? You seem so... distracted."
"Oh. I'm fine..."
She shook her head a little, smiling. "Were you even listening to me?" she asked in an amused tone of voice. She obviously expected a no, so Terra smirked with confidence.
"Well. I'm not sure where the Master hid the chocolate syrup, but I have a guess and I can find it for you. I think adding more sugar chips to the waffles would make Ven a happy camper but will also make him very hyper, and I really don't want that. Slicing the waffles up into quarters might actually make Ven eat less, because his mind might just be tricked into believing he has eaten more than he really has. And if we're out of mangoes, I don't mind having peaches with my waffle instead."
Aqua blinked. "Uhm..."
Terra walked around the counter and started searching the cabinets, Aqua staring at him with a mixture of surprise and disbelief. A moment later, he reached into one of the overhead cabinets and pulled out a bottle of chocolate syrup. He set it down in front of Aqua, right beside the bowl where she was mixing the waffle batter.
"Looks like the Master still thinks we're kids and can't reach the higher shelves."
There was a second of silence, then Aqua laughed. "Thanks, Terra," she said.
"Any time," he said, touching her very briefly on the arm and then leaving the kitchen. He could feel her eyes following him as he left, so he said, "If you need any more help, just say so, okay?"
"O-okay," she answered.
Once he was sure that he was out of her sight, he punched the air, smirking triumphantly.
"Let me get that for you," he said, sprinting just so he could get to the library doors before her and open them.
"Thank you, Terra," she said, without looking at him. But he could see the smile on her lips.
He followed her and held his hands out for the books. She shook her head. "It's alright, I've got this," she said. "You can go back and bother Ven, if you want to."
He walked with her anyway. "And listen to him complain about how the books have no pictures? No thank you."
That coaxed a laugh out of her and he took the opportunity to grab half the books she was holding.
"Terra," she whined unconvincingly. "I told you, I've got this."
"Yes, I know," he answered. "But I'm here, and that's supposed to mean you don't have to do this by yourself."
For the first time in a long while, her skin flushed not from frustration or embarrassment, but from flattery.
Terra stepped out of his bedroom with a smile on his face, eager to spend his day off doing what he does best; train. But then he saw Aqua at her bedroom door, looking pale and a little exhausted.
"Morning, Aqua," he said. "Are you okay?"
She smiled weakly at him. "I'm fine," she answered. "So, what are you planning to do today?"
"Practice that new move the Master taught me," he said. "The sooner I get it right, the sooner he teaches me something else."
Aqua laughed, although she looked uncomfortable. "You're always so eager to move on to bigger things," she said.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
And then Ventus suddenly burst out of his room, grinning. "Good morning, guys!" he said. "I am so ready to have the best day ever!"
He bounced up to Aqua. "Can we go now, huh? Huh?" he asked excitedly.
Aqua bit her lip. "Ven... I can't..."
The light in his eyes died. "But you promised! You said you would explore those caves with me..."
"I know, but... this morning, I... Uhm..."
Terra noticed how her hand was pressed over her stomach and how her eyes were narrowed slightly. And now that he was standing right next to her, he could see the faint sheen of sweat that was coating her abnormally pale skin. She was clearly in pain, though she was trying to hide it.
"Ven," he said, touching the boy on the shoulder. "Aqua and I were just talking and I told her that I'll take you to the caves. Is that okay?"
Ven beamed. "Really, Terra?"
"Yeah," he said, smiling. "You go on out, I'll catch up."
"Okay!" Ven said eagerly and he cheered as he ran down the hallway.
Aqua stared at Terra, looking surprised and grateful and sorry all at the same time. "You didn't have to do that. You already had plans today."
"It's fine, I can see that today isn't... the best day for you," he said with an understanding smile. "I don't want Ven blaming you for something you can't help."
She looked a little flustered, turning her gaze away from him and he laughed. "Come on, Aqua, I've known you for so long. You honestly think I don't notice these things?"
"Well, I just..."
"Never mind, it's fine," Terra said.
"Terra... I don't know how to explain it to Ven..."
He chuckled. "I'll do it," he reassured her. "You just get some rest. Okay?"
She smiled at him as if he had miraculously relieved her pain somewhat. "Thank you, Terra..."
"No problem," he said softly, touching her cheek. "I'll see you later, okay? And I'll tell you all about how annoyingly Ven's voice is amplified in those caves."
Aqua laughed and pressed her hand over the one he had on her cheek. "Don't let him drive you crazy."
"I'll do my best," he promised. "You don't have to worry about anything."
It was almost midnight but she was still at the training grounds. He watched her, panting heavily as she struggled to master a move that she had been working on for so long. It just was not something suited to her style of fighting and was actually playing on her weakness - physical force. In fact, it was something pretty basic for Terra, her polar opposite.
But Aqua had never been the type to give up and she did not like disappointing the Master. In this, she and Terra were alike. Although moments like these were much rarer for her and so she had the tendency to take them too seriously.
Sighing, Terra stepped into her view and said, "You need to take a break, Aqua..."
"Not yet," she breathed. The exhaustion was clear in the tone of her voice. "But you should go."
"I'll go when you do."
"Don't be stubborn."
She frowned at him. "I'm serious, Terra. Just go, you should get some rest."
"So should you," he said. "Do you have to work on this so late?"
Aqua turned away from him. "I need to get this right. I am not going to tell the Master that I can't do it."
Terra was quiet for a moment, then he smiled. "Well, yeah. Why would you lie to him like that, right?" he asked, walking closer to her.
"Huh? What do you mean?"
He stood right next to her, closed his hand around the one that held her Keyblade, and helped her get into the right pose. "You can do this," he whispered, pressing against her. "I know you can."
"T-Terra..." she choked, but was unable to continue as he used his body to guide hers through the motions. With him holding her and leading her forward, she felt a new kind of strength pulse through her. From the corner of her eye, she looked at Terra. He was focused, his jaw set, his eyes directed straight ahead, and his hold on her hand gentle but sure.
Slowly, she felt her cheeks grow warm. He seemed... different.
His eyes darted towards hers and she instantly looked away. He smirked, hoping she was thinking what he wanted her to think - that he was a better man than he used to be.
"Ven? Have you seen Aqua?" Terra asked. He had already searched the entire castle and even double-checked her favorite places, such as the library.
"No," Ven answered, pausing in his consumption of the chocolate cake in the fridge. "Wait, actually, I think she went out."
He turned around to leave when Ven suddenly asked, "Hang on a second, Terra!"
"Was I right, or was I right?" he said, beaming smugly.
Terra laughed at the chocolate smeared face grinning at him. "I don't know yet, Ven. I'll tell you later, when I find out."
Ven looked confused for a minute, then he slapped a chocolatey hand onto his forehead without even noticing what a mess he was making. "Oh! I get it!"
Terra laughed again. "Yeah. And uh, you've got chocolate on... Everywhere." Then he dashed off, eager to find Aqua, leaving Ventus rubbing at his face which only made his predicament worse.
Outside, it was effortless for Terra to find Aqua. She was at the Summit, sitting on the bench and looking down at her hands. He approached her and touched her shoulder. She was startled, jumping slightly in her seat, and he chuckled a little. "Sorry if I scared you. Could I sit with you?"
She nodded and he sat down beside her. "Is everything alright?" he asked.
"Yes. I was just thinking."
"Well, you, actually..."
"What about me?"
She looked down at her hands again, her brows creased in concentration. "Did something happen, Terra?"
"What do you mean?"
"You changed," she said simply. "Not in a negative way, just... different."
"Not positive, either?"
She blushed a little. "Well, I guess I could say it's positive."
"Terra," she breathed, leaning back and sighing. "I meant... Sometimes, the things you do, they make me think that maybe you're... uhm... Are you, uhm...?"
"Am I what?"
"Asking questions like that, you're making it hard for me to think."
He laughed. "You've never had trouble voicing out your thoughts before," he said with a smirk. "What's so different about tonight?"
"You're different. Around me," she said. "What are you trying to do?"
"I am trying to make you see," he said seriously and sincerely. "I am trying to show you and make you understand who I want to be and who I can be. For you."
She tilted her head slightly, frowning. "That sounds... very familiar."
"It should," he said, smirking. "It's from your favorite book."
Her eyes widened a little and there was a clarity in them that told Terra that all the puzzle pieces have just fallen into place for her, showing her the bigger picture. "You know my favorite book? And you read it?" she asked with surprise.
"Yes," he answered. "I read many of the books you like, actually."
"But why?" She was blushing then. "Those books are... I can hardly imagine you holding one, let alone reading it."
"I know," he said.
She looked away from him, back at her hands yet again. Her expression softened to a disappointed kind of understanding. "So that's why you've been acting this way. You were mimicking what you've read."
Terra placed his hand over hers. "I learned from them, Aqua," he corrected her. "Isn't that what you do when you read?"
"But is it you, Terra? All of the things you've done, are they really you? And why, what are you trying to do?"
"I thought I answered that already."
"You used lines from a book."
"Because those words are exactly what I wanted to say."
She blushed again and was still unable to look him in the eye. "You mean... You... I..." she stammered.
"Where did all your confidence go?" he asked her teasingly. She was so flustered and uncertain, things that rarely ever happened to her.
"Will you at least tell me if everything you've done is real? If the person you're trying to be is really you?"
In answer, he pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. It was folded intricately into an irregular shape, vaguely resembling a rounded triangle, with a very small notch at the bottom. "Yes, but for all that I had help. As for this," he said, holding it up for her to see, "this is all me."
He pressed the small notch against his lips and blew air into the folded paper. It blossomed, literally, as he filled it with his breath. The folds curled outwards to form white petals around a blue center and Aqua could only watch with amazement as the paper flower came to life on his lips.
Then he set it in her hands. "You like things that are handmade. Don't you?" he said.
She held it tenderly, running her fingers along the petals. She felt a wonderful kind of warmth well in her heart, knowing that in her hands lay his breath and his kiss; both dedicated solely to her.
"You know what I want, Aqua," he murmured softly. "You know what I have been trying to do. So, what do you say?"
She smiled at him and raised one hand to lovingly touch his cheek. "I don't think there is anything that needs to be said, Terra."
The sound of her voice, the answer she gave, they were even better than anything he had dared to imagine.
Then he swallowed at a lump in his throat as her eyes started to shimmer, full of emotion. His breath quickened as she licked her lips. His heart stopped as her eyes began to fall closed slowly. And he felt his body being pulled by an unknown force towards her when she leaned ever so slightly closer to him, waiting.
And even if he had not read any of those books, he - just by the simple fact that he was a boy wanting a girl - knew exactly what she was waiting for.