Set in an alternate universe.
This is a story I finished months ago and, after much consideration, I decided to keep it hidden away in my private collection.
But I am posting it now to make up for discontinuing one of my other stories.
Setting-wise, this is quite similar to the story I discontinued.
DISCLAIMER [I do not own Kingdom Hearts] DISCLAIMER
I hate amusement parks.
Aqua, lying in bed, flipped her diary open to a worn, obviously over-read page. It was dog-eared, a little torn around the edges, and rather wrinkly. The date written at the top of the page told her that she wrote this entry exactly a year and a half ago. Has it really been that long? She sighed at that thought and read the contents of the page.
Reasons why you should not like Vanitas…
You are so much older than he is.
He is a pervert, and a playboy.
He is an arrogant, selfish snob.
You're taller than him. How weird is that?
He has a superiority complex.
His laugh. His evil laugh. *shivers*
Aqua already has that list memorized. And she can still remember when she started to write it. She was a junior then, near the beginning of the school year. She was part of the student council, and she was a member of the committee tasked with the Freshman Orientation Program.
Vanitas was a freshman. And, while it was definitely not love at first sight, something changed when she saw him. She looked at him for about a second, and she instantly knew or felt that something was terribly wrong, and yet absolutely right at the same time.
Aqua shook her head. The point of looking at this list was so that she could convince herself to stop liking him. She grabbed a pen and wrote a seventh item on the list.
He likes someone else.
And that was true. Vanitas was a heartthrob so he was never without a girlfriend. His girlfriends, though, never last longer than two weeks. This time, three months have gone by and he was still with the same girl. If that did not spell love for Vanitas, she had no idea what will.
Aqua sighed. And the girl just had to be Kairi.
She was like a best friend, a little sister. Ever since Kairi stepped into the school as a freshman a few months back, she and Aqua just clicked. It was like they were meant to be siblings but due to some technical difficulties between heaven and earth, things didn't quite work out as planned.
Aqua turned her attention back to her diary, flipping away from the current page, and then stopping at an equally tortured-looking one. Now, she was reading a different list.
Reasons why you like Vanitas…
Those golden eyes. Hypnotizing.
How many intelligent guys do you know, really?
He's on the swim team. (Oh, quit blushing.)
His hair! How does he get it to stay that way?
His commanding presence.
His voice. That one time he said your name…
Beside the last one were four tick marks, meaning he has said her name four times. Yes, Aqua has been counting. And it was thrilling and upsetting at the same time. Thrilling, because he said her name at all, and it just sounds that amazing. But upsetting, because after two and a half years, he has only said her name four times! Four times! And how many times has he said Kairi, Aqua wondered.
Aqua shut her diary and slipped it under her pillow, not in the mood to write a new entry after adding that one line to her first list. Besides, it was almost midnight. And although tomorrow was a Saturday and therefore there was no school, Aqua was the type of person who woke up early any day. So, deciding to try and get to sleep, she blindly reached for the switch by her bed's headboard that would turn off her bedroom lights. But before she could flip it, her phone began to ring.
Exhaling slowly, she picked it up. "Hello?"
"Aqua! Wow, I am so glad you're still awake."
"Kairi…" Aqua said. And as much as Aqua loved Kairi, this was not really the best time. "Listen, Kai, do you have any idea what time it is?"
"I know, I am so sorry, but I really need you, please?"
"Alright, what is it?"
"Are you busy tomorrow?"
"I need you to go on a double date with me, Vanitas, and his cousin."
Aqua sat up in bed and pressed her fingers against her temple. "Sorry, you need me to what?"
"Please? It will be fun, I promise!"
"Please, Aqua, please?"
Aqua sighed. "Who is this cousin of his?"
"Well, you haven't met him. His name is Ventus."
"And why do I have to go on this date?"
"Because Ventus is spending the weekend with Vanitas, while his parents are away. Vanitas is supposed to keep him company and -"
"And so that means the two of you will have less time alone, is that it?"
"Yes," Kairi answered, happy that Aqua understood. "So will you please?"
Aqua hesitated. "Kairi… You are not expecting me to actually get together with this Ventus, right? I am only supposed to keep him preoccupied so you and Vanitas could… do whatever it is you do?"
Aqua hesitated again. She could make the selfish choice and spare herself the pain of seeing the boy she was desperately – and inappropriately – in love with on a date with someone else. On the other hand, she could make the selfless choice and swallow the pain so that her best friend could have an awesome weekend with her boyfriend.
"So where are we going?"
"Oh, thank you, Aqua, thank you so much. We're going to the amusement park! See how much fun we're going to have?"
"The amusement park…" Aqua said softly. Oh, why yes… That would definitely be fun, with all its romantic, two-seater rides, hooray… Not to mention that Aqua didn't like a lot of amusement park rides.
"Thank you so much, Aqua," Kairi said again.
And Aqua found herself smiling, despite the dread she was feeling. At least Kairi would be happy. "Sure, Kai," she said. "Now we should both get some sleep. We obviously have a big day tomorrow."
"Right," Kairi answered. "Good night, Aqua. See you tomorrow!"
"Good night," Aqua replied, and waited until Kairi had hung up before placing her phone on her bedside table. Then she lay back down hoping sleep would come easily tonight. She curled up on her side and clutched her pillow close to her chest. Tomorrow was going to be a big day, and her heart would need all the strength it could get. One night's sleep was nowhere near enough preparation for heartbreak, but it was better than nothing…
Aqua picked listlessly at the strawberry-stuffed waffles she made for herself the following morning. She had no appetite today. And she did not sleep well last night. She dreamt about Vanitas and Kairi kissing while sitting in a boat shaped like a swan. And while the two of them were busy with that, she was being attacked by real swans. After waking up from that horrible nightmare, she could not get back to sleep.
So much for strengthening her heart for the torture it would go through today. Last night itself was already torture. She rested her head on the cool, glass surface of the table and sighed, hoping against all hope that the stupid nightmare was not any indication of what could happen today.
She reached for her phone and checked the message Kairi sent her a moment ago. It said they would meet at the park entrance at noon. Aqua still had a lot of time to prepare, seeing as there was still a good three hours between now and noon. Perhaps she should get started now. She could at least look good for the date.
For Vanitas, her mind cooed.
Aqua sighed. No, for Ventus. She would do her best to be a decent date today. She hoped, though, that Ventus was a decent guy, with a likable personality. It might help ease her pain if he was.
Aqua arrived at the park ten minutes ahead of time. She valued punctuality. The same, however, could not be said of the three that she was supposed to meet. She waited close to an entire half-hour before they finally arrived.
"Aqua!" Kairi called excitedly and Aqua turned around to see them walking up to the park entrance.
She smiled and waved at them. Then her smile faded slowly.
Oh no, she thought, seeing the unfamiliar blonde with them. Please no…
"Aqua, this is Ventus," Kairi introduced as soon as they reached her.
Ventus – about as short as Vanitas and probably the same age as well – held out his hand. Aqua shook it once. "Nice to meet you," she told him, finding the strength to smile again. Somewhere in the back of her mind, though, What am I, a babysitter? And it really did look that way, what with her being the oldest and the tallest in the group.
"Nice to meet you, too," Ventus answered, returning her smile. "You can call me Ven!"
"Alright, Ven," Aqua replied. "Uhm, Kairi, could I speak to you alone for a second?"
"Sure, Aqua," Kairi answered and Aqua took her by the wrist and led her away from the two boys. When she was sure they were far enough not to be overheard, she rounded on Kairi. "Kai, would you mind telling me how old Ventus is?"
"Fifteen," Kairi answered.
"Fifteen!" Aqua hissed. "Kairi… Why are you setting me up with a fifteen-year-old?"
Kairi frowned a little. "He's almost sixteen, just like Vanitas," she said. "And, technically, I am not setting you up with him. And try not to be all flirty, because it is not a good idea for him to like you."
"What? Why not?" Aqua asked.
"Well, it's just not," Kairi replied.
Aqua narrowed her eyes at the younger girl. "So, you ask me to go on a double date, and yet expect me to act…how, exactly?"
"Politely indifferent?" Kairi offered.
Aqua sighed. "Alright, fine, but you better remember that the only reason I am doing this at all is because you asked me to, okay?"
"Sure," Kairi answered.
And Aqua breathed deeply, preparing herself to face the boys. Then Kairi said, "Wait, Aqua."
"You don't like younger guys?"
Aqua stared at Kairi for a moment. She was a generally honest person, and the honest answer would be, Oh, of course I like younger guys. I have a thing for your boyfriend, don't I? However, she would really rather say a little white lie for the sake of both her sanity and her friendship with Kairi. But, the thought of lying even for a good reason was not settling well with her conscience.
She laughed a little to cover the awkwardness. Fail. "Kairi, why are you asking such a silly question?"
"Oh, nothing," Kairi replied. "I was just wondering, you know. You never date guys in your year; I thought maybe you preferred someone younger. Or is it older? Do you like college guys, is that it?"
"Kai, now is not the time for this…" Aqua said, flustered.
"When, if not now? Just answer the question Aqua," Kairi said.
"Well, I, uhm… I suppose I could like younger guys…" Aqua stammered.
"Do you think you could like Ven…?" Kairi asked hesitantly.
Aqua glanced subtly at Ven and Vanitas. Ven was clearly pestering his cousin about something, a goofy grin on his face. Vanitas was obviously uninterested, his arms crossed over his chest and his lips curled into a small frown. Could she like Ven? She had no answer yet; they had only just met. But if she had to go by comparing him to Vanitas, the answer was a definite no.
"Maybe," she answered Kairi. "But, you know, Kai… I am not exactly comfortable with the idea of dating a younger guy…"
"Oh. Wait, so you could like a younger guy, but you wouldn't date one?"
Aqua pressed her fingers against her temple. "I think that is a bridge I would rather cross when I get there. There are a lot of other factors at play, not just age."
"I see…" Kairi mumbled. "Well, okay."
"So, can we get this day started?" Aqua asked. She was not eager to bear witness to Vanitas and Kairi dating, and she was not keen on having to babysit Ventus. But she assumed that the sooner they began, the faster they might finish.
"Sure," Kairi answered, and she and Aqua made their way back to the boys.
Aqua watched as Kairi and Ventus hopped on yet another roller coaster ride. Just how many variations of a roller coaster can a single amusement park have anyway? She smiled as the two of them waved very enthusiastically at her and she waved back. This is what she had been doing the past couple of hours. Ven and Kairi would pick a ride – always one that scared her to death – and she and Vanitas would be left behind to watch them. Strangely, Vanitas didn't want to get on the rides either.
And Aqua finally decided to break the silence that they had been sharing all this time. "You haven't gotten on a single ride, Vanitas," she said.
"I hate amusement parks," he answered.
"Then why come here?"
"Kairi," he answered matter-of-factly.
His answer surprised her. So, maybe he was not as selfish as he lets out. It was sweet of him, really, to go somewhere he hates just because his girlfriend wants to go. Aqua turned her attention back to Kairi and Ven. The roller coaster was just about to move and the two of them were eagerly chatting and grinning.
"How come you don't go on the rides, either?" Vanitas asked.
Aqua blushed a little bit. "Roller coasters scare me," she admitted. "The speed, the height…"
He snorted. "Then why did you agree to come here? Just about every ride in this park either moves at insane speeds, or goes up insane heights."
Aqua managed a smile, despite his mockery. "I'm here for Kairi," she said. "Same as you."
She watched the roller coaster zoom across its rather flimsy-looking tracks and she shuddered a little. How Kairi and Ventus could possibly think such a thing was fun was beyond her. Then she suddenly turned back to Vanitas, her instincts telling her something was off. And she felt her throat go dry, seeing that he was openly staring at her, even when she was already looking at him.
"Uhm, is everything okay?" she asked awkwardly.
"I need to ask you something." He sounded serious.
"Does Kairi ever talk about me?"
Aqua hesitated. And once again, she found herself with the dilemma of whether to say white lies, or to tell the truth. "Well… Yes," she answered before her mind could over-think things.
"What does she say?"
Again, Aqua hesitated. Kairi does talk about Vanitas, but not often. In fact, Aqua could only remember one conversation in particular, about a month and a half ago, when Kairi asked her what she thought of Vanitas. "Before I answer that, why are you asking?"
Vanitas shrugged. "Curiosity."
And Aqua thought it over for a moment. Would Kairi be angry with her if she was honest? Could she deal with her rather inflexible conscience if she chose to lie? "I remember she asked me once what I thought of you," Aqua replied, deciding it would be best to tell the truth.
Vanitas was quiet for a while, as if simply absorbing what she said.
She wondered why he decided to ask this question now. Was something wrong? Were they already at a point in the relationship where Kairi was losing interest, or something? But Kairi wasn't like that.
Now that Aqua thought about it, though, she realized that Kairi and Vanitas have not been acting like a couple all day. They hardly talked, they never held hands, and they walked beside each other more as if it was obligatory, rather than because they actually wanted to.
But then what was up with the phone call she had with Kairi last night? She had sounded sincere and eager about getting to spend time with Vanitas.
Aqua tried to push those thoughts away. It was never a good idea to make assumptions like that. Still… "You know, if you're worried that I said anything bad about you, you can relax," she told him with a smile.
"Oh?" Vanitas said. "What did you say?"
"I… I would rather keep that between Kairi and me," Aqua replied. "But you could always ask her."
"She would never tell me if I ask her," Vanitas said.
Aqua wasn't sure if she imagined the anger in his voice. She was sure, though, that there was the slightest hint of hurt. And she felt her heart ache a little. "Of course she would, if you asked nicely, I'm sure."
Vanitas scoffed at her. "Yeah, maybe she's that way with her friends, but not with me."
Aqua had no response to that.
"What else has she said about me?" Vanitas questioned.
"To be honest, not much," Aqua confessed. It came out before she could stop herself.
Vanitas narrowed his eyes a little, his lips in a harsh frown. Before they could continue their conversation, though, Aqua realized that the ride had already come to a stop and Ven and Kairi were making their way towards them. Aqua frowned at seeing that Kairi had latched her arm onto Ven's; something she hadn't even done once with Vanitas, her boyfriend. The red-head was quick to let go, though, as they neared the other duo.
"That was fun!" Ven exclaimed.
"Yeah, sure was," Kairi agreed.
"Great," Vanitas mumbled.
Aqua smiled at Kairi and Ven, trying to shake off the awkwardness of her conversation with Vanitas. "So," she said, "what do you want to do next?"
"Why don't you pick a ride, Aqua? You don't seem to like the ones we pick," Ven offered.
It was Kairi who answered. "Aqua is a bit of a scaredy-cat."
Aqua laughed uneasily. ""Well, just kind of," she said, not really comfortable at her flaws being pointed out. Or, to be specific, being pointed out in front of Vanitas.
She watched Kairi brush her hair behind her ear as she spoke to Ven. "But you've been having fun with me, right, Ven?"
And suddenly Aqua felt what she could only describe as a jolt in the back of her mind. She watched Kairi more closely as Ven replied, "Of course! I just don't want Aqua to be left out or anything."
"Yeah, you're right. Well, I guess we could pick something the four of us could ride together," Kairi said, her lips forming a coy smile.
Aqua pressed her own lips into a thin line. And again, she told herself not to make assumptions. "Uhm, why don't we go take a break first? I'm actually kind of tired, and thirsty," she said.
"Sure!" Ven said. "I'm starving!"
The four of them made their way to the food court, with Kairi and Vanitas ahead of Aqua and Ventus. And Aqua noted with the slightest disdain that there was a well-defined gap right where Kairi and Vanitas should have their fingers intertwined.
Ven leaned back in his chair, his stomach distended from all the corn dogs and cotton candy and soda and nachos he ate. Aqua, who was seated beside him, laughed a little when he breathed out a contented sigh.
Across the table, Vanitas and Kairi were seated beside each other – Kairi directly in front of Ven. Vanitas, too, was leaning back in his chair, but not for the same reason as Ven. He looked rather bored and – to a certain extent – annoyed. Kairi was smiling at Ven. "How will you ride anything else now?" she teased him.
"Give me a minute, and I'll be good as new," Ven answered, grinning.
Aqua turned away from them. Her imagination was getting the best of her, and she did not want to think of Kairi in such a horrible light. She turned her attention to the booths around them. Aside from the food stalls, there were also several booths with an assortment of games and prizes to be won. One of those booths caught her eye, because hanging from the netting that lined one of its side walls was a colossal, fluffy, sky blue, stuffed dolphin.
And her mind had only just registered how extremely cute it was and how soft it would probably be when she heard Ven say, "What are you staring at, Aqua?"
So, all three of her companions turned to look, despite her speedy response of, "Nothing."
Kairi, though, saw what caught her attention immediately. "Aqua likes dolphins," she said as an explanation for the boys, smiling.
"What, no," Aqua said, flustered.
Kairi giggled. "There's nothing wrong with liking dolphins."
And Aqua would normally agree with that, but at hearing that particular bit of information about her, Vanitas had scrunched up his face. And so for the first time, Aqua felt a little embarrassed about her liking for the cute sea-creature.
Ven suddenly stood up from his seat. "I bet I could get you one!" he said excitedly and he headed towards the booth. From the corner of her eye, Aqua saw the slightest of frowns on Kairi's face, but it disappeared as quickly as it had come and she tried not to think too much of it.
Aqua, Kairi, and Vanitas stood up, too, and followed Ventus who was already in the process of having a go at the game. It was a common game; the one where the back wall of the booth was lined entirely with balloons and players would be given darts to pop them with.
"You know, Ven," Aqua said, "you don't need to do this."
"I want to," he answered, smiling.
And Aqua could only sigh.
Ventus eagerly held the seven darts allotted for each turn in his hand, his eyes shining with concentration. He would need to hit exactly seven balloons in order to get the dolphin. Less than that and all he gets is a key chain. Less than four and he gets nothing.
So he threw his first dart. And missed.
Vanitas snorted, but Kairi cheered Ven on, keeping his spirits up. And after about a dozen tries – despite Aqua insisting that Ven should stop after the fourth failed attempt – all Ven was able to get was four key chains. Vanitas was now laughing openly.
"Ventus, you are such a loser," Vanitas sneered. "I'll show you how it's done."
Vanitas took over for his cousin and he was given the seven darts. "Watch and learn," he said. And he didn't even hesitate, or pause to take a breath. He aimed, released the darts, and with each one, a balloon met its demise. Aqua could only stare at him with what was unmistakably a look of awe and amazement. She was quick to conceal that, though, before any of her companions – especially Vanitas – could notice.
Ven frowned. "You're just lucky, Vanitas," he said.
"Keep telling yourself that," Vanitas scoffed, as the dolphin was given to him.
And without so much as a glance at either Kairi or Ven, Vanitas handed it to Aqua. "Here," he said.
Aqua stared at him. "What, why?"
"You wanted it, didn't you?" he asked her.
"Well, yes, but…" She wanted to protest further, but under his smoldering gaze she could not. His eyes, they were just hypnotizing somehow. So she accepted it with a sincere smile and she softly murmured, "Thank you…"
Now her heart was being torn in half. Vanitas had given her a present, and the feeling she got from that was beyond bliss. However, how would this affect Kairi, her best friend, her little sister, his girlfriend? Wasn't this breaking some rule, was this a betrayal of their friendship?
Or did Vanitas just notice Kairi's odd behavior, too, and was using Aqua to give her a taste of her own medicine? Was that worse than betraying Kairi?
She looked subtly in Kairi's direction and her heart suddenly grew cold. Kairi was talking with Ventus, smiling and laughing as she did. And Ven was smiling, too, scratching the back of his head with his hand. Aqua could not bear to look at them. Those assumptions of hers were beginning to seem more real, more valid. And when she looked at Vanitas – whose gaze was on Ven and Kairi as well – her heart shattered. His expression, which was one of anger, of hurt, of sadness, sent agonizing tremors through her core…
"Kairi," she said, trying very hard not to sound furious. "Can I talk to you?"
"Uhm, okay, Aqua," Kairi said and once again they walked away from the boys.
Aqua went straight to the point. "What do you think you're doing?" she hissed.
"What?" Kairi asked, eyes wide.
"Kai," Aqua said, attempting to control the tone of her voice but failing. "Why are you flirting with Ven, and in front of Vanitas?"
Kairi blinked a few times. "Aqua… I…"
"I'm not blind," Aqua said. "I see how you look at Ven, and smile at him; I can hear the difference in the way you talk to him." She paused, as if remembering something. "Oh, I get it now. This is why you sounded so eager last night. It wasn't because you wanted time with Vanitas. You were excited to be with Ven! And I see why you told me not to flirt with him. It was so that you could."
Kairi opened her mouth, but no sound came out.
"Why are you doing this? Don't you care about Vanitas at all? You're hurting him, Kairi…" Aqua continued.
"Listen, Aqua… You don't understand…."
Aqua narrowed her eyes at the younger girl. "I really don't see how you can explain this one, Kai. And I can't believe you would do something like this! Can't you see what you're doing to him?"
Kairi frowned a little. "Why do you care about Vanitas so much?"
"I… He doesn't deserve this…"
Suspicion shone in Kairi's eyes. "You…like him, don't you?"
"What, no," Aqua stammered, flustered at the accusation. But she heard her own voice warble a little, and she was sure Kairi heard it, too.
"You do!" Kairi exclaimed.
Aqua scowled. "Stop it, Kai," she said. "This isn't about me. This is about you mistreating your boyfriend, who obviously cares a lot about you." She pushed the dolphin at Kairi, still scowling and shaking her head. "And, really, I thought I knew you."
Without waiting for a reply, she walked off. And she said nothing to Ven and Vanitas as she walked past them. It tore at her to ignore the questioning look from Vanitas, and the concerned one from Ven. But she did not want to spend a minute longer with them.
This day had turned out far worse than she had imagined. She would even go as far as to say she would rather be attacked by swans. It was one thing to see the person she loved loving someone else; that was a good thing in a way. It would hurt, but it would be a good kind of hurt because at least she can see him happy. But to watch helplessly while the heart that she wished belonged to her was being carelessly broken… That was simply too much pain to bear…
Aqua lay in bed that night, struggling to keep her heart together. She was holding her diary in her hands, open to a very familiar page.
Reasons why you like Vanitas…
Those golden eyes. Hypnotizing.
How many intelligent guys do you know, really?
He's on the swim team. (Oh, quit blushing.)
His hair! How does he get it to stay that way?
His commanding presence.
His voice. That one time he said your name…
She saw him in a new light today. She saw a side of him that she never knew existed. And so she added a new item to the list…
He deserves to be loved.
Aqua then crossed off the word like from the top of the list, replacing it with love. She was in love with Vanitas. There was no denying it.
Who cares if she was older than him and taller than him? So what if he has had a truck-load of other girls before? What does it matter if he's arrogant and if he has a superiority complex? He was sweet, and caring, in his own way. He was attentive and thoughtful, though he went about it in an odd manner. He was clearly willing to be hurt for the person he loved. And he deserved to be loved back for that.
Aqua shut her diary and returned it to its hiding place beneath her pillow. From the corner of her eye, she could see that the screen of her phone – which she had placed on her bedside table and set to silent mode – was blinking, letting her know that someone was calling her. She was sure it was Kairi. But Aqua did not want to speak to her at the moment. She turned off the lights and closed her eyes, hoping just as she had the previous night that sleep would come easily.
She doubted it, though. If it was hard enough trying to sleep at the thought of having a broken heart the following morning, it was sure to be much harder with an already-broken heart.
The following day, Aqua had about two dozen messages on her phone, and about as many missed calls. They were all from Kairi.
She read through them quickly, each message said something along the lines of, "I am so sorry, Aqua, please let me explain."
But what was there to explain? Aqua deleted each message as she read it, frowning all the while. Until she reached the last one. "You're angry, I get it. But I need you to hear me out. If you think I deserve at least that, then meet me at the park at 9:00 am. You're my best friend, and I know I've probably lost all your trust because of what I did. But please, please, please… I really need to talk to you…"
Aqua sighed tiredly. She glanced at the time. She had thirty minutes to decide whether or not to meet with Kairi. She didn't need all that time to decide, though. She was still angry – and thoroughly upset and hurt – but what kind of a friend would she be if she gave their friendship up like this? No, she would hear Kairi out. And if Kairi's explanation had even one grain of rationality, then maybe she could let go of this anger.
There was only one spot at the park where she and Kairi often went. It was at one particular bench, under the shade of an oak tree, beside an old stone fountain, located in a more secluded corner of the park. And this was where she headed. She was a few minutes late – vey unlike her – but she was dreading this meeting.
Upon getting to the bench, though, she frowned at seeing that Kairi was not there. She sat down and pulled her phone out of her bag, intending to ask Kairi where she was, but was surprised to see that she had a new message. It read, "I know you're probably at the park already. Just wait a while longer, okay?"
Aqua raised an eyebrow. Did Kairi really think this was the proper time to be late? She put her phone back in her bag and leaned forward, with her elbows on her knees and her face in her hands. She was exhausted from the emotional turmoil. And she stayed that way for a few minutes, just focusing on breathing and clearing her mind…
Her body froze. When did Kairi's voice ever sound that deep, that mysterious, that…masculine?
She tentatively straightened up and found herself looking up at Vanitas.
"V-Vanitas…" she stuttered.
He smirked at her. "Hey." He set the dolphin from yesterday on her lap. "This belongs to you."
"I'd appreciate it if you didn't just throw it away," he said jokingly.
He sat down beside her and went on. "Kairi would like to apologize for yesterday…"
Aqua felt cold all of a sudden. This was how Kairi planned to apologize? By sending Vanitas to do it? A call, a text, a letter would have been so much better! Anything but this! Aqua had half a mind to leave right then and there, but then she heard the other half of what Vanitas was saying: "…and so would I."
"What?" she asked in disbelief. "What do you have to apologize for?"
He chuckled. "I lied."
She was sure all the color had drained from her face. "About what?"
"First of all, Kairi and I are not dating. We never were." His face was scrunched up as he said that as if the mere thought of dating Kairi was upsetting. "Second, yesterday was a double date, but Ventus was not your partner. And Ventus knows nothing about all this. He thinks you, Kairi, and I are all just friends."
"What…?" Her head was spinning.
"Kairi and I had an agreement. She has always liked Ven, ever since they met at some summer camp. When she learned he was my cousin, she asked me if I would help her with him. As if I would do that without getting anything out of it. So I said I would, if she would help me with you."
And the blood rushed to her face just as fast as it had drained from it a moment ago. "You… Huh…?"
Vanitas chuckled again. "I was angry with Kairi yesterday because she was being so slow and unfair. I was doing everything she asked, but she was not doing her part at all. That was why I asked you if she ever talks about me."
Aqua felt the beginnings of shame and embarrassment tug at her heart. How did she not see this coming? She should have seen it. She should have been able to tell simply by the nature of everything that Kairi had ever asked her.
Honestly, what other logical explanation could there have been for Kairi wanting to know what she thought of Vanitas? And that question regarding younger guys. And now that she thought further into it, the amusement park was the perfect setting for such a plan. Kairi would have known that Aqua would never get on those rides, which means she would have time alone with Vanitas, while Kairi and Ventus had their own special bonding time.
Aqua shook her head, frowning. "Wait, but… Why pretend that you were dating Kairi at all?"
The scowl on his face deepened. "Because Kairi and I agreed that I would help her with Ven first, then she would help me with you. Until then, I needed an excuse to stop those insane girls running after me." His scowl instantly turned into an arrogant smirk. "It was better for my reputation if people assumed I was going steady with one girl, rather than if I suddenly started turning every single girl down. You know what they would think."
Aqua was unsure whether to laugh, or be appalled. And as she thought over everything Vanitas had said, a troubling thought occurred to her. What had Kairi told Vanitas about what happened yesterday? Aqua thought back on their conversation. Kairi knew that she liked Vanitas. But did Vanitas know that? Did Kairi tell him…?
She kept her voice low. "About what happened yesterday, when I talked to Kairi and…"
"I know," Vanitas interrupted as he ruffled his hair. "Kairi told me you weren't going to forgive me so easily."
Aqua had to consciously stop her mouth from falling open. Her anger with Kairi suddenly turned into immense gratitude. She made a mental note not to only to thank Kairi but to apologize profusely for the things she said. "I…"
"Listen, Aqua," Vanitas said, his expression serious. "The reason I asked Kairi for help is because you were being so difficult. You were nothing like other girls, who were just so easy. They came to me; I didn't have to do anything, but you? You were just…"
He was almost glaring at her as if this was all her fault. "You were so difficult."
Aqua remained silent. What could she say, after all? The boy she was in love with – the one she had been trying to resist all this time – had just confessed to have the same feelings for her. There was nothing that could be said that would satisfactorily explain just how she felt at that moment.
She watched as Vanitas reached into the paper bag at his side, which he had brought with him – something she had noticed only now. And he pulled out a heart-shaped box that Aqua was a hundred percent certain contained chocolates, and a single red rose in perfect bloom with pink and white ribbons around its stem.
"I've never had to do this before," Vanitas muttered under his breath, his brows creased and his lips curled into an uncertain and frustrated frown. Aqua could not help but smile. His helplessness made him look so adorable.
"I don't know what I should say to you, or how this is supposed to be done," he said as he handed her the chocolates and the flower. "But I want to do this right. And you're going to have to tell me if I'm just screwing things up…"
Aqua accepted his gifts, aware that a faint blush was coloring her cheeks. She stared at them for a minute, just reveling in the fact that the heart she wanted – that flawed, incredible heart – was being offered to her. His heart could belong to her, if she wanted it. And she definitely did.
She smiled, setting aside his gifts so her hands would be free.
"Vanitas…" she said softly taking his hands in hers. "You have nothing to worry about. Everything you've done is perfect."